31 January 2006

By popular request

I have added photos to my Flickr account! Now posts from August might make a little more sense with this photo, and you can relive the October fishing trip with pictures of S waiting for a bite, and the wreck of the Orn at sunset. There's a few other Ice-themed photos for those of you who want to browse further.

Springtime confusion

These past few days have felt like real and proper spring here. The air is balmy enough to open windows and let the chilly-but-invigorating flavors of moisture, things growing, and the sea drift in. It's actually been marginally sunny too, in that capricious Icelandic way, and the snow on the mountains to the north has receded to all but a few veins in the gullies.

Civil twilight now is already the same time as in Boston will be on the first of March, so even the light is beginning to linger like spring. For those of you who don't know, civil twilight is the dusky time before sunrise and after sunset when you can still see enough to go about your business (of course there are all kinds of technical definitions too). This dusk-time is twice as long up here in the north, thanks to the lazy angle of the sun relative to the horizon, and it is much-needed extra light at this time of year.

Yesterday, J and I left work at 4:45 to a fully, properly bright afternoon complete with sunset-colored clouds and big expanses of blue sky. With such a day we had to be outside while it lasted, so we pulled on sport clothes and headed to the path in front of our house. This paved seaside walk heads out to the Seltjarnarnes lighthouse and beyond and is protected from the sea by piles of lava boulders. Regardless of the weather, there seems to always be a few people out walking, biking, and pushing baby carriages (yes, even in the scary snowstorms we do get here), but it requires more diligence while walking than the average seawalk. Only a few steps in, it’s evident that the sea here cannot be contained by the rocks, and big chunks of the pavement are shifted, torn up, or missing altogether. Even yesterday, a relatively calm day by Ice-standards, the waves sprayed up and over the wall frequently, and the path was strewn with still-soggy kelp and seaweed.

Walking out there reminded me of why I always, always want to live near the sea. The flavor of the ocean and the irrepressible breezes are things I never want to be far away from. Of course, being near the ocean also means being near all sorts of weather fronts, so halfway through the walk, it started to pour. I have learned quickly enough that no matter how clear it may look when you leave the house, you will almost never regret wearing rain gear, so I was ready for it. J took off to finish the trip home at a run, but I pulled up my hood and kept walking, watching as darkness fell and the rain melted into the sea.

Ship sighting: Such thrills! The sand dredging boat Sóley that’s always drifting around at the mouth of the harbor is in the slip for repairs! I will have to go get a closer look at it while it’s up on blocks like that and see if it is really dragging in the water like it looks. There’s also a tank ship with the fascinating name of Aqipi Ittuk, another one of the Royal Arctic line with the Greenland connections. While I was looking for the photo of the last ship, I also came across this other site, a German page of ship models. Unlike your usual ship-in-a-bottle schooners, these are workboats- cargo ships, tankers, dredgers, fishing boats, and the like. I particularly like the Coast Guard model’s action shots.

29 January 2006

where it's made

One thing I love about living in a small island nation is that whenever something is made here, I know where it is made. The bread we buy is baked in the next zip code over, our milk is from the town over the mountain, the cheese is from towns we know and have been to, the cod liver oil (if you are into that kind of thing) is further around the bay from our house. We see where the fish comes in, and now I have also seen where the flour is ground.

A few days ago I was on my way downtown with friend and co-worker K, who had to stop by her dad's office to pick something up. I got visions of offices and desk jobs when she first said it though, instead of a flour and feed mill on the harbor. We drove down to the Eimskip warehouse, and there behind it were the familiar towers of a grain mill that I'd never noticed before. We parked next to the flour trucks getting hosed off, and passed through the warehouse door. Inside we made our way through the pallets stacked high with every kind of flour imaginable (looking for rice flour? They got you covered), all packaged in food-service sized sacks. They were bagging the store-bag size that day as well, and I got to see the assembly line, where the flour was pouring down from the sifting machinery, filling the bags, and getting sealed. The packed bags toddled their way down the conveyor belt under the watchful eye of a worker, then were shrink-wrapped in multiple packages and set on a pallet by another guy.

We continued through to the lab where we found K's dad, the verksmiðjustjóri (foreman is the best translation I can give..) himself, talking flour theory with another guy, both clad in the Icelandic workman-standard coverall. Her dad was just as a miller should be- tall, gruff-yet-genial, and with huge hands that look like they get the job done. He was happy to show me around some of the features of the place, so I got a bit of a tour. Off to one side was a full-sized industrial oven from Sweden, stacked with baking pans of all shapes and sizes on the top. In addition to producing flour, the company also imports various mixes from other countries, and on their website they have a bread of the month recipe, so they used the oven to test everything out. There was also a row of shelves lined with little tubs of flour, each labeled with a local flour customer. I recognized the names of several bakeries, as well as our downstairs neighbor, Dominos. They were all samples from the flour storage of each place, and they had a special machine to register the moisture content and protein of the samples, to make sure the flour was being stored properly.

K and I had other places to go, so we had to leave then, but now every time I open my bag of flour at home, I'll be able to imagine the stacks of flour on the pallets. The next time I buy a snúður from the bakery down the street, I'll know that K's dad is keeping an eye on the flour storage. It's a nice thought!

Ship sighting: One of the unfortunate side-effects of wintertime in a new country is new flu strains, so I have been sick a lot lately. I stayed home on Thursday, so I was able to take my daily mountain photo complete with Actual Oceangoing Action. Check the notes in the photo by hovering your mouse over it.

