Showing posts from October, 2009


There is, apparently , some sort of law in Iceland that domestic animals are not allowed to be out in the countryside over the winter. For this reason, some sheep up in the north are going to be round up and shot, just for having the nerve to be able to survive on their own through the winter. I wonder if perhaps Icelanders fear the image of roving flocks of sheep, akin to the herds of American buffalo or African elephants, stampeding whole villages? I of course think the sheep should be left in peace, for goodness sake. Plus it even seems like kind of a good idea, to leave the sheep out there, so that if a polar bears floats this a-way, they will have something to eat. It can be like a fastfood stop off for polar bears, who will then have the energy to get on their way back to their natural habitat.

My goal . . .

is to get a 25 page summary of my dissertation done before Friday. That should definitely be doable if I keep myself focused. I think the most important thing in issues like this actually is to have a goal, and to feel like everyday you are making a little bit of progress towards that goal.

Razzle dazzle

In the movie Minority Report (and indeed in many futuristic movies) advertisements are digital projections that accost a person walking down the street; in that film they even do a retina scan to get your personal file and target the ad just to you. Now, of course the technology has not gotten that sophisticated yet, but here in Iceland they are certainly trying their hand at the "super distracting" advertisement. Not just images of barely clad bodies--advertisers have been exploiting sex appeal for a good 60 years. No, I am talking about how much the ads are animated, for lack of a better word. It is like a powerpoint presentation or something, with the text floating in from the side, the image morphing, changing color, all within the little box that should just be a nice photo and some simple text. These are ads on websites and blogs, of course, digital media. They are especially sophisticated on and It is a surecut case of razzle dazzle. And thus I inc

Trick or treating

This year, the residents up here at the base will be having Trick or treat again. I think I'll try to see what I can scare up tomorrow by way of candy and decorations. Always so fun to have the neighborhood kids knock on the door.


I have extolled the virtues of Kaffi Tár here before, and I shall not waiver in my enthusiasm for that brand, especially the lattes they make on site. Really good. I was such a fan of the lattes that I started also buying their beans and grinding them at home to make my own espresso drinks. But then I got sort of cheap and thought perhaps if I bought the Ethiopian medium roast beans, instead of the proper espresso beans, I could grind some of them for my drip coffee maker, and some of them for my espresso press (some mornings I like coffee, other mornings I like espresso). Problem is I can never quite get the grind right for the drip coffee when I grind it myself. It is either too course or too fine for the drip machine. And though the Ethiopian beans are not bad in the espresso drinks, it is not the same carmelly flavor one gets with espresso roast. So the other day at the store I thought maybe I should take a lessen from the pagebook of my wonderful grandmother, and buy the kind

Political ambitions

I have complained before in this blog on the nature of the California Proposition system, which basically has voters vote directly on legislation drafted by special interest groups rather than having law makers draft and ratify laws. But I was reading something today about the dearth of qualified politicians here in Iceland, and that of course is a matter of considerable concern to everyone here. I think the banking crisis made Icelanders begin to question not just the fitness of bankers in this country but also the politicians, or anyhow, the lawmakers. Those are actually two different things, which the California system very clearly points out. Though I find the proposition system cumbersome, I was realizing today that I also find it fascinating. I always want to read through them all, including the fine print for issues I cannot decide on or care a lot about. On the other hand, politics--anything from elections for student body president to local mayoral elections to national electi

Chasing ghosts

Iceland has a high-tech system where all the different civic agencies share a common database, or at least that is what I thought. (Such a thing is generally frowned on in the United States, and quite rare, since of course Americans like to think what they are up to is none of the governments business.) I was enthusiastic about the streamlining of bureaucracy such a move represents. Whether it is something I am doing wrong or not, weird ghosts keep entering the machine in relation to my kennitala at least. My address spontaneously gets changed back to the first one I had in Sandgerdi now and again, and each time I call around to find out why or how, everyone just says, "Well, it is right in our system." Now my kennitala is not coming up in the database for the menntamalaraduneyti (cultural ministry) which means I cannot apply for a grant I need to apply for. Gaman af þessu.

Pushing away the extraneous

Just a boring dissertation update, but I have to say that yesterday was a great day! Really great! A dissertation, like any project, is this huge thing and there are so many, many ways to begin and develop it. And of course there are a lot of aspects to this subject and I know that, I know the temptation is there to just try to talk about everything I know! But yesterday, it just got really simple. All of a sudden, I realized a dissertation is not like an essay. In an essay, each paragraph, each section, has to be carefully crafted so that the argument anticipates the next paragraph, the next section. The same train of thought has to be maintained throughout, and the evidence presented in such a way that the reader follows the flow (this anyhow is how I like to do it...wink). So I was thinking the dissertation was like that too, that I had to have each chapter building on the same line of evidence as the one before, so that at the end I got to some magnificent conclusion that no one co

