Showing posts from August, 2010

Lecture this afternoon

Dr. William Fitzhugh, Director of the Smithsonian Institution's Arctic Studies Center   lecture at the Reykjavík 871 Landnámsýning, Aðalstræti, on Monday afternoon August 30th at 5pm. He will speak about how archeaologists sort through the fact and fiction of the interaction between Native Americans and Norse explorers in North America.  Why didn't I tell you about about this sooner, you say? Well I was a little frazzled dealing with many other details of his visit, Ljósanótt in Reykjanesbær, and of course trying to carve out time for my dissertation, but that is no excuse. I really ought to have told you about this before, I know.  I hope you forgive me.

At the Witchcraft Museum

I had not realized the witchcraft craze and saga collecting phaze overlapped.

Gunnar Eyjólfsson

We had a bit of VIP event at Víkingaheimar tonight, and it was really wonderful to see those Icelanders who had been instrumental in making the sailing of Íslendingur and the Smithsonian exhibition possible, kind of a chance to say thank you to them. There have also been some that have done a lot recently to make Víkingaheimar as good as it can be. One of those is Gunnar Eyjólfsson, one of the most respected and cherished actors in Iceland. He grew up in Keflavík, and he was telling me about playing as a child on the same spit of land where Víkingaheimar now stands. He lent his considerable vocal talents to our saga theatre audio program, and tonight we got to show him how it all came together. I think he was really pleased. He said a few words, and told a funny story about getting to dance with Princess Margaretta. Then when he was leaving, he took me in his arms and spun me around. Although I did not get a full dance with that dapper gentleman, I did still feel a bit like a princes

Starting school

Today Dave will be taking Palmer to his elementary school in California for the first time, to meet his teacher and his other classmates. Then tomorrow, Palmer will have his first day of kindergarden. It is of course extremely difficult for me to be missing out on this milestone in my son's life. I was there for his first day of day care, and his first day of preschool, and actually Palmer himself seems very calm. I guess for him kindergarden won't seem that different than preschool. But still, I know the difference, I know what it means to be getting started on this long process of structured learning. And so I somewhat lament that the visit of Dr. Fitzhugh  is this same week, since it meant I could not be in California. My mom and my sister and my niece and my dad are however all up at Dave's house today and tomorrow, so I think they will make sure Palmer feels what a special day it is. I am thankfully for their help, and also for the fact that schools here in Iceland

Geysir Parka

I am pretty sure just about every Icelander knows that the name their forefathers gave to the waterspout out in Hauksdal, Geysir, has become the name for similar phenomena all over the world. And that is a thing to be proud of. The Greenlandic Inuit can make a similar claim about the word parka (although its English spelling is thanks to the Nenets of Russia pronunciation of the Greenlandic word). Now of course, the original use of the word did not mean a gore tex windbreaker, but still I think the Greenlanders are wise enough to realize that there is a certain honor in giving the world a useful idea and concept, one which continues to find new applications.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

This morning I was writing up a draft of my talk for an upcoming symposium on the use of the Vikings in history and museums here in Iceland. I am really grateful to the symposium organizers for putting this together, since it is a really interesting topic, and it is so nice to get a chance to really sift through one's own ideas on the subject, and try to formulate some sort of explanation for what has been a habit of mine for more than 10 years now, the way I use and understand the term "Viking." The term is really tricky, just simply put, kind of like holding a moon beam in your hand. My biggest problem though is understanding whether or not I am taking, or whether or not I am supposed to take, some sort of leadership role in advancing my understanding of the term. Whether I should forcefully advocate my view, or just go quietly about using it the way I use it.  Of course I am not a shy person generally speaking, but nor am I the type that feels everyone needs to agre


The Night of Lights festival is coming up here in Reykjanesbær soon, just as the night is starting to divide itself from the day. It is getting dark about 10:30 pm or so, and although sunrise is still very early (4:30am), the contrast with the days when there was constant brightness is noticeable. It is funny how seeing the darkness of night is rather comforting, a sense that things are returning to normal once again. And thus the stretch of streetlights that are not lighting up the road here near my house is most appreciated. Welcome back, nighttime. I missed you.

