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.”

Iceland is Now on Google Street View

Internet, it is the moment you’ve been waiting for: earlier this month, Iceland was added to Google Streetview. Commence long distance creeping!

Now, not all of the country has been Googlized, of course, but if you head over to the map linked to above, pick up the little yellow fella, and hover over the country, you’ll see large swaths of the coast are now blue, which means that they are stalkable.

So if you want to return to some places you’ve visited in Iceland and enjoyed…

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Or see some new places you’ve yet to go…


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This will probably keep you busy for awhile.

I also recommend checking out the Tumblr “Iceland Street Adventures,” which popped up just after Iceland Streetview went live, and features the enjoyably underwhelming motto “NOT the THE BEST OF ICELAND on Google Street View (but interesting none the less).”


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.

Skyr is Here!

Not long ago, I passed along the thrilling information that Icelandic skyr was going to start being exported to Whole Foods in the US. I checked on this when we got to Arizona, but unfortunately, no skyr (at least no Iceland-made skyr) was in stock. And then, last night: Ta Da! Feast your eyes, America: Skyr is here!

Found in a Whole Foods in Portland, Maine.

Just imagine that you are hearing a (my) goofy, child-like giggle on loop as you look at this.

Mark and I essentially cleared out the full stock, at least of the flavored varieties. We agreed that without the rhubarb jam, the plain skyr just was not going to transport us as much. We were rhapsodizing so intensely about our skyr triumph at the register that the girl checking us out took one out of the bag and checked the ingredients: “16 grams of protein?” She was impressed. “19 grams of sugar?” She was less so. (But it’s fat free! And so much protein! And it’s skyr!)

I will admit that the imported skyr is not a cheap deal: it set us back about $2.39 a piece. But it’s so filling and thick and creamy! And so heart-warming. Totally worth the splurge.

Icelandic Tounge-Twisters!

After a quick stop in Austin, Texas (urban epicenter for food trucks, “floating,” and perhaps one of the most genius breakfast gifts known to man: the breakfast taco), Mark and I have made it to Maine, where we will be spending our last month in the US. It’s been a useful progression back to Iceland, actually: we started in Arizona, got our fill of sunshine and heat, picked up lots of pool-time in Austin, and are now back in a place where you kinda still need a (light) sweater in the summer.

But the other thing about being in Maine is that now that my work schedule will be sporadic at best, I finally have time to rededicate myself to Icelandic and re-solidify/re-learn all the stuff that has started dribbling out of my head in the last two months. To this end, I started perusing through Transparent Language’s Icelandic Language Blog (highly recommended–a good mix of linguistic tips/explanations and culture articles) and found a real gem: Icelandic Tongue Twisters.

I listened to these three times and failed, each time, to a) get through one of them without laughing like a child or b) find myself able to repeat any of them. But even the lady reciting them–first slowly and then incredibly fast–seems to have had some trouble wrapping her mouth around the phrases, as there is a blooper reel at the end of the clip.

So, for your tongue-twisting pleasure, I present:

The Icelandic VIP Movie Experience (in Space!) and Tacos Án Kjöt

We had last week off from our summer jobs and so Mark and got to enjoy all sorts of desert-y things in our free time, culminating in a trip to the movies (nothing more desert-y than avoiding the heat in a movie theater) and a minor league baseball game (Yay, Toros! Padres!). Well, that’s great, Larissa, you say, but what does this have to do with Iceland(ic)? Not a whole lot, really, but both of the above-mentioned outings did give rise to semi-related Icelandic experiences which I will now relate to you.

For one, I have been somewhat remiss in not sharing with you all a delightful experience that we had in Reykjavík just before we left: the VIP movie theater. Perhaps I just take great amounts of delight from small things, but I am going to go ahead and say that going to the VIP theater in Mjödd (to see CUMBERBATCH IN SPACE, no less) was a real treat. What does a VIP Movie Experience in Iceland amount to, you ask? Well, for 2,200ISK (roughly 17.75USD) you get:

  • Entrance to a small theater (40 seats) with elevated seating so that no one’s head is in your face
  • Your very own individual stuffed recliner with a foot rest and cup holder and individual side table. As my friend was very quick to point out when we arrived, you can fully recline in your chair, with your feet up, and people can still walk in front of you. This is important because of the…
  • Unlimited self-serve popcorn and soda (!!!!). At the front of the theater, as you enter, there is a little heated truck ‘o popcorn and a soda dispenser with cups and bags. You just help yourself, as much as you want.
  • Unlimited self-serve popcorn and soda (!!!). This is worth mentioning twice because I love popcorn immensely and always hate how expensive it is in theaters. Popcorn is actually pretty affordable in Iceland, I am pleased to say, but it is served in reasonable portion sizes, and so the unlimited option feels like a particularly decadent treat.

The only thing that wasn’t utterly awesome about this experience was that they skipped the intermission, to which I have grown accustomed, and which would have served as a good time to refill on popcorn and soda. This omission caught everyone by surprise; very few people got up for refills because they too were waiting for the break. Never fear, though, I was emboldened enough by my excitement to get up (I was on the aisle, thankfully), duck my head, and dash to the popcorn for a mid-movie refill.

