fimmtudagur, janúar 27, 2005

til Parísar

Dear regulahs, lahge regulahs, and casual readers, too,

I am off to Paris in the early morning with my lovely girlfriend Elisa. We're meeting at Keflavík International when her Beantown-inbound arrives and jumping on the next ship out to France. Needless to say, I won't have much to tell you about Iceland over the next several days. I hope you're not disappointed. While I love it here and all, a trip to Paris is never a bad thing. Especially when your girlfriend can order up a meal in French like she's M.C. Solaar.

Au revoir! Og góða helgi, líka.

spring fever

It's 45 degrees out now and sunny with cotton-candy clouds and the pale of the northern sky behind. I have my window open at work and can hear the traffic shooshing by on the wet street. We're almost to 7 hours of sunlight now, and adding another hour every 10 days. There is a special smell I remember from the autumn that's back in the air. I started calling it the "Iceland smell". It's smells fresh and a bit like new-mown grass, but on a national scale.

There's also a different "Iceland smell" when the wind shifts to blow from behind the horse stables across from my office.

icelandic stand-ins

When living in a new place, with so many new faces around, it seems to make some sense to map the some of the people I meet into existing people I know from back home. This helps make sense of it all and give at least a superficial sense of order. I find myself doing this subconsciously. I realized this morning that I could now assemble the entire cast of OAK-SPIN (1997-1998 season) from Icelandic equivalents: I work with the Icelandic Bill Euerle, I met Iceland's Winn-Baby at a party, and I have eaten dinner twice at the restaurant of the Ice-Ross, chef extraordinaire of the West Fjords. And me of course. I get to stay the same.

þriðjudagur, janúar 25, 2005

sheep eye for the new guy

We are now in the midst of the Icelandic winter festival of Þorrablót. This coincides with the beginning of the Old Norse month Þorri, which starts between January 19th and 25th. It is traditional during this week to eat the "old foods" that people here enjoyed back in the agrarian day. So there was a small spread at lunch today in the company cafeteria among the sandwich meats, bread, and mixed greens.

I got a little tour of the samplings from coworkers Sigga and Jón Páll and then decided on the sviðasulta. This is basically the singed, diced, and pickled meat from the best part of a sheep: the head. Did someone say, "Good eatin'?" Oh and it's packed together in a kind of gelatinous meatloaf. And served cold. I can't really describe what it was like to eat this, except to say it had a wide variety of textures in each bite, from the sinewy to the Jell-O-like. The sourness made it taste a little better. Kind of like a sour-sheep's-head puddin' pop. Bill Cosby would probably not want to be the spokesman.

I hadn't eaten meat in seven years and now I'm eating sheep-eye paté. To the chagrin of several coworkers, I took a pass on the pickled and sliced ram's testicles. I have to save something for next year.

sunnudagur, janúar 23, 2005

the lost swimming pool of Reykjavík

25 minutes' drive out of town on the main road heading north, through and past a town called Mossfellsbær, the city of Reykjavík resumes dominion to pick up a distant settlement. Grundarhverfi (116 Reykjavík to the post-code-savvy) is as much Reykjavík as a West Bank outpost is Jerusalem. A few streets' worth of houses cling together for survival in a barren windswept plain with a craggy appendage of Esja looming above. There is a one-pump gas station, a bus shelter filled with snow, a couple of school buildings, and solitary horses dotting the snowy fields that lead down to the sea.

But this being Iceland, the place also has a swimming pool. There are, in fact, 7 swimming pools run by the Reykjavík recreation department with this one being by far the most obscure and inaccessible. When I told Icelandic friends I was planning to go there they said "Ha?" and raised their eyebrows at me. But I have a one-year pass to all of the city's pools, so in the collect-'em-all spirit I filled my tank with plenty of gas and made the trek. It was a beautiful misty day with the snow melting all around and patches of blue sky popping through the clouds. The road snakes around a mini-fjord, mountain on the right and ocean on the left. Downtown Reykjavík soon looks tiny, dwarfed by sky, mountains, and water. The sea was calm and the color of green slate: the colors of things can be so otherworldly here, and nothing ever has the same color two days in a row.

I found the lost pool easily enough. They have road signs for pools here the way we do for turnpike Sbarros in the US. The building itself wasn't marked with any sign, just a white corrugated metal shell with a glass door. Also there were only two cars parked in a lot half-filled with snow. This threw me off for a second, but the place had the rough look and feel of an Icelandic swimming pool, and so I followed my time-tested "if you're wondering if this is it, then it probably is" principle that often applies in Iceland. Turned out to be right here, too.

