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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Summer Project, Revised

“Jumping After Hildur”: Engraving from an 1864 edition of Icelandic legends, via Wikimedia Commons

So earlier this summer, I decided that I would set myself a project goal: finish a draft of a translation of a ten page short story. I thought this would be a modest goal, and yet fully expected that it would undergo some revisions (read: delays) over the course of the following months. And, guess what, guys: it totally did. Namely, here I find myself approaching the end of summer and I haven’t completed more than two or three pages of said translation.

Now. I could spend time raking myself over the coals about this since I haven’t, truth be told, done a whole lot of studying or general Icelandic-improvement in the last few months. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything, of course: I’ve been reading the daily free paper that gets shoved through the mail slot in the morning. I’ve watched a bit of television on RÚV, and listened to a bit of the state radio station. I’ve eavesdropped on my co-workers and people on the bus. And, biggest deal of all: I’ve had not one, but three, job interviews in Icelandic. One of these was triumphant, one was short [my schedule wasn’t compatible], and one was—best case scenario—kinda okay, but kind of embarrassing, due to a whole muddle of mix-ups which primarily stemmed from the fact that I am absolutely, swear-to-god, The Worst at speaking Icelandic on the phone. (Long story—I’ll tell you sometime, just as soon as it goes from being sort of shaming and sad-making to being funny.)

The point is, I’ve been in this country and in/around this language and although my conversational skills are still pretty shabby at best, I am trying and improving and getting less self-conscious about those moments in which I flub up and say/write something stupid (oh, like the time I gave an email the subject “Eftirfylgja um starf,” which my dictionary lead me to believe meant “Follow-up about job,” but which my co-worker informed me was kind of actually like saying “Afterbirth about job.”) Basically, it’s an uphill battle and embarrassment is par for the course, so developing a thicker skin is not nothing.

While my short story project has basically stalled, however, there is some good news on this front. I have actually done some translations work this summer—translations of the literary variety, even.

Continue reading

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.”

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 Very Merry Þrettándinn!


A brenna, or bonfire, which is lit on New Year’s Eve as well as Þrettándinn. My landlady’s daughter says that when she was a kid, children would go around their neighborhoods collecting old furniture, wood, and garbage which they would hoard to throw into the fire on the 6th. It was apparently a pretty typical way to get rid of things you didn’t want anymore, but doesn’t happen quite as much today.

In the US, Christmas is basically a one day thing—two days, maybe, if you have a large family/many families/are extremely enthusiastic. In many other countries, however—Iceland included—the whole ’12 Days of Christmas’ thing is taken seriously. In Iceland, celebrations on the last day of Christmas (January 6th) certainly don’t compare to all the to-dos leading up to the day, but there are still a lot of activities, folk traditions, stories, and more associated with Þrettándinn. I did some research and interviews for an article around Christmas, and it just seems appropriate that I share this all with you today.

So: Here is the opening of Thirteen Things About Þrettándinn:

Often known as the Twelfth Night in the English-speaking Christian world, Þrettándinn (directly translated as “the thirteenth”) marks the end of Iceland’s epic Christmas season. The last of 24 straight days of Christmas merry-making, January 6th is the season’s last gasp—and not just because it’s the last day that you can legally shoot off fireworks in Iceland, or the last day you can purchase Christmas beer. No, according to folk traditions and tales, Þrettándinn is much, much weirder, and gloriously so: it is a time of talking animals, aquatic metamorphoses, naked dancing, supernatural gifts, and precognitive dreams. It is what Helga Einarsdóttir, the Museum Educator at the National Museum of Iceland, calls a liminal time or “a border between two worlds”—namely the holy season around Christmas and the back-to-normal New Year which is just beginning. So here are thirteen things you should know about Þrettándinn:

1. Þrettándinn is “Old Christmas”

Around 1528, the Roman Catholic Church decided to shift from the Julian calendar, which was instituted by the Romans around 46 BC, to the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use today. The Julian calendar attempted to approximate the solar year, but minor inaccuracies in the calendar structure—basically, a few minutes not accounted for in the solar rotation—lead to a gain of roughly three or four days every four centuries. This meant that important Catholic holidays, like Easter, tended to drift over time, which the church didn’t like at all. Thus the shift to the Gregorian calendar, which has fewer leap years, and which, by the time it was finally implemented in Iceland in 1700, had 11 fewer calendar days than the Julian calendar.

In practical terms, what this means is that holidays shifted significantly after the arrival of what 18th century Icelanders referred to as the “new style” calendar. So Christmas went from taking place on January 6th to taking place on December 25th. And so, as late as the end of the 19th century, Þrettándinn was known as “Old Christmas.”

(Follow the link above for the full article.)

Farm Experience Needed

I guess if you want to become an Icelandic translator, first you should go live on a farm for awhile, and then you should write some poetry. Then start translating.

