09 January 2009


I'd like to take a moment to mention how stupendously great my neighborhood is, since I have been enjoying the experience a lot lately. Here's why:
  • Walkably close to a good cinema and the home of the Icelandic Symphony.
  • A great grocery store, that while expensive, doesn't suffer from the same expiration date tragedy as my other store and contains all sorts of hidden delights in its tiny aisles. Good for running into people you know as well as the Famous Locals. Also has ridiculously friendly checkout people- even when it was the only store open for kilometers on new years eve and was completely jammed, they still greeted everyone and maintained good humor in the chaos. I'll pay for that.
  • The best hamburgers in Iceland. I don't care what you Búllan fans say- I was there one day last year and Tommi himself was patronizing my favorite place. If HE's getting in on the action, there's definitely something there.
  • The best steam room in Reykjavík, by all accounts. It's a circle, it's got a whole wall of window, and the best acoustics in town. Yes, I sing in the steam when solitary.
  • A whole stretch of good seafront, that doesn't suffer from having a near-highway zipping along right next to it. I go there for my peace-n-quiet runs, particularly nice at sunset in the winter.
  • Close enough that downtown is a pleasant stroll through various cute parts of town.
  • Old enough for there to be plenty of tall trees all around the houses.
  • Not fabulous enough to suffer from the noisy weekend crowds that I heard frequently when living in 101.
  • Plenty of parking for you and for your visitors, on a carefully orchestrated network of one-way streets so that there is almost no street traffic at night going past my house.
  • Close to where I sing- early morning practices are not so uncomfortable when I have such a short walk to get there.
  • Reverse commute! After spending about 15 minutes trying to get from my office to Kringlan at 5:15 the other day, a stretch of road that would normally take a minute, I appreciate this. If I were a Garðabær dweller that would be a daily experience. Misery! Instead I get to sail along the bay with Esja beside me.
  • oh, and I'm told that the Select mini-mart at the gas station nearby has some secretly excellent coffee. Do I really need anything else in my 'hood?
And that, my friends, is why 107 is where it's AT.

07 January 2009

it's not all about the kreppa

One of my latest peeves has nothing to do with the grand sweeping global economic woes- it has to do with my grocery shopping. My local Krónan is an American-sized big-box grocery store, complete with the trolleys, the vast landscape of coolers and acres of shelving. It seems that the customer demand is not in accordance with this scale though, as evidenced by the turnover in the dairy department.

In the past month I have bought 2 kinds of cheese that expired a day after I bought them, and on an expedition for mozzarella I found that every single package they had on the shelves was expired. Now I have become diligent about checking the dates every single time I buy something, but even that is insufficient- I came home on Monday with a tub of blue cheese sauce that hadn't been sealed properly at the factory and was completely consumed by interesting fuchsia mold. A fascinating science experiment but a sore disappointment for my pepper steak that would have been so much better with a dollop.

I don't remember having this many troubles back when I lived in Boston- perhaps it was due to the dense population of the neighborhood surrounding my store, perhaps it's the super-processed nature of almost everything in the US means it is less likely to go funky. Whatever the reason, consider this a warning to any of you who are new to shopping in an Icelandic grocery store. Check those tomato packages for the one that might have split and is fuzzy, test that cucumber for soft spots, and always, always check every single expiration date.

04 January 2009

In the wood

So I spent the Christmas in Germany, enfolded in the traditions, food, and family in southern Bavaria. It was a time of steely gray skies, all the better to enjoy the mulled wine in the famous Christmas Market, to enjoy the sausages, paired as gravely with specific types of mustard as a Frenchman would ponder his cheese and wine matching. It was a warm candle-lit chaos of German and English and music and museums and a dozen kinds of jam and a lot of books, all the things a holiday ought to be. I'd had the idea of being there the first time I saw the massive Medieval church where the Christmas eve service was held, and as we came out the doors onto the cobblestone square, surrounded by hugging people and pealing bells, I knew it had been the right choice in spite of the chaos that comes with three native languages and many branches of family. I do have to advise against the smoked beer if anyone gets curious though. It was probably the only fail on the food front from the entire week.

And during the downtimes, I bonded with my newest love in Germany, the forest. It's apparently quite a sacred part of German life, since every time I turned on to the paths in the dark wood near S's mom's house, I encountered all sorts of people, walking dogs, riding bikes, riding horses, or just meandering.

I should clarify that forests in Germany are not the riotous opportunistic jungles of New England. Rather, they are mysterious and orderly, and in this place laced with sandy paths and ancient moss-covered sandstone quarries, the source for much of the building material for nearby Nurnberg. This is the landscape that calls to mind all the spooky forested fairy tales of Grimms, tall slender pine trees, so densely packed that little more than blueberries grow at the foot of the trees. Along the way while running there, I came upon small shelters, many benches, and a network of carefully numbered birdhouses. The paths were all marked with a complexity beyond my American mind, to explain what type of transport was allowed (horses, bikes, people) and what tiny village would appear through the trees eventually.

All the running turned out to also be just the thing to counteract the deliciousness of all the food- the goose, the sausages and reindeer steaks, the cheese, the cookies and chocolates. Yes, it was all the things Christmas ought to be- family, food, and forest.

01 January 2009

Veuve and rockets

New years in Iceland remains one of the most exuberant places to start things off with a bang. S and I returned from Germany in time to do it right, landing in the midst of the preliminary experimental explosions that are part of the dark days between Christmas and the 6th of January.

But first, I had to sing in the gamlárskvöld mass in the church, an enthusiastic and relaxed service that ended with a flurry of kisses and hugs. Then we all assembled to drink a champagne toast, to sing the beautiful Icelandic national anthem (for the uninitiated, it's a four-part hymn that's sung infrequently, not at all like the American anthem that opens every baseball game), and then to explode a few fireworks while we all stood outside and sang some more.

We then went to a party of people that have been meeting every few months for parties that are always excellent- good food, interesting people, lots of conversation, and a perfect location just below Hallgrimskirkja. At midnight we all went out into the street while S and G took on the duties of firemasters. We exploded cakes, we exploded rockets, popped confetti bottles, lit whizzing pinwheels, waved sparklers, and generally created the experience of the American Revolution by clogging the street in a haze of gunpowder. All around us, the fizz of launching rockets exploded overhead as we worked through the boxes.

And then, when we all got cold enough, back inside for more food, more champagne, and more conviviality. Iceland hasn't lost the spirit at all, and with an arrival like that, I can't help but feel like good things are still to come.