Showing posts from November, 2009

Character defining moments

I am finally feeling well enough to write the lecture I have to give on Saturday morning. I have had to change my thesis a number of times and still am not sure about the visuals, which is all a bit nerve wracking. So I tell you what, I am really grateful it is not one of those big character defining moments in my career. It is just a regular talk at a regular conference, mostly with people I already know. So even though I am not super prepared, I am thinking it should be fine. These people already know me, for better or for worse...

Aunt Helen

David's aunt died the day before Thanksgiving. Her name was Helen, and she was in her early 90s, never been married, never had kids. Lived in Georgia her whole life, and had worked as a seamstress for many, many years. She was the oldest of David's father's siblings, and after her mother died, she had raised the whole bunch of them, especially the youngest. She lived on the family farm until her father died and the property was sold. Then she raised one of her nieces for a few years. She was a sharp tongued lady, always ready to voice her opinion or shoot a hard look. She had a gold Chevy Nova that she kept long past the time when she could drive, and I think it suited her. A cool car for a cool old bird. She was buried next to her mom and dad this weekend.

Mount Diablo environs

When I went to Cal as an undergraduate, I lived in Lafayette, which is just over the hills from Berkeley. Now Dave and Palmer have moved to the neighboring town, Moraga. Rolling hills dotted with old oak trees and incredibly expensive housing stretch up and down this coastal valley. I think it is the nicest part of California. Today Palmer and I went to the Blackhawk Auto Museum , which is about 15 minutes south of here in Danville. I think it is the nicest private museum in California (possibly the U.S.). A bit ironic that all this splendor encircles a mountain named after the devil. But rather Icelandic.

Black Friday

Today is the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. All the stores open ridiculously early (some even 1am!), there are lines of people waiting to get in to grab the "early bird specials". I was interested in the connotation of the word black, which generally is rather negative. But in this context, it is good. Because it means businesses that were in the red (in deficit) will now be in the black (in profit). For a capitalist country, that is really worth celebrating.

Punk rocker

My sister just gave me a CD of the songs her and my brother used to like listening to (and singing along with and dancing to) when they were in their prime. Songs I grew up with. Songs I love. Best Thanksgiving gift ever.

Dancing with the Stars

My parents have arrived for the Thanksgiving holidays up here to the Bay Area, and we are all excited by the foods we will be baking and the walks we will be taking and the convos we'll be talking. But tonight the top priority, after a long drive, was to watch the final episode of this season's Dancing with the Stars; my family is pulling for Donny Osmond to win, but (since I have not followed it at all) I was more surprised to hear former Senator Tom Delay was one of this season's contestants. And it occurred to me that this is one format that has not yet been imitated in Iceland, which is too bad because I think a Dancing with the Stars Icelandic version would be a crack up. Vigdis, Bubbi Mortens, or Jonas Kristjansson ballroom dancing? What could be better?


After several days of excited chatter about the possibility of an international cooperation between Vikingheimar and a children's museum in New York, my colleagues and I decided to postpone until next year applying for a grant to the AAM. I am (as per usual) looking on the bright side of this, ie: would be good to go to New York to talk about this in person with the associating museum in the spring. And it is reaffirming my belief that one should never expect anyone else to finish something someone else started.

Napa wineries

California has a couple of nice wine growing regions, the Napa valley wineries being the best known. The other day, I heard a nice little tid bit that the Zinfandel wines were first commercially bottled here in California, and are thus the only wine that French wine enthusiasts do not consider a cheap rip off of their esteemed vintages. This got me thinking that it would be nice to take a drive up to the Napa Valley while I am here in the Bay Area. It is only about a 45 minute drive, and it is a nice way to entertain guests. But I think I will wait until my parents get here. It is clearly not the thing to do with Dave and Palmer, wine tasting in Napa Valley. But me and my mom, on the other hand, that could be fun. Red Zin is good for bloodpressure, I hear.

Nilla Wafers

I am revisiting many of my American recipe favorites this trip, since here there are products I can buy that I cannot buy in Iceland, like Nilla Wafers and crescent rolls, even "heritage" turkeys and honey baked ham. Plus cooking is a productive way to pass the time. We are heading to the store already today to start picking up supplies for Thanksgiving.

Cal email

I received an email yesterday telling me that my .edu email from UC Berkeley will be going two weeks from now. This is one little bit of California I am NOT prepared to give up, and I am pretty sure there is a way to extend it, but golly, it was upsetting even to think about.

