mánudagur, febrúar 28, 2005

we all scream for iceland

The Icelandic name for the nation is "Ísland" (pronounced EES-land).

Now you might think, as I did, that this translates simply to Ice-land. But it doesn't, at least not taking into account modern usage. The word for the stuff you buy in a bag at the 10-11* is "klaki", with the word "ís" now being used to mean "ice cream". So turns out I've been living in Ice-Cream-Land all this time, and nobody even told me. Next stop: Candy Land.

*Iceland's answer to 7-11.

fimmtudagur, febrúar 24, 2005

spies like us

I pretty much learned to let go of the whole concept of "privacy" when I got here the first day and registered for a kennitala. This is the Icelandic equivalent of a social security number. Unlike the SSN, however, the kennitala is completely public information. I can look up anyone's kennitala on the Þjóðskrá (National Registry). And the main digits in the kennitala are the holder's birthday. So from someone's name you can easily get their birthday, and also their address of record. And unlike most Icelanders, who have common names like Gunnar and Sigrún, the name Jared is excessively rare. So by just typing "Jared" into this database, you get me and a couple of British dudes who worked here in a fish factory in the 80s and have now returned home.

And to accomplish anything here you end up giving out your kennitala. Bank account? Kennitala. Purchase a new phone? Kennitala. Pack of gum? Kennitala. (Not really, but it's printed on the front of the credit card you use to buy the gum.) Even the corporate directory at work has everyone's kennitala, along with their mug shot, home address, and name of their spouse.

But the governmental kennitala system pales in comparison to the vast peer-to-peer human surveillance network of Iceland. Iceland is not so much a nation as it is a well-funded, tightly connected spy ring. You can't go anywhere without running into someone you know, and then the next person you see knows that you had been at the last place you were. "Oh, Jared, I heard you were at the KR game today!" "Hey, were you at Kerlinglan [the shopping mall] yesterday? My sister said she saw you." "You go to the pool every day, don't you?" The network activates on a hair trigger, and news of my whereabouts seems to propagate faster than I can.

Recently, between laps at the swimming pool, I started talking to a young couple after we shared a lane. The woman, Margret, is originally from the Egilsstaðir in the East and turns out to have grown up with my friend Sunna from work. I ended up breaking the news that Sunna had just gotten engaged and that she and her fiancee had a new apartment. I guess I am becoming part of the spy ring, too.

sunnudagur, febrúar 20, 2005

february pictures

Thanks to the magic of tnight, you can now see pictures of my trip with Elisa to Paris, and also some adventures we had in Iceland: a walk on the south coast, a secret hot spring on our friend Rakel's family retreat, and a drive around Snæfellsnes.

föstudagur, febrúar 18, 2005

mother-of-pearl clouds

I was a little late driving to work this morning, just before 9 am. The sky was clear and everything lit up with the pink predawn glow. (Just a week ago, it was still dark at 9.) I drove the long way to work, along the harbor where I can look across at Mt Esja. The bulb of the orange moon was just rising over Esja's western flank, and it was the picture of a perfect winter morning in Iceland.

But it got even better. I came past some buildings, looked out my driver's-side window, and through the smudges of salt on the glass saw something I have never seen before. Whatever I was seeing was making the aurora borealis look like an actor in a bad B-movie, a poor player strutting and fretting upon the skystage.

Because high in the blue-pink sky over to the east were three clouds lit up in dazzling rainbow colors, shining like brilliant beacons. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It was impossible to believe. They had a strong feel of a 1960s aesthetic. If Jimi Hendrix designed a cloud, it would look like these. These clouds had blues and pinks and neon greens, every color in oily streaks, like the brilliant inside of an oyster shell, or the keys of a cosmic saxophone. They were positively hallucinogenic.