27 January 2006

Further culinary forays

These are not Major Icelandic National Foods, but since they're new to me, I figured they were comment-worthy.

Kókó mjólk with its stripey super-cat on the container, is one of those things that kids grow up with here, and adults still drink in those being-a-kid moments. I'm not usually one for chocolate milk (my brother used to drink it almost every day after school) but this stuff was different, more cocoa milk than chocolate milk, with a more dark-chocolate flavor to it. This is best served with a triangle of snúður, which is a big round sticky-bun type of confection, usually frosted in chocolate by a very generous hand. This may sound like a wretchedly sweet pairing with all the chocolate flavors, but the relative simplicity of the snúður base and the smoothness of the kókó mjólk makes it a winning combination. Plus, kókó mjólk comes in little juice boxes, just like I used to get in grade school on field trips, so that's cool too.

Next, and I can't blame Iceland for this one, are sour winegums. I had an English friend when I was in college who used to rave about winegums. He'd come back to Boston with a few packets from England and hoard them, parcelling them out slowly so they would last until his next trip. With this love in mind, I bought a packet of Sour Winegums at Krónan, but Sour Patch Kids they're not. First of all, the "sour" sugar is for lame-o's. Not a pucker to be had when eating this sub-par sour sugar. When you bust through that, the flavors are all weird and English, like "pear". I have never gotten used to pear flavor, whether lollipops, jellybeans, or gummy things. Most of the other flavors I am unable to recognize.

On the plus side, they come in all kinds of different shapes and their texture is wonderfully resilient, but as a replacement for sour-patch kids bought at the movie store, they are sadly lacking.

One final note: Waffles are MEANT to be eaten with rhubarb jam and whipped cream. I can't get enough of creamy-plus-tart-n-sweet flavor combination.

Ship sighting: Engey RE1 is back, and tied up in the prime front-seat location. Short trip, I guess. Also, the harbor website reports that 1765 ships made their way through the Reykjavík harbor last year. Almost five boats a day, all of which have to pass by my window. I'm keeping an eye out!

23 January 2006

This, I miss

Today is a rarely golden sun-day, but for some reason it is making me reminisce about the Riverway in Boston. This path winds along a river near where I used to live, curving round a tree-rimmed pond, and ending up in the Arnold Arboretum. It’s punctuated by benches, curved bridges, and trees of many varieties. On sunny afternoons in June, this is a magical rollerblade, and strangely unpopulated when compared to the Esplanade. Even in the most city-dust days, I could find the smell of green things here, and pockets of the New England seasonal smell I loved so much when living in Vermont. Each month has a special flavor, and it wouldn’t seem like a proper spring or autumn until I had smelled seasonal indicators.

This path is magical though. In the midst of a humming city this is a string of countryside peace. Whenever I had forgotten why I chose to live where I did, a country girl in the middle of the city, I’d go out there and stand on the Jamaica Pond boathouse and it all seemed obvious again. It didn’t matter the month, it didn’t matter what had happened the rest of the day- on the Riverway it was all ok again. Since I can’t swim as mindlessly or gracefully as I can rollerblade, that feeling has not come to me as unfailingly in the pool yet, but hopefully it will soon. I also suspect that what I am really missing is days of light and sunshine after I look over the photos I selected to illustrate the places are the most sun-saturated of the choices I had. It’s easy to forget that it doesn’t look like that all the time there in Boston. I hear that they’re actually getting snow there now, but in my mind’s eye it is always June there now.

I suppose this is an odd entry to be posting after I spent last week describing my efforts to get out of Boston, but I think I take it as a reminder to always appreciate where I am, whatever the time, because I never know what I will remember about a place or time later. And so with that, I will turn my eyes to the amazing layered sunset sky outside the window. The light may be short here, but it certainly manages to be spectacular while it is around.

Ship Sighting: Víkingur is finally gone! This boat has been in for repairs since the beginning of December, and actually left for a day or two, then reappeared in the drydock. Maybe I shouldn’t speak so quickly... it could be gone for yet another test run and will be back again. That can’t be a cheap thing to keep doing though, to reel this enormous boat out into the water and then haul it back out just for a one-day spin.

On the comings-and-goings list is Egbert Wagenborg. I’m sure I’ve seen this one before and probably mentioned it already because I love the name. It’s just the kind of sturdy-yet-clumsy name a cargo ship should have (hopefully I haven’t got any readers named Egbert!).

22 January 2006

night swimming

It's been so long since I swam in the sunshine that when I managed to do it today, everything seemed too bright and tropical. I could see rays filtering through the blue water, and when I turned to breathe, pink-edged clouds framed blue sky. The pools here are open all year, thanks to the abundance of hot water, and they have become an essential method to maintain sanity in the dark of an Icelandic winter. I have come to know the bottoms of all the pools in the area, as I trace the navy stripes from one end to the other. There's the aerated center stripe of Árbær, the dark navy stripe painted on concrete in Hveragerði, and the fish painted on the side of the pool in Vesturbær. Some slope gently from one end to the other like Laugardalslaug, others have a seam in the center where the drop to the deep begins. There are drains and filters marking certain lanes, and in some, names have been scratched in the far end of the lanes. You could blindfold me, put me in a pool here, and I'd know which one I was in by the end of a lap.

