þriðjudagur, júní 21, 2005

back to the black

Today is sumarsólstöðurnar, the summer solstice. Not much to say about this one, as it's been eerily and continuously light all night for about 4 weeks now. I've become quite good at just ignoring this and falling asleep every night, sun streaming in the window. Elisa and I were putting the shades down for a while, but now we don't even need that it seems. We were camping last weekend and I woke up at 2:40 in the morning, in time to see a pre-sunrise pink glow in the clouds.

Today's stats:

Sunrise 2:55 AM
Sunset 12:03 AM (tomorrow)

We'll have another month or so of continuous light before some dark comes again, normal-length days through the beginning of October, then it's a freight train to the Heart of Darkness.

fimmtudagur, júní 09, 2005

með lögum skal land byggja

I was following an Iceland police (lögregla) truck on the way home today and noticed that inscribed around the circumference of the police shield is a motto - með lögum skal land byggja - with law shall a country build.

It filled me with Icelandic pride as I thought of Viking chieftains assembling on the plains of Þingvellir in 930 A.D. for what became the world's first representative government. It is really an amazing land and culture they and their descendants have built.

mánudagur, júní 06, 2005


Yesterday was Sjómannadagur here, which is Sailor's Day. It's always the first Sunday in June and it's a chance for Iceland to honor its sailors. It's a big deal here because most of Iceland's prosperity has historically derived from the sea. Even now fishing is the largest industry here.

So the whole weekend Reykjavík was putting on the Hátíð Hafsins (Harbor Festival) and E and I went down to the piers on Saturday for a walk around. The activities were mainly kid-based, with some inflatable climbing castles, a go-kart course, and face painting. There was a grill selling shellfish and the requisite SS pylsur trailer selling Iceland's famous (and Bill-Clinton-approved) hot dogs. An indoor tent had exhibits from the Marine Traffic center and harbor association, an accordion band, and a teenage girl dispassionately slingin' bags of dried fish.

Past the inflatable castle there was a walk-through display of old and new B/W photos of fishermen at sea, pulling in the nets and doing on-board fish curing while different types of hellish weather raged in the background. Near that there was a long walkway bordered by plastic fish tubs filled with ice. On top of the ice in each one was a different kind of fish, with a wood-backed informational placard jammed in the ice. There were probably 30 different species of fish, including the Alien-esque Lúsífer and other obscure creatures of the deep ocean, as well as more familiar fish like cod and haddock. Kids were playing with starfish and sea-spiders in the hands-on exhibit. At the end of the fish-on-ice promenade there were a couple of mountain rescue Land Rovers jacked up on 44" tires.

E and I had pretty much gotten the feel of the place and were trying to decide what to do next when we noticed a towering vessel motoring across the harbor toward us. A crowd gathered to watch the captain parallel-park this giant up against the dock. The vessel, Sæbjörg, is the floating school for the sea-rescue operations of Iceland.

An old man in a forklift moved a gangway over to the side of the ship, and there were all kinds of raggedy, regular folks disembarking, so we began to wonder if we were perhaps eligible to ride on the boat, too. Sure enough, the crowd we were in started shuffling down towards the gangway and we found ourselves heading onto the boat with no clear idea where we were going or what was happening, and both a little too proud to ask.

A hundred or more people got on with us, and we all stood on the top deck, towering over the midway below. The ship blasted its horn, pulled away from the dock, and took us out into the harbor. The views back to the city of Reykjavík were beautiful, with Keilir and other distant mountains visible. A couple of chase craft, also from the sea-rescue team, were following us. We were headed out between some of the harbor islands toward the town of Akranes. We were half-wondering if we were going to make it all the way there when the boat slowed in the water and wine bottles began flying overboard. We looked down and they were being chucked out by kids who had written messages in them. After the bottle-volley, we picked up steam again and turned around back for home. One of the chase craft, an inflatable boat with giant outboards, was driving up along side us and then catching air off of our wake. The bridge was open and completely jammed with people and the captain was busy both singlehandedly piloting the boat and explaining the navigation gear to swarms of parents and kids.

We waved at some fishermen fishing from a lighthouse on the way back into the harbor, and when the captain again bow-thrusted us into the berth, there was already another crowd gathered for the next ride.

föstudagur, júní 03, 2005

oaktown, iceland

This past month of weather reminds me of my old Oakland, California days. With one exception, every day since the beginning of May has been bright, sunny, blue skies, a whiff of salty ocean smell, and hills browning under the relentless light. (We even had a wildfire or two!) In short, just like the East Bay, except the days go on forever, and it's still bright enough to read at 2 am.

