31 March 2006

Neighborhood routines

Part of why I moved here was to shake up the routine I'd fallen into in Boston, with the same job and the same activities and the same places to eat and buy groceries. Why is it so comforting then, to find new routines here?

On Wednesday as I walked to rehearsal through Vesturbær, I thought of how many times I have already walked along these little streets- to the pool last summer before I had a job in the golden summer sunshine, to classes last fall in the stormy darkness, and now to music practice in the tenatitively budding spring. Lately I've been keeping an eye on certain yards where the snowdrops have been braving the sub-freezing temperatures and the blustering wind (on a side note, the noun for "blow" in Icelandic is "blástur"-love the word origins Icelandic lays bare).

In that time I've learned where the friendly cats are (The fluffy calico on Neshagi will climb into your lap and refuse to leave), and watched the chalk art drawn by local kids appear and wash away in the rain week by week. Some yards are tidy, others blown over with gum wrappers and Pepsi bottles, some are undergoing some major re-plantings, and one house has a brand-new fence ringing the yard since I started walking these sidewalks. The light has come and gone and is coming again, and the air is beginning to carry the summertime smell of Black Hawthorne again now.

Sometimes I see into cozy dinnertimes as I walk by the houses too- on Wednesday I caught a glimpse of what looked like a dinner party of six people toasting over a drooping bouquet of tulips. Last Saturday morning on my way to rehearsal, I noticed a raven soaring on the air currents, climbing and plummeting with a flick of the wings, apparently just for the joy of flying. I paused to watch, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman on her fourth-floor balcony leaning on the railing in the morning sunshine. She also was watching this silent moment, and both of us watched together until the raven disappeared from view behind a distant building.

These little things are always the ones I find most appealing about life anyway, and in a new place they help feel like I belong, that I'm part of the process. I'm learning about the patterns of the neighborhood, sharing moments with people (even if they don't notice I'm there) and slowly, I'm weaving myself into it all.

Ship sighting: Last night at 8pm was an exciting time in the harbor. J and I saw a tugboat bustling the tankship Kasla into the harbor, then one of the sand-dredger boats, Laugarnes, came into view, heading the other direction. There were also two fishing boats due to leave at the same time, but I didn't see them. Engey RE1 arrived again yesterday too, as she was looming over Hamborgara Búllan again this morning.

30 March 2006

for the more visual folks

I've posted a few more photos on my Flickr account, so you can see what the steam from one of the boreholes in Nesjavellir looked like last summer, as well as one of my favorite photos of a hood ornament from the 17th June car parade. This is also the strangely dark storm front that was passing by yesterday morning, as I described in the ship sighting last post.

Ship sighting: A fishing ship with the grand name of Baldvin Þorsteinsson should be coming into view soon. He's due at 11:30 PM in the old harbor.

28 March 2006

does it come with the territory?

The first time I heard an Icelandic musician was Björk, when I was in college. The line, "I don't know my future after this weekend, and I don't want to" from Big Time Sensuality, was my unofficial senior spring motto, but her being from Iceland had no significance for me then. After that I didn't think about Icelandic music until I went to a Múm concert in Boston the summer J left Boston. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't associated their sound with this strange treeless land that I was angry at for taking away this guy I'd started to really really like. The audience was also not the kind of crowd I identify with, since the kind of person who would know and like Múm in Boston is a special breed of cooler-than-thou hipster that prefers their music obscure and their jeans faux vintage.

Then I moved to Iceland, and J and I moved to our new place with the huge view, I started learning the language, and something happened. The stuff makes sense to me now, and I can't get enough of it. It's not a good week unless I've listened to the latest by Sigur Rós at least once, preferably loud, preferably watching the changes in the sea and clouds, punctuated by raven flight. The layered and somewhat discordant sound that seems to be the hallmark of Icelandic musicians does illustrate the landscape remarkably well, with its forlorn emptiness, the punctuations of delicate clinging plants, the sloping sunlight, and the take-care-of-yourself-cuz-it-will-not additude.