Saga club

As per my wont during sojourns in the city by the bay, tonight I join my esteemed colleagues and old Norse enthusiasts for a glass of wine and reading of passages from the sagas. In my absence, the club read through the thrilling ending of Olafs saga helga, but I am pleased to see we have now moved on to Magnuss saga ins goda.


Compared to most Icelanders, I suppose one could not say I have a lot of friends, especially life long or school friends that I am still in touch with. But now that I am in California, I am trying to connect with a few of the ones that really stick out in my memory as the coolest, most fun, most interesting, most intelligent, osv. On Sunday, my friend Christine came over. Her and I were good friends when we were around 10 years old, then lost touch with each other for years and years, reconnected in our mid 20s. We always rejoice when we see each other now, talk a million words a minute and laugh and laugh. When I am in LA in two weeks, I am planning to have dinner with another friend of mine, Tracy. She and I were part of the same group in highschool, but did not start hanging out one on one until after college, and then very rarely. But she definitely counts as one of my favorite friends. She skipped our 10 year highschool reunion, because she was at Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston


I got to Cal just in time for all the strike action, and am finally figuring out what the issues are. The UC Regents are using the financial crisis to try to privatize the UC system, something I suppose would not be imagined for the University of Iceland. Students that were admitted two years ago have seen almost a 50% fee hike, and now they are considering raising tuition to $10,000 a year. It was $600 a year when I was an undergraduate here. At the same time, they are painting buildings but cutting salaries and raising fees. There is a new President of the Regents that David Oddsson would probably really love.

Way more organized than it seems

Well, so, I am going to go ahead and give myself some props. Because it turns out that when I was here in California last, in August for five extremely hectic days of packing and sorting and getting ready for a trip to Sweden and visiting family, I was WAY more organized than I thought. I have always thought I was efficient when under pressure, but this morning I was downright impressed with myself. (I am thinking this is OK since this was like Lissy from the past who did something that present Lissy does not remember doing and thus might as well have been done by someone else). Here's the backstory: I have for a long time had two sets of keys, California keys and Iceland keys. When I was down in Southern California, I saw that part of my California keys, the ones related to my car, where hanging in my parents house, a bit of organization that comes from Dad being on top of things (the car is there also). But yesterday walking around campus here at Berkeley (which is, just to clari

Morning frost and afternoon heat

The temperature in the San Francisco Bay area drops below freezing overnight pretty regularly during the late fall and into the winter. The same thing happens out in the desert actually. But along the coast, the marine layer fog and dew will end up freezing, leaving a tiny layer of ice all over the grass and trees in the early morning. It all melts away by the time the sun is all the way up, and is not a good predictor of the high temperature for the day. So coastal Californians are really adept at dressing in layers, with the assumption that three or so combinations will be needed to get through the day. Jacket + sweater first thing in the morning, jacket off but sweater on late morning, sweater off and jacket off mid-day, then sweater back on, something like that. Chameleon like.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is still managing to be in the news here in the United States, ostensibly because she has released a new book, but likely because everyone is wondering if she is going to make a run for the Republican nomination in 2012. Between this and a 10 minute segment on Jim Lehrer's Newshour about President Obama's bow, I am thinking there is no actual news here in the United States.


The Graduate Student Instructors at UC Berkeley are planning a strike to protest the budget cuts at the UC system. I have not kept up with all the issues, but I know California is bankrupt and the university system is usually considered a good place for major cuts during economic downturns. I was an undergraduate when the graduate students unionized. It was a difficult process just for them to get the right to organize as a labor movement; funny thing was they became a branch of the United Auto Workers Association. Or I should say "we" since I joined the union when I became an instructor three years ago. Anyhow, the strike is schedule to begin the day after I get up to the Bay Area, and is supposed to last all week. Which means I am not supposed to go on campus at that time, or anyhow, if I do so, I will have to cross the picket lines. I am a little conflicted about this, since I was planning on using the library on campus while I was in Northern California. But now a simple

Meet you at the park

Today Palmer played with my friend Jen's son Will, while Jen, Heather, and I hung out at the park chatting. Jen and Heather are twin sisters, and I was friends with both of them in highschool. So it was with some satisfaction that I watched Palmer and Will bond; they both really liked monster trucks and making sand cakes.


It has been really hazy here all week. Air pollution is common in inland California, especially the Los Angeles Basin and in Riverside further inland, but usually by the coast the wind clears away the smog. (Good word, smog = smoke + fog). Looking through dirty air just to see the mountains a few miles away is pretty depressing, and makes me think of the nice clear vistas in Iceland. Air is supposed to be transparent.