Highschool philosophy teacher

I got an email today from an old friend from highschool, and we were reminiscing about those days. And it occurred to me that perhaps it would be worth blogging about my highschool. American schools are of course really variable, some have a lot of tax revenue if they are in a wealthy area, so the schools are in good shape and there are enough well-qualified teachers to give a real quality education. This is absolutely not always the case, because Americans react very badly to the idea of wealth being "redistributed." Anyhow, my highschool was one of the good ones, in fact the year I graduated we were listed as one of the top 100 highschools in the United States (including both public and private, if I remember right, so it really was quite the honor). One thing that got us that recognition was our "humanities core" program. A group of 50 or so of us (out of a group of 250) that were high achievers (not just good academically, also the best musicians, best drama kid

Quality control

Johanna is in Sweden now, talking up Iceland's application to join the E.U. Now, as my readers will surely suspect, I have all sorts of opinions on that matter, but I must say one thing I really like about the EU is their quality control measures. Some of these seem to be less uptight than the US measures, like say for medicine, where the US Food and Drug Administration just takes forever to get a new drug approved. But other things, like ergonomic designs of desk furniture, is much better. The EU's Lighten the Load campaign has been diligent about discussing, researching, considering alternatives, and trying to find solutions to a problem that a lot of people do not seem to take very seriously. Though these regulations may be cumbersome, the idea is that only those companies that are diligent about improving the quality of life for their employees should be in business. So this is one reason among many that I am hoping Iceland joins the EU. The chairs here at Arni Magnusson

Forgot to mention

Yesterday, my friend Koleen and I experienced one of those "we don't know what an Icelander would do" sort of moments. Her son had been playing with a boy from school, they came home to her house. She asked when he was supposed to go home, and he said he had no curfew. She figured this happens in Iceland. So she gave him dinner. And they did homework together. And then it was time for her son to go to bed. At this point, the little boy announces that actually, he does not know how to get home. At which point, Koleen calls me. Well, first she tried to call the number she had from school for this kid's family, but no one answered. She told me all this, and we both sat there for a minute, wondering what the social expectation is in Iceland in a situation like this. Was she supposed to let the boy stay over, give him jammies? Would the boys parents freak out if she did that, call the cops on her? Or would they think that was normal? Anyhow, I said to her that I thought

Settler narratives

Growing up in California, the movement of the (white) settlers across the plains, over the rockies, to the shores of California was omnipresent. I mean it was so much a part of my early imagining, I am sure it forms a core metaphor for all sorts of my ideas. We make the joke in California that we live "out west" and everyone else is "back East", we still say that today even though of course California is far from a wilderness frontier anymore. In the opening segment to Little House on the Prairie  there is a short scene of wagon coming down a hill, and of course to anyone who grew up like I did, this instantly evokes an entire narrative whereby settlers moved out across the plains. I was always sure that the moment being depicted was the moment when Pa first chose the spot of land. He came over the hill side, and he said, "This looks like a good spot." He made that decision because he had the knowledge and experience to know what to look for; somewhere wit

My sister

Found out that my sister is going to be joining us for Thanksgiving down in Southern California, which is really exciting. Surely there is room at the table! I may even put out a proper setting for her, she likes that sort of thing. We both collect China sets.

Well jeez

I do not suppose on a day when Iceland made international news for its treatment of an American company that I can, in all good conscious, simply ignore this. So, on the off chance anyone hasn't heard, the company that had three MacDonald's franchises here in Iceland has told MacDonalds that they would like to keep the buildings, keep the style of food, keep the same sort of packaging and staffing styles, but use Icelandic produce in the food, to cut back on cost (plus they will probably taste better). Well, to MacDonald's this means they cannot insure quality control (plus I think the franchise thing is sort of a scam, like Jenny Craig - only $10 for 4 weeks, but you have to buy all of your food there too!). Anyhow, MacDonald's said no, said you can't use our name any more if you do that. So, the company, being Icelandic, said, "Well, how about we change the name?" (because being MacDonald's here was not really doing them any favors -- Americans are n


Well, I have tried to avoid blogging about this topic. When I lived in Washington D.C., I heard a lot about the International Monetary Fund, witnessed the sit-ins around it in the mid 1990s, talked to anthropologists that hated it and anthropologist that loved it (well, the World Bank ). The problem is that the World Bank does not differentiate between the huge global corporate enterprises it is involved in and the individual, regional impacts they have. They have a one size fits all solution, instead of understanding that there are lots of local variables to take into account, and that never is it a simple ban on this or a green light on that for all countries or all projects. Anyhow, Iceland is on the IMF schedule finally, and so it should be interesting to see the outcome of that meeting. Starts the same day as the World Series, which I think officially makes October 28th it a red letter day!


Icelandic carrots are different than American carrots in that they do not come to a point at the end. Instead of looking like a tapered candle (see photo), Icelandic carrots are equally thick at the top and at the bottom, and this isn't the way they are cut. I would guess it is because the ground is shallow or something. Still, I think it is incredibly cool they are grown here at all, and was happy to have them with my meal of meat and potatoes. All very nutritionally well rounded!