J and I heard more of it last Friday at our favorite record store, 12 Tónar. They have the occasional Friday afternoon concert where they open a few jugs of cheap wine, fire up the coffee machine, and people of all types gather to listen to whomever happens to be there that day. It was two guys from Múm last week, and as the sounds reverberated on the walls of the tiny space, I once again felt that special brand of melancholy that only Iceland can serve up. It's the same feeling I got the first time I was here and went to the West Fjords, or when I stood next to the dripping edge of Sólheimajökull last year. So many of the things I see here seem to be on the brink of extinction. Will all these tiny villages, these windswept mountains, and melting glaciers survive? Why do so many things feel so much more fragile here than places I lived in the States?

Ship sighting: There is a very romantic sounding fiskiskip named Venus doing the tour of Reykjavík docks today, stopping at three different ones before leaving at midnight. Why so many stops? Other than that, it's the usual suspects of Samskip and Atlansskip cargo ships on the way in and out. I also saw an empty cargo ship leaving the harbor this morning in the midst of the weather front that was happening on both sides of our view this morning (snow on one side, sun on the other)

27 March 2006

Arctic Sundays

Yesterday was J's brother's last day here, so we went for a hike in the ridges and valleys of Nesjavellir. J and I have driven there a few times and noticed all the hiking signs and stiles climbing over the barbed-wire fences, so we figured it'd be worth an exploration.

The weather yesterday was blazingly sunny, cold and crisp, with a wind that stirred the pockets of snow in sparkling spirals in the sun. The drive to the hills around the steam vent valley is about a half hour from town, across open land dotted with summer houses, following the hot-water pipe that provides all the heat for our houses Reykjavík. There was no snow at that altitude, but the mountains visible in the distance that we were heading towards were dusted just enough to highlight their craggy blackness, so we were prepared for some snow during the hike. The approach to Nesjavellir is through two or three valleys, each with a tiny parking area and trail maps, so we pulled off in the first one, and suited up in the very best of Icelandic and US hiking gear, strapped on backpacks filled with skyr and extra mittens, and headed through a valley between two looming moss-covered rock outcroppings.

The hike was like a mini-sampler of Icelandic terrain, from knee-deep drifted snow, past tiny animal footprints (arctic foxes? I don't know), and through ice-encrusted plains. We climbed a few steeper hills, and in true Icelandic fashion, were rewarded immediately with panoramic views of the backside of Esja and the mountains further north. At the highest ridge, we could also see the full expanse of Þingvallavatn, a rich deep turquoise against the white-dusted mountains ringing it.

The weather was cold and windy enough on the exposed ridge that we only met one other small group of hikers during the whole trip, whom we passed with a cheery "goðan daginn" as we picked our way among the lava rocks. Even though the below-freezing temperatures and snow seemed very wintry, I caught a breeze that carried the legendary Iceland smell of growing things, moss, and a hint of sulphur, that to me means warmer times ahead here.

We concluded the hike on a short stretch of the Gömul Þjóðleið, the old National Trail. We had visions of Viking families on their tiny ponies picking through the rocks on their way to nearby Þingvellir. At this near-conclusion of the journey, it must have been exciting times for them, travelling so far, and knowing that at the next ridge, Þingvallavatn would spread below them.

Hiking here is such a different experience from what I grew up with, where the trees obscure the landscape most of the time, and views are earned after trekking through the close forest. Here, the views are always there, but it also means you're exposed to the wind that pours from the sea straight across the ridges of mountains, stirring up the snow and burning your cheeks. Still, with the right clothes, and the promise of a good long soak in a hot-tub afterwards, it's definitely worth it!

Ship sighting: A lot of cargo ship activity recently. J's brother got a few good views of some of the big ones, like the ship departing yesterday evening, stacked five-high with containers. Today Hvassafell arrived at noon, and is due for a 12-hour turn-around. Note on the site that although this boat is owned by an Icelandic shipping company, it is not registered in Iceland. Apparently none of the cargo ships operated out of Iceland (the fleets for Eimskip, Samskip, and Atlansskip) are actually registered here, due to tax reasons.

I also learned that the Icelandic Port Association exhibited at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention last week, in Miami. The big boys of boating, all in one room together. From this picture at the breakfast table during the event, it looks like it was a fun time, huh?