Might have been better

Today the Canadian Ambassador came to visit Víkingaheimar, which was so nice. We wandered around the exhibition, he had lots of great questions, and he even took his hand at playing the sailing game. Unfortunately, he opened the door that said his ship was sunk by the miðgarðsórmur. So then he mentioned that when he was a kid, he he had stamp collection that included an image of Kraken, a huge octopus-like sea-monster that was said to sink ships in the North Atlantic. He wondered if the folktale of the Kraken could be related to the Norse miðgarðsórmur. Now, truth be told, we were being a bit liberal in having our game include an event where one is sunk by the miðgarðsórmur, since really Víking mariners seem to have more the idea that he swam very deep in the ocean and was not typically going around sinking ships. But the current he stirred up while swimming could indeed sink ships, if the captain was not a good navigator. Now of course the Ambassador has in his head the idea of two

Really pleased

Well it is just amazing the things that makes a person pleased. This morning I was thinking about the museum, and thought I might want to replace a black table I was using for tourist brochures with a wooden table we have. So I did that today, and well it looks so much better. The wooden table is the same exact sort of wood as is used for the stairs, so the table looks really good there next to the stairs, almost as if it was planned that way. Just the tiniest of changes, and things look a lot more organized and put together. Now of course I still have to get the whole boat burial exhibition organized, but in the mean time, I can rest a little bit easier, knowing I found the right table for the job.


This weekend when Nichole was visiting me, we were talking about counties in the U.S., in particular how many teeny-tiny counties there are in all the midwestern states. Iowa has 99 counties, Ohio has 88. The nice thing about having so many counties is that each county has a courthouse. I like the word courthouse, I guess because house is being used the way hús in Icelandic is sometimes used, not for a private home where people live, but for a public building. Courthouses are also a very interesting way to catalogue American architecture; though many of them are historic buildings, there are also examples of very modern courthouses. The architecture also indicates something about the wealth and importance of a given county. But I also like courthouses I think because every wedding in the United States starts at a courthouse. I am not sure if it is the same here in Iceland, if one needs a license from the sýslumaðurinn before getting married, but in the U.S., a trip to the courtho

My physical presence

Last night I was talking to my mom, and she, like most everyone I know, wants me to tell her about my dissertation, about how it is going. Dissertations are funny things. They are almost impossible to talk about. Ármann Jakobsson told me once (actually more than once) that he never even spoke to his twin brother about his dissertation, even though they were working on similar subjects at about the same time. Dissertations just are highly personal things, and they do not benefit from "group think." Dissertations are a chance for an individual to say exactly what they themselves think about a subject they have been studying for a very long time, and even though there may be moments when the thoughts do not come on paper, there is never the moment when you want someone else to do the thinking for you. In fact, when I talk to people these days, I want to talk to them about anything other than my dissertation; I speak to people as a way to get a break from the constant conversat

Reykjavík at night

My colleague Nichole and her husband Nate, who is a professor of film studies in the U.S., are staying with me this weekend. We decided to make the most of our one full day together by taking a drive along the south coast of Reykjanes, all the way over to Stokkseyri. There we went to the Draugasentrið and to the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. I may at some point in time say something about these two attractions, but suffice it to say they are fun without leaving much of a lasting impression on a person. Then we went up to Gullfoss and Geysir, and even though Nate claims to be unimpressed by "water working on gravity" he nevertheless really enjoyed hiking down to Gullfoss and waited in some anticipation for Strákur to erupt. We changed clothes in the car and headed straight to Reykjavík from there, getting into town just as things were starting to get going, but not yet jam packed. (at 11:30 at night, there are still parking spots around Laugarvegur, pretty amazing!). No

Trips to the desert

My son, mom, dad, brother, and my son's father are all out in the Nevada desert this weekend, boating on Lake Mohave, taking in the sights of Vegas, heading out for rides on four-wheelers at sunset through the silver-mine laden hills of Searchlight. I of course would like to be there (though my own little off-road adventure last weekend has still left me exhausted!). It is kind of cute though, I got a message from my brother's girlfriend, who is visiting her family in Delaware, and therefore not with everyone else out in the desert. She misses not being there so much, it is really upsetting her, ruining her whole trip to Delaware in fact. And I cannot help but smile, to know that they love each other so much that taking trips apart from one another sends both of them into a deep funk.

