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.

Advertisements

byrjun júní: tónleikar, kaffitími, vestur-íslendingar, og rob barber

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:

Sjómannadagur

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.

Fulbright móttaka

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!

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.

apríl: vinir, lokapróf, frídagar og margt fleira

April brought both more daylight hours and more stress as classes wrapped up and final exams began. Here are a few highlights:

Ættingjar frá Bandaríkjunum

At the beginning of the month, I had the chance to meet up with my cousin Sean and his girlfriend Amanda, who were enjoying their first trip to Reykjavík. Kelsey, Flor and I met up with them one day for lunch (we introduced them to the wonders of Mandi), and then I had them over to the house one afternoon for coffee and brownies. Sean and I had met briefly in 2013 at the Westford Family Reunion in North Dakota, but it was fun to have more time to chat with him and to meet Amanda. We all got along swimmingly and I know they had a wonderful first visit to Iceland and look forward to returning before too long.

Sean, Amanda, and I
Sean, Amanda, and I

Íslenskar kvikmyndir eru skrítnar

One chilly April evening Kelsey and I did the unthinkable: we did something spontaneous. It went something like this: at 8:00 we decided to see a movie. At 9:00 we arrived at the movie theater. If you know either of us, you will realize why this warrants mentioning. The film in question was Fúsi, an Icelandic film that has garnered acclaim at various international film festivals, including Tribeca. The film is in Icelandic and there were no subtitles at our screening, meaning that I caught only about 75% of the dialogue, but was generally able to follow the storyline just fine even without understanding every word. I haven’t seen many Icelandic films, but I would say this one was generally a bit warmer than most, while still maintaining that characteristic Nordic distance and avoiding the neat tied-with-a-bow ending people often complain is characteristic of American films. In other words, it was okay, but not my favorite. I would definitely be interested to see it again with either Icelandic or English subtitles, as that would help fill in some of the gaps where I didn’t understand the dialogue.

The English title for the film is "Virgin Mountain." Hmm.
The English title for the film is “Virgin Mountain.” Hmm.

Gleðilega Páska!

In Iceland, Easter isn’t so much a religious holiday as it is a chocolate holiday. And that chocolate takes exactly one form: the strange, famous, and usually immodestly large páskaegg. Easter eggs in Iceland are large, hollow chocolate eggs strangely decorated with plastic flowers and chicks and filled with more candy and a proverb printed on a tiny, rolled-up scroll. I don’t know how this tradition came to be, but tradition it is. Now, normally I’d be totally on board with the idea of giant chocolate eggs. But here’s the thing. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Icelanders are crazy about milk chocolate. In fact, dark chocolate is generally relegated to the baking aisle at the grocery store, because Icelanders can’t fathom that someone might want to consume non-milk chocolate. In the mountains of páskaeggs at the store, I’m pretty sure I saw exactly one variety that was made of dark chocolate, and I think it was adulterated with licorice, like many of them are. Basically, if you love milk chocolate and licorice, you will probably love páskaeggs. If, like me, you think that licorice is an unforgivable smirch on the culinary landscape, and that dark chocolate is always and forever superior to milk, you will probably be a bit less thrilled with this tradition.

But in the interest of learning, of course I consumed the páskaegg that Ásta gave me.

Sendiráð Bandaríkjanna

In April I also had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy for the third time. This time around, the occasion was an open house for American citizens living in Iceland (and their partners) to meet the new ambassador, Rob Barber, who took up the post in January after a vacancy of over a year. A couple of my friends had planned to go but had to cancel at the last minute, so I wandered over to Laufásvegur by myself. As it turns out, I only knew about two people there, so I spent most of the time chatting with them and eating mini cupcakes to allay the awkwardness. These sorts of rather formal social situations are not my forté. At all.

Besides the aforementioned mini cupcakes (by far the best of the food offerings), the other major benefit of the event was this:

bara að chilla með forseta Bandaríkjanna
bara að chilla með forseta Bandaríkjanna

Last Fulbright Field Trip

We went on our last Fulbright field trip in April, this time to Hellisheiðarvirkjun, a geothermal power plant about 20 minutes from downtown. We had planned to go in March, but the weather put the kibosh on that. Scott and Sophie were busy, so it was just me and Alyssa, plus Randver (the new adviser) and Dan (one of the scholars) and his kids and parents, who happened to be visiting from the States.

Honestly, the tour itself was much shorter than I would have expected, consisting mainly of two short videos, plus an opportunity to peek at the inner workings of the plant from a viewing platform. All in all I think it was no more than 15 minutes. But if nothing else, it was nice to get out of the city. Sometimes I forget that the world extends beyond 101. And in typical Icelandic fashion, I ran into not one but two Icelandic acquaintances there within 2 minutes of each other. Ísland er lítið land.

blár himinn yfir Hellisheiðarvirkjuninni
blár himinn yfir Hellisheiðarvirkjuninni

Sumardagurinn Fyrsti

In Iceland, there are really only two seasons: cold, and less cold. April brought the official start of the supposedly “less cold” season, with the holiday “Sumardagurinn fyrsti,” the first day of summer. So how was the weather on the first day of summer? Well, it was sunny part of the day, but the temperature hovered right around freezing and it started to snow at least once. Svona er sumar á Íslandi.  Anyway, our first final exam was the next day, so I spent the morning studying, but then I took a break to wander around town and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Reykjavík klædd í sumar
Reykjavík klædd í sumar

It is traditional for Icelanders to give each other gifts on Sumardagurinn fyrsti (apparently at one point this was the big gift-giving holiday, not Christmas), and I received a cute little gift from Ásta.

IMG_4204

IMG_4205

In the evening, sadly, it was back to studying, with our íslenskt mál exam looming the next day.

Corban reunion

Thanks to Facebook and the watchfulness of my favorite Corban professor, I found out that a fellow Corban alumna was traveling to Reykjavík. We got in touch on Facebook and ended up meeting for ice cream and pylsur (very Icelandic). Kate graduated a few years after me, so we figured out we probably overlapped one year at Corban, although we never met there. She lives in Colorado now and decided to travel to Iceland for a solo adventure. Always fun to connect with people from my Northwest home.

