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Showing posts from October, 2010

Like family

Today I was invited to lunch at the home of Bryndís and Jón Baldvin. It was a wonderful meal, with their two daughters, their son in law, myself, and three other guests.  I was really touched to be invited into their home like that, treated almost like one of the family.

When I lived in Washington D.C., going over to the Icelandic Ambassador's residence (Jón was the Ambassador at that time) always felt to me like going home, one of the places I felt most welcomed and genuinely so.

So while I would not say I know them all that well, I do hold a warm place in my heart for them and hope I was decent company this afternoon. I tried my best.

Food is more important than clothes I guess

When I was in California, I planned to do a lot of clothing shopping. For various reasons, it did not really happen, although my sister and I did jump into one store where I got some business type attire. Then my mom and I went into a drug store where I bought make up and socks and I even picked up a pack of Lady Hanes underwear. And only managed to do that because the stores in the U.S. are open long hours.

Today I thought I might try my hand at the clothing stores in Keflavík, since there were some things I still needed. Unfortunately, I did not leave my house until 3:30pm, and well, the stores close at 4pm.

I believe, however, I will be able to make do with what I have for a little while longer, at least until tomorrow.

Cozy or comfy?

Icelandic has a slang word kósi which of course is a borrowing of the English term cozy. I do not know where the English term comes from exactly. Comfy, on the other hand, I know is an abbreviation of comfortable, which is a latinate. 
Icelanders say when they are inviting people over to their house that people should come over and "hafa það kósi."  Now in English we usually reserve cozy for when a couple is snuggled together on the couch under a blanket, or when a parent is trying to settle their child down before bedtime. That is cozy in English. I think the way Icelanders use kósi is therefore more akin to English comfy, as in the equivalent of a host saying in English, "make yourself comfy." This means to come over to the house and have a casual, comfortable evening without a lot of pretense, just relaxing and talking.

Signals to the reader

When I was at Berkeley last week, I met with my dissertation advisor John Lindow. We had a good conversation, although it was only an hour long and we had a lot of things to talk about. Mostly of course he as my advisor is trying to figure out where I need help, and that takes time and a good understanding of what I am trying to argue and accomplish.

One thing we both got excited about was a brief discussion we had about the moments in saga where the audience is reminded of the author's voice, like when it says, "and now he is out of the saga." Such moments give the reader an opportunity to reflect on the role played by a particular character, and marks, even more than capitals or other apparatus, that a new chapter is begun.

Icelandic American Association

Because I am an American living in Iceland of mixed Icelandic-American heritage, people tend to talk to me about U.S.-Icelandic relations. It is indeed an interest of mine, no doubt about it. I am genuinely excited that there is now a US Ambassador here in Iceland, and one that seems to have something on the ball to boot (judging from his blog http://ambassadorblogiceland.blogspot.com/).

When I was attending the welcome reception for Ambassador Arreaga at Bessastaðir a few weeks ago, I got into a discussion with a nice young Icelandic couple who had spent time in the U.S. about the need for a more vibrant social club or exchange between the U.S. and Iceland. On Sunday, I am invited over to their family home for lunch, and I suppose part of the idea is to continue that discussion. At least I suppose so. It could also just be a purely social visit with a nice excuse to have a sangria with lunch.

Day hikes

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When I was in California this trip, Palmer and I had several conversations about Mount Diablo, the mountain that dominates the valley (and all of Contra Costa county) where he now lives. I told Palmer that it is called Mount Diablo, instead of Mountain Diablo, because a mount is smaller than a mountain; it is in fact just the right size to mount its peak in a days walk. Whereas one climbs a mountain, one hikes up a mount. I told Palmer that Mount Diablo is just the right size for hiking in one day, and also that the oak tree cover it has is not so thick to make a walk difficult but just right to give some shade on a hot day.  Now that I am back in Iceland. I am realizing that Keilir is similarly perfect for a day's hike. Though much thinner than Mount Diablo (Keilir could fit inside of it easily), it is just about exactly as high. It also lacks of course any tree coverage or even grass (which is good since the last thing you need on most days in Iceland is shade), and should probab…

Visa vesen

I have dual citizenship, which means I can stay in the United States, or in Iceland, as long as I like. I never have to apply for a visa to stay in either place. Can I just say that I consider that oh so very convenient and helpful and really very cool? Especially when applying for a job, it helps that there won't be citizenship issues to worry about.

