þriðjudagur, október 31, 2006


Yesterday I stopped in at Breytt og Bætt, the tailor shop hidden away on the previously unknown third floor (spennandi!) of the Smáralind shopping mall. The tailor there had been recommended to me as "Best in the Land". She's Polish but has been living here on the ice cube nine years and speaks comfortable and pleasant Icelandic. She also runs a booming business, judging by the foot traffic in and out of that godforsaken corridor location next to the Smáralind corporate offices. (What is it about the office sections of shopping malls that makes them have a universal feel of bleak desolation? I am remembering the office/bathroom hallways at the old Billerica Mall, next to Top o' the Town. And Burlington Mall, too, by the old food court that was across from Eric Fuch's Hobbies.)

Childhood reminiscences aside, I needed to get a Beantown-era suit re-fitted on account of all this Iceland-era swimmin', and my new Polish-Icelander friend said "No probalo!" After all the pins were in place and she was hanging the jacket up on her to-sew rack, I told her that the last guy to work on that was the classic Cambridge fixture Joe Caluti at Rizzo Tailors, custom-maker of John Kerry's suits. I asked her to evaluate his craftsmanship.

"Oh, fo' sho'!" she said (in perfect Icelandic) and then she did one better. She told me that the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson himself, had stopped in recently with a suit that had been made for him in Italy. Apparently it was a total mess, needing no less than 15 alterations and commanding a total tailoring tab that required a couple of new bond issues. I'd like to get her and Old Man Rizzo together on that Icelandic suit-making reality television show Allt í fötum to see who's really got the right stuff.

Today's word of the day (to resurrect a summer favorite) is klæðskeri for tailor. The word is a two-parter, with the first part coming from the verb klæða, meaning "clothe". Think "clothe", "cloth", "clad" and you get the idea of the common roots: they all come from an old English word clæþa and I would bet a new suit that that word is related to the Icelandic klæða. The second part, skeri, means "one who cuts". So a tailor is a clothes-cutter in Icelandic. (And by the way, that word skeri is a long-lost brother to the English word shear.)

mánudagur, október 30, 2006

costume party

So last Friday the company threw a celebrity costume gig downtown. I went as a celebrity who's been in the news a lot recently. (You can look at the pictures and decide for yourself how convincing I was.) I didn't win any prizes in the official costume competition, but for the People on Laugavegur, who I kept going outside to visit, I was a big hit. (After all, my celebrity needs the People just as much as they need her.) For the uninitiated, Laugavegur is the Main Street of Reykjavík and on weekend nights it becomes an endless parade of cars on the cruise, later supplemented with swaying pedestrians on the sidewalks and lined up outside the bars. All that I and my swan-necked coworker "Björk" had to do was go out on the sidewalk with our props and wave at the cars. We got smiles, cheers, people rolling down their windows to talk, passersby saying "til hamingju!", and one driver even handed me a mostly-finished ice cream "for the baby". Even the patrolling Lögreglan looked on with some amusement. Well, OK, maybe just amusement on the inside.

little l.a.

There's a lot about the nighttime Reykjavík sprawl that reminds me of Los Angeles. I am thinking especially of the view driving down the Höfðabakki hill from Breiðholt, with the whole night city spread out below. Iceland's capital has got a microcosm of all the LA geography: brightly lit expressways, forests of residential lights spread over gentle hills, a ring of mountains, and black ocean in the distance.

Or maybe that observation was just down to watching Heat for the 17th time this weekend. So how about it, Michael Mann, want to bring Al and "Bobby" here for the remake? Maybe Waingro somehow survived that LAX hotel-room shooting to taunt Neil McCauley down by the Eimskip container port.

