menningarnótt 2015: rigning, vöfflur, tónlist og flugeldar

My return ticket brought me back to Iceland the morning of Menningarnótt, a city-wide festival that loosely serves as a farewell to summer, welcome to autumn, and a general celebration of the lively cultural life at the heart of this city (and this year happened to mark 20 years of Menningarnótt). I can’t remember whether this was intentional or not, but I was happy not to miss it, even though I knew I’d be tired.

After a few hours of not-so-deep sleep, I went with Ásta to meet the Snorri Plus group, who had just completed the 3 k fun run of the Reykjavík Marathon. We headed over to Bæjarins Beztu for post-race (or, for me, post-flight) pylsur. After the Snorris scurried away to have their own Menningarnótt fun, Ásta, Erin and I hung out near Bæjarins Beztu for a little bit. Within the span of about ten minutes, several friends walked by, including my Irish friend Kevin, who gives walking tours around the city, and my Seattle friend Mark, who just bought an apartment a stone’s throw away from our house. Being there with friends old and new and running into people I know really made me feel very quickly that I was home. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling that helped drown out the cold exhaustion.

I met up with my friend Steffi and we got in line for vöfflukaffi. Vöfflukaffi (literally “waffle coffee”) has become a tradition on Menningarnótt. Residents of a certain downtown area open their homes to friends and strangers for free waffles and coffee. While there were at least seven or eight homes to choose from, we of course went for vöfflukaffi at the home of Reykjavík’s most beautiful head of hair, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson.

IMG_6984

This being the third time I’ve seen him at a public event this summer, and having chickened out on getting a photo with him the first two times, I was determined to get a photo this time around. But… I didn’t. It was insanely crowded and terribly hot and Dagur was busy cranking out waffle after waffle.

Steffi said something very poetic about her waffle, like,
Steffi said something very poetic about her waffle, like, “It looks like something died on my waffle.”
IMG_6987
kona með kaffi og regnhlíf

It should be noted that while the weather was fine in the morning, it got progressively worse throughout the afternoon. Having come from five weeks of hot, dry weather in Washington, though, I was actually thrilled to enjoy a legitimate downpour, especially because for once it was not windy, allowing Icelanders and visitors alike to make use of umbrellas – something very rarely seen in Iceland.

maður sér svona margar regnhlífar ekki á hverjum degi á Íslandi
maður sér svona margar regnhlífar ekki á hverjum degi á Íslandi

Steffi and I made our way down Laufásvegur to a backyard singer-songwriter concert. We stayed to hear Svavar Knútur and Hafdís Huld, but poor Steffi was not dressed for a downpour, and with her shoes soaked through, she wanted to get somewhere warm and dry. So we walked across town and camped out at Stofan for a few hours.

IMG_6995

One of the big attractions on Menningarnótt is Tónaflóð, a big outdoor concert at Arnórhóll. Since I wasn’t terribly excited about any of the performers this year, I opted to watch it from the comfort of the couch at home with Ásta’s pabbi. This not only meant that I didn’t have to be cold and wet, it also meant that I got a running commentary from a real live Icelander, which always makes these things more enjoyable. Watching just about any Icelandic show, be it a news program, documentary, sitcom, or a live stream from an event like Tónaflóð, with an Icelander means that you will get to find out all the details of who’s who and who did what and who was married to whom and who got arrested for this and who is famous for that.

Shortly before 11.00, I headed back out and made my way down toward Arnorhóll to meet up with friends and watch the fireworks show. Last year, tired and overwhelmed, I stayed home and watched them on TV, so this year I wanted to make an effort to go see them in person. The show was only about 10 minutes long, but it was spectacular, with fireworks shooting off near Harpa and from a couple other locations along the water. I read a horrible rumor recently that this may be the last year that fireworks are shot off for Menningarnótt, or at least so close to downtown. I hope that’s not true. There’s some kind of magic to watching fireworks burst in the night sky in the company of thousands of other spectators. (And, I have to admit, I much prefer this type of orchestrated show to the free-for-all madness of New Year’s Eve here, but I know I’m probably in the minority on that.)

A fun fact about the name: “Menningarnótt” translates to “Culture Night,” and I’ve always wondered why an event that takes place all day long bore this name. Well, while watching the live broadcast of the Tónaflóð concert, I learned that twenty years ago, when Menninarnótt began, it was in fact an evening program, running from 10 PM – 3 AM or something like that. Over time, it has grown and evolved into a full day festival with events for people of all ages, but by that point the name had stuck, and so it will forevermore be Culture Night.