I took advantage of the opportunity to extend dual citizenship to Palmer, just in case he ever does get a job in Iceland.

Stepping up to the plate

Last night at dinner we all had a chance to tell my brother Erik how happy we are that he has come out to California from Florida. He got sort of shy and quiet before I could even get around to telling him how very proud I am of him for making such a big move. Even if he was coming home to people that love him and need him, it is always hard to make a big life change like that.

After dinner, we watched the Giants clinch the NL title. Now they are heading to the World Series.

Old Norse at Cal

Tonight I attended Saga Club, which I have blogged about before. And I must say I find it just as much fun as the first time I went. Just now the group is into Haralds saga, working their way through Heimskringla, and the poetry bits in there passages tonight were wonderfully descriptive. It strikes me as much more odd to be in California, reading Old Norse, than it used to, now that I have spent so much time in Iceland.

But the good news is, neither Saga club nor the Scandinavian department at the University of California, Berkeley, look to be dying. Instead they are both going strong, with new members joining the club, and the department starting a job search to hire an Old Norse professor to replace Carol Clover. The department has gone now I think 4 years, or perhaps 5, without hiring that position, while waiting for the administration to give permission to move forward. It really fills me with hope for the future, to see the department have this opportunity to keep Old Norse stud…

Single

Today it is foggy here in the San Francisco Bay area. Dave and Palmer live a bit inland, and here the fog usually burns off faster than near the coast. I was listening to the radio while driving Palmer to school this morning, and they were talking about the thick fog making traffic terrible this morning. I have heard traffic reports like this my whole life, but this morning it struck me as an actual problem, and I was so happy it was not my problem, driving here in the neighborhoods of Moraga.

The commercial on the radio as I pulled into the parking lot here was a commercial for a particular health plan, Sutter Health I think it was, which has, according to the announcement, "thousands of doctors in the Bay Area for you to choose from." I laughed to myself, realizing of course that there is not "thousands of doctors" in all of Iceland.

But nor is there all this traffic.

I am thinking about all this because next semester, I will be back here in California, teaching …

Medical Intervention

I was brought up with a healthy skepticism of the medical field. My dad called doctors "quacks" on a regular basis, and my mom gave me money anytime I agreed to just stay home and try to get better on my own, instead of going to the doctor for an ailment.

When I was an undergrad, I went a few years without health insurance and thought nothing of it. Even when I got a nasty spider bite, I still saw no need to trust doctors better than my own body to heal. This all was reinforced when I working on my master's in Anthropology, since of course anthropology is very skeptical of western science in general and quite open to the possibility of "traditional" medicine having healing potential.

But now a days, my attitude has begun to change. I think it probably has something to do with my son, to wanting him to have the best possible health. Or maybe just that I myself am also getting older.

And it turns out, my mom and dad have softened towards doctors also. I even rece…

Elly

Today Elly came to visit Palmer. Elly is the daughter of the woman that used to watch Palmer when I was taking classes at Berkeley. They have known each other for over three years now, and are sort of a funny mix of brother and sister and boyfriend and girlfriend. They hug, give kisses, and hold hands, but they also argue with each other and make each other cry a little.

It is super cute.

Commercials

Having spent a few minutes watching American television this morning (Headline News to be specific), I am reminded of the amazing frequency with which American television interrupts their programming with commercials. The Icelandic way of showing a program all the way through is definitely nicer.

Defining parameters

I am staying at the house where my son and exhusband live in California at the moment. The weather here is sunny and warm and things are going well. Dave is a good cook and we fall back into our old routine of one cooking and the other doing the after-dinner dishes very easily.