Dissertation update #3 (or 13, I have lost count)

I of course have no plans to bore anyone with the details of my thesis, and there is rather an unspoken rule in academia that one should never say too much about one's dissertation before it is completed. But I do want to just share that during my four days in Skagafjorður, I had more "hell yes, I am so friggen right about this!!!" than I ever could have imagined. I actually started crying twice by how well the data I was finding fit with my hypothesis about why this particular saga was written. It was a really awesome experience, and I hope I can do it somewhat justice in the flow of my argument for UC Berkeley's Scandinavian Department!

My mom

I was at a reception yesterday for the new Press Officer for the US Embassy here in Iceland. It was a nice event, and the sort of thing where I feel especially comfortable, being as I am half-Icelandic and half-American, and also being as I am good at working a crowd (or not terrible at it anyhow). I also was able to switch back and forth from English to Icelandic (which is helpful for me, since some things I can say better in Icelandic, and some better in English), without it being the least bit odd. But the nicest part was getting home that evening, and calling my mom to tell her about the event. She knows very well that if it weren't for her, I would not have been there, enjoying a pleasant afternoon with interesting people.

Meistari deild

I did not have the radio on in my car during my long drive today, except at the very end, once I got into Reykjavík. Turned it on just in time to hear the news, first the news on Bylgjan and then on RUV. It seems some people are upset because the Handball Championships are going to be shown on the subscription channel, Stöð 2, instead of on the state-run channel. I think this might have something to do with the fact that the state-run channel ran all the games of the Soccer World Championship. Since Icelanders are actually in the Handball Championship, and were not in the World Cup, it seems positively un-Icelandic not to show it on the state-run channel. Now in the U.S., I have to say, there is usually a broadcast block out for the local teams. That means, if you live in San Francisco, and the 49ers are playing a game that is being nationally televised on one of the free channels in the US (NBC used to do it, CBS may be doing it now), your local NBC affiliate will NOT be allowed t

Table for one

I have had an efficient little four days up here in Skagafjoður. There were a few times when I was eating alone that I felt a need to explain myself to perfect strangers, but for the most part I ignored that knee jerk desire to justify my presence--really is none of their business why I am here alone and I think a man alone would not have raised eyebrows at all. Those brief moments of awkwardness were a small price to pay for the benefits of being up here on my own, because, well, I work kind of random. If I would have had to try to explain myself to a travel companion, it would not have worked very well, especially because I was criss-cutting across the valley in chaotic ways. And I would not have been able to hear my own instincts about where to go and what to see if I was listening to the conversation of another.  As Joe Banks says in Joe vs. the Volcano, there are just some things in life a person has to do on their own. 

Gunnar Oddsson

Today I went to the farm of Flatatunga in Skagafjorður. Five Icelandic sheep dogs surrounded my car as I was driving up to the farmhouse, so I decided to stop the car and get out. The farmer, who was turning hay in his tractor, got out and walked up to me. I introduced myself, he introduced himself. I told him I wanted to take some pictures, he said sure, and said when I was done, I should come into the farm house to have some coffee and cakes. We chatted about the history of the farm: he told me about the time two young men tried to lift a large flat stone said to be covering the grave of a landnámsmaður, back when his grandfather owned the farm, about the time Kristján Eldjan came to speak to his father, and about the fire on the property when his great-grandfather was running it. I had of course little in the way of narrative to offer up to him in response, but I think he appreciated my observation that farms in California do not have 1000 years of history behind them. However coo