Takk fyrir frábæran dag, Reykjavík!

Advertisements

mamma kemur til Íslands: 1. – 3. júlí

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.

1. júlí

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:

IMG_5529

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.

IMG_5543

IMG_5551
obligatory Bæjarins beztu tasting and photo op
IMG_5556
first encounter with Icelandic sheep

2. júlí

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).

IMG_5578

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.

IMG_5587

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.

There was a lot of America going on in Reykjavík
There was a lot of America going on in Reykjavík

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.

Mamma got Rushmored
Mamma got Rushmored

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.

IMG_5595

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.

Sophie and I finally fulfilled our dream of getting a photo with Ambassador Barber (100% thanks to Elliott)
Sophie and I finally fulfilled our dream of getting a photo with Ambassador Barber (100% thanks to Elliott)

IMG_5605

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.

3. júlí

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.

IMG_5609

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.

maí: á Íslandi, 1. hluti

In May, I split my time between two islands: Iceland and Cyprus. This post will cover the first part of the month here in Iceland, which included final exams, cold weather, academic presentations, and more cold weather (I’m really selling it, eh?). The next post will cover my time in Cyprus, which included no school work and plenty of beautiful weather.

fleiri lokapróf og fulbright kynning

Our last two exams were May 4 and 5, both for our “talþjálfun” class. One day we had a written exam and the other a group oral exam. Both went swimmingly, I am pleased to report. It was a relief to finally be finished with finals, but I felt like I was not completely finished because I still had to prepare my final presentation for Fulbright.

Most Fulbrighters spend their grant year working on a research project, which lends itself pretty easily to presentations. What were you researching, what were your expected results, what were your methods, what were your actual results? But for me, my presentation material wasn’t quite so obvious, as my “project,” per se, was simply to be a full-time student in the Icelandic as a Second Language program. My number one dilemma was whether to present entirely in Icelandic, entirely in English, or in both. I knew there would be some people at the presentation who do not know Icelandic, and I didn’t want to be rude and leave anyone out, but I also felt like it would be absurd to stand up there and claim, in English, that I had succeeded in making great strides learning Icelandic.

I talked to several people and went back and forth about it, but ultimately decided to speak in Icelandic for the first third of the presentation and then do the rest in English.

11263059_10153303338729259_7692311423334651968_o

Speaking in Icelandic, I explained my motivation for learning Icelandic: my family history and my experience as a Snorri participant. I then summarized the same material in English, and continued in English to discuss some of the joys and challenges I’ve encountered in my quest to learn the past nine months.

Public speaking is so far down my list of attributes that there aren’t many things below it, except drawing, whistling, and snapping my fingers (what can I say, I’m defective), but I think the presentation went about as well as I could hope. While I’m sure I made plenty of grammatical errors, I was able to speak fluidly without staring at my notes, and by all accounts my pronunciation was at least understandable.

The other presenters were Sophie, Alyssa, Scott, and Dr. Dan Shain. Of course I had some idea of what each of them had been working on the past nine months, but it was great to hear their presentations and get a clearer understanding of the work each one does. Sophie described her fisheries research, Alyssa enlightened us on economics, Scott shared his passion for Saga Fest, and Dr. Shain turned us all into fans of a microscopic creature called a rotifer (seriously).

Overall, it was a great afternoon of celebrating the work we’ve done this year and thanking Fulbright and the others who have supported us along the way.

11257864_874224952650861_4628896137721628738_o

As some of you may recall, my grant was not only funded by Fulbright, but also by the Árni Magnússon Institute here in Iceland. Grantees from the Institute do not give final presentations, so I invited the staff who help manage the grant to come hear my Fulbright presentation. It was an honor to have Guðrún in attendance and I was happy to be able to acknowledge the role the Institute played in my grant year.

Guðrún og ég
Guðrún og ég

I know there are people who wanted to hear my presentation but couldn’t attend. I don’t think it was recorded at the event, but some time in the near-ish future, I might put together a version of it to post here. Stay tuned, if you care.

fjölmenningardagur og hárið á degi b eggertssyni

There is always something going on in Reykjavík, and this month was no exception. The city celebrated Fjölmenningardagur, or Multicultural Day, on May 9 with a parade from Hallgrímskirkja to Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), where various clubs and organizations had booths with food, activities, and information. I only found out about this the morning of, but I ended up wandering down Skólavörðustígur to see the parade and ran into my friend Alwin, so we walked along the parade route together, stalking our most handsome borgarstjóri (mayor), Dagur B. Eggertsson. Well, maybe it was just me who did that. Alwin simply put up with my shenanigans. Anyway, Dagur’s hair is truly remarkable.

