fimmtudagur, september 29, 2005

lucky day of the week

When E and I were discussing potential move dates around the company lunch table, one coworker (and subsequent moving champion) told us that it was obligatory that we move on Saturday. He said something like, "That's just the Icelandic way: Saturday for luck." So we took his advice. And turns out he wasn't kidding. There is an Icelandic proverb that ties each day of the week to an outcome. (It seems as though Monday and Tuesday would definitely be right out!) E's coworker gave us the whole list, so here it is:

Mánudagur til mæðu = Monday for trouble

Þriðjudagur til þrautar = Tuesday for pain

Miðvikudagur til morguns = Wednesday for tomorrow

Fimmtudagur til frægðar = Thursday for fame

Föstudagur til fjár = Friday for money

Laugardagur til lukku = Saturday for luck

Sunnudagur til solar = Sunday for sunshine

mánudagur, september 26, 2005

view comatosis

The move went down pretty fast on Saturday, after the days of preparation and "just-in-time" box shuttling. We had a couple of (fantastic!) helpers, plus the Old Man Winter truck driver. Even the sofa-albatross made it down the stairs after only mild mixed-language cursing. We had our stuff piled high in the new place after only two hours or so and the Official Album of the Move, "Takk..." by Sigur Rós, blaring out of the speakers after another hour.

With the exception of a much-needed trip to the swimming pool, we spent yesterday in the apartment, alternating between ripping open cardboard boxes and wandering over to the windows to look out at the sea. The view makes me positively giddy, and neither of us can go for long without a trip out to the balcony, or a frozen moment in front of the glass. There's always a ship coming in, or seagulls whirling over the water, or spooky clouds desecending on a distant mountain, or the faint form of Snæfellsjökull, 80 miles distant across the bay.

It's a bit like living in a cruise ship, as E is fond of pointing out. The water is always there, and when sitting down at the table or on the couch, it's all you can see. Based on this boat-like setup, and in keeping with an earlier maritime tradition of apartment names, we think we'll call this place the Iceboat. Sort of like the Jugboat, but in Iceland, and with an added significance to a certain group of guys from Billerica.

föstudagur, september 23, 2005

the move

I just got back from my infiniteth run down the street with another RAV4 load of stuff for the new place. I've been making these runs every night after work since Monday, part of the reason you readers never got a good Poland Report out of me. Something about moving is so endless, with the feeling that there's just a little more to do persisting for days, and reinforcing itself with every new cabinet opened. The last 5% of items seem to take 95% of the time. When the place is finally empty (which ours is far from as I write) it is nothing short of miraculous. And unfortunately, there is no Iceland magic I can bring to bear on the situation. It appears that the normal laws of moving physics apply here: everything's gotta be boxed and not enough can ever be said about the importance of having an ungodly amount of wrapping paper.

Fortunately, we've got some good droogs coming to help us with the big stuff tomorrow. There are 2-3 guys who I work with stopping by, and even the upstairs neighbor is chipping in. People seem to be very enthusiastic to help move here. And my truck-driving connection is fully armed and operational, ready to swoop in and pick up the furniture in exchange for a little undir-borðið action. A couple six-packs of fríhöfn beer are right now chilling on the new balcony in tonight's freezing air. Hopefully the white-albatross sofa doesn't suffer from some Douglas Adams-style removal syndrome, and everything goes swimmingly. The sweeping ocean/mountain/lighthouse view awaits and will make all the box-lugging tedium worthwhile.

boston and new york

Much has been made of comparisons between Boston and New York over the years, mostly by Bostonians. New Yorkers don't generally compare themselves with anyone, believing their city to be maybe only comparable to the largest city in some as-yet-undiscovered galaxy. (And even then, New York would probably come out ahead on account of the better Broadway offerings.) But this being the Iceland Report, I feel compelled to cast my lot into the debate and talk about the Icelandside implications of the differences between Bostonians and New Yorkers.

People from Boston (and New England generally) seem to have a great time when they visit Iceland. They fit right in, and really "get" the laid-back culture and charms of the society and landscape. My friends from Boston who came earlier this month were just the latest example. And people from Boston who move here to live put a lot of effort into learning Icelandic and make an effort to slot themselves into the society.

