sunnudagur, ágúst 29, 2004

the prezidence

Really not much happens at all here. This morning I went to the President's residence and checked out the church onsite. The doors were closed, but unlocked, so I let myself in and looked around. There was nobody else there. I could have walked right up to the Prez's door if I had wanted to.

Anyway, he has a nice house.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 26, 2004

picking up the car

Well, I picked up the car today, after a lot of hassling. They don´t make it easy here, but it´s all done and I have some shiny new Icelandic plates: TE-700. They have the Icelandic flag on them too, looks pretty cool.

The people at the shipping company (Eimskip) here are so backwards/incompetent, they almost make the Boston guy who works for them look good. I had to go there 5 times in all to process the car, but their incompetence saved me some money. The girl (she is probably about 21) who ran my customs paperwork *subtracted* the cost of the shipping from the amount on the bill of sale, and then charged my duty based on that. Sheesh... but that saves me a few dollars. :-) They have the monopoly on all shipping from Iceland to North America, so no wonder they can get away with so much backwardness. Makes me want to open a competing shipping company.

One thing they did today was overcharge me for the duty by around $1600, then 4 women bantered in Icelandic for 10 minutes, realized something was amiss, and had to refund and re-charge the amount for the proper amount. (I had to pay the $1600 to register the car later at the RMV´s inspection station.) But this is the kind of business I was dealing with... you´d think mine was the first car they had ever processed.

I also had to deal with annoying dockworker man, insulting the RAV4. Said, "Man, you could have shipped a better car." I basically told him off at that point... enough was enough. I told him my BMW was back in the States... then I signed the car out from some slothful guy in a shack and got the keys, and then dockworker man took me in his truck down into this immense field of imported cars... probably 1000 cars there, sitting by the harbor.

The car was looking the same as when I left it off in Everett - pretty amazing. I had already picked up the "red plates" (temp plates) from the RMV and slapped those in the window, and drove on outta there... went to get gas/air and then up to see an old, grumpy man at the local inspection station. He spoke only Icelandic, and the garage was amazingly clean. He gave me the license plates and a drill and a piece of scrap wood and I had to pop some holes in them in the right places while he put the car through an amazing battery of automated tests, including a loaded metal cylinder that the wheels have to spin to make sure the tires are good, a machine that steers the front wheels automatically (up on the lift), and an emissions test.

Then I asked "Allt í lagi?" (Is everything in order?) And he said "Já, já." (Yow, yow = yes yes.) And I put the plates on and paid him big dollahs and rolled on back to work.

RZ is running well. I bought some gas - 14 liters or so for 1500 ISK... let´s see, that´s roughly 3.5 gallons for $21, or almost exactly $6 a gallon. Wahoo!

Last night I had a really great night - for the first time since I´ve been here I got out of the city. Þorgeir and I took his electrician´s van up north to Borgarnes. He had to do a quick job at an aluminum smelting plant while I studied Icelandic in the car. Then we went on to Borgarnes, where his daughter Hilda goes to a tiny farming school. We were taking some furniture to her, and the three of us had dinner at a gas station/ rest stop/ restaurant. (Lyle, we stopped at the same place on the way back from Snæfellsnes.) It was so awesome to leave Reykjavík behind, and drive through this countryside. Nothing I have seen anywhere looks anything like it does here. It was raining and sunny and I saw a huge rainbow, and horses in the fields, and clouds disappearing out over the Atlantic in the setting sun. Sheer ash-covered mountain slopes that go straight up from the road´s edge, with clouds clinging to the tops. And quiet, so quiet...

I´m taking Icelandic every morning and really enjoying the teacher. She is very challenging and sharp and has been studying the language all her life, so knows a ton about etymology and the evolution of the language. It´s really a fascinating language - a time capsule in many ways of a language very much like Old English. I have hours and hours of homework every night but I do really enjoy it and I can feel some words and ideas settling in in my head. I´ve never experienced that before... makes me want to study all the more.

So with that I´m off to start tonight´s work. I´m feeling better now that "ég á bíl" (I have a car.)

The hardest part about being here has been that emptiness of missing my closest compadres. In many ways, it´s been one of the toughest transitions of my life. But things are gradually getting better...

miðvikudagur, ágúst 25, 2004

Billy C

Billy Clinton was downtown here yesterday, and he stopped at this tiny hot dog stand that everyone goes to after going clubbing all night and bought a dog. It was all over the news. McCain swam in the Blue Lagoon, too.