Au pair

One friend of mine is currently an au pair (live in babysitter) in Berkeley. The daughter of a friend here in Iceland is an au pair in Italy. One of my Icelandic friends is thinking about trying to get an au pair from abroad when her second baby is born. These are all of course wonderful opportunities for both the host families and the au pair. One friend of mine (well, a relative of a relative who I have known for a long time) was an au pair in the United States and became basically the adopted daughter of the family. Five years later she is still living with them, and they are helping her pay for her college. I have mixed feelings about this, in a way it seems (and honestly no offense meant to anyone, just a thought) that this is some sort of voluntary form of human trafficking. Kind of like adopting babies from China (again, no offense). It is a system whose apparatus is only possible on the backs of a vast globalized network sustained by petroleum based travel, I mean just to b

The long hike

When I first started the PhD program at UC Berkeley, there were others in the department who were almost done, but had not filed yet. And I was in a pretty good position, since I already had a Master's. I just had to learn to read Latin and German, plus develop my reading lists, all the while taking courses. I look back on it now and it seems like wow how did I manage (especially considering I gave birth to Palmer 1 year into the program!). But I did manage, I took the PhD qualifying exams in May of 2007. "All" I had to do was write the dissertation. The example of those who were ahead of me in the program--their reading lists and hearing about their dissertation topics--was extremely inspiring and helped very much. Now of course their example is a little bit less helpful on an intellectual basis--my dissertation is obviously my own--but I know anyhow they are people I can count on emotionally, since they certainly know what I am going through. In the mean time other

Everything OK?

Well, Dave and Palmer are in Georgia now for a week. I am happy they will get a chance to see Dave's mom, Jackie, and Dave's sister. But of course it means I will not get to "see" Palmer all week. Even if I call there, I know I will get a two minute "hi mom" before he goes to run off (a telephone without a video function does not hold his interest very well!). Anyhow, keeping my finger's crossed this makes me more productive this week instead of less, as I try to keep myself busy.  Sorry for a bummer of a blog entry. 

The Next Generation: All good things

Icelandic television has always bought television shows in sindicate, except just in the last few years with things like 30 Rock and Jay Leno, which only air a day later than they do in the United States. Still, what is missing here is the sort of marketing extravaganza which accompanies television shows in the United States, both to hype new series, to boost ratings for sagging shows (like when ER went live for some episodes), or just to feed on the popularity of a show (often just before it goes into sindicate). The funny thing is though, that sounds a lot more capitalistic and cynical than it feels in practice. In practice, all of this has a wonderful emotional dimension to it. Television shows are the way that many Americans manage to have small chat with one another over the office water cooler (because we have nothing else in common). Like the equivalent of gossiping about the neighbors, gossiping about Ross and Rachel makes people feel connected. I have never been a big TV w

Baby steps

Today I was trying to explain to my 5 year old cousin why it was that her newborn sister could not walk yet. It takes a long time even to get to the point of taking baby steps, I was telling her. Usually around the 1 year birthday. Never am I more aware of how bad my Icelandic is then when I talk to a child, and they go "ha?" at every other word. It may not be a confidence booster, but anyhow, it was a priceless little conversation, had by the way while she was going poopie. Perhaps this distraction cut down on her comprehension skills.

í tilefni dagsins

Today is my brother's birthday, Erik, and also my franka here in Iceland, Maria. The world feels a little smaller to me on day like this, in a good way.


I have somehow managed to replicate a California lifestyle for myself here. I did not mean to do so. I thought getting an apartment right near the museum would mean no commute. Heck, I was fantasizing about riding a horse to work! But actually, so much of what I need to do has to be done in Reykjavík, I think commuting is just something I am going to have to live with. 

Law of limited good

Scandinavian folklorists have identified something they call the law of limited good, which accounts for the particular type of ethics expressed in Scandinavian folklore dating to the 19th century and earlier. A number of folktales, especially in Norway but also in Sweden and Denmark, explain the root of a problem in the community by virtue of the fact that one farmer has started to get too many cows. The idea was that there are only so many cows, and that if one farmer accumulates a lot of cows, he is in essence stealing that cow from another farmer, even if he did not physically steal anything. The ethic there is to be satisfied with what you have, not try to take to much, and also keep a sharp eye on your neighbor, so they do not take too much either! The scant folklorist evidence I have gather in Iceland over the last 30 years would suggest there was some remnant of the law of limited good when I was a kid, and then that was blown out of the water in celebratory excess by the ban

Finding a good spot

There was a Simpson episode once where they were going to the mall, and there was a huge lot of parking spots, but instead Homer circled around and beat out someone else for the spot right in front of the entrance to the mall. Gunnar told me once Icelanders are the same way, they have to get a spot right in front of where they are going, otherwise they will circle around until they can, instead of parking down the street. I have recently become much more of a park down the street sort of person. Because there is really no reason to go all the way to the 9th degree with getting a good parking spot. A little walk down the street never hurt anybody.