Hárið á Degi B. Eggertssyni var stjarna skrúðgöngunnar á Fjölmenningardegi
Hárið á Degi B. Eggertssyni var stjarna skrúðgöngunnar á Fjölmenningardegi

ég er alltaf að drekka kaffi

One wonderful thing about living here is that it seems like there is always someone you know from abroad passing through. In May, my formerly Seattle-dwelling friend Leana and I got to enjoy a coffee date with Sonna, a mutual friend of ours and former president of the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle. Her mom was born in Iceland, and Sonna had been here before, but not for many years, so I know she made the most of her trip. It was lovely that she took time out of her busy schedule for us to have a little Washingtonian reunion at Reykjavík Roasters. Best coffee and cinnamon scones in town, plus fellow Washingtonians, all on a sunny day? What could be better?

Washingtonian women
Washingtonian women

There were more May happenings in Iceland, but they were after my Cyprus trip, so I will save them to recap later. In the next post we will travel to Cyprus, an island nation thousands of miles away from and thirty degrees warmer than Iceland, and yet in some ways not so very different. Until then.

febrúar, take one

Tíminn líður alltof hratt… Time has been flying by and February has already come and gone, and most of March as well. Too much happened in February for one blog post, so we’ll start by recapping the first half of the month.

Vetrarhátíð og Háríð á Degi B. Eggertssyni

At the beginning of February was Vetrarhátíð (The Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival), an attempt to make the long, dreary winter days more enjoyable and coax people off their couches by filling the city with free events. The festival opened with a ceremony in front of Hallgrímskirkja, which I happened to stumble upon on my way home that evening. Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson officially opened the festival with Canadian Ambassador Stewart Wheeler and two Canadian Mounties at his side. Every year, there’s a partner city for the festival, and this year it was Edmonton. The collaboration was evident in several of the festival’s events; for instance, musicians from Edmonton came to play a show with Icelandic musicians, and I believe some Edmontonian authors/poets took part as well. The Mounties were out and about on Laugavegur for a couple days, taking photos with locals and tourists alike. But anyway, back to Dagur B. Eggertsson. He’s a doctor-turned-politician who took over the position of mayor after Jón Gnarr left last year. More importantly, he has the most incredible hair in all of Reykjavík, probably in all of Iceland. Really, it’s indescribable. Take a look: dagur b eggertsson I don’t know anything about the man’s politics, but I know that I would vote for his hair any day. In fact, I love his hair so much that I actually created a Facebook fan page for it. Really. You too can become a fan of Dagur’s hair here. Anyway, as part of Vetrarhátíð, there’s one evening where admission to museums in the downtown area is free from 8 pm to midnight, or something like that. Kelsey and I took advantage of this to attend a Draugagangur (“Ghost Walk”) at Þjóðminjasafnið (The National Museum). We walked around the museum, listening to ghost tales (á íslensku!), and at the end of the evening I shyly asked some of the museum employees who were in costume if we could take a photo with them. Thank goodness I did, because we got this gem:

Icelandic Gothic, minus the pitchfork and plus a couple ghosts
Icelandic Gothic, minus the pitchfork and plus a couple ghosts

Svavar Knútur at Café Rosenberg

I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Svavar Knútur ever since he played for our Snorri group and his music became part of the soundtrack of my 2012 Iceland experience. So when I found out he was playing at Café Rosenberg (a five-minute walk from home), I decided to go, and I dragged Kelsey with me. (She’s not normally much into live music, but she was won over by his irreverent humor and obvious love for all things German.) Rosenberg is a cozy coffee house / bar with live music nearly every night, and it was the perfect venue to enjoy Svavar’s songs and storytelling. He played quite a long set, with old favorites and some I hadn’t heard before, and during the intermission I got to chat with Elliott (former Fulbrighter and all-around swell human being), who had come in a bit late. All in all, a perfect way to spend a chilly winter evening in 101. IMG_3925

