March was characterized by predictably unpredictable Icelandic weather (we officially marked our 38th storm of the winter) and the worst sinus infection I’ve had in years, which left me thinking I might never regain my ability to smell and taste, so I have neither tons of exciting stories nor tons of lovely photos to share for this month’s recap. But still, there were bright spots, and I’ll share a few of those…
reykjavík folk festival at KEX
In early March, I was already starting to get sick, but after some encouragement from my friend Leana, I decided to check out the Reykjavík Folk Festival, an annual event held at KEX Hostel. It’s a three-evening event, but I just went for one. The musicians performing were Kólga, Klassart, Lindy Vopnfjord, and Lay Low. There were musicians I would have enjoyed seeing on the other two evenings, but I was particularly keen to see Lindy, as I have met some of his relatives in Canada but had never heard him perform, and Lay Low, who I had also never seen live before.
For the most part, “music festival” is a phrase of which I am not terribly fond, as it stirs up nightmares of stifling hot, overcrowded, crazy loud rooms full of tipsy people. But the Reykjavík Folk Festival is my kind of music festival – small, intimate, quiet, focused on the music and the experience of listening together, rather than talking over it in drunken-loud whispers (well, okay, there were definitely a few people doing that, but they were in the minority).
I went by myself, but, as happens so often in this town, I ended up seeing some people I knew there. Leana was volunteering, and I also saw a German guy I had met just the day before at the “Stefnumót við tungumál” event at Stúdentakjallarinn.
Lindy is, like me, descended from so-called Western Icelanders. I met his parents in Seattle at the INL Convention in 2012, then stayed with some of his relatives in Winnipeg on my Canada trip in 2013. When his cousin Cara took me to Gimli, we listened to Lindy’s music in the car. So it felt right that somehow this had come full circle and I was able to see him perform here in Iceland. He’s a talented singer-songwriter with a great sense of humor, and he is also ridiculously tall. I mean, really, really tall.
Lay Low was, as expected, marvelous, mesmerizing, magnificent, and a lot of other positive adjectives, some of which don’t even begin with “m.”
I chose just to watch and listen instead of snapping photos, so words will have to suffice.
After hearing about it from friends, I decided to sign up for Postcrossing. It’s an online project where you send postcards to strangers around the world and receive postcards from strangers in return. I’m not a postcard collector or anything, but there’s something appealing about connecting to people through snail mail. So far I have sent cards to Germany, Finland, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, Czech Republic, China, France, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US. I’ve received cards from Germany, China, Russia, Taiwan, the US, Finland, and the UK.
I’ve received dozens of direct swap requests from people all over the world and quickly realized there’s no way I can keep up with them all. Iceland is súper popular these days, and there are fewer than 200 Postcrossing members here. Sadly it’s too expensive and time-consuming to say yes to everyone, but I will spread as much Icelandic postcard cheer as I can.
In late March, the other Fulbrighters and I helped out with a college fair held at Háskólinn í Reykjavík (Reykjavík University). Several universities from the States and a few from Europe had representatives in attendance, and there was information about Fulbright grant opportunities for Icelandic students as well. I was still feeling pretty terrible, but did my best to be friendly and helpful and not sneeze on people. Plus, I wore a cherry dress, which I purchased at Gyllti Kötturinn, home of Baktus the Cat, AKA my best friend in this city.
Alwin, Vitalina, Kelsey, and Florencia came over one evening for dinner and afterward we attempted to play Orðabelgur, an Icelandic game where all the questions are about the Icelandic language. I think the game box states that it is for players ages 10 and up, so it was somewhat demoralizing to realize that despite our advanced ages, it was a bit much for us as Icelandic learners, and eventually the game devolved into a game of “Smilebags.” There was also a stuffed panda named Aloysius. The greatest thing about my friends? They are at least as weird as I am, if not more so.
I somehow happened upon this masterful piece of Icelandic-language music magic. The tune is called “Gubbuhesturinn,” which basically translates to “the vomit horse” and is a play on the word “gubbePestur,” which is like a stomach flu. Maybe you have to be an Icelandic language student with a twisted sense of humor to appreciate it (in other words, maybe you have to be me), but just in case anyone else might also find it amusing, here you go:
As the evenings have grown longer and the weather milder, I’ve been enjoying lots of rambling walks, often with Florencia and Kelsey.
On one such walk, we explored Seltjarnarnes, the peninsula to the west of downtown Reykjavík.
And with this lovely view of Esjan, I will say bless í bili.