I do not get the feeling that academics here in Iceland live with the same horrifying, stupifying, demoralizing, negativity that tells every PhD student in the humanities in the United States at some point in time or another that they are a drag on society, an unproductive and unnecessary burden that stands on the shoulders of working class people, a privileged elite that has no understanding of what makes the world go round. Instead here in Iceland academics (and authors) are almost celebrated, the raison d etre for the rest of the society, the thing which gives meaning to life. I am really overdoing the rhetoric here, because in fact neither of these things is ever said in exactly these terms. But American PhD students in the humanities are constantly warned that they may never, ever, ever get a secure job, that they may have to reconcile themselves to the fact that a PhD is absolutely not a means to a career unless they scrape one together themselves. New graduates are supposed to


Yesterday I think it was I saw this news item about a man who was arrested on charges of indecent exposure .  Perhaps you have heard of it. Well, I have a feeling that some news agencies are picking up on this story just because they like to have a headline that includes the word "naked." But I myself am actually quite happy it is getting so widely picked up, because it helps people understand why suburban America is the worst kind of nightmare one could imagine. Icelanders look at me in wonder all the time "How could you possibly have left Southern California to move to Iceland?", and this is why. Suburban neighborhoods where everyone has recently moved in, spends all their time commuting to work or at work, leads to situations like this, where people live next door to each other and yet do not know one another at all. Whether he was actually exposing himself or whether she is paranoid, either way there is a breakdown of society here that is, unfortunately, not th

Bernard of Clairvaux

Reading Bernard of Clairvaux as an undergraduate, laying on an overstuffed antique couch in the Morrison Library at UC Berkeley, transformed me from a linguist into a medievalist. I suppose Marshall Sahlins turned me into an anthropologist. Still I noticed yesterday, when I was looking for a book at the Arni Magnusson Institute, how my eyes fell on the spine of one about Bernard of Clairvaux, and now tonight, when I cannot get back to sleep, I regret not having some medieval meditative philosophy to keep me company.


One of the new businesses that started up here at the old base is Detöx. It is kind of like a hotel where people stay for two weeks or so I guess, only they also eat a special diet and follow a set schedule. They also go on lots of walks; I always see groups of people walking around with walking sticks, serious outdoor gear, and a determined look on their face. Reminds me a little bit of when I used to come up here, when this was still a military base, and see men marching in uniform. Only this is a lot funnier.

Yin Yang etc.

The great thing about having a museum dedicated to the Vikings is just how yin-yangy that is. Because Vikings are tough and active and very masculine, ie: yang. Museums on the other hand are places to think and learn quietly in a communal setting with family and friends, qualities embedded in the feminine aspect yin. Thus the idea of the museum appeals to one segment of the society, the more aggressive and even militaristic, whereas the experience of the museum appeals to a different segment of the society.

Hagia Sophia

I have always really wanted to see Hagia Sophia church in Turkey. And I was just reading about some of the amazing mosaics there . Here is one of my favorite, part of a medieval tradition where John the Baptist, who paved the way for Christ, was considered as important as Mary. It is simply amazing to think that an artwork like this is made of nothing other than tiny pieces of cut glass. There is a short runic inscription carved in the marble of the church there too, a lasting testament to the far flung travels of the Vikings. 

Game of Chicken

The concept of brinkmanship is all over the Icelandic sagas, it is in fact part and parcel of the feud cycle, as if it were an old Icelandic version of something equivalent to the game of chicken . Which is funny, since that game post-dates the advent of the automobile. Of course there is probably some underlying human tendency, but I think the symbolism of two automobiles hurling towards is just so perfect, it is almost hard to imagine how to conceived of those sorts of standoffs without hearing the roar of an engine. One hopes humanity has developed beyond this point, huh?

The Great Gatsby

I was just reading a blog which makes the point--an obviously correct one--that the last decade here in Iceland was the equivalent of the Roaring Twenties in the United States. I wonder then what work of literature will become the Icelandic version of the Great Gatsby. What made that novel work was the creation of a narrator who was both a part of the main story and yet in a way not. He inhabited both the role of a character and an author-narrator, and thus his observations were laced with a judgment not only of the events around him, but also of himself. Because when something like that is happening, we are all implicated.

Long nap

Well, I took a long nap and although I have to get up early in the morning, I am rather waiting for Dave and Palmer to call, so I can see him before I go to bed. Since they aren't home yet (5:30 California time, they should be...), I am keeping myself entertained. And I am thinking about marriage. Before I moved to Iceland, I would have probably guessed that the range of types of marriages, in terms of the emotional dynamics, would have been the same between Iceland and California. But there are in fact fewer of the two-income career obsessed couples here in Iceland (at least amongst people I know), and also less of the "I married my best friend" type couples here. My former brother in law was named Andy. He was married to Debbie. They were great friends. They had all the same hobbies, liked to cook the same sort of food, had the same political views. They both had important, well paying jobs, especially her, but because they had no kids, and no animals, they still

Trying to motivate

I have been diligently trying all day today to see if there is anyway out of analyzing actual manuscript variants, if I could instead just use the published version of a saga and be done with it. But nope, I think not. My training, my standards, my desire to get at something close to the truth, whatever it is, won't let me get off that easy. I know of course that it will be hard, though perhaps only someone who has actually gone through a process knows exactly how hard it can be. Hopefully I am overestimating, and not underestimating!