Swimming in the darkness, as it has been for months during my weekday workouts, takes on a special magic that adds coziness to the dark months here. The steam spirals off the water and mixes with the stars, and under the surface the swimmers are suspended in Esther Williams water-ballet poses. Some pools are dark (laugardalslaug with only half the lamps on one side working) and some are glowing aquamarines of illumination. In the dark ones, the light filtering from above turns the bottom into a batiked swirl of bubbles and motion that shifts as I cut through the water. This is my best thinking time, and sometimes I find that I have gotten so lost in my train of thought that I have miscounted all my laps. I guess it doesn't really matter though, since I get what I need out of these times in the steamy darkness- exercise, time for thinking, the meditation of repetitive motion, and the quiet of the under-surface world.

Ship sighting: A cargo ship called the Mary Arctica is due to leave in a half hour, and on one of the photos I found of the ship (not in such dramatic surroundings) she was flying the flag of Greenland. I guess that's the scenery in the ship photo, and is definitely one of the places I want to visit. I've seen it a few times en route to Boston, and it looks like a fascinating and chilly place. Until I can hop aboard the Mary Arctica on her way further north though, I will have to continue contemplating my own view, as shown in today's photo.

21 January 2006

Universal January

Today is one of those January days, the kind I remember in Boston and Vermont. The snow from last week is all thawing out, and the warmer air hangs low on the city after the frigid days earlier. I walked downtown today, and it was a frightening skating-rink of a trip with the snow partially melted and refrozen in solid blocks of ice all over the road. I guess this is the the next level of Iceland's refusal to clean snow from sidewalks and roads- it is the WORST ice I have ever had to walk on. It's in solid stretches of sidewalk, or in sneaky little patches just when you think you're in the clear. There's no sand for traction, and that cool using-waste-heat-water-to-heat-sidewalks thing is only effective in a few places, so I was zig-zagging across the road in a desperate attempt to find a clear spot on the path. Makes a girl want to buy some crampons.

Still, the day was not without its charm. In spite of the scary road conditions, the fresh moisture of the air and the above-freezing temperatures were energizing. It's still a rare moment when I get to walk around outside in the light, so it was a treat to soak in the promise of longer days to come. As I headed up Túngata, I even caught a whiff of black cottonwood, a smell that is now inextricably linked to summertime in Iceland. I know there are many weeks of turbulent weather ahead, but somewhere buried beneath the snow and rain are those days of flowers and green leaves, even here in Iceland.

Ship sighting: There is NOTHING happening today on the old harbor front. Green Atlantic is reported to be leaving at midnight, but I already have stated my doubts about that. The only thing I saw today was the lights of the old sand-dredger in the mouth of the harbor, scraping up more sand. Somewhere I read that Iceland exports a lot of sand to the States, where it is prized for the rich black color. I wonder how much of it has been vacuumed up from the bottom of the harbor here, right in front of my very eyes?

20 January 2006

What I never wrote- "All it takes is one person" (part 3)

If you're just arriving, the first two parts to this are here and here.

This walking-around-the city phase continued for weeks, and no matter how nice the people I spoke to were, it was still discouraging to be charging into offices 3 times a day and not feel like I was getting anywhere. I started becoming a housework fiend so I could have control over something and distract myself from the fear that I was really trying something insane and impossible. I was fixated on having the laundry basket almost empty at all times, and whisking the dishes through the dishwasher the instant they were dirty. Since the summer, I have found the smell of cooled coffee grounds somewhat depressing thanks to these lonely mornings in the apartment after J went to work.

I also started swimming like crazy to counterbalance the frustration of my days, just to give me a project where I could feel and see progress. When I arrived in Iceland in May, I hadn't tried to swim (as in the crawl) since college 4 years before, when I rapidly got nowhere after discovering that no matter how fit I was, I got no exercise with my inability to breathe properly.

By the end of the two months in Iceland, I was able to swim 2k in the Laugardalslaug pool (Olympic length of 50 meters) without stopping. Yep, I dedicated myself to the project heart and soul, and thanks to the endless sun of Icelandic summer, got a tan in the process. Add my light eating out of daily nervousness and I looked fabulous when I went home. I also have recently discovered that by walking everywhere (trying to save money by not even buying bus tickets) I have an excellent grasp on the layout of the town that J is often surprised about.

The weekends with J were also great, and counterbalanced the frustrations of the rest of the days. We took little camping trips out of Reykjavík, went to concerts in town, and generally got used to each other again after being apart for the better part of a year. We cooked a lot of meals in the evenings, took walks in the slanting sunset light to feed our stale bread to the ducks at Tjörnin, and talked long into the dusky "nights" of summertime.

During the week when I got frustrated, he helped me stay hopeful, and all his friends pitched in with ideas, introductions to people, translation help, and other connections. I'm sure it was hard on him to have a hard day at work, then come home to a gloomy girlfriend and wonder if he had made the right choice to say ok to me coming to live with him.

I did make it through various levels of interviewing at a few places, and at one point I thought I was going to have to take a job that was all wrong for me, just to stay in Iceland and be a little closer to J. It was a one-hour flight away in the east of Iceland on a controversial project that I felt really wrong about. I would have been working for a month at a stretch, six days a week, in the middle of nowhere, just to have a week with J in ReykjavÌk. I was terrified of having to do it, but time was running out by this time. These people wanted someone immediately, and the guy running the show spoke no Icelandic and really liked me, but the thought of having to work at this job was one of the most depressing things I could imagine. I would have been one of about 6 women in a horde of men, isolated from any sort of town, and in company housing (what WAS I thinking in even considering it?). Fortunately, because they needed someone immediately, visa issues prevented them from extending me an offer.