But otherwise, there are lots of adjustments of course needed in a situation like this one. I have usually tried to talk mostly about Palmer and not about much else, but that tends to make Dave think I am being nit-picky about what he is eating or who he is playing with.  Unfortunately, though, I am not keeping up enough with U.S. sports and politics to be able to talk to Dave about those things. And when I try to tell him about political goings on in Iceland, he can only feign interest so long. We do manage a few conversations about our respective family members, their health and well-being, and that seems to be a good safe topic. And the neighbors around here.

Low fat peanut butter

Peanut butter is a very American food, invented here and a stable of every school kids lunch box for generations of Americans. My son Palmer is no exception: he loves peanut butter.

But peanut butter is known for being especially salty and fatty. Not only that, but to make peanut butter more convenient to use, they started hydrogenating the oils in it (the same thing they do to make margarine out of vegetable oil). This turns the "good fat" in peanut butter into the "bad" hydrogenated kind. So Palmer's dad decided to try to find a healthier version. He found a "low fat" peanut butter, which although still hydrogenated, he thought would be better. I took a look at the labeling, suspecting that something odd had been done to make peanut butter less fattening.

The manufacturers of Peter Pan Peanut Butter, the most time honored of all kids peanut butters, decided to mix soy beans in with the peanuts, and in that way made a lower fat version. I rolled my e…

Stjórnlagaþing

Although I have heard some say that the Stjórnlagaþing will probably not make any significant changes, because its authorization comes from the Althingi, I personally hope that is not the case. I personally hope the delegates elected to that assembly will be the most far-sighted, responsible, clear-thinking, and daring group of people that Iceland has to offer. I hope they come up with something radical and important, to envision a new Iceland.

The struggle for Icelandic independence came in the midst of bombastic European nationalistic rhetoric, and Iceland gained independence during what I would call the period of late nationalism. Now the world is in a different place, a globalized economy fueled by incredible information sharing. To be writing a constitution now, when the shackles of nationalism are finally falling away, seems to me a tremendous opportunity. Iceland could be at the forefront of crafting a new concept of a democratic country operating on the principles of the 21st …

Room for improvement

Today I was supposed to meet with my dissertation advisor. I sent him an email this morning telling him that I unfortunately really did not have enough written, but would be happy to verbally explain my thinking, or we could postpone. He said we should postpone. Now of course this is not very impressive behavior on my part, and I know he does not want to hear my excuses. But I have always been this way, I have always tried to get the easy, quick things out of the way first, before tackling the longer term and more complex tasks.

Starting today, my dissertation is my only priority, my only task.

Columbus Day

Today is a Federal Holiday in the United States, a day when the schools and post office and usually banks are closed, in observation of Columbus Day. Which means Palmer stays home from school today, and I get an extra day to have him to myself.  

There are a lot of little American holidays, one or two days off in a row, whereas in Iceland that are a few big holidays with many days off in a row.

Today I officially announce my preference for the American system.

Sets me straight

Today I borrowed my sister's Volvo, and she has a Garmin installed in her car. Those things are amazing, they know exactly where you are, track every turn you make, and tell you clearly and precisely exactly when and where you should turn. It was so groovy driving down to the library with this pleasant English ladies voice saying "turn right in .1 miles . . . Turn Right!" I did not get lost, I did not get confused, I knew the Garmin knew the way.

Special event planning

My sister is trying to get a position at the Nordic Heritage Museum doing special events coordination and fundraising. I think this is find of funny, because when I mentioned to people that I would like a special events coordinator at Vikingaheimar, they look at me like I am crazy. I suppose a position like that seems unnecessary in Iceland, where things just sort of work out somehow or another. It is the rare big PR stunt that is actually coordinated by one individual in Iceland; usually people just kind of know what is going on and do their own thing and the end result, through happenstance, usually turns out fine. But in America, advanced effort, gathering together a team, holding meetings, figuring out the sequence of events, that sort of planning is done even for relatively simple events. The nice thing about this is that little details, like getting the decor and the mood of an event just right, get taken care of, and not just the gross outlines of having some food and a place t…

That helps

The man sitting next to me on the plane asked me, just as we were landing, whether or not I had been to Seattle before. I told him I had, and he made a comment about how much that helps when one is traveling, if one is familiar with the destination, has been there before. I am that sort of traveler, with Iceland always as destination.