24 March 2006

Iceland's great sparkly hope

Any European readers will know exactly what I'm talking about when I say that Eurovision is a Big Deal over here. It's hard to believe that half the world has no idea what I'm talking about when it's something that's so exciting, the host country, Greece, had a two-page ad in the Economist a few weeks ago, half of which was about their role as Eurovision host this year. They even went so far to compare their winner last year to the legendary soprano Maria Callas (yeah right.. I think there might have been a feewww other reasons why she got so many votes).

Iceland's always really sure they're going to win, and this year we're sending our very best TV personality, Silvía Nótt. She won the privilege to represent us with this winning performance. The thing is tacky, cheesy, and making fun of everything Eurovision is about. It's great.

Unfortunately, they had to make an English version so more than the 300,000 people here would get it, and I just saw it today. I love it almost as much, although I like the "what language IS that??" component of the original. Decide for yourself here. We're totally going to win, aren't we?

21 March 2006

narcoleptic blankets

When J and I were first dating back in Boston, we used to cook dinner together at his apartment in the cool autumn nights. After eating, the combination of good food and long days (I used to have to be at work at 7 am) made me drowsy and cozy, so I'd go to just have a little rest on the couch before starting the dishes together. His apartment was always slightly chilly thanks to the expensive electric heat and huge windows on two sides, so I'd unfold the gray striped blanket he had folded over the sofa arm. This blanket was a little scratchy, but cushiony and the most marvelously perfect level of warmth, so tucked underneath it, I'd promptly fall asleep, leaving J to do the dishes on his own. We were still so new to dating that he apparently felt awkward poking me awake so he'd let me sleep, cocooned in woolen warmth.

This blanket was, of course, from Iceland, purchased at the Álafoss factory store, one of J's few strategically selected Iceland souvenirs. He also had a Sigur Rós concert poster on one wall, and as I was falling asleep, I'd look at the strange words like "útgáfutónleikar" and "háskólabíó" and marvel that somewhere there was a whole country of people that understood everything on this poster.

Two months after we met, J went on the fateful Iceland trip where he got the job, and as a gift he bought me my own Álafoss blanket in creamy white wool. It was too warm to use in my steam-heated top floor apartment, so I hung it on a dowel on the wall above my bed. I looked up at it often when I was trying to imagine what Iceland was like, this place I heard of for a year before seeing.

Now, both blankets have returned to their homeland, and they spend the day folded and piled together, and in the evenings they still manage to put me straight to sleep almost without fail.

Ship sighting: J's brother came to The Land this morning, and as we were eating breakfast together, we spotted a cargo ship emerging from the snowstorm on the horizon. It was Reykjafoss, containers stacked two high, on the way in. It's due for a quick turnaround, and is scheduled to leave this evening at 6pm.

20 March 2006


Last Friday afternoon, a fog settled into the city which stayed until early Sunday afternoon, when it blew away as quickly as it arrived. The view outside the window stopped at the dark rocks of the seawall, and the only thing interrupting the white blanket of fog was black shapes of ravens soaring past the window.

I spent half the weekend in a similar fog of all-Icelandic conversation at a (so I hear) typical Icelandic choir retreat, where we practiced all our upcoming music at a string of almost non-stop rehearsals. We went to a large house 40 minutes north on the other side of Hvalfjörður, mostly used to house wealthy fishermen during the season. The artwork was all fish, rivers, and fly themed, and signs warned us not to wear our waders in the house in two languages. If it had been clear, we would have had a grand view of Laxá and beyond to the sea, but all I was able to see was to the wire sheep-pasture fence and the gate that led out to the field and beyond to the river.

We sang through half a mass together, several Icelandic songs, and a few Italian ones, interspersed with generous spreads of homemade lasagna (the director's wife is Italian, so it was the Real Thing), a walk through the silent mist to the river, and a few awkward conversations in Icelandic.

We also pulled out the "fun song books" on Friday, and one of the basses played the tunes with a guitar. The songs were a mix of English and Icelandic songs, and the best one was a mix of the two- the classic "cotton fields" song reinterpreted from Louisiana to the potato fields of Þykkvabær. It's quite a surreal experience to be singing this down-home all-American song with Icelandic lyrics in the middle of a fishing house in the foggy darkness.

