28 January 2008

how to get through January

I know that many people who consider moving north fear the darkest months, when it can seem like you never see day, so here's a list of the things that have made this January manageable and even entertaining.
  • the car. Sad to say that this has made the biggest difference, but when you're talking snow being blown into interestingly sculptural drifts by hurricane force winds, it matters to not be waiting for a bus in it.
  • Just like my mama said, you have to get outside and do something active. It's why we grew up skiing and why I've been swimming regularly. Lying in a hot tub while the snow flails around you is grand, not to mention that perfection of warmth. Plus, the sting of cold snowflakes on your arms will make you swim faster. The perfect training motivation!
  • Dinner parties. Candles, cabernet, and conversation help make those hours and hours of darkness rather cozy.
  • Lots of coffee. My most recent round of place-to-live negotiations have involved more socializing over coffee than actual details-of-apartments discussions. When the weather's neither ski-able nor hike-able, nor mow-the-lawn-able, everyone's much more willing to while away the hours of a gray afternoon over pots and pots of coffee.
  • Big windows. My new office has a vast view across Esja and the mountains to the northeast, so the scraps of daylight are captured and appreciated to their maximum.
  • Escape. Sure, it was only Norway where it gets darker earlier in the day (and lighter earlier) but at least it's a change and a new perspective.
Really though, I think it's just having spent more time here and being used to the rhythm. Plus, by January the sun's on the upswing, so you know that brighter days are ahead.

24 January 2008

everyone's laughing

about this recent report from the Daily Show on Iceland's troop in Iraq. Unlike some skits I've seen about the one Icelandic soldier, this one was actually filmed here.

Part one was from the 22nd, part two from yesterday.

21 January 2008

selected from among thousands!

Last week I got a letter in the mail from the Icelandic Statistics Office, saying I'd been randomly selected from the national registry along with about two thousand other people to research technology and internet habits of the Icelandic population. It was accompanied by a little pamphlet showing the results from previous surveys, with that oft-quoted statistic that Iceland is the most wired country in Europe.

Since then I missed two phone calls that ja.is showed to be the statistics office number, and then finally yesterday I got the call, a most determined woman with a long list of questions. She quizzed me about whether I had a TV, a projector, a PalmPilot, a blog, and what I'd done in the last three months with respect to downloading music, playing internet video games, buying stuff on the internet, or filling out web-based forms. It was a lot of new vocabulary but for once, she did not break the Icelandic and throw me an English bone.

At the conclusion of what was about half an hour of questions my head started to hurt with her practiced speed of questioning, but I think I understood everything, and now next time you read the Icelandic technology statistics, you'll know at least in part where those numbers come from.

20 January 2008


while I was away, Iceland got busy covering things up more than they'd already been covered, so K and I landed in a mini-blizzard yesterday and had to shove the car out of the drift it had gotten nicely tucked into while we were away. It's a rather sporty thing with open wheels so the packed snow caused peculiar effects on the vehicular balance, so we tried to pull over to do something about it but ended up more in a snowdrift than we'd been in the parking lot.

Within seconds, a youngun with a highland-worthy diesel truck had pulled over, followed by a minivan full of enthusiastic kids and a father. The youngun looked hopefully at the car for a place he could hook a winch but when that proved unlikely, he pulled out a sizeable shovel and went about flinging snow energetically while K and I looked on. Then, with a synchronized push, the two guys popped us out of the snowbank and disappeared into the fading day with a cheery wave.

This encounter was so very Icelandic to me in several ways. First of all, when I saw the truck and the type of fellow in it, I knew he'd want to try some kind of winch action. The guys with cars like that seem to always want to make the most use of their equipment, and revel in being The Guys Who Fix Things. Second, he didn't just hand the shovel to me or K, but dug us out completely by himself, and third, in spite of the youngun there, the minivan guy stopped to help too.

As I've said before, there's this way that people go about helping each other here that make me glad to be here. I do think it's not uniquely Icelandic, but more the shape of life in any rural place that is prey to the elements. Growing up in Vermont usually meant helping people in the same way, although I remember more mud-related rescues on the spring pre-season crew team jogs than winter dig-outs. We'd be out for a run together on the narrow dirt roads that wound through the area, and would come upon someone mired in a fresh patch of springtime. Nothing's quite so nice to someone like that than 10 or 15 high-school athletes, ready to push and dirty enough as it is that a little more mud doesn't matter.

16 January 2008


back in Norway again, where the weather is less scandi-wonderland than the country I left on Tuesday.

K and I drove to the airport in a sprightly snowstorm, and true to his Viking roots, K was more confident and optimistic about things than the car could deliver. we ended up shoveling ourselves into the parking space before departing, so the weather had better warm up a bit before we return or we need to make friends with a shovel owner.

Anyway, here I am in Norway, sampling Norwegian TV properly for the first time, and amid the old Friends episodes, the 1930s Norwegian movies subtitled in Swedish and full of treacherous looks across the dinner table, I find that sulky races are some kind of big deal. I'm talking about that specific and obscure sport where specially trained horses perform restricted gaits while pulling a tiny two-wheeled cart. Who knew that it had such a northern audience, but after seeing two consecutive nights of races being broadcast, once in a genteel snowfall, I have to believe it's some kind of cultural element here.

It may not sound like a great international learning, but I love it.

11 January 2008

talking about nothing

one of the things I've learned while spending time driving this past week is that the radio in the commute-time evening contains 2 things: news, and people calling in and talking about random stuff. They have idle quizzes about certain bands and then after 20 minutes of slow Icelandic talking, will play a song or two, and then repeat.

None of the stuff is particularly controversial or full of hot debate, as this clip K just sent me illustrates. The hosts are asking the caller what the English word for "kjúkling" is. Given the prevalence of KFC here it's kind of surprising that he doesn't know.

January shifting

I'm sitting in my new office space, watching the sunrise pink fade over the new huge view I have, encompassing most of Esja, Akrafjall, and the spine of Snæfellsness. In spite of the late sunrise, it's hard to be too unhappy in a place that offers this much sky-space, all trimmed with mountains.

For it's January in Iceland, and time for changes and remembering that the light is indeed returning. For the first time, I'm approaching Reykjavík by car. After my rant about carless living in Reykjavík, which got featured in a public project somehow, I caved. My new office is in a location that would require taking the entire length of what I call the tour-of-obscure-neighborhoods bus line, plus a lengthy and brisk walk to the edge of nowhere, so I had to stop being stubborn and become like everyone else here, solitarily zipping to work in a little car.

In spite of having lived here for over 2 years, I've ended up in the wrong place a few times these past days as I relearn the lay of the landscape from a new perspective. There are really no highways here, so it's a pretty close-to-the-people experience to be driving in Reykjavík, with lots of lights, roundabouts, and ramps. Add textless signs in bright colors while driving almost only in the dark, and it's almost too surreal to describe.

After nearly a year and a half of taking the bus, it's more of a joy than I care to admit to be with car. The wind is something to relish, not consider as an impediment to wearing scarf, the cold can be enjoyed from the proper perspective, shoulder deep in hot water. 15 minutes to get to work versus 1 hour is also a thrill. So many more minutes per day to be swimming and watching the light on the mountains.