laugardagur, júlí 30, 2005

the nation expands

Just got back from a pretty slow Friday night downtown. Everyone is out of town for the long weekend, it seems. The buddy who I went out to meet up with was soon picked up by a beautiful blonde FM95.7 kinda girl, and I left them dancing on the crowded dancefloor of Vegamót. So I went over to Ölstofan, did a lap, and went home.

But not before I chatted with the owner of the Blue Lagoon at the bar. He and his colleague were buying tequila shots.

And saw the same TV show hostess in both Vegamót and Ölstofan.

And watched a beat-up 3-series full of teenagers cruise past on Laugavegur, kids sitting on the door sills.

And narrowly avoided piles of broken glass.

And looked at the strange Icelandic light coming through the dark clouds above the town.

And contemplated how Reykjavík's nightlife feels a whole lot like those old Zeta Psi parties, swapping in well-dressed Vikings for the Champion-wearing MIT guys, well-dressed Scandinavian models for the Regis girls, and a couple of good-looking downtown streets for the commons with the blue rugs soaked in beer.

And then ran into my friend's ex-boyfriend, having no idea at first who he was, and keeping up a Swingersesque conversation with him nonetheless on the sidewalk. (I hadn't seen him since my ferðamaður days.)

But by far the best happening of the evening, news that I still can't quite in fact believe, news that struck me like the first lightning bolt in a baseball-drought-ending summer storm, is that it appears I have found Member #2 of Red Sox Nation North.

A friend of my smooth-with-the-FM-girl buddy somehow (and miraculously) has satellite reception of NESN. (He pronounced each letter: "N.E.S.N." Holy Moses! NESN?!? How do they even beam that past Canada?) And even more miraculously, knowing nothing about baseball at all, he nevertheless started watching games and getting hooked on the Olde Towne Team. (The getting hooked part is not so miraculous.) As soon as I said I was from Boston, he said, "Oh yeah, what about Johnny Damon? And David Ortiz! That guy's a slugger. Slugger is the word, right?"

I've never heard 'slugger' in the Icelandic accent. It's a beautiful thing.

fimmtudagur, júlí 28, 2005

skaftafell redux

I spent Saturday night camping out with some friends in Skaftafell Þjóðgarður, a national park in the shadow of Vatnajökull in the southeast of Iceland. My first batch of pictures shows the campsite under the glacier and Svartifoss, the Black Falls.

In 1996, a subglacial volcano in the Skaftafell area caused a flood (known in geology circles by its Icelandic name, jökulhlaup) that washed away miles of the national highway, including a part of a bridge that's more than half a mile long. I drove over the reconstructed bridge, which spans a broad flood plain. It was hard to imagine this vast area completely covered with rushing water. Nearby there is a picnic area where kids can play on a twisted piece of the old bridge.

On the way back home (it is a 4-5 hour drive from Skaftafell to Reykjavík along the main highway) I stopped in picturesque
Kirkjbæjarklaustur (population: not many), site of the only gas station in a 50-mile radius. It was jammed with summer tourists, Icelandic and foreign, buying gas, washing cars, filling every table at the gas-station restaurant.

About 45 minutes past Kirkjubæjarklaustur comes Laufskálavarða, site of a farm in the original settlement days (874 - 1100s). The farm burned down back then, but ever since travelers have been adding to the cairns for good luck as they pass.

Wanting some company (radio stations are few and far between and I forgot to bring my Run-DMC tapes with me to Iceland) I stopped for two hitchhikers outside of Vík í Mýrdal. They were two penniless grad students from the south of France who had been hitching their way around Iceland for 5 weeks, and were apparently unprepared for the bone-crushing prices. Since they spoke barely any English (and my usual French expert is stuck on the Vineyard) we had a tough time having any intricate conversations, but they were good dudes. I ended up teaching them some Icelandic. We stopped along the way so they could look for a book they had left on the side of the road, then continued all the way to Reykjavík where I dropped them off at the city campground.

Thanks to RZ for always being a "champion", in the words of FB.

miðvikudagur, júlí 27, 2005

makes you think all the world's a sunny day

A friend of a friend of mine, an American married to an Icelander, wrote this beautiful post about his parents-in-law on his recent visit here to Iceland.