Corban alumnae in Reykjavík
Corban alumnae in Reykjavík
I was privileged to bear witness to the consumption of Kate's first Icelandic pylsa
I was privileged to bear witness to the consumption of Kate’s first Icelandic pylsa

First exams and a little bit of insanity

The first two (of four total) exams were taken in April, first íslenskt mál and then málfræði (grammar). Our exam schedule this semester was in many ways a lot nicer than last, because we had one exam, and then five days’ break, and then the next, and then a week’s break, so I felt like I could tackle them one at a time instead of trying to study for three or four simultaneously. Grammar, while not necessarily the most difficult exam, is always plenty stressful, as it counts for 100% of our final class grade. The exam went well, but afterward I was drained. Several of us sat at Háskólatorg in a bit of a daze, wondering what had just happened and what the purpose of our lives would be without a grammar final hanging over our heads like the sharp blade of a grammatically correct guillotine. That evening, we ended up having an impromptu dinner party at my house. Homemade macaroni and cheese and salad were consumed, banana cake was baked, Vietnamese hats were donned, cameras were pulled out, and insanity ensued. I think we all needed to blow off some steam.

It was without a doubt one of the stranger and more memorable nights of my life in Iceland.

And so April gave way to May, and final exams gave way to more final exams, which shall be discussed in our next installment.

mars

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.

postcrossing

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.

IMG_3994
first few cards on their way out into the big wide world

 

IMG_4116
my wall is quickly filling up with postcards

 

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.

college day

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.

IMG_4164
kirsuberjakjóll! don’t mind the wrinkles…

 

vinir mínir

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.

gubbuhesturinn

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:

göngutúrar

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.

IMG_4033

 

And with this lovely view of Esjan, I will say bless í bili.

 

 

verkefnavika

Verkefnavika

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…

Bíóferð

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!

Yo quiero taco fyrir mig, takk!
Yo quiero 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.

janúar

Well, January was a blur of fireworks, snow, school, and friends. The days lengthened, mornings brightened, and all sorts of adventures kept me busy.

Without further adieu, here are some of the highlights from my first January in Iceland.

áramót

Having only arrived back in Iceland the morning of the 30th, I was pretty jet lagged on New Year’s Eve, but I still managed to enjoy the festivities. I walked up to Alyssa’s for an early dinner with my Fulbright family, then back home for another dinner with my Icelandic family. After we ate, we of course took part in the time-honored tradition of watching áramótaskaup, sort of an SNL-type comedy sketch show that pokes fun at the past year’s happenings. Since we arrived in August, Kelsey and I had been speculating about what might appear on áramótaskaup, and our predictions were pretty much right on. There was plenty about the crumbling health care system, the never-ending barrage of tourists, and of course Justin Timberlake made an appearance.

Shortly before midnight, Ásta, Kristján, Leon and I bundled up and walked up the street to Hallgrímskirkja to watch the ridiculously long and loud amateur fireworks show. It’s basically a free-for-all that somehow manages to seem almost like an organized show. It was festive and wonderful… that is, until it kept going and going and going and I couldn’t fall asleep until about 8 am. Yeah, that part was less than festive.

Janelle and Sophie telling New Year's Eve secrets in their sparkle-attire.
Janelle and Sophie telling New Year’s Eve secrets in their sparkle-attire.

Hannah hops islands

My Lopez friend Hannah officially became the first person to visit me in Iceland when she stopped over on this icy rock on her way to England. She arrived dark and early on the seventh and stayed for about a week. We stayed in the city while she was here, as it was too expensive to do a tour or rent a car (not to mention driving conditions weren’t exactly ideal, especially for someone not used to driving in snow). But we managed to find plenty to do. We visited Baktus at Gyllti Kötturinn, sent postcards, bought tourist gifts. Hannah fell in love with Nói. We went to Harpa to see Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands (The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra) perform Austrian music. Afterward, we walked over to Bæjarins Beztu for hot dogs. It was a very Icelandic evening, and a perfect combination of high culture and not-so-high culture. All in all, it was a lovely week. It’s always a bit strange when one of my worlds collides with another world, but Hannah-world and Iceland-world got along quite swimmingly (although we never went swimming).

Dinner with Sophie and Kelsey at Glo
Dinner with Sophie and Kelsey at Glo

Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands í Hörpu
Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands í Hörpu

IMG_3842

IMG_3845

10300884_570731338905_2937995406044941868_n
selssjálfsmynd

10389715_570731393795_551369133533277930_n

Ég á líf… og líka ost

By some miracle, Bónus started stocking halloumi, a delicious grilling cheese from Cyprus. Our family friends the Panayiotides stayed with us in Washington several years ago and introduced us to halloumi one night, serving it with a simple but tasty Cypriot dish called moujendra – basically just rice, lentils, caramelized onions, and plenty of olive oil. It is so delicious that it is definitely worth documenting the occasion of its consumption. Also worth noting – while we ate, we watched American Idol (“Henry Connick’s Legs!”) and talked about Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina steaming habits.

Kelsey was eagerly watching the cheese grill to a chewy, crispy, salty perfection.
Kelsey was eagerly watching the cheese grill to a chewy, crispy, salty perfection.

IMG_3912

I may have also intermittently been playing and singing (badly) "Ég á líf" whilst we cooked. Possibly.
I may have also intermittently been playing and singing (badly) “Ég á líf” whilst we cooked. Possibly.

Ég þekki Sjón í sjón

In the fall, I read a book by Sjón. In January, I saw him three times in the span of maybe ten days. The first time, he was heading into Brynja, the hardware store on Laugavegur, while I stood outside chatting with Elliott (whom I had just happened to run into, because Iceland). The second time, he was at the post office getting some packages ready to send with a woman who I would venture to guess is his wife. The third time, he was just walking down Austurstræti heading the opposite direction as I was. I haven’t seem him in a couple weeks now, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Maybe I will always have Sjón sightings in threes. Only time will tell.

