28 November 2008

What is the late November doing

November is the most difficult month for me here- the shrinking daylight, the chaos and lights of Christmas not yet begun, the drenchery, the wind, the interesting colds and flus brought from abroad. I've made an effort to only write when I'm on the more upbeat side so that's partly why I sometimes go stretches of time without saying much here.

Thing is though, when I really look at how daily life feels different, it's just in the prices. Everything's gone up, perhaps with the exception of Icelandic wool, but the things I'd normally buy are still all available. As for all that talk about anarchy settling in, chaos ruling, and people gone nuts rioting in the streets, it's kind of like the food crisis that hit the wires a few weeks ago-blown out of proportion for the sake of a juicier story. I've gotten several emails from would-be tourists asking if they'll be safe or if they should really just give up on the plans to visit altogether. Fact is, what's happening here is a big deal relative to how the population is in general, but the protests as they've been happening so far are not something that's caused massive general disruption citywide. If you're not downtown near the parliament building on Saturday afternoons, you'd never know it was happening, save for a few "out with Davið!" signs that remain leaning on buildings and statues after the fact. I'd honestly say I'd fear for my safety more at 3:30a.m. on weekend nights when the bar crowds have gotten extra rowdy and want their sandwiches and hotdogs.

And so life continues here, one day at a time. Given the prices of things, and given my amount of nervous energy that needs burning off, I've resorted to knitting and weaving all my Christmas gifts this year. I'm obviously not the only person who's doing this, as was evidenced by my last visit to Handprjónasambandið (the Icelandic knitting association) downtown. I'm used to it being full of tourists, caught up in the novelty of the weird materials here and stocking up on the sweaters and mittens. This time the supply corner was jammed and the language was all Icelandic. But, at about 200isk per "cheese" of the unspun lopi (enough for a hat), that's a bargain. So I'm supporting the "veljum Íslenskt" (choose Icelandic!) cause and my family and friends will all be cozy during our upcoming in-a-cold-place holiday gathering. Everybody wins!

10 November 2008


On Tuesday I went to the American Embassy's reception, where I stayed only long enough to see the state where I voted be the first to declare its tiny 3 votes for Obama, to see that of all the states in the union it had the highest percentage voting Obama. Then at home I watched more, as state after state went blue, then fell asleep and woke just in time for his speech in Chicago. It's an exciting moment and I am glad to see some hope, some inspiration, some new possibilities.

Here in Iceland I have only met 3 McCain supporters- the American Baptists from the church on the road to the airport. Everyone else is delighted, and on Wednesday evening at my choir rehearsal nearly my entire voice section congratulated me on "my new president". And then, as we dug into the Christmas songs that will be our holiday program, I thought of how the roles of my two countries have reversed. For so long it was easier, more convenient to say that I was coming from Iceland while abroad, since being American could bring trouble. Now, mentioning Iceland abroad seems to bring trouble while it's finally ok to be American.

Don't get me wrong, I've never pretended I were Canadian, or pretended I were Icelandic, or hidden my Americanness in any way, but I have been aware that in general we were not a popular nation, or rather our president was not a popular one. But now, somehow the hopes of America have become the hopes of the world. One president of one country cannot solve it all but a little inspiration does go a long way, and as a colleague said, the Americans now have something that I think Iceland needs right now- an inspiring leader with a totally different background that those that have been in charge for years.

I do fear that somehow the whole world is looking to this one man in one nation to fix the ills that have crippled countries everywhere. I know that can't happen, that we all have to work on it together. And yet somehow, having someone is already at work, is making even the most politically cynical people feel that he's talking directly to them, gives me hope that somehow we can all find our way out of this mess together.

Here in Iceland there definitely has been a greater rumbling of disgruntlement, but as one of my choir members said, Iceland has never been in the habit of complaining. In America, the break from colonial rule came by actually fighting for it. Here it was taken at a time when the ruling country was busy dealing with much greater, more immediate troubles. But now, in one person's words "Iceland is turning into France". The protests tend to be a bit disjointed, with a few hanger-on groups trying to push their own agendas, but at least there's something happening. It remains to be seen what will happen, whether it will really cause any sort of governmental change.

04 November 2008

new stuff

On Friday my office moved for the third time since I came to Iceland. I swear my destiny in this country is to put things into boxes and take them out again- six house moves and three office moves in three years is kind of a lot.

But this move is the best yet. My commute is less than half as long (and at 16 minutes it was hardly a stress before), my post-work trip to the pool now only a few blocks long. The office is an entire floor at the top of a building along what some call Reykjavík's "Wall Street", perhaps the reason why this space lingered empty for some time. It's a grand spot though, where I can watch the weather sweeping over Esja and the sea, or the pointed spires that top the skyline of downtown. The color scheme here is warm- wooden floors and rusty orange-red, the space full of air and light, exactly the place one wants to spend the darkening days of Icelandic winter.

I've also taken up running in the past month, and discovered that what S said is true- this country is surprisingly good for running with all these flat distances and excellent lighting at night. It's just a bit terrifying when the weather factor is added to the mix but this is a good time in Iceland to work on toughness and feeling fierce. Nothing like battling a windy snowstorm in the dark to really feel euphoric in the hot tubs afterwards (and that of course is yet another reason it's awesome to run here- the hot tub is massive drawing incentive to get the whole painful running part over with). Plus, it's a nicely inexpensive hobby to be investing in during these times, and reminds me of what is great about life here. The mountains haven't changed, the fresh air, the smell of the sea- they're all there and as exhilarating as ever.

But the fallout is indeed starting to happen- companies are folding with little advance notice, others are trimming staff, trimming salaries, trimming extras, doing whatever they can to stay just the slightest bit above water. Prices on things have increased, in some cases extremely, like medicine that was 5200isk in early October was 6200isk on Saturday. I'm hoping it was just because I was at a different store. In other cases the price change was less than rumored, like with the story about the alcohol prices going up 20-30% over the weekend. The information on the Vínbúð website says it was a 5.25% increase, but when S and I went for some bottles of wine on Friday evening, the shop was crammed with people and the shelves alarmingly picked over. Trust it that Icelanders don't panic about food shortage rumors being published internationally, but a whiff of trouble with the supply of booze and everyone's running to stock up.

In spite of it all I remain here, grateful for my job and all the strangely happy circumstances surrounding it, for my great coworkers and friends here, for my thrifty New England upbringing, for these opportunities to go all homemaker and make the good food at home instead of going out for it, for working on homemade Christmas gifts, for nice plans ahead with family and those I most want to spend time with. Sometimes I do wish I weren't on the frontlines of this terrifying moment in history but it has chosen me to somehow be part of it and I'm not ready to leave yet. Sometimes I do get discouraged too, but I remember that I'm among the most fortunate here- mobile and young enough to leave should the need arise, with a job here and a lifestyle that's well below my means so I can afford to choose my path.

And as I sat at the dinnertable at my choir's annual party on Saturday I thought of how much has happened in the years here, how the reasons for my moving here are so different from the reasons that keep me here now. I love that my own life surprises me, that I can have these moments of "wow" when I step outside of whatever I'm doing and look at how things are unfolding. Yeah, I'm posting a lot of Pollyana lately but what else can I do? I can't make the monetary policies here, all I can do is keep doing my best with where I am, and being grateful for all that I have, which is really quite a lot.