On that same day I got the rejection from them, less than a week before I had to leave, I got a call from a job lead I had started in January. It was in a different branch of the same company that J worked at, and he was well-liked there so some of that must have rubbed off on me. The interview was the next day, but as it turned out I wasn't one of several candidates- I was the only one. I had come in prepared to show that I had stuff that they couldn't find in an Icelander, that I was offering a new perspective, smart, energetic, etc and so forth, but the two guys I interviewd with appeared to have already decided that. They'd heard it all from the HR guy at the company who seems to have made it his personal project to help me and J become part of Icelandic society. By the end of the meeting, we were already talking about start dates.

I walked out of there and down to meet J in a bit of a daze after this. All that anguish and walking all over the city was over just like that? It seemed like it had been such a losing battle the whole summer and then this job just sort of ... happened, and without requiring me to show I was able jump fences on horseback while knitting in three colors, or some peculiar feat of ability. I was just being me, and for once not having to apologise that I couldn't speak fluent Icelandic. The amazing thing about it all was that it was just the kind of job I would have been happy to get in the States -new challenges, nice smart people to work with, and space to grow in the future. I had been worried that I'd have to take a job that made me miserable (a la east Iceland job) just so I could be here, but it didn't happen that way.

I am certain that people are reading this and hoping for tips on how they can move as well, but I'm not sure what advice I can offer. I feel at times I was just in the right place at the right time, but that's how jobs always seem to happen, and no matter what other work you do, there's usually some unexpected source of the answer. I'm not sure I would recommend my method though, unless you've got lots of money or someone who's willing to help you out for a few months, since from job to job I ended up only earning for half the year last year. Still, what's six months of lost income when I got such an adventure out of it? 2005 was an odd, stirred-up year, but one of the best of my life so far. All the scariness I faced in the summer did what I hoped they would- I forced myself to do things I never would have if I had stayed in the same place and not tried for the move. I seriously doubted I'd pull this off, but here I am a year later almost on the Arctic Circle, where I type my blog entries with a front-seat view of the ocean. Go for it! Your story will be different, I'm sure, but it will be no less educational and interesting.

Ship sighting: enough of the graduation-speech inspiration talk! Let's talk boats and ocean pictures. Green Atlantic is slated to both arrive and depart tomorrow, but I am doubtful of that given Engey RE1 was "departing" every day for a week before it actually left. During my image-search I got into the website where the photo was, and although I can't figure out what it is (Norwegian ship-loving guy that takes lots of pictures? Harbor town?) there are some gorgeous photos that warrant a look or two.

we interrupt the broadcast

I know I'm in the middle of something else, but I have to tell everyone out there that it's the special day to take care of your fella. It's Bóndadagur today (literally man-of-the-house day) which means you're supposed to be extra nice to the guy in your life, and make him dinner tonight.

We just had cake at work, which is always a bit uncomfortable for me, the reason being that no matter how much you like and get along with someone in English, when they switch to their native language, it's a completely different experience, as J describes here. Nothing is quite as lonely as being in a room full of people having a great time, and not being able to understand any of it.

Anyway, back to the Special Day... It seems like this is kind of a one-way Valentine's Day, but strangely is also sharing time as the first day of another favorite traditional Icelandic festival, Þorrablót, during which we are all supposed to eat interesting foods made from the leftover parts of sheep. More on that later... Also, don't worry if you're a woman. Our special day comes up next month and is not also sheep-testicle day. I think I prefer it that way.

19 January 2006

What I never wrote- First days in Iceland (part 2)

(If you're just arriving, part 1 is here)
J met me at the airport in typical fashion, armed with my favorite aloe yogurt and ready to haul my the suitcases into the car. At his apartment, he had made space for me to be there, emptying half the closets, drawers, and shelves, and filling them with hangers, towels, and little treats. I unpacked that morning and tried to make sense of where I was in the jet-lagged haze, reassuring myself that when I went out to buy shampoo, everyone wasn't staring at me as the strange-o foreigner. I felt like everyone must be able to tell I didn't belong there.

The next few weeks were difficult, exciting, frustrating, and hopeful. I had 7 weeks before I was flying back to Boston for J's brother's wedding, and I hoped to have success before then. As an American I had to have a job to be able to live here, and the Schengen rules only would allow me to stay three months per six months as a tourist. If I didn't find something during that time, I would have to come back after the wedding for the remaining six weeks and hope that I would be lucky then, otherwise I would be stuck in the States, with no job, no clue what my next plan would be, and no home of my own.

The ever-present knowledge of that meant that many days I would wake up and wish I could just stay in bed- it seemed so hopeless that I doubted it would ever work. Part of the reason I decided to go ahead with this move here was to force myself into a situation where I would HAVE to overcome my fears of walking in and talking to people I'd never met, and my fears of not having the structured plan for everything that was happening next. I had been feeling a sort of vague dissatisfaction with my life in the States, as well. While I loved living in Boston and I will always love New England, I needed a new working environment and new challenges. I had always thought I would live abroad someday too- my mom had grown up in Brazil and France, so our house had been full of the artifacts of an international life. The idea of living somewhere that things were always new or interesting in their unfamiliarity interested me, and of course, let's not forget J, who was increasingly content with his decision to come here.