Snorri West

I had the opportunity to attend a sort of open house for the Snorri West Program. Ambassador Stewart Wheeler kindly opened the doors of the Canadian Embassy for the event. All four participants from Snorri West 2014 were in attendance, as well as at least one from 2013. Snorri West, for those who don’t know, is sort of the inverse of the Snorri Program. It’s an opportunity for Icelandic young adults (ages 18-28) to visit Icelandic settlement areas in North America and learn about American and Canadian nature and culture as well as the Icelandic history in those areas and traditions that people of Icelandic descent have kept alive. A 2014 participant, Kristján Sævald, put together a great video to introduce people to the program, which you can check out here. Kristján also shared about his experience last summer, and it was actually quite uncanny how so much of what he said resonated with me and perfectly described my own Snorri trip, even though our experiences were sort of mirror images, with him traveling to the Eastern Seaboard and me traveling to Iceland. It made me rather homesick for my Snorri family. It sounds strange to say, since I live here now and am getting to know the language and country better every day, but there’s something poignant about my first time discovering Iceland, something that I will never quite get to experience in the same way ever again, even if I end up living here for 5 or 10 or 20 years. It’s bittersweet. Anyway, this summer’s Snorri West group will travel along a west coast corridor, visiting Seattle, Blaine, Point Roberts, Vancouver BC, Victoria, and Nanaimo. I have to say, I’m a bit jealous. I’m a native Washingtonian, and I’ve spent plenty of time in Seattle, but I’ve never been to Vancouver, went to Victoria only once as a kid, and haven’t really explored the Icelandic settlement history in the area beyond visits to the Nordic Heritage Museum. I know this year’s Snorri Westers will have a great experience, and I know my friends in the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle and other west coast clubs will take great care of them.

Valentínusárdagur á Gamla Garði

Valentine’s Day is not a tradition in Iceland, but like many North American traditions, it has made headway here in recent years. In the States, I’m not terribly fond of Valentine’s Day, but I generally consider it a great excuse to bake sugar cookies, so I decided to do that here this year too. I invited myself over to the Gamli kitchen and several friends joined for a leisurely evening of consuming sugar and celebrating singledom. When I invited Florencia, she asked if she should come with ice cream and loneliness, and she did not disappoint – on the ice cream front, anyway. I certainly did not feel lonely surrounded by friends from around the world.

Bolludagur

Our February Fulbright event was to celebrate Bolludagur at Belinda’s. Bolludagur is one of three holidays celebrated before Lent begins. The goal of the day is to stuff oneself with cream puffs. (There’s also a whole deal about waking your parents up early and spanking them with a special wand, but I digress.) We enjoyed several varieties of bollur from Mosfellsbakarí – chocolate, caramel, strawberry, Bailey’s. They were quite delightful. Takk fyrir okkur, Belinda!

Bolludagur
Bolludagsbollur
Fulbright ladies on Bolludagur (Sophie, me, Alyssa)
Fulbright ladies on Bolludagur (Sophie, me, Alyssa)

Sjálfsætt Fólk

IMG_3977
The not-at-all-scary theater seat upholstery.

Kelsey and I had the opportunity to go to Þjóðleikhúsið (The National Theater) to see Sjálfstætt Fólk. It was… indescribable. It was certainly not a traditional interpretation of Laxness’ most famous work; on the contrary, it was quite experimental, which actually served to make it much more palatable, at least in most instances. I certainly couldn’t understand all the dialogue, but I was able at least to follow along quite well, which I will go ahead and declare a victory. A few highlights/weirdlights (not because anyone else will understand them, but mostly so that I can remember this strange experience in the future): the coffee thermos and plastic cups from which coffee was continually drunk; “mig langar í kú, ég vil fá kú,” the dead (fake, stuffed) sheep, the naked rass, the beer cans thrown at the walls, the drunk rapist teacher, the singing and dancing, the guy who might have been Halldór Laxness awakened from his eternal slumber, the frozen dinners. Ah yes. A night at the theater. The only thing possibly better? Going home and watching The Bachelor with Ásta and Addi. High culture meets low culture. A perfect evening.

Kelsey and I after the show, trying to figure out what just happened during the last 2-3 hours of our lives.
Kelsey and I after the show, trying to figure out what just happened during the last 2-3 hours of our lives.

Well, that gets us more than halfway through February. Coming up in my next post: seeing Eivør in concert, unknowingly chatting with Daniel Tammet, experiencing my first movie theater intermission, surviving more terrible weather, teaching grammar, and more.