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Showing posts from August, 2011

Pear tree

In Iceland, picking berries in the fall is a regular tradition. Everyone heads up to the headlands and gathers basketfulls of the wild northern blue berries and moss berries (black, small, sour little guys) that spring up there every summer. Then everyone puts them in everything they can think of, or just eats the berries whole by the handful for several weeks. It is a lovely tradition.

California's natural chaparral does not offer much in the way of wild fruit. Some cacti do bear fruit occasionally (though it is dangerous work to get them), and Native Americans knew how to make a paste out of the acorns that come from the California Oak, but it is toxic without proper preparation.

But since the late 1800s, farmers have found a way to plant all sorts of non-indigenous species in California, and they have flourished. It turns out the first farmers who came out to Moraga, in the hills behind Berkeley, planted pear trees and walnut trees. Those trees, now over 150 years old, are stil…

Neighbors

In Iceland, I lived next door to a lovely couple for almost four years. I would occasionally chat to the husband or the wife if they were out front, but it never got more neighborly than that. I tried once to see if they would keep an eye on my apartment when I was leaving for a few weeks, but either my Icelandic wasn't good enough or my request was too subtle: they assumed I was just giving them some basic information. So when I moved out of my apartment, I did not make a special effort to say goodbye to them. 
I only lived in my apartment in Berkeley for 8 months, but I developed a neighborly report with the couple that lived downstairs. We bonded pretty quickly, because they had a new puppy Palmer liked to try to pet everytime we saw Liz or Colin taking the dog out for a walk. And we had regular discussions complaining about the landlords. We were inching towards friendship sometime in June, after they went out of town for a week, and Liz asked me to watch her cat, Eva. After th…

Walnut Creek

The heart of every town is the mainstreet shopping area. In Reykjavík, this shopping district is not on "Aðalstræti" (Main Street), but rather on Laugavegar (Bath Way).

Walnut Creek, CA, where I now live, has its shopping district on its literal Main Street, actually two distinct shopping areas along North and South Main Street, and the adjoining side-streets. One is a cozy, small scale, shopping district with independent shops and restaurants occupying little wooden buildings along oak lined streets. It is an old shopping area, one that has grown up slowly over time, a lot like Laugavegar. It was here when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, and for decades before that.

On the other side of Mount Diablo Boulevard, still along Main Street (but this time South Main instead of North Main), is another shopping area. It is new and huge and full of all the high-end big chains. Neiman Marcus is moving in soon, Macy's is there now, Sur la Table, PF Changs, etc. Very nice, hi…

School supplies

Last year I was in Iceland for Palmer's first day of kindergarden, but this year I am here in California and took my little guy to his first day of First grade. It was a fun moment; he was happy and everyone was in a good mood. On the way back to the car I was chatting with some of the other parents, feeling like a super mom. That is, until I realized that there had been a wee bit of miscommunication between his father and me. Neither one of us had taken it upon ourselves to buy Palmer's school supplies: the new set of crayons, the box for storing pencils, the special white eraser, etc. Nope. Palmer's backback contained only his lunch, two pencils and an old eraser. Now my mommy guilt is at about a level 7.

I am keeping my fingers crossed though. So he did not have the proper supplies for the first day of class. It does not mean we cannot get them tonight, before the second day of class.

Siggi's Skyr

When I was in Boston last summer, I bought some of the skyr that is being made by Siggi here in the U.S., mostly because I had heard about it on RUV in Iceland and was excited to see it at a grocery store in Boston.

A few weeks ago I saw that it is now also for sale here in California, at Whole Foods markets. Then a colleague of mine in the Scandinavian department told me he had bought some. So it seems Siggi's business is doing well.

Unfortunately, my colleague, like myself and this reviewer, did not like "Siggi's yogurt". He looked at me wided-eyed and asked me if Icelanders really eat that. He is a terribly polite young man, so he choose his words carefully. I knew what he meant though.

I said to him that in Iceland, skyr is mixed with milk, so that the texture becomes both smoother and thinner. I also told him that my grandmother always sprinkled plenty of sugar on top. We both then wondered why in the world Siggi could not be kind enough to at least let his cust…

Honk honk!

A colleague of mine is leaving San Francisco and moving to Stockholm. Ironically, she needed to divest herself of some IKEA furniture before doing so. So I took some bookshelves and a desk off her hands tonight, which necessitated a drive into "the city."

I have never lived in a city, nor have I really ever wanted to. Even in Iceland, I could not see the point of living in Reykjavík.

So going into San Francisco for me is always an adventure. I wonder how people manage to live there, and what it is like really. Living in the Berkeley hills for the last 6 months is the most urban living I have ever experienced, and I finally did see some advantage to walking down to the corner shop, seeing lots of people along the way, chit chatting with this one and that. So I was wondering if that is what people in San Francisco do too: chit chat with one another.

I stopped at a grocery store near the corner of Castro and Market to check my hypothesis. It was an extremely cosy place, with br…

The pool at the hotel

Yesterday evening, when Palmer went into the pool at the hotel we were staying at in Capitola, I merely put my toes in at first. Then I went up to my ankles, finally sitting on the edge and dangling my legs up to my knees in the water. It was heated by California standards, which means the pool was about 75 degrees. I however do not consider that warm enough to submerge myself in it completely.

I suppose I got spoiled with the pools in Iceland, naturally heated with geothermal water. Or maybe it was because the air was so cold in Iceland. Anyhow, I never hesitated to jump in a pool there.