So, back to last summer... My days started having somewhat of a routine almost immediately. I'd get up with J and we'd eat breakfast together then I'd read the newspapers online and trying to make sense of all the long Icelandic words, searching for companies that had English-language websites and would hopefully be sympathetic to my lack of local language skills. Everyone here said that THE thing to do was to just go see the companies, so I started walking into offices, saying I was interested in working there and asking if there was someone I could talk to about it. In almost every single place I did this, I was greeted with a little bit of puzzlement, but I always got to talk to someone. Most companies here are so small that it usually was the CEO or something too, and while most of them were apologetic and said my lack of Icelandic was a bother, they offered me their business card and some other ideas and sent me on with a smile.

I did have a few odd experiences though, like the first place I went to where they had no reception desk and I ended up talking to some guy who didn't want to give me his name. That one set me back a day or two while I worked up my courage to do it again at a different place. I also found a business that was advertising for all sorts of people, but didn't list an address. I found it in the phone book, but when I went to the location, I passed a travel agency and a furniture store without seeing a thing that resembled the type of business I was expecting. Another pass at the section of street yielded a door I had overlooked before- an entrance to an apartment building. The buzzers were all named, but none of them were any of the names I had found on the website, and none were the name of the company. I pass that place every day on the way to work now, and sometimes I wonder what the deal with that was. From that one I learned that if you can't find their street address anywhere on their website, there's probably a reason they aren't sharing the information.

More tomorrow.. this is ending up to be longer than I anticipated!

Ship sighting: We just got some spiffy IKEA stools that we put below the windowsill in the living room, so now it is my new favorite place to write. I can keep an eye on the harbor traffic and post it as it happens that way! Right now I can see one of the Eimskip ships, Selfoss on the way out. The Eimskip fleet is all named after Icelandic waterfalls, some of which I have been to, like the namesake of the boat that brought my things, Skógarfoss. I haven't been to the actual waterfall of Selfoss yet though.

17 January 2006

What I never wrote- the setup (part 1)

A few of my blogging buddies that I know in person have been making the decision to be honest and announce who they really are. In the spirit of honesty, I decided to write about how it really was last year during the whole transition from working in Boston to working in Iceland. I never really said what it was like here for fear of worrying my family, and probably because I didn't want to admit it to myself either. Nothing says "happened" like having it in writing, so I held off at the time. Still, I have had several questions and comments about the process since I started the blog, so this one's for all of you.

I started the thinking-of-Iceland-move process in earnest about this time last year. I sent about 20 letter/CV envelopes to selected companies in hopes I could find people to meet during my trip to Iceland I planned in the beginning of February. When I was here then, I managed to meet with a few people, mostly on the strength of J's contacts and the contacts of his friends. My 20 letters garnered me one meeting with one company that didn't go anywhere after that.

I told my job I was leaving soon after that, on March 3, which was cosmically the same date J heard about his job in Iceland the year before. Before I did it, I would have a surge of fear and excitement every time I thought about it- quitting my job with nothing to go to next, with no idea if this crazy plan to move to Iceland without first having a job would work, and no idea if I would have income again anytime soon.

The next process was moving out, something I'd given myself a month to do, with the plan to store the items I Wanted to have in Iceland with the international movers, return the furniture to my parent's barn where it had come from, and cull the rest, leaving only what I could carry on the plane with me. It was a lot harder and more emotional than it sounds, sorting through two years of my life and trying to evaluate the importance of these things I had accumulated in my house. The things I sent to Iceland I would most likely not see for six months, and in light of that, a lot of the crap in my house seemed pretty pointless.

My mom helped me tremendously during this time, helping me figure out what to take and what not to take, helping me stay sane, and reminding me of why I was doing it. She understood why I had to go, and without her I would never have made it.

Next I had to cram everything into my two suitcases- enough types of outfits to cover the unknown events of the next two months, gifts for J, and little things of my own to make the place seem like home when I arrived. After a teary goodbye in Logan, I was on the way, predictably unable to sleep and uncertain of my new identity. I got used to being defined by my job and my home, and now both of them were gone and I wasn't sure what was going to replace them. I watched the daylight appear on the horizon as I flew north and knew that it would all have to work out somehow- I had already done a lot of the hard work. Someone once told J, "jump and the net will find you", and I was hoping it was true.

Ship sighting: OK, so this snowstorm-a-day stuff is kinda cutting down on visibility for the local goings-on, so have a look at this AWESOME video. It's a time-lapse movie of the traffic at one set of locks on the Panama Canal, and shows pretty much every kind of boat I've been seeing here, without all the waiting. Of course, the Panama is the ultimate for ship-spotting nerds, so if you're wanting more, you can read up here. They've covered topics like how tolls are assessed, and the special tonnage calculation they have for ships that travel through the Canal.

16 January 2006

Guerilla store!

I first heard about this from a guy of questionable sexual orientation in one of my Icelandic classes, but he had been taken there by someone else, and had no idea where it was. Then, on our way back from LHR in December, I got the address from the in-flight magazine. While it kind of eliminated some of the guerilla aspect to find it in the Icelandair magazine, I figured it was still worth a look.

Plus, the idea is cool- Comme des Garcons is opening these stores
all over the world in cities that aren’t usually top international designer attractions (so New York, Paris, and London are out of luck). They set them up in an area that is not typically a fashion shopper destination, where they are only open for a year or so. Advertising seems to be mostly word-of-mouth, little articles, and People In The Know.

