Showing posts from November, 2010


Yesterday I applied for an apartment in Berkeley, the loft of an old house that has been converted into an apartment to be more specific. I am really excited about it, and hoping my application gets approved. There was some confusion between the current renter and the property manager, about how best to go about getting a new tenant, but it seems to me a good choice to stick with the property manager, since they are the  property owner de juro, and not the lease holder. Now to figure out something with my apartment here in Iceland....

Honors student

I was a total nerdy, church-going honors student in highschool. And I got all As (except in physical education). That experience makes a person believe in their abilities, and makes it also hard to settle for "good enough" in life. Because although a B is a good grade, an honor's student always feels like they have disappointed the teacher somehow, whenever they do not get an A.

Empowered Voters

After the election yesterday, I think I am beginning to understand why Icelanders do not want to join the European Union. You have to actually believe in representative government, and in the possibility of affecting the system from the inside, to be able to see the EU as a positive, cooperative, beneficial thing. Since Icelanders seem to see their government as something that lords over them whether they like it or not, they surely do not want another government further away getting to lord over them as well. Choosing to think about it as "the government" instead of "my government" sets up a power dynamic that is inherently, and perpetually, abusive. Today I am thankful that I grew up in California, where the voters absolutely feel empowered. They may not get their way all the time in everything, but they will be listened to.

Hit one out of the park

The Robert Redford movie The Natural ends with a dramatic flourish, he hit a home run that did not just make it out of the park, it hit the lights above the outside of the park. That scene plays up on a common metaphor in American culture, "to hit one out of the park" which means to do something beyond people's expectations. I suppose that is what Icelanders were hoping for, especially after all the recent protests, that the voters would join together and really hit one out of the park. Something definitive, something memorable, something beautiful. But surely in history the Stjornalagaþingi kostning will stand as something important and probably emerge as extremely significant when seen in the full perspective of time. That is perhaps not much compensation for the men and women who have put their all into this election the last two months, but I hope they still feel proud of themselves. Those who get elected of course still have a chance to do so, to create a doc

Founding fathers

The U.S. Constitutional Committee was made up mostly of lawyers. So the top picks for me in the election today for Iceland's Constitutional Committee are people with a legal background. The stjornaskrá is a document that is supposed to last for generations, and should not be filled with too many specific, contemporary issues. It should on the other hand ensure there is a system in place to make sure individual voters feel empowered, and not subjected to party politics.

Necessary for the time being

I think the dual stereotypes of the hard-nosed, bitchy female and the whinny, complaining female is more prevalent in the United States than it is here in Iceland. At least I have not seen a lot of advertisements here in Iceland, like you see in the US, warning husbands to do this that or the other if they want to keep their wives happy. But still every once in a while at my museum, I find myself suddenly realizing that I am bossing around my male co-workers. They usually give me a good-natured ribbing for it, say something like "Just like this, are you sure?" Still it seems to me, with less than a week to go before our Boat Burial exhibition is set to open, that it is entirely necessary for me to be hard-nosed and focused. This is just not the right time for idle chit chat.

Old shoes

Today I am wearing the black leather boots I bought in California 3 years ago. I also have a pair of black gortex boots I bought in New York two years ago. And I have a pair of black highheeled boots I bought in Iceland last year. I am not one for getting rid of my old shoes, as long is it does not get in the way of me getting to buy new ones.

A thought

The subtitle of the this blog is "One should only be right half the time." I know that holds true for me, I know I am not always right about the ideas I have, the facts I remember, etc. But I was thinking just now that although I am not always right, I do tend to be right about the big things that really matter, even if I get some of the details wrong.