In February we also enjoyed our first week off from school since Christmas break. The week is called “verkefnavika,” which is basically project/work/reading week, but of course I found time to do a few other things as well…
I went to see “The Theory of Everything” with my German friend Steffi. As this was my first time seeing a film in Iceland that was not part of a film festival, it was my first time experiencing the infamous Icelandic movie theater intermission. Yes, that’s right, in Iceland all films are unceremoniously interrupted midway through in order to give you the opportunity to buy more snacks and drinks. Never mind that the movie might be in the middle of a really intense or emotional scene. I understand the business savvy behind this tradition, and it’s certainly convenient in other ways (no need for that handy-dandy “when to pee” app), but mostly I just find it disruptive. If Icelanders can’t go two to three hours without drinking soda, eating junk food or peeing, maybe they’re not the hardy Vikings everyone seems to think they are. In any case, the film was beautiful and the music (by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, incidentally) especially poignant. I dearly wish I had a piano here so I could find some sheet music and learn part of the score.
Einn ótrulega langur fimmtudagur
The Thursday of verkafnavika was a particularly full day. I met Steffi at school for coffee before she headed off to Germany and South Korea. I went to a language meet-up. I ran home for a quick dinner, then back to the center of town for a meeting at Dómkirkjan. Kristilegt Stúdentafélag (KSF) is a group of Christian students and other young adults, and I learned about them when they had an information table at Háskólatorg (on campus). Since I came to Iceland, I haven’t gotten plugged in to a church or any sort of faith community, and I quite miss being connected in that way, so I decided to give it a go. The meeting was in the cozy attic of Dómkirkjan, and people were incredibly kind and welcoming. It was lovely to hear worship songs in Icelandic, and several were actually translations of very familiar tunes. There was an interesting message about biblical/Christian influence in U2’s music, and I was pleased to find that I followed along quite well. Overall, it was a great introduction to the club; the only downside was that I had to leave early, because…
I went to see Eivør at Harpa! I literally ran from Dómkirkjan nearly all the way to Harpa because I was meeting Alwin there and didn’t want to be late. For those who don’t know, Eivør is a singer-songwriter from the Faroe Islands. She sings in Faroese, Icelandic, and English; she almost always performs barefoot; she’s pure, wild, indescribable magic. She played three shows at Harpa to kick off a tour promoting her new album, and she played with Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands (The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra).
After the show, floating on a cloud of Eivør bliss, Alwin and I decided to head to Tíu Dropar. We ran into a Finnish girl from our program along the way, and the three of us enjoyed a cozy hour of wine and conversation. It was the perfect way to wind down after a full and beautiful day.
Afmælispartý og vöfflur
My friend John celebrated his birthday the Friday of verkefnavika with a party that started in the beloved Gamli attic. I was pretty socialed out from the week, but I went for a while and then bailed before the party migrated into town (going út að djamma is soooo very far from being my thing). Instead, I wandered home around midnight and got a waffle from Vöffluvagninn (The Waffle Wagon) on the way. Lovely.
Coffee with Daniel Tammet
A definite highlight of the month? Unknowingly having coffee with Daniel Tammet. Yes, that Daniel Tammet – the autistic savant who famously learned Icelandic (the unlearnable language) in seven days. You see, a couple months ago Kelsey and I started a language meet-up for students in our program (and others) who wanted extra opportunity to practice speaking Icelandic in a laid-back environment. We’ve been meeting once a week at a local coffee shop to chat for a couple hours. This time, Kelsey’s teacher Sirrý said she wanted to come and bring a British friend who was visiting. When they arrived, he was introduced as Daníel, and she said something about him being from England and having come to Iceland several years ago and learned Icelandic really quickly and gone on national TV to prove his success. In hindsight, she gave us every single clue (and then some) that we needed to put the puzzle together, but for whatever reason it just never occurred to me, even though I’ve watched videos of him on Youtube and everything. In any case, we all enjoyed a lovely and lengthy chat.
Ég er málfræðikennari!
I had the opportunity to play teacher when a girl from my program who missed a few grammar classes asked if anyone was willing to go over the material with her. Being a firm believer in the old adage that the best way to learn is to teach, I agreed. I wanted to review the material during verkefnavika anyway; this way, I had some real accountability to do it. So I trekked through iffy weather to this woman’s apartment over by the university, and taught her (mostly á íslensku!) for the better part of three hours. Meanwhile, the weather worsened outside, which was all fine and cozy while we were safely ensconced in her kitchen, eating cake and drinking coffee and discussing grammar. But when it came time for me to make the (normally 5-minute-long, absolutely painless) trek over to the university, the weather was a bit less cozy. By the time I reached the university, my shoes, socks, and leggings were soaked through. It was unpleasant, to say the least. Since I had no intention of going back out in that weather, and since all my warm, dry clothes were a thirty-minute-shower away, I did what any logical person would have done: tried to try my clothes using one of those automatic hand driers in the women’s restroom. It went about as well as you can imagine, which is to say, not very.