I'm not sure Kjalarneslaug will win many awards, though, in next year's swimming pool roundup. Well, "most remote" is in the bag for sure. Maybe also friendliest desk staff. And the view of the open sky over the hot tub was really something else. So next time you find yourself in Iceland's Golan Heights, be sure to check out the pool.

laugardagur, janúar 22, 2005

saturday morning coffee

...has taken on a new name here in Iceland. Laugardagsmorgunkaffi. Yes, they do like the compound words here. But I'm sure you clever readers can at least parse out the words for "morning" and "coffee" from that jumbo-sized word.

Lyle and I started SMC/lmk way back in the halcyon days of the year 2000, when my main man Billy C was in the White House and everyone was riding high on the tech bubble. SMC was an outgrowth of our desire to brew up strong coffee on a Saturday, then sit on our front porch in North Cambridge (bare feet and mugs resting on the sun-warmed concrete steps) and say "good morning" to people as they walked past. Then we invited a couple of neighbors and a couple of friends, and soon the whole thing settled into a regular rhythm and a regular crew. Routine introductions of newer and wackier coffee-brewing technology kept the guests (or at least us) coming back.

Or maybe it was the conversation. SMC produced some gems, such as this front-porch exchange over the effect of oil prices on the economy:

Guy Staff: "You need gas to get milk."
Adam Ross (shooting back): "You need milk to get gas."

When I moved to Iceland I realized after a few weeks that although I told everyone back home that I knew thousands of people here, I really only knew about 3. To rectify this, I decided to dust off the SMC tradition, rebranded in a new Iceland-friendly guise. And thus laugardagsmorgunkaffi was born.

Today was my 4th or 5th lmk, and the format has taken a new twist for me here in Iceland. Namely that my guests by and large are speaking a language that I am struggling to learn. But people chat, and mix, and pour repeat helpings of black black coffee from the carafe. I listen to the Icelandic flow past me, as I brew up another 60-ounce French press. SMC lives on.

fimmtudagur, janúar 20, 2005

nýtt kortatímabil!

This is Icelandic for "new-credit-card-billing-cycle", and that day is today. A funny thing about Iceland is the way "credit cards" work here:

1. You have to pay off the whole balance at the beginning of every month. (If you can't pay it in full, you have to make "special arrangements", which likely means having to be a schoolmate of the branch manager.)

2. Your entire outstanding credit card balance gets auto-deducted from your bank account on the 2nd of the month. This is because everyone in the country gets their monthly salary on the last day of the previous month, and the banks figure they had better grab the cash before the customer uses it for something else. (The idea of letting people pay the minimum balance and then fleecing them at punitive interest rates seems not to have caught on with the banks here.)

3. The credit card balance collected covers every charge made up through the 18th or 19th of the previous month.

So, today, the 20th of January, is the beginning of the credit card billing cycle that won't come due until March 2nd. The stores are all hip to this since it holds true for everyone in the whole country. So they have sales, and put up big signs in their windows, and run big full-pagers in the papers, reminding people that they can spend money again like it's 1999. For at least another week or so.

Gleðilegt kortatímabil!

þriðjudagur, janúar 18, 2005

aurora on my block

I was just driving back home from the pool and saw the fantastic ghostly green fingers of the norðurljós (nothern lights) hanging over Reykjavík harbor, bright enough to be seen even through my salt-spattered windshield... so I grabbed my camera and hurried outside to snap these pictures, lots of 8-second exposures with a tripod stuck in the snow. I looked like a real camera weenie. All that was missing was the greying ponytail. You Icelanders reading this can go ahead and laugh now, the same way we Bostonians laugh at tourists for actually wanting to visit "Cheers". Those of you not jaded by the aurora, enjoy!

sunnudagur, janúar 16, 2005

the furious five

I have been curious about the history of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, one of the very first rap groups. They came out of the Bronx in the late 1970s and had a tremendous influence on the creation of hip hop. I found this very engaging article about their history today.

laugardagur, janúar 15, 2005

car racket

There is a prevalent culture here of taking new Japanese trucks (Toyota Land Cruisers, Nissan Patrols, etc.) with big diesel engines, and jacking them up on enormous bubble tires. They look great, I must say. There are a couple of truck customizers here that do some incredible conversions. There are many places in Iceland where a vehicle like that would come in handy: roads marked 4x4 only, roads with rivers flowing across them, places where no roads go (like the top of Vatnajökull - Water Glacier - a slab of ice twice the size of Rhode Island). Of course they also make the rounds in downtown Reykjavík, parallel-parked in spaces originally laid out for Datsun B210s, their enormous rubber tires hanging out into the traffic lanes. Hogging the city streets like any good SUV should.

