Fake Duck, and Pork Buns, and Thai Eggplants, oh my!

So, one of the things I continually say that I miss the most about living in the US is the food. Not all the high fructose corn syrup, no, but the general availability and variety of fresh vegetables and ingredients and the breadth of affordable and interesting cuisines. It’s not to say that interesting an unexpected foods can’t be found in Reykjavík. I keep seeing fresh turmeric at the Bónus, which blows my mind, for instance, and we just got our first Ramen shop—a coworker told me they had Udon noodles, which he had to Google because he’d never seen them before. But I’m not always sure of where to look for these things here, or when I find them, they can be rather decadent expenses (i.e. the Halloween pumpkin when we first arrived).

But I’m starting to discover that while food options might be limited here, they are not as limited as I thought.

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At Home, Again.

This art is made of yarn. And it is amazing.

This art is made of yarn. And it is amazing.

It seems to me that the more normal life gets here, the harder it is to write about it. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping a daily journal, for instance, and it seems that the less fish-out-of-water I feel here in Iceland, the less able I am to step back and break my experiences down in writing.

I suppose the upside of this is that life is feeling a lot more like Real Life here. We have jobs! We have friends!! We have bills and pay taxes! And now, we have a spiffy new apartment that is filled with (cheap!) furniture that we own. I can’t express how strange it is to think that we own furniture in another country.

But yes, we’ve been in our new place for going on three weeks, and have unpacked and gotten the place—a sunny, third-floor-apartment-with-balcony!—looking really cozy and comfortable. The moving process itself had a lot of steps, but it honestly was pretty painless—due in great part, I must say, to Mark’s incredible pre-move tenacity.

For one, he tracked down a number of useful and inexpensive items on Bland, which is basically the Icelandic Craigslist. Then he found out a local car rental place (Cheap Jeep) which rents a mini-van (Ford Town and Country: WHAT UP) and got them to take all the back seats out so that we could better move furniture. (This was a great idea.) We then found plates and bowls at a yard sale (but somehow no cutlery…for the time being, anyone who comes to eat at our house has to bring their own forks and spoons). And, best of all, we got to spend a fair amount of time in Góði Hirðirinn (The Good Shepard), a Red Cross meets charity shop meets swap meet where you can find everything from couches and bookshelves to kitchen appliances, electronics, and AMAZING YARN ART (see above; below) for incredibly low prices.

Yarn art detailing. I definitely need to learn how to do this.

Yarn art detailing. I definitely need to learn how to do this.

Seriously, we got a sweet copper-esque coffee table for roughly $4 and a great Miró-inspired lounge chair for roughly $12 and a blanket with two fancy horses on it…and Mark, on his solo scope-out mission while I was at work, even found me a hand mixer (the beaters were located in an entirely different spot and he had to check each one to make sure it fit in the mixer and then he called me all triumphant only to have me ask him to go back and get me bread hooks, too….) which I have already used with great results. Should you take great pleasure from second-hand awesomeness (which I do), this place is simultaneously the best and the worst thing that you could know about while moving in Reykjavík—it took a lot of self control for me to not purchase one of the 60s-era Soda Stream soda makers (next month, maybe), or the porcelain doggie figurines or several heavy shag carpets that were specifically made to hang on your wall…

Anyway, we’re settled now and have submitted all our address change forms and rent benefit forms (a social benefit which gives you a monthly discount on your rent if you make less than a certain amount in salary…) and are finding it quite enjoyable to work in our kitchen/dining room/living room. It’s nice to feel at home, again.

 

Summertiiiime…

Like the lady says.

So since the Great Dandelion Triumph (which yes, was super triumphant) things have really picked up speed. We had two guests and saw another friend/former colleague on his way through Reykjavík, which increasingly, seems to be a thing (people just happening to be in Reykjavík, I mean). Actually, there have been/will be a bunch of people passing through on their way to and fro from Iceland this summer which is super nice because it makes one feel really at home, I think, to have a community, even if that community is often in transit. Otherwise, work is still chugging along for me, Mark got a part time job working at a local café (yay!), and we got assigned an apartment in university housing (OMG! We move next weekend! OMG! We need furniture! IKEA time!).

