things that make the news in Iceland: cheeseburger soup and snow penises

Snjótyppi klýfur Gautaborg // Snow penis divides Gothenburg (Mbl.is)

A snow penis has reportedly caused division among the residents of Swedish city Gothenburg. An unknown prankster drew a penis on a frozen river and the city received a number of complaints from people asking it to be destroyed. This proved to be rather a challenge as the ice was too thin to allow city workers to walk on it, so they had to use some sort of long-handled tool to destroy the snow penis from a distance.

The destruction of the snow penis caused a backlash on social media, and of course someone founded a Facebook group called something like “Rebuild the snow penis” (I’d like to think that in English it would have been something like “the snow penis will rise again”).

A new snow penis was indeed created, reportedly so large that it can only be seen in its entirety from the air. The Icelandic article delightfully refers to it as “Hið nýja snjótyppi,” which will probably be amusing only to those who know Icelandic.

(Here’s an article in English for those who want to learn more about the snow penis phenomenon.)


 

Ostborgarasúpan gerði allt vitlaust upp í HÍ: Það var algjör örtröð í Hámu // Cheeseburger soup causes a ruckus at the University of Iceland: The cafeteria was crazy crowded! (Vísir)

Yes, the soup of the day at my school’s cafeteria made the news. Is cheeseburger soup an American thing? Probably. In any case, I feel like it’s something I’ve definitely heard of before, but apparently here it’s the soup equivalent to a unicorn. Everyone lined up to try it and deliver their verdict. Some hypothesized that the soup was an experiment of sorts, to measure the power of social media. It seems to have worked. One person went so far as to declare it akin to “Almar í kassanum,” the art student who spent a week naked in a glass box back in December. In other words, it was something everyone just had to see for themselves. It was the talk of the town.

It sparked a number of amusing tweets and the wonderful hashtag #súputíð, which literally means “soup time” but is a reference to the word gúrkutíð (“cucumber time”), used to describe a period of slow news. It’s always gúrkutíð around here, really.


 

Gæti skotið einhvern en samt unnið // Could shoot someone and still win (RÚV)

Ironically for someone who’s so into wall-building, the stupidity of Donald Trump knows no boundaries. While I am grateful to hear a lot less about him here than I would back in the States, I still hear way too much, as of course the world is following the campaign with an appropriate blend of amusement and horror.

His latest assertion that he could stand on Wall Street and indiscriminately shoot someone walking past without losing a single voter basically encompasses everything that is wrong with Trump: he is stupid, he is crass, he is disgustingly confident, and he is disgustingly popular.

Reading about him in Icelandic somehow creates a bit of distance, but sadly I know he will continue making headlines, and the truth behind those headlines, regardless of the language, will be alarming and depressing.


Until the next batch of news, friends.

 

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desember

Christmas has already come and gone, and I’ve recounted my first Icelandic Christmas, but now I’m going to backtrack and quickly recap the first three weeks of December.


 

Final Exams

Of course the biggest event of early December was final exams, which this time around were spread out over nearly two weeks. That meant that we generally had a decent amount of time to study between exams, but it also meant that it was really tiring and got more and more difficult to maintain focus toward the end of exams.

By far the easiest and most enjoyable exam, both in terms of studying for it and taking it, was our oral exam for Málnotkun (“Language usage”). For these exams, we form groups of 3-4 students, practice discussing certain topics within our groups, and then each group has about 10 minutes to hold a discussion in front of our teachers and a prófdómari (a proctor, I guess). My group met up at Katleen’s to practice on one of the snowiest days of the winter, and when we’d had enough practice, we decided to wander out in the snowstorm for ice cream, because why not?  We trudged through snowdrifts down to Valdís, perhaps the best ice cream parlor in Reykjavík, and of course we took a selfie to commemorate the occasion:

ís í snjónum
ís í snjónum

After our oral exam, a few of us wandered down to Norræna Húsið (Nordic House), where we (tried to) read some children’s books in various Scandinavian languages and enjoyed the jóladagatal (which I described in this blog post).

This sort of started a tradition of communal eating or drinking to both celebrate the end of each exam and dull the pain of knowing there were more coming…

After our third exam, several of us enjoyed a jólabjór in Stúdentakjallarinn. After our fourth exam, a few of us had a pönnukökur and jólaglögg party at Gamli.

