27 May 2005

cruising, Reykjavik style

Monday evening found J and I a little restless, and in need of some entertainment, so we decided to go for a drive. We had heard about the new pride of Iceland, their largest fishing ship ever that had just arrived in the harbor here, so we thought we'd check it out. It´s named Engey, and is over 100 meters long, so it wasn't hard to spot in the harbor. When something that big is in town, everyone knows because there is so little else in the area that sticks up that far.

The ship was off on the far side of the harbor, and we wanted to get up close, so J took us down the secret side road. It starts near the recycling center, passes a local coffeeshop, and winds through the business end of the harbor, where the oil tankers unload and some of the fish catch is processed. There also happens to be some places to pick up tents and lawn ornaments (want a fountain? how about a concrete dinosaur?) down next to the massive oil tanks at the end of the road. We thought we would be mixing with the real salt-of-the-earth shipyard workers, so we weren't prepared for a guy in a 4x4 to drive by, sipping on a milkshake. When he took off down the dock towards Engey, slaloming between the tugboat gangplank and the empty fish-storage boxes stacked along the wharf buildings, so J followed him, since he had no more business being there than we did.

At the end of the dock, surrounded by wharf equipment and cranes, we found an odd assemblage of cars and people, all seemingly with the same plan to see what the new ship was all about. Here we thought it was this crazy and unusual thing to do, and it was just business as usual for these people who had all caravanned out to see the new arrival.

We got more of the story yesterday we were at coffee with some locals, and one of them said that it's what some people always do- there is a certain population of old fishermen who make it their business to know exactly which boats have arrived and go down to inspect them on a daily basis. I guess J and I are just getting an early start on it.

24 May 2005

the song on the street

I just heard a bunch of girls on their way home from school singing "dancing queen" at the top of their lungs. This is a country that likes a bit of music.

For example, last Saturday, J and I were on our way to the car to drive to IKEA when he said, "do I hear music?"

We saw a police escort motorcycle at the end of our street, so we jogged down there. Round the corner came a motley 15-piece marching band in full uniform, tuba waving, drums a-beating. We thought, "oo, a parade!"

The band passed, and behind them came a stream of kids and parents, some holding balloons, some with their faces painted. There was nothing more to this parade, and the trail of kids was about 5 times the size of the band that led them. At the end of the street, the band turned the corner smartly with a fanfare of drums, and the kids and the police escort sweeping along the back disappeared with them.

We're not sure what they were celebrating, or even where they were going...

23 May 2005


It has recently come to my attention that there is an undeniable link between swimming pools and hot-dog wagons here. There already are lots of hot-dog wagons here, but every pool, no matter how remotely located, has one hawking the wares outside. I asked an Icelandic woman about it yesterday, and she said, "Of course there's a hot-dog wagon outside. It's what you always get after swimming."

The new pool J and I went to on Friday was no exception to the hot-dog/pool pairing. It was the original Sundhöll of Reykjavík, located just behind the famous Hallgrímskirkja. It was built in 1937 before Icelandic independence, and still has a lot of original details. The locker rooms were all that "sanitary" style white ceramic tile and solid old doors with nice chrome fittings, and instead of a row of lockers, they were organized like mini dressing rooms, where the open locker door created the door to the cubicle. Each was even equipped with a mirror, stool, and hangers. No public nudity required to change out of your clothes here! (except when you get to the shower part... that is just as public as all the other pools)

It´s also now my favorite nuddpottur, with jets located below the seat level for calf massaging, and a panoramic view out across the northeastern part of the city. The pool itself was nothing special- the only inside pool here, and divided up in a way to make the lap swimming part less than the usually standard 25 meters. In the summer it must be an interesting destination though, with special gender-separated roof decks for sunning. I went up to the women´s side, and it was just a bunch of empty deck chairs on astroturf, surrounded by high plexiglass privacy screens.

Unfortunately, when we left the pool, it was late enough in the evening that the hot-dog wagon had closed. Better luck next time, I guess.