I think that this easy matchup between Bostonians and Icelanders is due to our shared sense of inferiority. In Boston's case it's because glitzy New York always seems to overshadow our tremendous (but not-as-shiny) educational, medical, and technological accomplishments. In Iceland's case it's partially because the Danish historically ran roughshod over the country, and partially because Icelanders feel so far north, so isolated, and so tiny compared to the rest of the world. So when a Bostonian comes here, he fits right in in the inferiority-soaked culture that is Iceland.

So what happens when New Yorkers visit Iceland? This is an easy theory to test because a lot of them do, and examples abound: I have watched a New Yorker slam her flattened palm on the bar for service on a busy Friday night. Another got face-flushedly upset and made a scene when bumped into (something very common on nights out that's no cause for concern here). In general, New Yorkers in Iceland like to look around smugly and are likely to comment on the "smallness" of Reykjavík (something so obvious and beside the point it doesn't need to be mentioned) rather than noticing the obvious charms of the place. And people from NY who move here tend not to learn the language. They're too busy doing other things.

So why then do Icelanders everywhere love to wear NY Yankees hats? The short answer is that they don't have a clue about the cultural significance of the hat they're sporting. They think the "N-Y" logo looks cool. They really couldn't care less about baseball, don't probably realize they're even supporting a baseball team, and probably couldn't connect the drunken-swastika N-Y with the team it belongs to. This doesn't make much sense. As E rightly pointed out, "Iceland, being the perpetual underdog that it is on the world stage, should have a much easier time identifying with Boston than New York." It does seem odd to have locals from this most northern and modest of world capitals trotting around supporting a city and team as full of themselves as New York and its Yankees. Why not pick up some "B" hats, Icelanders?

fimmtudagur, september 22, 2005

staff meeting

One of the things I learned to dread most in my new job is staff meetings. In a normal situation, whole-company meetings inspire a certain sense of foreboding among the rank-and-file. But now imagine for a second, gentle reader, the added dimension of understanding absolutely nothing being said. Add to that the possibility that you may be called on, singled out, fired, or laughed at in front of 25 coworkers and picture the towering horror that an Icelandic staff meeting represented to me when I first arrived.

When I said to myself in Boston that I wanted to experience "challenges" by living in a new land, I guess this is what I meant. And I am for the most part living the dream. But Jiminy Christmas, I never expected the staff-meeting waking nightmare.

Well, we just had one now, and I am happy to report that my normal sense of white-knuckles panic and dread was for nothing. As the words spilling out of our fearless CEO's mouth piled on top of each other, my mind as usual picked them up and sorted them out into "yep, got it" and "ha?" buckets. But this time the "got it" bucket won out, and, at least in broad brush strokes, I knew what was goin' down. I even laughed at a couple of jokes. Not too shabby for a kid from the Merrimack Valley.

þriðjudagur, september 20, 2005

visitor pics

One of The Beantown Four has posted his pictures of Iceland from earlier this month. Looks like the Icelandic muses were a'singing for him... a real treat!

snow and sun

This morning the clouds outside the breakfast table were almost black. Then the sky opened up in a torrential toast-accompanying downpour, wind beating the drops against the window. By the time we got out to the car the rain was mixed with sleet, and then sitting at my desk this morning we had a heavy, wet snowfall. But now, at 11 am, it's sunny and beautiful out. Still, I can't help feeling like winter's cold fingers have wrapped themselves around the Land.

miðvikudagur, september 14, 2005

til Póllands

Iceland Report will be on hiatus for the next several days (or maybe just morph into the Poland Report) as the company for which E and I work is taking us all to Warsaw for the weekend. This kind of company trip once a year is common in Iceland, although usually it's a domestic destination. But our company is taking us rockstar style: we'll be flying on a chartered Icelandair jet, staying in a splashy hotel, riding around everywhere in Trabant stretch limos, and eating lots of Polish sassage.

I'm psyched to be going back to the Old World. Eastern Europe will always be "neeah and deeah to my haht" after the now near-cliche formative trips to the Czech Republic in the go-go 90s.

bara bloggari

The New York Times has written yet another article on Iceland, this one all about the new Whole Foods Icelandic marketing connection that I wrote about in the skyr zone.

Icelanders, the Times article is worth glancing at just for the photo credit on the first page...

sigur rós video

The first video from the new Sigur Rós album Takk can be viewed here. The video was filmed not far from where I live in Iceland. Passages from the new album have been haunting my internal music loop since I picked it up on Monday. The jury is still out, but I am beginning to think that the new album approaches their first wide release, Ágætis byrjun, in artistry, overall impact, and general life-changing potential.

