08 November 2006


More than 450 years ago, the last Roman Catholic bishop of Iceland, Jón Árason, was killed. In recent years, interest has returned in his life and poetry, and last night was the anniversary of the beheading, so there was a presentation of a newly published book about him last night at the national museum. I went with H to listen to a reading from it by an actor, hear some songs from the period, and witness the presentation of the first copy to the Minister of Education from the Alþing. Although I still don't have perfect Icelandic comprehension, verses like the ones last night are perfect for me- a very set structure full of rhyming, and since he was a bishop, it was mostly religious vocabulary, something I've got a decent grasp on. Regardless of whether I understood or not, the setting was appealing, with the sun fading from the stained-glass windows in the stair hall there, and the resonant voice pouring Icelandic over the crowd. Many people think Icelandic is not a particularly beautiful language, but I disagree. With the right voice it's a buttery thick experience, full of richly rolled r's and strong rhythms.

After the presentation of the book to the Minister of Education, we headed downstairs to the photo gallery for wine and schmoozing. I got lost in the photo exhibit there, a series of pictures entitled "unknown perspectives". The pictures were for the most part quite ordinary- early to mid-century views someone floating on an inflatable raft, people washing fleece, a backyard strung with laundry, or people pumping gas. The idea of the exhibit was exploring the reason why someone had decided that moment was important enough to document it, and maybe learn more about these scraps of the past. In a country as close-knit as Iceland, chances are someone who passes through the gallery will know something about one of the images. There were papers available to fill out if you recognized someone or had location information, or had some possible interpretation why it was a documentable moment. I love stuff like this- the most ordinary of scenes from lives long ago given a space where you're allowed to spend 10 minutes staring at it while constructing your own story about why someone cared about the events portrayed.

While I wandered through Iceland's past, H had been busy hobnobbing with the Minister of Education, so she introduced me, and we had a short conversation in my best Icelandic before heading out to do one of our semi-regular evenings of tasty food and economics editing. I've now become quite well-versed in the ins and outs of foreign direct investment in Iceland, the knowledge-capital model, and the Edgeworth box. I never know when this might come in useful.

Before going home, we decided to check in on the US election event I'd heard about, so we went to the university student hang-out that had been madly draped with American flags. I had been expecting a few lonely souls there, but the place was already jammed with earnest Icelandic students, a small posse from the US Embassy, and one professor from BU who's teaching a class here this semester. They had a projector showing CNN, and soon after we arrived, the prof and one embassy guy went up to explain the US election process with an Icelandic woman (I didn't catch what her connection to the crowd was). It's odd to hear a 10-minute presentation on this process you've known about forever, especially when you're pointed out individually in the crowded room as the person who's from the state with all the Independent party representation (Yay Vermont!). During the question period, the crowd showed its stuff by asking all manner of thoughtful questions on the topic. It almost made me proud to be from this interestingly complex country, even if I don't want to live there right now.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to live here right now either.

-Nate (xanga.com/generouspalmstroke)

ECS said...

hi Nate! Come join us in Iceland then! It's a bit soggy now but in general it's not so bad.