Singing that much is already hard work, and when all the instruction and surrounding conversation is in a language that's still unfamiliar, the end result is exhausting. I left on Saturday afternoon feeling like I'd been taking a test the whole time. However, I said very little in English the whole time, and I think I had two sentences spoken to me that were not Icelandic the whole time. Progress!

Ship spotting: Eldborg is already looking better in the shipyard with a new coat of paint on the hull, and the cement cargo ship Cemsea apparently has just arrived at the Akranes docks.

*in case you're wondering, this is a totally fabricated word that some friends and I invented as part of a strange words quiz we wrote. Our "definition" was, "to be enveloped in a chill mist".

16 March 2006


Það kemur, they all say, but living somewhere with a new language is still a daily challenge, and it's hard to see the progress when you're still not "getting" it so much of the time. Some days I really feel like I'm getting somewhere, but then other times I get so frustrated because so many everyday things are still a huge challenge. I'm not a tremendously outgoing person either, so sometimes it gets really tiring to always be living on the edge like this. Plus, everyone that lives here doesn't think it's particularly amazing when an instruction sheet in Icelandic is understandable to them. Of course it is, if you've been speaking the language for your whole life, but I've been here for six months, people! Before that I had never thought I'd be trying to learn this language of so few people.

At work, the official language of the company is English, something that's been imposed due to the many foreign offices we have (not all my fault, people!). Understandably, this is often overlooked for things that only apply to the office space in Iceland. Inevitably afterwards, someone will send an email saying that there's a foreigner in our midst who won't understand a word (in Icelandic of course), so best be translating that, folks. I always respond with a summary of whatever the offending Icelandic item was, and then it turns out that the reason for the English translation request was more as a gentle reminder that we're not supposed to be writing in Icelandic. So I get to be the whipping boy, the scapegoat, whatever you might want to call it. It's mostly ok with me, since it doesn't seem the Icelandic way to confront these things directly, but sometimes I hate the reply-to-ALL-senders reminder that I'm the odd one out. I know that no matter what, if I decide to stay here, I will always not quite fit in, but sometimes I don't want it to be so publicly shared.

One place I do feel like I'm occasionally making Ice-progress is at choir rehearsals. Everything is Icelandic there, and fortunately, the director is the kind of animated person who speaks half in body language anyway. Last Saturday he gave us a history of the different improvisational styles of the 18th versus 19th centuries, illustrated with lots of pantomime playing and conducting, and I got almost all of it (internally I was thinking, "wow, music history in ICELANDIC!! and I completely get it!" but I had nobody to share my triumph with). The instructions are all pretty obvious too, although whenever we're supposed to all start from the beginning, he throws in a "from the tops" for my benefit (I don't want to tell him I don't need the translation because I love his "from the tops" instead of "from the top"). I followed the fast-paced discussion of our weekend æfingahelgi (rehearsal retreat) including the discussion of what we were eating, who was bringing what, and the details of where we were staying (bring a bathing suit, no need for linens, and so forth) but there's always the quick quip that makes the room erupt in laughter that causes the internal dilemma. Do I laugh like I understood? Do I sit there and let the laughter flow around me? I'm not going to very well pipe up and say, "so what was so funny anyway?" and have them translate. It's strange enough to be the new kid already without adding joke-translation requests.

Whenever people do throw me an English bone, it's often to translate something that I understood quite well already. For example, I'm good with the times. Say the rehearsal is at hálf sjö and I'll be there at 6:30, no worries. If you're explaining that something is over in the cupboard there, accompanied by much gesticulating, I'll probably get that too, and if you give me a chance, I might even understand more.

Ship sighting: Haven't seen much on the horizon lately, but there's a new guy in partial sandblast state in the slippur, called Eldborg. The registration number is of a kind I haven't seen before (what is the EK- prefix?), but it seems to be owned by an Icelandic company, as this site shows. I also found the section of the harbor website that has the list of the 72 cruise ships scheduled for arrival this year. This is the first one, due in May. So many things to look forward to!

13 March 2006

One reason for the boat obsession

This is the living-room view J and I have. Like the Czech-made wooden tulips? It's the first day we've had sun properly in the house, so I had to commemorate with an appropriately spring-like photo.


