þriðjudagur, ágúst 30, 2005

já, já

"Já" is Icelandic for "yes" but in daily usage it can mean so much more than yes. When combined with a second "já" it can take on hundreds of subtle shades of meaning. Icelanders say "já, já" (roughly 'yow-yow' in English phonetic spelling) so much that the inhabitants of the nearby Faroe Islands refer to Icelanders as "Jau'ari": literally, People Who Say 'Já'.

It seems that as Icelanders grow older, both the tendency to say "já já" and the number of repetitions of the syllable increase. In any pairing of old men in an outdoor Reykjavík hot tub, there are usually two distinct conversational roles. One man is the storyteller, the relayer of fact. As the details of the story slowly unfold, the second man encourages the storytelling with interjections of "já já" or "já já já" or even "já já já já" at the appropriate pauses, often at the end of each sentence in the saga. For variation and effect, the jájá-er can optionally speak on the inhale, making for an airy and more softly encouraging "já já" experience.

Saying "já já" is such a staple of Icelandic conversation that there are of course variations within the "já já" family of expressions. For example, "jæja" can be used to fill in the pause in a conversation that has faltered. It can also be used as the signal that the speaker is about to strike off on a new activity. My friend's farmer grandfather told him when he was little, "Some days you sit up in bed, say 'jæja' and that's the last thing you say that day."

Of course, I'm not really complaining. As someone new to trying to speak the Icelandic language, "já já" is a brilliant linguistic feature. Because I can always fall back on saying "já já" when I either don't have the vocabulary for a proper response, or I have no idea what it is the other person just told me.

When my mom was here I promised her some jájá-ing and she didn't leave Iceland disappointed. As we walked around downtown on her second-to-last day there were a couple old dudes talking together on a street corner. After a 6-or-so-word sentence from the first guy, the second came back with "já.... já... já.. já já já já já já".


I am flying north tomorrow to Akureyri, Iceland's second city, to meet with a client for the day. My colleage was on the flight north this morning, and noticed an unusual amount of security before he got on the plane. Icelandic domestic flights don't normally require a metal detector walk through, but his flight had the full security screening. As he was getting off the plane in Akureyri, he realized he had been sitting right near Cherie Blair.

I told him that it was likely I would be making the trip north tomorrow with Laura Bush.

mánudagur, ágúst 29, 2005

site feed

I've had some questions about the Iceland Report site feed recently, so here is the link. For the uninitiated, this feed is updated every time I publish a new post here on IR. There are several blog-aggregator services, such as Bloglines, that use feeds like this as input to create personalized news pages. So every time one of your favorite blogs or news sites gets updated, your personalized news page also gets updated. Pretty cool stuff.

And that's "news you can use," always right here on Iceland Report.

the e-rrival

E has arrived on The Land, as of this morning at 6:02 a.m., wheeling a cart with two enormous red bags on it and brandishing a new winter coat that exudes "Ice-style", in her words. I brought her some aloe yogurt (her fave) and some Happy Bianco (Polish coconut cookies, not her fave in the early a.m. it seems) and drove her back across the lava to Reykjavík. She's home now, where she is probably either frantically unpacking or frantically sleeping, and in either case listening to Hildur Vala on infinite repeat. She plans to go to Hagstofa (the national statistics office) to pick up her shiny new kennitala this afternoon, and then we're gonna go for a swim after I get done from work. Velkomin til landsins, E!

sunnudagur, ágúst 28, 2005

big organ

For a while I had been wanting to go hear some Big Organ at Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Reykjavík (and the dominant feature of its skyline). The organ there is a beast, rising up several stories, with Harley-Davidson-like pipes protruding out into the church space.

Well, today I got my chance. It's the last day of the 8-day kirkjulistahátíð, or arts festival of the church, and this morning was the festival mass. When I got to the church at 5 minutes to 11, it was packed full. I saw some faces in the crowd I recognized from the TV news, members of Parliament and the like. Not only was there organ, but a brass ensemble, too. And not one, but two choirs: one the resident church choir, and the other the Oslo (Norway) Choir, in town just for this.