I am not a high-fashion kinda girl for the most part, but the idea was interesting enough that I clipped the address from the magazine, but forgot about it in the frenzy of fireworks and eating that is the Christmas-New year period here. On Saturday though, as we headed to IKEA for yet another bookshelf-buying trip, I saw someone taking Polaroids outside a building that has a fish-newspaper and formerly had a gym in it. It’s in the area where the infamous ÚTSALA ÚTSALA was (described by a fellow ice-blogger here) and one of the two-week fireworks shops. Store located!

J did a turn around the block so we could park, then we hurdled over the snowdrifts and found a sign in the window directing us around the building and through the shipyard. A baby carriage parked in the snow indicated the correct door of the several unmarked entrances, and we walked in to find the kind of retail space that New York City loves to create- gritty, spare, and grafitti-laden. The clothes were laid out on shipping palletes and hung on pipe racks, and the décor was distinctly dug-from-the-attic-and-garage with saggy mid-century chairs and some kind of wooden tool-organizing box with a few artfully arranged tools of the trade (gloves, paintbrushes, and scrapers) tucked among the cubbyholes.

The clothes were of a similar aesthetic, the grandma’s sofa upholstery jacket, the “I’m too cool for linings” wool trousers (comfy for all-day wear, I’m sure), and Björktastic dresses full of unfinished seams, elastic toggles, and puffy asymmetrical hems. None of these clothes are built for bodies like mine, so I won’t be buying anything, but it was still an interesting trip and worth the look, if only to say “I been there”!

Ship sighting: the entrance for this place was through the shipyard where Magni is, and where Víkingur is still undergoing a paint job. The road to the store went right below the hull and past the building where the machinery for pulling the ships out of the water is housed. Now that I know there is a “legitimate” reason to be back there, I’m going to have to go again when I have my camera and take pictures of the operation.

13 January 2006


This morning we woke up to the biggest overnight snowfall I’ve seen since moving here, which on a Boston/Vermont scale is pretty minimal- maybe 6 or 7 inches. They keep it fun here though, by only plowing the biggest of the big roads. For all those Boston readers, imagine if they plowed 495 and the Pike, but ignored Mass Ave, Boylston Street, and Storrow Drive. Spiffy!

So, driving to work is kind of like being in a cross-country ski race. Everyone’s got their wheels in the double-track, and if you want to pass, you have to get out of the grooves and over the humps of snow in between. The only difference is that you can’t yell, “track” and expect the person in front of you to get out of the way (I really hope there are some x-c ski racers among my readers who know what the heck I’m talking about here).

They’re generally more casual about cleaning off the cars here too, it seems. I saw one woman who had cleared so little of the car, looked like she was driving her own personal snowdrift. Her headlights glowed weakly through the snow stuck to the headlights, and the cake on top of her car was spiraling little snow-vortices behind her. Everyone was still soldiering on as usual though, although maybe a little slower. I guess there just aren’t enough people here to warrant making a big deal of snow. When I consider that there are probably more commuters on the road during a Boston morning than the entire population of Iceland, it makes sense that they can’t be bothered for the few thousand peopel going anywhere on a Reykjavík morning.

It’s actually snowed almost every day this past week, and I’ve been constantly distracted by the fast moving clouds and flash-snowstorms that spring up without warning. Five minutes after a perfectly sunny patch is over us, the snow whirls in and it’s impossible to see the lamps in the parking lot just below my window at work. Keep this in mind, potential visitors to Iceland. I’m not joking about the speed of weather changes. It really is that fast, so bring that waterproof jacket and drive smart if you’re out in the country.

Ship sighting: After Faxaflóahafnir listed it on the website as departing for several days, J and I finally saw Engey RE1 in the outer harbor at about 7:45 last night. It managed to sneak out to sea in the half-hour interim between snowsqualls, so we could track the progress out into the black for a little while before it was swallowed in swirling snow.

11 January 2006

Who needs matching?

When I was young, we used to get a catalog called Hanna Andersson, a Swedish company that was all about stripes, graphic prints, and lots of bright colors all mixed together. It made much of its Nordic personality, so it was my first exposure to the concept. I thought it was so cool, but who would actually WEAR stripes and flowers and stars together?

Next came Marimekko, a Finnish company I learned about thanks to my mom's fashion-forward ways back in the 60's. She was sewing with their upholstery fabric before they'd ever though to do a dress line, and I am happily the right size to wear one of her creations. When the line was revitalized recently, she was thrilled, and has continued to enjoy their colorful, simple designs. Their simple styles and intense colors appeal to the artistic corner of me, so I was delighted to discover that there is a Marimekko store right here in Reykjavik. I then set about making sure all my near and dear were Marimekko'd in proper fashion (which of course includes my own bad self), however I still was not actually wearing it and cross-pollinating it with other patterns and colors.

When I first arrived in Iceland, this place seemed like a melange of crazy brightness, asymmetrical lines, and mixed patterns. After being in Boston, Land of Gray, it was more than I could figure out. However, something happened in the later part of last year, and I think I can trace it back to the first Ice-haircut. After I got over the panic of having a haircut that was different on both sides (my bangs are so short and crooked!! she shaved the back of my neck!! aaa!!) I started to enjoy the unusual look. I began looking for more things to go with it when I was back in the States in July and August. The winter things were starting to come into stores then, so when I found a coat that fit beautifully that had asymmetrical buttons and two different kinds of material in one, I had to have it. Yes, I had not been earning any money for almost 5 months, it was August, and I already have about 7 winter coats, but as a kindly older gentleman in the store said, "trifling matters when considering a beautiful coat that looks lovely on you". You can always count on things gentlemen like that say to be right, as it turned out months later. I wear it every day now.