sunnudagur, október 29, 2006

roll call

When I started getting serious about writing the IR, I imagined that the readership would be predominantly American. In fact, Iceland-based readers have for some time made up the plurality of readership, currently at around 37%. In light of all this local support, Iceland Report would like to recognize recent readers from the following esteemed Icelandic institutions. Thanks for reading IR!
  • Alþing - Icelandic Parliament
  • Bifreiða og Landbúnaðarvélar - literally, Cars and Tractors (car dealership)
  • DeCode Genetics
  • Dómsmálaráðuneytið - Icelandic Department of Justice
  • Flugfélagið Atlanta - Air Atlanta Icelandic (airplane wet leasing)
  • Flugleiðir - Icelandair
  • Fréttablaðið - literally, News Paper (the free daily newspaper)
  • Glitnir - formerly Íslandsbanki (Iceland's Bank)
  • Hagstofa Islands - Iceland Statistics Bureau
  • Háskóli Íslands - The University of Iceland
  • Háskólinn í Reykjavík - The University of Reykjavík
  • Kauphöll Íslands - The Iceland Stock Exchange
  • Kennaraháskóli Íslands - The Teachers' University of Iceland
  • Kópavogsbær - The Town of Kópavogur
  • Landbúnaðarháskólinn Hvanneyri - The Agricultural University of Hvanneyri
  • Landsbanki Íslands - literally, the Land's Bank
  • Landsspítali - literally, the Land's Hospital
  • Landsvirkjun - National Power Company
  • Listaháskóli Íslands - The Art University of Iceland
  • Morgunblaðið - literally, The Morning Paper (Iceland's most respected fishwrap)
  • Orkustofnun - The National Energy Authority Of Iceland
  • Reiknistofa Lífeyrissjóða - Icelandic Pension Fund Processing Center
  • Rekstrarfélag Stjórrnarrádsbygginga - Icelandic Government Building Management (yeah!)
  • Reykjavíkurborg - The City of Reykjavík
  • Síminn - literally, The Phone (Iceland's Ma Bell)
  • Tryggingamiðstöðin - literally, Insurance Center (insurance company)
  • Viðskiptaháskólinn á Bifröst - Bifröst Business School
Y'all come back now, y'hear?

föstudagur, október 27, 2006


I have a confession to make. Ever since back in '02 when I was but a lowly kennitölulaus tourist, I have celebrated the submarine sandwiches at Hlölla-Bátar without a second thought. I was like a card-carrying member of the Christian Coalition and Hlölli was my Republican Party. I simply latched on, no questions asked. Hlölli, with his special Hlölli sauce, made the finest sandwiches in the world, bar none. I was a man who had found Sandwich Jesus, and my credit card statement bears witness to many many an (early) Sunday-morning offering.

I really didn't even realize that there was any competition for Hlölli and his sacred Pinnabátur (Pin Boat) sandwich, until my friend Gabriel asked one night, "Are you a Hlölli or a Nonni guy?"

"Hlölli!" I answered, without a thought. (I Believed, after all.) But that got me to wondering: Who was this Nonni? I had noticed the store a few times, in passing only, but dismissed it out of hand as just another downtown sjoppa. Nonni's place is a little bit out of the way, after all, tucked away there on Hafnarstræti away from the bright-lights-big-city neon of Ingólfstorg. I had never even considered the possibility that Hlölli could have a real competitor, so never gave the Nonnabiti shop a second glance.

So, after the Deco gig last night, I was really curious to try Nonnabiti but also eager to reaffirm my belief in Hlölli's unquestioned superiority. We walked up the steps and into the warm, bright space and that was the first thing that struck me. Unlike the paper-strewn chaos of Hlölli's waiting area, Nonni had a nice place to hang out and eat, with some tables and newspapers. It could maybe even be called cozy. "Ah, but the food can't match the Hlölli magic," I thought.

Nonni seemed to have a slightly narrower range of sandwich options, and he's also a little less tourist-focused (English translations of the desktop-published menu were posted off by the door, as an afterthought). In a downtown that seems to be increasingly set up for the convenience of British and American tourists, this was a tad refreshing. Up at the counter, I could see through the glass to the fixin's and they did seem to be fresher and with more variety. I was intrigued.

So I decided the best way to resolve the issue would be to deliberately benchmark my Pinnabátur fave at Hlölli against the nearest Nonni equivalent. So I ordered the Lambabátur (lamb-boat), thus setting one epic Reykjavík lambwich against the other. The order-taker was friendly and unharried and didn't display any of the trademark Hlölli gruffness. I sat down and read Morgunblaðið headlines and waited. The sandwich seemed to take a little longer to prepare, but maybe that was just the anticipation.

When I took delivery, the Lambabátur was wrapped in already-greasy paper and in the Nonni paper bag. It came with fresh lettuce and crunchy pickles and toasty bread. But it wasn't until I bit into that crispy-fried pile of thin-sliced lamb that I was converted. There was more lamb than Hlölli and it was cooked to perfection, with crispy bacon-like edges. The whole sandwich together was a masterwork. Nonni, you are the new frelsari. I have seen the Light, and tomorrow stands bright before me.


