Sólmyrkvi madness á Íslandi

Solar eclipse photo via Mbl newspaper photographer Eggert.

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.

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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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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.


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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You just called your kid what?

In keeping with Saturday’s post

We were learning body vocab in class recently, which included pretty general words, like “læri” (thigh), “olnbogi” (elbow), and “brjost” (breast), as well as words like “rass” (basically, “butt,” but literally, I think, “ass.”) Because opinions and sensitivities vary about such things, I asked my teacher if “rass” was a polite word, like something you might say to a young child or your grama. She said yes, a little confusedly, since I wasn’t able to effectively explain that I was asking because we have a whole gradation of words, varying in politeness, for this particular body part in English. But while I was pondering how to explain myself, she added this little tidbit:

The word “rassgat” (a combination of “rass” and “gat,” which means hole/opening…you get it) can be used in two totally different colloquial manners.  If you tell someone to “farðu í rassgat” or to “go to rassgat” you are telling someone, in no uncertain and pretty salty terms, to leave you alone and remove themselves from your presence, possibly to relocate to a dark and not terribly clean or cozy place.

If, however, you are seeing a young relative, or perhaps greeting your friend’s adorable child, you can say, “Hvað þú ert mikið rassgat!” (Basically, “What a little rassgat you are!”) In this context, you mean “rassgat” as something really small and cute, something adorable and cuddly. But you’re also calling a child a rassgat, which for those of us who aren’t familiar with this sort of diminutive, can seem rather surprising. One of my classmates actually had a story about hearing someone refer to her friend’s child in this way and getting very offended on the kid’s behalf until it was explained to her.

So, fun fact. You can call a child a rassgat in Iceland, and not get punched in the face by an angry parent. Vocab!

It’s Bun Day!

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

As you may remember from last year, Bolludagur, or Bun Day, kicks off a holiday spree here in Iceland just before Lent. It revolves entirely around one vital mission: to acquire and stuff yourself with as many cream buns as possible.

This is obviously totally pressing, breaking news, so I’ve written it up for the Grapevine (here).

But more importantly, we have upped the ante this year and yesterday—because, internet, we are heroes—we made our very own vatnsdeigsbollur (they weren’t hard at all, actually) using this recipe, with additional reference to this one, which even has a video. They came out amazingly, due in no small part to the fact that Mark decided it would be a good idea to make lemon cream for the filling. So: lemon cream buns with mixed berry jam and melted chocolate topping. I think we won. For-ev-er.

After which, we consumed the buns, a process which I can confirm was a lot like this (just sub in “cream bun!” for “cook-ie!”)

Now, I will post pictures to make you all very, very hungry. (I promise, I did some of the work. It just wasn’t documented.)

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Bolla, bolla, bolla!

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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Twinkle, Twinkle, Yellow, Red

I don’t know about you, but I had assumed that certain songs, like “Happy Birthday,” say, were immutable. Of course some of the words would be different in other languages, I thought, but the general gist would be the same. In some cases, such as with the above example, this has proven to be true. But I’m finding now that in some other cases, rather notable tunes are still sung in Iceland, but with very different lyrics.

In one of my lessons last week, I ran across the lyrics of “Gulur rauður grænn og blár,” which seemed, from the context, to be a popular kids’ song about colors. So I looked it up on YouTube, to find that yes, it is. What surprised me a little was that the tune was that of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

There are lots of little variations to this song on the interweb, but I enjoyed this young lady’s performance the most, partially because she pronounces the colors so emphatically. I’m not sure what the hand motions she’s attempting are, but they are The Cutest, so whatever.

In the event that you are really curious about the lyrical content, without the benefit of the rhyming, here goes:

Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue
Black, White, Violet
Brown, Pink, Banana

Orange—Satisfying/Quenching (this is a little pun here with the banana line, because “appelsína” is both the color orange, the fruit, and the juice)

Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue
Black, White, Violet

Popping in at the Reykjavík International Literay Festival

Aðalsteinn Ásberg Sigurðsson, Gerður Kristný and Markéta Hejkalová – photo by Markús Már Efraím Sigurðsson via the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature website.

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of festivals and conferences and such here in Iceland. One of the ones that I was particularly excited about is the biennial Reykjavík International Literary Festival, which this year coincides with the PEN International Congress. The festival kicked off last weekend, but due to a confluence of circumstances, I haven’t actually been able to go to many events or readings. Mark, however, did volunteer a bit, and was asked to recap some of the events for the Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature website.

His first recap—that of the “Pass the Word” reading at the City Library’s featuring authors and poets from Iceland, Germany, The Netherlands, and The Czech Republic—is online here. I was able to catch the very last reading of this event, but unfortunately missed Gerður Kristný, whose story “The Ice People” was in the 2012 edition of Best European Short Stories, and which I enjoyed very much. (Here’s an interesting interview with her in 3:am Magazine.) Luckily, although I missed Gerður’s reading, Mark has a nice recap:

Rather than alternate between Icelandic and English, as others readers did, Gerður Kristný, the Icelandic poet, novelist and children’s author, introduced herself in Icelandic and launched straight into a selection of her Icelandic poetry, before switching abruptly to English and introducing a selection of her work recently printed in Modern Poetry in Translation, in an issue dedicated to the 2012 Parnassus poetry festival. Holding up the journal, Gerður noted dryly: “I even got to be the back cover girl, isn’t that an honor?” She nodded, forcefully.
Gerður set up the the poem “Skagafjörður” with a little personal history: “One of the arguments I had with my husband was over where we are going to be buried. It’s one of the few arguments I’ve lost to my husband. So I’m going to be buried in Skagafjörður, which is… (She waves her hand, vaguely, in a northerly direction.) … It’s very cold. I don’t know a lot of people there.” So the poem’s narrator discusses what she will do for her children, so that they will visit her grave and tend to her memory; in this way the poem also becomes an earnest evocation of motherly love. “Triumph,” also set around Skagafjörður, describes a hunter tying a recently slain arctic fox to his jeep: “No one mentions Achilles or Hector, and I know to hold my tongue.”

I’ll post his other recap, for a reading featuring a really exciting lineup of authors and poets, including Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, and Australian poet Judith Rodriguez, when it is available. I got to go to that event, and can tell you first hand that it was a good one…