I got my apartment here in Iceland over three years ago. At first I brought hardly anything with me from the States. Then I shipped over the bare minimum. Then I started bringing some personal decorations, and some photos. Now as it turns out, a lot of my favorite possessions have accumulated here. Just in time for me to leave. At first I thought I'd be going to Berkeley for just over 3 months. Then I realized with the teaching schedule, it is actually over 4 months. Now it seems I will need to go a month earlier than that, in order to spend Christmas with Palmer. So now, í raun og vera, I will be in California for 6 months. This means I really do have to do something with my stuff, all my stuff. And I have to do something with it all before December 21st, as it turns out. The thought of this depresses me. As much as I need to get back to Berkeley to talk to my dissertation committee, as much as spending the spring with my son sounds fabulous, I wish I was looking forward to


I have not had time to read through all the resolutions passed yesterday during the VG fund, but I do admit to being rather relieved to find out that it is not "út í kort" for me to vote VG in the future. On a less personal note, it seems to me that in general, it is much better to have a strong, skeptical, left-leaning, pro-environmental government in place here in Iceland when taking part in discussions with the EU concerning membership. Iceland does not need a negotiator who just rolls over and plays dead. Steingrímur as Foreign Minister? Let Össur deal with the finances.

Berkeley undergrad

I was just trying to remember who from my highschool went to UC Berkeley, and I am pretty sure it was just Joni and maybe Bryce from my graduating class. Weird to think about it, in a school of 30,000 undergrads, that only .01 percent would be people I knew from my California highschool (which had 2000 students). I of course majored in Scandinavian Languages and Literature, which was one of the smallest departments on campus at that time. There were only 3 of us actually majoring in Scadinavian when I was an undergraduate, although there were I think 8 or 9 graduate students in the department. It has always been more of a graduate student department than an undergraduate department. But it has also made a lot of strides to try to change that. Now a days, the department offers a lot of courses that are meant to attract undergraduates from throughout the Berkeley system. Some of the courses are cross listed in other departments, as a way to get students majoring in a different subjec

My darling car

Today the car I store in my parent's garage in California was towed into the shop. Shortly after I bought the car, I noticed it overheated a lot. Then one time when Dave was driving it, it actually caught on fire. We had to have its headgaskets replaced after that. Then it ran well for a while, and I would let my friend Amanda borrow it when I came here to Iceland (Gisli also). But about a year ago, it had started to leak oil really badly, and last spring my dad towed it down to Orange County, so that it would not be in Dave's way up in the Bay Area. Everyone wanted me to sell the car or get rid of it, turn it over to the junk yard and just forget about it, but I did not want to do that. From the first time I saw it, I felt like that car and me belonged together. It is, basically, my car, the only one I have ever bought all on my own, and I like it a lot. It is amazing, after all it has been through, that my 1991 Saab CS is still around. I have every confidence that a goo

The ways of scholarship

This morning I was thinking about how ideas cross pollinate across bodies of water, over time and space. I was thinking that my dissertation topic today, one which I think is very novel, probably finds the roots of its ideas in books I read a decade ago about the role of literature in shaping Icelandic cultural identity.

My Congressman

I cannot really decide what to do about the stjornlagaþing election coming up now at the end of November. I rather wish the 523 candidates would talk to one another now, and group themselves into 21 lists of 25 persons each, or 10 lists of 50 persons each, whatever. Just give voters some sort of sense of how the candidates cluster in terms of their views on important subjects. Though I like the DV "choose your candidate" program, it would have been nice to know that the 72% agreement I had with 10 people was on the same issues, instead of different issues. It would result in a slightly more efficient process, if the candidates were already now talking to each other and forming lists. So, this very practical thought of mine, precipitated by the large number of candidates, got me thinking that maybe the Icelandic "list" system was not so crazy afterall. Now, of course, as an American, I am not used to the list system, so my initial negative reaction probably had a

A simple truth

Tonight I stopped by my aunt's house for a little bit, and after a bit of chatting I told her my brother Erik's big news. She looked at me in amazement and said, incredulously, "af hverju var mamma þín ekki buin að láta mig vita!" I guess it is a constant in the world, no matter what, that one really can judge just how close the bond is between two people by how quickly they find out about the other having a new baby on the way. When I was in California, I heard about a Danish friend of mine being pregnant, and then was able to send her a note of congratulations the very day the baby came home from the hospital. It made me feel much closer to her, that I was in some way able to share a little bit in the joy of that day with her. And just the opposite happens when we are not the first to know, or we know long after the fact, then we see just how loose the connection is, just how estranged we in fact are. My aunt definitely did not want to feel that way about my bro

