Campaganza 2016: Hraunborgir

Midsummer is nigh here in Iceland and although our run of astoundingly sunshiney summer days seems to have finally caved to the status quo and gotten rainy again, Mark and I have finally gotten the Summer 2016 Campaganza (that is a camping-extravaganza…the portmanteau maybe didn’t work as well as I was hoping) underway. Having done an absurd amount of research on tents, collected a not inconsiderable amount of gear, and investigated a number of local campground options, we decided to take our inaugural outing this weekend—a sort of test run, if you will, for a longer two-week expedition we intend to take further afield in July.

Because we were leaving later in the day on Friday, we decided to find a campground relatively close to the city and settled on Hraunborgir, a campground/summer cabin community close to Selfoss which boasts a swimming pool, golf course, mini golf ‘course,’ and a rec center where it’s possible to order yourself a pizza and watch sporting events of note, such as Iceland’s just-fine-not-great Eurocup match against Hungary on Saturday.

The weather forecast was, in all honesty, not so spectacular for Friday and Saturday, but waiting for the right weather in Iceland is a distinctly futile exercise, and also, what is the point of finding yourselves a sweet, water- and windproof tent with a sheltered ‘living room’ if you only camp in the driest and sunshiney-ist of conditions? So off we went, getting rather lucky with our weather on the first afternoon and night, even if it did go from being super warm to super chilly quite quickly. Which is when I realized, a bit despairingly, that I’d forgotten both a coat and a scarf.

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Summertime and Summer Time

We recently celebrated midsummer here, and I wrote about it, as well my general sense of the summertime spirit here in Iceland, for my most recent column in The Island Review. The full piece can be read on their website, but here’s an excerpt:

“Happy summer solstice,” I wished a southerly-dwelling friend of mine this weekend. “I had no idea,” she said, wishing me a happy day in return. “Do you have any local traditions to take part in?”

Now, if you’re talking about traditions along the lines of those our Nordic neighbors partake of during the midsummer season — dancing around maypoles, donning floral crowns, lighting bonfires, and consuming large quantities of fermented fish — the answer is no. (Bonfires are a popular New Year’s tradition here, but the opportunity to freak out a foreigner is generally excuse enough to bust out the fermented fish shark.)

Rather, I’d say that summer is more of a state of mind in Iceland than it is a season, or a holiday, or a set of prescribed traditions. There’s a kind of urgency accompanies the sudden shift from near-constant darkness to near-constant daylight, a sense that while it may not exactly be warm, this is the time to go out and make the most of what several of my coworkers and acquaintances have referred to as “fallegt land okkar”—our beautiful country. Suffice to say, out of office auto-replies are quite commonplace from April to September.

There’s a snippet a little further on, too, which recalls a summer afternoon last year, and which can be nicely augmented by some throwback photos:

I distinctly remember a Saturday later that same summer, notable because it was the only day that season that I was able to sit outside in a sleeveless shirt for more than half an hour. I was out with a group of friends, and making our way to a park, we passed street musicians, people selling crafts, and even a giant inflatable swimming pool where kids zipped up into giant plastic balls could gambol about like bubble-encased sumo wrestlers. Arriving at the park, itself surrounded by cafés with outdoor seating, we plonked ourselves down on the grass, and (excepting a brief and enterprising run to a nearby Vínbuð for a few cans of beer), didn’t move for the next three hours.    

Around us, however, the air was almost literally buzzing with excitement. Every single café table and chair was filled. There were guys strumming guitars, their classic rock covers mingling with the sound of tinny pop music as teens tried to get as much volume as possible out of their phones. Not one, not two, but three bachelorette parties — each with increasingly antic displays of pre-marital liberty — trooped through the clusters of people lounging on the grass. A coworker on her way to a barbeque sat down with us for a bit and debated whether it might not be better to go straight to the beach instead, or maybe she could do both? A young girl walking a bunny on a leash skipped by. Children scrambled up to the tip top of a statue and whooped.

So, enjoy a little piece of summer in Iceland. And after, if you’re hankering for some more midsummer (and midsummer-adjacent) photos, I’ve posted a few on the new and improved photo blog, here.

Happy summer, everyone!

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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“I am Icelandic because I speak Icelandic.”