I suppose in such a tiny city in such a tiny country, this shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise, but it was still fairly amusing.

Danish fish dish

It absolutely warrants mentioning that January saw the return of the best Háma meal ever, the Danish Fish Dish (also known as rauðspretta with potatoes and remoulade, but that doesn’t rhyme). The glory of the Danish Fish Dish cannot adequately be described; it must be experienced. Crunchy, fried, Danish… with an ungodly amount of remoulade (seriously, I think they use an extra-large ice cream scoop to dish it up).

Danish Fish Dish elicits feelings of pure joy
Danish Fish Dish elicits feelings of pure joy

Seriously, who can eat that much remoulade in one sitting?
Seriously, who can eat that much remoulade in one sitting?

Skammdegi brightening

At the beginning of January, I was walking to school in the dark four days a week. By the end of the month, my morning commute was only dark half the time. On Mondays and Wednesdays, when my first class starts at 10:00, I now walk to school in broad daylight. It was a little strange at first, but I can’t say I’m complaining.

9:40 and light out? Vor er á leiðinni!
9:40 and light out? Vor er á leiðinni!

January Fulbright event: Alþingishúsið

The Fulbright event for January was a visit to Alþingishúsið, Iceland’s parliamentary building. I visited with the Snorris in 2012 but I figured why not go again? It was a small group – just me, Alyssa, one of the new visiting scholars and his three boys, and María, our temporary Fulbright adviser. The experience of visiting Alþingishúsið is the polar opposite of visiting any US government building – you walk right up to the door, through a single metal detector (which María said is relatively new), up a narrow spiral staircase, and voilá, welcome to the center of Iceland’s national government. A kind lady whose name I don’t remember gave us a tour and told us all sorts of interesting and educational things that I promptly forgot because history and dates are not my forté. A few things I do remember:

-There’s a hallway with two long paintings on opposite walls, one a landscape by Jóhannes Kjarval and the other a depiction of Þjóðfundurinn 1851 (The National Assembly of 1851), a meeting intended to determine the relationship between Iceland and Denmark. The Danes wanted to make the Danish Constitution valid in Iceland and give Iceland representation in the Danish Parliament. The Icelanders put forth an alternative plan which would have afforded Iceland more independence. Not exactly pleased with this idea, the Danish representative ended the meeting prematurely in the name of the King. Jón Sigurðsson, hero of the Icelandic independence movement, then said:

„Og ég mótmæli í nafni konungs og þjóðarinnar þessari aðferð, og ég áskil þinginu rétt til, að klaga til konungs vors yfir lögleysu þeirri, sem hér er höfð í frammi.“

“And I protest in the name of the King and the people against this procedure, and I reserve for the Assembly the right to complain to the King about this act of illegality.”

And the delegates began chanting, “Vér mótmælum allir!” (“We all protest!”), a phrase that is now known by every Icelander. The fun fact about the painting is that Jón Sigurðsson is depicted as the tallest, most imposing figure in the room, and the representative of the oppressive Danish government is depicted as very small. In reality, Jón Sigurðsson was a very slight man. A little bit of artistic bias, perhaps?

Þjóðfundur 1851 - málverk eftir Gunnlaug Blöndal
Þjóðfundur 1851 – málverk eftir Gunnlaug Blöndal

-We got to peek into the meeting room of Sjálfstæðisflokurinn (The Independence Party) because Alþingismaður (MP) Vilhjálmur Bjarnason was with our group. He also spoke with us later and answered questions (which other people, much smarter than me, asked, because I have absolutely no brain for politics, economics, etc.).

-One of the most interesting places in the building is Kringlan, a circular area added on to the house in 1908 as a place to receive foreign guests (not to be confused with the shopping mall of the same name). It is one of the most decorative places in the house, with a gilded rosette in the domed ceiling, tall windows, and more. There are also a number of small round tables on which stand the names of Alþingismenn (Parliamentary representatives) from certain years throughout Iceland’s history.

Kringlan - from althingi.is
Kringlan – from althingi.is

Ég tala ekki færeysku

Kelsey and I are so cool that sometimes our Friday or Saturday nights look like this: Eating round “graham crackers” (they’re sort of a lie) with heaps of whipped cream whilst watching Faroese news broadcasts and exclaiming, in between mouthfuls of sugar, how strange the Faroese language is. This particularl occasion may also have included some Facebook-stalking of someone (or someones) we saw on the news. Potentially.

Anyway, Faroese really is intriguing. It’s Icelandic’s closest living relative, and in written form, the two languages are incredibly similar. But Faroese pronunciation is a whole other animal. The thing is, there are still enough words that are similar that I feel like I should be able to understand when I hear it, but I don’t. So close, yet so far.

Eitt kvöld á Seltjarnarnesi

I sent a belated Christmas card to my frænka Jóhanna who lives in Seltjarnarnes (just west of Reykjavík) and she kindly responded with a dinner invitation. I took the bus and battled some intense Icelandic wind and arrived at their house windblown but happy to see my relatives that I first met in 2012. Back then, I could barely manage a few sentences in Icelandic, and I distinctly remember sitting at the breakfast table looking at Morgunblaðið or some other paper, unable to make sense of anything more than a word here and there. This time, I spoke Icelandic the entire evening, give or take maybe 5 English words. Jóhanna, her husband Sigmar, their daughter Mæja, her boyfriend Arnar, and their two kiddos Sara and Sindri were lovely company for a chilly, blustery winter evening. After dinner, I even got to play the piano, which made my heart (and pianist’s fingers) so happy. Takk fyrir mig, Jóhanna og Sigmar!