So in that spirit, here are 10 things that would make Reykjavík seem even more like the East Bay:

1. outdoor drum circles at the University of Iceland
2. 60s-era VW minibuses jacked up on 36" Dick Cepek tires
3. patio restaurants serving hummus & hákarl sandwiches
4. 8 lanes expanding to 20 at the toll plaza for the tunnel from Akranes
5. a "RART" train to go from Lækjartorg to Garðabær with no stops in between
6. renovation of Gamla Höfn into a "Harbor Square" filled with empty chain stores
7. a Bay Bridge to Viðey
8. dusty hippies and their dogs sitting along the buildings on Laugavegur
9. a Your Black Muslim Bakery in Skeifan
10. Hafnarfjörður renamed to "San Hafnarfjörður"

gargandi snilld

This week E and I saw Gargandi Snilld (English title: "Screaming Masterpiece") which claims it's about 1000 years of Icelandic music. In reality, it covers a little under 30 years and mainly focuses on current musicians in the Icelandic scene.

The music is the main feature throughout, starting off with some traditional chants from Steindór Andersen and then the famous Sigur Rós wall of sound with a live clip from the end of Popplagið (track 8 on their last album). The movie careens through a series of current Icelandic bands, including arthouse rockers Múm and the rebuilt- organ aficionados from Apparat Organ Quartet. Mugison plays acoustic guitar for the camera in two different churches, the second of which he appears to stumble upon in the middle of an Icelandic winter. And even President Ólafur makes an appearance, introducing an uncredited band to his party guests, who then dance to floor-shaking beats inside the Presidential mansion at Bessastaðir.

We get to see a lot of Björk, including a young Björk fronting her first band. We see her racing a muscle car (Camaro?) through the Icelandic wilds (think Carrie Fischer in Blues Brothers) for a Sugarcubes video. We see her playing to astounded fans in the 212 in the present day. And she gets lots of interview time toward the end of the movie.

There are some dopey Blue Lagoon interviews, one with a Billboard magazine reporter and the other with an NYC Parks employee, presumably the guy who books acts in Central Park. These guys both mumble through their hangovers and whiteface and give the standard foreign-press takes on Icelandic music. It's disappointing the moviemakers couldn't have gotten some more enlightened and fresh foreign commentary.

One of the most entertaining bits of the movie comes when south-coast pubescent rockers Nilfisk are interviewed. These guys all look to be on the south side of driving age, and come from the small fishing village of Stokkseyri. They rehearse in a garage, and talk shyly on-camera about their music, philosophy, lyrics. Then the movie abruptly cuts to a Foo Fighters concert in Reykjavík, with Dave Grohl explaining how he met a great band in Stokkseyri the day before. He proceeds to introduce the boys of Nilfisk, who open up for the Foo Fighters in front of thousands. It was their first performance outside of their garage.

On the downside, the movie's landscape shots of Iceland consist mainly of the overhyped Blue Lagoon from the air, and some bizarre computer-rendered ice-covered fjörd shots - only serving to reinforce the stereotypes that the whole country is ice-covered and people live in igloos, except when they go to the Blue Lagoon.

Also troubling was that the movie lacked continuity, jumping around from band to band. It crescendoed to a triumphant finish at least three times. But if you're interested in a great visual vehicle for all kinds of Icelandic sound, and front row seats to Björk and Sigur Rós, it's worth a place in your Netflix queue or a trip down to Regnboginn.

miðvikudagur, júní 01, 2005


Three weeks ago, E arrived from the States and it's been a whirlwind. It's been really something great having her here: making lamb dinner together (instead of eating skyr from a container), taking walks downtown or to the harbor in the sunny evenings (instead of blogging), ticking off all off the most obscure and far-flung capital-area swimming pools (15 in all), driving to the South Coast for the weekend (instead of alone, mumbling Waingro lines to myself when the radio went out), and in general having fun talking and laughing together.

During the workdays E has been plugging away on the job search so she can get work/live permission here too. Unbeknownst to me until yesterday, though, was that she has been quietly busy on her own blog serving up her own slice of Iceland life: neighborhood cats, fishing boats, and windowsill accoutrements.

Velkomin til landsins, Epod!