Showing posts from August, 2009

Last year

With each passing festival, I find myself thinking about last year, and how much fun they were, how exciting and fresh, so much going on. Palmer and I went to Fískidagur í Dalvík, caught some of the action at Menningarnótt, had a good time at Sandgerðisdagar. I am not sure if this summer was as much fun for him, what with me working so much, and us not getting to many festivals, but I hope he was entertained by the trip to Prague, at least.

Til hamingju Fanney!

Fanney Halldorssdóttir, franka mín og skólastjóri Grunnskóla Sandgerðis, haldaði opið hús í dag og ég vil gefa hana hamingjuóskum. She oversaw the revamping of the entire school and the construction of a new building which links all the old buildings together and also the town pool. The new building houses the cafeteria and assembly hall, staff offices, and classrooms. The school was also reorganized at the same time, and new equipment installed. If there is any truth what so ever to the idea that architecture affects people, then I believe the open and colorful new school gives kids in Sandgerði a headstart on a bright future.


Two flocks of blackbirds are looping over the field across from my house. Appropriate, it seems, on a day when I am otherwise thinking about a highschool classmate of mine, who died in Iraq. I had heard something about someone from my highschool dying in action, but I did not realize until today that she was in my same class, and someone I spoke to pretty often. Megan McClung, a really nice girl.

So L.A.

On Friday, I checked with some friends of mine that are taking classes in the city, to see if I could carpool with them. One reminded me that if I went to talk to the people at Keilir, I could probably get a bus pass for free, and thus, well, I really ought to take the bus. But you know, there is just enough of a Southern Californian left in me that the bus bothers me. I don't like walking down the center aisle, looking for a seat (and here I might mention that the ReykjanesExpress is not a regular city bus with various seating options, but rather a tour bus with the dark lighting and high backed seats). I also dislike that there is no radio playing, or that it is so quiet you can't hear it. Last time I rode that bus, I noticed lots of kids listening to their Ipods, so I guess I could do that, but the thing is, I like to sing along to songs I hear, and well, that is really awkward on a bus. Probably also if I am carpooling, come to think of it. At anyrate, it seems quite clear


The Kennedys are often called America's Royalty, and I always understood that not to be a reference to their wealth or their political power, but to the potential for drama in their lives. Ever since the assassination of John and Robert, every calamity that befalls a member of the Kennedy family is explained in the media by the fact that they are a Kennedy. A family with that much wealth and power is also understood to be incredibly passionate, willing to take risks, living life on the edge. When terrible things happen to them, it is not an accident, but a further sign of the extraordinary nature of the family. I have always been hesitant to buy into that narrative frame, preferring instead to see them as regular people who are trying their best with their circumstances. And I think that has something to do with Chappaquiddick. I was born in 1972, so I missed of course the national trauma that the assassinations surely were. Instead my first association with the Kennedys came when

Life's challenges, little and big

Clearly I like a challenge, I would not have moved to this rocky little island if I did not. But the challenge of getting Vikingaheimar to be what I think it could be -- a place for people with like interests to share their knowledge and experience -- sometimes seems too abstract, and of course the dissertation is that too, abstractly challenging. My friend Koleen is pregnant, and worried about how the delivery will go. A hard challenge, an important challenge, and one everyone can relate to, because it is not abstract. I told her to give the acupuncture a real try. Then there are the little things, like the challenge of figuring out what to do with the stale taco shells I just bought two days ago.

The things that matter stay the same

I posted a comment to my previous entry, about the Jazz festival, wherein I mentioned meeting my cousin Einar there. I am still thinking about it, thinking about what a very nice coincidence it was. I'm sure no Icelander would find it noteworthy, but I still do, the stability of the connection, the instant recognition that we know each other and care about each other, no matter the years, no matter what comes to pass between then and now. He still likes music, I mean of course he does, but now he's a doctor, and it is nice to see him finding ways to keep that interest going. I was especially happy, since his plan was to leave after the first act (an Icelandic trio) and I encouraged him to stick around for part two (a German trio) and they were absolutely beyond belief. Avant guard but with such skill and humor and intelligence, it was really a joy once one got used to it. I bought their CD, and so did Einar.

Jazz festival

Having previously posted on happenings in the hinterlands, it seems only fair to mention that although Menningarnótt has passed in the hofuðborg, the 20 day Jazz festival continues. I think the main reason I like to listen to jazz live is that there, like at classical concerts, I feel no need whatsoever to sing along. Which is really good, since I have a terrible voice. Seriously.


Suðurnesja is abuzz with activity, between Sandgerðisdagur this weekend and Ljósanótt next weekend. Yep, Suðurnesjamenn are making plans. And that is really good for morale.


