By the Time the Sun Goes Down (A Short Short Story)

Harpa photo inspiration for Iceland Writers Retreat writing contest. Via Harpa.

Back in the spring, the Iceland Writers Retreat held a writing contest. Using a photo taken in the Harpa concert hall as inspiration (see above), participants were supposed to write an original short story or essay of no more than 500 words. The winner, chosen by Iceland Travel and a panel of judges, would receive free spot in the 2015 retreat.

Now, that was a pretty good prize and I thought it would be a good excuse to flex those creative writing muscles, so I gave it a shot. And I was pretty pleased with the result. I didn’t win the grand prize, but nicely enough, my story was chosen as one of the 10 runners-up. All ten of these stories, including my own, have been published now on the Harpa website and they even threw in a photo book and free tickets to a fall concert to boot. Not too shabby.

My story was called “By the Time the Sun Goes Down.” Here’s the beginning:

On an evening this clear—the soft pastel light leaping off the glass, bouncing, somehow musically, between the water as it softly plashes against the sides of the harbor boats and the honeycombed windows that I’m sitting here staring through like an idiot—I should really be outside. But while I’ve lived here long enough to know better than to take such a respite for granted, I haven’t lived here long enough to have mastered the art of last minute outdoor adventuring.

Not like my neighbors, for instance, who seem to be in a state of constant readiness. It takes them all of ten minutes to get six mountain bikes, a kayak, a dog, and four clamoring kids packed into their trusty, rusty SUV, anoraks and hiking boots and helmets, pallets of single-serving chocolate milk boxes and plastic-wrapped sandwiches tossed in every which way behind them. Ten minutes. I know—I’ve timed them. The minute the sky clears and the sun comes out, they’re off. I always wonder where they go.

If you’d like to read the rest, it’s the first story on this page. And, if you’re interested, you can read the other runners-up as well: here and here. Happy reading!

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“Exciting things happen when you translate” – An Interview with Christopher Burawa

I’ve been trying to do more reading in Icelandic this summer, both a short novel (slower going than expected) and short stories (faster going—to fudge a term—than expected) and have also been trolling the internet to see what I could discover about literary journals that publish short translations. In the midst of this, I ran across an interesting interview with the poet and translator Christopher Burawa.

In a series of ‘small world’ sort of connections, Christopher studied in Arizona and has also translated several short stories by Kristín Eiríksdóttir into English (one of which, “Holes in People”, was published in Dalkey’s Best European Fiction 2011). Moreover, he’s currently working on translating Kristín’s 2010 collection of short stories, Doris Deyr (‘Doris Dies,’ which in Icelandic sounds a lot like ‘Doris Day’, btw) into English. These latter factoids seem coincidental to me because last summer I set myself a project goal of translating a short story by Kristín from this very collection. I didn’t get very far with this project at the time, but just a few days ago, I pulled out the story again with the intention of fiddling around with it in earnest now.

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I, Alone

I just spent a lovely ten days with my parents and sister on their recent visit to Iceland. We got to do a fair amount of out-in-the-country-ing, a fair amount of just-normal-life-ing, a fair amount of errand-running, an awesome bit of horse riding, and I even got all three of them to go sea swimming with me, because they are heroes. (My dad in particular gets a shout out for swimming around the cove with me and making sure I didn’t have a panic attack when the Inferi seaweed started tickling my toes.) So as of today—National Day, as it happens—things are slowly returning back to normal here for me. Although ‘normal’ is actually not normal at all, as I now find myself in the midst of a real sumarfrí—summer vacation, that is—without a daily job or school assignments or any of that. (I’ll cope, I promise.)

Valdimar Thorlacius - Photo by Vilhelm, Vísir

Valdimar Thorlacius – Photo by Vilhelm, Vísir

So I’m going through my email and catching up on news and things that happened while I was basically off the Internet, and I’ve been pleased to see that a book of photography by Icelandic photographer Valdimar Thorlacius has been getting a fair amount of attention since it was released at the start of the month. This pleasure is twofold. On one hand, it is a beautiful book of photography on a fascinating subject: the daily lives of hermits in Iceland. On the other, I’m also excited because I translated the accompanying text—excerpted interviews with the photographed individuals—and did so over the course of a weekend. I had editing help, of course, but truly, this is the most extensive (and fastest) translation project that I’ve yet undertaken, made all the more interesting/complicated by the fact that the interview subjects were often talking about the daily circumstances or details of their childhoods on rural farms in Iceland (not a milieu that I’m super well-versed in yet) and also generally had rather roundabout/old-timey colloquial ways of expressing themselves. They are hermits, after all. So I learned a lot doing this translation, not just linguistically, but culturally and historically, too.