The night before our last exam, Erin, Katleen and I decided to hold a taco party, because why not? Erin was already done with finals, so she kindly offered to make tacos while Katleen and I studied together. So we munched on homemade guacamole and tasty tacos and in between discussed fascinating theories of second language acquisition and word formation. I think it was quite an effective combination, really. Every finals season should involve a taco party.


A gentle Christmas breeze

In between two of our final exams came a “snow hurricane,” a nasty winter storm that swept over the entire country and brought hurricane-force winds to Reykjavík (although the weather was much more severe in other parts of the country, including the Westman Islands, where several houses lost their roofs, and the Westfjords, where an entire abandoned house blew away). Residents of the capital area were warned to stay inside after 5 pm and not venture out until midday the following day. So I traipsed to Bónus to stock up on food, then hunkered down inside and studied while I listened to the wind howl outside. It was really quite convenient timing, in a way, as it essentially made me housebound at a time when I had to study anyway.

The other great thing about the storm was the flurry of headlines including variations of my favorite Icelandic verb, að fjúka, which means to be blown by the wind.


End-of-semester celebrations

We had jólabjór with a few of our professors at Stúdentakjallarinn after our very last final exam. Sadly we won’t have these professors next semester, but we decided that we’ll have to organize regular Stúdentakjallarinn get-togethers. I’ve been fortunate that the instructors at both my universities have been warm and approachable and have taken an active interest in students outside of class time.

I made apple crisp to celebrate our last Hitt Húsið meetup of the year. Hitt Húsið is a multifaceted community center for young people located downtown on Austurstræti. One of their newest programs is a Tuesday night meetup for young people learning Icelandic (which is actually a continuation of a group that my friend Siggi started last year). I’ve been going regularly since September, and it’s a great opportunity to practice Icelandic with actual Icelanders (and an every-changing group of fellow learners) in a cozy and supportive environment.

A few friends and I held a pönnukökur (Icelandic pancake) party to celebrate the end of final exams. We invited ourselves to Katleen’s cozy apartment, Erin showed off her pancake mastery, we drank jólaglögg, ate way too much sugar, and watched the jóladagatal and way too many Norwegian YouTube videos. In other words, it was a warm and cozy evening with friends, the perfect way to bid adieu to finals.


And yet more merry-making

We celebrated Vita’s birthday with a lovely dinner party at her dorm, which was interrupted by some fairly drunk language students a couple hours in.

I accidentally left my purse at Vita’s, which turned out to be a good thing, because it gave Vita and me an excuse to meet at Bókakaffi the next day, where we did what all respectable young ladies do: color!

By the weekend before Christmas, most of my friends who were going home for Christmas had left. Thankfully, a few delightful friends remain. Last week, I invited myself to my friend Vita’s dorm for my annual vínarterta making endeavor. Erin came along too, and we also made dinner, enjoyed a serendipitous bottle of wine leftover from Vita’s birthday, and watched Snjókríli, an adorable documentary about baby animals in the snow.

Erin, Vita and I met up for a dose of Christmas cheer at the university choir’s Christmas concert at Neskirkja. Choirs are incredibly popular here, and joining a choir is a great way to meet people and pass the time during the long dark days of winter. Somehow in the year and a half I’ve been here, I had never made it to a choir concert, but this free Christmas concert seemed like a good opportunity to change that. Afterward we went to Stúdentakjallarinn for cheap beer and fried food. It was less depressing than it sounds. Kind of.


Other than that, there’s been a lot of reading, coffee shop sitting, city wandering, and knitting since the start of Christmas break. The first couple days after finals I always find it a bit difficult to wind down and shift gears, but since I settled in to a rhythm of cozy and quiet days and no more exhausting study sessions, it’s been lovely. There are still almost two weeks of break left, which means more cozy days, but the new year will also bring new adventures, as I’m starting a new job next week and then classes resume on the 11th. That means I should have plenty to blog about in the near future. But first I have to go make a champagne cake for New Year’s…

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

tíu dagar á íslandi, part 3

It’s a grey but mild day in Reykjavík and I am planning to enjoy a low-key weekend of homework and coffee drinking. I’m already a few weeks behind in my blogging, and more blog-worthy things just keep happening, so I better start getting caught up.  And I don’t actually have any coffee at home right now, so I think I will bribe myself into being productive by saying that I will allow myself to go out and get coffee after I finish this blog post and perhaps read a chapter from my grammar text.

