Halló again dear readers (wow that sounds very Jane Eyre – points to anyone who understands that reference),
I just got off the phone with mamma mín. Today is my parents’ anniversary. Til hamingju for 37 years of marriage! For anyone who might be curious and isn’t in Washington, my dad is recovering very well from his surgery. He’s off the pain meds, is walking around the neighborhood, and is sleeping better. Good to hear!
að vinna: to work
My first day of work was rather overwhelming, as you can imagine, so I made sure I took a notebook to work with me yesterday so I could write down words to know, questions I have, things to remember, etc. Hopefully it’ll help me learn and also help me remember things to blog about.
Work went well today. Nine hours is a long time, and just like yesterday, my brain was getting a bit tired of learning in the afternoon, but it was okay. My coworkers are wonderfully kind and mostly the customers are very understanding. I don’t think I did anything too strange or mortifying today, although it was moderately embarrassing when I thought a customer wanted tobacco or candy and all she really wanted was a receipt. úbs 🙂
My boss (also the owner of the store and the baker) speaks pretty much zero English, so we don’t really talk much. I don’t know if it’s the language barrier or something else, but I find him a bit intimidating. Every once in awhile, though, we’ll talk, and it’s fun to see how he gets excited when I actually understand him. Like today, I walked into the back and he was hanging up some keys. I pointed and said, ‘lykill’? His answer was a bit longer than já or nei, but as soon as I heard the word ‘ruslið’ I understood – he had just come back from taking the garbage out. When you’re learning a new language even those little moments are worth celebrating!
I think the most difficult thing at work is still the money. It’s hard enough to get used to buying things with a different currency, but it’s even harder to count change correctly! Different language, numbers with different genders, big numbers (an average purchase costs maybe 2300 kronur)… add mental math onto that and you have one confused me. Luckily there is a calculator by the cash register and I quickly got over my pride and started using it. Sorry, Dad – my mental math skills are not up to snuff when I’m under pressure! I did however do a much better job saying the numbers today. It is a pretty big effort, but since I’m more accustomed to other aspects of the job I decided I had to really try today. People usually give me an amused (but pleased, I think) look when I say prices. If you don’t know anything about Icelandic, here’s an example of why it’s so freakin’ hard. If your purchase adds up to 2334 ISK, I would say, ‘tvö þusund, þrjú húndruð, þrjátíu og fjögur.’ And even as I type that I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct.
One reason numbers are difficult in Icelandic is that the numbers 1-4 have three forms – masculine, feminine, and neuter. I could be wrong, but I think when you’re counting you use the masculine forms, but when you’re saying numbers like prices you use the neuter. It’s all very confusing. So confusing, in fact, that our Icelandic teacher told us a story about a girl who came to Iceland from abroad to be an au pair, and when she went to the market to buy groceries she would order 5 of everything (fimm) because it was easier than figuring out the numbers 1-4. Our teacher told us that was a bad idea, but I don’t know… at some points today it seemed pretty appealing.
I went to the kaffihús for lunch today… ég borðaði panina með kjúkling, pepperoni, ost, og hvítlauksósu… or something like that. FYI, Icelandic national obsessions include genealogy, black licorice, candy in general, leggings, and pepperoni. Seriously, they put pepperoni on everything. It’s strange. But tasty.
If I didn’t already mention it, Patreksfjörður has a very small population (600-700), so I’ve seen several people three days in a row now at the store. I talked to my German friend again this morning. He’s been living here since October and is working on a memoir. I told him if there’s an English translation I’d love to read it. I also saw this younger guy again today. Yesterday he was asking one of my coworkers about me and they must have mentioned the Snorri Program by name because today he suddenly said in English, ‘So I got curious about you and looked up the Snorri Program. Who are you related to here?’ Yep, apparently I’m an oddity and the word is spreading. But that’s okay… I’m advertising the Snorri Program 🙂
The grocery store where I’m working has a wall by the front door where people can put up posters. Most of them are listing things ’til sölu’ (for sale), but some are advertising places or events. My first day I noticed a poster announcing that Þóra Arnórsdóttir, one of the presidential candidates (the election is this Saturday if you didn’t know), was coming to Patreskfjörður for some sort of town hall meeting tonight. So on my lunch break I called my host mom and managed to tell her that I was going to walk to the Sjóræningjahúsið (pirate house – seriously) for the meeting. If you missed the picture of it I posted yesterday, go check it out. It looks like a dump on the outside, but I was surprised to find that it’s quite nice on the inside. They have a bunch of information for tourists, displays about pirates (which I didn’t have time to look at today – I’ll probably go back and then post about it later), a book exchange (Lopez people – it’s just like the take it or leave it! makes me feel at home!), and a little coffee shop. I ordered a vanilla latte (side note: if you think Starbucks is expensive, try ordering kaffi here. It’s ridiculous – I paid 510 ISK for a 12 oz. latte today, which is like almost $5. The only good news is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get good strong coffee anywhere in Iceland. None of that watered down crap. Oh, here’s another side note: á íslensku, ‘krap’ means ‘slush,’ and it also applies to a slushie drink. ‘I’d like a large krap please.’)