Icelanders love a good song competition. They rank highest among most-watched events on the national TV stations, and as I learned last Friday, the enthusiasm is not restricted to only watching them.

My work has an annual "Olympics" which involve three days of crazy games, from chess and bowling to air hockey and darts. The final evening of it involves a beer drinking competition, something called tin soldiers, and the culmination of the evening, the singing competition.

There are five divisions of the company, and before the games, every division designs a t-shirt and goes into heavy training for the various sports to choose the best and the brightest. We already had a few certain competitors, like the fastest beer-drinker in the west (I couldn't understand why everyone was so complacent about our ability to win this one until I saw him do it- truly a miracle) and a great chess player, but with some of the others we had to have a preparatory selection round in February. I discovered an ability for tin soldiers (bowling over small plastic soldiers with a marble on the floor) so I ended up competing on our team.

For the song competition, the lyrics of an Icelandic Idol song were rewritten for maximum work humor (which I still don't understand fully), and then we assembled an ensemble that included people from our northern office and from here. We had a great advantage going in with an excellent supply of instruments from one guy who also owns an instrument store, and various unexpected musical talents. I also discovered why I had been asked if I could sing in my interview for the job when I was recruited as a back-up singer. Four other women completed the ensemble, along with the project manager singing lead vocals.

We practiced together only a few times last week, then went and bought some cheap, formfitting sparkly shirts for the backup singers on Friday before the evening competition. By the time the song part of the evening started, everyone had been drinking beer and eating fried jalapeno poppers so the crowd was in a rowdy mood, which all the performances capitalized on to great effect.

As would be expected, Iceland's Eurovision competitor's song featured prominently. Our candidate is a bit of an Icelandic personality, and her campy style and variety of accessory men make for easy entertainment. We got it twice on Friday, along with an "I'm too sexy for my job" sung by monks. I missed the first performance, as I was under a cloud of hairspray during it. Ours was the only one with more than one live instrument, so this combined with our fabulous choreography garnered first prize, a trophy cup that is now displayed prominently at the entrance to our office.

I had to go home before the evening got really heated up, thanks to early practice the next day, and I walked home from a shared cab back to my neighborhood to Brazilian jazz on my iPod, the gently falling snow tickling my mascara-ed eyelashes.

ship sighting: J and I went for a postprandial walk last night after our Thai dinner, down to where the four whaling ships lie idle across from the touristy whale-watching boat. The dockside one is looking almost freshly painted, and a gangplank leads straight from the wharf to the deck of the boat now. Last night it creaked ominously as we walked by it in the still night. We also passed the gold boat, still unmoved from the first time I saw it in October 2004. It's another mysterious relic of some past time- fully painted gold on every surface, it's got what looks like a garage door leading off the upper deck. There's also an antique mangle/washer thing sitting askew on one of the lower decks. I'm starting to think there's good potential for a mystery novel set among these forgotten elements of Iceland's nautical identity.

09 March 2006

Vocal contributions

Last night I went to try out a chorus in my local neighborhood. I've always loved singing, and in Iceland almost every man, woman, and child is in some kind of performing group of some kind. If instruments aren't your thing, there are choirs everywhere. Many of them are kvennakór (wpmen's chorus), since apparently the guys are all off playing bass or something, but I always preferred the richness one only gets with men and women together. When J got started on his musical group (woodwind ensemble conducted by our former upstairs neighbor) it was time for me to find a way to be part of the musical life of the country.

On Saturday, a friend we haven't seen in a while came to the party and said his wife was in a group that practices at a church right in our neighborhood, and they had both men and women. I went yesterday for the first time, and as with most things here, it was totally new and strange in some ways, but certain themes of Iceland are already becoming familiar and comforting.

It's a church choir, so the practice was in the activities building to the side of the church. The building is complete with the usual area for drinking coffee after church on Sunday, the church-vestibule coatrack, and lots of nice church-ladies in the chorus. Last night was a sectional rehearsal, so the only guys I saw were the ones who'd forgotten they were supposed to come in the second hour, but all the women were very friendly, although I think I'm the youngest in the group.