Such was Arnaldur Indriðason’s advice, given during a panel at this weekend’s Iceland Noir Festival. The panel, called “The Perils of Translation – Does Icelandic Fiction Translate?” included Arnaldur (his only panel of the festival, actually) as well as authors Árni Þórarinsson and Óttar M. Norðfjörð, and translators Anna Yates (English) and Tina Flecken (German). It happened to come up that Tina, like a few other translators who Arnaldur has worked with, learned Icelandic when she was living on a farm with an elderly couple who didn’t speak English. As for the poetry part, Arnaldur was referring to the late, esteemed English translator Bernard Scuddur, who was a poet as well as a translator, which Arnaldur said added depth and layers to his translation work.

I didn’t get to attend as many of the festival panels as I would have liked (homework and writing called), but nevertheless very much enjoyed the panels I was able to attend, met some lovely people—both some new and familiar faces—and was definitely happy to be able to attend the translation panel.

It’s perhaps a bit after the fact, but if you want to read a festival preview that I wrote for The Grapevine, you can do so here. I also collected a number of Q&As with a number of authors who were in attendance, and got a lot of interesting answers back. So if you are interested in crime fiction, you might find those of interest, too.

Fun Reads for Friday

I know I’m biased, but I think that I’ve had some pretty fun articles and news stories published in the last month or so, and since it is Friday and many of you with office jobs are maybe casting around the internet for articles to distract yourselves with, I might as well oblige. For your perusal, I present:

Thirty Semifinalists Chosen For Most Beautiful Icelandic Word

My personal favorite from this list, in which there are many excellent options, is “gluggaveður,” or window-weather. Basically, weather that is nice to look at from out of your window, but not nice to be in: a very appropriate word for Iceland.

Photo by Matt Eisman, via Reykjavík Grapevine

Pancakes and Petticoats: Getting to Know Iceland’s Elegant Gothic Lolitas

“When I ask how they get their skirts to be so poofy, all three women stand up, as if on cue, and lift their skirts to display ornate petticoats and bloomers. “This is the only time you’ll see Lolitas do this type of thing,” Aino laughs. ‘If someone has a really good poof, sooner or later, there’ll be a Lolita peeking up her skirt.'”

Police Seek Assistance in Finding Birthday Money

Another of those “only in Iceland” stories.

Vinaborgir: Reykjavík’s BFFs Around the World

Reykjavík’s sister cities, personified. (Due credit to Mark for the excellent idea.)

On Top of the World: Iceland’s Happiness by Numbers

In which I sort through the many, many different happiness/peace/prosperity indexes and see how Iceland rates.


Segðu Já!


Towards the end of September, when plane tickets, general living, and fun outings were starting to eat into my summer savings, I adopted a policy of “say yes!” whenever a work opportunity came my way. This wasn’t a bad policy, wallet-wise, and so I decided, when considering all of the new things that were on my horizon, that I would try to stick with this ethos when unusual life opportunities came my way.

Which is how, dear readers, Mark and I ended up standing on a glacier this weekend, in the rain, preparing ourselves to climb a vertical ice wall. Segðu já! (Full photos here.)

Continue reading

Pizza, pitsa!

When you think of classically Icelandic food, your mind—depending on who has been scaring you lately—might run to such dishes as svið or hákarl, or perhaps less frightening fare in the form of kleina and kjötsupa. I had a friend, however, who joked that people who wanted to eat the most classically Icelandic dishes should just be taken out for a hamburger (with ample Bearnaise sauce) or for a slice of pizza (with some pineapple on top).

It’s true: like Americans, Icelanders love their junk food. Candy (so much candy), pizza, soda, popcorn, hamburgers and french fries–the whole deal. And then more. And always with sauce–many, many sauces.

Today, The Grapevine draws our attention to a survey which confirms Icelanders’ love of fast food, while also breaking  this love down into more specifics (I just love that a country’s particular fast food predilections is the subject of a large-scale survey, too). I would have guessed that hamburgers were most popular myself: I completely fell prey to the hamburger bug in Reykjavík and found myself craving bacon burgers almost biweekly toward the end of my stay. (Oh, Vita Bar…I miss you.) But here’s the actual breakdown, per the survey:

Pizza is the fast food of choice for Icelanders, with twice as many people saying they would opt for a slice before reaching for a hamburger.

According to new information released by Market and Media Research (MMR) 42.5% of the 973 Icelanders surveyed order pizza when they’re dining on fast food. 20.3% go for a burger; 9.4% choose Thai, Indian or Chinese food; and 6.1% would opt for sushi. 10.9% of respondents lied and said they never order fast food.

While it’s not surprising that pizza is a fan favourite, the data gets more interesting when the demographics of fast food eaters are more closely examined. Men are more likely to eat a hamburger, and women are more likely to dine on sushi. Those who support the government are more likely to order pizza than those who do not (45% versus 39.6%); they are also less likely to eat sushi than those who do not support the government (3.8% versus 7.1%).

Also worth noting: sushi is somehow a fast food. Maybe they mean those little pre-made lunch trays? Or perhaps people are just dashing into Sushi Train for a quick, albeit mesmerizing bite for lunch?