20 May 2005

the assembled multitudes

It's interesting to see what new things have great variety that are totally different from what I got used to seeing. In Boston, there is eternal variety in Redsox paraphernalia, and a trip to the store will give you about 20 orange juice options to pick from. If you want to see a great variety of people, 15 minutes in Downtown Crossing will give you an interesting cross-section of population.

In Iceland, the variety is still there, but it appears in new categories.
For example-

This neighborhood is crawling with cats. For example, in the house across the street, I can see 3 in the windows right now. There's a black and white one curled up with a siamese in the upstairs windowsill, and a little tortoise-shell kitten in what looks like the laundry room window. I go outside and meet striped tabbies on the corner, lithe black kittens on the main shopping street, furry orange longhairs having conversations with small dogs, and wary white cats peeking from yards. They weave through the car tires, they tiptoe along the fence lines, they roll on the rough lava sidewalks.

Next, mayonnaise-based sauces. There are special ones for hamburgers, hot dogs, salad, and lamb, and then there's the extra-special mustard based sauce for hotdogs, pylsusinneps. This one comes in a white plastic bottle with a red top and a red logo of the company,a sprinting hot-dog man in a chef's hat. The pared-down design and single-color printing looks more like something you'd find in the garage to lube up a squeaky door hinge than a sauce to put on food, but it's absolutely the best thing I've had on a hotdog (except for the crunchy toasted onions...) It also goes well as a salad dressing, on hamburgers, and the great Icelandic delicacy, fiskibollur (fishballs)

Next, and a personal favorite. the dairy product selection. There's about 20 kinds of yogurt/milk/cheese to pour on cereal or eat with a spoon, and from there it branches out even more. To start with, my personal favorite is the pourable yogurt. This comes in about 6 flavors, including my breakfast choice, the aloe vera variety. Then there's flavored buttermilk, skyr, and pourable skyr. For those of you who haven't heard of skyr yet, it tastes and looks somewhat like yogurt, but is created using a cheesemaking process with rennet. It's unique to Iceland and is very addictive. I just last week discovered that they also make a dessert skyr, which tastes like mascarpone or ricotta, and comes with chocolate or caramel sauce in a convenient single-serve container. A few days ago I even discovered another variety that looks like some kind of cracker spread, available with pepper, spice, onion, or garlic flavor. It must be tough to be lactose intolerant here!

Next, the assembled bric-a-brac in windows. It seems like the lease for renting a first-floor apartment must come with a special accessory clause, stating that the occupant must put little geegaws on the windowsill. I should first mention that windowsills here are none of those little scrawny narrow ones- every place I've seen has sills at least a foot deep, which becomes filled with statues, lace doilies, candles, beer mugs, driftwood pieces, dolls, pieces of glass, shells, stones, birdhouses, plants, stained glass panels, and little stuffed animals and birds. J and I have taken to it as well, and have several plants and candles, an odd boat float I found on the south coast, and of course, the Redsox sign. Haven't seen that in anyone else's window!

18 May 2005

ten, Martha's Vineyard, nine Martha's Vineyard

So, I'm here in Iceland now, and the daily reminders that I'm in another place are piling up. Yesterday I was at the pool and there were three girls playing some kind of Marco Polo type game that involved slow counting. Instead of counting, "One, one thousand, two, one thousand" they were counting, "tíu Vestmannaeyjar, níu Vestmannaeyjar." This is like kids in Mass counting, "Ten, Martha's Vineyard, nine, Martha's Vineyard" since Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) are a group of Islands off the south coast.

One of the other things that has been hard to get used to is the light here. We're down to one hour of real darkness, between 1 and 2 am, so when I go to bed, it's in this summery dusk that is usually still bright enough to read by. The evening and the sunset stretch so long that it's hard to know when bedtime is, since 10:30 looks like I used to think 8 would look. On the other end of the day, it's also very odd, like when the party to celebrate that I am "nýkomin til landsins" happened on Friday. Like all good Iceparties, we all ended up downtown in various bars and clubs, leaving the house at 1:30 am or so.

At our second stop that evening, I noticed that the sky outside was starting to brighten, and by the time we left, it was 3 am and fully daylight outside. The streets were crowded with people, and the lines were still long outside the clubs and bars.