Here We Go A’Musselling

So last weekend, just the day after after hobnobbing with writer-types and heads-of-state, we went and did something really awesome: we gathered mussels in Hvalfjörður (which you’ll remember as our favorite relaxication locale) and made ourselves an epic mussel feast. We had long known that people gathered mussels in this fjord—had even eaten them in restaurants—but weren’t sure when/where to go do the gathering ourselves.

Luckily, we have two new friends who are not only experts in finding cool activities, but also are socially-open enough to actually join in groups and outings and such. And nice enough to bring us along. Yippee! These excellent friends, Mike and Kevin, found out that the Icelandic Touring Association was caravaning out to Hvalfjörður to collect mussels (for a…you’ll like this vocab…Kræklingaferð [Mussel Journey]) and that anyone could join them free of charge. So we got together some pots, some giant reusable grocery bags (we felt very optimistic about our mussel-collecting skillz), some borrowed gardening gloves, a plastic shovel, and some boots, and headed to the fjord.

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Gleðileg Páska!

Happy Easter, everyone! We’re in the midst of Iceland’s five day spring holiday here, which is conveniently timed to allow for more dedicated study time, as my last two exams are at the end of the month. We also have a few friends in town who are celebrating their honeymoon amidst what can only be described as some extremely Icelandic weather: sun, immediately followed by hail, immediately followed by rain and black clouds, immediately followed by sun, and then back again.

It has been immensely gratifying to share our adopted town with such enthusiastic visitors, and it’s given me some nice chances to go to favorite spots (the lopapeysa stall at the back of Kólaportið which is always staffed by the same lovely old lady), and finally go to some new ones, too—like the top of Hallgrímskirkja for a great view over the city. (I’ve also had an incredible Icelandic track record this weekend—not one, not two, but three people have said to me, mid-conversation, in Icelandic, “Oh, you speak Icelandic” and not kept talking in English, but rather, switched back to Icelandic. The woman who sells the sweaters had a whole conversation with me, even. It was. The Best. So, thank you, Iceland: my confidence brimmeth over.)

Here are some shots of Reykjavík from the Hallgrímskirkja tower:

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I Met the President. And Musselled. (In the same weekend.)

Hállo, Internet! Easter is on the way and spring is in the air this week…Or at least, it’s very bright outside, and stays that way until around 9ish now, but the weather is fluctuating wildly: it snowed yesterday, in fact. Can’t you just tell that the first day of summer is next week?

Anyway: I had a pretty awesome weekend, Internet. Or pretty awesome pre-weekend-into-weekend. Because not only did I get invited to attend a good portion of the inaugural Iceland’s Writers Retreat (I’ll be writing an article about this for The Grapevine soonish), but I also got to go musselling. These things were both entirely and incredibly awesome in two entirely and incredibly different ways. So let’s get to it, eh?

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Húsfreyja day (Part II)

Quick update/addition to the last post, as I have just received two photos from the lovely intern who was accompanying and assisting us yesterday. She maintains an online anonymity, so we’ll just credit her as Flash, per her wont.

By way of explanation, however, here you see me wearing upphlutur, which would have been a sort of non-working Sunday outfit. The top jacket is woven together with a little chain and was the bra of the time, but much less uncomfortable (I assume) than a corset. Still, as messy as I got with the butter-making, I understand why this wasn’t the everyday outfit.

More about the costume, and other forms of national dress, here (which includes amazingly fun pictures) and here.

(I can’t believe) I made butter…

After the relative success of our first “Uncommon Adventure” video, we set out on round two yesterday, this time on an adventure of a much different, much more old-timey tenor. We had been brainstorming a variety of ideas (some of which, like surfing, I opted out of) and spinning off of my desire to learn how to milk an animal, my filmmaker colleague Hallur decided that perhaps we should visit Árbæjarsafn, Reykjavík’s Open Air Museum, and get them to teach me some traditional húsfreyja, or housewife, skills.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither am I going to become a really bang-up domestic worker in an hour, so we kept it simple and decided we’d stick to two tasks: spinning yarn and churning butter. I’ll be writing about this in more detail later—and there will be a video, too, of course—so I won’t go into too much hilarious detail about this except to say, spoiler-alert: this stuff ain’t easy. Spinning yarn is like the original multi-tasking nightmare: you have to pulse your foot on a peddle at a steady and somewhat unnatural rhythm, while gently twisting the carded wool into a thread which you feed into the spindle with your hands. It was very quickly determined that as a potential housewife, I had better have other skills on offer, because my yarn technique wasn’t going to nab me any husbands any time soon.