Blue collar comedy tour

Back a few years ago, four comedians from the southern part of the United States got together for a comedy tour. The "big name" was Jeff Foxworthy, a rather middle-of the road southerner with a mild accent, who had a well known bit where each joke would start with "you might be a redneck if....".  Larry the Cable guy was another one, he became a lot more famous after this tour was over, getting his own show for a while if memory serves and also voicing the truck Mater in the Disney film Cars. He was really funny, his gimick was to act slightly stupid most of the time and also sort of crude, and his most well known jokes ended with the phrase "get 'er done". My favorite was Ron White, who would drink and drink and drink on stage and smoke and smoke and smoke, and had all sorts of wicked comments to say about his ex wife. There was a fourth one who I can never remember and who did not make much of an impression one way or another, though I guess he was s

So close and yet so far away

One thing about living in a country without any trees and very few mountains is that one can see vistas that stretch out for miles and miles. Today driving out to Sandgerði, Snæfellsjökull looked close enough to touch, glistening white against grey skies, larger than I had ever seen it. It was breathtaking.


Cousin Marie brought home her little girl!

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart is renown in the United States for being oh so wonderfully perfect. She has a television show and a magazine about how to live life really perfect. Here is this month's issue She always has amazingly creative ideas. Her television show features cooking and crafts, and is filmed in this amazing soft glow technique (the same they used for the television show Touched by and Angel) so that Martha always looks as nice and kind as an angel. But in fact she is a very shrewd business woman. She runs a multimillion dollar corporation with many subsidiaries.  I was thinking about her because of the story in the news here in Iceland about  Baldur Guðlaugsson   who, as far as I understand it, was on the board of Landsbanki, and when he heard the bank was about to collapse, before this information became known to the general public, he quickly put his shares up for sale. And HE THINKS THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS!   Well, Martha Stewart, being a smart lady, h

The younger generation

Growing up in America, especially in California, I was very aware that my daily life was the product of the efforts of the generation that proceeded me. I was not a descendant of any of the ´49er gold miners, nor the 1930s Oakies, or the Hispanic missionaries, but I knew I would not be living in California if it weren't for them. The six to eight generations that proceeded me. Today I am at the Arni Magnusson Institute, doing research that would not be possible were it not for the efforts of a group of people living 300 years ago, and generations stretching back beyond that another 500 years. Anyhow, it just got me thinking about the obligations we have to the younger generations. These are not obligations in the simple sense just to our own immediate families. They are obligations beyond that, an obligation to build upon that which has proceeded us, and to ensure that the younger generation has some sense of respect and appreciation for all the richness around them today.

I will happily take the credit

or the blame, as the case may be, for putting together a hands-on children's area in the museum. Right now it is only an idea, and actually not entirely mine, but I knew it was important, and that counts for something. Of course I was thinking of something really high tech, but this morning I was realizing just a wooden table painted with a map of the North Atlantic, and some little paper boats for the kids to sail around, would be really nice. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid.

Eggs on toast

There is actually a bit of sun peaking through the clouds this morning, after the icestorm last night. And I am making fried eggs on toast for breakfast. That is something of a Sunday morning tradition for me (though certainly not a hard fast rule) and everytime I make it (with cheese melted on top and a little bit of ketchup on the bread below) I feel rather American. Or, should I say, rather myself.

More about Skype

It started off slowly, one friend of mine in England that kept bugging me to get Skype. Then a friend in Germany. Finally got it a few years ago, but very rarely used it. Then when I first starting coming here to Iceland, I was just so happy to have the chance to call home and see everyone. It feels so much more natural and normal to talk to someone while looking at them, and it makes a big difference I know to Palmer. But that illusion of "thereness" also has its drawbacks. Today they were talking about taking a drive to go see some mutual friends, and I got this feeling of being just as excited to see them as they were. Until I realized that was physically impossible with me being in a different country and all.

The Icelandic legal system

Ah, that is probably too ambitious of a title for this blog. My other thought was "The Twinky Defense" but that is a little too irreverent, since what I actually want to talk about is differing cultural attitudes about being judgmental. Last night at the franka party, us girls (who were planning on drinking) all arranged to have various men (who were not invited to the party and staying sober on a Friday night) drop us off and pick us up. This was a nice little demonstration of women's equality I would say. So, along comes Stefan to pick up Hjördís. He knows all of us, and we start chatting. He mentioned a news item, the one about the man who had broken his wife's finger as she tried to call the police for help, he was in the process of beating her up. Stefan informed us that the man had had received three years probation "ekki einu nótt í fangelsi!" even though the woman was bruised all over.* Hjördís commented on how that was typical of Iceland, where

Beauty products

I was picking up a gift for my cousin -- going to a party at her house later tonight -- and thought that perfumed hand lotion would be nice. So I stopped by Apotex to see what was on offer. Holy cow, that stuff is expensive here!  I now appreciate why Icelanders like to, or liked to, shop abroad.  One always hopes a person likes the present they are given, but at the moment I feel practically militant about it. I just hope I can bite my tongue and not actually say, "I sure fricken' hope you like it. Jeez oh peet!"