Mass was given by the Bishop of Iceland somewhere in the middle of a series of beautiful choral pieces and sung psalms. The whole congregation joined in on singing the psalms and I got a real kick out of singing along in Icelandic. (It's good practice for some of the difficult Icelandic vowel sounds, too!) The showpiece of the mass was a choral work with soprano solo by John Speight, and there was a beautiful German a cappella piece as well, where both choirs combined forces and sang from the front of the church. Every time we stood up, I could see out the windows at the far end of the church, behind the altar. They perfectly frame the gentle mountain range off to the East.

I thought a lot about MB and how much she would love to see something as magnificent as this mass. Maybe next time you're in Iceland, MB?

On the way out I shook hands with the Bishop, and wandered into the reception area, where dozens of Icelanders were packed around the coffee tables, pouring out steaming cups, grabbing up cakes, and talking. I have to get myself up early on Sundays more often.

laugardagur, ágúst 27, 2005

the third pillar

The Icelandic software industry, of which I am a card-carrying member, is growing. Watch out, Burlingame!


It's finally dark enough again, and the past few days have been clear enough again, to see the Northern Lights. Tonight was the first show of the season for me. Not much this time, just a thin green line. But man, what a magic green line that is. No matter how jaded the Icelanders are about this phenomenon, it will always strike me as something special. Because, since my youngest days, in all the times that I looked up in the night sky from the dock in the marsh in New Hampshire, I never saw anything green, shape-shifting, or curtain-like. The night sky from the Cabin dock there is beautiful, a rich black diamond-encrusted tapestry. But superimpose some shifting green sheets of color on that perfect sky, and suddenly it feels like you're far off, in a remote and otherworldly place.

In other news, I just came back from Ölstofan, the finest bar north of 64 degrees, and the place was hopping with its normal early-Friday energy. I watched with admiration as a bouncer literally carried out an overdrunk patron who had inadvertently bought me a beer by leaving it on the bar next to me (after spilling another all over my sleeve). Then I talked to a Hollywood film dude who's in town to work on the Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima gig that's being filmed down on the south coast. These guys are working 7 days a week, 18-hour days, to get this movie filmed. They're here for only 3 or 4 weeks, working all day then going out at night, slapping the bartop for service, ordering shots of Jack Daniels, yelling across the room in loud English (when will Americans abroad learn that they're not speaking a secret language?), and getting up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again. Clint himself is staying near my neighborhood, and my golfing friend (of menningarnótt fame) is hoping to get in a round with him before he goes.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 24, 2005

london calling

I've had the good fortune of inhabiting an amazing apartment for the past year. It's an 8-minute walk from downtown and a 4-minute walk from the sea. It's the whole floor of a beautiful house from the 1920s. It's got a brand new kitchen, and wood floors, and a dope-dad bathroom with insane European shower-temp-control technology. Oh yeah, washer/dryer, dishwasher, the works. And to top it off, it comes with the eminently desirable 101 postal code, something not to be sneezed at in image-conscious Iceland. Or in image-conscious JB-land, for that matter.

One small problem here in Solla-Solew (where we never have troubles, at least very few) is that, aside from the Key-Slapping Slippard, I don't actually own this dream apartment. The place has real owners (lovely people, in fact) and as much as I try to forget about them, it appears they are coming back from London to take the place back over at the end of Zepptember. Which means that E and I need a new place to move into starting in Rocktober, classic rock month names notwithstanding.

Now I wasn't really worried about this bidness until today. There's a sweet Icelandic listing service that posts new places daily. Just today one came on, also in the 1-0-1, great location, cute balcony, couple o' built-in cats, sounded perfect. The ad said to call after 6. But things don't often happen at a blistering pace in The Land, so I called at 8. Gone. Flown off the shelf. 4 people had been there already. The potential tenants were brawling amongst themselves over first-children rights. I couldn't help but remember the old OAK-SPIN Legend of Craigie Circle from the go-go Cambridge 1990s.

Now there do appear to be plenty of places available, but mostly out in the Reykjavík-sticks. Postcode 112 og svoleiðis. And places not even part of Reykjavík: postcode 203 Kópavogur. But I've been living on Iceland's answer to Beacon Hill. And now I am contemplating a move to Medford. Or worse than that, Bedford.