Thing was, I was about a block from that hot dog stand at the same time as he was, and didn´t even look over there...

sunnudagur, ágúst 22, 2004

going through the motions

It's been one of the strangest times in my life here, this last week or so. I can't quite put my finger on it... I don't really feel at all like myself, I feel as though I'm going through the motions of someone else's life. I think that's maybe what happens when you remove so many familiar things from someone... maybe having those things (and people!) around you help remind you who you are, and without those things there, you forget what it is you are about? I am struggling for an explanation. My mom says it takes 21 days in a new place to begin to feel like you belong there. So I need to wait at least another week for that. But it's very hard for me to picture things happening there, and elsewhere in the world, these days.

Iceland is a tiny world unto itself... a microcosm, a fully-contained ecosystem. It's like a large, year-round Martha's Vineyard, with its own language and 1100-year history. But Reykjavik is really just an overgrown Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. The weird thing about it is, after just a short time, you adjust to the size and scope of the place, and it begins to feel like a huge city. I have to keep reminding myself that it's not, that it's much smaller than Boston, but it's hard to think of them both at the same time... they seem to be from totally different worlds.

Right now I am sitting in the 5th floor lounge of Borgabokasafn Reykjavikur. (Borg-a-bow-ka-sup = City library). It's a beautiful library, with lots of books in many languages, and there is a beautiful window across from me that looks out over the leafy old neighborhood next door. When I (finally!) get my apartment, I will be able to walk down here in about 10 minutes. I will really love living in the city, rather than Billerica-esque Kopavogur, where I have been staying. I keep having to remind myself that I need some patience here, because things happen slower, and my car and apartment will come to me in good time.

Last night was Menningarnott, Culture Night. It's a big annual event in Reykjavik, and I think there were 100,000 people (1/3 of the whole country) downtown - they have concerts and events all day into the night. There is a marathon, and street music, and people milling around... I saw some younger/smaller horses being led around with kids on them, through the streets. But they had some stupid, loud rock music platform right across from where the horses were grouped. I felt bad for the horses.

So anyway, they had some kind of platform where people from the crowd could jump up and sing a song, with instruments set up, etc. Apparently, Bjork was milling around and just jumped up there and did a couple of songs. I had a feeling that she would be here, for some reason, but I missed it. I guess they had it on TV. It was totally unplanned.

I went and saw Eivor Palsdottir, from the Faroe Islands, do a little concert. She has a breathtaking voice with incredible range. She is perhaps the best female vocalist I have ever seen live... and she can sing Faroese folk songs, her own compositions, and Nashville-style country, all seamlessly.


I started my new job last Monday, and it's been a whirlwind since then. I feel so strange here, like I don't fit in, and everyone around me is speaking this ancient language... it's been very tough. On top of that I was pretty sick this last week, and started language lessons as well... lots and lots swirling around here.

The company is great, though, very well run and with some neat products. And I can't say enough about how cool and welcoming most of the coworkers are. I think it will be a great place to be for me.

I am living with a family for another week, because my new place is not available until the first of September. The family is taking very good care of me, and I don't think I could have made this transition without them. They are really spectacular people.

Hopefully this week my car will be cleared by customs for release, and I can go pick it up at the harbor. It's been sitting there for 6 days already, and the red tape is insane here. I will also have to pay a 64.5% (!) duty on the cost of the car to get it out, and that equates to around $3400 for the 7-year-old RAV4 - money I really don't have. So this move is cleaning me out pretty well.

I hope it was all worth it. So far, the best part is the sunsets - it sets at around 9:30 now and even after it goes down the twilight lasts for 2 hours. It's a beautiful sky over the cold North Atlantic ocean. You can see the ocean from practically everywhere here, and I really like that.

föstudagur, ágúst 20, 2004

food shortages

I saw this on the wall in the University here:


A recent UN survey posed the question:

"Can you please give your opinion on food shortages in the rest of the world?"