So, áfram með smjörið! (“Onwards with the butter!” LITERALLY, guys.)

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How English Sounds to Non-English Speakers

Larissa:

Reblogging a fun post from “linguaphile and translator” Rachel over at the Happy Linguist…I love the fact that in the first video especially, there are actual English words sprinkled throughout the fake conversation. This is basically how I feel every single day…catching a word here or there and then missing huge swaths of language in between.

In the same vein, check out this video of another talented language-impersonator, running through various world languages (UK and American English both admirably represented), mimicking the sounds, but basically speaking gibberish.

Originally posted on Happy Linguist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt4Dfa4fOEY

This post could also be titled, “How a language sounds when you barely know it.” If you’ve never spent time in a place where your native language isn’t spoken, try watching that video and imagining that everyone around you is talking like that.

This video reminds me of how German sounded to me when I was first learning it … or even how it sometimes sounds to me now. (Sigh.) I’ve spent my entire life learning languages, and I’ve lived abroad before, but I never had so much empathy for non-native English speakers in the US as I did after moving here. It’s so hard to move to a new country and start learning a new language from scratch. Especially when you don’t particularly love that language. You study and listen and catch a familiar word here or there, but the rest just jumbles together incoherently.

It’s also interesting how…

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You just called your kid what?

In keeping with Saturday’s post

We were learning body vocab in class recently, which included pretty general words, like “læri” (thigh), “olnbogi” (elbow), and “brjost” (breast), as well as words like “rass” (basically, “butt,” but literally, I think, “ass.”) Because opinions and sensitivities vary about such things, I asked my teacher if “rass” was a polite word, like something you might say to a young child or your grama. She said yes, a little confusedly, since I wasn’t able to effectively explain that I was asking because we have a whole gradation of words, varying in politeness, for this particular body part in English. But while I was pondering how to explain myself, she added this little tidbit:

The word “rassgat” (a combination of “rass” and “gat,” which means hole/opening…you get it) can be used in two totally different colloquial manners.  If you tell someone to “farðu í rassgat” or to “go to rassgat” you are telling someone, in no uncertain and pretty salty terms, to leave you alone and remove themselves from your presence, possibly to relocate to a dark and not terribly clean or cozy place.

If, however, you are seeing a young relative, or perhaps greeting your friend’s adorable child, you can say, “Hvað þú ert mikið rassgat!” (Basically, “What a little rassgat you are!”) In this context, you mean “rassgat” as something really small and cute, something adorable and cuddly. But you’re also calling a child a rassgat, which for those of us who aren’t familiar with this sort of diminutive, can seem rather surprising. One of my classmates actually had a story about hearing someone refer to her friend’s child in this way and getting very offended on the kid’s behalf until it was explained to her.

So, fun fact. You can call a child a rassgat in Iceland, and not get punched in the face by an angry parent. Vocab!

It’s Bun Day!

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

As you may remember from last year, Bolludagur, or Bun Day, kicks off a holiday spree here in Iceland just before Lent. It revolves entirely around one vital mission: to acquire and stuff yourself with as many cream buns as possible.

This is obviously totally pressing, breaking news, so I’ve written it up for the Grapevine (here).

But more importantly, we have upped the ante this year and yesterday—because, internet, we are heroes—we made our very own vatnsdeigsbollur (they weren’t hard at all, actually) using this recipe, with additional reference to this one, which even has a video. They came out amazingly, due in no small part to the fact that Mark decided it would be a good idea to make lemon cream for the filling. So: lemon cream buns with mixed berry jam and melted chocolate topping. I think we won. For-ev-er.

After which, we consumed the buns, a process which I can confirm was a lot like this (just sub in “cream bun!” for “cook-ie!”)

Now, I will post pictures to make you all very, very hungry. (I promise, I did some of the work. It just wasn’t documented.)

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Bolla, bolla, bolla!

Irreverent Icelandic Lessons

Or, Icelandic the fun way.

Icelandic language studies at the university may be characterized by a good deal of national pride in Icelanders’ great literary heritage, the nation’s veritable slew of firsts and per-capita records, it’s unique nature and uniquely bonkers weather patterns, but there is also a fair amount of irreverence mixed in, a willingness to poke fun at certain aspects of Icelandic life or the (stereotypical) Icelandic character, as well as slightly more scandalous (depending on your leanings) mix of study materials and subjects. This has been particularly, delightfully, evident to me in the last month or so.