The travel industry of course lures us with the promise of surprising, exotic locations, but I think there is a large, rather untapped, segment of the market that just wants to go back to the places they know. Thus I think there should be some marketing campaigns that just give travelers a good sense of what they would expect, in order to instill a sense of familiarity and comfort, and sense that the tourist would not be too surprised once they traveled there on their own.

Johanna, Libra chick

When Johanna Sigurðardóttir became the Prime Minister of Iceland, people around the world took note of it, not only because she was a woman Prime Minister, which is unusual enough, but also because she was a woman married to another woman (or engaged to when she became Prime Minister I think). People found this all very fascinating and wished her well in her new undertaking.

I had a slightly different reason for being excited about her appointment as PM. Johanna, like me, is a Libra. Her birthday is one day before mine. I know a lot of Libras, and I like all the ones I have ever met, so I assume I would like Johanna, if I knew her.

But this also peaked my curiosity, because Libras are not really the right sign to be in leadership roles. We have a deep sense of justice, want people to be treated fairly and equally, which makes us willing to be outspoken defenders of the downtrodden. But that same impulse also makes us be more of a consensus builder type of leader, rather than a bold ch…

Parliament building

I think I figured out why it is so absolutely shocking and upsetting to me to see people breaking windows and throwing eggs and paint at the Parliament building.

In the U.S., no one does that, no matter how upset, I cannot think of that being done even in the midst of the LA riots.

Pretty sure in the U.S., people would get shot for doing that. Defamation of public property is not taken lightly.

Live, nationally televised debates

My friend Marvin was just featured on this Vimeo video, and I think he has a point about Icelanders and their love of quizzes. Icelanders like to see someone who knows all the answers to all the questions.

As I have said before, these types of quizzes are not so popular in the US, even on college campuses. There the smart kids show off by being part of a debate club.

It occurs to me that right about now, Iceland would do a lot better off if every Friday night's showing of Útsvar was replaced by lively political debates. They could even use the same set and have the same format, just have the participants be all politicians and have all the questions be about what happened and what should happen for Iceland's future. Run up and grab the bell, show video clips, act out phrases even, but no scoring for having the right answer, and both sides get a chance to answer the same question. This could replace the 10 minute "debates" in Kastljós.

þorgerður Katrín and Björgvin?

Another one of those moments happened today when I went, "They did what? Threw eggs and disturb the church service that takes place before the Alhingi members begin their work for the year?" No matter what you think about God or Church, it is a good idea for people who are going to be expected to work together for a year to have a chance to come together in a peaceful environment and focus on something outside of themselves. It can only hurt if that moment of peace and contemplation is turned into a moment of hostility. It is like a fan running out onto the soccer field and punching the players while they are shaking hands post-game. Just not the right time for such a thing.

This is not to say that I do not think this has been an upsetting and highly disappointing week, with the Althingi deciding to only send Geir Haarde before a special court.

But to me the more upsetting thing is that Björgvin and Þorgerður Katrín are back in their Althingi seats.

I can tell you what, in t…

Two for one into Víkingaheimar

Last week, a promotional campaign called "Sá einn veit er víða ratar" started. This campaign was sponsored by the Icelandic banks, both those that have been privatized and those that are still publicly held. It allows anyone with a bank card issue by one of these banks to get into Víkingaheimar for half-price. Blue Lagoon, the Peace Tower, and the Settlement Center in Borgarnes are also part of the promotion. Recently, Dr. Gunni commented on how racist  it is to allow someone who holds an Icelandic bank card (ie: lives in Iceland) a discount which tourists are not offered.

I have to say two things in response to this. First of all, tourists that come to Víkingaheimar very often come in groups through tour companies. In that case, they are offered a substantial discount.

But secondly, and more importantly from my point of view, is that Víkingaheimar has received a tremendous amount of tax payer dollars through the years, Icelandic tax payer dollars. We have a short-term opera…