So, lesson learned: Hit the phones, jackass. Oh yeah, if any of you legion of loyal Icelandic readers have any ideas (that don't include "why don't you buy?!?") put 'em on the wire.

skipstjórar og læknar

Back in my Somerville, LLC days I worked with a guy we called PLo. Whenever I called him on the phone, he'd pick up with a "Captain!" or a "Doctah!" Just yesterday on IM he referred to me as "Commissioner!". So when I came to Iceland a year ago I decided to try calling people these names in Icelandic. Trouble is, nobody here really knows how to deal with being called "Læknir!" (doctor) or "Skipstjóri!" (captain, literally 'ship's chief'). These titles seem to be used in Icelandic exclusively in a literal sense. This makes it all the more funny to me. You Stateside readers can try it out at home with the help of this handy-dandy arbitrary title guide:

(sea-going titles)

Skipstóri! = Captain!
Háseti! = Sailor!
Vélstjóri! = Engineer!
Siglingafræðingur! = Navigator!
Léttadrengur = Callboy!
Loftskeytamaður! = Telegraph operator!

(from our friends in the medical community)

Læknir! = Doctor!
Barnalæknir! = Pediatrician!
Hjartasérfræðingur! = Cardiologist!

(the ultimate combo)

Skipslæknir! = Ship's doctor!

You Icelandside readers can contribute your own titles below in the Comments section.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 23, 2005


We received word yesterday that after a couple of months of waiting-in-exile, coupled with a superfluous visit to a country doc in the Green Mountain State, E has received permission to return to Iceland as a kennitala-carrying member of productive society. She'll be met at the airport by some Icelandic officials waiting to carry out the Horse Grant (we each receive a horse from the government as part of the deal). Also a year's supply of þykkmjólk and a boomin' trunk o' wool. It's gonna be great to have you back, E.

sunnudagur, ágúst 21, 2005


Yesterday was menningarnótt, Culture Night, in Reykjavík. It's an all-day event that draws crowds in the tens of thousands, completely shutting down the center of the city to car traffic. The closest American equivalent I can think of is First Night in Boston, with family-oriented events going on all day long. But menningarnótt is in some ways the last holiday of the Icelandic summer, and so is celebrated with commensurate reckless abandon by one and all.

I headed downtown from my place at 3 pm or so, not in time to see the start of the Reykjavík Maraþon, but in time to see some last stragglers finishing the race. However, I did get to see the start of the Waiters' Marathon, with men and women running with trays and balanced glasses of wine, glasses smashing onto the pavement as soon as the starting gun sounded. The number-wearing waiters ran off into the crowd to an unknown destination. Across the square the entire 7-story facade of the Tryggingamiðstöðin insurance building had been covered with a banner making it look like a haunted house. The bottom floor had been completely and ingeniously done to look like the first floor entry to the house. Smaller kids standing across from it eyed the scary structure warily. Bigger kids and their parents waited for admission in a long line that snaked around the block.

Downtown was chock-full of people, and as always in Iceland, kids were everywhere. Many had their faces painted up like tigers or cats or the Icelandic flag. There were food stalls lining the major streets, selling hot dogs and waffles and hot coffee. There were bandstands set up every few blocks of downtown, and concerts going on all day long. I watched a 5-piece Caribbean jazz band perform right outside of the health food store, chips of wood flying off of one drummer's fish scraper like scales.

Nearby, what may be the most carefully tended record store in the world, 12 Tónar, was doing a blazing business. They had slashed the prices on everything in the store by 50% (making most CDs about $19 instead of $38), and it was an orgiastic frenzy of Icelandic music-buying. I picked up some Icelandic riff- & math-rock (Kimono) that'll probably get redirected to my brother and the clinically depressing new album by Icelandic favorites Slowblow.

It was at this point that I met up with one of me Icelandic droogs, fresh from the golf course (and looking it, in some kinda bright red Gavin Green polo shirt number). We ambled around the town together, looking at concerts, talking to his friends at the pottery shop, looking at people. I call this guy "Borgarstjórinn" (the Mayor) because just like my little bro in his college town, this guy knows every third person he sees. And not only does he know them but they all seem to love him in return. So it's impossible to walk more than a few feet without some gladhanding and smiles all around.