I think in the last year, I have spent a grand total of 7 days in Reykjavík, after being there quite a lot the first year I was living here. Now, with my dissertation research, it is quite likely that I will have to be going to the libraries in the city a lot, but I can feel myself stalling, wanting instead to keep working on the exhibit. The price of gas is probably the main reason I like to stay local.

School year begins

All the children started school this week here in Iceland, though in the United States the school year generally does not begin until after Labor Day (the first weekend in September). Good thing for my niece, Kelsea, who squeezed in a trip to Ireland this year, late summer.

Dampening affect

The summer time here in Iceland is of course wonderful. But on the other hand, everyone is always on summerfrí , no one is really home. Even things like Menningarnótt , many people who live in Reykjavík just are not home to enjoy it. Summer is in some ways the time of tourists, and it has almost a dampening affect on Icelanders. I never noticed that in California. In California, we were the ones at the beach early in the morning, we were the ones riding the surfboards, taking bikerides through the woods. In California, one never felt the need to suppress one's enthusiasm for life when a bunch of strangers were around.

Handicap access

We are building stairs down into Islendingur, the Viking ship we have on display. When we first opened, we used the stairs Gunnar had built to allow Hillary Clinton to climb on board, but they were actually rather steep and did not have a handrail. So now we are trying to build something more stable. There is unfortunately not a lot of room between the side of the boat and the fiski, the piece of wood that holds the mast in place, and we have never really figured out a good way to allow handicap access onto the ship, but at any rate, this is a step in the right direction (pardon the pun!). Museums in the United States design for handicap people, specifically, people in wheelchairs. Turns out they are about the same height as most children, so actually, designing cases to be at their eye level is a very good way to ensure that the largest number of visitors can see the exhibition. The privileged gaze is not the gaze of the 1.8 meter tall man, who in fact has the hardest time seeing the

Nothing like helping out a friend in need

Thank goodness for my big, unused storage closet. It means at least one friend of mine is smart enough to make my apartment her first and last stop in Iceland. I hope she won't mind, but this time I have set aside some clothes for her to look through. Now that all my clothes are here in Iceland, I have some redundancies and thought I might as well give away one of my two short green skirts, for instance. Giving does the heart good. Even if she does not really have room for it in her suitcase, I will probably make her take them. Pushy, pushy, pushy.


I just gave a tour of the exhibition to a group of British journalists who are on a 4 day trip to historic sites around Iceland. Rangvaldur told me that there was a ton of interest for participants from Britain to come here, so I use this as anecdotal evidence that indeed, Icesave has not ruined our relationship with the British Isles completely. I think I am going to start telling visitors that by the time women in the Viking Age were my age, they would have been grandmothers. I am so sick of people looking at me and thinking, 'How could such a young lady be an expert in anything?'.

Walking conversations

In many of the Icelandic sagas, a person with a legal case goes to see the local goði, and the most clever of them will say, 'let us go for a walk.' The device in the saga is probably meant to build up suspense, since the household will not hear all that is being said and thus neither will the readers. But there is also a sense in which a walk in nature lessens the difference in status between the two, it is an offer on the part of the goði to treat the visitor as an equal, because within the household, the goði naturally engenders certain formal signs of respect. After reading two such passages lately, I was also thinking about the walking conversations I have had, like the times I walked beside my professors after class. And I was thinking about certain philosophers who have a definite preference for thinking while walking. Within the context of the saga society, this may not be terribly important, but I think the saga author also expects the reader to understand that convers


Over the last two weeks, I had to field the question, 'So, what is your dissertation about?' many, many times. My standard answer is sufficiently baffling that most people, even serious academics, do not really comment much afterwards: 'It is on the relationship between literary culture and material culture.' Because the fact is I have developed my dissertation topic basically öfugt from the way most others do so. I've thought a lot about the theory, a lot about the baseline, I know what conditions I need met in order to begin exploring my topic. Where the dissertation goes from here I have no idea. All I can vouch for is that I have thought about the conditions a lot, I have chosen the best possible examples. Now all I can do is move forward, letting it go where it wants to go and needs to go, no preconceived expectations one way or another, no hypothesis to test, just the confidence that with the examples I have chosen, it cannot help but go somewhere interesting.

MJ's doctor

The bloggers here in Iceland made a lot out of Michael Jackson's death, but then I heard from several friends of mine how absolutely sick and tired people were getting of the coverage in the media of his funeral and the investigation into his death. Not having a TV, I had missed most of this. So today when I popped by, I was genuinely saddened to read that the police have probable cause to file murder charges against his doctor, who started this May and had been experimenting with different drugs to help Michael fall asleep. The reports seem to question the integrity of the doctor, but I prefer to think of it as one more example of the hubris of modern western medicine, an establishment which thinks it knows more about life than any other civilization in the history of mankind. All I can hope is that the doctor genuinely thought this was the best way to help him.