It's been getting more extreme lately too, since my mom gave me a pair of over-the-knee multicolored striped socks for my birthday. Nothing crazy, you may say, but this is a lot for a girl who used to think an all-gray outfit with black shoes was "just right". Now all I can think of is how great purple-and-navy stripes go with bright red shoes. J is helping me right along too- for Christmas he got me more tall stripey socks, and these shoes, except they're iridescent blue with silver stars. I feel like a super hero in them, and I love that they're different, yet still practical with they're wraparound rubber bottoms. It's the Icelandic way- colorful, comfortable, but interesting enough that you feel special wearing them.

I can't get enough of it now- I want more colors, I want turquoise with orange, and I want things with funny features. All that from a haircut, and maybe the feeling that I MUST do something to counterbalance all the blackness of "days" here in the winter.

Ship sighting: Not much movement lately- even Engey, who was supposed to have been gone days ago, is still languishing in first berth down at the harbor. It's on the Faxaflóahafnir site again today with a departure time of 6 pm, but it was still there when J and I drove home round 8. Maybe the fishermen don't feel like going anywhere in all this blowing snow. It's snowed almost every day for the last week and as I sit in the window typing this, my view is horizontal snow and beyond that, darkness. I can't even see Akranes.

And so in the spirit of remembering what once was, and what will be again, I give you a photo I took of the harbor during the walk I described back in June. It's coming again!

09 January 2006

the papers... again

I had not been at work for more than 2 minutes when co-worker D asked if I had been at the concert this weekend. He's a Morgunblaðið subscriber and the hat did get us in the papers. This is no shammyshady paper like last time we were in the papers in Iceland either. It's like the Boston Globe instead of the National Enquirer. Moving up in the world, moving up.

I also just learned that the waterfall videos that were projected on the scrim before the show started were made by the mother of one of J's coworkers. It's impossible to go to a large event here and not know at least 3 people that are somehow involved in the event, and this is after living here only a short time.

Ship Sighting: This morning I noticed Vikingur was back in the shipyard. I guess they took it for a spin and realised they'd missed a spot or something.

Confetti on the floor

There is confetti everywhere in the house today because we were against the barriers in the front of the stórtónleikar yesterday when they popped the confetti charges at the end of the show. It was a benefit concert for the Icelandic environment and featured a staggering number of performers, for a dizzying 6 hours of who's-who of Icelandic music, and thanks to my newly established Flickr account, the links in the blog are finally my own photos. Last night was a chill evening, full of swirling snow as we stood in line, and when we got in, instead of milling about and looking at t-shirts we went straight to the front, where in predictable Iceland fashion, ran into some people we knew. The hall filled quickly, and unlike the Sigur Rós concert, was almost entirely Icelanders, and mostly in their teens.

After a peculiar theatrical performance and lots of graphics of waterfalls, the concert began with an Icelandic guitar guy (I forget who he was-- help me out local readers!) We were there with friends, one of whom said his music was "good for boring parties". Still, it was a good opening act, and prepared us well for the next performer, our own neighbor Björk. Clad in green satin with a waist-length sparkly necklace and sequinned tights, she took off her red lace-up boots immediately to perform barefoot. Her only accompaniment was a harp, and half the time she sang acapella. I've never heard her live but the experience was unforgettable- her voice has amazing feeling, and she does all these crazy things with the hand not holding the microphone. Plus, the green glitter eyeshadow was fabulous.

I can't remember who was next, but we saw Múm, last seen in Boston at the MFA with a pile of Bostonian hipsters. They had added a choir of local people playing handbells and adding "ooooo"s in a few songs. After them came Sigur Rós, who only played one song. Seeing them up close was cool though- we could see the interactions between the members and the expressions on their faces as they played.

I think the next act was Magga Stína, who was all kinds of crazy with her rock violin, her white feather boa tied around her waist, the accountant accordion-man dressed in the tie, vest, and nerd specs, and the sitar-playing 60's guy. After that was a group called Rass (ass), dressed in wifebeaters and white-trash sunglasses. They would have been somewhat forgettable, in spite of the costumes, had our former upstairs neighbor not appeared on the edge of the stage. He was shepherding his group of gradeschool-aged brass players, all dressed in band uniforms that were too big for them. Of course, we had to yell his name and he gave us a wave.

Right about here, things started to get long, and this blog entry starts to become a list! There were a bunch of Icelandic bands that were basically the same two or three guys that would come out in different outfits, playing some kind of metal/rock. There was the shirtless/pink lycra tights/leopard platforms variation, complete with a ski-mask-wearing glove-throwing singer, a business suit getup, and I think one other version. Damien Rice played and made all the girls sigh and was impossible to photograph, but his bass player was a character. Damon Albarn sang a special just-for-last-night song about aluminum that the audience all sang along to, and Mugison sang along with Hjálmar.

By now, the crowd was getting a bit weary, and some people had decided to go. The two people standing next to us left, and four 15 year-old girls crowded in next to us, backed by a posse of boys that were huge metal fans, apparently. They got a little mosh-y during the metal stuff, with lots of headbanging, shirt removal, pumping fists, and gnarly faces. If it had gone on long it would have gotten annoying, but their enthusiasm and "nobody understands me but the metal-playing band" attitude was entertaining, at least for one song. If it had gone on much longer, we would have left, and missed the pinnacle of the evening for many of the kids around us, the arrival of...