As many of you might know, the pagan festival of Þorri begins at the end of January and lasts for a month. Þorri feasts, or Þorrablót, have been very popular in Iceland for several decades (the tradition sort of died out and then was revived by an industrious restaurant owner in the late 50s) and, due to the let’s say…exotic…nature of much of the food, have been the subject of a number of televised, gross-out food adventure programs, such as  Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (he goes to a Þorrablót during his extremely irritating Iceland episode).

Þorramatur, via Wikimedia Commons. The jellied slice with white orbs is, you guessed it, the rams testicles, and the hákarl is in the dish. The sheep’s head is called svið.

I had heard a lot about Þorrablót and þorramatur (Þorri food), but didn’t have the opportunity to go to a celebration last year. This year, however, I got to go to one held by Reykjavík’s Ásatrú association—you know, “on assignment.” A sample of the experience, from my article (full text here):

Filling my plate, I ended up with a veritable rainbow of sausages and pressed meats: pink, red, brown, grey, and a queasy marbled white. Not wanting to look greedy—and honestly, a little unsure that I would make it through the full plate—I skipped the svið the first time out. By accident, I also missed the slices of pressed ram’s testicles. (Full disclosure: I did end up trying the former—it’s…chewy—but skipped the latter. No regrets there.)

Back at the table, my dinner companion gustily carved into her sheep head and explained to me the best method of eating ear cartilage. I took her word for it and tried to show my sympathy when she discovered that her svið was, in fact, missing its most delicious eye. We swapped various unidentified meats. Feeling appropriately decadent, I made a return circuit of the buffet, filling up again on some of my familiar favourites—smoked lamb, salted lamb, and a dark red sausage of a jerky-like consistency. If the woman on my right had not caught me mid-bite and summarily informed me, while daintily cutting up her headcheese, that she did not eat horse “on principal,” I’d have never known the difference.

Well, it just so happened that as I was writing this article, we were also reading about Þorri in one of my classes (I quoted one of my class readings in the piece, actually). It’s one thing to read about þorramatur, however, and a whole ‘nother thing to eat it. So for those of us who had not yet had the opportunity to attend a Þorrablót, our teachers decided to bring the partý to us. So instead of a coffee break, we had a þorra-break, with big tupperware containers of hrútspungar (pressed rams’ testicles) and hákarl (that fermented shark that you’ve heard so much about) for us to sample (much to the dismay of our olfactorily-sensitive vegetarian). “Sure, but did you bring any brennevín?” one of my classmates laughed. “Oh yes,” said my teacher very seriously, placing a full bottle of the “black death” on a desk and asking the student sitting there to start pouring shots.

Which is certainly one way to get students to participate a little more freely. Fun discovery, though: I suddenly didn’t hate brennevín. I’ve had it before and it made me want to die, but third time ’round, standing in class, munching on rotten shark? Yeah, it was pretty good.

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Better Lives, Uncommon Adventures

For those of you sitting at your desk and looking for something to get you to the end of Friday, may I submit the following for your consideration:

Firstly, the much-hyped (by me) first video in what may end up being a series for The Grapevine, “Uncommon Adventures,” went live this week. If you don’t actually believe that I’ve been doing this sea swimming thing, then here’s my real proof:

If you have ideas for future adventures or interesting people to meet here in Iceland, do share!

And now that you’re all focused and zen, post sea-dip, get yourself hyped again:

I am coming a bit late to the Páll Óskar partý, perhaps because the album of his I picked up at the library last year was distinctly not-dancey, and that was what I had been in the mood for. So I kind of gave up going through his extensive catalog. Which was obviously a mistake because there is nothing I don’t love about the song and video above (for “Better Life”). The choreographed musical dancing—and that dance! I am learning that dance—the huge, cartoon smiles, the piano on a truck, the crazy colors…Love it. Anyway, I was looking for something completely different on YouTube the other day and stumbled across this song because the universe is awesome sometimes, so you all get to reap the benefits.

(Also, there seems to be something in the Learning-Icelandic-Blogging-Water, because Hulda over at the Transparent Language Icelandic Language Blog included a link to the very same tune (with others) in her most recent post today. What can I say? It’s an amazing song.)

So happy weekend—Góða Helgi—everyone!