As if all of that wasn’t enough, school started up again in early January and has of course been keeping me busy. I will have to write more about that another time, though. For now, I leave you with a few more pictures, taken on a couple of the calmer days we enjoyed in January.

náttúrufegurð Íslands
náttúrufegurð Íslands

of homesickness and other realities of life abroad

When I had been here maybe three or four weeks, a couple people asked me how it felt to finally be living in Iceland and to know that I will be here at least through the school year.  I answered that it probably wouldn’t hit me until about the six-week mark, because when I came in 2012 for the Snorri Program, I was here for six weeks, so somehow I figured it would only be after that time frame that the reality of living here would sink in. Whether it was coincidence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely, I was right. The first couple weeks of October have been hard.  I don’t think it was any one thing, really, but a combination of factors. The first month or so after I arrived was sort of like the honeymoon period. There was this energy and momentum that kept me going, the excitement of finally being here, the fun of making new friends and exploring the city, and the good weather didn’t hurt either. But about the beginning of October, that energy wore off and my exhaustion started to catch up with me; the weather turned grey and wet and stormy; the days started getting shorter; the homework piled up; and I felt overwhelmed. Then, on top of that, I got sick.

Being sick is no fun when you’re in familiar surroundings, but it is so unbelievably not fun when you are in a new place. Everything becomes more difficult: making yourself comfortable at home, trying to find what you need at the pharmacy, deciding if/when to go to the doctor. Navigating a new health care system just plain sucks, especially when you are the uninsured foreigner who forces everyone to speak a different language. I won’t go into detail about my experiences with the Icelandic health care system here, but suffice it to say that I dearly miss my clinic and my physicians in Washington and the ease of knowing when, where and how to get the help you need.

While my health concern from a couple weeks ago has thankfully been resolved, I have still been far from 100%. I’m tired pretty much all the time, which I think is likely related to my ongoing thyroid problems. And for the past couple weeks, I’ve woken every day with a sore throat and had an intermittent cough. There has been a nasty cold bug going around, so it could just be something like that, but it also started right around the time that the Holuhraun volcano smog wafted toward Reykjavík, so it could also be that my overly sensitive body is reacting to the heightened SO2 levels. Whatever it is, I’m tired of it, and I would really like to be well again.

The bottom line is that yes, it is joyful and rewarding and wonderful to experience life abroad, but sometimes it is also just plain hard and exhausting, especially when you’re trying to learn a foreign language, and especially when you’re not feeling at your best.

Yesterday Sophie and I enjoyed some fiskisúpa and kaffi at Café Haiti and we were talking about, among other things, how much easier it is to feel centered and alive when you’re regularly reading and writing. I know that I feel better in almost every aspect of my life when I make the time to write, and yet I have never figured out how to build that into my regular routine, how to make it as natural a part of my day as washing my hair or drinking coffee.

I feel like my constant refrain on this blog is “sorry I haven’t written much lately, but I’ll try to do better.” Maybe someday I will finally be able to move beyond that, but that day is not today.

There is, as always, so much to catch up on, but for now, in no particular order, here are a few of the happier things that have been going on:

tvö kvöld í hörpu

In September, I had the good fortune to saunter down the street to Harpa for two great events two nights in a row. First, I saw Ólafur Arnalds in concert. My friend Matyas (a fellow Árni Magnússon Institute grantee here to study Icelandic) planned to go with his boyfriend, but since his boyfriend had to return home to Hungary for a while, he had an extra ticket, which I gladly snatched up. I’ve seen Ólafur Arnalds once before, last May in Portland, so I knew I was in for a treat. The set list was very similar to the Portland show, but it was still more than worth going. Ólafur addressed the crowd solely in Icelandic, and I am proud to say that I understood the vast majority of what he said (although it certainly helped that he told some of the same stories in Portland). Arnór Dan showed up for a surprise guest appearance to sing “For Now I Am Winter” and “Old Skin.” And because this is Iceland, Arnór Dan was standing around right after the concert talking to someone on his cell phone about where they were going to meet to go út að djamma that night.

The next night, Ásta and I went to hear American author Amy Tan speak. The lecture was part of the annual Art in Translation conference, and I was lucky enough to receive free tickets courtesy of the US Embassy (thanks again, Brian!). Sometimes being a Fulbrighter really has its perks! I am by no means a knowledgeable Amy Tan fanatic or anything, but I read The Joy Luck Club in college and enjoyed it. Amy was, as expected, an engaging speaker, and I walked away inspired to start writing again (clearly that didn’t quite work out, though…).

Fulbrighters

Speaking of Fulbright, I am happy to say that we have an incredible, if small, group of Fulbrighters in Iceland this year. There are only four others besides myself – Sophie, Alyssa, Scott, and Janelle – and they are all wonderful, talented, energetic and inspiring people. We are all working on very different projects for the year and are of course all quite busy, so I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, but we’re trying to do a weekly happy hour so we can catch up on each other’s news.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We all met for the first time at our Fulbright orientation, back at the beginning of September. We met at the Fulbright office on Laugavegur for kaffi, Icelandic nammi, and an informative program about the history of the Fulbright Program and the Commission here in Iceland, resources of which we should be aware, and practicalities of our grants (e.g., monthly stipends, health insurance benefits, etc.). Elliott, a Fulbrighter from last year who is still living and working in Iceland, shared about his Fulbright experience; Marcy from the US Embassy gave us an introduction to the history and workings of the embassy here in Iceland; and Tanya gave us a crash-course in Icelandic language tips.

After the practicalities were out of the way, we walked down to Steikhúsið and enjoyed a wonderful meal, which included a variety of tasty seafood, wine, an incredibly rich skyr dessert, and of course kaffi.

IMG_3421
Monkfish, salmon, and some sort of wonderful potato cake

Alyssa ('14-'15) and Elliott ('13-'14)
Alyssa (’14-’15) and Elliott (’13-’14)

 

IMG_3424
An incredibly rich dessert… some sort of skyr mousse with licorice pieces, mango sauce, berries, and a crumb topping

Sophie, who is from The Other Washington, works on campus, so we’ve met up several times for lunch or coffee. She also holds the distinct honor of being the first Fulbrighter in front of whom I have completely fallen apart, so big love to her for letting me show up on her doorstep unannounced and tearful.