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South Coast Gems: Naughty Nuns, Cozy Coffeeshops

Why, hello there, Internet. I’m alive! The school year has come to a close, and my work year is nearly finished as well (nine days and counting), so I find myself, mysteriously, with time on my hands. I’ve so far been filling it with walks and binge reading and Eurovision and cooking, but perhaps I can get back in the habit of updating this blog, too.

To start with, I’ll be posting some backlogged writing and photos in the up-and-coming, and I thought it best to start with this oldie-but-goodie that was published in the Grapevine in April. The trip, I should note, was one that Mark and I took in October of 2013, although the story itself didn’t make it into print until rather a long time afterwards. I should also note that my original article was about a kazillion times longer (there’s a lot to say about the sights we saw and I wasn’t watching my word count very closely), so while I’ll just excerpt the article itself in this post (with photos), I will also add in some of the passages that I had to cut for length.

The full set of photos from this trip (and there were many) are posted on the photo blog. I’ve arranged them by site, so click the location titles to see all the photos from that place. (General photos from the road have been sprinkled throughout this post and can also be found here.)

(Click the title link below to see the full article.)

Misbehaving Nuns, Ancient Ice: Five Seasonal South Iceland Sights

Ideally, all of your travels in Iceland would be accompanied by mild weather and cloudless skies, but waiting for perfect weather in this country is much like waiting for Godot. This shouldn’t faze you, though, because the shoulder seasons (September and October, March and April) are frequently, if intermittently, lovely. They are typically a bit cold and windy—but also bright and clear and with enough daylight to allow for a decent day’s hiking or sightseeing. On a recent three-day drive along the South coast, my partner and I went to see some new sights and return to some favorites. Here are a few highlights.

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Áfram 2015!

So, here we are, almost February. The year is well underway and I am happy to say that at least from our vantage point here, it seems to be getting off to a good start. Classes are several weeks in and I’m splitting my time between one rather challenging Translation Studies course (MA level, in Icelandic), an ÍSL (Íslenska sem annað mál, or Icelandic as a Second Language) course which focuses on learning how to write like an adult (thank the lord), and a couple literature classes (including one MA class on Scottish Women’s lit—great so far) which are really just for my own edification and allow me to enjoy the opportunity of like, being in college again and just studying for fun (whoo!). And full disclosure to this academic adventuring: the side benefit of the literature classes is that they are taught in English, thereby removing some of the second-language pressure and allowing me to focus the majority of my attention on the translation class.

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On Independence, Or: Asking for help when pouring your milk

So, when it rains, it pours, eh? You don’t hear from me for over a month, Internet, and now you can’t get me to shut up. I suppose all I can say is that finals and the holiday season are approaching and who knows how good I’ll be about keeping up with you then. So I might as well bury you in posts now.

Anyway: a bit belatedly (all my own doing), my second (mostly) monthly column for The Island Review is now online. It’s called “Independent People” (totally original, I know) and delves into giving and receiving help in Iceland, as well as an amusing experience that Mark and I had while driving up to Akureyri at the end of the summer. Here’s a sample (from the middle, so: Spoilers, I guess?):

I have only received one direct reproof in two months at my new job looking after children at an afterschool center. This was for preemptively pouring a glass of milk for a five year old at snack time. “Larissa, we do not pour the milk unless they ask,” said my colleague. “We want them to become independent.” Keep in mind, I later mistakenly directed the same child to walk home by herself, leaving her stranded on her doorstep until her mother came home an hour later. Utterly distraught at this epic blunder, I apologized profusely, only to have the same colleague shrug and say, “Well, we all make mistakes.”

You can read the whole piece on The Island Review’s website, here.

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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Language-Learning and Fluent Slang: It’s Hard All Over

Or,

Sometimes when I open my university account to check on assignments etc, I spend some time browsing the smáauglýsingar, or classified ads. They are short and often interesting, and usually involve more talmál—spoken,  colloquial language—than I encounter on a regular basis. Here is one from today (with the poster’s personal details removed, obv):

Trommara Vantar
I was drawn to this ad for one reasons initially: I mistook the word “trommari” (here declined to “trommara”) for trumpet player (trompetleikari, actually) and was really intrigued by the idea of a “doom-band” with a trumpet player. Alas, that is not the idea, but the ad was interesting for other/additional reasons. It reads:

Trommara vantar í doom metal band. Þarf að nenna að spila hægt, vera ligeglad og nett(ur) og vera ekki að flytja úr landi. Við erum fjögur á aldrinum 21-25. Frekari upplýsing/spurningar/whatever í pósti [email address omitted].

So:

Drummer wanted for doom metal band. Needs to be willing to play slowly, be [ligeglad] and cool and not be moving out of the country. We are four in between the ages of 21-25. More information/questions/whatever to email…

Why is this interesting, Larissa? Well, let me draw your attention (back) to the bolded word ligeglad.

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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

[Intro]

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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