Bubbi konungurinn (Bubbi, the king!), as the kids were yelling all around us. I know my American readers are doing a bit of a headscratch now, but this guy is HUGE in Iceland, like Elvis and the Beatles together. His band, Ego, hasn't played together in years, but everyone knows his songs, and he's made a continued name for himself as one of the judges for the Icelandic Idol show. His stage presence verged on aerobics instructor with lots of "see how sproingy my sneakers are" jumping and a skintight blue shirt. During the second song, the security guards in the gap between us and the stage cleared all the photographers out of the space and set up the charges, which we thought were going to be fireworks, given the time of year and the ongoing enthusiasm for fireworks here. After the last song, the hall went totally black and the charges popped. In the dark it seemed like we were getting showered with ash, sparks, fallout of fireworks, or something, but when the lights came up, we were all covered in confetti.

After the concert, we had discussed going to our favorite dive for beer, but after 6 hours of standing in a close and sweaty embrace with 5000 strangers, all we wanted to do was go home. As we overheard someone else say, "bara heim, bara bjór" (home, beer).

In that last photo you can see another noteable feature of the evening. J's hat, bought at the Geysir gift shop, was much loved by the photographers in front of us. I think every photographer we saw that night took a picture of it. Today we hurriedly flipped through all the newspapers that were published today, but only one had a photo of anything about the concert, and there were no articles. Maybe on Monday.

All in all, an astounding evening, and something that will be hard to top. It was an excellent crash-course in Icelandic music, and we were so close that I might recognise some of these people if I ran into them on the street. It's Iceland- it just might happen. Next up will be a coffee morning at our place with Björk attending.

Ship sighting: Bet you thought I wouldn't add this on such a long blog, huh? Today I saw Akrafell from the living room window, fully loaded with cargo and on the way to the dock. Later in the day, J and I went to IKEA (new stools! neat!) and I saw the Samskip dock where they were busy unloading the containers. Thanks to my new photo uploading, you can also see what the harbor looked like at Christmas, and also why I am always going on about boats. This is the view from our balcony, so I can sit and watch all the boats come and go all day long. I would also like to mention that this view, five minutes after this photo was taken, was a furious snowstorm. It only lasted 5 minutes and then it was sunny again. Ahh, Icelandic weather.

04 January 2006

Thanks for last year

And my Icelandic teacher said Icelanders weren’t polite... some of the traditions here are more sacred than anything I’ve seen in the States. For example, when you see someone you know the first time in the new year, you must greet them with a “gleðilegt ár”, thank them for last year, and if it’s a woman, give them a kiss. This applies even if the man is your boss- mine made the rounds yesterday with cheek-kisses for all. I’m sure this sounds strange to American readers (and before I came here it would have sounded creepy) but I assure you, it is not at all.

Anyway... back to the new year here. The signs that said “Gleðileg Jól” have changed the lights on the end so they now say “Gleðilegt ár” in some kind of neon trickery. One well-decorated house that we drove by at 11:30pm on Saturday said “2005” in white lights on the roof now says “2006”. The leftover fireworks have continued to punctuate the evenings, in spite of the cloudiness. Sometimes they’re going off before it is completely dark, which I fail to comprehend. I mean, I know it’s hard to get a really dark hour when 80% of the day is pitch black and all. I guess some of these people must get a wee bit creative with the fireworks too, since J went to mail some letters yesterday, only to discover that the mailboxes have been locked shut until the mania is over this weekend.

At work I have started off the new year with a new location too. We had a new guy start yesterday so we had a rearranging afternoon on Monday and now I am sitting next to the window. After spending 3 years working in a dim and windowless room, I can’t get enough of it, even if it’s dark so often it might as well be windowless for the most part. When the sun does rise, I can see the hills of Garðabær and the top of the Garðabær tower (and the cult church next door and their brand-new parking lot). If J were on the opposite side of his building, we’d almost be able to do up a string-n-cups intercom system. That’d be cool.

Ship sighting: Things are starting to pick up on the water after the ol’ holiday lull. Engey RE1 is slated for depature today, although I am not sure how much I can count on that, since Víkingur, reported to leave a few days ago, is still high and dry (first time I’ve used that literally). We’ve also had a resurgence of bigger tankers and cargo ships, like Stella Azzurra, which I saw heading in last night. It’s also the name of an Italian bicycle company, as well as many soccer teams, so finding a photo was not as easy as usual. Still, if you want to know its TPC immersion at summer draft, you can read all about it here. The website is a consolidated list of tankers owned by several companies, under the name “handy tankers”. Can’t say I’ve ever thought of tankers as being “handy” but there you go.

There are also a bunch of interesting-sounding cargo ships in the daily lineup here in the harbor, like the IVS Kestrel, listed on a South African company website, but with a Panamanian flag. The company website has a nifty vessel positions part, where you can see the recent ports of call for their ships. These boats are going to all kinds of strange and exciting places, including Flushing NY.

And finally, if you still haven’t got enough boat information, and are turning into a real ship-spotting fan, I have found the ultimate website. The best part is the photos, like these top 50 (check out the waves, the dumping of containers! Such thrills!). For more of a local (to me, at least) experience, check out this Icelandic captain’s website, with categorized photos of all the different kinds of ships that come to Iceland, going back 10 years. This guy is thorough! I want him to be my new friend.