There is a standard (and worthy) tour that 99.9% of visitors to Iceland take. It's known in tour-company brochures by the name "The Golden Circle". To Icelanders, however, it's called simply Geysi-Gullfoss, after two of its famous sights: Geysir (the original and best), and Gullfoss (Golden Falls). (I give my own version of this tour to visitors, throwing in sights such as Nesjavellir.)

But Geysi-Gullfoss is also the nickname for a particularly nasty stomach flu, the one that kept me home from work on Monday. You can probably figure out why. Or the first two pictures might clue you in.

föstudagur, júlí 22, 2005


I saw Emiliana Torrini play last night at NASA, Reykjavík's downtown venue for music shows. I had picked up her new album, Fisherman's Woman, on the way to Denmark last weekend. She is half Italian, half Icelandic, and 100% stunning. You may know her as the singer for the finale song of the Two Towers movie. She also sang with Thievery Corporation - check out the opening and closing tracks on The Richest Man in Babylon (was already one of my favorite albums of the last few years, but I just figured out it was Emiliana singing!). She wrote a song for Kylie Minogue, too.

She had the crowd laughing throughout the night, as before almost every song she launched into stories about touring and playing all kinds of places, including one place in Texas where most people were going about eating their dinner while she was doing an "encore" that only a handful of people had clapped for. While she was singing the encore, she could hear forks and knives clinking on plates.

There was no fork-and-knife noise at NASA last night, though, and not only because they don't serve dinner. The crowd was wowed and quietly appreciative, erupting into joyful applause at the end of each song. Emiliana sings with a voice that's at the same time rich and almost childlike. Her songs on the new album are all acoustic, with two acoustic guitars and occasional percussion backup. When singing she closes her eyes and rolls her head back in an almost Björkian reverie. Her songs are reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, and she counts Tom Waits as a big influence. My favorite from the show was "Sunny Road," a tender and wistful song that's been getting good airplay here.

She's playing a sold-out 4-date tour of Iceland over the next several days, and then on to Europe. Góða ferð, Emiliana!

miðvikudagur, júlí 20, 2005

"come to see the show?"

Saturday night was the big Sigur Rós show at Vega, a club complex in Copenhagen. I took a bus over about an hour before the show, and followed a crew of fans in Radiohead and old Sigur Rós shirts to the venue. The doors hadn't opened yet and there was a gathering of Danish indie-rocker diehards sitting on the slate in little groups in the shadow of the tour buses.

I was really hungry, and so walked on up the street and found a little café (Copenhagen is full of these) with outdoor seating under a big tree. I was all jittered up about the concert, couldn't really concentrate on the menu, and ordered a burger. While I was waiting for the food, I thought I heard "Er það ekki?" ("Is that right?") from the table across the patio. The Icelandic phrase jumped out at me - it was really strange to be hearing the Icelandic language outside of Iceland. I didn't believe it at first so kept listening to try to pick up the conversation.

Sure enough, there was a table of two beefy Icelanders in red sweatshirts and one chain-smokingly thin-headed guy. One of the stocky guys had an enormous gut and blonde ponytail and was swilling down beers, listening to the other sweatshirt guy. The third guy had some kind of radio microphone clipped to his shirt. They were all working on large plates of food, and they sure had the look of Sigur Rós roadies and stage crew about them.

I started thinking I'd go talk to them and introduce myself, and we'd all be fast friends, and they'd throw an all access pass around my neck and take me backstage ... but I was too chicken. So I sat there and ate my burger.

Then just as I was getting up the nerve to go over there, two more Icelanders, a youngish couple, came and sat down with the three dudes and then there were 5 people. I was thinking, "Wow, every Icelander in a 100-mile radius is here for the show." More intimidation.

So I paid my bill inside, and went into the bathroom. I vowed with myself that when I went back outside I'd at least say hi on my way back to the club.

When I got to the table, I decided to focus on just the 3 roadies. I mustered my best broken Icelandic and asked them if they were with Sigur Rós and they said yeah, they were, and I told them I was in town for the show and was going back to Iceland the next day. They asked me the usual stuff about what I was doing in Iceland, how long I had lived there, where I was from originally. The microphone man asked me if I had seen the band before, and I said oh yeah, I love Sigur Rós, these guys are amazing, and started rattling off shows in Boston, New York, and Reykjavík.