The director was just the kind of person you'd expect to be a chorus director- somewhat slight of build, picking the melody and harmony out enthusiastically on his electric piano as his blond hair fell into his eyes, his toe keeping time with the quarter notes. He even had a stripey chorus-director scarf. All of this was so familiar to me that it seemed odd that he was giving all the instructions in Icelandic, accompanied by the usual hand gestures meant to be a visual representation of the tune we were singing.

After a flurry of paper passing-out, we got started with the usual vocal warm-ups. It's been years since I was in a group, but by the time we started in on the new music, things were coming right back to me- the counting of notes, the listening for where the soprano and alto notes blended into a nice moment, the pronunciation of the Latin words. The ritual of singing practice is exactly the same here, although after getting lost in the tune and interweaving voices, it was an odd shock to have the intricacies of a phrase explained in this language I'm still grasping to understand.

I think I'll be back though, since it seems that the living-in-Iceland experience is incomplete until you're in a musical ensemble. Plus, there's talk of a singing trip to Italy in June... can't argue with that!

Ship sighting: I saw the research vessel Triton on the horizon this morning, and apparently it's a special type of boat, as this website explains. It's got a trimaran hullform, at 98 meters long, is the world's biggest sea-going trimaran. I guess it's a bit of a design experiment, so the research it's doing sounds more along the lines of boat design and military equipment than what's living at the bottom of the sea. Still, could be cool to see up close so I'm thinking of heading down to the harbor to find it later today.

08 March 2006

Come for dinner

Everyone who's been to Iceland knows that to eat out requires deep pockets here in Reykjavík. Going to dinner is a special occasion that means dressing up and really enjoying when you're out. The restaurants here are great, but if you're not interested in Thai, hamburgers, or pizza, it's going to cost at least a hundred USD for two.

This means that Icelanders have made entertaining at home an art form. Most houses I've been to have well-stocked kitchens, bookshelves overflowing with beautiful recipe books, and the inhabitants have the know-how to go with all this culinary equipment. With the raw ingredients available here, it's quite a treat to be invited over and appreciate the fruits of these labors. Everyone dresses up, even if it is a short notice invitation, and meals always involve multiple courses, good china, and tablecloths. J and I once made the mistake of thinking it wasn't a dress-up event, since the only times I'd seen our hostess, she'd been dressed in a lopapeysa and jeans, so we arrived in jeans. They'd set the table with layered tablecloths and candles, tucked the kids in bed, and were dressed for an evening out. Another time after J and I had been in a cabin for the whole weekend, we invited someone over for a simple pasta meal in two hours, and again, our guest arrived in a tie and jacket, wine in hand, to find me and J in t-shirts. We learned our lesson after that.

All these people we've gone to visit live in lovely houses in the suburbs, with rooms and dining tables, leaving J and I uncertain of how to reciprocate. We chose to live in the 101 instead of Kópavogur or somewhere, so we compromised on the space issue. We've also only got 5 chairs and they don't match, and we've only recently graduated from paper-towel napkins thanks to my crafty mom making cloth ones as a Christmas gift. Our place has kind of a single-room loft thing going, so if we do go into amazing culinary gyrations, we'd have to eat in view of all the pots and pans we used. Also, the food we make tends to be on the wholesome and easy-to-make side. I'm great at cooking randomly good things out of the four strange ingredients in the fridge (pepper cream cheese and spinach can make a GREAT pasta sauce) but it's never from a recipe so it always comes out differently. Not really the kind of thing I want to serve to guests.

J already introduced the idea of weekend coffee, where we provide the coffee, the setting, and an eclectic mix of people, and the guests provide baked goods of their choice. It has taken on a life of its own, and during one of the more memorable ones, one couple arrived with a waffle iron, waffle batter, whipped cream, and jam. They set up on the counter and were turning out waffles in a matter of minutes.

I suppose it's partly what happens anywhere as you get older- entertaining gets more elaborate as people accumulate the trappings of grown-up-ness, but people here have been developing these skills for a lot longer. Boston yuppies eat out, Ice-yuppies eat in.