Library privileges

Ironically enough, although I am working on my dissertation practically full time, I am currently not considered a graduate student by the University of California (because I did not want to fork over $5000 dollars in tuition fees). I will reapply when it is time for me to file my dissertation, a practice done by most graduate students. Not being a registered student does not make too much of a difference at this stage, since I am here in Iceland anyhow. But I am going visit Berkeley soon, meet with my advisors, and realized I won't be able to get into the library while I am there. I currently cannot access online many of the journals I used to be able to get with my student ID. So, it is a little frustrating. I still have the key to the department, though, so at least I can get into its library if I need to. On Wednesday, I got a desk at the Arni Magnusson Institute for a few weeks, which is perhaps not such a big deal except it means I was given a key. Now I can get in there ev

Always someone you know

I know I have discussed this before, but it still shocks me, to open up the paper ( or click on a link to an article ) that I think is about some random Icelandic person, only to find out the article is about someone I have met and spoken with before. In 2001, I did a small research project at the Saga Centre in Hvollsvöllur. I was especially interested in the narrated tours of the landscape referencing Njals Saga that the Centre offered (I believe they no longer do these tours, which is too bad). There were 4 guides who offered these tours, and I thought the best guide was Gunnar the priest. Just now I realized this is the same Gunnar the priest who is being reassigned after being accused of molesting young ladies during their confirmation training. A constant emotional roller coaster living here, I tell you what.


Writing a grant is like setting up two friends on a blind date. There can't be any obvious ways in which the project and the objectives of the granting agency or terms of the grant are incompatible, then the project is instantly discounted, thrown out. But let's say for argument sake my grant applications are not instantly thrown out (I called to ask if it would be OK if part of it was in English....). That is clearly not enough to get the grant. My project also has to beat out other projects. On what basis? Perhaps on the merits of the project, but I think honestly that most projects have merit from some perspective.  What granting agencies really look for, as far as I understand it, is very good overlap between the project and the narrow, specific, and clearly articulated goals of the grant. Can there in fact be 100% compatibility between the two? Surely any half way decent grant writer knows to play up those parts of the grant application which fit the stated objectives of

The best SMS ever

I never used the text message function on my phone in the United States, and here in Iceland I am certainly not a prolific user of this function. But I have a few cousins who prefer to schedule things like dinner that way, instead of calling or sending an email, or using facebook. So I always like to hear the beep tone that indicates I have gotten a new text message. It is almost always something nice. Just now I got a text message that my cousin Maria gave birth today to a beautiful little baby girl, and everyone is doing well.

Balmy out

Well, it is a warm day here, honestly, wet and warm. Practically balmy. 9 degrees!

Man on the moon

Over the last few days and weeks, I have had a lot of conversations about the mayor of Reykjanesbær, our ambitious and usually esteemed Árni Sig. After 5 years of working at Vikingaheimar, which is partially owned by the township, I think I am finally getting to understand a thing or two about his leadership technique. One trick to a successful leader is that he believes that which he wants to have happen is in fact already happening, practically has already happened. When I read the first announcement in 2003 about a museum for Íslendingur, it seemed like such a done deal, I always just assumed it was going to happen. So I called him up and the rest is history. I don't know if this is because he is a good leader or because I am a certified optimist.

Hello Kitty

I have avoided getting a pet since I moved here to Iceland, since I spend a lot of time in California and one cannot just leave one's pet locked up in an apartment for 3 weeks or so. But yesterday my sister told me about her new cat, and a few weeks ago I met an Icelandic lady whose cat had just had kittens. And since I now actually have a friend living nearby who would be willing to watch an animal for me, I may just give in and give myself a cat as a combined birthday Christmas present or some such excuse. I hope I do not end up spoiling it too much. My cat Ember I spoiled unbelievably. Of course, on a couple of occasions, when I put hats on him, he acted more like I was torturing him. Humiliated is probably the right word. Cats do not really like to be humiliated, even if it is funny . I have sort of outgrown the kitty outfit stage, I think. So any future cat would be safe with me.

Grey skies

Last night I heard the wind howling outside my window, watching the rain beat against the pane of glass. So when I was getting ready this morning, and noticed the low grey clouds and the snow hanging on the mountains around Reykjanes, I assumed it would be a frosty morning. Put on my long coat and my pink gloves, even a little white knit cap, before inching the door open.  Only to discover that it is in fact a perfectly nice day, no feel of frost in the air at all.  Thus here in Iceland two days can look exactly as cold from one's kitchen window, but the air temperature can be radically different. Tricky, tricky.

Good to have friends

I once again today have cause to be thankful for the facebook group "Away from Home--Living in Iceland." Me and some ladies from Canada, France, Poland, and the United States (most of us were actually from the United States) had a lovely time. And despite the fact that I had only met two of them before, I found things in common with almost all of the others, so that was really nice, felt like I made some new friends. And friends are good.

Working on an excuse

to not leave the house. I am supposed to go to the city to have lunch with friends, and was going also to go to the library. But I am going to the library tomorrow. And I have this grant thing to work on that I could do here at home. Iceland is wonderful in that way. Anytime I am looking for an excuse to stay home, I can just look out the window and say, "Well, it is really rather windy and rainy out there." This worked oh so very seldom in California.