Allt í einu

My son has turned into a super soccer star! So that might help him make some friends in Iceland next summer.

Long drive

Yesterday Palmer and I wound our way up a mountain road at dusk, driving in my mom's red cadillac. The mountain looked scary looming there in the dark, and I started telling Palmer about all the scary animals that lived up there: mountain lions and coyotes and owls and snakes, plus the other animals like squirrels and birds and chipmunks. The cars coming down the mountain opposite us were probably more dangerous than these creatures, though. People use this windy pass to avoid the terrible traffic on the freeways during commute time, and are therefore in a bit of a hurry to get through. It would probably, however, be a good idea to save off on drives like this for when Palmer is with me in Iceland, since there are neither dangerous predators nor ridiculous traffic to contend with in Iceland, normally.


California style

California raisins

The house I grew up in is a museum of sorts, full of old clothes left over from us kids at various phases in our lives, old miss-matched dishes from various sets and odd pieces, toys from all the kids that have come in and out of here. Palmer asked me just now what image was on the mug I was drinking my coffee from. I had not myself noticed, but upon one quick glance I realized it was the familiar California icon, the dancing raisin. For anyone not familiar with this ad campaign, one of the most successful of the 1980s, I hereby share two clips I just showed Palmer. One is the debut commercial , and the other made at the height of the buzz, when Michael Jackson himself got in on the hype .

The old neighborhood

Looks almost exatly the same.

Phone calls from Iceland

After an exciting day yesterday visiting with my brother and playing with my son here in California, I did not get to sleep until 11pm, which is, umm, like 7am Iceland time. Then my cell phone rang at 4am. It was a woman from the Menntamalaraðuneyti about an online form I was trying to fill out last week. A half-hour later I got another call, this time from the rafmagnisérfræðingur up at Ásbrú. Getting an Icelandic cell phone that works in the U.S. might not have been such a good idea in terms of the quality of my sleep, but surely does help one feel connected.

Carlsbad Beach

November at the beach!

Wonderful night!

I have a bit of a tradition to always go see my aunt the night before I leave Iceland. I guess it is a hold over from when I used to come every other summer, or maybe it was something we started after my grandmother died, when I used to come here for work a lot. She usually has something she wants me to give my mom, but it is more than that. Those visits are always our best conversations, and tonight was no exception.


I believe my father may have prepared me for life in Iceland better than he thought, when he forced us all to listen to Abba endlessly. I knew no other American kids as familiar with this group, and I have a feeling he became a fan when he was hear in Iceland. This is how one builds an international fan base.


Driving over the heath to Grindavík yesterday, in the dusky light, it occurred to me that I will miss this landscape while I am in California. Even though I am only gone for a short while, and am very much looking forward to seeing my family, the landscape here has always had an intoxicating affect on me. It draws me back each time I leave.

Culture, southern style

Tonight Menningarað Samband Sveitarfelags á Suðurnesjum had the award ceremony for everyone that they awarded grants to this year. It was really a neat experience, especially interesting to hear what all the other projects were that had been awarded. A blues festival at the Blue Lagoon (terrific idea!), a documentary about an eccentric couple in Vogar, several projects related to gathering information and making memorials about ship wrecks around Sandgerði and Garður, publications of books including one about the spákona of Suðurnesja (need to find out more about that one!), tons of music programs for people of all ages, some plays and operas, and several projects related to Hallgrímur Petersson, who, many people forget, was the priest at Hvalsneskirkja. This explains a lot about the quality of his poetry, I believe. That church is amazing. Anyhow, all in all I am feeling like perhaps I do not have to drive into Reykjavík afterall, to enjoy a lively cultural scene.

Months later....

I got a card in the mail the other day from my sister; it was a (considerably) belated birthday card. She included a gift: a tiny little silk purse in a tiny little box, and inside the purse was a penny, minted the same year I was born. It was a great gift. A friend I used to work with at the Smithsonian has a birthday the same day as my sister, and he is also good at giving off-beat, inexpensive, oddly-timed gifts that nevertheless hit just the right emotional tone. He sent me a postcard about a year after my son was born, maybe more, with a picture of George Washington on it, and it said something like, "Hope you survived the crossing." It cracked me up. When he and his wife came to Iceland a few years ago, I arranged for them to have breakfast with my aunt (I was in California). They had not ever met each other before, but Stephen and his wife Joan are anthropologists, and so they wanted to get to talk to a local, and my aunt loves interesting people, so I thought the matc