The mention of New York sent the thin-faced guy into a long Icelandic reverie, directed at the other roadies, about just how "brjálaður" (crazy) things had been at Radio City Music Hall. I was feeling a little awkward just standing there, not being able to fully follow the roadie reverie, so at a convenient pause I decided to move on. I wanted to say in my best fake Spinal Tap British, "David, do a good show alright." But I settled for "Gaman að sjá ykkur." ("Nice to see you.") And they told me to enjoy the show, and that was about it.


The concert was brilliant, of course. Sigur Rós is the only band I have seen live where the crowd is almost completely still the whole show, and the goosebumps moments come fast and furious. The Danish crowd was quiet during the music, but wildly enthusiastic at the beginning of each song, and stomped their feet on the wooden floor for an encore at the show's end.

Then as the band was taking its final bows, I had a realization. The young couple who had been eating with the roadies, the ones sitting not 5 feet away from me, the ones who listened to my broken Icelandic ranting about the greatness of Sigur Rós, the ones I completely ignored, were Kjartan (the keyboardist) and his wife María, who plays violin with the band's permanent-resident string quartet Amina.


I was still feeling pretty jububbly about this hours later, getting drinks at Vega's downstairs bar with some friends I had made at the concert. I was at the bar ordering a round of beers when I looked to my left and Kjartan was standing right there, shouldering his way in to order.

Now, with some nerve-calming beer under my belt, I asked him if he was Kjartan from Sigur Rós ("Are you really the first Bertucci's? Really? You?") to which he replied yes, he was. I told him they had done a brilliant show and, then, not knowing what else to say, launched into a conversation about my good friend from work who was in the same graduating class as Kjartan.

So, allt í lagi in the end. And once more, saved by the Iceland's vast web of personal connections.

þriðjudagur, júlí 19, 2005

pictures from Copenhagen

...are here. Some silly stories about run-ins with members of Sigur Rós to come...

fimmtudagur, júlí 14, 2005

til Kaupmannahafnar

The best rock band in the world has started a new tour, and that means I'll be going to see them. Even though they record their albums just up the road from here in Mosfellsbær, and even though almost everyone I work with has some connection to one of the members, they rarely play in Iceland. (Or maybe that's the reason they never play here.)

So I'm going to jump on the Icelandic sumarfrí bandwagon, head over the stones, and on out to Copenhagen this weekend to see Sigur Rós. Rock and roll.


Driving to work this morning, enjoying the first bright sunshine since Boston, coming to the top of the exit ramp near work, I saw a jaw-dropping vision. There she was, making a left onto the on-ramp right in front of me: shark-finned, M-badged, and electric blue.

Icelandic Heidi.

Same color, same year, and registered just days after her Massachusetts counterpart, in the month of May 2000, Iceheidi's only external difference was the Euro-style mailbox-slot license plate, carrying not a Red Sox plate but just the number 200.

Maybe it's time for Heidi to come meet her Icelandic cousin.

þriðjudagur, júlí 12, 2005

july in iceland a time when it seems like the whole world is on vacation. The office is a ghost town; normally, the coffee machine grinder punctuates the day, every 5 minutes or so in the nearby kitchen. These days it's so quiet I can hear the stumbling whirr of my own limping computer fan. When I got back from Boston last week, I went up to the company cafeteria for lunch to find a locked door and a note: "see you in August!" There's hardly any traffic on the roads in the morning, the mail carriers have been replaced by kids, and even my morning news-announcing wakeup pal, Palmi Jónasson, has flown the coop.

By law Icelanders get a minimum of 24 workdays of time off a year, paid or unpaid, in addition to the 10 or so public holidays. It seems like many take this all in a big summer chunk, flying off to a Spain beach or driving the ring road around Iceland and camping. And return to pick up their jobs where they left off. Without even being fired.

What makes this all the more surreal to me is that we're having anything but what I'm used to as July weather. It feels more like April, but with 24 hour light. It's been rainy every day for the last week, with temperatures hovering around 50°F. Not really the ideal weather for barbecues 'n ballgames. But the air is always clean, and the swimming pools never go on holiday.