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!

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Variations on a Theme

Awhile back, I was looking for interviews with author Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir to read in preparation for a book review I was writing about her recently-translated-into-English novel Butterflies in November. I ran across an interesting one on a website called The Island Review and was intrigued by its simple but flexible premise:

The Island Review is an online magazine dedicated to great writing and visual art that comes from, is inspired by, celebrates or seeks to understand the extraordinary appeal of islands, as places and as metaphors.

It seemed like it would be an interesting outlet to write for, and so I took a look at their submissions page, pleased to find that they were seeking regular, island-based contributors. One thing lead to another and I am now a regular columnist. My first “introduction” post went up today and picked up where my last blog post here left off, actually. Here’s a little excerpt from the mid-beginning:

No matter how open and adventurous you are when you move to a new country, no matter how much prior knowledge you have about the place, no matter how intentional and premeditated your arrival: integration in a new culture is a journey. And kind of a long one, at that. I’ve been here in Iceland for just over two years now and I’m starting my third year studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the university-level (that’s the whole reason I came, actually). And although it’s often been something of an uphill battle, my partner and I have been very happy here. We’ve made lives for ourselves in Reykjavík—the nation’s single urban hub, home to more than two thirds of the total population—and have had opportunities that would have been completely and utterly impossible in the crush of in New York City, where we previously lived for ten years.

Moreover, in my time here, I’ve picked up a fair amount of local habits. I drink squeeze boxes of kókó mjólk (chocolate milk) with frankly alarming frequency, despite the fact that when I arrived, I couldn’t stand milk and wasn’t really a fan of chocolate, either. I wear a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa sweater. I get antsy if there is no intermission during a film at the movie theater. Swimming outdoors during a snow storm doesn’t faze me (the pools are geothermally-heated, after all, and anyway, I’ve started winter sea swimming, too). And, like any born-and-bread Icelander, I now understand that umbrellas are not only futile in the country’s gale force winds, they are also symbolic of man’s inability to cope with slightly inconvenient weather patterns.

And yet, although I’ve adopted a variety of Icelandic tendencies and adapted in other, perhaps more significant, ways as well, I still experience a sense of distance and remove here in Iceland, a sense of being outside.

(Don’t worry, there’s an upside: it’s not all ‘woe is me.’)

I’ll be contributing a post at least once monthly from here on out. You can find me on The Island Review website (here, with two other columnists based in Tasmania and Tierra del Fuego) and I’ll post excerpts on this blog, too, of course.