After three weeks of speaking almost exclusively English, it took me a while to start speaking Icelandic coherently at a meeting this afternoon. I suppose the people who know me well understand that I sometimes have trouble expressing myself, as I imagine others do sometimes as well, even if they are native speakers.


I have been listening to the wind all last night, and all this morning. I think it has something it wants to say, though I have not yet been able to tell what it is. Perhaps the wind does not speak Icelandic very well.

Slippery paths

Even at the major tourist destinations here in Iceland, there are still an amazing number of very dangerous paths. Muddy, twisty numbers winding up hillsides or along the very, very edge of a huge waterfall, even behind one. Or paths in the steam vent areas that aren't really marked at all, a piece of wood laid over a stream of boiling hot water whose direction could change in an instant. Certainly the Icelandic government feels that people ought to be aware enough to navigate these places on their own, and I am always impressed how many people do. But on the other hand, no one should go solo out into any of these places. The potential for real bodily harm is actually pretty great. Perhaps this is why most tourists just drive by these places of extreme natural beauty in the buses, or walk in big groups up short paths, near enough to take a peak, but avoiding any chance of slipping down the slope into a volcano, or a waterfall, or a vat of boiling water. Iceland, gotta love it.

Windy day

It was a very windy day here in Iceland, which means there is erosion in the highlands and potential trouble for ships at sea. But it also means the smoke from the grease fire in my oven dissipated very quickly, once I opened the windows. 

A former student

When I was a teaching assistant at George Washington University, one of my students had a rather unique, psychologically verified, learning disability. She absolutely could not function in a timed test-taking setting. The pressure of having to perform in a setting so demarkated just freaked her out, and she froze. So, we had to make accommodations for her. She usually was given the test in a different room slightly before the other students, and then she would bring us the test in our office when she was done. Just having a little bit of space and quiet helped her tremendously to concentrate, and do her best.  I myself happen to excel at timed tests. I enjoy the feeling of getting a good grade even within the pressure of the clock, and in fact with things like take-home tests, I usually am late getting started, so that there is some feeling of pressure to finish.  I do not know what sort of accommodations are made here in Iceland for differential learning styles, but it is indeed nec

Ideas into action

I like the challenge of taking all the ideas I have in my head, generated over the last two weeks of conferences and over the last two months of not really working much, and turning them into something real, productive, permanent.  In some ways, this is much easier to do in Iceland, because of the lack of bureaucracy , but in other ways it is much harder, because of the lack of bureaucracy . The nice thing about bureaucracy is it gives one a systemized way to turn ideas into action. Just fill in form 3864B. 

Thai Keflavik

I took the few bright souls who were smart enough to book themselves in a room in Keflavik tonight, in anticipation of a 7am (or earlier) flight tomorrow morning, out to dinner. Everyone jumped at the idea of Thai food, after days of the more homestyle meals at Reykholt (most of which were very good, if a bit repetitive). Although I was not blown away by Thai Keflavik the first time I ate there, tonight it was really good, fresh and flavorful, very nice. (except for the fried fish cakes, which were a bit flat and bland. Good with the hotsauce though!).  Yep, I would say Thai food in Iceland has come into its own. 

Archaeological sites

Yesterday we went out to Eirikstadir, before heading out on our boat ride. I found myself thinking about protocol on a site like that, how delicate and careful one ought to be about where one steps or where one throws one's garbage. They have indeed excavated the site, removing all the archaeological remains, so I was not so worried about the main hall. That has been 'closed', ie: by covering everything over with plastic and then thick layers of sod. But the outfields seemed to me to contain more archaeological features, like a stone boundary marker, and I was concerned about what possible damage might be done by a bunch of us tromping around up there.  There weren't any Icelandic archaeologists around to ask though (besides the guides who were quite busy), all of them finding ways to get back to Reykjavik, except me. Then again I am not really an Icelandic archaeologist. 


After an awkward day trying to talk to people I do not know very well, I have compiled the following rules. Never try to force a joke at the end of a serious comment. - I do this habitually, which just confuses people.  Never blog when in a terrible rush. - people thought I was odd for posting to my blog while walking down the street. Never assume the details do not matter, only the main point.  - like knowing the names of characters, etc. Some people pay a great deal of attention to each sentence a person states, and if each one is not in keeping with their understanding, then it throws off their interpretation of the whole. My PhD committee told me this, and I know it is true, but when I am tired, I find it hard to get each detail right. Never force a connection where none exists. - An academic conference is no place to try out test theories.  

On Breidafjordur

We scooped up some yummy fish!

From Eldfjallsafn

Andy Warhol's only landscape painting is right here in Iceland.

Danski dagar

Stykkisholmur hatid


I appear to have chosen to wear the 'wrong' boots for sitting on a bus and a boat. Three people have called mine, on left, posh. I am now a Spice Girl.