So, my caffeination (and therefore my overall well-being and sanity) depends upon this.

Let’s get going and try to recap August 25 – 29.

mánudagur / monday (25. ágúst)

On Monday morning, there was an orientation at the university for all Icelandic as a Second Language students.  We all gathered in a classroom in Háskólatorg and were given an overview of the placement testing and the two programs – the one-year practical diploma program (for students who don’t pass the placement test or just want to do a shorter, slower-paced, more practically-focused program) and the three-year BA program (for students who pass the placement test and are interested in studying the language in a theoretical as well as practical manner).  This meeting was the first time I got any idea of the variety of students in the Icelandic language programs.  There were students from all over the world with a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for learning Icelandic.

At the end of the orientation, we were each asked to fill out a sheet with our contact information; information about previous studies in Icelandic and/or other languages; self-assessment of our current skill level in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding Icelandic; and our goals for learning Icelandic.  They never told us, however, exactly how that information would be used.

I had already gotten some tips regarding the placement test from Elliott (last year’s Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant recipient) and other friends who’ve taken it in the past, but after the orientation, I was feeling more confident than ever about not wanting to fail the test and place into the practical program, and less confident than ever that I actually could pass the test.  So I spent the rest of the day studying and studying and studying some more.  It was difficult to know what to focus on, but I tried to review verb conjugations, case declension, etc., and I spent a fair amount of time pushing through Icelandic Online, level 2.  And while perusing Icelandic Online, level 2, I happened upon this photo:

Heima
Heima

That is, in fact, the house where I now live, and the woman in the middle is my cousin.  Did you know that Iceland is a pretty small place?

þriðjudagur / tuesday (26. ágúst)

Útlendingastofnun, or, the joys of being a foreigner

I hoped to spend Tuesday morning studying as much as possible before the 2:00 stöðupróf (placement test), but I got an email in the morning that the photo-taking contraption at Útlendingastofnun (The Directorate of Immigration) was finally back in working order and I really needed to get over there as soon as possible so as not to delay the process of establishing legal residence any further.  So I gave my brain a rest from studying and walked over across Hringbraut (and this time, I managed not to get lost or defeated by a door).  There were probably 12-15 people in the waiting area when I arrived, and I was nervous about getting done and over to the university in time.  No, I didn’t want to be deported, but there was no way I could miss the placement test either.

Thankfully, before too long, the employee (I swear she was the only person working there) asked if anyone was there just to have their photo taken for a residence permit.  Several of us raised our hands, and she directed us to form a line.  She said nothing about forming a line based on the numbers we had already taken to determine our order of service, so, feeling fully like an entitled American, I scurried right up to the front of the line.  Within 15 minutes, I was done and on my way over to the university to determine my fate.

Stöðupróf, or, the determination of my fate in two hours and ten pages

I had been warned to expect zero English in either the written or oral instructions for the placement exam.  For better or worse, this was not the case.  The instructions were written in both Icelandic and English, and the proctors were willing to answer questions in both languages.

Apparently the exam has changed just since last year, because Elliott said there was no listening component, but our exam began with a short listening portion.  We were given the opportunity to read through the first ten questions, then we listened to a brief (and, thankfully, very slow) dialogue.  We had a couple minutes to think and try to answer the questions, then they played the dialogue a second time.

After that, there were maybe 40-50 multiple choice questions that tested our knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and overall comprehension skills.

Finally, as I had been warned, there was a short writing section.  We were asked to write 8-10 sentences about what we’d like to do in Iceland this winter.  My writing was extremely simplistic, and I tried to write simply enough that I could control my grammar, but also to throw out a few more difficult words and sentence constructions that, while grammatically imperfect, hopefully showed a slightly wider range of knowledge than I would have otherwise.