Parking tickets

Today I thought I should pay the parking ticket I got last month. Turns out the fee had been doubled because I had not paid within 2 weeks. Also turns out that a ticket I got in April, and thought I had paid, had instead been sent to the police. I owed 3749 ISK for I don't even know what. I doubt they even had proof of the infraction. This would not happen in the U.S. My parking tickets would not get a spot on the legal docket unless things were really out of hand. Perhaps you've seen the joke in some American movies where a person takes the parking ticket off their windshield, opens the glove compartment, and shoves the ticket in with dozens of other (presumably unpaid) parking tickets? This is basically true. It takes a lot in the U.S. for a person to get in any sort of legal problem because of a parking ticket. Years and years of unpaid tickets can accumulate before a state will take away your driver's license or boot your car. I have paid tickets 3 months after the fa


One thing I rather miss in Iceland are rose bushes. I suppose they are here or there, but I go months without seeing any rose bushes here. In California, many houses have rose bushes out front, and there are wonderful rose gardens in most towns. We had a rose bush at my house growing up, which was sort of mine, since it was named the Elizabeth rose. The roses were more what one would call wild roses, the petals were small and packed together.  I am looking forward to seeing how it is doing, when I get home.


The sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon now, after an amazing full moon last night. Clear and crisp, like a desert morning.

Little somethin' somethin'

Well, I got a letter in the mail today, saying that one of the grants I applied for had been approved. I am not getting all the finds I asked for, but still, will be nice. Especially nice that there is an awards "ceremony" of sorts Thursday at 6pm in Grindavík. I always like going to the Saltfiski sentrið!


The fellow sitting in the desk next to mine at Arnastofnun gave a lecture yesterday that I missed. However, all day long people have been coming up to his desk, talking to him about his talk and his research. It seems in fact that a 45 minute event has generated hours worth of discussion outside of the lecture hall. Which I think is rather the point.

Icelandic icecream

Since the very first time I tasted Icelandic icecream, oh so long ago, I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever eaten. I believe I have extolled its virtues on this site a number of times. This evening I have cause to do so again. Thank you, oh Icelandic cows, thank you, oh Icelandic dairyers. My night is now bright once again. I like to praise the virtue of things I appreciate, what can I say.

California dreaming

Well, it has been one wet cold rainy day here in Iceland. Plus in November, the days get shorter and shorter by like a half hour a day, at least. It is really incredible. Of course, I am heading to California on Saturday, so I do not have much cause to complain. I have been here in Iceland now pretty much straight since January. I twice spent a week in California, and I spent a week in Prague, but otherwise, this has been a very Iceland-centered year for me. And that means I am not quite as on top of things in California as I might like to be. So I am looking forward to several solid weeks of California-centered time. I imagine there will be some work related emails, perhaps I'll check on MBL or Visir now and again, but mostly, I'd like to give California, and my parents, and my son, a whole lot of attention for the next few weeks. Iceland will just have to manage without me....

Howdy partner

Dave just sent me photos of Palmer in his Halloween costume. He dressed up like a cowboy, and was really adorable. Cowboys are an American icon, and sometimes it is hard to put one's finger on exactly makes them so symbolically rich. I think I have come to maybe a bit more of an understanding of them, now that I am living here in Iceland, ironically enough. A book I did the proofreading for a few years ago, Images of the North (S. Jakobsson, ed.), had an interesting article by Kari Schram about the wild man figure of Iceland, a folk figure who survived in the wilderness basically, had no appreciation for the niceities of modern society. So I was thinking maybe this figure was like the American cowboy. But really, that is not the case. The cowboys did survive tough conditions, hot and dusty, no women to comfort them, not enough food, too much hard work. But it is not their survival skills that made them an American icon. To me the most salient image of the cowboy is the one

Night of the Iguana

When I was 12 years old, my mom, who had been a domestic whiz up until that point, decided to go back to school, and started off at the local college. I remember being really proud of her for doing that. So you can imagine how proud I was, when for my 13th birthday, she took me to a play at her college. It was the first live theatre I had ever been to, and probably only the second live performance of any sort (the first being a symphony orchestra with my elementary school). I remember so many things about that night with amazing clarity, where we sat, the face of the actress playing the lead, the set design. I remember also a few other people in the audience; the male couple sitting behind us caught my attention as I recall (I was 13 afterall). When the performance was over, I was no where ready to go home, I really wasn't. So live theatre has always seemed like something rather special to me, and indeed, a lot of Americans never go to the theatre. It is thought rather to be th