It is hard to take photos in a darkened VIP movie theater, but I did my best:


As for the baseball anecdote:

Long time readers may remember my Epic Fail at Speaking Icelandic when I first arrived in Iceland. The pervasive irony of this particular experience was that while I could not think of a single Icelandic word outside of “nei,” my long-lost Spanish suddenly thrust itself aggressively forward in my brain. Now, some ten-ish months later, at a minor league baseball game in Tucson, Arizona, I found myself (naturally) standing in front of a taco truck attempting to explain (on behalf of Mark) that I wanted one combo platter without meat. That is, “án kjöt.”

Suffice it to say that the very nice Mexican guys working the truck did not understand what in god’s name I was talking about, but they bore with me, and eventually clarified, that (as is often the case in Iceland) meatless was not so much an option. No problem–takk, I said gratefully, once I had placed my order–I got my platter there and Mark got a bean burrito from another stand. But this did inspire the guys there to give me a makeshift Spanish lesson in how to correctly say things like “gracias” and “muy bueno.”

I spent the rest of the game sitting in the stands and repeating various taco-related phrases in both Spanish and Icelandic:

  • My boyfriend does not eat meat.
    • Mi novio no come carne.
    • Kærastinn minn borðar ekki kjöt.
  • Is it possible to order the tacos without meat?
    • Es posible pedir tacos sín carne?
    • Er hægt að panta tacos án kjöt?
Baseball Night in Tucson.

Baseball Night in Tucson.


Getting Settled in the Summer Homestead

Not Iceland.

Hello again, dear readers—this time from Arizona! Having left Iceland in a flurry, landed in New York just in time for a Memorial Day BBQ, and departed in yet another flash, we’ve now settled half way around the world (and a seven hour time difference) and will actually be here long enough to unpack. Thrilling stuff!

It is amazing to me how quickly you can adapt to changing surroundings, once you get in the swing of doing so. When we first uprooted and moved to Iceland from Brooklyn, it was incredibly stressful, and felt, at times, downright impossible. Nine months later, we’re blasting through time zones and weather patterns like it’s nothing. Well, not exactly nothing: for the first few days here in AZ, I was falling asleep before 9:00 PM and in something of a daze—possibly because it is now regularly above 108 degrees outside (that’s above 42 C, for reference), and (to my immense satisfaction) very dry. But I’m adjusting much better now, six days in, and am looking forward to early mornings, massive quantities of Mexican food, family time, friend BBQs and trips to the zoo, swimming in cool water for a change (although probably not all the chlorine), long-distance Icelandic practice (see below), and the incredibly soothing summer smell of sunscreen.

My day job this summer is full-time, and full-time away from the internet at that. This is probably not a bad thing, but it does mean that I’ll need to be more creative about when I do my promised post catch-ups and the occasional news-from-Iceland note.

For the time being, however, how about a few good vocab words that I just learned this morning in my pre-work Icelandic lesson? Já? Frábært!

smám saman adv

Orsök og afleiðing
cause and effect

Still to come:

  • Old ice cream
  • VIP movie screenings
  • Hvalfjörður 2.0 (the whale bone edition)
  • Mexican food in Iceland
  • My very first literary translation (and very first basic translation flub up)

Stay tuned!

Góða Ferð!

As you read this, Mark and I are heading back to the US for the summer, not to return to Iceland until late August. Never fear, I have a lot of catch-up posts and photos to cover, so you won’t have to give up reading me ramble cold turkey. But for the time being, it seems only appropriate to leave Iceland with a (Björk) song.

Takk for the splendid year, Iceland. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The lattelepjandi

Photo via the Kaffismiðjan Facebook page.

Quentin Bates, author of the Iceland-set crime novels starring officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttir, wrote a fun article called “Black fuel” for which I enjoyed and thought I’d share with all of you, not least for the useful slang that it has to offer. Here’s a taste:

There’s a black fluid that keeps the Nordic countries functioning. I don’t mean the stuff that’s pumped out of the depths of the North Sea by bearded roustabouts, but that other black liquid that’s the staple cliché of every Nordic crime drama.

Wallander more or less set the pace, functioning on a diet of coffee and not much else. But it’s not a cliché. Life in the Nordic countries really is lubricated by the ubiquitous oils and essences of the coffee bean and Iceland is no exception.

It was easy then. Coffee was made with hot water and a filter, or occasionally with a machine that fizzed and steamed until it produced a jug of black stuff that went into a thermos to be dipped into at intervals. Everyone drank coffee and anyone who didn’t was generally deemed to be slightly odd. Tea was an aberration, something that old ladies might sip, although the strongest, thickest coffee I have ever been served, guaranteed to keep you awake for the best part of a week, is made by a lady now close to her hundredth birthday who has undoubtedly never let a drop of tea pass her lips.

But then, in the years after I left Iceland, things started to change. Icelanders became coffee connoisseurs. Now there are coffee bars everywhere serving mochas, lattes, cappuchinos and a whole bunch of other oddities that have passed me by. It’s all a little 101.

Read the rest (and get your vocab lesson) here.