27 October 2007

the favorite trip

I just got a whizz-bang new phone that has a camera, so I can finally show off the rollerblading trip I do that renews my faith and love for this odd land. It starts along Snorrabraut, then towards the airport and down past the fake beach at Nauthólsvík. Then I wrap around the airport and make towards Vesturbær, where I pass the little fish embedded in the pavement and the fishing sheds left over from a previous incarnation of this part of Reykjavík.

Then it's a sneak through the path that ends near the KR football stadium, and out onto the path facing Esja, looking fabulous and snowy today. This bit's usually a battle with the wind that's sweeping in from the open sea beyond the mouth of the bay, and when it's low tide there's a good fresh smell of seaweed and other things. Today there was a trio of oystercatchers doing their goofy parade around in the water, and as always, plenty of gulls.

Further along is this shed which must be used for drying things because on peaceful afternoons it's a pretty stinky section of pavement. Carry on though, because just beyond it is Grótta, the lovely lighthouse that marks the tip of Seltjarnarnes. Today I came upon a photo shoot in the grass there, so I took a surreptitious photo of the action, and then turned towards the open expanse ahead. Further along this path, before turning at the golf course, the dunes get high so all that's visible of the sea is little snatches of blue between the grass.

On the other side of the road, heading back along the lower part of the peninsula, I look back towards the mountains, that today got engulfed in clouds, then inspect the bird life on the pond there. Three swans today and a lot of threatening clouds.

From here it's a sail through the yellowing grass along a more gentle shore, although today there was still quite a lot of kelp and loose sand on the path. I stopped for a drink of water at one of the conveniently placed water fountains. A little further on and I'm in the middle of Seltjarnarnes center, where the swimming pool is under major renovations. Turn right down a little skinny walking path and then its neighborhood streets for a while, where today the Saturday duvet-airing tradition was in full swing.

I come out again along the sea in Vesturbær, and retrace my tracks towards the airport, pass the soccer fields, past this sea wall that blooms with mustard-colored lichen. At Nauthólsvík again I have a moment of truth, whether to go down along Fossvogur a little further, and then knock myself out climbing up the full height of Öskjuhlíð, or to turn back to Hotel Loftleiðir. I took the second option today, and passed a wonderfully dilapidated suitcase that someone had ejected at the side of the path.

From there it's a short homestretch, and if the weather's not looking so scary like it was today, I sometimes continue to the other side again, where I cruise to the Sólfar sculpture and see what tourists are there inspecting it. If I could, I would do this trip every single day- the landscape is lovely, the air delicious, and the seasonal changes make the view different every time.

26 October 2007

On the fringes of Airwaves

I did not go to any of the acts here over the weekend as part of the well-publicized Airwaves festival, but I did go to a few of the many hanger-on events that were scheduled for the same weekend, hoping to capitalize on the higher concentration of hipper-than-thou folk in town.

On Friday I went to the opening reception of the home and design show. Held in Laugardalshöllin, it was supposed to showcase the best and brightest of Icelandic design. In some respects it succeeded wonderfully, with a corner crammed with small objects- textiles, sculpture, tableware, and lights. The rest of the show was a little jumbled though, with exhibits ranging from hot tubs for the summerhouse, to Kaupþing (the bank), various big n splashy TV displays, an exhibit on new materials and construction techniques, and a toy shop for kids. As always with trade shows like this, there was plenty of champagne, chocolate, cookies, and sandwich-y nibbles, just like the fishing tech showcase, and the high tech expo I went to before. No fishing nets at this one though.

On Saturday it was all about architecture for the presentation of the first Icelandic building award. It was held in the Reykjavik Art Museum's Kjarvalsstaðir branch, an apt locale for the audience whose overall wardrobe vibe was blacker than Iceland in December. After a lot of rambling presentation-talk, the Prime Minister handed over the award to the people who built the Blue Lagoon's skin therapy spa, and the thing was over after some slightly thin applause. Since it was the first time for the event, it seemed a bit tentative on the whole, in spite of the champagne, but I could not disagree with the splendid venue, the great style-watching, and the licorice-topped chocolate squares.

Then off to swank lounge b5 where the whole place had been graffittoed out for the official launch party of the hot book of the season, Icepick. The author's a friend of a friend, and is one of those people who is way cooler than you will ever be, but is super nice about it. Her clothing store just down the street, Ósoma, has the kind of design that makes for a worthwhile souvenir- truly Icelandic, obscure yet not too much, and supporting the local folks.

The event had been very publicized to the Airwaves Press Pass crowd, who all showed up for the free lady-cocktails (pink or purple, an odd choice for the launch of so fierce a book) and the porcupine styled fruit kebab trays that were ringed with prosciutto-wrapped figs and various other not-from-these-parts delicacies. As with every event that weekend, there were plenty of people I knew there, but the high percentage of camerafolks made it seem like we were at something Really Huge.