You can learn more about the band here.

snow on the mountains

On the way to work today, looking left from the hill at Bústaðavegur, Esja was barely visible through a shroud of thick ghostly clouds. But there were one or two breaks in the clouds and through them we could see that while we were asleep, the upper flanks of Esja had been dusted in powdery snow. And just yesterday the mountain was looking so green and lush. Winter is on its unstoppable march.

þriðjudagur, september 13, 2005

some stats

I had been curious for a long time about who's actually reading this thing, and so for the last few months or so I've been collecting stats on site readership. In the spirit of open communication, open hearts and minds, and open-source software, I'm going to share some highlights with you courageous readers.

For a blog that I started out mainly to cut down on repetitive "how is Iceland?" emails back to the USA, I am pleasantly surprised to find that my readership is half Icelandic, peaking at 70% Icelandic a few weeks back. Compare this to 35% or so from the USA. I guess Icelanders' curiosity about what the American in their midst is saying about them trumps Americans' curiosity about the big world across the sea. I've also got around 7% readership in Germany (mysteriously), and a couple percent each from the UK and Sweden. I've also had some one-off hits from countries as remote as Australia and Japan, and as unexpected as Iran.

Over the past month, IR has gotten on average 55 returning and 85 new visitors a week. So it ain't CNN. But it does seem to have a following. And when I write more, you read more. When I stop writing for a week, as I did recently, readership drops drastically. It's a lot of pressure on the shoulders of our overburdened one-man editorial staff. (So keep the comments coming!)

In the last 6 weeks or so, IR has started turning up on Google searches with some regularity. Popular keywords include "Ölstofan" (cozy bar o' mine), "hekla pastry" (of Boston-area fame), and "skyr". "Laugardalslaug", the swimming pool, gets a lot of hits, too. All Icelandic words that are underrepresented internationally, it seems. But my favorite keyword hit has to be "Waingro sound bites". Apparently obscure Heat movie references (which are in no short supply here) really do pay the bills on Google.


I woke up last night at 3:30 in the morning with the room cold and wind gusting in through the cracked window above the bed. The buffeting of the wind on the open window was joined by a different sound, the hiss and whoosh of the wind through the giant evergreen across the street. The fall is definitely here, and with it the wind. At times like these, lying in bed with no sound outside but pounding wind, it feels as though I am on the edge of the world. With no other sounds but the storm, I might as well be in a tiny cabin in the West Fjords, far far from the nearest town.

When the alarm went off this morning, the sky was sunny and clear and the wind was gone, left behind under the curtain of the night.

mánudagur, september 12, 2005


Back in the fall of 2002, at the end of another in a string of endless conference calls, I stood up from my desk at work, jumped on the Red Line, and rode the 2 stops to Harvard Square. Inside Newbury Comics, the new Sigur Rós album ( ) was front and center in the store. I bought it and then met my friend Dan for lunch, almost too excited to eat.

At work I listened through the new record 2 or 3 times and then took it back home to listen to it some more. It was, and is, genius, and a brilliant followup to Ágætis byrjun, their second album.

After three years "publishing day" has come again. Instead of the Red Line, this time it was a walk out to my rain-soaked car, my path blown askew by heavy winds from the south. I drove downtown, with Hallgrímskirkja as a beacon, parked on a side street, and got blown sideways again on the way in to 12 Tónar, the best record store perhaps anywhere. My friend there had the new album displayed prominently, was listening to it, and a crowd was huddled around the couches, eagerly discussing it.

I'm about to put the new album, Takk, in the CD player for the first time. I'm savoring a day that doesn't come around often.

sunnudagur, september 11, 2005


I was sitting in a beautiful cafe this morning with E across from me. It was Sunday morning, quiet downtown (the city doesn't really get going until 1 pm on a Sunday), and bright sunlight was spilling in through the tall windows and lighting up the yellow walls of the place. We had fresh bagel sandwiches on real plates and foamy mugs of coffee. Outside, the air was fresh, the ocean just down the street a bright blue with the majestic Esja rising up behind it.