The race was on. I had to get to work and get my camera to try and capture them. If I have learned anything in Iceland, I have learned that everything can look completely different in a minute or two. Cars in front of me seemed to be crawling along, and I was using every trick in my Boston driving toolkit to maneuver to work quicker. By the time I raced in, raced through my "góðan daginn"s and raced back outside with my camera, there was a black low cloud lying right across the Jimi Hendrix Experience. No photos for me.*

Turns out these clouds have been seen before. They are called glitský (shimmering clouds) in Icelandic, and nacreous clouds in English. They occur at 60,000 to 75,000 feet and are so high that they are able to catch the sun's light long before it comes over the horizon. They occur mostly in polar regions, and some say they are a harbinger of many cold days to come.

Saving the day today was my coworker Þórir, camera always by his side, who captured this one on his way to work today. Enjoy, Hendrix fans.

fimmtudagur, febrúar 17, 2005

civil twilight

So, here's the thing about living at 65° North. When the sun goes down, it doesn't drop straight into the sea the way it does at the Equator. Here it slides its way into the water at a shallow angle. Which means that even after it's under the horizon, it's still hanging around for a while, keeping things light.

Civil twilight is defined as the time when the sun is 6° (or closer) below the horizon, and since the sun does its slow-setting trick up here, that time lasts a lot longer here than it did in good ole Beantown.

In the Hub we got about half an hour of civil twilight. But here in the Vík, it's around an hour. It's a magical time of day where the light seems neverending and fades only very gradually. And the same goes for the predawn, which also seems to last forever. Elton John would love it.

fimmtudagur, febrúar 10, 2005

frampton comes alive

So I woke up this morning thinking, "wow, what a bright sunshiny day!" Then the reality crashed down on me. To wake up to the bright sunshine (or indeed any light) at this time of year in Iceland requires a serious act of Shurpik- or Seid-style oversleeping. Turns out I had completely forgotten to set my alarm last night, and the dream of being a 757 captain kept my mind engaged well past the normal time for the daily pre-dawn scramble.

It is a pretty day to wake up to though: sunny, clear, new snow, -5C, the mountains lit up with a pink glow, and P. Frampton crooning "ooh baby I love your ways" on the way to work.

þriðjudagur, febrúar 08, 2005

icelandic mardi gras

...is called sprengidagur, and it's today. Sprengidagur translates as explosion-day and people eat until they explode. We lost a couple just now at lunch in a gut-busting live-action version of the Mikie-from-Life-cereal drinks-Coke-and-eats-pop-rocks story I grew up half-believing.

Like seemingly all Icelandic holidays, there is special food associated with sprengidagur. In fact, to most people, sprengidagur is just about the food. All ties to the start of Lent tomorrow seem to have been forgotten. Instead the day is all about eating salted meat and a kind of creamy bean soup. The hardcore sprengidagurists chop up the salted meat and add it and the cubed vegetables into the bean soup, eating them all together in a kind of Icelandic soul-food mélange.

I have to say, the salted meat was "exploding" with flavor and nobody in the world does soup quite like Icelanders. Sprengidagur er allt í lagi hjá mér.

mánudagur, febrúar 07, 2005

bun day

Well, today is something called Shrove Monday in English. For you non-Lenten-types, this is the Monday before Ash Wednesday, and a time to confess your sins. But in Iceland they have their own spin on it, of course. Here they call it Bolludagur, or Bun Day. I was expecting some kind of dry floury dinner rolls, but instead our human resources guy just wheeled in two 24-count crates of fresh-made cream-filled chocolate-covered eclairs, each the size and heft of a small dog. Work came to a halt, everyone made themselves coffee at the machine, sat down around the kitchen table, rehashed the weekend, and wolfed down a couple pastries apiece.

I got to thinking, maybe this Bun Day tradition explains the following Spinal Tap lyrics, from their perennial favorite "Big Bottom":

I met her on Mon-day
'Twas my lucky Bun Day
You know what I mean...

Who knew I had to move to Iceland for the final obscure Spinal Tap reference to fall into place?

Tomorrow is "explosion day". I'll let you know how that goes.

thank you Pats

For the third time in 4 years, helping put Boston sports back on the map even in Iceland.