I'm not sure now if it was Airwaves that made for the art-laden weekend or if it's just that fall is when it Happens Here. After the summertime of long and empty weekends stretching ahead, it's back-to-back Things To Do, and I don't want to miss any of it. This is why blogging has been a bit of a back seat of late. That and this ennnnndless rain that's making me gloomy in spite of myself. Hopefully no more will need to be said on that subject!

12 October 2007

high times

One of the staples of any Iceland resident's social calendar is árshátíð, the annual company party. This is not an awkward Office-style gig where you buy a couplea cheap paper tablecloths, a jug of booze (if your company even deems it appropriate to have alcohol), and some deviled eggs, but rather an all-out extravaganza of those guys you only see in jeans and socks-n-tevas wearing ties and suits, and the ladies shake out the ball gowns, shimmery eye shadow, and impractical shoes.

Apparently the usual season for árshátíð ("year's-high-time" if translated literally) is in the spring but my company has always been dangerous and different and gone for the September celebration. The first year I was in Iceland the gala happened 4 days into my new job and was held in Poland. As a way to arrive in your new job, a free trip to Warsaw is not too bad, but it set a pretty high standard for future events.

This year, like last year, it was a more local event in a function hall big enough to hold the some-200 people that make up the Icelandic portion of the company. Just like events in college, the pre-party was an essential part, where everyone stood about, felt a little awkward in their fancydress clothes and tried not to talk about work. Then off to cocktail hour where they lubed us up with glasses of champagne so everyone was feeling festive as they were ushered into the main hall. Pre-dinner everyone got a number for door prizes, which, since I work in high-tech, was all printers and other gadgets.

The dinner itself was hosted by a Personality, some actor who gets a little extra coin for coming up and being amusing between courses at grand dinners. Since we are talking Iceland here, there was also a participatory singing portion of the evening. As I am sure I have mentioned before, Icelanders+alcohol+time=singing. After dinner it was dancing, drinks, and proper mingling. I discovered that a French guy I met at a party last year is the husband of someone I work with, I met lots of wives of the guys I work with, I got to see face-to-face all these people from the northern office who are almost exclusively MSN/Skype relationships.

The first time I heard that it was a Big Fun Deal to party down with your boss I was a little skeptical, since at my last job I almost never socialized with the people I worked with, but it's a different story here. Maybe it's because people here are so often kind of buttoned-up that it's fun to see what happens when they start to become chatty, or because it's a close community and the lines between work and play are a little more blurred as a result.

Part of why these things are so extravagant is that a portion of the money that pays for them actually comes from the staff, in the form of a small monthly deduction from your paycheck. It's used for árshátíð, the equally essential and Icelandic óvissuferð (secret trip), and the third element of the work socializing Triple Crown, the jólahlaðborð, or Christmas Buffet. It might seem odd that your own money goes to this kind of thing but it does make for a closer work environment, which for the most part is a great thing. I am not sure if it is allowed or even possible to opt out of this bit of money being taken out anyway, so might as well enjoy it!

07 October 2007

a question for the local readers

These past few evenings, when I look out my kitchen window, in a location to the north about mid-Esja, there's an alarmingly bright spotlight shining directly at the sky, a la USA grand stadium. Is this the call for Batman? A sign to planets beyond that the intelligent life is really to be found here on this tiny island, so don't waste your time with Paris, New York, or London? Iceland's way to bump up our contribution to the global light pollution map? I keep thinking it's norðurljós only to remember "oh yeah, the Spotlight oOf Mystery!"

so please, readers, end the mystery, because all I know of in that direction is chicken farms and I hardly think this would be the big plot the chickens have been working on all these months and years.

05 October 2007

forgotten fall

September and October are my favorite months usually- crisp air, bright leaves, a chance for scarves, coats, and wool. This year though, it seems like it has almost never happened, with the nearly endless rainstorms, and the high winds of last week that ripped off most of the leaves before they had a chance to go colorful. Last year it was a proper fall here, and the trip to Vermont would take care of anyone's yen for foliage.

This year it's been Norway where I have watched the season unfold properly, over the course of four trips there since mid-August. It starts with the train ride into Oslo from the airport that displays all the right markers- alarmingly bright orange punctuating misty hills, stands of trees clustering against deep red-painted barns. In the town outside Oslo where I go for work, it's the smell of fall rain hastening the leaf decay, the fog-hazed fields all trimmed of their August hay crop and lying golden and stubbled. Days that start with finger-chill and mist in the river valley, then warm up to almost short-sleeve temperature, and then close around you cool enough to cause the puff of white in your exhale and make the stars twinkle crisply.

If only it were like that sometimes, just sometimes, here in Iceland this year. Like others, I've been remembering the views of other autumns, when there were chances to appreciate the size of the landscape here and how marvelous the light is when it chooses to be. I know that weather will come again someday, but after what feels like two months of non-stop rain, I'm starting to plan delicious non-Iceland escapes to visit foreign friends with glee. It's a tough love sometimes, this Iceland.