We were feeling happy, the happiness of the blessed. I was flipping through the Sunday version of the oldest Icelandic daily, Morgunblaðið, looking at the ads for new couches and cars, the colorful pictures of food, the article on the new central bank president, and the annual ads looking for help with the sheep roundup. I flipped a page and my stomach turned. The picture was a view from directly above of miscellaneous formless shapes in a leaking black trash bag lying on a highway overpass. It took me many seconds of staring to realize that it was a human body. There was a giant spray-painted orange arrow, at least as big as the body, pointing directly at it.

I have been reading as much as I could these past days on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in many flavors of the American media online. I have become obsessed with following the story. But here in an Icelandic paper was the first time I saw a picture that brought the true horror home to me. Right now in the country of my birth, bodies are still lying uncollected in a major city. Each body a life, someone's uncle or grandma, someone who had a house and a kitchen and funny stories they liked to tell. The shame I feel about this happening in a land of which I was once fervently proud makes me sick.

The Katrina story has been big here, front page news on many of the days since the storm. I have fielded questions from a few Icelanders who are incredulous about the shoddy and bungling way the US has looked after its own in the aftermath. To them I can't really respond. There is no way to defend or explain what has happened, especially to citizens of a tidy country where people drive north every fall to help the farmers round up their sheep.

Sure, Iceland is tiny in population (I can already hear my US readers saying), but I'm hard-pressed to think of any community of 300,000 in the US having zero poverty, 100% literacy, and good education and healthcare for all. There's no sizable chunk of the population in Iceland who would be forgotten in a natural disaster, left to rot on the streets for days afterward. One hurricane exposed for Icelanders and the rest of the world an ugly truth that many Americans have long acknowledged: the US is a society that leaves many behind.

föstudagur, september 09, 2005

fjörmenningarnir frá baunabæ

Apologies for the long dry spell here at Iceland Report. Our one-man staff has been swamped for the last 10 days. Last week saw two 5 a.m. Keflavík airport runs plus an one-day business trip to the north. Then there was the Golden Circle tour, the party, the reference call from Vietnam, and the research paper massaging for my Czech economist friend. Add to that apartment viewings on a nightly basis, and the fact that I also work, and you begin to get the idea, Gentle Reader.

I felt like Al Pacino in Heat. "I've got three dead bodies on the sidewalk off Venice Boulevard, Justine! I'm sorry if the goddamn chicken got... over... cooked..."

But the redeeming feature of the last week or so was the fact that E and I had not one but four visitors from the Other Promised Land, the Hub of the Universe. Even after only a year in Iceland, it's easy to forget that it's special and think of it as just another place, but showing new people around always makes me remember the magic. I always see the place again through new eyes.

I picked up the crew in the early morning of Friday, standing at the airport with a bogus limo-driver sign with some semi-derogatory nicknames. (Not many other bus drivers there had signs that said "Fatty", for example. And every single new arrival coming through the customs door reads your sign, I learned.)

While I was working on Friday, E showed our guests around Our New Fair City, then we all met at the Daily Driver swimming pool in Laugardalur, where the slightly daft pool attendant heaped abuse on us for broken-locker related issues, and the Fellas enjoyed their first hot pots. That night the six of us cooked up an epic lamb-and-potatoes dinner and then sat around and drank wine and sampled Icelandic sweets and laughed about things afterwards. And they all started saying "Já, já."

Saturday we were up bright and early and took the crew on a two-car Golden Circle trip that encompassed not only the normal sights of Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, but also the added bonuses of the Nesjavellir hot water pumping stations, Þingvalla Lake, and the effervescent swimming pool of Hveragerði. That night we threw a party for them and then dragged our exhausted selves downtown afterwards.

On Sunday morning the Beantown Four embarked on a two-day whirlwind adventure that took them all the way down the Icelandic south coast and back in time for sandwiches at Smáralind on Tuesday before they headed back to Boston.

Fatty, Patty, Paully, and Steph: it was fantastic having you here. I wish you could have stayed longer, and I hope we'll see you again for mad fireworks on New Year's!

fimmtudagur, september 08, 2005

ný íbúð

E and I signed a lease on a new place this week. Same neighborhood, but with an infinitely better view. There's so much water out the window, it'll be like living on a cruise ship. Or it might be Iceland's answer to the now-famous Jugboat. Except without the rats. Or the police locks. Or the sticky-cabinet galley. Or the Chinese food cooking smells wafting up the stairs. Or the Alewife view. Or the water pouring in on me every night. Or the midnight calls of "Bail ye porthole, sire!"

Anyway it should be a nice place.