The downside to all of this is that my best laid plans of doing a lot of grammar review/translating/reading in Icelandic/blogging/not-work writing have been a little slow to come to fruition. But I’m telling myself that some downtime is rejuvenating and it’ll be possible to get on a nice, leisurely-but-productive summer schedule soon. Any luck, I’ll have everything totally in order by the time September rolls around and it’s time to go back to school…

Anyway, another reason I’m not fussing too much about having spent a little less time hunched over my computer these days is that the weather has been—periodically—absolutely amazing. I mean: amazing. Full sun shining, light breeze, warm-enough-to-take-off-your-sweater amazing. For whole days in a row, which happened, conveniently enough, to coincide with a weekend. Observe:

OMG. It's cutoff season.

OMG. It’s cutoff (shorts) season.

Now, allow me to remind everyone that Mark and I have never been around for summer in Iceland. We’ve been here as late as the end of May, three times, but we’ve always missed June, July, and August. These are essentially the months that justify your living here over the winter, and although they are not always so super dependable (last year depressed everyone), they are still at least a little warmer and maybe a touch less damp than autumn, if you’re lucky. A drunk guy on a porch struck up a conversation with me on one of these great summer days and I mentioned that I had never been here over the summer—just the winter. “Well then,” he said. “You’re an idiot.” And you know, maybe Drunk Guy was onto something. Because sunny summer Iceland is pretty sweet, if elusive.

There is an amazing manic energy that seems to take hold of everyone on a perfect sunny day. It’s like everyone in the country has to be outside, and doing every amazing summery thing, all at once, right away, lest the weather suddenly change. On Sunny Saturday, a group of us former Fulbrighters and Friends of Former Fulbrighters went out to lunch with one of our own who was, yes, passing through. We then walked around, were made a bit jealous by the kids-in-balls-in-a-water-pit (see photos below) who were splashing around in a square downtown, overheard a mini Reggae festival from another square, and camped out on some grass with half of Iceland for the better part of a day. We had originally planned to go to the beach, but didn’t manage to work up the energy to do much other than just sit outside.

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The next day, Sunny Sunday, a few of us did make it to the beach, and although it was a bit colder, Mark did brave the ocean swimming with me and, like a hero, accompanied me on a short circuit around the shoreline since I am a’feared of the ocean and really don’t like the idea of going around by myself, even if I am always within stretching distance of the shore. So even after he came in with me and then got back out (because: cold), he swam back in and cheerleaded alongside of me, all the way around the bay, particularly when a patch of seaweed sneaked up under me and I nearly hyperventilated.

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(If that part doesn’t sound fun, it was really, just the kind of fun that is actually kind of hard because you’re like, growing as a person, and that’s rough.)

Then, after a good soak in the hot pot (filled with kids, most of whom crawled over us at some point, and two particularly intrepid boys who were snorkeling around knees and over feet from one end to the other), we found a nice grassy vantage point to enjoy a can of summer beer and watch the sailboats (which yes, mom, apparently do exist here!).

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It’s amazing what two days of nice weather can do for a person. I think I became 7x happier than I had been (which was not unhappy) after absorbing all that delicious UV and Vitamin D. (To live vicariously and see more awesome sunny day photos, see here.

Dandelion Harvest

Or, the uppskera túnfífils, I believe.

One of the most easily recognizable signs of summer’s arrival here in Iceland (what equates to a cold spring for most of the rest of you) is the sudden profusion of dandelions everywhere. I always found these pleasant enough to look at (that is, when the little puff balls weren’t making me sneeze) but had never thought much about trying to do anything with them until this year, when a particularly enterprising friend of mine mentioned that you can make all sorts of things out of them—wine, in particular.

Well, dandelion wine sounded quite romantic, and I do like make-your-own sorts of projects. Also, I am up for any and all opportunities to forage around for edible things, particularly in Iceland (see: MUSSELLING!). So I set about doing some research on how to make dandelion wine, found a number of recipes/websites/videos/tutorials explaining the process, and decided to set out this weekend in search of some lovely soon-to-be-wine.

(Happily, I found a perfect white wicker basket with a handle a few weekends ago, so I got to hop around the fields and ocean-side paths swinging a basket along with me as I collected flowers. It was seriously picturesque.)

Well. I waited until midday when the dandelions visible from my doorway seemed to be opening and ripe for plucking (I had read that it is best to pick them when they are fully open) and then went out and picked myself a whole blooming (pun!) basket of flowers. My hands were basically mustard-colored by the time I got done.