Mothering instinct

I did not spend Christmas last year with my son. He was in Georgia with his grandmother and dad. I managed to stay busy at work and did not feel too depressed about it, I did not think. This year is "my year" with my son, and as Christmas is starting to approach, I am experiencing a level of possessiveness, jealousy, anxiety, and desire for alone time with my son that I think must indicate a lot of latent, built up, repressed mommy instinct. It needs to be expressed. I need to be a cute sweet mom this Christmas, baking cookies with my son while it snows outside. I absolutely need it.


My Icelandic-Berkeley friends are thinking about getting together in early December to make laufabrauð and cookies/candies. Last year this group met at a ceramics workshop for our Christmas thing. Basically, we like a good excuse to bring people together, and are happy with just about whatever. Not so much loud concerts though I guess, unless it was a Berkeley band....

Boating on Mission Bay

Yesterday in California, my dad took my brother and some friends out boating on Mission Bay in San Diego. My brother's good friend from Florida, Leslie, and her husband are out visiting my brother and his girlfriend Kim. Dave went along for the excursion too. Yesterday here in Iceland it was below freezing, a strong and constant onshore wind, and occasional snow.  I am sure there were some Icelandic fisherman out braving the elements.

It is called museum education

Today my friend Ösp asked if we could "chat for a half hour or so." Well, our half an hour coffee chat turned into a serious 2 hour meeting, but I was really glad about it. She seemed pleased that the ideas she was proposing did not strike me as unusual at all. Finally at the end I simply said to her, "there is a position in most museums for what you are talking about, it is called museum educator." Sometimes it just takes a minute to really make someone's day.


I have decided that whether one lives in Iceland or in California, one only needs to have a great view from one's apartment if a) the apartment itself is architecturally blah and/or b) one lives alone or with people who are blah. My goal is to find something that does not need a view.

No chance of getting bored

I still find it pretty hard to get bored here in Iceland. There seems to always be so much going on that catches me by surprise, political alignments and business practices that confound me. But I could imagine for someone who grew up here, that might not always be the case. And I can imagine if I stayed here a long time, a certain restlessness might set in. One is, as my brother has sometimes pointed out, stuck on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic. One thing to be said for living in the Bay Area in California is that the odds of getting bored zip. None. Nada. i mean just the offerings on and around the Berkeley campus could fill one's calendar with a huge variety of interesting talks about all sorts of subjects, not to mention plays, music events, great cafes, colorful types wandering the streets, occasional protests, I mean one simply cannot walk down Telegraph and find it hum ha. As a place, it is vibrant, so living there is like having an especially amusing member of the f


When I go back to California in the spring, Palmer will spend every other weekend with me and possibly other times as well. I am so anxious to find somewhere to live that he'll like. Since I have been living here in Iceland, I have had a good share of international visitors come stay with me. No matter how busy I am with work, I always end up giving my attention to whomever is visiting, I guess because I really am happy for the company. I think it will be like that on the weekend visits with Palmer.

Fundarsalir í Víkingaheimar

One of the spaces in Víkingaheimar was designed to be a fundarsalir, but I had always understood it to be more of a lecture hall than meeting room. It can fit chairs for about 80 people, and has outfittings for a screen and projector (we have not yet had the money to actually buy those things yet though). I made the decision a while back not to leave this room sit empty when not in use as a lecture hall or meeting room, so it currently houses our discussion of the Viking raids: there the case with a selection of Viking Age weapons we borrowed from Sweden, as well as a large mural depicting the raid at Lindisfarne monastery done for the original Smithsonian exhibition. There is also a discussion of how raiding and trading went hand in hand in the Viking Age. These things will not be removed for the meeting of the Ríkisstjórn tomorrow, but they are safely against the wall and rather out of everyone's way, I hope. It is of course a setting that brings to mind the exploits of the o

