föstudagur, desember 31, 2004

new year's eve

Just got home from work and there was a cop car out front. "Oh boy," I thought, "They're gonna bust me for..." When you live in a foreign land, suddenly cops are scarier. Maybe there was something amiss with my residence permit. Maybe they found out about the fireworks I had been hiding in my hallway. Or maybe they were gonna make me pay the dreaded TV tax.

One cop (lögga) came towards me as I walked down the sidewalk. "Góðan daginn," I said and he grunted a response. Despite the reputation of Icelandic cops for being something like MIT's CPs (cheerful; helpful; Mom-like) this one wasn't. But they were in here talking to the downstairs neighbors about something. Maybe citing them for pumping 2 metric tons of chimney ash through my floorboards last month. I can only hope.

Anyway the cops are not allowed to carry guns here, so that makes me feel a little better. A little more on an even footing than with trigger-happy, rubber-bullet-spraying Boston cops, anyway.

It's 2:30 pm on New Year's Eve and already the fireworks are getting, well, fired-up outside. People are testing them out, I guess. Loud bangs from the house down the street right now. Apparently, Reykjavík is awash with fireworks for about 5 hours tonight, from 11 pm until 4 am or so. Most families spend an in-"ordnate" amount on these things, something like $200 per every man, woman, and child in Iceland. The fireworks are only legal around this time of year, but there is no organized display tonight, just pandemonium as each backyard lights off its share of Roman candles. I will be down by the seaside at my friend's house, matches at the ready.

I went to one of the fireworks shanties at the edge of town today to pick up my company's Christmas gift. It's bigger than a cubic foot in size, and basically solid gunpowder, with a little paper thrown in to keep it all together. It weighs 21 lbs, it has over 70 tubes, and apparently "playing time" is well over a minute. I saw the price label on the shelf: 6900 krónur for this bad boy, which given today's 3rd-world USD rates, works out to $112. Jesu Christo! That's a lot of valuable gunpowder. On the side it has a cartoon of a Nicolayesque Viking and it says "NJÁLL á Bergþórshvoli" in sinister capitals. That means Njáll from Bergþórshvoli, hero of Njáls saga, but I think later tonight ole Njáll and his brethren are gonna be doing some high-altitude reconaissance. BOOM!

Gleðilegt nýtt ár! Happy new year!

fimmtudagur, desember 23, 2004

icelandic pop

...streaming straight to you through that big fat pipe on the bottom of the Atlantic. This will give you a good taste of what's going on in the music scene here.

For the really brave, there is also an Icelandic hip hop streamer. There's even something for those who believe that riff-driven rock is the future.

þriðjudagur, desember 21, 2004

sólstöður / solstice

Well today was the Big Day. I've been secretly keeping an eye on how far off this day was, all the while pretending with some machismo/braggadocio that the dark wasn't bothering me. And now that it's here it's a bit of a letdown:
1) There's not much to *see* on the solstice. Nothing really crazy *happens*. It's kind of just another workaday day.
2) It never really got completely dark. I mean, we've been making all this progress recently toward an endless night, and now we're just throwing it all away...!

Some stats:

sunrise 11:22 am
sunset 3:29 pm

4 hours and change. And let me remind you, or try to convey to you, that those 4 hours are not some kind of Jamaican-style beach party. Those are 4 hours of wan, extremely wan, greyness. Today was raining pretty hard and so at noon when i walked down the hill to lunch the sky overhead was the color and luminescence of a badly tarnished teaspoon. Then it started to get dark.

Tomorrow's sunrise, at 11:21 am, can't come a minute too soon.

fimmtudagur, desember 16, 2004


I was falling alseep last night, still feeling a little sick, and listening to the wind and rain lash the side of the house. We get some incredible winds here, winds that send bags of groceries careening into the parking lot, snap open your car door, and spray the rain all the way across the dashboard. Winds that people here largely ignore and go about their business.

So I was falling asleep and thinking that here I am, dozing off on the edge of a vast black rock, way up the the North Atlantic. The rock is being beaten down by terrible black-green seas, far from any other land, a place so remote that the sun barely makes it here in the winter. And I was thinking that for many reading this, who have never been here (and even maybe for those who have) Iceland is such a remote place, maybe it exists only in the imagination of most Westerners. It started with the ancient Greeks, who imagined a land they called Thule,

"The most northerly region of the habitable world to ancient Greek geographers. Posited as an island north of Britain, it has been variously identified with Iceland, Norway, and the Shetland Islands." (from dictionary.com)

So I got to thinking, does this place have a mythical image in the minds of Westerners, built up over centuries? An unknowable place, a place that is basically the furthest north you can go and still live? It certainly had that image for me when as a kid I asked my second grade teacher about Iceland and she had nothing to say to me. It's always been the furthest place, the unknowable...

And now that I am here I feel the same about it a lot of times. I feel like I am living in a place that the world and history largely forgot, a place that clings to an ancient language, behind the shadowy curtain of the North Atlantic's winter waters. Maybe that's why people have such a hard time coming to visit: they believe it is a place perpetually beyond their reach...

It doesn't help that we have a local brew here called Thule.

þriðjudagur, desember 14, 2004

home from work

I was having strange dreams all night and slept about 12 hours. I stayed home from work today with a stomach flu. It is my first sick day in a long time and I forgot the combo of liberation and guilt that a sick day can bring.

It's grey outside. I woke up as the sun was coming up (11:15 today) and it'll be going back down at 3:30 or so. I went through a while of being okay with this, but yesterday I realized it was bothering me again. I never feel quite awake here, I am always walking in a dream. I get to work and work in the dark for a few hours and right after it's gotten light we go to lunch down the hill together. And the amount of "light" we get is never that bright, the sun clings to the horizon in the south and usually is covered with clouds.

In better news, Christmas season here is in full swing, and Iceland is about as pumped for the 'mas as a volcanic island nation can be. Even the milk cartons have special-edition versions for Christmas, featuring cartoons of some of the 13 Icelandic Christmas gremlins (jólasveinarnir). In Icelandic Christmas lore, a new santa comes down from the hills every day for the 13 days before Christmas. Then they leave in reverse (LIFO) order until the 6th of January. They have special 2-way calendars depicting this.

Anyway these gremlins come down from the hills and in the old days they terrorized the kids. They have scary names - to me the scariest is "window peeker" - the goblin who looks in on sleeping kids with his huge eyes. I have been keeping my own eyes open for them but haven't seen any yet.

sunnudagur, desember 12, 2004

aurora predictor

This thing is really neat. Thanks, US tax dollars!

Unfortunately, it's been cloudy here on all the high-activity days so far.

miðvikudagur, desember 08, 2004

political compass

...is here.

I got economic 1.38 (a real right-wingah), social -7.08.

þriðjudagur, desember 07, 2004

swimming in the hail

I was swimming tonight and got about a third of the way down the pool doing the breaststroke when it started to hail. Every time I popped my head out of the water to breathe, I got blasted in the face by blowing hail. So I was taking quick breaths and plunging my head back into the warm water. By the time I got to the other end of the pool the hail had stopped and the air was calm.

sunnudagur, desember 05, 2004

free cleaning

All is well in the apartment... the builders downstairs sent their friend to clean the place, and she did a great job. And typical of Iceland, we had a common friend: a girl she grew up with now works with me.