Observe:

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A Summer Project

via WebDonuts.com

After yet another whirlwind couple of weeks, I’m back, and hopefully, will be here more regularly again. Finals are over (my report card is hanging proudly on the fridge…not really, just in my head), Eurovision is over (sorry for the lack of documentation this year, but summary: it was pretty awesome), I’ve started working full time at The Grapevine (just for the summer), am older (30!) and, I think, wiser, and am working on adjusting to this crazy surplus of sunlight we now have. (Seriously, it is quite difficult to differentiate between 3 AM and 10:30 PM and were it not for all the sleeping I did this winter, I think the wonky light and shifty sleep schedule would be making me a bit nutty.)

With homework out of the way for a few months and just the one job to focus on (which, wow, is WONDROUS), I’ve been reading, coffee-dating, taking a lot of long walks, eating ice cream, hosting elaborate potluck parties, and getting started on a project which I was encouraged to jump into a few months ago by a very encouraging translator friend. Namely, this summer, I am going to work on my first Icelandic translation. My friend is a very kind man and maybe has more faith in my skills than I do—he suggested that I start right off working on a novel. And while I did pick up some novels that looked like they could be promising, I ultimately decided that I’d be a little more comfortable beginning with a short story. (Baby steps onto the bus.) A few very enjoyable hours perusing and researching in the library and I found a promising collection and it just so happens that my totally random system of selecting a starter story simply on the basis of the fact that a) I could read the title and the first sentence without a dictionary and b) it is only ten pages long worked out pretty well. I really like this story, guys, and I’m pleased that I’ll be spending my time on it this summer.

(Sorry to be coy about the title—I feel like I will jinx myself somehow if I tell you, The Internet, specifically what I’m working on. So for now, it’ll just have to be my seeecrrett, like the man says.)

The thing is, I (obviously) have no real method, or system. So I’ve been slowly troubling one out for myself. I started by reading the story through without any dictionaries or aids, and acclimated myself with the major plot points and character traits and features of the writing style. Now, I’m working through it more slowly, with dictionaries and whatever aids I can access myself, in the hopes of producing a rough but readable draft within the next few weeks. Then I’ll go over the story and my translation again, cleaning it up where I can and this time making notes of passages I think might be problematic, tonal inconsistencies, or turns of phrase which aren’t working quite right. Then, hopefully, I’ll find an obliging bilingual reader who can help me with some of these questions. And *then,* once I have a pretty solid draft, I’d like to contact the author, ask to talk through lingering questions with her, and see what she thinks of my eventually (with further proofing etc.) trying to get the translation placed in a journal or publication.

Ta-da!

I’m sure there will be some methodological (and timeline) revisions along the way, but it’s exciting to have a project like this, and great to be actually attempting to do what I came here to do!

Psyching up for the last exam…

In just over three hours (yep: my second three hour exam in about a week), I’ll be done with my final exam for the semester. This calls for some psyching up, yes? (Now, this isn’t Icelandic, of course, but it is very possibly the best music video that has ever been video-d. Those back up singers! That chorus! That sax! That strange puzzle quest!)

You are gold! GOLD!

Iceland, Through Old-Timey British Eyes (And Accents)

Image above from the 1961 Pathé newsreel “Hot Springs in Iceland.” Per the narrator: “Certainly nature has been very kind to a country where you can grow exotic flowers merely by building a glass house and running a pipe to the nearest boiling spring. No wonder the friendly, hardworking people who live here tell you that the coldest thing about Iceland is its name.”

Last week, a number of archival videos of Iceland started making the rounds, after the former British newsreel production company, Pathé, uploaded all 3,500 hours of its historic footage to its YouTube channel. A number of the videos included were of Iceland, and they were hilarious. One of the Grapevine’s interns combed through the many videos and transcribed some of the better quotes (For a nice change of pace, I actually got to help with “translating” these, as, being a non-native English speaker, the narrator’s nasally accent and old-timey Britishisms were occasionally unintelligible to her [and to me for that matter]).

See the full post (totally worth it) here. But for just a quick taste, here’s one to start with. (If anyone can decipher what the narrator says in the run of slangy terms which includes “mod cons,” I’d love to know what he’s rattling on about.)

“The constant supply of hot water on the island is a washer woman’s dream come true.”

“Conveyed by pipes, the naturally heated water serves the hot houses, in which are grown a wonderful variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Cripes! Grapes! And tomatoes like the pictures on seed paintings. According to our cameraman, these other things are bananas.”

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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