I sat down, perused the book exchange (found a copy of Makbeð by Mr. William Shakespeare), and waited. There was a guy pacing around who I kept staring at because he has come into the store a few times and he looks so much like my cousin Ben. Remember him – we’ll come back to him in a few minutes.
Þóra, her husband Svavar, and their ADORABLE baby finally arrived. She apologized for being late, but if there was an interesting explanation I didn’t understand it. She and Svavar both immediately began making the rounds greeting everyone and shaking hands. Svavar came over to me first and shook my hand and I think I had used up all my Icelandic for the day because I think all I said was ‘Hæ, ég heiti Julie.’ Awkward. Þóra came over and I said hæ to her too.
Before you get too excited, let me tell you that right when I got to the pirate house I pulled out my camera and saw that the battery was dead. So I didn’t get any pictures. But I don’t think you need photographic proof – I mean, I’m creative, but there’s no way I could make up a town hall meeting with a presidential candidate at a pirate museum.
(Oh wait, here’s some photographic proof. Okay, you can’t see me, because I was sitting next to Svavar, who took the picture on his fancy dancy iPhone, but anyway.)
Of course I understood next to nothing of what Þóra said (although more than I would have understood even a couple weeks ago), but I was definitely impressed by her demeanor. She seemed very laid-back, kind, but professional, if that’s even the right word. I did catch words here and there, so I know she was talking about the Alþingi, about IceSave, about the kirkja (church), and about Evropa (Europe – maybe something about joining the EU?). There was an older woman in attendance who Þóra talked to for several minutes at the beginning, and then near the end she was pointing at her and telling a story. Something about how Þóra and her husband were driving in this area once, and I think that lady helped them out somehow… or I could have completely misunderstood. Who knows. It sounded like a good story though.
After the meeting, I was getting up to leave, and Mr. Looks-Like-My-Cousin-Ben came over and said something to me in Icelandic. I very gracefully said, ‘huhhhh?’ and he mercifully switched to English. He recognized me from Albína and was very curious to know how I ended up at a political meeting where I can’t even understand what’s going on. My answer was pretty simple – I’ll never learn if I don’t listen to the language in a real setting, and there’s nothing else to do in this town! 😉
We chatted for awhile and I found out his name is Brynjólfur (didn’t get it until I made him spell it for me). He’s going to the Háskóli Islands but is working here for the summer (something to do with local government, I think). He’s a poly-sci major so is very into politics. He didn’t seem to hold it against me too much when I said I kind of hate politics. Well, at least in the US I do. Here it seems much more civilized. We talked about handball (I just today learned what it is). He loves handball and is of course rooting for the Icelandic team at the Olympics this summer. He doesn’t want the sport to become popular in the States or other big places though because then Iceland might have some real competition 😉
Anyway, it was nice to talk to someone about my age (and in English!). He said he doesn’t know too many people here and gets rather bored, so we might do something next week. Who knows. Hopefully he didn’t notice that I was staring at him. If/when I see him again I might have to explain the whole cousin Ben thing.
I had to take a break from writing this blog a little while ago because my host parents came in and wanted to see more of my pictures. They were kind of shocked that I didn’t enjoy eating svið and hákarl and harðfiskur. Funniest of all was the fact that Sæmundur thought Mahtob (my cat) is ‘falleg’ (beautiful), but he definitely didn’t think Finn is fallegur. I don’t know exactly what he said, but I heard ‘ekki’ several times. Fyrirgefðu, systir mín. I really did try to defend him.
Well it’s late and I must be up tomorrow klukkan korter í sjö (6:45). Ugh. I’m excited for the weekend, although I might not get to sleep in… my host family wants to take me somewhere. Depending on the weather, some options are: Flatey (island south of here; some of my ancestors lived there or on a nearby island); Isafjörður (the largest town in the Westfjords); Rauðisandur (uhhh I don’t really know but I’m assuming there is sand and it’s red); or Látrabjarg (tall cliffs, lots of birds, westernmost point of Europe). Hopefully at least one of them will work out! It would be great to see more of the area.
It’s 1:32 AM and while I would love to be sleeping right now, that seems impossible as there is a large group of people belting out the Ghostbusters theme song just down the street (although it sounds like they’re in my bedroom). So I guess instead of bemoaning my sleeplessness, I’ll blog. I know I still have several days to catch up on, but I’m going to write about today while it’s fresh in my mind.
Most of our day was taken up by a river rafting adventure on Hvítá (“White River”). After a two-hour bus ride with views of Selfoss (the town, that is), steam plumes, dozens of Icelandic horses, a KFC (their slogan in Icelandic: svooooo gott!), and vast expanses of the starkly beautiful volcanic landscape, we arrived at Drumbó, basecamp for Arctic Rafting. When we left Reykjavík, it was a perfect blue sky and sunshine day, but as we drove, it kept getting cloudier and darker. By the time we set out on the river it was raining, and it kept raining until maybe the last 10 minutes. It never did pour, but still, it added to the cold.