Wish I could stay

I am up in Skagafjorður, and the weather today here was spectacular; the weather report is showing just a string of beautiful days coming up this week all over Iceland. I am seriously tempted to stay up here all week. I really rather do wish though 1) I had found somewhere a lot cheaper to say (9.000 kr per night adds up quick) and 2) I did not have company coming in Friday night and 3) I did not have a refrigerator full of food that will start going bad. I am however thinking of trying to talk my friends that are visiting me into taking a road trip during the 52 hours they are in Iceland! A 2 and a half hour drive really does not seem like much to an American, and especially not this particular friend of mine, who if I recall correctly was commuting 2 hours daily from her home on the shores of Lake Superior to the school where she was teaching.

Akureyri's American diner

We are all working on our doctorits this weekend, and decided to meet for lunch.

Parade Practicalities

This is one of those snotty blog entries I have been criticized for writing, so stop now if you only want to read my cheery, banal comments. The Gay Pride parade was today, and I thought about attending. I had heard from friends of mine that it was "a blast", and as a recovering anthropologist, it seemed it might be a worthwhile opportunity for cultural observation. In my mind I had visions of the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, which is fired by political speeches, or the Mardi Gras Parades of New Orleans, where it is absolutely a huge, all day long, wild party in the streets. I have fully enjoyed both of those. Then I saw on the Reykjavik Gay Pride facebook page an announcement about the deadline for applications to participate in the parade. The application deadline was August 1st, and the parade was today, August 7th. My heart sank. Suddenly this sounded a lot more like the Searchlight 4th of July parade, where residents decide at the last minute to throw some red

Travel companion

I bought her at a farm in Midfjord called Litla Os. Seemed suitably paradoxical. Thorður hreðu (Thord the Menace) is said to be from this farm also, only it wasn't called little then. 

Master manipulator

The last time I got my hair done by my Californian hairdresser, she told me a story that has rather stuck with me, and I found myself thinking about it again this morning. It is a story about her neighbor, a nice woman in her 40s living in Southern California, educated, nice-looking, stable. She met a man in his early 50s and they were instantly an item. They had set the day for their wedding, and were planning out the details, when he suddenly got a letter from the US military. He was a year out of the Reserves, and the military can call people back to active duty in situations like that. So this woman's fiance was sent to Iraq. He would call her via satellite phone, with video feed, every week or so. Then a week or two went by and she did not hear from him. And then it came. A telegram telling her he had been killed while on patrol. She called his grown children, and they all shared their grief, but the kids told her that they did not want a funeral. Since she was only his fiance

I think that is even how it started

I was just reading this article on CNN about facebook  and I must say, this seems like much more of an American thing to do than an Icelandic thing. Icelanders used facebook to talk about politics, really, as far as I can tell, most of my Icelandic friends, a majority of their updates are political. In America, on the other hand, facebook has been utilizes in a slightly less serious way. I wonder if I should start a facebook page for my dead cat Ember, and have him respond to all the political posts in Icelandic, just to be especially annoying, I guess?

Company towns

The United States has a history of what are called "company towns." England does as well, but there the connotation is, in my mind, a bit more grim. In the US, company towns had an aura of utopia about them. It was a well thought out whole, and both the necessities and luxuries of life were provided by the company, for whom everyone in town, basically, worked. What strikes me as so interesting about this is the weird way it blends capitalism and communism. I have noted the same thing about the US military actually, that although their mission is to defend the American way of life, the way of life for service men is not at all the capitalist, if-you-fail-it-is-not-our-problem system. They are taken care of, their medical and social and daily-life needs are all provided for, planned for, accommodated. Company towns are an efficient model because operations are streamlined. There is not 10 different people trying to get the same supply from 10 different suppliers. No, one

Cats outside my window

I am working in my home office these days, and am happy that my eyes are not fixed on the far horizon, the string of mountains that mark the end of Reykjanes or the stretch of towns around Faxafloi bay. Instead my eyes have been focused on the computer screen, only disturbed by the occasional movement in the grass outside my apartment.