Scott might just be the most positive, energetic person I’ve ever met. He is working on cultivating a new music and arts festival called Saga Fest. It’s all about community, collaboration, and sustainability. Although the festival won’t be held until next May, Scott has been hosting monthly backyard concerts at the home he shares with a few roommates, just up the street from me. Kelsey, Sophie, Leana and I went to the last concert and enjoyed the sounds of slowsteps, the incredible carrot cake that Scott’s multitalented roommate Ilmur made, and the little community that knit itself together in a little backyard in downtown Reykjavík on a chilly autumn evening. Most of all, though, it was fun to see Scott in his element – cultivating an atmosphere of authenticity and community and then sitting back and watching the magic happen.

Enjoying the sounds of slowsteps at a backyard concert with Scott, Sophie, Leana, Kelsey, and a bunch of beautiful strangers
Enjoying the sounds of slowsteps at a backyard concert with Scott, Sophie, Leana, Kelsey, and a bunch of beautiful strangers

Elliott, who received the joint Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant last year, is still living in Iceland and is part of our little Fulbright family. Once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter, right? His schedule is so insane that it makes me dizzy just thinking about it, but whenever I see him he always asks how my classes are going and is always ready to listen to my worries and dispense sage advice. Being able to talk to someone who’s been there, done that is invaluable, and the fact that he is just a super cool human being is a bonus.

I have had fewer opportunities to get to know Alyssa thus far, partly because she had to return to the States for a couple weeks, but hopefully I’ll get to spend more time with her soon. She is here with her boyfriend, and her son will be joining us in Iceland after Christmas. I think we already think of him as our collective Fulbright kid, and I know I’m looking forward to finally meeting him!

Janelle is conducting research and teaching a class at the university. She is way more adventurous than I can ever hope to be, I think, having already joined Scott and a few others for a serious hike along the Laugavegur trail. And even though she is not here to learn Icelandic, she is a font of great advice about language learning. For instance, in response to my statement that it is difficult for me to get over my shyness and practice my Icelandic, she prescribed this simple solution: drink more alcohol. (She immediately added that it should be just enough to make me a bit less uptight and self-conscious. She is not proposing anything irresponsible, obviously. Just to clarify that.)  🙂

RIFF

The Reykjavík International Film Festival was held from September 25 to October 5. I had high hopes of attending several films but ended up only making it to two. Scott, Sophie, Janelle and I had a little Fulbright date and went to see Boyhood (Uppvöxtur á íslensku) at Háskólabío. I’m always a bit nervous about seeing a film that has such a buzz about it, but this one did not disappoint. It did run a bit long, but the writing, acting, and of course the method of filmmaking were just incredible. For those who have been living under a rock, Boyhood was filmed over the course of twelve years, so that instead of having multiple actors play the same kid at various ages, and instead of using makeup to age the adult actors, you actually get to watch the characters age over time. It’s an incredibly risky concept that, thankfully for the filmmakers and for the audience, definitely paid off.

After the movie, as we walked toward home, we ran into Elliott at the bus stop, and then a Fulbrighter from the year before walked by as well, because this is Iceland and these things happen regularly. After Janelle and Sophie went their separate ways, Scott and I had an impromptu visit to Vöffluvagninn (The Waffle Wagon), a little food cart that sets up shop in Lækjartorg on the weekends. It might not be quite as good as Portland’s Waffle Window, but it’s pretty close. Mmm.

I also went to see Before I Disappear (Ádur en ég hverf) at Bío Paradís with Janelle and Steffi, a woman from Germany who I met through a foreigners-living-in-Iceland Facebook group. The movie was definitely not what I expected, and it was quite dark, but still pretty good.

I planned to go see Land Ho (Land fyrir stafni) with Kelsey, but I had too much homework and wasn’t feeling well so I couldn’t go. Unfortunately, I had bought my ticket ahead of time, so there went 1400 ISK down the drain (that’s four bus tickets, approximately 25 Icelandic strawberries, or two iced vanilla lattés at Stofan). So sad. Kelsey assured me that I didn’t miss much and it was pretty much just a tourism propaganda film, so there’s that anyway.

Snorri meetup

Once a Snorri, always a Snorri… a couple weeks ago I got to meet up with a Snorri Plus alum and two Snorri West alumna. Gail Einarsson-McCleery is Iceland’s honorary consul in Toronto and helps run the Snorri West Program. She was in Iceland for a consular conference, which attracted over 130 of Iceland’s honorary consuls from around the world. While she was here, she met up with two girls who did the Snorri West Program this past summer, and she invited me to tag along as well, and I invited Kelsey to tag along. The five of us met up at Stofan, which has quickly become one of my favorite little spots in the city – cozy and inviting, with one of the best lattés I’ve had in Reykjavík.  Anyway, it was fun to chat with Gail and to meet Signý and Anna.  It sounds cheesy, but there is something beautiful about knowing that having had this Snorri Program experience means I have an automatic connection with others who have had the Snorri experience – or, in the case of Snorri West, a different but sort of parallel experience.

Patró reunion

When I was staying in Patreksfjörður in 2012, I met a guy named Brynjólfur who was working at the Sýslumaðurinn in Patró for the summer. We’ve kept in touch here and there, but I hadn’t seen him since I moved here until last night. He’s a mentor for a few exchange students at HÍ, and he decided to put on a dinner party for his mentees and invite me as well. Two of the three exchange students couldn’t come, so it ended up being just four of us: me, Brynjólfur, his girlfriend Ragna, and a law student from China who goes by Nina. Brynjólfur was kind enough to act as chauffeur so Nina and I didn’t have to spend an hour on the bus trying to get to Garðabær.

Brynjólfur likes to cook fancy-schmancy food, so we enjoyed quite the sophisticated menu of escargot and melon and cured ham appetizers; salted cod stew for the main course; and chocolate-dipped strawberries and pain au chocolat for dessert. Besides the yummy food, it was lovely to see an old friend, meet new people, practice my Icelandic an itty-bit with Brynjólfur’s (very sweet and patient) mother, and be reminded that there’s life outside of 101. Also, there was a super cute dog wearing a lopapeysa.