Just having RZ (MB's RAV4) here makes for some good fun. I have already forded a miniscule stream in the Icelandic outback, and it put a huge smile on my face, feeling the stones of the streambed rolling around under the wheels like a mouthful o' marbles.

I saw one of these the other day parked outside the swimming pool and fell in love with it. It's got to be the coolest Volvo ever made. And the one closest to the Volvo refrigerator ideal. I flagged the owner down as he was on his way to the car and told him how much I liked it. He asked me if I wanted to buy it, just as he opened the driver's door and the pungent smell of old fish fell out on top of me. But he has my number anyway. I just may be picking up the PBs at the airport in the old Volvo Fishmobile.

föstudagur, janúar 14, 2005

take the long way home

I alluded to commuting time in yesterday's post. It takes me about 12 minutes to drive to work in the morning. People consider this a long commute here. They say, "Oh, you live in Vesturbær and work near Smáralind? Isn't that a long way to drive to work?" No.

fimmtudagur, janúar 13, 2005

how i learned to stop worrying and love the beyoncé

Its parent company Norðurljós shuttered my favorite rock 'n' roll radio station, Skon Rokk (90.9) today. They also shut down X 97.7, the most WAAF-like (and most likely to play Beastie Boys). With last week's sudden dead-air demise of Radio Reykjavík 104.5, this leaves Reykjavík with nothin' but crappy pop stations. I considered Skon Rokk's music mix one of the finest I had heard, rivalling San Francisco's KFOG. My apparent commute time to work just doubled...

þriðjudagur, janúar 11, 2005

interpretive dance

This catchily annoying song has been getting a lot of dancefloor airtime here in Reykjavík, and I feel like this interpretation most closely conveys the artist's original intentions and goals.

mánudagur, janúar 10, 2005

swimming pool awards

It's time for my first-annual biased-toward-the-advertisers wrapup of the best in Reykjavík-area swimming pools. Months in the making, the product of careful observation and measurement, and hours and hours of hot-tub soaking, these awards represent a new kind of metric for the curious capital-area swimmer. So without further ado, the awards...

Massaging hot tub, conventional: Breiðholtslaug's combination of spaciousness, unique oval shape, and alternating high-back and low-back jets clearly give it the lead in the conventional hot tub wars.

Massaging hot-tub, ass-kicking: Kópavogur's medieval hot-tubs-with-a-strap. If you don't strap yourself in before turning on the jet, this thing will launch you halfway to Esja. To add insult to injury, the thin strap wears a line in your chest/abdomen while the jet beats on your back from behind. Not for the faint-o-haht; an incredible massage.

Going-the-distance: The 50m outdoor at Laugardalslaug. The baddest-ass and best. Lack of good lighting underwater makes it seem endless at night, which is really what you want in a long pool: that swimming endlessly from shipwreck to a shore that never arrives feeling.

Ghetto-fabulous: From the cashier demanding surrender of all valuables on entry, to the bunker-shaped concrete lifeguard tower, to the take-no-prisoners drink-from-the-firehose water bubbler, Breiðholtslaug easily takes this one. Nobody's smilin'.

View, inspiring: The open southern sky at the end of the lap pool gives the edge to Árbæjarlaug. That is, during the 4-odd hours when the sun can actually be seen.

View, parking lot: Those leaving Seltjarnarneslaug get a sweeping California-style panorama of most of Iceland's population center as it stretches down the coast, craggy mountains in the background. Unfortunately, the modernist-concrete-jungle view from the pools is less inspiring.

Steamroom, old-school: Laugardalslaug, with its motley cast of old men, WWII lighting, shabby plexiglas doors, and the perfect temperature and steam density.

Steamroom, painful: Breiðholtslaug's combo of excruciating steam and elegant Scandinavian design elevate it to the top of the painful steam bath category.

Water slide: The Tower of Power at Laugardalslaug. Enclosed Rainbow Coalition stairway even makes the climb up to the top bearable in subfeezing temperatures. And the ride down is an insane thrill ride for kids of all ages, and Jesse Jackson.

Meat market: Árbæjarlaug on Saturday afternoons. Only the omnipresent kids doing turnbuckle-dives into the hot tubs keep it from feeling utterly like Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street.

Saline experience: Seltjarnarneslaug. Amazing buoyancy and the feeling of having eaten a bag of Lays after just 4 laps.