Snorri Sturluson

My hotel room here in Reykholt (which I am sharing with a German woman who does not speak English, which works out well) has an amazing view over the greenhouses and up the valley towards the glaciers, where the clouds hang almost all day long, except for a brief moment in the middle of the day.  I am sure I should be downstairs socializing with my colleagues, but I wanted to come up here, and watch the sunset instead. And I think I can see why Snorri got so much good thinking done here, so much good writing. There is strength in the place, a sense of clarity.  The Norwegians are talking about honoring Snorri´s memory by a dip in Snorralaug at midnight tonight, which I guess would be the other way to do it.   


I have just discovered that Menningarnótt is this weekend, and I am carless in Reykholt, which means I will miss it all. Had I known it was this weekend, I would have skipped out on the tour tomorrow, and gone to Reykjavík instead.   I suspect this means I already missed Sandgerdisdagar also.  The forces that be are trying to make me boring, I can just feel it. 

Why Americans believe in God

Tonight I was fortunate to sit down to dinner with two Scottish scholars I had never spoken to before, and Gudmundur Olafsson, from the National Museum, whom I have known for a long time but not well. He took us to the cave at Surthellir today, where he had excavated some years ago. It was challenging but fabulous.  Dinner was also fabulous, especially the dinner conversation: politics, the financial collapse, American health care, and the Obama administration. Gudmundur brought up the religious fanatics in the US, and how they were working against the Obama administration. This got everyone talking about religion in the US, and how strange it is when US politicians mention praying to god before making a decision about this or that. The Scottish lady then brought up that in Great Britain, there was once a time when everyone was very religious also, not so long ago. This made me wonder whether or not it might be so that a strengthened belief in God has been our cultural response to taki


When trying to enter into the cave of a group of famous outlaws, one has to step very carefully. We managed, without anyone getting seriously injured. 

Getting through

Tom and I made it over the 'Goatlands' just in time to meet everyone at the Icecave. I'm clearly in a Tolkien novel.


Herna var folk einu sinni ad byggja

Rewrites, etc.

Today I told Margret Hallgrims about my latest idea for my dissertation research topic. Poor thing, I think over the years she's heard four or five versions of it. Each time I talk to her, she is equally encouraging and helpful, finds a way to agree with me that this is a move in a positive direction. She is I think giving me a chance to learn from my mistakes, being patient with me, confident that I'll eventually get it right.  When I turn to the writing part, I imagine my committee will be the same, giving me a chance to rewrite my chapters and develop my ideas until it gets to where it needs to get to.  Some people imagine the PhD dissertation process as rather this huge test, a stressful performative moment, but I somehow take it as a collegial effort whose success is important to more people than me.  Probably just one more downside to being an optimist, but I don't see it that way. 

You shudda been there

The public lecture yesterday for the Viking Congress was quite the event. The talk was interpreted as a claim for a Slavic settlement in Iceland, whereas I think the speaker rather was only suggesting how close minded our archaeological interpretations often are. Some of the pit houses have their best analogs in Slavic bit houses. But the mere suggestion of such a possibility arose a response that one must really call nationalistic. It was kind of cute, even if it was also kind of silly.   

Speech act theory

Kendra and I have discussed on various occasions the differences in scholarly uses of the term speech act theory. She means it in a linguistic sense, one of those meta-linguistic features of language that supply meaning not embedded in either its morphological or phonemic level, marked syntactically but perhaps not governed thereby. I mean it more in the anthropological sense of intentionality, of cultural manipulation, where saying something has the effect of erecting, or correcting, certain expectations in the audience. It can also have an impact on the speaker, because in fact the saying aloud of something changes the ontological status of that which has been evoked. It can make ghosts disappear, for instance, to yell out, humm ho! It is performative and contextual, but it is also doing something very immediate.  She's now in the manuscript course. I wonder if she'll find they speak to her? 


Though I have not finished unpacking, I am pretty sure I left the recharger to my phone in my hotel room in Uppsala. At any rate, it is not where it should be. Funny thing is I was given another charger for that phone, but for 110 volt, and I left that one in the States (although I could have used it in my "American" apartment here). So, I have a phone that is dead, and two chargers for it, each element on its own continent. This does me no good at all.  I used up the last of the juice on my phone trying to upload a photo to my blog from the Krysuvik archaeological site we went to today. The site had several farms close to each other dating to the earliest settlement period. A lava eruption in 1151 had wiped out the entire valley and destroyed the natural harbor, but the turf walls around a few structures protected them from being covered over by the lava. It was incredible to see, sort of a natural disaster cum miracle. 


The door to Bessastadir was wide open for us when we got there tonight for the reception*, and then Olafur Ragnar told us to walk anywhere we wanted, sit anywhere we wanted, stay as long as we like. The wine kept coming around, and the little sandwiches. His comments were warm and charming, and he seemed really genuinely happy to have a bunch of nerdy archaeologists in the house. It was a nice night, no doubt about it.  *I always have the impression in fact that the door is unlocked, it being the people's house and all. But that can't be right. 