We got some food together at Hornið (the Corner restaurant) and he listened patiently while I schooled him on my horrendous week just past. (It's not all fun times in The Land for me, despite the generally upbeat tone of Icelandreport.) But the good pizza and good conversation went a long way to fixin' me up.

Then it was more walking. It seems that most of the attraction of menningarnótt/day is wandering around the downtown, checking out and being checked out, saying "Nei, hæ!" when you see people you know, smiling and waving and putting your sister's kid on your shoulders so he can see the Edith Piaf singer. (But really so he can punch your head, cover your eyes, and generally be rambunctious.)

My friend and I had been talking about Sigur Rós, rehashing concerts we had been to, talking about the band's personalities (he knows some of them from school) and in general crooning about their greatness, and then who should walk by us as we headed back downtown for fireworks but Kjartan and María, who the more diligent readership may remember from the Copenhagen episode. My friend handed Kjartan a beer out of his shopping bag and we all said hello. Being with a native made everything much smoother than my last awkward run-in with musical giants.

At 11 pm the menningarnótt fireworks form the dividing line between the family part of the day and the requisite youth-gone-wild all-night partying, the cap to any good Icelandic celebration. We were back in the potter's shop with the pottery crowd drinking wine when 11 pm snuck up, so we had to run down to the harbor for the show. The entire harbor area was mobbed with people and strollers, a sea of Icelanders. The fireworks started and people cheered and then about halfway through the show the rain started pouring down. And really pouring, something not normal here, drenching people and sending them scurrying into the fluorescent light and damp of downtown fast food joints, packing them into soggy bus shelters and doorways.

Luckily my friend had a party waiting for us, right downtown. We herded up the street in a damp throng of parents and kids and soaking strollers. The host greeted us at the door, threw big towels at us, and poured us wine and steaming mugs of hot cocoa. We sat around in a big circle on the couches and talked. Even though I struggled to follow the conversation, the atmosphere was warm, and when I left I went home glad to know so many good people.

the skyr zone

E and I sometimes talk about the "skyr zone," a boundary one crosses when leaving Iceland and all of its magical foodstuffs behind. Perceptions of the foodiverse shift drastically on either side of the skyr zone boundary. Because when here on the I.C.E., the lamb, the fish, all of the unique and amazing dairy products, and the fat bars of chocolate seem so accessible that it's tempting to think, "Oh, no need to bring any of that with us." But a 5-hour plane ride later back in the USA, that one container of skyr in the carry-on bag becomes like a bar of gold, a precious commodity to be divided and shared among 5-8 family members. I think my mom limited herself to a tablespoon a day from the container I brought her. I always wish I had brought more.

To the uninitiated, skyr is a dairy product, made a bit like cheese, but spoonable like yogurt. It's super-high in calcium and has almost no fat in its pure form. It's unique to Iceland. Back in the old days, it came as a dried chalky block that had to be reconstituted with water. Now it comes in little yogurt-style containers, with all kinds of flavors added. I like the straight-up kind, mixed with a little bit of Mömmu (Mamma's brand) Icelandic blueberry jelly.

Well it now looks as if the skyr zone boundary is about to be enlarged, according to today's Morgunblaðið. Whole Foods Market, the 140-store American yuppie-food chain, has announced that starting in 2006 they will be selling a whole suite of Icelandic foods. In addition to Icelandic lamb, which is already available in most of their stores, they will sell skyr, Icelandic butter (heavenly stuff), chocolate (can't say enough), cheese (holy moly), and even Viking-brand Icelandic beer (not for the faint of hangover). It'll all be sold with the tagline "Independently farmed in Iceland since 874" (yep, that's 874 A.D.) and the products will be branded with their Icelandic names, e.g. SMJÖR for butter.

But despite this new blurring of the skyr zone boundary, I think the carry-on dairy will remain a fixture of FI 630 to Boston. There is still a dizzying array of dairy products only available here á klakanum. Take þykkmjólk for example. I don't even know how to begin to describe that wonder...

föstudagur, ágúst 19, 2005

avant garde in the 101

Crazy scene downstairs. An architect (a blue-rimmed-eyeglasses, 5-o'clock-shadow, I'll-never-be-that-cool kind of architect) bought the place a few months back and is in the midst of renovating it. In its unfinished state he threw a party tonight.