Ship sighting: Lots of container ship activity recently, which J and I have enjoyed being able to actually see. Naja Arctica departed over the weekend on the way to Greenland, and was the most beautiful cargo ship I've ever seen. Everything was red and crisp white, including all the four-high stacks of containers on the deck. While searching for pictures on the internet, I also found this awesome website that plots the location of ships when they last called in their position. You can filter by different types of ships to only see research vessels or cruise ships, or zoom in for a closer look. If you look at Iceland and environs, you can see the last reported position of Naja Arctica. At time of writing she was just rounding the southernmost tip of Greenland.

06 March 2006

The original earth mover

I just experienced my first in-the-waking-hours earthquake, bringing home the fact that I am now living on an active plate boundary. There are stories of an earthquake a few years ago in the Boston area but it happened at night so I didn't feel a thing. Here today it's been windy since morning so the top-floor location of my office has been swaying gently already. When the motion made the floor feel like it was rolling I almost thought it was more of the same until someone on the other side of the room shouted, "meira!" (more!) as the jelly-building feeling subsided.

The word now is that it was a 4.6 only a few kilometers away from here at Krísuvík. While I was looking for the information (Reported conveniently on the Morgunblaðið website) I found the map showing recent earthquake activity in Iceland. As expected it follows the plate boundary down the center of the country, but what I hadn't realized was how much it's going on- there are earthquakes daily, although many are in uninhabited areas. I learned all about this in geology class but it's a different thing to be living on top of the activity that's sending Iceland towards California on the geologic conveyor-belt.

02 March 2006

broken spirit

Winter's gloomy spirit seems to be gone already. Since I got back, it's been four straight days of the most glorious, yet eyeball piercing sun. That hour of light added while I was gone has made a tremendous difference in the way the country feels. It's a noisier, showier place already, and the tourists are coming back.

Still, I can't be too sad when at almost 8pm the sky is still orange over Seltjarnarnes. The color extends to behind Snæfellsjökull now, the classic snipped volcano-top highlighted against the purple dusk. I'd almost forgotten why J and I chose to live here, so little we've seen the view, but now there's plenty of light to eat dinner in the daylight after a post-work swim.

In the Vesturbær yards, snowdrops are blooming already, bulbs are sending up shoots, and hedges are fat with tightly folded leaf-buds. It's not been above freezing much at all this week, but I guess if you're a plant in Iceland, that can't stop you. I hope they make it through spring.

At work the low-angled sun shines straight in during the afternoon, creating the warm drowsy feeling of being beachside. It's a nice vacation in the beginning of March but not conducive to productivity!

Ship sighting: Engey RE1 is back in the harbor in its usual spot, and I'm watching the progress of BBC Japan across my view right now. It's headed for the docks at Korngarður, so it's probably full of some kind of grain, bound for processing at the adjacent Kornax flour mill that I wrote about last month

01 March 2006

"text me"

Iceland lives and thrives on text-message communication. Got an appointment for a massage, a haircut, a dye job? They ask for you cell number and a few days before, you'll get a text message reminding you of the time. Want to order from Dominos? They'll send you a message letting you know your pizza's coming, and then they'll send you a "Gleðileg Jól" message in December thanking you for your patronage. Landing in a new country? Your cellphone will welcome you to the new country with a little information message about the local service.

All the televised competitions, like Idol and all the Eurovision voting, is also done by phone. They post phone numbers for each contestant, and for a small price (usually 100 ISK or about a dollar fifty) you can send your little sms of support to help your favorite competitor. This works in other countries as well, as J and I learned. When we were in Prague, we caught an episode of German Idol and had to vote for our favorite. I wonder if that was the only time they'd received a vote from the Czech Republic on an Icelandic phone?

All this texting means that most Icelanders my age can write a text message the way I can type- it's about as many words per minute, and they can do it in an equally offhand way as they look out the window at the same time. I feel woefully behind with my hunt-n-peck two hand technique, but I'm getting better. It is a really convenient medium after all- all the non-intrusiveness of email with incredible portability and ease. Everyone should do it.

Ship Spotting: Arnarfell came by yesterday evening fully loaded, containers stacked four-high from bow to stern. It's incredible how quickly a boat like that can move, even with such a load.
I've also just posted a photo of Magni in the shipyard I always watch. I figured since I talk about it all the time I should let you all knwo what it looks like. Also, for all you people hunting for it, the Guerilla Store is in the blue building you can see behind the boat.