“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.

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SecondLangInfographic

Second Languages Around the World

An interesting infographic via MoveHub, as reposted by GalleyCat, showing the most popular second languages around the world.

I’m not totally sure that I love the logic that GC employed when presenting this, namely the bolded text here (disapproving emphasis mine):

While it is important to think about the first language in a foreign country, you may also want to consider that people in other countries might be willing to read your book in a language that is not their mother tongue. After all, many foreign nationals speak and read more than one language.

Movehub has created an infographic highlighting the second most common language for many countries around the world. This image can help you figure out if you need a translation at all. After all, it might be a lot of work to translate your book into Swedish, and many Swedes can read in English.

Well. Wah, wah, wah. I do protest.

EuropeSecondLanguageBut still: interesting—check out the list of most-spoken second languages at the bottom of the infographic, too.

The Summer Project, Revised

“Jumping After Hildur”: Engraving from an 1864 edition of Icelandic legends, via Wikimedia Commons

So earlier this summer, I decided that I would set myself a project goal: finish a draft of a translation of a ten page short story. I thought this would be a modest goal, and yet fully expected that it would undergo some revisions (read: delays) over the course of the following months. And, guess what, guys: it totally did. Namely, here I find myself approaching the end of summer and I haven’t completed more than two or three pages of said translation.

Now. I could spend time raking myself over the coals about this since I haven’t, truth be told, done a whole lot of studying or general Icelandic-improvement in the last few months. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything, of course: I’ve been reading the daily free paper that gets shoved through the mail slot in the morning. I’ve watched a bit of television on RÚV, and listened to a bit of the state radio station. I’ve eavesdropped on my co-workers and people on the bus. And, biggest deal of all: I’ve had not one, but three, job interviews in Icelandic. One of these was triumphant, one was short [my schedule wasn't compatible], and one was—best case scenario—kinda okay, but kind of embarrassing, due to a whole muddle of mix-ups which primarily stemmed from the fact that I am absolutely, swear-to-god, The Worst at speaking Icelandic on the phone. (Long story—I’ll tell you sometime, just as soon as it goes from being sort of shaming and sad-making to being funny.)

The point is, I’ve been in this country and in/around this language and although my conversational skills are still pretty shabby at best, I am trying and improving and getting less self-conscious about those moments in which I flub up and say/write something stupid (oh, like the time I gave an email the subject “Eftirfylgja um starf,” which my dictionary lead me to believe meant “Follow-up about job,” but which my co-worker informed me was kind of actually like saying “Afterbirth about job.”) Basically, it’s an uphill battle and embarrassment is par for the course, so developing a thicker skin is not nothing.

While my short story project has basically stalled, however, there is some good news on this front. I have actually done some translations work this summer—translations of the literary variety, even.

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The Second Life of LFLR

Original art by Sara Asch.

Original art by Sara Asch.

As some of you may know from other outlets, awhile ago now, the city took down Little Free Library Reykjavík. I haven’t actually gotten the full story, but I have to assume that this happened because the library had been damaged for a long time and there was confusion about the fact that it hadn’t actually been abandoned.

This is, of course, disappointing. LFLR had a pretty short run—and an even shorter one as an undamaged, fully-functional library—but that doesn’t diminish the fact that so many people—both here in Iceland and abroad— took part in the book exchange and enjoyed LFLR while it was in place.

And now, something even better: I was contacted a few weeks ago by a woman who lives in the 108 neighborhood of Reykjavík. She had been told about LFLR and liked the idea so much that she’s starting her own LFL in her own yard (I think this will work much better, really, than one in a public place). She just so happens to work for the state radio station, RÁS 1 and asked to interview me for the show she’s standing in on over the summer: “Orð um bækur,” or, “A Word About Books.”

The interview was broadcast last Sunday and is now available to listen to online, in both English and Icelandic. It’s pretty short—about four minutes—so if you’re interested, here are the links:

The English excerpt: http://www.ruv.is/ras-1/bokasafn-i-hljomskalagardinum

The full program in Icelandic, with segments on Don Quixote and Harry Potter as well. My bit, with Icelandic voiceover, starts at about 19:10: http://www.ruv.is/ras-1/ordum-ad-teygja-lopann

I’ll let everyone know when the new LFL(R) is up and running. I’m so delighted that the idea is going to continue here!

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Gleðileg Hinsegin Dagur!

Reykjavík Pride‘s signature event—the gleðiganga, or Pride Parade, took place this afternoon (a most perfect sunny day, as you can see). This was our first time in the city for Pride, which is actually a six day event called “Hinsegin Dagar,” or Queer Days (“hinsegin” actually just means “different,” but is the general word used to refer to queer people), and after a little “Diving and Divas” (a concert/diving exhibition at the indoor swimming pool downtown) earlier in the week, I was really looking forward to the parade. (Fun Fact: the Pride Parade is, I’m told, the only parade on the city’s calendar.)

By parade standards, Reykjavík Pride is, admittedly, pretty small. But you wouldn’t know it from the size of the crowds that gather. I’m told that somewhere around 120,000 people came out to see the parade and the following concert this afternoon. Just think about that: 120,000 people. That is just short of the city’s total population which is, at last estimate, 121,230. And that is amazing.

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One last goat cuddle.

Save the Icelandic Goats!

(If you don’t want to read the whole post, and just want to jump to the goat-saving, see here.)

As many of you who know me are already quite familiar, I have a bit of a thing for goats. Goats yelling like people. Goats balancing on steel ribbons. Goats as “vegetation control.” Goats, goats, goats. I can’t exactly explain why this is: as a child, a goat chased me around a petting zoo, caught me, chewed on my shirt, and generally terrified me, so it’s not because I have some particularly warm memory of these creatures (although I did really love the book Gregory the Terrible Eater). But somehow, their general cleverness and mischievousness caught my fancy and seriously charmed me.

I say this by way of introduction to a cause that is close to my heart: a family-run Icelandic goat farm called Háafell is in danger of foreclosure next month. This farm—which you might remember from a post last year—is home to 400 goats, nearly half of Iceland’s native goat population (there are only 820 Icelandic goats in existence all total). And—for reasons which admittedly, are not entirely clear to me—if the family loses their farm, all of the 400 goats there will be slaughtered.

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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.