There's a new nightspot in town, and in a town of not too many nightspots but a lot of nightlife, a new place can sometimes take on an almost mythical status. This one is called Deco, and it's situated in the old Lyf & Heilsa pharmacy spot on Austurstræti. As such, it's positioned to form the third leg of an Ice-yuppie Bermuda Triangle with nightclub Rex just across the street and yup-bar Thorvaldsen almost directly next door. We'll see if any of this comes to fruition as Deco only officially opened last night. (Although I hear the place was actually unofficially open last weekend in time for the Iceland Shamwaves music festival.)

I think Deco shoes some promise, at least from an interior design standpoint. It has a more clean, well-lit and café-like feel than its counterparts in the Triangle. (The club atmosphere of Rex can feel downright sinister on some nights.) But last night's grand opening, even with free beer, seemed to attract a predominantly sausage crowd. Or maybe it was the free beer itself that was the problem. In any event, such was the paucity of females when my two (male) friends and I arrived that we felt as though we were the "fresh meat", getting chatted up by a fat dude from Sauðarkrókur almost immediately. So let's hope the Ratio improves in a normal weekend situation. I think a lot of us are ready for a good new place to add in to the 101 nightlife mix.

fimmtudagur, október 26, 2006

army of god

The section of Kópavogur where I work is home to some of the world's worst architecture. But in terms of sheer ugliness, one building stands head and shoulders above its neighbors. Next to the Kárahnjúkur dam it is perhaps the biggest eyesore in all of the Land. It's a rambling boxy building that looks something like a white shiny refrigerator, with giant orange and blue crosses painted on the sides. Adding to the sense of shab are a series of permanently running "reefer" containers jacked up on pavement blocks at various locations around the building. On two sides are lots full of old cars, including what appears to be a perfect replica of my sometimes-beloved 1988 Carl. This building apparently houses some sort of church/cult and it draws quite the crowd on a Sunday morning, when the rest of the Capital Area is fast asleep.

The newest addition to the churchsore is a couple of military vehicles, painted in camouflage colors. One is the original-style Army Hummer, modified with large bubble tires. The other is what looks to be a giant base-surplus troop transport truck. For much of this week, the Hummer was posed "in action" in front of the church and halfway out into the street with one front wheel atop an 18" high pile of paving blocks. The presence of the military vehicles makes me a bit uneasy.

We have to walk by this building every day on the way to lunch, and the other day my coworkers and I were speculating that really what was being built here was an army of God. They're slowly collecting the vehicles out front, and the mysterious reefers could very well contain the Kool-Aid-comatose Warriors of Light. Once the leaders collect enough old vehicles and frozen parishoners, the Final Assault can begin. Watch out, Kópavogskirkja!

föstudagur, október 13, 2006


So there's a huge tent out on the lawn in front of the main building at the University of Iceland. In fact, I once read an article that claimed that this tent was in fact the largest tent in all of the Land. But I had no idea what it was for. It's appeared every year at this time since I've been here.

Well, I just wasn't plugged-in enough to the 20-something university kid scene, apparently, because I had no idea that this tent contains a full-scale Icelandic rendering of Oktoberfest. Professor Zoph and I went last night around 9:30 and the place was jammed, a massive magic tent room that was warm and not a little steamy. There were dozens of long tables set up and these were filled to capacity with sweater-wearing jabbering smoking Icelandic college kids. At the back of the tent was a plastic-covered monolith of a bar with an army of students to work it, fetching draft Vikings and emptying kids' debit card accounts into the three glowing card swipers clustered in the middle. There were at least a couple hundred people in that tent, and anytime there are a couple hundred of something in Iceland, right there and then you know something is going down.

We grabbed a table near the stage and drank beers and talked to our slightly insane (in that variety of mild insanity that college freshman seem to display) tablemates and were joined by more friends. A small assortment of Munich-costumed Oktoberfest girls milled around the tent, seemingly unsure of what to do. Later it transpired that there was a screechingly MCed costume contest up at the stage. This was followed by a dude idly spinning classic rock tunes (Iceland loves the Zep) and the classic rock seemed to trigger general milling on a tent-wide scale. There was a widely shared buzz in the air, though, for tonight. Tonight is apparently the night. So sad I won't be able to make it. But maybe you can, gentle reader.

fimmtudagur, október 12, 2006


Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in the Land yesterday afternoon. He's here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the US-USSR summit that took place between him and Ronald Reagan here in October 1986 at the cozy Höfði house near downtown Reykjavík.

