29 December 2006

Multiculti Holidays

Having my family here has been a special kind of special this year, the cross-pollination of my two worlds in a new way. They've taken to the traditions here with gusto, from the candlelit midnight mass on Christmas eve to the must-have stack of books I received as gifts. My mom added her own special twist to the Icelandic traditions herself, with a glaze on our hryggur that's made a few Icelanders wrinkle their noses when I described it but was to-die-for delicious. We're swimming all the time, exploring Þingvallavatn in the murky gray of a December Day in Iceland, and exploring power stations where I've had to figure out how to eplain things like "turbine efficiency" in Icelandic for a stoic hydro engineer.

Christmas day was a three-country meeting of my family, K's family, and my German friend F over the most Icelandic of meals, all the trimmings included- hangikjöt, potatoes in cream sauce, Ora beans*, malt og appelsín, laufabrauð, red cabbage, carrots. I was rather uncertain about many of these things last year, particularly the malt/orange soda blend and the beans, but they've grown on me, rather like my high-school's traditional and initially frightening combination of stewed tomatoes and peanut butter on toasted bread. These things take a little time but then you're wedded to them for life, it seems.

After a fantastic evening of swapped stories, great wine and too much food, my family and I took a detour up to the church that overlooks Mossfellsbær and the entire city of Reykjavík. I'd explained the tradition of illuminating the graves for this time of year so we went to see it for ourselves. It was nearly midnight but there was still another visitor, paying respects to his ancestors in one corner of the cemetery. We wandered slowly through the rows of graves in the crunchy dusting of snow, many stacked with flowers, plants, and garlands, the smell of the flaming paraffin candles wafting on the breeze off the not-too-distant sea. It's a strange way to end a Christmas celebration, there on a ridge of illuminated graves but it seemed like the right thing to do that night.

*I just learned that if anyone's either curious enough about these, or living abroad and missing them enough, it's possible to buy them here. These products are the most authentic flavor of Iceland I can imagine!


cK said...

Illuminating graves? Cool.

Have you read Arnaldur Indridason? I just read his "Jar City" and am now reading "Silence of the Grave." They are mysteries set in and around Reykjavik. He has a very interesting, scene-intensive style (probably will make strong film adaptations).

I wish his books had more Icelandic elements, but I guess in writing from Iceland he doesn't need to write about Iceland because all of this stuff is, you see? He just doesn't have to concern himself with foreign audience issues, so just writes crisp police procedure novels.

gk said...

Well, they just made 'Jar City' into a movie. It is called Mýrin (after neighborhood where the murder takes place ). I have not read the book myself but I liked the movie. But like always when a book is made into a film and you have read the story before you'll probably feel like there are some details missing and the characters aren't quite as you imagined them.

My brother went with his Icelandic class to see it and the director(Baltasar Kormákur also did 101 Reykjavik) was there to talk about the film and answer questions. My brother said it was very interesting how he thought of details, like for example the common error most commonly displayed on CSI where plastic bags are used for evidence. Baltasar also talked about his favorite shots of the movie and how he built the characters of the killer along side of the detective instead of having the killer's story told in the end like the author did.

It always a bit funny when you see an Icelandic film and being from Iceland. You often know a lot of places where the movie is shot. For example the building where the 'Jar City' is housed is a school I used to go to.

tsduff said...

We went up to the cemetary in Hafnarfjordur to see Bjarni's grandparents' graves - walked around and basically enjoyed the quiet connection of his relatives tied to the land. I can imagine it being lit with candles in the snow - a peaceful feeling. It did make me homesick in a strange way, though, for my own relatives buried in US cemetaries.

ECS said...

ck- I have not yet read him, but I'll have to try now. Currently I'm reading a Faroese author so I'm at least staying true to the northerners though :-)

gk- your comment about knowing where stuff is shot reminds me of all the Iceland-made commercials here. It's so odd to me to recognize where stuff is shot on TV.

Terry- it's a really beautiful scene, and I like that the ancestors are kind of included in the celebrations at the end of the year. Based on what I've heard from others, it's not a uniquely Icelandic tradition, but I still like it a lot.