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.

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!

Music for Monday: Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant

So, thanks to a recent pillaging of the new music section at the city library, I ran across John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. Grant is an American musician (formerly the lead singer of The Czars), but has been living in Reykjavík for several years. Pale Green Ghosts, which Grant worked on with Birgir Þórarinsson of GusGus, came out early last year.

I’ve really enjoy the full album and recommend checking out the whole thing. To get you started, here’s the video for the title track:

Looking Ahead: The Völvuspá

(This is not as timely as I hoped it would be, but I still think you’ll all find it of interest…)

Pauline Frederick - Potiphar's wife,  via the Library of Congress collection (Flickr Commons)

Pauline Frederick – Potiphar’s wife
via the Library of Congress collection (Flickr Commons)

An interesting Icelandic phenomenon has recently come to my attention, namely that at the end of every year, many of Iceland’s national media outlets consult their own “völva,” or, roughly, their [female] oracle, to get predictions for the coming year. For the full story on this, see my editor’s discussion online, here. (Oh, and just in case your mind runs the sort of childish course that mine does, I will confirm, that yes, “völva” is pronounced much like “vulva,” which has been, full disclosure, a source of perpetual amusement for me and some of my English-speaking coworkers.)

Anyhow, one of the magazines which has been consulting with their völva and publishing the predictions regularly (since the 1970s, actually), is Vikan. My editor picked up a copy of their New Year’s issue to take a look at this year’s predictions, and I borrowed it, both for a reading/translating exercise, and because I was really intrigued about what she had to say.

The Vikan völva’s predictions, it turns out, extend from weather to politics to social issues, natural disasters, and famous people abroad. They are extensive. And in case you’re wondering, she did apparently get a lot right in her predictions last year. (There is a whole page in this issue relating which predictions the she made last year which came true—a quick skim showed that she correctly predicted some weather events and earthquake tremors, and also had some accurate readings related to  government leadership, Eurovision, Baltasar Kormákur, and foreign movies made in Iceland. Just FYI.)

I haven’t quoted and translated the full 2014 Völvuspá, but here are some of the highlights:

Völvuspá: 2014
Oracle Prophecy: 2014


Snemma í desember heimsækjum við völvuna okkar. Notaleg stemning ríkir á heimili hennar, kertaljós um allt og heitt kaffi í bollum. Þegar búið er að draga upp spurningalistann er kveikt á upptökutækinu. Allt eins og það á að vera. Við bregðum ekki út að þeim vana að byrja á því að spyrja hana um veðurfarið á komandi ári.

Early in December, we visit our oracle. A cozy atmosphere pervades her home, with candles everywhere and hot coffee in cups. When the question list has been drawn up, the recorder is turned on. Everything as it should be. We don’t break our habit of beginning by asking her about the weather conditions in the coming year.

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A Very Merry Þrettándinn!


A brenna, or bonfire, which is lit on New Year’s Eve as well as Þrettándinn. My landlady’s daughter says that when she was a kid, children would go around their neighborhoods collecting old furniture, wood, and garbage which they would hoard to throw into the fire on the 6th. It was apparently a pretty typical way to get rid of things you didn’t want anymore, but doesn’t happen quite as much today.

In the US, Christmas is basically a one day thing—two days, maybe, if you have a large family/many families/are extremely enthusiastic. In many other countries, however—Iceland included—the whole ’12 Days of Christmas’ thing is taken seriously. In Iceland, celebrations on the last day of Christmas (January 6th) certainly don’t compare to all the to-dos leading up to the day, but there are still a lot of activities, folk traditions, stories, and more associated with Þrettándinn. I did some research and interviews for an article around Christmas, and it just seems appropriate that I share this all with you today.

So: Here is the opening of Thirteen Things About Þrettándinn:

Often known as the Twelfth Night in the English-speaking Christian world, Þrettándinn (directly translated as “the thirteenth”) marks the end of Iceland’s epic Christmas season. The last of 24 straight days of Christmas merry-making, January 6th is the season’s last gasp—and not just because it’s the last day that you can legally shoot off fireworks in Iceland, or the last day you can purchase Christmas beer. No, according to folk traditions and tales, Þrettándinn is much, much weirder, and gloriously so: it is a time of talking animals, aquatic metamorphoses, naked dancing, supernatural gifts, and precognitive dreams. It is what Helga Einarsdóttir, the Museum Educator at the National Museum of Iceland, calls a liminal time or “a border between two worlds”—namely the holy season around Christmas and the back-to-normal New Year which is just beginning. So here are thirteen things you should know about Þrettándinn:

1. Þrettándinn is “Old Christmas”

Around 1528, the Roman Catholic Church decided to shift from the Julian calendar, which was instituted by the Romans around 46 BC, to the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use today. The Julian calendar attempted to approximate the solar year, but minor inaccuracies in the calendar structure—basically, a few minutes not accounted for in the solar rotation—lead to a gain of roughly three or four days every four centuries. This meant that important Catholic holidays, like Easter, tended to drift over time, which the church didn’t like at all. Thus the shift to the Gregorian calendar, which has fewer leap years, and which, by the time it was finally implemented in Iceland in 1700, had 11 fewer calendar days than the Julian calendar.

In practical terms, what this means is that holidays shifted significantly after the arrival of what 18th century Icelanders referred to as the “new style” calendar. So Christmas went from taking place on January 6th to taking place on December 25th. And so, as late as the end of the 19th century, Þrettándinn was known as “Old Christmas.”

(Follow the link above for the full article.)

Farm Experience Needed

I guess if you want to become an Icelandic translator, first you should go live on a farm for awhile, and then you should write some poetry. Then start translating.

Such was Arnaldur Indriðason’s advice, given during a panel at this weekend’s Iceland Noir Festival. The panel, called “The Perils of Translation – Does Icelandic Fiction Translate?” included Arnaldur (his only panel of the festival, actually) as well as authors Árni Þórarinsson and Óttar M. Norðfjörð, and translators Anna Yates (English) and Tina Flecken (German). It happened to come up that Tina, like a few other translators who Arnaldur has worked with, learned Icelandic when she was living on a farm with an elderly couple who didn’t speak English. As for the poetry part, Arnaldur was referring to the late, esteemed English translator Bernard Scuddur, who was a poet as well as a translator, which Arnaldur said added depth and layers to his translation work.

I didn’t get to attend as many of the festival panels as I would have liked (homework and writing called), but nevertheless very much enjoyed the panels I was able to attend, met some lovely people—both some new and familiar faces—and was definitely happy to be able to attend the translation panel.

It’s perhaps a bit after the fact, but if you want to read a festival preview that I wrote for The Grapevine, you can do so here. I also collected a number of Q&As with a number of authors who were in attendance, and got a lot of interesting answers back. So if you are interested in crime fiction, you might find those of interest, too.

Five Songs + 1: A Short Little Airwaves Playlist

So, we didn’t end up doing nearly as much off-venue Airwavesing this year—homework, and other work, and sleeping demands being as they were—but we did get out for a good run of shows on Friday afternoon and evening, and I popped out for a last one on Saturday during the day. Missed opportunity, perhaps you’ll say, but I wasn’t too fussed by it. There are a lot of bands that it would have been nice to see, many of them for the first time, but Reykjavík is a very musical little city and I think future opportunities will present themselves. For now, I’d like to present you with a short musical playlist from the shows we did get out to see, pretty much all of which I enjoyed.

But before the playlist, a few photos from the day:

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Svefnskýt and Geimþrá by Mammút

As promised, leading into Iceland Airwaves (which kicks off on Halloween), I have more Icelandic music for you. My obliging co-workers shared a number of bands with me last week, and I fell rather immediately in love with Mammút, a high-energy, female-fronted five-piece which runs breathlessly between a sort of 90s punk and melodic noise-rock. They also won the annual battle of the bands in 2004, and promise to be epically good live.


Svefnskýrt (which maybe means “Lucid Dreams”?)

Geimþrá (Space desire?)

Storm on the Island

I’ve got a lot of catch up to do—we’ve had visitors, have taken another short trip, and I’ve had midterms, and grammar breakthroughs, and all sorts of exciting things. But for now, I’m going to go just slightly off topic to share a poem which, while not Icelandic, certainly made me think about Iceland when I read it.

I’ve recently read, and re-read and had quite a little love affair with Death of a Naturalist, the first poetry collection by Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. There are many, many wonderful poems in this collection, but his poem “Storm on the Island,” works quite well in an Icelandic landscape, so I thought I’d share it:

Storm on the Island

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
The wizened earth had never troubled us
With hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a chorus in a gale
So that you can listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo.
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

If you’d like to listen to the poem being read (recommended) you can find a reading of it via the BBC website, here.