 —

More to come, but for now I need to go hole up at the library and study for a couple hours. Svo gaman að vera nemandi!

tíu dagar á íslandi, part 1

Jæja, ég flutti til Íslands.  It really happened.  I moved to Iceland!

I have been here for 10 days (well, I had been when I started writing this; now it’s been more like 12 days) and I apologize for not writing sooner, but the weather was fantastic last week so I felt obligated to be out and about and not sitting in front of a computer.  Plus, life has been busy even though classes have yet to start.  I’ll try to recap the highlights of the last 10 days, but a lot has happened, so I may need to split the account into multiple entries.  But of course we should start with…

the trip

There isn’t much to say about this, really.  I stuffed two huge suitcases and a third smaller one to the 50-lb limit and you’d never even know from looking at my room at home that I’d taken anything.  Packing was not a terribly fun task for several reasons, including 1) I suck at it; 2) it is very difficult to pack bulky winter clothes well; and 3) I have been dealing with a thyroid infection, had to have a biopsy a few days before I left, and was feeling generally icky.  I made several last-minute shopping trips, but somehow I got everything together.

On Sunday morning (the 17th), I had to say goodbye to my kitty:

IMG_3356

I was laughing here but it was really quite terribly sad to say goodbye to kitty since she is 17 and the best kitty in the world 😦

Anyway, I went to Old Town Battle Grounds for breakfast and coffee with my parents and sister.  Mmm Stumptown.  I miss it already.  My parents drove me up to Sea-Tac and we parted ways.  I got though security quickly and spent a couple hours wandering around the airport, buying a few gifts, eating overpriced food, and wondering about the adventures of the people all around me.

The flight was very smooth and went fairly quickly.  I am not at all good at sleeping on planes, but I rested a bit and watched some good ol’ American sitcoms.  Before I knew it, we were flying over Greenland, and that soon gave way to the barren lava field wasteland of the Keflavík peninsula.

I went through passport control and they didn’t even ask why I was here, just stamped my passport and sent me on my way.  It was almost a bit of a letdown.  After collecting my 150 plus pounds of stuff, I met Ásta Sól outside in the brisk Icelandic morning air, which felt wonderful after the stuffy plane air.

I bought an inaugural cup of bananasplitti skyr, then we were off to Reykjavík and my new home on Grettisgata.  It was more difficult to adjust to the time change than when I was here two years ago, I am sure because it is later in the summer and there is no energizing perpetual daylight.  Also, with the Snorri Program, we had a very busy schedule from day one, so there was really no choice but to adapt immediately.

mánudagur / monday

After a long nap, I walked around the city a bit and caffeinated at Kaffitár.  I honestly don’t remember what else I did that day, except enjoy a lovely dinner with Ásta Sól’s family and sleep.

Since this day is pretty boring to read about, here are some pretty pictures of Reykjavík dressed up in sunshine:

þriðjudagur / tuesday

On Tuesday, I made my way over to the Fulbright office (a couple blocks away, on Laugavegur above Bónus) and met the director and advisor.  The director had a 4-week-old puppy and a not-entirely-hairless sphinx cat in her office, and apparently has written a children’s book about her former sphinx.

Then I walked down to Lækjartorg to meet up with Carina and Sigrún.  Sigrún is a frænka of my Seattle friend David, and Carina is her German friend who has lived in Iceland for many years.  We met in Seattle last year.  Carina and Sigrún were on an epic road trip across the States and were spending a couple days in Seattle and visiting David.

I arrived at Lækjartorg early, so I sat on a bench and read for a few minutes.  Sigrún came up to me with her mother and said, “Julie?” I confirmed that it was me and she said she had pointed me out to her mom from across the square and her mom said, “Are you sure that’s her? She looks so Icelandic!”  I am not sure I believe that, but I guess I will take it!

Carina arrived and we decided to go to Café Babalú, a colorful (literally) little spot on Skólavörðustígur.  Everything seems quite overpriced (but everything here is expensive) and the coffee is just okay, but the súkkulaðikaka (chocolate cake)… mmm.  It is like a beautiful, overpriced, unhealthy little slice of heaven.  The three of us chatted for quite a while and I eavesdropped a bit on the conversations around us.  The café attracts so many tourists that there are probably at least 7 languages being spoken in there at any given time.  It is also not a great place to practice your Icelandic with the staff, as I discovered the next day; they seem to employ quite a few expats who do not speak Icelandic.

 —

miðvikudagur / wednesday

My number one to-do item on Wednesday was to go to Útlendingastofnun (the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration) to have my photo taken so I can receive my dvalarleyfi (residence permit).  I looked up the directions and set out for what should have been a 15-minute walk.  I may have gotten a bit turned around and taken twice that long to arrive; I will never tell.  Speaking of things I will not admit, I will never admit that when I got there and pulled on the door and it didn’t open, I turned around and walked outside and had to give myself a pep talk and ask myself if I had tried pushing on the door, and then felt very sheepish and had to give myself another pep talk to convince myself to go back and try pushing the door open.

I pushed the door and it opened.  The place was suspiciously empty and I soon discovered why; the immigrant-photographing machine was broken, so that was that.  The employee told me to call the next day and find out if it had been fixed before actually going there.  After all that drama, my plans were thwarted.  Oh well.  Þetta reddast.

I went back to Café Babalú to have lunch and (theoretically) get some writing done.  I got up the courage to speak to the staff in Icelandic (“Hvað er súpa dagsins?”) and was answered with, “It’s tomato soup.”  Apparently I chose one of the non-Icelandic-speaking employees to ask.  But there was an Icelandic guy working as well and he overheard, so he humored me and finished the transaction with me in Icelandic.  Thanks, dude at Café Babalú.  I appreciate that.

fimmtudagur / thursday

On Thursday morning, I walked a block up the street to Reykjavík Roasters to meet Elliott for kaffi.  Elliott received the joint Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant last year, so he kindly agreed to meet up with me and give me some information on the BA program and the placement test.  Elliott is from Texas and has been interested in Iceland for years.  He helped me feel a bit more confident about the placement test, I think, and simultaneously more nervous and more excited about the program itself as he explained that we would be reading novels and writing reports all in Icelandic the first semester.