I just watched one guy play screeching guitar loops while another dropped food coloring in a fishbowl whose contents were being projected on the wall via the avant garde method of overhead projection.

Before that it was covers of US gangsta rap by the owner's son and his droogs. Now there is a band setting up. All in the midst of rough-hewn concrete and hanging wires. And a door turned on its side, full of wine and beer and requisite Icelandic smoked salmon. And a veritable who's-who of big locals on the Scene. Nothing can really compare with watching 50-year-old designer-clad Icelandic ladies bob their heads along with lyrics like "motherfuck the 5-0". I'm heading back down...

a full-service blog

Two stalwart Icelandreport readers, one at ICEX (the Icelandic Stock Exchange) and the other at Brown University (how's that for name-dropping?) have asked me to return Icelandreport to the time-honored multiple-article format. Done.

You now get the latest 5 articles on the main page. The Readers speak in a mighty voice. And Icereport listens.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 18, 2005

noodly design

Sometimes nothing is quite so good at illuminating ignorance as parody. But I can't decide which of these I like better. Enjoy!

miðvikudagur, ágúst 17, 2005


E and I were joking about our neighbor Björk making herself breakfast and singing to herself:

I can sense it
Something important
About to happen ...

... while she waited for the toast to pop up. This image still makes me chuckle.

But Björk, if for some reason you're reading this wacky drivel and you'd like to stop by for the next laugardagsmorgunkaffi, consider yourself invited. We won't even ask you to sing for us if you stop at Björnsbakari on your way over and pick up some vínbrauð.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 16, 2005

why are you here?

It's funny, us expats here always get the question, both from abroad and from Icelanders, about why we are here. I don't think many would ask this question about living in other places: "Why the heck did you move to France?" "What's in Ireland that you like so much?" "Now what's so great about America?" It seems to be unique to Iceland.

Now that I've been here more than a year, living here is normal to me: the commute to work, the daily trip to go swimming, the long lines at the badly run local Krónan store. Ísland er landið mitt. But I still get the question and now it seems increasingly strange and even offensive to hear. Offensive because of what it implies: that I don't really belong here.

I was at a party the other night and a girl I was talking to asked me, in Icelandic, why I was in Iceland. When I answered with the standard-issue "why not?" she pressed me for more details. So I gave a rough sketch of reasons I like the life here, but it always annoys me to have to defend my decision in this way. So after that I asked her "Af hverju ert þú að búa hér a landi?" ("Why are you living here in Iceland?") If the look on her face was any basis for judgment, this was not a popular question. She told me it was because she was born here. Then as I was trying to explain something for which I didn't know the right Icelandic words she snippily filled the words in for me. So I told her, "Þú talar mjög góða íslensku!"

Making friends the old fashioned way: one at a time.

sunday at the pool

Laugardalslaug was back in full effect when I went there on Sunday. New coats of paint on everything and the floors in the vast mens' shower-and-talk-naked-to-the-custodian area had been redone. Unfortunately, they hadn't done anything special to guide tourists to a separate holding pen where they could jabber English/French and complain about things not being like they are at home as loudly as they wanted. And no new hot tubs, either.

I did have a lovely and fully Icelandic-enabled conversation with an older woman in one of the pre-existing hot tubs. Like many retirees in the neighborhood, she walks over to the pool every day. I didn't recognize her because it turns out she is usually in the morning crowd and me in the after-work crowd. (I see a lot of the same old dudes after work every day.) She told me all about her family, and told me her husband has a summer house in Borgarnes (north of here) where she doesn't really like to spend time because she is a "Reykjavík lady" at heart. I said "já já" a lot and listened to her stories. She was a real sweetheart, and the more I talked to her, the more I could see the beautiful young woman hidden under the 79-year-old exterior. After 40 minutes in the hot tub my brain was melting, and I finally told her I had to get out and cool down. So we stood there talking for another 10 minutes in the 50 degree rain, until my non-Viking body could stand the swimsuited cold no longer. I hope I see her again, it would be really nice to have an Icelandic grandma to hang out with at the pool.

booze on the ice

Iceland has some pretty schizophrenic policies on alcohol.

