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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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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Here We Go A’Musselling

So last weekend, just the day after after hobnobbing with writer-types and heads-of-state, we went and did something really awesome: we gathered mussels in Hvalfjörður (which you’ll remember as our favorite relaxication locale) and made ourselves an epic mussel feast. We had long known that people gathered mussels in this fjord—had even eaten them in restaurants—but weren’t sure when/where to go do the gathering ourselves.

Luckily, we have two new friends who are not only experts in finding cool activities, but also are socially-open enough to actually join in groups and outings and such. And nice enough to bring us along. Yippee! These excellent friends, Mike and Kevin, found out that the Icelandic Touring Association was caravaning out to Hvalfjörður to collect mussels (for a…you’ll like this vocab…Kræklingaferð [Mussel Journey]) and that anyone could join them free of charge. So we got together some pots, some giant reusable grocery bags (we felt very optimistic about our mussel-collecting skillz), some borrowed gardening gloves, a plastic shovel, and some boots, and headed to the fjord.

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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!

A Good Sort of Shock

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Remember that whole sea swimming thing I started doing, Internet? Well, my article about it was published in the new issue of The Grapevine. (Soon, there might even be a video piece, too…) So in case you want to live through the experience gasp by gasp, here’s a snippet:

It’s worth admitting from the get-go that when I proposed the idea of writing about Reykjavík’s Sea Swimming and Sea Bathing Association, I didn’t think that I would be actually getting into the water myself. I grew up in the landlocked, Sonoran desert of Arizona, and have nursed a lifelong suspicion of large bodies of water. I’m also petrified of being cold, and am a strictly two-scarf sort of lady. But when I found myself invited to join a few members on their weekly swim, it seemed churlish to decline. And anyway, I figured, this would be a great thing to Have Done: Arizona Girl Bathes in North Atlantic and Lives to Tell the Tale.

Get the full effect here.

Teachable Moments on the Bus

Mark and I were riding the bus to the mall the other day around 2:00 PM, which is basically prime time for school children going home. We happened to get on a bus that was absolutely packed with kids, and while standing near the teacher, I did a little bit of “educational eavesdropping,” i.e. trying to see if I could understand of what she was saying to them.

She was addressing, in particular, a group of boys who were sitting in the front seats which are intended, when needed, for the elderly or people who can’t stand or easily get to the back of the bus.

“Why do I have to stand up for people?” one boy asked her.

“You are a healthy young boy,” she explained. “Of course you should give your seat to an older woman who can’t stand very well.”

So the boy then comes over to Mark and I and says, in Icelandic, “Would you like to sit down?”

(I’ll admit that there was a bit of chatting in between the boy being told to cede his chair to the elderly and then coming over and offering me his seat, but isn’t it funnier this way?)

We were about to get off the bus at the next stop, but I didn’t want to impede her lesson in courtesy, so I said thank you and we sat down. As I was doing so, I heard a man who was escorting the class tell the boy that he could talk to me in English.

“That’s okay,” I said (in Icelandic). “I’m learning and need to practice.”

“Yeah,” the boy told the man, “like you.”

The man shrugged, but the teacher jumped right on this exchange and asked me where I was from. (This is all in Icelandic, btw.) I told her we were from the US. She asked where I was studying Icelandic. The university. In the three year program? Yes. Why are you studying the language? Because I want to be a translator and translate Icelandic books into English, I said. She nodded, sagely.

We had arrived at our stop, where apparently, the class was also getting out. As we got off the bus and the teacher started herding everyone out, I heard her say, “Did you hear that, boys? She came all the way to Iceland just to study the language.”

So my conversational practice was someone else’s teachable moment. Win-win.

A Very Reykjavík Film Festival

Backyard autumn foliage

Backyard autumn foliage

Well, hello there October—it’s so nice to see you. Fall—such as it is in Iceland—definitely seems to have arrived. There’s a deeper sort of chill that seems to be sneaking its way under my scarves and sweaters, and there’s a pleasant wet-leaf smell everywhere you go. The wind has calmed down a little (although it got a little rough there for a bit…see here, if you are in possession of a slightly bawdy sense of humor) and although the days are getting darker, it feels like we’re in a nice sort of calm now, pre-winter. I remember liking October here last year, and I like October again.

One of the highlights of the last week or so has been RIFF, or the Reykjavík International Film Festival. (If you want to get a broader overview of the festival and the films featured, you can see Mark’s very extensive coverage.) Besides being a nice opportunity to see some interesting/funny/unusual/dramatic/vampire films, RIFF has also just felt very Icelandic in its way, which not having been back for very long, is especially enjoyable. I know it sounds strange to say that an International Film Festival can “feel very Icelandic,” so let me share an opening weekend anecdote to give this some context.

A great headline on a review of a festival movie ("We Are the Best") that ran in Vísir earlier this week

A great headline on a review of a festival movie (“We Are the Best!”) which ran in Vísir earlier this week.

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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:

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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.