Showing posts from August, 2015

New Orleans

This has not much to do with Iceland, actually. But the news here lately has had a lot to do with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and as a follow up to my last post, it was interesting to learn on the news this morning that a judge has granted a class action lawsuit for the families and victims affected by the tragedy. But the lawsuit cannot be against the Federal Government, or FEMA, or the State Government in regard to lacks response to the tragedy - the judge felt there was not enough evidence of neglect, and I would say it is rather more likely that those agencies, once they saw what was going on in New Orleans, did the very best they could in the face of a terrible situation, and they deserve to be thanked. What the judge found however is that there might be enough to warrant legally persecuting the Army Corp of Engineers, for not building the levies around New Orleans well enough, and offering basically no protection, especially for the people in the 9th Ward, who we

Land of Litigation

In the United States, people get sued a lot, or more precisely, companies get sued a lot. I was the plaintiff in three car accident cases (ie, it was the other person fault and they therefore owed me money) before I was 21. Then there are the class action lawsuits, where a lawfirm sees something that a company has done wrong, but they can't sue the company themselves, they have to get other people to sign up as plaintiff; I have been involved in two of those and was recently invited to be in a third. So anyhow it is not surprising that as part of my training in my job, we have had several conversations about how to avoid getting personally sued or opening the University up to liability, which of course means they might get sued and be found guilty. And then this afternoon, I had online sexual misconduct training, which was really weird. I expected it to be about policying boundaries, both in ourselves and in others, which not something I am particular interested in nor very good

Wishful thinking and New faculty orientation

UC Berkeley has now started offering modern Icelandic instruction, which is of course good news. When I was an undergraduate there and a graduate student, they only offered Old Norse as a one year graduate level course intended to prepare students to read the sagas in the original language (or the normalized Fornrit editions actually). So it is a big change to offer modern Icelandic now to undergraduates. For me personally, I am feeling very out of the loop, since I had understood that Jackson Crawford was just a one semester fill in for a faculty member who was on leave. From the way the media is treating it--Jackson always seems to get tons of publicity--it is like he is permanent. So well maybe I missed another boat, another chance to get home to my son in California because I didn't even apply for that half-time position when I saw it announced.  But I've been going through new faculty training up here at Pacific Lutheran University, and am grateful for the remarkable com

Automotive identity

When I was an undergraduate student, way back in the early 1990s, the woman teaching me Norwegian was named Olwen Shaw, a decent teacher and the first person I ever knew named Olwen. But what always made her stand out in my memory is that she drove a really old Saab, like a 1970s vintage Saab. And the reason, she explained, was she was getting her PhD in Scandinavian, and so she wanted a Scandinavian car. I'm not sure if I had ever, before then, really thought about cars in that personal sense of identity, they had always rather been markers of status and wealth. Anyhow, when it came time for me, after my first divorce, to buy my own car, I knew it had to be a Saab. I wanted something that would really solidify my identity as a Scandinavianist, and moreover Saabs are weird cars that plenty of people dislike, which made me glad, since hey, I was being a rebel anyhow. So I bought my 1993 Saab 9000 CS in October of 2001. I hung on to that car even when I lived in Iceland, letting pe

Viking Days

I went up to the Nordic Heritage Museum today, they were having their annual Viking Days festival. It reminded me certainly of what they do at the Viking Village in Hafnafjörður, but with a rather noticeable exception. In the U.S., next to the Viking re-enactors, there are vendors selling all sorts of other Scandinavian wares, like rosemaled plates, Icelandic pannakökkur, Swedish table lines, etc. America is a land of paradoxes. "Viking" anything always puts me in a very strange mood, I really don't quite know how to think about the whole thing. Ever since I worked at the Smithsonian, on a big millennium Viking project, I've considered myself a bit of an expert on the subject. And when I moved to Iceland, there were people who knew that about me, and respected that, at least in Reykjanesbær. Once I would get into Reykjavík, all of that would fade, and I would find myself wanting my status to be known, but not wanting to do the social-cannoodling necessary to get it