Back in those days, I was a kid starting seventh grade, and that summit was the first time I had really heard of Reykjavík. (I learned about Iceland and where it was in second grade.) I remember the graphic on the front page of the Lowell Sun, showing the location of Iceland and Reykjavík. I remember trying to get my tongue around the strange word that's now in my address. I remember being fascinated by the whole concept of a summit, of two leaders of great powers sitting down in the same room and talking together.

In this time of global tumult, it's somehow reassuring to see Gorbachev in the news again. He's a reminder to me of a time when things seemed to be moving in the right direction. Velkominn aftur til landsins, Hr. Gorbatsjov!

laugardagur, október 07, 2006

how to stay out of a friday-night fight

Last night I had the unfortunate luck to have to defuse the second "request for fight" downtown in my recent memory. The part they don't tell you in the hot-springs-clean-air-healthy-food travel brochures is that there is quite a seamy underside to the downtown weekend scene in Reykjavík and part of that is the occasional band-o'-punks looking for some action. A guy walking along by himself, even on crowded Laugavegur, is sometimes provocation enough.

Last night as I passed four guys, late teens, one of them yelled in Icelandic, "Hey, you in the grey sweater." And I felt a small stone or bottle cap hit me in the back, so I turned around to face them.

So, here's how to do the defusing:

1. Don't let yourself get provoked. Stay cool.
2. Make no indication that you have any knowledge whatsoever of Icelandic. Stick to English. (Sometimes this alone is enough for the defuse.)
3. Stay out of the personal space of the wanna-be fighters and keep them out of your personal space.
4. Try some quick friendly chatter, see if that calms the situation.
5. Say clearly, "I'm not going to fight you. We are not going to fight."
6. When things are reasonably calm, walk away.

That's what works for me, folks. Now here's hoping (7-9-13) that you (or I) don't have much reason to use these skills in the future.

miðvikudagur, október 04, 2006

all your base

This week the US Naval Air Station at Keflavík (the same facility where many of you have landed, as it is also shared with the international airport) took down the American and Icelandic flags for the last time in a joint Icelandic-American ceremony. The closing of this Cold War relic marks the end of decades of American military presence in Iceland. It also signifies the loss of hundreds of Icelandic jobs; many Keflavík locals worked there on the base. I got an email this week from Iceland Report reader Don on the topic of the base:

Hi Jared,

I have been a regular reader of IR for some time now.

I'm an airline pilot and live in Seattle now, but a long time ago I flew for Eastern and lived in the beautiful city of Swampscott, MA.

My connection with Iceland goes back to 1976, when I flew P-3s from the base, tracking Russian subs during the Cold War. I was also a flight instructor for the base flying club, which got me hooked on Iceland. Once you get away from the KEF area, and into surrounding areas, the beauty is breathtaking. I have been coming back ever since.

Right now, I am at the KEF airport, waiting for my flight to Minneapolis and then on to Seattle. I came for the closing of the base this past Saturday, as I had to say good-bye.

Last night, while in my room, I was watching Stöð 1, which I believe is similar to PBS, and they had an interesting documentary about the closing of the base and the security of Iceland. While it was in Icelandic, they did have interviews with some folks that were in English, so I tried to follow it as best as I could.

The base has always been a sore point with Icelanders.

In 1976, the base was not the base you know of... it was called "the agreed area"... and anyone could enter this area... the only guards were Icelandic customs officials stationed at exit points, to preclude selling food/merchandise/alcohol bought on the base on the black market.

I bring this up because Icelanders would regularly come to "the agreed area" to be sponsored into one of the clubs and drink, the cost being much, much less than in a club in Iceland. The downside was that they had to talk with us, and I got into some very interesting political conversations.

My question for you is how do Icelanders feel about closure of the base? There is a bit of an economic effect with the loss of jobs on the base, but the economy really seems to be booming from what I have seen, and perhaps they feel better off with it gone.

I enjoy reading IR, and I salute you on your move to a very beautiful land. People think I'm crazy for coming here so much (7 times in 2006), but once Iceland gets you, it really gets you... I am sure you know what I mean.

Yes, I do know what he means. And Icelandic readers, how about it? How do you feel about the base being gone?