þriðjudagur, janúar 04, 2005

new bond indexes

This is what I have been working on for the last two months.

mánudagur, janúar 03, 2005

fireworks video

My work buddy Árni's parents live in Fossvogur, a neighborhood of Reykjavík with an excellent view over the rest of the city. His dad took this exclusive video of Reykjavík's New Year's Eve midnight fireworks extravaganza.

Thanks to Boston Pool Halls and its fearless skipper, PLo, for hosting this 35MB behemoth.

icy pictures

Icepix from November and December are now available, thanks to the magic of tnight. Just be sure to be sitting down with a mug of something warm before you open these up. They don't call it "Iceland" for nothin'.

laugardagur, janúar 01, 2005

gleðilegt nýtt árbær

The only swimming pool open on New Year´s Day 2005 in the city of Reykjavík is the classy Árbær pool in the northeast outskirts. So, given my addiction to the swimming pool, I had to trek out there this afternoon. It was quite an experience, as the place had to accommodate swimmers from all over the city, in a short 1100 - 1600 window. It was mobbed, in other words, a difficult feat to achieve in a land of under 300,000 people. The locker room was a two-tiered changing operation, a forest of men in various stages of dress, and a scrub-brush layer of kids doing the same thing, all trying to occupy the same space. I waited for a while for an 8-year-old to vacate his locker, then swooped in, osprey-like, with my Bónus bag full of swimming gear.

The pools at Árbær are a beautifully interconnected series of regular swimming pools and hot tubs, both indoor and outdoor, with a waterslide corkscrewing overhead. I swam some laps in the main pool, then went to the hot tubs. There was no room to spare in any of the 4 hot tubs - people were packed cheek-to-jowl, and quite often kissing each other on the cheeks, greeting their friends and happynewyear-ing and talking shop. There was a warm vibe about the place, and mystical, too, as rising steam from the pools kept obscuring the perfectly clear sky of a 20-degree New Year's Day.

surnames & patronymics

I ended up staying at Magnús and Sigga's house until 5 in the morning, debating Magnús about the merit of surnames. Some background: hardly anyone in Iceland has a surname - they just have a first and usually second (middle) name. Then in place of a surname, they have a patronymic name. This is their father's first name plus the suffix -son or -dóttir. So Gunnar Óskarsson means "Gunnar, son of Óskar" and Bryndís Þorgeirsdóttir means "Bryndís, daughter of Thorgeir". This is the way names used to be in the Nordic countries, back in Viking times, but only Iceland and the Faroes have kept the tradition alive.

One upshot from this is that the Iceland telephone directory is all by first name, and everyone really is on a "first-name basis" with everyone else. Also, it makes no sense when foreign media speak about Icelanders as "Mr. Ásgrimsson" or "Ms. Pétursdóttir", since these patronymics are just pointers to their dad's name.

So I found myself upholding the idea that my surname is part of who I am, something I was given at birth and have to cherish and pass on down the line, while Magnús attacked it on the grounds that it's meaningless, since only a tiny fraction of my ancestors have this name. We went back and forth and I couldn't convince him that surnames have any merit at all. He thinks I should change my name to Jared Georgsson.

new year's day

I took a walk today to get my car at my friends' house. It was cold and the sky was clear and the roads quiet. The snow crunched under my sneakers and Mt Esja was lit up pinkish with the sideways-streaming sun. The air still smelled pungently of gunpowder in places and on every street corner there were the discarded husks of firecrackers and burned-out "cakes" - huge boxes of fireworks, like my buddy Njáll from yesterday's post.

Turns out that fireworks are pretty fun. It was cold last night and very windy. But the stars were clearly visible in the sky. We set up base camp on the windward side of the road outside my friends' house (that's one street up from Björk's house, Kev), at about 1145 pm. All the neighbors were out in the street, too, at their own flammable outposts. In every direction I looked there were explosions overhead and the rumble of the explosions reverberated through the neighborhood. We set up a steel tube as a mortar and propped the fireworks in there. It's amazing to me that these rockets, things that weigh a few pounds sometimes, can lift themselves and a sizable piece of wood into the air with such speed. I keep wondering what happens to the wood.

We lit off a bunch of these, and then it was time for dessert - the cakes. We had three of these, and they are really a feat of fireworks engineering... with the lighting of one fuse, you get a sequenced show that lasts more than a minute, sputtering and crackling and throwing explosions high in the air.

The show went on and on around us, and it continues even today, to pop and boom in the air outside as people light off their leftover cakes.