As you may well be aware, this morning there was a pretty spectacular solar eclipse (sólmyrkvi) visible throughout Northern (and Northern-ish) Europe. Word has it that this eclipse was, in fact, “the best in years” and lucky for us here in Iceland (including the thousands of tourists who apparently made a special journey here just to see the eclipse first-hand), the weather was wonderful: bright, windless, and super sunny.
Well, December has begun and we’re all in full Christmas-mode here in Iceland. That is, when those of us who are at university aren’t studying for exams (I know, poor us).
Also, there was a magical snow storm last week, which added to the general atmosphere:
But in between the snow-storming, the studying, and the examing, we’ve managed to get in a lot of seasonal candle-burning, cookie-baking, and Christmas music-listening.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
(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!).
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.
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.
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:
Years ago, in college, some friends of mine rented a movie called “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.” I wasn’t even around for this viewing—although the title has stuck with me for all these years—and honestly, The Death Bed (The Bed That Eats) is neither here nor there in terms of this post, except that I would like to draw a mostly-unrelated parallel to a fearsome blight sneaking up (and under) Reykjavíkurs all over our lovely city. Beware, all ye who walk here: Death Ice: The Ice That Sprains. Death Ice: The Ice That Bruises.
The Ice That Maliciously Wants You to Fall, Embarrass Yourself In Front of Strangers,
and—If Fortune Smiles—Break An Ankle, A Wrist, A Tailbone…Or All Of The Above.
After my first day back to classes on Monday, Mark and I went out to the pool at Seltjarnarnes, which is officially one of my favorite places in the Reykjavík area, and certainly my favorite pool. This being the case—and having discovered that it really isn’t that difficult to get to the pool from downtown or school—I decided I would by a ten-ticket punchcard. In Icelandic, obv, because I’m old hat at this particular conversation now.
So I go up to the counter and ask the nice-looking teenage girl working there to buy ten tickets. The exchange I then had quite surprised me:
Remember that whole sea swimming thing I started doing, Internet? Well, my article about it was published in the new issue of The Grapevine. (Soon, there might even be a video piece, too…) So in case you want to live through the experience gasp by gasp, here’s a snippet:
It’s worth admitting from the get-go that when I proposed the idea of writing about Reykjavík’s Sea Swimming and Sea Bathing Association, I didn’t think that I would be actually getting into the water myself. I grew up in the landlocked, Sonoran desert of Arizona, and have nursed a lifelong suspicion of large bodies of water. I’m also petrified of being cold, and am a strictly two-scarf sort of lady. But when I found myself invited to join a few members on their weekly swim, it seemed churlish to decline. And anyway, I figured, this would be a great thing to Have Done: Arizona Girl Bathes in North Atlantic and Lives to Tell the Tale.
Get the full effect here.