Though academic conferences are wonderful intellectual opportunities to grow and learn, my legs are also a bit stiff from doing nothing but sitting for days and days now. Seems somehow unfair, as if we should be doing jumping jacks while talking. At least then no one would fall asleep. 

Mera en sma mont

Yeah, OK, I have to say that was cool. The President of Iceland mentioned my museum in depth and me by name in his opening welcome, in front of a very prestigious gathering of Viking Age specialists. Needless to say, it was a good thing I was there. 

The Viking Congress

The quadra-annual international Viking Congress, which has not been held here in Iceland since the 19th century, is in town this week, and it is an exciting opportunity for Icelandic archaeology. The United States is not normally represented at the Viking Congress, and there are only a select number of graduate students allowed to attend (in fact, participation is closed to all but invitees). So I feel a certain amount of pressure to have something vaguely interesting to say about my own work, and have about 10 to 12 slides in which to say it. Hmm. 


Sverrir Jakobsson has been doing really interesting work on the intellectual history of Iceland, and was one of the presenters at the conference I just went to.* He uses the concept of center and periphery, which, as other members of the INOR group believe, has been incredibly influential on Icelandic culture in particular, because it has more continually existed on the periphery. Other places have at some point in time been in a position to believe they were the center of something, but Icelanders have never done that. Having a center, finding the thing against which one can measure one's own goals, ideas, and aspirations, should in fact be a very healthy thing, a thing which helps a nation, like a person, stop floundering around aimlessly. But there is also some sense in which that is a sign of insecurity, that the center should not be so far off from oneself.  Now, Iceland can see itself as the epicenter of the banking crisis, which is not a causal center but still at least s

Good leads

I have got to say, that as an oral learner (ie: someone who processes and remembers information they receive orally -- as opposed to written or visual or tactile learners), I love academic conferences. I soak up as many talks as I can, take tons of notes, make all sorts of exciting intellectual leaps along the way. I feel like every conference is the equivalent of a Master's degree. By the last day, I had re-outlined my dissertation and chosen a new test case, figured out how to revise an article that was recently rejected, and had enough info I thought for a case or two on boat burials. I am therefore a bad person to ask about how a conference was, because I judge a conference on how much intellectual stimulation I got out of it, not on how well organized it was, how good the food was, how nice the hotel, how good the whether, how many people found me charming and amazing, not even on how well my paper did or did not go over. I'm there to hear what other people have to say.  I

Give me hope Johanna!

This blog subject has been on my mind for a long time, but since I am too exhausted tonight to even leave the house, it will now see the light of day.  When Johanna became the Prime Minister of Iceland, many blog posts used the title of an Eddy Grant song from the album Barefoot Soldie r, Give me hope Johanna. Though I appreciated that this fabulous song was even known here in Iceland, I disliked the use of this title out of context. Because the song is in fact a sophisticated protest song, the upbeat tempo belying the anger in the words. It fits in the context of the album with the songs Youth Tom Tom and Le Tigre, and the title track, Barefoot Soldier.  Perhaps at this point it may be obvious that Eddy Grant's Barefoot Soldier is one of my favorite albums, right up there with Graceland (going on the criteria of wanting to hear the whole thing start to finish and never getting tired of it). I like how these political songs are interspersed with less cerebral offerings like "Y

Cool and the Gang

All of us Berkeley PhDs (well, not withstanding that mine is not yet done, they were nice enough to let me into the club anyhow) sat together at the castle banquet. We’d also hung out together at the reception at Gamla Uppsala, where the main topic of the night was John Lindow. But at the castle, it was a Carol night. Even that setting did not seem quite unique enough to discuss the only scholar to reach rock star status in both Old Norse studies and Film studies, all the while sporting spiky white hair. To pull off something like that, one has to be amazingly cool.   

Gripping beasts

One of the best papers I heard at the conference was Carrie Roy's paper on the gripping beast motif, especially since her conclusions (based only on archaeology) matched my analysis of some Eddic poetry done without reference to material culture. So that is a nice little example of how people working with different methods can still reach the same conclusions. Both of us concentrated on the relationship to hugr and ideas of the penetrable body.   But it occurs to me now that the beast may be gripping each other as a sign of protection through solidarity, and not, as she proposed, that this represents a fylgja, which is basically a helper-spirit. 

I must enjoy it

I am at yet another airport, have begun actually to loose count of how many I have been to in the last three months. My wallets are an organized mess, holding as they do three different currencies and bulging with receipts. I have trouble navigating my way around the different airports, since they have all begun to look the same and yet they are not the same, and I should be thoroughly sick of it. But no, I'm already working on the travel arrangements for my next trip, somehow reassured by knowing the prospect is still out there.  There must be someway to become addicted to something slightly more sane, slightly more environmentally friendly, than flying all over the world.  