I sent my committee members an updated outline of my dissertation last week, along with a date of when I will get them a complete draft. Now I am wondering if I should write an abstract of each chapter first, or not. Abstracts at the front of each chapter are a very nice convention, in that it gives the reader a better impression than the title does of the content of a chapter, but on the other hand, if the chapter is not too long, had subheadings throughout, and is well written, one would think an abstract ought not be necessary. My committee had no hard and fast rule about it, though when I actually submit my dissertation, I am quite certain an abstract of the book as a whole will be necessary. Though it is a difficult mental exercise to distill an argument into a few short sentences, it is often a helpful mental exercise.

It is a dead issue

I was listening to the news on Bylgjan this morning driving into the city (and realizing I need to just have Bylgjan on all day at home to help me with my dissertation antsyness). Anyhow, the top news story was about a murder, and a call for information leading to arrest of the suspect. Details were included about the brutality of the crime -- throat slit and ear chopped off, before the body was disemboweled and butchered, pieces left by the side of the road. The newscaster had a suitable tone of disgust over the whole affair. The victim, clearly, was innocent of any wrongdoing. The victim was a lamb. My American friends and I often comment about how animal stories make it into the news in Iceland the way stories about humans would in the US. A cat killing birds on the heaths was making headlines a few weeks ago. The US news media does not give much coverage to the death of animals, I must say, but it is one of my favorite things about living here. The dead, no matter the species,

Ripple affect

For the last several days, my father has been asking me what is going on here in Iceland in regard to the Wikileaks release of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan. The first time he mentioned it to me, I was a little puzzled, because the Icelandic media has not made a big deal out of a link between Iceland and Wikileaks, as far as I could tell. (And they are usually pretty good about making a big deal out of Icelandic involvement in any international issue). I said to him I believed it had something to do with the Icelandic rules governing journalism, that basically they were very pro-journalist. So today I got a bit more clarification, because it turns out the head of Wikileaks actually helped draft the legislation that the Icelandic parliament adopted. This reminds me of the Kari Stefansson event also, and I must say it is almost like the Icelandic parliament operates with some sort of California-esque proposition system rather than having an actual functioning legislat


I have never had an overwhelming desire to just show up at the Westmann Islands for þjóðhátið. I like the islands very much, and would enjoy a chance to go back there, and actually I even met a lady recently who said I could go stay with her. So it is on my list of possibilities, but I would like to go when I would be warmly welcomed. The rain pelting down has nothing to do with me not going there this weekend. Nor does the drunkenness, huge crowd, constant music, and oversized bonfire.

2 years

I have been blogging for two years! I might say more about this in my next entry, because I am in fact a bit tired at the moment, but on the other hand, I usually try to have a new topic for each new blog entry. Seems like an important part of the job, coming up with something new to talk about.  I guess that is one reason I have enjoyed the format so much, it has always pushed me to try new things, and I think I have been very much rewarded in the process. Thanks to my readers for 2 great years and may the inspiration keep on flowing. 

Pride in accomplishment

Last night I showed two of my relatives the museum; I was heading down there to work when they stopped by. And I notice I have become a bit more Icelandic in my attitude about work. When I was at the Smithsonian, the thing I was really proud of was the fact that I was part of a complex and intricate group project, and an integral part at that. It was fabulous. Last night though I found myself pointing out to my relatives all the things I have done in the museum all by myself. Came up with the idea, designed it, implemented it, constructed it. And I notice something similar with my dissertation. When I was coming up with the idea back at Berkeley, I was thinking very much about how it would fit in with wider debates in the field. I saw it as one part of a more complex scholarly whole. But now I feel rather more Icelandic about it, that my dissertation is my statement, just mine. It is hard for me to say which sort of accomplishment I take more pride in, that of successfully becomi