Too far ahead to take a step back

Today I turned in grades for my students, and I am trying to justify why just about everyone in the class got an A-. Of course, in the humanities, we do not grade on a curve, so we do not intentionally, and artificially,  make 10% of the class get an A, 20% a B, 30% a C, 20% a D, and 10% an F. We are not so draconian about it. But I do believe that papers should be graded by whether they met expectations, exceeded expectations, or were below expectation. The question is, what grade should the papers that "meet expectation" get. Should they get a C? Or perhaps a B? Generally speaking, I think papers that meet expectations get a B or B+, because afterall at a school like Berkeley, our standards are already really high. For clarity, for complexity, for originality, for insight, for proper spelling, punctuation, and word use.

Walnut Creek

When the economic collapse hit Iceland in 2008, one of the major concerns is that there would be no way to import food to Iceland, because there would be no acceptable currency with which to pay for said imports. This got me worried. Of course Icelanders have survived on the island for over a thousand years, and there were years and years when no imports came. But those were lean years. And that was also when Iceland's population was about 70,000 instead of 300,000. Would the island be able to sustain that many people, I wondered. My friend, a scientist, assured me that it would, because Iceland exports fish and lamb meat, which means there is a surplus. That seemed logical.

Now I am living in California, and although the San Joaquin valley is called "The grocery store to the world," I'd prefer the feeling that my food supply is not 200 miles away on the other side of a mountain range. When looking for a place to live, therefore, I always make sure there is at least …

The North Atlantic

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Today was my last day of teaching summer session here at Berkeley. The course this term was focused on readings that are set in the North Atlantic. I am going to do the same theme for the course I am scheduled to teach in the Fall.

For the last day of class, I drew a VERY bad map of the North Atlantic on the black board (actually green, as you can see from the attached photo).  Then I had the students go in groups up to the board, and illustrate the map according to how each of our reading depicted the various regions. Unfortunately, the outlines of the coast that I drew were hard for the students to decipher; even though I told them what was what, one group initially put everything in Spain they meant to put in Norway.


Poor Iceland did not get much attention from the majority of our readings, and in fact only the students focusing on the book "Cod: A biography of a fish that changed the world" even bothered to include Iceland in their illustrations. They labeled it "Old…

My amazing boy

I had a really wonderful weekend with my son, who had been in Georgia last week. I had really missed him! It seemed like he grew up so much in that trip in some ways. Or anyhow I had never really noticed before how intuitive he is becoming.

Children are supposed to be intuitive, and more in touch with their extrasensory perceptions. So I should have taken him more seriously Sunday morning, when I said that I did not know where I cat was. Palmer immediately said, "She's probably hiding in the basement." I thought that was no way possible, since she had been inside Saturday evening and none of the windows or doors were left open. But after tearing the house apart looking for her Sunday afternoon and again Monday, I finally decided that she must have pushed the door open to my apartment when it was not locked (one does not need to turn the handle to exit, since I live in a converted attic). And from there, if the main front door was left open, which it often is, she could h…

Room with a view

When I moved from Iceland back to California, one of my main priorities was finding somewhere with a nice view, because I had gotten so spoiled with my view in Iceland. My office window looked straight at Keilir, and to the left I could see across Flaxafloi all the way to Reykavík, while to my right billowed the smoke from the Blue Lagoon. It was a fabulous view, so peaceful and so vast. 
I have a vast view from my apartment here in Berkeley also. I see almost the entire length of the San Francisco Bay, across to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. But my reaction to this view is very different than my reaction to my view in Iceland. This view does not seem peaceful to me. This view makes me think about how many people are on the planet, this view makes me think about the gangs in Oakland, this view makes me think about the Big One (the apocalyptic earthquake all Californian's believe is imminent), this view makes me think about California's economic woes. And when the fo…

Pride San Francisco

San Francisco hosted the first gay pride parade in the 1970s. At that time, and especially after city council member Harvey Milk had been assassinated for being gay, taking to the streets was an extremely brave and bold move. It was a declaration that the homosexual community of San Francisco would not be forced into hiding and made afraid, that they would declare themselves and claim their absolute right to live the life they choose to live. It was beautiful, but it was borderline militant. "I dare you to shoot me" the participants were saying.

That this has concept has evolved into a carnivalesque opportunity for "gleði" in Iceland is something I must say I do not entirely understand. All cultures need carnival, all communities like to come together. But the political fight for equality regardless of sexual orientation is to me a very serious affair, and in the streets of San Francisco, Gay Pride retains its political edge.

Equals

Today I looked at an apartment--put in an application actually for an apartment--that is in the area pretty near where Palmer and his father live, one town over. I liked the apartment as soon as I walked in, because it is on the top floor, because it has a little balcony, because there was a place for my brand new and really pretty stool.

But mostly I liked it because it is really similar in both design and layout to Palmer's dad's apartment. The bedroom leads into the bathroom past a series of mirrored closets, which is really nice. The carpet is white, the layout open. It definitely has the same feel as Palmer's dad's house, and I believe Palmer will see it as if his mom and dad have equal living conditions.

Maybe it seems like a silly issue, but I do not want my son to think his mom is "worse off" than his dad. Financially, of course, I make much less money than Palmer's father. But I try to manage what I have, and I like to think I do alright.

Plus Pa…

Academic hierarchies

I was having a conversations with some colleagues of mine on Friday, and was telling them about my experience at Víkingaheimar Museum in Reykjanesbær. I mentioned that in Iceland, as in most of Scandinavia, there is a very "flat hierarchy", which means that the metaphorical distance between the person on top and the person on the bottom of the hierarchy is very small. Icelanders do not go around showing a lot of deference to their president, and the same is even more true for anyone in a position of some authority. The Scandinavian tradition is one of equality, and that the role one plays in the work place or society does not make one "better" than anyone else.

So I was joking with my colleagues about how different this was than my experience working at a large American corporation. There, the hierarchy was very clearly marked. I sat in a room with 12 other cubicles. We had grey carpeting and tan cubicle dividers. Around that room were 6 doors. 3 of those doors ope…