That's the name of this song.

Uppsala castle

The waitstaff here is excelent.

Boat burials

I went to a terrific site tonight, just north of Uppsala, a cemetery that had been in use from the Roman iron Age through to the late Viking Age. The site was not in continuous usage, but rather when through phases of activity. What was so remarkable was that even with a gap of several centuries, when the site began to be used again, the new group knew or remembered where the previous group had dug their graves, and did not dig new graves on top of the old. Rather they moved to another part of the site after one part was 'done', in a symbolic sense.  There is I suppose no point in consecrating ground that has already been consecrated, even if the rituals used to do so do not correspond to one's own cultural traditions. An amazing bit of respect, respect for the elders, respect for what had come before.  And cool beans that one phase included a bunch of Viking boat burials (small rowing boats, not large ships).  I was really happy I went. 


Yoghurt is a cute thing to buy in Sweden, both because dairy has a long tradition here, but also because the word sounds really perfect said with a Swedish accent. So I bought a drinkable one for dinner tonight. But while walking down the street, trying to open it, I kept bumping into things instead, completely perplexed. Turns out it has an easy pull tab on the side, exactly where one's mouth natural goes. Those Swedes, they think of everything. 

Organ music*

Tonight we had an organ concert at the cathedral. It was a bit spooky, and a bit uncomfortable (we were all sopping wet from having trudged around an archaeological site just before arriving at the Cathedral), but mostly beautiful.  Though dark, the sound should be ok. *dedicated to Hildigunnur, who should have been there, since we had no idea what we were listening to. 

Day trip

Pulling into the train station from my little jaunt to Stockholm today, I had this feeling of coming home. Perhaps I really did believe I would never find a ticket back to Iceland, or maybe I just like it here. 

Making it work

I can hear the conversation (said with Swedish accent): We need a natural history museum in Stockholm, but let's put in a fake stave church, just to be kitchy.

Making it work

I can hear the conversation (said with Swedish accent): We need a natural history museum in Stockholm, but let's put in a fake stave church, just to be kitchy.

The king

I have a number of dresses in my suitcase that were in the back of my closet at home in California, now destined for Iceland. I have no idea if they will like it there, but since they were mostly thin silk shell dresses, rather than a poofy affair, I decided to stick them in my luggage.  I wonder if they will get much use in Iceland, none of them being black and Icelandic women tending only to wear black at formal occasions.   But I do know at least one of them will get some use this Friday night, when I am having dinner in Uppsala Castle. The king won't be there, which is a good thing, since the dress I most want to wear is the same one I wore when I met King Gustav in 2002 (not that he'd remember, but that is just tre gouche).  I hope Professor Mitchell will be willing to dust off his dancing shoes to take a whirl with me on the floor like he did in Alaska a few years ago at another academic conference (after I went up to him and said, 'Come on, let's dance' -- ha

Getting there

Faced with the option of living out the rest of my life, or an indeterminate length of time, as a homeless person in Sweden, I decided I should probably figure out a way back to Iceland.  Technically speaking, I had a way. An extremely silly way. A 12 hour layover in Newark was bad enough on the way here, but jeez oh peat, doing the same thing times 4 plus making my way from Newark to JFK with four heavy bags, I mean give me a break. Money is only money, right? So I did the sensible thing, booked myself straight from Stockholm to Reykjavik. The airlines are not considering this a change of ticket, because, interestingly enough, the legal definition of change is whether or not the origin city of a flight is the same. The destination city can change, and that will be OK (as long as it is the same continent!), but the origin city of the flight cannot change. Then it is just a new ticket. Which means I get to say I did not change my ticket, which is OK with me, since it sounds rather more

Old Uppsala

To stand beside the three mounds from 600 A.d. is a humbling experience


The room where I gave my talk today did not have a podium, or any sort of stand. So I had to sit down to give my talk -- I wondered for a moment if I should even bother going to the front of the room.  This might not have been a big deal, except my talk did not have illustrations, so me moving around behind a podium, gesturing, looking around, and smiling was a pretty important component of how I could express my point. I do not presume the sound of my voice is sufficient. I got some decent feedback later, so I guess people were listening, but really, I prefer to be able to stand up and look at the people I am talking to, instead of down at a piece of paper.  Now of course I am free to enjoy the rest of the conference, if I ever get over my jetlag!