Three day weekends

Tomorrow is a national holiday in the United States, Columbus day, or I think in some states it has acquired the more PC name of Discovers' Day (this also means there will never be a separate Leif Eriksson Day, even if it does get its own declaration every October 9th). Americans look forward to 3 day weekends with much anticipation, and all sorts of special events, often having nothing to do with the holiday in question, get scheduled around these long weekends. Whereas days off in Iceland seem to give everyone incentive to really enjoy being home and not go anywhere, Americans see them as the perfect time to get out of the house.* Discoverers' Day, Presidents' Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, all of these are observed on a Monday so that people get a three day weekend, and a running joke in the United States is how completely the point of the day off is ignored. A big family barbeque is perhaps not the most solemn way to observe Memorial day, for

Cannot do without

There are lots of things in life that we enjoy, think are great, would like more of. I would have liked it, for instance, today, if the sun had stayed out a little longer. I would have liked it also if I had not gotten in a car accident last week--my arms and my lower back are still sore. Anyhow, the list could go on, I am sure everyone has their list. The only thing though that I really cannot do without is a firm plan of when I will get to give my son a hug.

Gef mér ráð fyrir

Yesterday three experts in American style children's museums came by to look at Vikingaheimar. They had all sorts of ideas of things I could do, ways to make space for kids activities, etc. One of the ideas we batted around was whether or not each section of the exhibition should have something specifically kids-friendly. The upstairs already has that, but the downstairs does not. There are really cheap, simple things a person can do to make a museum kid friendly. Put up a big piece of paper and ask the kids to draw a Viking ship. Put a big box full of dirt and let them dig for fake artifacts. Hang magnifying glasses next to cases, so kids are encouraged to look closely. The problem is striking a balance. Because these things are cheap and simple, it can be tempting to go overboard with them. Plus even one or two of these threatens the ability of the museum to be taken as an authority on a subject, which is why children's activities are often confined to one space. It is not as

Nobel Peace Prize

Here is the email President Obama sent out to a lot of people yesterday. My dad found it quite disturbing, mostly I guess that the administration had his private email, but I just have to say it seems to me that he is really reaching here, forcing the rhetoric beyond its natural outlines, which is sort of ikky to see, even if I am naive enough to think the Prize was a nice gesture. Friend -- This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. Th

12 21

Right, Ok, this is a petty little thing. Hardly even really worth mentioning. But anyhow, since I am home at 9pm on a Saturday, perhaps even vaguely bored, ah, here you go. When giving out phone numbers, people sometimes say the numbers in pairs "Twenty-two Fourty-five Sixty-eight eleven", instead of "Two Two Four Five Six Eight One One." This happens in the U.S. as well. I have heard people say a sequence of numbers in this paired-up way for addresses, bank accounts, all sorts of things. But I have never been to a grocery store, neither in Iceland nor in the U.S., where the amount due was told to me in this way. That is, until tonight. There I am buying some milk and chocolate cake, still a bit groggy from my nap, and the cashier says, extremely quickly, "tolvtvotugureitt" (twelve twenty-one). I could have sworn he was speaking Russian to me or something. When I asked him to repeat what he said, he said "Eitt þúsand tvóhundruð tutugur og eitt"


I suppose once every few weeks this happened to me in California. I would suddenly realize at the end of a busy few days that I had no food in the house, and that take out food would be the way to go. Pizza from Dominos or Zachary's, burritos from Chipotle, on rare occasions burgers from Carl's Junior. But this was a better idea in California than it is here in Iceland. It was a lot cheaper, the places were closer to the house and more of them. Here in Iceland I always feel really bad when I have gotten myself to the point that I have no groceries in the house, although I sometimes manage to creatively come up with something approximating dinner without resorting to fast food. But since I had week old chicken mixed with asparagus for dinner the other night and served over tortilla chips, I have clearly reached the end of my current food supply. Thus I will be ordering pizza for dinner tonight, bringing some over to Kolleen and her lovely boys.

Well it is not a castle

But the entertainment is better. This was a Danish Eurovision and Whitney Houston I will always love you blend

Quite ready to work with me!

It is of course no stretch of rhetoric to say that Reykjanesbær has a special connection with the United States, and then on top of that, my museum has an exhibition originally created in the United States and a replica Viking ship that was sailed to the United States. So I thought it probably was not too much of a long shot to ask the American Embassy if they wanted to work together on some sort of programming or event at the museum. An embassy rep. came by today (we had GREAT Thai food in Keflavík!!) and we chatted about possibilities. Business and contacts and mutual benefit and whatever else aside, it felt so nice to speak English and to just be my American self. I wanted to give her a big hug when we were done. Except I tried that once with the American Ambassador a few years ago, and it did not go over so well.

Office hour

Yesterday I sent an email to my PhD committee members, letting them know I am coming to Cali soon and want to meet with them (hope I have a draft of something by then!). They were very accommodating, happy to hear from me. I have in fact never had any trouble getting ahold of my professors when I needed to discuss something with them, which has always been really nice. Ideas flow so well in a one-on-one setting, it is amazing how productive even a short visit can be to get the various strands of thoughts to come together into something cohesive. My friend Cassie told me that at the University of Iceland, professors only have to be available in their offices to meet with students 1 hour a week. So that the professors "office hours" is instead "office hour". I can somewhat understand this, I mean I remember what a bummer it was, sitting in my office when I was teaching composition at Berkeley, and having no one come by. Then the 3 hours a week of office hours (spread

Cinnamon Crispas.