By the way, I am about 95% certain that I spotted Borko in a corner of the coffee shop.

I held Elliott hostage for a solid two hours, then meandered back down the street and spent a bit of time sitting in the garden, moving my chair to follow the little sliver of sunlight and trying to study.  While I was out, Kimberly, my fellow Snorri and the Canadian recipient of the Árni Magnússon grant, stopped by with her cousin Bjarni.  Bjarni asked me why Americans make fun of Canadians.  Why not, Bjarni?  They make it so easy with their ketchup chips and their “eh’s” and their politeness.  (I actually made up a more diplomatic answer than that, I promise.)

For dinner, Ásta Sól took me to a little place just down the street for a “hamborgaratilboð” (“hamburger special”).  Yes, people at home who have never seen me eat beef, you read that correctly: I ate a hamburger.  When in Rome.  Or rather, when in Reykjavík.

Sofar, so very very good

After dinner, I walked over to the university campus.  David, a dear friend from Seattle, had “introduced” me over Facebook to his friend Leana, who has lived in Reykjavík with her Icelandic other half for over a year now and is studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the university.  She is involved with something called Sofar Sounds, which puts on small, intimate concerts with locations announced the day of the show.  Who is performing?  Well, it could be anyone; the lineup is not announced, so it’s a surprise when you arrive.  Leana sent me a message soon after I arrived in Iceland and told me there was room on the guest list for an upcoming show and she could add my name if I was interested.  I am not a terribly outgoing person, and the thought of being in a room full of strangers listening to mystery musicians who could have turned out to be awful did not sound 100% appealing… but I said yes, because I need to push myself to get out and try new things.  I did not regret that decision.

I received an email that day with directions for finding the location: one of the new dorms at the University of Iceland.  It was so exclusive and clandestine.  I finally found what I thought was the correct hall, but I wasn’t sure – until I turned around and saw Svavar Knútur walking toward me, guitar and ukulele in tow.  Svavar is a friend of Ásta Sól’s and an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who performed for our Snorri group two years ago.  I was so happy to know that I had found the right place and that he was performing that I think I freaked him out a bit.  I think I actually said something like, “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are and now I know I’m in the right place!”  Awkward.

Anyway, I followed him into the dorm and up to the second floor communal kitchen and was swept up into a magical evening.  I finally got to meet Leana in person.  There was free ice cream, courtesy of Ísgerðin, a soft-serve ice cream place in 107 Reykjavík run by an American-Icelandic couple.  The American half used to be an investment banker in New York and met his Icelandic other half on a ski trip.  The American gave up his fast-paced NYC lifestyle and moved here to be with his love and now they make ice cream together. Sounds like a heartwarming film, doesn’t it?  Anyway, I enjoyed a little dish of pistasíu ís and eavesdropped on an English-language conversation while I waited for the show to begin.  I ended up inviting myself to join the aforementioned conversation, which was a good decision since I then met Daniela, a German exchange student, and Harry, an English sound engineer currently working in Sigur Rós’ studio in Mosfellsbær.

(Overheard outside my window, while writing this at 1:20 AM:

Person the first: “…that’s because Denmark used to rule Iceland.”

Person the second, in a shocked tone, “What?!?”)

Part of the fun of the evening was that aside from Svavar, I had no idea what to expect from the performers.  Their names were all written on posters in the kitchen, but I had never hear of the other three bands: Þausk, Del Water Gap, and Una Stef. And because there was no “backstage” area, the performers were all just sitting in the audience with the rest of us, so you never quite knew who was going to stand up and walk to the front to play next.

The first band was Þausk, a trio of Icelanders whose songs featured catchy bass lines and husky vocals (see: “Suave Shaker“).  Second was Holden, one-third of the American band Del Water Gap.  He played several earnest, Ryan Adams-esque tunes on his guitar and endearingly mispronounced several Icelandic words.

Third was Una Stef, a young Icelandic powerhouse usually backed by a brassy band.  She said she felt rather uncomfortable playing an acoustic set, but the stripped-down accompaniment (just an acoustic guitar and bass, a djembe, and a couple backup singers) allowed her marvelous voice to shine.  The highlight of the set was a cover of the Destiny’s Child classic “Survivor.”  No, really; trust me, it was fantastic.  She made all of us feel pretty unaccomplished when she said that she wrote most of the songs on her album when she was thirteen.

Last up was everyone’s favorite (well, mine, anyway) Icelandic troubadour, Svavar Knútur.  Svavar finished up the night with his trademark blend of dark but sweetly sung lyrics and hilariously inappropriate humor.  I appreciated that Svavar sang a couple of his Icelandic-language songs because, as he said, he loves his language and he loves singing in it.

After the show, I hung out for quite a while, chatted with Daniela and the Sofar team a bit, got a tour of Daniela’s room and her hilariously tiny balcony (for smoking, presumably, although as she is not a smoker I suggested she might consider decorating it seasonally), and then had a lovely little chat with Leana as we walked home in the late evening (early morning, actually) darkness.

Part of the Sofar philosophy is to enjoy the show in the moment, so they do not allow photography or filming at their shows.  As such, I have no photos of the evening to share with you, but I hope you can tell from my words alone that it was a magical experience.

 —

föstudagur / friday

On Friday, I met up with my new friend Daniela and we went to the Laundromat Café for lunch (expensive and touristy, but a huge amount of tasty food, plus they have a color-organized bookshelf and an actual laundromat), then ventured to the penis museum, more properly known as the Icelandic Phallological Museum.  (I am sure everyone reading this is now more determined than ever to come visit me. You may even have stopped reading this blog because you are busy looking up flights.)  Anyway, as you can imagine, the museum is overpriced, gimmicky, and hilarious.  What is especially hilarious is how people sort of act like it is just another respectable museum and walk around speaking in hushed, almost reverent tones – punctuated, of course, by frequent giggles.