Oh, I should mention one other thing – today was (well, still is, in the States) my birthday. Ásta Sól gave me an Icelandic children’s book about a kitten named Brandur who has all sorts of fantastic adventures, and everyone sang happy birthday to me, some in Icelandic and some in English 🙂 Til hamingju með afmælið!
We ate a picnic lunch, which gave me plenty of time to freak out about this impending so-called ‘fun.’ I had never gone rafting before, I’m a sucky swimmer, and I had a traumatic experience getting trapped underneath an innertube in junior high. So this kind of thing would not exactly be my first choice.
Our three guides were all Finnish, I believe. Ben was our main leader, I guess, and let’s be honest, he was pretty hot. My boat was guided by Anna, and I actually can’t remember the other woman’s name. Oh, and best of all, the bus driver was a guy whose name is pronounced like “Freaky” (probably Friki or something? I don’t know). Anyway, Ben the Hot Finnish Guide showed us how to put on all our gear. Putting on a wetsuit is not fun (and getting it off is even worse).
[Music update: I have now also heard reggae and mariachi music in the street. Doesn’t seem terribly patriotic in light of the fact that tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day, but okay Icelanders, do whatever you wish.]
Once we were all suited up, we got on another bus and drove about 15 minutes to the starting point. Along the way I chatted with a Swedish girl named Erica who’s here with NordJobb. She was VERY excited about rafting (and also curious to know whether my high school in the States had a metal detector. Random, but our conversation provided some insight into how Europeans view America’s gun culture.)
Ben taught us the four basic commands: forward, backward, stop, and hold on. “Hold on” was my personal favorite and means you should grab on to the “oh shit line” (the rope on the side of the raft) and lean in. We also learned that if you fall out you shouldn’t try to stand up if the water is shallow because you can get your foot stuck under a rock, which is bad. Finally we split into three rafts (we had all the Snorris, some NordJobbers, and I think a few strangers) and set out.
There were two or three rapids right away and they had names like “The Bad Omen” and “The Keyhole” (a very narrow space, that one). They actually weren’t nearly as terrifying as I expected. After that, we tied up and everyone had a chance to do some arctic cliff jumping should they so choose. Most people did it. I was not one of them.
We got back in our rafts and continued on our merry, but now quite freezing, way. After those first few rapids it was pretty smooth paddling, so we had plenty of time to admire the gorgeous scenery. The river is actually an aqua or turquoise color, but it is kind of milky (I think it has something to do with silica? Sorry, ég er ekki jarðfræðingur), and the cliffs on either side are impressive and have all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies (elf housing, perhaps?). Not to label myself as too much of a nerd, but it looked like Middle Earth, specifically the part at the end of the first Lord of the Rings film when they’re paddling down the river between those two statues. Let me find a picture:
I can’t find an actual still from the movie, but supposedly this is the river where they filmed it (not in Iceland, in New Zealand, which is also a highly volcanic country). By the way, no actual pictures from the trip today since my camera is not waterproof, but Ásta Sól and maybe a couple other people took some, so perhaps they will surface on this blog at some point 🙂
[Music update: Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A rather brassy version.]
In case you were wondering, the rapids were a class 2 (out of 5). Not totally pathetic, but not too threatening either. In fact, I think Friki’s bus driving was scarier and more dangerous. I can’t say it’s something I’m eager to repeat any time soon, but I survived and I would be open to trying it again.
By the way, I believe the famous waterfall Gullfoss is basically glacial run-off that feeds the Hvítá river. Do some research if you’re interested in geology. I’m sure it’s fascinating 🙂
After a cold, soggy bus ride back to base camp, we got out of those wetsuits quickly and headed for the sauna/shower/hot tub. A change of clothes and a cup of heitt sukkulaði later, we were on our way back to civilization (where, of course, it was still sunny and probably had been all day).
Jolene and I helped Ásta Sól pick up a bunch of pizzas from Eldsmiðjan for dinner (mmm so good!). We all rested for a few hours, then Jolene and I headed out for a midnight walk (literally). We walked down toward the harbour and there was another beautiful pink and orange sky over Harpa. This being Saturday in Reykjavík, there were people everywhere, Icelanders and tourists alike, all ages, even a group of sailors from who knows where. They were strutting up the street and people were whistling at them and saluting them. One of them even stepped out into the middle of the street and ‘directed’ traffic for a minute. And yes, we did see one guy peeing in the street.
We stopped at a shop to get a couple things and I noticed that right by the registers they have a rainbow display of women’s leggings. This explains so much about the fashion in Iceland (Icelandic women seem to consider colorful tights and leggings to be a wardrobe staple).
Tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day (they gained full independence from Denmark in 1944). The group is meeting up to go watch the parade, and after that we’re all free to enjoy the festivities on our own. If you haven’t heard, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are in Reykjavík for a few days before heading up to Lake Myvatn to shoot a movie, so maybe they’ll join in the festivities 😉 If not, I can always go stalk them – I hear they’re staying at the swanky Hilton Reykjavík Nordica just east of here.