Taco Bell used to sell these things called Cinnamon Crispas. They were pieces of flour tortilla, cut into big triangles, deep fried, and smothered in lots of cinnamon sugar. One sunny afternoon after school, me, my best friend, and her brother decided to make some at home. There weren't any parents around, so we got a chair out and poured a bunch of oil in a pan, heated it up, cut up the tortillas, and well, not very far into frying the first batch, whoop! The whole pan caught on fire. My friends brother, being a bit older than us and pretty darn brave, took the pan off the stove and straight over to the sink, told his sister to turn on the water. Which she did. The moment he put the pan under the faucet, a tower of flames shot up to the ceiling, scorching the paint. Me and my friend ran out of the house, sure the entire house was about to explode. A few moments later, out comes her brother, carrying the flaming pan. He carefully set it down on their cement driveway, and we all sat

One slight disadvantage

I was thinking like a Californian when I chose my apartment. There were lots of good things about it--layout I was comfortable with, nice cabinetry, cool staircase, right next to a playground--but the thing that really made me so psyched* about it was the view right over Njardvik and across Faxafloi, all the way to Esja. I have mentioned before this is the kind of view a Californian would spend big bucks for. But of course in California, one does not need to worry about frigid gale force winds. And my apartment, as lovely as it is, is a little bit leaky. I don't suppose one can build a house that is absolutely sealed at ever door and every window and every vent. When it is really windy outside, I can feel a tiny flow of fresh, cold air come into my house through certain light sockets, from the space around the pipes of one heater. Because my apartment is at the end of the block, at the top of the hill, it gets the full force of the wind. An Icelander probably would have known bet

Museums and democracy

The keynote address today at the ICOM conference was by George Heins , a well respected American museum professional, who writes a lot about the role of museums in society. His talk was really fabulous. He talked about John Dewey's philosophical belief, like Thomas Jefferson's, in the importance of education to create and sustain a democratic nation. John Dewey applied this to museums, talking about the crucial role of the museum in educating citizens in the 19 th century, indeed before there was free public education for all citizens. And he of course did not mean educate in terms of inform. He meant--as Jefferson his friend and contemporary had--that the only way to fight against the tyranny of authoritative regimes would be to have a citizenry that really knew how to think for itself, was enlightened and curious, inspired by the wonder of the world but confident in man's ability to understand it and improve it. George also discussed ways in which the museum experience

Even without a proper conference center....

Iceland has managed this summer to host some really important conferences, at least the ones in my field. Hosting the Viking Congress in August was a huge honor, and now this week, Iceland is hosting the International Council on Museums, which is also a big deal to have here. Of course, it is just the Committee on Education and Cultural Action, but that makes it cozy, a lot like Viking Congress, actually. Anyhow, between the two of them, I am definitely feeling in the Zone, you know, since like I opened a Viking museum this year and all.

The Statue of Liberty

The other day my colleague came by with his son, his son who makes documentary films and is thinking about doing a film on the U.S. military base here in Iceland. Probably the hardest thing about living abroad is having to get used to a whole different image of one's homeland than one grew up with. I suppose this happens to Icelanders who go abroad as well, suddenly realizing that hardly anyone has even heard of Iceland, or they have really weird ideas about it. The image of America abroad is rather negative, even dangerous: imperialistic, power hungry, ruthless. Quite the opposite image is celebrated in the United States, an image of a country of immigrants, an open, expansive land where the destitute reclaim their right to happiness. For example when all the millions of school children, like me, who memorize this poem: The New Colossus By Emma Lazarus, 1883 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gat

cut flowers

The bouquets of flowers I was given for my birthday are starting to open up nicely. One bunch of pink roses, perfect in the vase from my amma. The other a mixed bouquet that looks groovy in the 60s style vase I bought recently.


So, we all mistakes, right? We all do silly things sometimes? And it never helps to not get enough sleep or skip breakfast either, right? Or to be a little stressed and rushed? And well, there are clear differences between driving in California and driving in Iceland that surely ought to factor into the equation too? I mean, nobody is perfect. I got in a car accident today, right near the University. Failed to yield to the driver on the inner circle. No one was injured, and my car is still drivable (though the turn signal got busted), so I am trying not to be too hard on myself about it. But it put a damper on the day, to say the least. And the dude I hit was pretty mean to me about, asked me three times, "What were you thinking?" in a very loud voice. Sympathetic comments gladly accepted.

The cat in the museum

A few years ago, I gave a talk for the town of Reykjanesbær about my plans for the exhibition at Vikingaheimar; the talk was in Gamlabíoið, part of the Duus Hús building. This room is also used for open town council meetings, and has lovely artwork and nice furniture. Anyhow, I got to my talk to go through the powerpoint ahead of time, so the place was virtually empty, except for me, the tech guy, and a skinny black cat. One of the men who works for the township threw the cat outside, then shook his head, said it was always hanging around. I of course instantly liked the cat. Well, today I went over to Duus Hús again, to show a colleague the exhibition on display in another part of the building, an exhibition about the American Base. The introduction to the exhibition features newspaper clippings from the 1950s and 60s, and a recreation of part of an Icelandic home from that period, ie: Icelandic material culture before it was inundated with American influence. On the old, green velvet