There is no lack of daylight in June and there is also never a lack of things to do. The month so far has been full of friends, coffee dates, sunny (and not-so-sunny) city walks, travels, hiking, concerts, birthday and holiday celebrating, and Snorri events.
At the beginning of the month, I got to meet up with my Canadian Vestur-Íslendingur friend Lois. We met in Seattle in 2012 at the INL Convention and I hadn’t seen her since, but with Vestur-Íslendingar friends, that doesn’t matter at all. There is always plenty to talk about. She was on a trip with her 90-something-year-old mother, who traveled here about seven years ago for a “final trip to Iceland,” and then last year declared that she wanted to take another “final trip to Iceland.” So they did!
I also met up with Audrey, a classmate from Corban, who was on her way back from the UK with her husband and one-year-old son. Sadly, their Iceland stopover was tainted by unexpected illness and visits to the doctor, plus one trip to the ER for stitches, but we were at least able to meet up for an afternoon walk with the kiddos (I was watching Nói) on the windiest afternoon in recent history. Here’s hoping if her family is ever brave enough to return, their experience will be a bit less dramatic the next time around.
Svavar Knútur, take three
When I first met Svavar Knútur and he played for our Snorri group, I became an instant groupie. I’ve now seen him three times since moving here in August, and I have plans to see him at least once more before I leave for the rest of the summer. He always delivers beautiful music and incomparable humor, so I know that using my limited poor-student funds to buy a ticket will be worth it. This time around, Steffi, Hanna, Emil, and Flor joined me at Café Rosenberg to see Svavar on a Saturday night. It was a relaxed evening of beautifully played music and beautifully told stories, plus one (not so) beautifully drunk old man who was swaying and clapping along to every song by the end of the night.
Anyway, if you want to get a taste of what the evening was like, grab a beer (preferably an Icelandic one) and take a listen:
Og eitt lag á íslensku:
Sunday June 7 was Sjómannadagur (Fishermen’s Day), which, as you can probably guess, is intended to honor fishermen and their families, who play such a significant role in this culture. My friend Hanna and I wandered down to Gamla Höfnin (The Old Harbour) to explore Hátíð Hafsins (Festival of the Sea). There were games for kids, live music, a pop-up market featuring local artists, and food. It was possible to wander around the docks and go on board a couple of big ships, including one of the Landhelgisgæslan (Icelandic Coast Guard) vessels. There were also big plastic tubs lined up, all filled with ice, each one displaying a different variety of (really dead) fish.
Anyway, all in all it was definitely a more kid-oriented event, but it was still nice to spend the afternoon wandering around by the harbour and taking it all in. That’s one wonderful thing about this city – it seems as if there is always another festival or concert or event going on.
One of the perks of being a Fulbrighter is you are regularly invited to events which you feel singularly unqualified to attend. This month, I was invited to attend a reception in honor of the 2015-2016 Icelandic grantees. It was held at Ráðherrabústaðurinn on Tjarnargata. Formerly the prime minister’s residence, the house is now used to host official receptions and other events. It’s a house I have walked past probably hundreds of times now, so it was fun to finally peek inside and learn a bit about its history.
The house was originally built in Öndunarfjörð by a Norwegian whaling magnate. It was given as a gift (purchased for a token 5 krónur) and moved to Reykjavík. A number of prime ministers called it home up until 1948. From that point on, it has been used for receptions and other official events.
Anyway, I should have learned this by now, but events hosted by Icelanders at Icelandic locations are almost guaranteed to be about 10 times more formal than what I would expect of a similar event in the Northwest. I never feel like I am poised or formal enough for events here, and I’m getting the feeling that that might not change no matter how long I live here.
In any case, this year’s Icelandic grantees were introduced, and they are certainly an impressive bunch, heading to schools like Columbia and Yale to study law, classical guitar performance, engineering, social entrepreneurship and more. Brian from the US Embassy said a few words on behalf of the US Ambassador, who was detained at a meeting. Minister of Education, Science and Culture Illugi Gunnarsson gave a short speech. And Belinda congratulated the grantees, acknowledged the outgoing American grantees, and encouraged us to chat amongst ourselves. Easier said than done.
As an introvert, social occasions such as this make me want to hide in a corner. I am not painfully shy, but I have a very hard time knowing how to begin conversations – a task made all the more difficult by having to slip in and out of a foreign language. But after spending too long in the huddle of Americans, wine glass in hand, I forced myself to approach one of the grantees and start a conversation – in Icelandic. And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. We chatted for quite awhile, all in Icelandic, and I survived.
Also in attendance were a number of Fulbright board members. I enjoyed chatting with a man named Albert who has lived in Iceland for 17 years, and I met a professor from the university who teaches in the Old Norse and Medieval Icelandic programs.
But the most exciting person I met?
US Ambassador Rob Barber. Or, as we call him, Rahb Bahbah! (He’s from Massachusetts.)
I and my fellow Fulbrighters have just been dying to meet him since he arrived here in January, and especially since we saw this great video put out by the US Embassy:
Ambassador Barber was finally released from his Important Meeting and got to stop by to meet the grantees before being whisked away to his next Important Event. It didn’t leave us with very long to get to know each other, but at least I can now say that I’ve met him and shaken his hand. He is, as expected, very tall and very American.
Sofar Sounds, take two
My wonderful fellow American Leana volunteers for Sofar Sounds, which puts on intimate, secret concerts every couple months somewhere around Reykjavík. You might recall that one of the highlights of my first weeks in Iceland last August was a Sofar show held at one of the HÍ dorms. Leana offered me a spot at last night’s show, and although I knew it would be a full day with babysitting and then the Fulbright reception, I said yes, because I am practicing saying yes more and no less.
The show was held in an old warehouse space at Grandi (down by the old harbour) which is now a workspace for several local artists. The first artist to play was Kyle Morton of Typhoon, an eleven-piece band from Portland, Oregon. Kyle is passing through Iceland on his way to backpack Europe, so he played a solo acoustic set. His music was very folksy and Northwesty. Exactly what I like. I talked to him afterward and he said he actually grew up in Salem, which is where I went to college. Small world.
The second act was Icelandic band VAR, which consists of solo artist Myrra Rós, her husband Júlíus, his brother Egill, and their two friends Arnór and Andri (yes, it’s really true that most Icelandic musicians seem to be in at least five different bands, and usually at least one involves a relative). There was an Italian girl sitting next to me who said they were one of her four favorite acts who played at Saga Fest. I had never heard them before so I had no idea what to expect, but I was blown away by their set.
One of the tenets of Sofar is that attendees should be 100% engaged in experiencing the music rather than in chatting and taking endless photos and videos. So I took zero photos at the concert, but you can find some on the Sofar Sounds Reykjavík Facebook page if you’re curious.
Did I mention that the weather that evening was fairly awful? Grey, drippy, bone-chilling wind. The walk down to Grandi was less than pleasant, but by the time the concert was over, the weather had calmed quite a bit. So I did the only logical thing: went to Valdís and bought a giant ice cream cone to eat on the walk home.
So, that was the first part of June, during which, as you may have noticed, I neglected to use my camera, because I was too lazy to delete the photos off my full memory card. There will be plenty of photos in the next post, however, which will cover such delightful occasions as my birthday and 17. júní (Iceland’s national holiday). Bless í bili!