Brave knights

The final þjóðfund took place this weekend, a meeting of 1000 individuals randomly selected from the Icelandic phone book to draft the guiding principles of Iceland's new constitution. The resolutions of that meeting have met with widespread approval. Even though I might not think the European Union is the worst idea, and even though I am the product of the Nato Base here in Iceland, the principles outlined by that group calling for Iceland to always have self-governance and to be a peaceful international partner strike me as beautiful and oh so worthy. Iceland needs to stand for something, something the citizens of Iceland can be proud of. I heartily congratulate those 1000 people for serving their nation so well, and I think it bodes well for the election later this month of the 31 people to the stjórnalagaþing. I plan on voting for individuals who I think have enough knowledge of the Icelandic language and international law, as well as a core of moral righteousness, to be able t

Berkeley is brutal

I have been looking through Craig's List, trying to find somewhere to stay next semester when I am in Berkeley. Oh my god, it is so depressing. The Icelandic housing market is absolutely a piece of cake by comparison. I mean there is no comparison. I click on an ad that looks promising - $600 per month 1 bedroom in a 2 bedroom apartment. OK, not so bad. I would not get my own place, but then I know perfectly well there is no chance of getting my own place for anything less than $1500 a month, unless I want to live in a run down neighborhood or be a 20 minute bus ride away from campus (actually both). But here's the catch, that is $600 dollars a month to SHARE the one bedroom. There are already THREE other people living in the 2 bedroom apartment, and if I am really lucky and beg just hard enough, I might get the honor of sharing a room with someone else for the low low price of $600 a month. Any chance of my son getting to come spend the weekend with me goes Poof! right

cc me!

I need to find out how Icelanders request to be included in an email exchange. In the U.S. we say "When you send ____ an email, be sure to cc me." Everyone knows what that means, and often emails in the U.S. have a huge line of people being cc-ed. Totally normal to hear a sentence in American workplaces, "I was cc-ed on that." I tend to cc other people when I write emails here in Iceland, people like the mayor or my colleague at Byggjasafn Reykjenasbær, etc.  And although of course most Icelanders reply all to such emails, I was just realizing this morning that I am very rarely actually cc-ed on an email from one of my colleagues. I think this is because Icelanders tend to take coffee breaks, etc., together, during which time they would get the verbal equivalent of a cc. But I work at home 80% of the time, so yeah, I need to find out how to get my coworkers in the habit of just adding my name to the cc line of their emails. I wonder if this is possible?

Never really

Gunnar and I had the honor of showing Admiral James Stavridis around Víkingaheimar today. It went really well, and needless to say, we hope for more visits like that. But I had to break it to my contact at the Foreign Ministry that I will not be available in the spring to conduct tours of the exhibition. I told him that I thought Gunnar would be able to take on that duty, making sure VIP visitors were made to feel really welcome. Afterwards Gunnar and I talked about it. Although he's said generally supportive things about me going back to Berkeley in the spring, he has not ever done anything that one could constitute as out and out support, a heartfelt giving of his blessing. But taking over that duty certainly would be a real sign that I am free to go. 

The Icelandic Tea Party movement

There are calls for further protests today in Iceland, and I am beginning to wonder what is taught in civics classes in Iceland. In the U.S., the basic concept of a representative government is that lots of people have a ton of different ideas and there exists a body in the land where those ideas are discussed by elected officials. After they have talked about a subject for a long time, a bill passes, full of messy compromises, the joke being that the perfect bill is the one that makes no one happy. Now Jefferson, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King taught us that there are times when it is absolutely incumbent on the citizens to rise up in protest against their government, that each of us retains that right not only to vote but also to say "no"! In the Winter of 2008, Icelanders went and protested their Althingi. I was surprised at the violence associated with it, but I also found it appalling that no one from the government had stepped down in the wake of the huge financia

Mashugana sister (one of a variety of nicknames)

I am trying to convince my sister to come up to Iceland for Christmas. She hasn't been here in a long time, and I know she would like to. Plus she now lives in Seattle, and it is a direct flight here to Iceland. But she does not like flying, and especially not in the winter. Still it would be so nice for me, if she would come, bring Palmer with her, and we could all have a super snuggly Christmas in this winter wonderland.