On the one hand, the government carefully controls the distribution of alcohol. It's available only from government stores (think New Hampshire), and taxed at an astonishing level (don't think New Hampshire). The bottle of Beefeater gin that I bought in the Logan Airport duty free for $14 (or 920 Icelandic krónur) - and then promptly forgot in the overhead bin in my post-redeye haze - would cost me 3,200 ISK, or $48.50, to replace in the state booze store here.

But on the other hand, the government-run Vín Búð stores, the only place to legally buy wine, liquor, and full-strength beer, are hardly a paragon of restraint. These elegant shops elevate the sale of wine and beer to an art form, displaying the shiny new bottles in brightly-lit Scandinavian-look spaces. This ain't Fresh Pond Liquors. The stores also do their best to promote the consumption of booze in its various flavors. This summer, there is a free glossy brochure available to help customers choose the best summer wines to go along with their grilled lamb, beef, and fish. The free catalogue of wines and spirits, published several times a year, is extensive and colorful.

Which begs the question, what are the high taxes for? Clearly not to encourage restraint in consumption, if the government's own peddlers are doing their best to sell the stuff. While the original intent of the high taxes may have been to discourage consumption, it seems the government is earning so much revenue on these taxes that its own "alchohol habit" is hard to kick.

According to a 2004 Iceland Review article, the Icelandic government takes in ISK 7.1 billion in alcohol taxes each year. That's $112 million. That's $380 for every man, woman, and child in Iceland, each year. It's also 40% more than the government takes in on gasoline taxes. This money goes straight into the state coffers, not earmarked for any special purpose. Funding of the treatment center for alcoholism costs the government a mere 400 million ISK per year, or under 6% of the alcohol tax receipts.

The high price of alcohol here is just a regressive tax, one that hits those least able to pay it the hardest. Sure, people don't really need to buy booze, but sharing drinks together is a large part of the social scene here. Alcohol is as prevalent in Iceland as the fresh air, and is an undeniable part of Icelandic society. The obscene prices do little to nothing to discourage consumption, as a walk down Laugavegur at 3 am on a Saturday will quickly show.

This regressive tax becomes all the more regressive considering that the alcohol tax is not based on a percentage of the price of the product (the way sales taxes and VAT work) but on the volume of alcohol in the product. So a $10 bottle of wine incurs a $10 tax, doubling in price, while a $60 bottle of wine is only $70. Someone looking for high-end wine or Scotch whiskey may even find some passable deals here. Meanwhile someone looking for a bottle of cheap table wine is likely to be priced out of the market, and beer is $4 a can, a six-pack retailing for a whole $24. It's no wonder Icelanders treat the stuff like gold.

mánudagur, ágúst 15, 2005

reality crashers

I went to see Wedding Crashers last night, mainly for Vince Vaughn's rapid-fire delivery of witticisms on the meeting of women. I wasn't disappointed. He was a carbon-copy of his Swingers character, which is maybe a carbon copy of his true personality.

The thing about going to see American movies here in the I.C.E. (where most movies are American) is that it's like a little mini trip back to the States for me. Sitting in a dark theater, surrounded by a fast dialogue in American English, laughing first (and sometimes being the only one) at the jokes, seeing familiar places (the Washington Monument, sailing on the Chesapeake Bay) in all their bigscreen glory, makes me forget where I am for a couple of hours. I might as well be in the Chelmsford theater of my youth, Mrs. Nelson´s Candy House across the street.