I met a nice lady at the airport yesterday who had type two diabetes, like my mom. She had successfully managed it for years with only diet and exercise, no pills. She, her endochrinologist, and the staff dietitian had worked out a specific routine for her, which would take the pressure off of her weakened pancreas. She said just two or three weeks after they came up with this plan, she started to feel so much better, had much more energy. And in the course of a year, she lost 35 pounds, and has kept it off.  She admitted to me she still eats a tiny bit of sweet potato every now and then, and one or two pieces of chocolate a day, but it does not throw off her blood sugar too much.  It was really nice to talk to her. She was on her way to visit grandkids in Denmark, 75 years old, diabetic, and undertaking international travel with no worries. Hope I'm like that when I am her age. 

Swedish hotel rooms

Years ago, the curatorial group for the exhibition met in Stockholm, and everyone complained about the hotel rooms, specifically the shower cum bathroom set up, where the shower head is right next to the toilette and the whole thing tiled and raised above the floor of the "bedroom". Our hostess, Carin, said we should not complain, since in fact we were lucky to have a bathroom in the room at all.  When I checked into my hotel here in Uppsala a bit ago and discovered it had the same set up, I made the rather rash judgment call that this is just how Swedish hotel rooms are.  And here I was fantasizing about a big old American style hotel room with two queen (perhaps even king!) beds, a sitting area, a full bathroom (with a hair-dryer), a little closet (with an iron and ironing board), blah blah blah. Welcome to Sweden, baby!

Three at a time

The airport here has the TV on, some musak playing, and announcements being made overhead.  The people here are talking, eating, and sleeping. That is those who are not surfing the web, talking on the phone, or watching TV.  People are amazing at multi-tasking.  


I hereby admit that I did not know that Sonia Sotomayor had been confirmed for the US Supreme Court. I knew Sutter stepped down, but had neglected to follow what happened after that. Big news, really, since she is relatively young and her opinions will be be influential for many years.  Yep, everytime I turn on CNN, I am reminded why it is always worth a look-see. 


I watched the clip about the protests in Iceland, and, well, it reminds me why, during the 6 years I have spent at UC Berkeley, I have never really become an activist. The argument goes that movements need attention, but the movements I respect--Environment California, Habitat for Humanity, ASPCA--rely on grassroots legislative petitioning, not on high-profile events. These take a long time, and are maybe a bit more elitist. They think it is important to change the mind of the politicians, and to affect popular opinion that way, rather than the other way around.   

70's architecture

. . . is a legacy we are stuck with. 

Unbelievably silly

Palmer was able to add to his list yesterday, his list of silly things mommy has done (like breaking a glass at a restaurant in Prague). Because I left my computer bag, with my phone, my wallet, and my passport, at the Notary's office, only I did not realize it until I was all the way at the airport, 45 minutes away (but with traffic on the bridge, a good hour away). Had a minor breakdown in the parking garage when I realized this.  Called the office where I left the bag, about 20 minutes before they were set to close. Asked if anyone was planning to hang around. Asked if anyone that worked in the office lived near the airport, or was heading that way. The manager said he would get back to me. A few minutes later, Ralph calls. Says he doesn't have any immediate after work plans, and is willing to drive to the airport (an hour drive!). A few more follow up calls, I suggest we meet mid-way somewhere, and about 40 minutes later, we meet at the parking lot near the old navy base on


Whenever I am in California, and wander into a coffee shop or a Starbucks, I am reminded of kaffi at my grandmother's in Iceland, or at my mother's cousin's house. The kind of coffee where not only is a pot of coffee and some kleinur on the table, but three different kinds of cakes, plus ponnukokkir, sulta, og rjomi, cookies, usually some chocolate. A veritable feast. The generosity, the freedom of choice, to nibble at a bite of this and a bite of that while sipping some coffee, boy do I miss that. Seriously, the other morning I went into a donut place (24 hour, how cool is that?) and got three different kinds of donuts (apple fritter, raisin roll, and maple old fashioned) just because I wanted some variety to go with my cup o' joe. I did not finish any of them, by the way!

Iceland and California

Yesterday, one of the neighbor's here was asking me about my work and my background. And I was explaining how I have been going back and forth between Iceland and California my whole life, so even though it seems a bit unusual, I am very used to it. And to me it makes a lot of sense, not only professionally, but also because the the two places are so very different. I appreciate the sunny days and energetic pace in California now much more than I did when I was younger, and I am also continually learning to appreciate the intimacy of a small society like Iceland.

New blog

My Eriksson phone created a new blog for me. Until I figure out how to migrate it, the address is

Fast learner

Palmer had no trouble riding his new bike. He's of course been on a tricycle for a while.

