My mamma is 68 years old and twice as Icelandic as I am. Her father, although he never once stepped foot on Icelandic soil, grew up in an Icelandic community in North Dakota, spoke Icelandic, and identified as Icelandic even as he embraced the country in which he was born and lived his life. After my Snorri trip in 2012, I returned to Washington and told my mother she had to come to Iceland. Her response was rather noncommittal – at least, it was until I announced my intention to apply for the Fulbright grant. Then her story changed to, “if you move to Iceland, I will come to visit you.” I don’t want to accuse my mother of anything less than full support of her daughter, but I’m not sure she fully expected that she would have to keep that promise just a few years later. But here we are, three years after my Snorri trip, almost one year after I moved here, and my mamma has come to Iceland for the first time in her life.
Mamma’s flight from Seattle arrived at Keflavík early Wednesday morning, so after sort-of sleeping for a couple hours, Flor and I woke up at 4.45 and stumbled up the street to catch the bus to the airport. We arrived a bit early and I caffeinated myself while we waited. I also put the finishing touches on this sophisticated welcome sign:
We ran into our friend Alix by arrivals, because Iceland. She was waiting for her best friend to arrive from Minnesota. We spent some time chatting and then all of a sudden my mamma emerged from the jaws of the automatic doors. After greetings, we headed to the beloved FlyBus and the journey back to Reykjavík began.
Tummies full of goodies from Sandholt, Flor headed to work and Mamma and I took some much-needed naps. In the afternoon, we went for a walk around the city and I started to introduce my mom to the streets and cafés and views and sights and sounds and people that make up my day-to-day life here. We opted for a low-key evening in, so Mom experienced her first trip to Bónus, I cooked soup, and we lounged around for the evening.
We took our time getting up and ready this morning and then headed out without any specific itinerary. We first stopped by the Fulbright office, where we had coffee and a lovely chat with Belinda and Randver. Then we walked down to Harpa and were pleased to see the sun emerge along the way. Of course, we ran into my teacher Ana, because Iceland, and then while we were sitting drinking coffee at Lækjartorg, we saw my friend Mike, because Iceland. We wandered down toward the Old Harbour and ended up getting fish and chips for lunch (for the record, Icelandic Fish and Chips is much better than almost-right-across-the-street Reykjavík Fish).
On the way back to the house, I was absolutely delighted to spot a red-headed Icelander sporting the world’s (well, at least Reykjavík’s) most magnificent purple jumpsuit, which Kelsey and I had seen several times at Gyllti Kötturinn and been oh so tempted to purchase. Seeing this woman totally own that purple jumpsuit as she strutted confidently up Bankastræti in the sunshine was truly a sight to behold.
After resting a bit at home, we headed to the day’s big event: the US Embassy’s Independence Day celebration, which was held at Listasafn Reykjavíkur – Hafnarhús (The Reykjavík Art Museum). Elliott had told me that this is the Embassy’s biggest event of the year, and he did not lie. They went all-out: red, white, and blue necklaces, top hats, and headbands; red, white, and blue balloons; the ubiquitous Obama cutout, plus a Lady Liberty one; an add-your-face-to-Mount-Rushmore photo op; good ol’ American barbecue food; a display of all fifty state flags; and more.
Thankfully I knew a few people there: Brian from the Embassy; my fellow Fulbrighters Scott, Sophie, and Elliott; Guðrún from the Árni Magnússon Institute. It was rather loud and crowded and I think my poor mother was a bit overwhelmed (but she was a good sport about it and incredibly patient while I talked). Not to mention, the room was filled with so many politicians and other public figures and just plain old imposing and important people that I felt incredibly undeserving of attending.
Case in point: right at the beginning I noticed that none other than Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was in attendance. Yes, the same Vigdís Finnbogadóttir whose election to the office of president 35 years ago was just celebrated a few days ago. I saw several people walk up and talk to her, so I decided I could do it too. I awkwardly introduced myself in Icelandic, explaining that I am a friend of Sunna from North Dakota, who I know had just met with Vigdís recently. Vigdís asked if I was a Snorri program participant and I said yes, I had been. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure what all I said, but I’m pretty sure it was awkward. In my defense, it was loud in there. But still. Is it bad to say that I hope she won’t remember me at all? In case we meet again, I’d rather pretend we’d never met and just start over, hopefully less awkward the second time around.
There was a brief ceremony: Gísli Einhversson (sorry, can’t remember his full name right now) sang the American and Icelandic national anthems and the Ambassador gave a brief speech. I felt like it was readily apparent that Icelanders do not understand the concept of military-related ceremony, as the majority of the crowd seemed largely uninterested and it was difficult for the presenters to hold the crowd’s attention (but that might also have had something to do with the complimentary alcohol). Anyway, during the ceremony, none other than Borgarstjóri Reykjavíkur Dagur B. Eggertsson and his splendid head of hair walked up right behind us. The universe was giving me a second chance, I thought, after I chickened out on June 17 and didn’t ask him for a photo after following him for like half an hour along the parade route. My stomach did flips every time I caught site of his beautiful curls. I can do this, I thought. You have to do this. But then the ceremony ended and he was talking to Important Icelandic People and started moving fairly swiftly toward the door and just when Elliott and I had agreed to ask if we could take a selfie with him, we turned around and the curls had disappeared. Two chances in two weeks and I still don’t have a photo with Dagur. I am ashamed of myself. I am determined to redeem myself on Menningarnótt. Stay tuned.
I did, however, finally get a photo with Rob Barber, thanks to Elliott’s genius networking skills.
Random note: I knew I was at a US event because there was a visible security presence; I was forced to display my actual invitation email (the reminder one wasn’t good enough); and we were not allowed to linger by the entrance after checking in but rather herded through to check our coats, shake Rob Barber’s hand, and enter the main party zone. Good ol’ American rules.
Anyway, it was certainly a memorable evening, and I will definitely go again in the future if I am lucky enough to receive an invitation.
Friday was our last full day in the city before leaving for our road trip. We walked up the street to Hallgrímskirkja and peeked inside (Mom was happy to hear and watch the organist play) but opted not to take the elevator to the top since it was so overcast. We walked over to the university so I could show her the center of my academic life and Flor just so happened to be in the neighborhood so she joined us. We decided to walk down to the Old Harbour and Flor treated us to a tasty late lunch of fiskisúpa at Kaffivagninn. Though it was quite filling, we managed to make room for the best ice cream in Reykjavík at Valdís.
On the way back to the house, we rambled leisurely through Vesturbær and through the cemetery on Suðurgata, which I have come to realize is one of the most beautiful places in the city. There was no one else around except a few teenagers doing some gardening work and a tall, rather distinctive-looking redheaded Icelander. Yes, the day after seeing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and Dagur B. Eggertsson, we ran into Jón Gnarr (actor, former mayor of Reykjavík, generally well-known Icelandic dude), in the cemetery of all places. He seemed to be doing some sort of interview as he was speaking with a woman in English while another woman snapped photos, so unfortunately we didn’t get to annoy him by introducing ourselves. But after I convinced Flor that it was definitely him, she took a couple paparazzi photos. Just another normal day in Reykjavík.
So I think we managed to pack quite a lot into my mom’s first few days in Reykjavík before embarking on a six-day road trip around Snæfellsness and the Westfjords, which shall be recounted in annoyingly painstaking detail in the coming entries.