The Africans didn´t understand "food".
The Western Europeans didn´t understand "shortage".
The Eastern Europeans didn´t understand "opinion".
The South Americans didn´t understand "please".
The US didn´t understand "rest of the world".

miðvikudagur, ágúst 18, 2004

cold medicine

I had to pick up some cough medicine and nasal spray at the pharmacy yesterday, also some of the ole "Fisherman´s Friend". So I am feeling clearer-headed. Last night I went with Þorgeir to the swimming pool and we went in the hot steam room for around 15 minutes, since we both have the same cold. They take regular Iceland hot water and just pump it through little nozzles into an enclosed room with benches. It feels *wonderful* to breathe in the hot steam and it cleared up my nose and chest and everything... I'll be joining the swimming pool, I'm sure.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 17, 2004

apartment lease

I went down with Þorgeir (Heiða's dad) last night to sign my apartment lease - it needed 2 witnesses. He's a good man. He pronounced the apartment "good". Then on the way back we drove by the container port and sure enough, the Skógafoss was already being unloaded... it was pretty great to have seen the ole ship on both sides of the journey. I have to call those cats today to see when I can pick up my car. Having a car here will make things a whole lot better. Since I'm not living in 101 (Reykjavík´s hippest postal code) yet, I pretty much need a ride to get anywhere.

I had a nice walk to work just now, it cheered me up from feeling headachey. It's about 20 minutes from Þorgeir & Magga's house down the side of a hill, across a little babbling brook, through a housing project, across a big road, along the side of the largest (and second of 2) mall in Iceland, and up another hill to work. The sky is half cloudy and half blue, and it was very quiet and grassy, and I stopped at the little brook to soak it in for a bit.

They have never heard of A/C in Iceland, so when it's a little warm, like it is now, the office is hot. I have a fan on my desk that I call the "death trap" because it has no front to it.

OK, must get to "work" deciphering company emails in Icelandic. It's a good way to learn.

mánudagur, ágúst 16, 2004

smuggling electronics

I asked Lyle if he could help me smuggle some electronics into Iceland and this was his response:

"Sure, I'll strap a few fax machines under my jacket and bull-rush the TSA asshole at Logan. I'll line my crotch with Smith Corona Electronic Word Processors, anything it takes. I'll bring a crate of AOL CDs and see if I can get 'em started up in the old country. I have 2, 3 cell phones I can bring, too. Nice paperweights. Actually, I'm thinking of getting rid of this classic black computer desk. Perhaps we could sell it over there as some sort of unique retro american pressboard item."

sunnudagur, ágúst 15, 2004

salmon sandwich

Sitting here in the kitchen, eating a sandwich of cheese/tomato/smoked salmon. Oh, and some kind of mayo-like "hamburger sauce".

I spent the last few hours down at the Kopavogur swimming pool. "That's poo'." I said that to myself a few times. It's about a 20 minute walk from where I'm staying. It's much colder and on the verge of rain here today. But the pool was nice - I swam 3 laps (150 m) which isn't all that much but it shagged me out pretty good. Hoo boy, that swimmin' is good stuff. Then I soaked in the hot tubs - they have one where you have to strap yourself in and a jet of water obliterates your back - and went to the steam room. The steam smells like sulfur, cause they just take that shabbas out of the ground and pump it into this plastic room. It's almost too hot for me in there and I can only stay a few minutes. But the pool always makes me feel better about things here... been a little sad today. The weather is the normal grey skies and I'm feeling like an utlendingur (out-lander - immigrant) as I walk to the pool and people stare at me from their car windows, Jacobs-Ladder-ishly.

This morning Magga made American-style pancakes and the syrup container said "Brattleboro, VT" on it. Magga told me that the maple syrup (imported from U.S. and Canada) is so expensive here that she synthesizes her own from some wacko combo of ingredients, so the stuff in that bottle was really just a poor player, strutting and fretting about the maple syrup stage.

Thorgeir and Magga and their daughters all went north to Borgarnes today to go to a combined baptism/birthday party at a relative's summer house. And Amin-from-Denmark got called in to work at his café job, so I have the house to myself.

laugardagur, ágúst 14, 2004

karaoke misgivings

This is gonna be a short one since I have to go meet me droogs for a ride back to the ‘burbs in 20 minutes. I’m in my favorite place for Internet – Café Culture, downstairs from the International House – it’s got free WiFi for the price of an espresso. And there are a lot of internationals coming through here. It’s big on the expat scene. All 500 of us.