Construction delays

I was on campus yesterday (my Calnet ID suddenly stopped working), and noticed just how much has been built on and around campus since I was last there -- it has been since I guess November or December. Three buildings that were being framed then are up and running now, though with very few occupants. Then there is a huge new edifice rising on the west end of campus, at the turn about, which was a only a fenced off field last time I saw it (which should have a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, when it is done). The new Law Building is also well underway. What surprised me about this flurry of activity is that it is taking place in the midst of a terrible budget crisis for the UC school system, such that faculty has had a substantial pay cut and grants for students are being reduced. But I think, much like the Concert Hall in Reykjavik, that people in the budget office have figured out that it does not make any sense, in a long term perspective, to delay construction on a building on

Staying on Iceland time

Since I'm here in California for such a short trip, I am trying somewhat to just stay on Iceland time. Which means going to sleep when I put Palmer to bed (though of course I have to admit I did the same in Iceland some times!) and waking up ridiculously early, unable to do much of anything but lay around restlessly or go online. Something got me started thinking about our trip to Disneyworld last winter, and that got me thinking about the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. I grew concerned that in the recent overhaul to that ride, they had taken out my favorite part, the changing portraits. But a quick check on Wikipedia allayed my fears, in fact said that the Disneyworld version decided to put in the changing portraits from the Disneyland version, taking out the werewolf and other monsters that used to line the corridore. Ah, yes, a productive use of time, I know.


In the process of sorting through all my clothes (and books and knick knacks), I ran across the outfit I wore when I met Hillary Clinton, a short dress with a long blue jacket . It is all stained now (spilled some soup on it last time I wore it), so I have to decide if I should get rid of it or not. I remember being so excited to meet her, so excited to pick out the outfit to wear. I practiced what I would say and everything, about how proud I was as an Icelandic-American to get to work on the Viking exhibition. She replied to me, "Well, good for you!" and gave me a very nice smile. That was all it took. I was extremely satisfied with the encounter. Same actually when I met Leonard Nimoy and Keifer Sutherland. All a celebrety has to do is just give a nod and a smile to make people's day.

Taste in Movies

Dave is wanting to throw out most of his movies, and all of his CDs. I'm wondering if I should take some of them, except well I don't think I'll be able to play the videos in Iceland. But Dave has great taste in films. Likes them sort of dark and thought-provoking, a bit strange. In fact, the first movie he ever showed me was Bergman's Seventh Seal, which I had never seen, even though I was a Scandinavian Studies major. Embarrassing that I had not seen such a fabulous film. I am going to have to make a concerted effort, when I get back to Iceland, to try to keep building my appreciation for good cinema, and I do actually think there are some decent movie houses and video stores not only in Reykjavik but also in Akureyri. But still it is sort of ironic, since California is surely more known for that. Poor Iceland, I just keep heaping on the expectations.


President Obama (and the new congress) passed a bill called cash for clunkers. It gives citizens up to $4500 if they trade in their old car for a new, fuel efficient car; the main qualifying requirement is that the old car get less than 18 miles per gallon highway. There has been overwhelming public response to the program, such that Congress had to put in more funds to meet demand. This is clearly a good program, a win win for consumers (who will have a lower gas bill from now on), for the car industry (who gets a bunch of new customers) and for the environment (less wasting of precious resources). I also like it because it officially means my SAAB is not a clunker. Though the car currently does not run right (its cracked head gasket means it is blending oil and water), when it does run right, it is very fuel efficient, usually about 30 mpg. Just one more way my SAAB suits me perfectly, one more reason that when I say "my car" I mean her, and not the Mazda. I just don't


What a way to spend my bloggaversary, cleaning out an empty apartment devoid of internet connection (I could not even piggy back on the neighbors' wi-fi, those Berkeley types are all so uptight about passwords ). But still I was thinking about it, telling my mom and my niece also. In fact, just now I'm tearing up, trying to conjure the appropriate words. As soon as I started blogging, I wondered why I had not started long before. It felt as natural as walking, as liberating as talking, as enlivening as taking a deep breath on a crisp morning. Each day of this year has helped me learn more about myself, and more about the world around me, than any other year of my life. Even when I had so much else to do, I was always rewarded 10 fold by the time I took to write a blog entry, or read someone elses. It made my day. I am truly grateful for this forum of self-expression. And so I wanted to say thank you to my readers, with much love.

A place for radicals

I was driving around Berkeley this morning, since Palmer woke up ridiculously early and I wanted to get him out of the house a bit.  I'm used to the electric car dealerships, the tarot card reading places, the organic markets, the fair trade clothing stores, and the specialty shops with wooden toys. But it was when I drove past the pet food store with a huge sign on the window declaring "We Have Raw Food" that I found myself second guessing the wisdom of incorporating marketing and radicalism. I mean, part of the BARF movement is precisely to make us rethink the need to buy specialty prepared food for our pets. And yet here it has been co-opted into a marketing angle for this food store.  Indeed, I am hard pressed now to think of a single socially conscious anti-establishment trend that some shop or other in Berkeley has not managed to turn into a marketing niche. It is truly amazing how insidious the reach of capitalism is.  This does not change my mind that Berkeley is