IMG_9648 copy

On Independence, Or: Asking for help when pouring your milk

So, when it rains, it pours, eh? You don’t hear from me for over a month, Internet, and now you can’t get me to shut up. I suppose all I can say is that finals and the holiday season are approaching and who knows how good I’ll be about keeping up with you then. So I might as well bury you in posts now.

Anyway: a bit belatedly (all my own doing), my second (mostly) monthly column for The Island Review is now online. It’s called “Independent People” (totally original, I know) and delves into giving and receiving help in Iceland, as well as an amusing experience that Mark and I had while driving up to Akureyri at the end of the summer. Here’s a sample (from the middle, so: Spoilers, I guess?):

I have only received one direct reproof in two months at my new job looking after children at an afterschool center. This was for preemptively pouring a glass of milk for a five year old at snack time. “Larissa, we do not pour the milk unless they ask,” said my colleague. “We want them to become independent.” Keep in mind, I later mistakenly directed the same child to walk home by herself, leaving her stranded on her doorstep until her mother came home an hour later. Utterly distraught at this epic blunder, I apologized profusely, only to have the same colleague shrug and say, “Well, we all make mistakes.”

You can read the whole piece on The Island Review’s website, here.

Dans, Dans, Dans!

Photo by Matthew Eisman, via The Reykjavík Grapevine

It’s a little belated now, but upon mentioning it in my ‘hi, I’m still here’ post a few days ago, I happened to realize that back at the end of September, I actually published my first cover story with The Grapevine. The story—a profile of two women who have worked really hard to build an authentic street dance culture here in Iceland—was a long time in the making and I was not only proud of how it came out, but also just really interested in the subjects themselves. So I think it’s worth sharing, even if it isn’t hot off the presses at this point.

Continue reading

Winter Has Arrived (And I Feel Fine)

First snow this year, Oct. 21, 2014

So, it’s been a really long time, hasn’t it? My saying this is getting to be a habit, I know, but as I’ve mentioned, it has somehow seemed more complicated to write about life here in Iceland now that I don’t always want to follow the phrase “my life” with the phrase “here in Iceland.” Most of the time it’s just “my life” full stop, and while that is frequently full of amusing and/or culturally-observant anecdotes, I feel a bit strange just telling The Internet about my ho-hum, everyday comings and goings. But I do miss you, Internet! Suffice to say, I’m not gone, I’m just working a little harder to come up with super good content.

Continue reading

You’re a Dragon. Got that?

So, we’ve started doing presentations in my Phonetics and Phonology course (barrel of laughs that, I assure you), all of which are meant to demonstrate something about pronunciation for the rest of the class. Two of the first three groups actually ended up using the same clip for their presentations, a skit from the fabulous (and not yet available in English translation, I think?) sketch comedy show, Fóstbræður (Foster Brothers), which starred Jón Gnarr and (film director) Benedikt Erlingsson among others.

I’m familiar with some of the more classic sketches from this show, although I hadn’t seen this one, in which an acountant-type (Jón Gnarr) is called into his boss’ office for some serious news. (Sorry, couldn’t embed the video, so just click the picture for the link.)

Drekin

The gist of the video is that Jón Gnarr comes into the office and is told by his boss (Benedikt Erlingsson) ‘Þú ert rekinn,’ which means, you’re fired. But what he hears is “Þú ert drekinn,” or you’re a dragon. Hilarity ensues, particularly for all us útlendingar who are pleased that Icelandic pronunciation isn’t always clear to Icelanders either.

Continue reading

Volcano?

We are volcano-ed!

As many of you already are aware, there is a volcanic eruption happening, as we speak. The lava overflow from the Bárðarbunga eruption has already created a lava field of 19 square kilometers, apparently making it the biggest eruption since Krafla in 1984.

But I’ve been so intent on memorizing the declensions of old Norse words for wolf and grave (really), on child wrangling, and course readings o.s.f. (etc., that is) that I somehow missed that um, a volcano erupted in the country I’m living in? I can’t decide if this is a comforting sign of the fact that life goes on, untroubled, or concerning proof that I am a bit too focused on the tasks at hand. I should probably be following the news a bit better, eh?

At any rate, I know now, soo….here are some sweet volcano videos for your enjoyment:

A video recorded with a handheld camera from a helicopter, via  Jon Gustafsson/Artio Films:

And another, via Stöð 2:

And there are also two live cams via Míla, here and here.