I waited out the weather for several hours at Háskólatorg with Kelsey, and by the time we ventured outside, the weather was mercifully calm, which was good, because…
Taco fyrir mig, takk!
There were tacos waiting to be eaten across town! A friend of Leana’s, an American guy who’s lived here for a while, just opened a restaurant on Hverfisgata. On the menu? Tacos, tacos, tacos! The menu changes daily, but there’s always one meat taco, one fish taco, and one vegetarian taco. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of Mexican cuisine, but we eat our fair share of it in the Northwest, and I’ve missed it since moving here. So Kelsey and I met up with Sophie to devour some tacos. The verdict? Tasty tacos, but not as much as I had hoped for the price – 1900 ISK for three quite teeny tiny tacos. We all agreed that we could easily have eaten two or three times that amount, and that the price would have been okay had chips and salsa or rice and beans or something similar been included. So I don’t expect to be eating there often in the future, but maybe every once in a while. Mexican food is something I very much miss from the Northwest. Here, “Mexican food” basically means this one brand of shelf-stable, marginally Mexican-inspired products, like flour tortillas, weak salsas and not-so-hot sauces, and apparently Mini Taco Tubs and Explosion Taco Spice Mix (I may or may not have just spent about half an hour laughing at the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish versions of the Santa María website).
And a few more happenings…
I interviewed friend and fellow Fulbrighter Scott for an article I wrote for the Lögberg-Heimskringla. Scott is, in many ways, my polar opposite – endlessly energetic and outgoing, thrives on staying busy, draws energy from being around other people. My personality being completely different, I feel like being around someone like Scott really helps me peek out of my shell, if just for an afternoon. Scott and I also explored Matarmarkaðurinn at Harpa. Matarmarkaðurinn (The Food Market) is sort of like an indoor farmer’s market, with booths from all sorts of local food vendors. We sampled some incredibly tasty treats, like rosemary caramel corn, Omnom chocolate, kleinur (Icelandic doughnuts), Kaffitár espresso, and more.
I cooked a Cypriot meal for Fulbright and friends. As you may recall from my January entry, Bónus carries Cypriot halloumi cheese. I decided I wanted to make moujendra and halloumi for my lovely Fulbright family, and Alyssa and Oyman kindly offered their apartment, so we enjoyed a good ol’ family feast of moujendra and halloumi by yours truly, a delicious salad from Alyssa, and ice cream with homemade caramel and fudge sauces courtesy of Sophie.
I went on a date… with languages. A few months ago a couple students at the university organized an event called Stefnumót við tungumál (Date a Language). I didn’t go to the first event, but it has since become a semi-regular thing (monthly, maybe?) and I’ve gone to two now. They hold the events in Stúdentakjallarinn, the on-campus bar, and have tables dedicated to various languages. The idea is that students learning various languages will be able to practice their speaking skills with both native speakers and others learning the same languages. Considering my only fluent language is English, and no one wants to speak English at these events, and considering that my Spanish is so elementary and so deeply hidden in the darkest recesses of my brain at this point in time, I hung out at the Icelandic table the whole time – or tried to, anyway. As you can imagine, the Icelandic table was fairly popular, and also incredibly small, so I had to hover for quite a while and then swoop in and stake my claim as soon as a seat opened up. There was only one Icelander at the table for the first event (and he complemented my accent, which I admit felt pretty damn good) and none at the last event I went to a few weeks ago, but it was a great opportunity to meet others studying Icelandic. We all have different reasons for wanting to learn, but the one thing we all have in common is we’re all a bit crazy.
Last but not least… I successfully renewed my grant! My Fulbright funding is not renewable for next year, but the majority of my grant actually comes from the Árni Magnússon Institute, and that portion is renewable. In February, I had to submit an application to renew. I had written my essay in English and had it all ready to go but then decided a day or two before the deadline to write it in Icelandic. By some miracle, and with editing help from Ásta, I got it done and turned in, and a few weeks later found out my application had been accepted. This means I’ve secured funding to continue on in the Icelandic as a Second Language B.A. program, which means I will be in Iceland for at least another year! I really had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to renew, or how my progress lines up with the Institute’s expectations, but it is such a relief to know that I get to continue. With every passing month, I progress and gain confidence, and it would have been incredibly disappointing if I couldn’t return in the fall. I’m grateful for the opportunity, nervous about the classes getting much more difficult, excited to keep learning. I’m content.