The less familiar things begin when the lights come on at the end and the Icelandic chatter starts up all around me. That's the first not-in-Kansas clue. The second always comes at the bottom of the auditorium stairs, when I turn to go out the exit door. There's no Mrs. Nelson's there with the striped awnings, humid in the summer air. In place there's usually a light drizzle, blessedly fresh air, and distant sidelit mountains that slope down to the water at a distinctive Icelandic angle. In the end, it's always nice to come back from the American vacation.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 11, 2005

red sox aðdáendur

Iceland continues its (albeit glacial) transformation into "Red Sox Nation". A coworker just sent me this modern classic. Even the clip's ID number in the URL is appropriate ... rock on, 617!

miðvikudagur, ágúst 10, 2005


I went to my "daily driver" swimming pool, , the other day and found the parking lot completely empty. This was strange indeed, as the last time this swimming pool was closed was New Year's Day. It's open all the time: 6:30 am until 10:30 pm weekdays and almost as long on the weekends. The entrance is like the revolving door in the famous Willy Horton ad that downed Mike Dukakis' Presidential aspirations: criminals constantly cycling in and out, all day long. Only here they're carrying swim bags, and most of them look more geriatric than criminal.

Anyway I parked in the empty lot and walked up to the entrance, still hoping in my heart that maybe the reason the lot was empty was that I was the only one who had remembered to go to the pool that day. There was a sign on the door that began in Icelandic, "Dear customers..." It said the pool is shut down for repairs until Saturday. In English, someone had scrawled the word "CLOSED" in a black Sharpie at the bottom.

Closed? Repairs? That place doesn't need no repairs. It's a gem!

Actually, it could use a little work. It's around 40 years old, and all those photo shoots for the tourist brochures and NYT articles make it look a lot better than it actually does. I walked around the side and the motley collection of construction vans was reminiscent of preseason Fenway Park repairs: a bathroom fixture truck, a tile truck, a grout truck. The side gate to the pool was open so I peeked in to see the whole massive pool completely empty, lane dividers strewn around haphazardly at one end. It was an unnatural view, this pool that sheltered and warmed me all through the winter, completely devoid of water, the green tile bottom of the main pool glaring straight back at me. At the side, where steam usually pours forth round the clock, the hot tubs sat empty, too. Nothing more than empty holes in the ground. That Grand Old Lady, the Queen of Reykjavík swimming establishments, had been denuded.

But I'm psyched to see what kinda crazy repairs and improvements they can come up with. 8 new hot tubs, maybe? A bungee-slingshot waterslide? Some kinda English-sign-marked Special Hot Tub for loud-talkin' tourists? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's gonna do the old girl proud. I'll keep you posted, faithful readers.

4th place

Reykjavík comes in as the fourth most expensive city in the world in a new survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit. By comparison, New York City is all the way down in 35th place. "Shoot, Phyllis, these coffees sure are expensive!" ($4.67)

The rest of the Big 10:

1. Tokyo
2. Oslo
3. Osaka
4. Smoky Bay
5. Paris
6. Copenhagen
7. Zurich
8. London
9. Geneva
10. Helsinki

mánudagur, ágúst 08, 2005

one year

Tomorrow is one year from the day I stepped off the plane, met my friend Heiða in the waiting area, and walked out the glass doors into a windswept rainy land and an uncertain future.

After that one year, I can say unequivocally that I love it here. I love the way I can see the mountains every morning on the way to work. I love the blast of fresh air that hits me every morning on the way out the door. I love the otherworldly light, the big sky, and the ever-changing colors. Green mosses and grasses are covering everything this time of year, and driving out of the city I find myself in wilderness in no time... just lush green and jagged rocks and distant craters, or glaciers, or lakes, and dirt roads, plenty of places to camp out where I can be alone with no sounds but the wind and sometimes the rainfall at night.

I am feeling very good about the Icelandic language these days, too. I just bought my first novel in Icelandic and I have started reading it (slowly) and even understanding it only in pieces it is such a treat. It's a view into a whole new world, a new way of seeing the world, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to learn this great new thing and see the world through new eyes.

To the many, many people who have helped me settle in here, and helped me through some rough times and culture shock, takk kærlega. Þið eruð best í heimi. I couldn't have done it without you.

Here's to another year!

þriðjudagur, ágúst 02, 2005


After the Sigur Rós show in Copenhagen, I went downstairs to the Ideal Bar and stumbled onto one of the best music mixes of my life. It was an innovative blend of funk, soul, hip-hop, and R&B ingeniously mixed by Copenhagen DJs Funkatek.

I've since been in touch with one of the Funkatek DJs, who recommended WeFunk Radio as a web-based surrogate for the Ideal Bar shows. I've been listening all morning. Brilliant.