Góðafoss

Variations on a Theme

Awhile back, I was looking for interviews with author Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir to read in preparation for a book review I was writing about her recently-translated-into-English novel Butterflies in November. I ran across an interesting one on a website called The Island Review and was intrigued by its simple but flexible premise:

The Island Review is an online magazine dedicated to great writing and visual art that comes from, is inspired by, celebrates or seeks to understand the extraordinary appeal of islands, as places and as metaphors.

It seemed like it would be an interesting outlet to write for, and so I took a look at their submissions page, pleased to find that they were seeking regular, island-based contributors. One thing lead to another and I am now a regular columnist. My first “introduction” post went up today and picked up where my last blog post here left off, actually. Here’s a little excerpt from the mid-beginning:

No matter how open and adventurous you are when you move to a new country, no matter how much prior knowledge you have about the place, no matter how intentional and premeditated your arrival: integration in a new culture is a journey. And kind of a long one, at that. I’ve been here in Iceland for just over two years now and I’m starting my third year studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the university-level (that’s the whole reason I came, actually). And although it’s often been something of an uphill battle, my partner and I have been very happy here. We’ve made lives for ourselves in Reykjavík—the nation’s single urban hub, home to more than two thirds of the total population—and have had opportunities that would have been completely and utterly impossible in the crush of in New York City, where we previously lived for ten years.

Moreover, in my time here, I’ve picked up a fair amount of local habits. I drink squeeze boxes of kókó mjólk (chocolate milk) with frankly alarming frequency, despite the fact that when I arrived, I couldn’t stand milk and wasn’t really a fan of chocolate, either. I wear a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa sweater. I get antsy if there is no intermission during a film at the movie theater. Swimming outdoors during a snow storm doesn’t faze me (the pools are geothermally-heated, after all, and anyway, I’ve started winter sea swimming, too). And, like any born-and-bread Icelander, I now understand that umbrellas are not only futile in the country’s gale force winds, they are also symbolic of man’s inability to cope with slightly inconvenient weather patterns.

And yet, although I’ve adopted a variety of Icelandic tendencies and adapted in other, perhaps more significant, ways as well, I still experience a sense of distance and remove here in Iceland, a sense of being outside.

(Don’t worry, there’s an upside: it’s not all ‘woe is me.’)

I’ll be contributing a post at least once monthly from here on out. You can find me on The Island Review website (here, with two other columnists based in Tasmania and Tierra del Fuego) and I’ll post excerpts on this blog, too, of course.

Heyrðu! Útlensk!

That’s me. Sorta.

So: on Friday I had my last day as an official member of the Grapevine staff (although I will continue in a freelance capacity), and on Monday—following a great trip North, which I will tell you all about later—I set about updating my CV for the zillionth time and putting out some feelers for my next expedition into gainful employment abroad. The ink was hardly dry on the CVs when I got an unexpected phone call from the first after school program that I applied to work at, a job basically herding, feeding, entertaining, and preserving children ages 6-9 for a few hours in the afternoon between the end of school and when they are picked up by their parents.

I had thought this job was a no-go, even though I had a very successful interview (I thought, at least), as I hadn’t heard back from anyone since I had gone in for my interview in early/mid-June. But then here was the call I’d been hoping for: ‘You still want a job? Yes? Great—can you start tomorrow?’

Well, yes, actually.

Continue reading

“The smallest human acts of kindness…”

I recently re-listened to a great episode of This American Life, a program called “Americans in Paris,” which begins with Ira Glass following David Sedaris on an extremely esoteric tour of Paris not so long after David had relocated there. (He seems to have moved on to West Sussex, England since, as revealed by this humorous bit of recent news.)

Much like the France-related essays in his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, this radio segment deals a lot with David’s struggles to learn and speak French. I think about these pieces a lot, actually, because they are tragic and embarrassing and funny and triumphant in a way that one only recognizes if one has spent a lot of time really fighting with a language in a foreign country. And they probably resonate with me all the more because although he is clearly adventurous enough to have picked up and moved to another country where he knew no one (except his boyfriend) at a high point in his own career, he doesn’t have the kind of personality which necessarily facilitates such adventure. For instance, Ira Glass asks him, “Is your experience here more of a feeling of adventure or more a feeling of humiliation?” And David’s reply is:

It’s more a feeling of humiliation. It would be a feeling of adventure if I were a different type of person, if I were a more adventurous person. But for me to get on a train and go to Switzerland, I don’t think, oh good, I get to have an adventure. I think, oh great, I get to make an ass out of myself in two different languages.

Continue reading