Last night I went to the company meeting. They spent 2 hours or so going through PowerPoint – they’re reorganizing the firm. Then they made a big announcement – they have a new client, an Icelandic pension fund. They busted open some (rather bad) strawberry champagne and everyone toasted. It was fun, although I felt lost and alone during the 2 hours of Icelandic talk. After that they had a BBQ and beers, and then at 10 or so they broke out the karaoke. I felt obligated to do it since I felt like I needed to prove myself, so I sang “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots, and then later I did “Let Her Cry” by Hootie.

Anyway people were very nice to me, and I think I made some new friends, although it’s very hard to remember people’s names that you’ve never heard before. I need a cheat sheet.

Today has been a slow day. The weather is still gorgeous, I know it’s not going to last. I went down to the bar with Thorgeir, he’s Heida’s dad. He’s a tough guy – electrician, beer drinker, soccer watcher, and one of the top 4 Icelanders in darts. He’s a badass dude… he bought me a couple of beers and explained to me how the Icelandic Darts Committee has changed the selection rules for competing internationally. So he’s boycotting this year, along with the other 3 top players. Usually he goes to England to compete in the international championship.


I met a lot of early-20s kids this week, and I can say for sure it's great to be 30. 30 is so much more badass/self-assured than 20.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 12, 2004

heat wave

Yesterday was a temperature record – 76.5 degrees. That is the highest temperature ever recorded in Reykjavik. I was like, “yeah, this is a nice California day,” and smiled and enjoyed it. Meanwhile the Icelanders were closing their shops, inventing funerals, going to the lava sand beaches en masse, and wrapping it all up with evening news video montages to the tune of “Walking on Sunshine.”

Tonight I'm making dinner for the troops - it's gonna be pizza. Pizza, pizza.

I went and saw the new apartment last night - it's really nice with wooden floors and lots of nooks and crannies. It dates from the 1930s. It's on the second floor of a 3-flat house. The owners (current occupants) are a nice couple about the same age as me. We had some coffee and they showed me around the place.

Today I feel very happy, starting to feel like things are coming back to land after months of swirliness. It will still take me a few months to really feel settled, but I finally feel like the trend is going in the right direction.

I ran into a dude in the grocery store last night who works at my new place. He said, "Thordur has been trying to reach you! He wants you at a meeting on Friday!" My heart sank... I pictured a grilling, in Icelandic, on the finer points of securities repo in the Scandinavian markets. So I called Thordur (the managing director/ my boss) on my swanky new tiny Euro cell phone, and he was all friendly. Turns out it's their company's quarterly employee meeting on Friday at 6 pm, followed by a "grilling" of a different kind, and beers.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 10, 2004

new kennitala

I got here yesterday and I’m busy doing things like setting up bank accounts and looking at blonde women. It’s beautiful and green here and the air is clear. Also, it’s 70 degrees and sunny, which never happens, so people are closing up their shops and going to the beach.

More blonde women walk by...

So also I got an Icelandic SSN today. They call it a kennitala. They also implanted a chip behind my ear so they can track me everywhere I go. Also I went to the US Embassy and they got all suspicious on my ass.

newbie in Iceland

I was worn out like Jack Nicholson after the filming of the Shining yesterday, but took a late morning nap and then went to the swimming pool. My hosts have an exchange student named Amin from Morocco/Denmark living here a few weeks before he gets his own place in the city, so we've been hanging out. He's a good man. He's gonna help me lift furniture when it arrives and I'll be driving him around the joint in exchange, probably.

I had a wonderful meal with the whole family last night - Heida (who leaves for Denmark in a week), her mom and dad, and Amin. I bought some saltfiskur (salted cod) and we whipped that up with some oil/garlic/pepper and new potatoes. Also some $9-a-pack baby asparagus. And strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. They make me feel very welcome here. And they're teaching me some language, too.

I went to the new company yesterday afternoon to get something signed and people were so nice to me! There's already one guy who looks like he may become new-friend-in-the-making. He took some time to stop work and have coffee with me and he told me all about his amazing 12-minute commute.

Last night it was light out until 11 and this morning sunrise was around 5... I couldn't sleep after it got light out. By the time I get used to it, there won't be any morning light any mo'.

This town is very full of bumbling tourists. I've never been here in the "high season" before... I'm just trying not to trip on them.