Hiring practices

I was telling Sveinn, a guy who has been volunteering at the museum (while on atvinnuleysibætur and I who I hope we can hire), about hiring practices in the U.S. As I have mentioned before, there is considerable difference in this regard between the U.S. and Iceland. Since I have started working here in Iceland, there has been the general assumption from lots of people in town that it is just plain "weird" that I am here. I have surmised that usually, in Iceland, a job like mine would go to someone who knows/is connected to someone in power, and that the appointment to the job would have only a rough correspondence to actual skills, background, or experience. Now of course everyone says this is changing, but there are lots of little pockets where this has not changed at all or not much, and plenty of Icelanders know that, such that they rather expect it to be the case for everyone. In the United States, hiring practices are different. There are lots of legal requirements


I have decided that I need to buy a summer house in Garðar. This way, no matter whatever happens to me in life, I know I will always be able to spend my summers here in Iceland, near to my family and friends, people who I would never want to loose touch with.


I was just speaking to Guðrún, a volunteer here at the museum, about disability. She was telling me about the surgery she had on her hand, and laughing about an American she knows that had a similar surgery and is now on state disability because they cannot work. She said her hand feels fine. I was telling her about my brother, who injured his back at work, had back surgery, and is now on what is called "partial disability." He can work, of course, but not at his full capacity. It is really a fascinating subject, the way different governments and different societies deal with disability, or even more generally the history of medicine and healing practices, how indeed the ill are categorized. Here at the museum we have a section on the Oseberg burial, which contained the remains of a woman who was badly disabled, judging by the deformities in her bones. But she was considered royalty in the Viking Age. The academic discussions of this tend to get too mixed in with identity p


I am not sure if I have mentioned here in my blog that I am going to be teaching at Berkeley in the Spring. I am very excited! The course I am teaching is an introductory reading and writing course where I choose all the readings myself. Though there is technically a professor in charge of the course, the two other times I have taught it, I have gotten basically no direction from said professor. I think the general idea is that teaching 18 year olds should be something we can handle with ease. My department at Berkeley has a general policy to have all of its graduate students teach, both this introductory writing course and also a language course, and most of the time we are rather left to figure it out on our own. At the end of the semester, the students write evaluations of how we did as teachers, and those evaluations are kept in the front office for us to look through after grades are turned in. Excellence in teaching is absolutely a pillar of life at Berkeley; it is not one of t

Wang Tsoo

When I was going through Seattle airport last week, I saw a fascinating sign. It was a billboard from Boeing featuring a black and white photo of a airplane hanger with a small plane as the background, and then a large image of a man's face. The sign said something alone the lines of, "Boeing's first engineer, Wong Tsoo, was trained in China." I understood the sign in many different ways, especially because I know that a center for Chinese immigrants was recently built in Seattle . Thus this signage has something to do with the ethnic make up of Seattle. At the same time, it serves of course as a wonderful advertisement for Boeing, to give a sense of that company's historic roots. But mostly I understood it within the context of a wider American phenomena, along the lines of Franz Boas or Albert Einstein. American institutions and American companies acquire and maintain an international reputation for themselves only by means of occasionally actually getting very


When I was in the U.S., I mentioned to Dave that I was thinking of buying an Ipad. He asked whether or not everyone in Iceland knew about them, and I said I had no idea what people in Iceland knew or did not know about Ipads. Which is in some sense correct, I have myself not seen any Icelandic advertisements for Ipads. But on the other hand, I did notice a bit of buzz around when the Ipads were first announced, so I suppose I could have just as easily said to him that I was sure everyone knew all about them. Just because none of my relatives have told me over coffee that they plan to buy one does not necessarily mean that I could not surmise Icelandic interest in the availability of this product. Instead I just said that living in Keflavík, I am a bit out of the loop as to what is going on in the city. Dave just said he figured people in Iceland had to know about it. In retrospect, I feel a bit silly for having painted both myself as such a country bumpkin, when instead I could have