Donald Trump

America is a strange country, and its age is certainly starting to show. The quick boom of post-world II led to a lot of square brick buildings getting built very quickly, followed by the 60s automobile craze where strip malls popped up everywhere. 50 years later, we are still suffering from that urban/sub-urban "planning" disaster. This was all too apparent to me when the plane landed in Oakland the other day, and today when I took a bike ride here in Kent. Trash floating around, boring buildings, bloated streets, there is nothing much appealing anymore about the good old USA. Still, its my country, and I'd like to see it get a decent president at the next election. When I was in Norway, I had a conversation with my hostess about Donald Trump and her amazement was palpable that a man like that could even be remotely involved in politics, or in running for the office of President. At the time, I was totally in agreement. And then I get back to the US, and see hours of c

Ein af þeim

There are sometimes those rare moments when you suddenly see yourself from someone else's perspective. Or well it is rare for me, I don't make a lot of effort to understand how other people see me or categorize me. But I can think of a few times, when I've been flocked in with a group of people or compared to a woman I would never myself identify with. That's when I realize I've done a bad job representing myself, or being true to myself. Like catching a glimpse of myself on the dancefloor and realizing wow, I really need to work on my moves. Something like this happened to me when I was in Iceland last November. My American family was with me, and they were being cool, listening to my advice and generally trusting me to set the schedule of what we should do while we were in Iceland and in Reykjavik. Reykjavik of course never feels as much like home to me as Reykjanesbær, especially 101, so staying in "Welcome Apartments" was not my cup of tea. And then


I flew on Norwegian Airlines instead of Icelandair for the trip I just took, which was, in my mind anyhow, a great symbolic gesture, a sort of declaration of independence, that I am a Scandinavianist and not an Old Norse or Icelandic scholar. Since I now work as the Director of the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University, such a reorientation of my professional identity seems in order. And indeed as I was driving in the Norwegian countryside and walking around Oslo, I was glad I knew the touchstones of Norwegian history and identity, like Eidsvold and Ibsen and Dofrafjell. However, during the conference, it became very clear to me that although I appreciate knowing more about all the Scandinavian countries, when it comes to my scholarship, my focus is entirely on Icelandic history and identity--what it has meant to people through the centuries to be Icelandic. Perhaps this is because I have always been trying to understand what it means to me personally to be Icelan


After three long, eventful weeks, this morning is my last day in Europe for the foreseeable future. I have actually no other trips on my radar, having spent all of my work travel budget for the year on this trip and having completely maxed out my personal credit card on the trip to Hawaii with my son last month. So I won't be traveling anywhere for a while, unless someone wants to pay me to come. I've had a good trip, it is nice to know that I still feel so at home in Scandinavia. Just little things, like plugging into the wall the familiar shape of the European plug I've kept stored in my top desk drawer, or having a European breakfast complete with cold cuts and salad, has been very nice. It is good to know I can slip right back into this world whenever the opportunity arises. But it is also weird to realize how much I have changed in the last year or so, that I really have gone through a fairly significant spell of depression. I made a joke to someone that I have a b

Hverdagslegur: National Museums

I wrote an article a few years back called "Hverdagslegur: The Rhetorical Challenge of the Everyday Object", which was a review of the (then) newly renovated and expanded National Museum of Iceland. So obviously I am interested in National Museums, especially one's being renovated. And one happens to be right next to my hotel here in Zurich. So yesterday, when it was raining and the conference was over, I headed over to that museum. I'd taken pictures of the outside of it a few days earlier, because it cracked me up that the outside of the building was an unorganized construction zone, full of fences and gravel, yet there were big signs declaring optimistically "We are Open!" with arrows pointing the way through the mess. The other thing that cracked me up was that the symbol of their currently featured exhibition is a gigantic cowbell. Having seen the exhibition yesterday, I now understand that the artists featured in the exhibition was largely responsi

Little leaps in an Alpine meadow

Ever since I worked at the Smithsonian, and met scientist who work on the arctic/alpine environment, I have been perplexed and a bit skeptical about the whole idea. How could it be that if one just climbed the nearest mountain anywhere in the world high enough to get past the "tree line", one would find oneself coming to the arctic? Well, this week I got to test this theory out for myself, by taking a hike up into the alps. I certainly wasn't very convinced as we started the walk, especially because there are a lot more bugs in the alps, huge ants, chirping crickets, you name it. But as I climbed up next to a waterfall to get some freshwater, an Icelandic colleague pointed out the blueberries growing in the heath. I'd just been in Norway, and tasted the blueberries there, which didn't taste anything like the ones in Iceland, so I wasn't expecting much. But I can report that blueberries in the alps do taste just like Icelandic blueberries, and then I noticed