Back in February—a lot happening that month—I was contacted by Patrick Cox, a journalist who, among other things, runs “The World in Words” podcast for Public Radio International. For those of you with nerdy linguistic leanings (or totally hip linguistic leanings, as the case may be), I encourage you to check it out. It’s a fascinating podcast that looks at language from a socio-cultural-historical perspective and since subscribing myself, I’ve learned about the popularity of hesitation words ‘um’ and ‘uh’ around the world (as well as which genders tend to prefer which word), the origin of the game Mafia, C.K. Moncrieff, the fascinating man who translated Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (and gave it its famous English title), and more.

All of this would be interesting enough to merit a shout-out, but the reason I bring this podcast to your attention now is that based on his visit in February, Patrick has now put together two podcasts about the Icelandic language. And—whoot, whoot—I am (briefly) quoted in one of these. Full disclosure: mine are not the most brilliant contributions on the state of the Icelandic language. But nevertheless, Patrick and I had a lovely chat about Icelandic—a rather invigorating one, I might add, at a point when I was feeling a bit down about the language and my handle on it in general— and I’m delighted to have been a part of his investigations.

I really encourage you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or whatever the kids are using these days), but you can also listen to each episode (17 and 15 minutes respectively) on the World in Words website. There are also written transcripts of both (although they’re abridged, actually—more of me in the podcast version!), but as Patrick says, its preferable to listen to these, as they were all conducted as spoken interviews.

Here’s part one (which I’m included in):

Will Icelanders one day ditch their language for English? (17 min)

Here’s part two:

The future of the Icelandic language may lie in its past (15 min)

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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Puffins: A Lot Like Puppies

Although I don’t have time (yet!) to regale you all with our most recent adventure to Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, I cannot fully contain my excitement at the moment. I simply must share these few photos from our weekend jaunt and tell you, dear readers, that holding a puffin is truly delightful. Pretty much as awesome (okay, almost) as holding a baby goat. This likely surprises absolutely no one, but what might surprise you is that holding a puffin is a lot like holding a puppy. A puffin—at least Tóti, one of the resident lord and masters at Sæheimar (the aquarium/natural history museum on Heimaey)—is rather warm and rather cuddly. When it gets excited, it nibbles at your hands (or, okay, just bites—but totally worth it). When it wants to be set down, it follows you around or waddles out in front of you. It is surprisingly small (Mark says “like one too many tomatoes to hold in one hand”) and it has surprisingly warm little feet.

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One of the women who was visiting at the same time as we were (an American travel agent visiting for a big convention who took a short daytrip to the Westmans) exclaimed as she was leaving: “Oh my god, that made the whole flight over here worth it!” I think a lot of things made the trip ‘worth it,’ actually—there were many amazing things about our visit which I will share (with photos!) shortly—but Holding a Puffin definitely ranks pretty high on the list of Awesome Things I’ve Done in Iceland.

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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So This is Christmas

Björgvín and Eyjólfur performing at a Christmas concert together. (Image via http://www.tatukantomaa.net.)

Exams are over and it’s almost time for us to fly back to the US for what promises to be an absurdly (but not at all unexpectedly) warm Christmas. Like, 70F and sunny, guys. It’s going to be great. In the meantime, here is your weekly moment of Icelandic Christmas zen.

“Svona eru jólin”
Björgvin Halldórsson, Eyjólfur Kristjánsson, and the Öldutún School Choir

To set the scene as you’re listening, I refer to the description posted by YouTuber Strange-o-Rama on the video above:

I remember hearing this song as a little kid, sitting down on the Living room sofa and staring at the tree with all the presents under it and looking into the kitchen, where my dad was hard at work, preparing the Christmas Turkey. I looked out the window and all I saw was black. It was pitch black outside even though It was only about 17:20 in the evening. As I looked out the window…It suddenly began to snow. Little puffs of white slowly drifted down to the ground behind the window. What I felt at that moment, I can only describe as the spirit of Christmas itself. The complete and utter happiness, calmness and all around love I felt was overwhelming. I felt incredible. I hope you will find this feeling this year too. Have a merry christmas everyone.

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Merry Christmas (If I Feel Like It)

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:

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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.

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Dans, Dans, Dans!

Photo by Matthew Eisman, via The Reykjavík Grapevine

It’s a little belated now, but upon mentioning it in my ‘hi, I’m still here’ post a few days ago, I happened to realize that back at the end of September, I actually published my first cover story with The Grapevine. The story—a profile of two women who have worked really hard to build an authentic street dance culture here in Iceland—was a long time in the making and I was not only proud of how it came out, but also just really interested in the subjects themselves. So I think it’s worth sharing, even if it isn’t hot off the presses at this point.

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