I was hoping the gift shop would sell the documentary The Final Member, which I have been wanting to see for quite some time.  It follows two men, one Icelandic and one American, who are both determined to donate the first human specimen to the museum.  Alas, the documentary was nowhere to be found, although there was information about both men on display.

There was also a penis phone:

IMG_3385

 —

Jæja… that seems like a pretty good place to pause for now.  I will be back soon to recap the rest of my first 10 days in Iceland.

þrjár vikur, part 1

I’ve canceled my Netflix subscription in anticipation of my move, and my brain can’t absorb any more Icelandic language study tonight, so I guess that means it’s time to blog.

I am moving to Iceland in three weeks.

Three weeks!

Twenty-one days.

I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

The past five weeks, since I last posted, have been full of challenges and blessings alike.

In early June, I went in to see my doctor about a concern that had come up, and while that concern turned out to be nothing to worry about, the lab work she ordered came back with some abnormalities indicating a different problem.  Obviously, a new, potentially serious health issue is about the last thing I was expecting to have to deal with in the last couple months before my move.  It probably comes as no surprise that this discovery has added a great deal of stress to my life.

I was hoping to be done with work around July 18, giving me a full month to focus on preparing for my move. The problem was that my employer-provided insurance only extends to the end of the month in which I stop working.  So if I had stopped working on July 18 as planned, I would have only been covered until July 31, leaving two weeks of insurance limbo.  I chose to work until August 1 so I will be covered until the end of August, which means I won’t have any gap in insurance coverage (I’ll also be covered as soon as I get to Iceland).

Anyway, I was told that I would need to see a specialist for evaluation.  Then I was told the first opening was August 22 (just to recap, I am moving to Iceland on August 17).  I didn’t take that news so well, but once I calmed down, I started strategizing.  I was put on the wait list for an earlier appointment, I asked my primary care provider to order any additional testing that might save us some time, and I asked her for a referral to an outside provider, hoping I could get in sooner elsewhere.  Thankfully, she was on board with ordering the additional testing, and someone on whom I wish many blessings canceled an appointment with a specialist at my regular clinic, so I was able to get in last week.

Thankfully, the specialist was great. He was patient, clear, asked me many times if I had more questions, and not in a flippant “anything else?” while walking toward the door way, but in a sincere and patient way that frankly I haven’t seen in a lot of doctors lately (or ever, really).  He was understanding of my timeline and willing to try rushing orders for the additional testing we need to do (he mentioned putting the order in “stat” and I felt pretty special). Best of all, though, he reassured me that there is no reason to cancel my move.  He feels quite certain that whatever is going on (there are a few possibilities) is something quite manageable.

The last few weeks have reminded me in many ways of the experience I went through the summer after my junior year of college.  It took an entire summer of being nauseated and dizzy and overall miserable, four months of testing and doctor’s appointments, before I was diagnosed with a migraine disorder.  I remember the fear and exhaustion that came with not knowing what was going on.  Within the same week, same day, even the same hour, I could go from feeling incredibly hopeful to wondering if I’d ever feel normal again and, maybe if I was lucky, back to feeling hopeful again.  Thankfully, we seem to be moving much faster toward diagnosis and treatment this time around, but I have certainly experienced that same rollercoaster of emotions, only heightened by the whole moving-to-Iceland thing.

Of course, I would never have chosen to move overseas and embark on this great adventure when I’m not feeling my best.  In my ideal scenario, I would be feeling fabulous my last few months in the States, full of energy and able to put in many hours of focused language study so I would be as prepared as possible to start school next month.  That hasn’t been the case, but I suppose now is just a good a time as any to start working on my “Þetta reddast” attitude.

I don’t know exactly what is going on with my body or how it will affect the next few weeks or the next year or three.  I don’t know why all this is happening now.

But I do know that as stressful as this whole issue has been, there have been some tremendous blessings for which I am extremely grateful:

I am grateful I had the opportunity to ensure continuous insurance coverage simply by working a bit longer than I had planned.

I am thankful to have wonderful coworkers who have been tremendously kind, supportive, and understanding of my absences for medical appointments and my sometimes-unexplained emotions as I swing from moments of feeling overwhelmed to moments of feeling hopeful.

I am thankful that an American friend of mine who lives in Reykjavík connected me to another American (a Washingtonian, even!) living in Iceland who has had similar health problems and is totally willing to share what she’s learned about dealing with it and navigating the Icelandic health care system.

I am grateful for another friend of mine who sent me essential oils to help with my health.

I am unbelievably grateful and relieved that not only do I know where I will be living in Iceland, but I’ll be living with an Icelandic family – and one that I already know!  I know there are some international students starting at the University of Iceland this fall who still don’t have their housing lined up.  If I had to worry about finding housing on top of everything else that’s going on, I think I would really be (even more of) a basketcase by now.

And finally, I am grateful to be moving to a country with readily available, affordable health care.  I will be living in downtown Reykjavík with easy access to primary care, specialists, and (hopefully I will never need it) hospital care.  For the first six months, I will need to purchase a medical cost insurance plan, but it should only cost about $200 or so ($200 for 6 months?  You read that right, my fellow Americans).  After six months, I will be fully covered under Iceland’s national health care system and will pay the same low fees for care that Icelanders pay.  It has not escaped my attention that had I received a Fulbright to study in a more remote area of the world, I would very likely not be able to move forward with my plans to relocate.

So, a lot has happened in the past five weeks, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in the next three weeks both in terms of getting medical answers and crossing more items off the never-ending “things to do before you move overseas” list.

My friend Nicole, a fellow lover of Iceland, recently posted this quote, and I don’t think she’ll mind me borrowing it:

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

Do I have fears about the next three weeks, and about getting settled into my new life in Iceland?  Absolutely.  But I have no doubts that this is what I am supposed to be doing, with or without a few extra challenges, and that there are beautiful things awaiting on the other side of this fear.