Anyway, when all was said and done, I felt fairly good about the exam.  I was certain about probably 80% of the multiple choice questions.  The listening section, to my utmost surprise, was actually the easiest component of the exam.  The most difficult thing was not knowing exactly how the exams would be scored.  We were told at the orientation that there are no grades; you either pass or you fail.  But they gave next to no information as to how the exams would be scored.  They also didn’t explain if/how our written self-assessment/statement of goals (see Monday, above) would be taken into consideration.

I left feeling like I had done the best I could given my current level of knowledge.  I did wish that I had not been sidetracked by health problems in the months before I moved, though, because that kept me from having more time and energy to study.

Kaffitími

After the placement exam, all of the new 2014-2015 Árni Magnússon Institute grantees met up at Háskólatorg.  We had been emailing each other over the past couple months, but this was the first time we had all met face-to-face.

I already knew Kimberly, a fellow Snorri alum from Canada, and I had met Kelsey a couple days earlier.  The other grantees we met that day are Giedre from Lithuania, Matyas from Hungary, Piotr from Poland, John from the UK, and Aurora from Italy.  (There are two other new grantees, Lucie from the Czech Republic and Franzi from Germany, but they were busy that week taking exams to pass directly into the second year of the BA program.)  It’s always a little bit strange meeting people for the first time and knowing they will be a part of your lives for the next however many months and perhaps beyond.  And it’s difficult now, just a few weeks later, to remember that first conversation and those first impressions.  There’s something about moving to a new place and embarking on an adventure like this that turns acquaintances into friends very quickly, and perhaps not even friendship in quite the same manner as I would normally describe, but camaraderie, familiarity, ease.  It’s difficult to explain, but I’m sure others have experienced this and understand what I’m trying to say.  In any case, it was great to finally put faces to names, to start getting to know one another, to speculate about the placement test results and to meet other people going through the same challenges (and fun bureaucratic rigmarole) of assimilating into a new culture.

Kvöldmatur, bjór, og Captain Planet

After kaffitími, I walked over to Daniela’s and we decided to make dinner in her dorm’s IKEA showroom kitchen.  Dylan, famous founder of Sofar Sounds Reykjavík and fellow inhabitant of Daniela’s dorm, joined us to talk and sample Daniela’s stores of Icelandic beer.  And at one point Dylan and I sang the Captain Planet theme song.  It was a good night.

miðvikudagur / wednesday (27. ágúst)

On Wednesday morning, there was an orientation for all international students held at Háskólabíó (the interesting public movie theater / university classroom hybrid on campus).  I recognized the building from Icelandic Online, Level 1, when Daniel and Ewa go there on a super awkward is-it-or-is-it-not-a-date?

Anyway, there are a LOT of international students at HÍ.

I was talking to someone and mentioned that I am from the States, and this guy sitting in front of me overheard and turned around.  “You’re from the States?!” he asked exuberantly.  I confirmed.  “Me too!” he exclaimed.  I asked him which state he’s from and I believe it was Virginia or another state along that other coast.  Then this guy got out of his seat and came to sit right next to me.  “Is this your first time living away from home?” he asked.  “Uhhhh, no, not exactly,” I answered.  “Oh.  It is for me,” he stated, clearly both thrilled and terrified by this fact.  It was a rather amusing exchange.  We did not become best friends.

After the orientation, we were treated to complementary appelsín (an orange-flavored soda), lakkrís (licorice) straws, and Hraun bars.  Mmm.  Hraun bars might just be my very favorite Icelandic nammi.  I am sure I will end up discussing them multiple times in my blog this year.

I had lunch at Háma with some friends, then went home to decompress from the overly social morning (As an undeniable introvert, I can only be around other people – especially huge groups of other people – for so long before I feel the need to enjoy some solitude).  I spent the afternoon resting and learning some new vocabulary from the IKEA catalogue.  I also learned a great word from Ásta’s father: grallaraspói.  It’s a combination of grallari (clown) and spói (a type of bird).  I can’t remember exactly how he explained it, but I think it conveys a notion of frivolity and ridiculousness.  When I googled the term, the first thing I came across was an article about Justin Bieber.  Grallaraspói.

fimmtudagur / thursday (28. ágúst)

Thursday was a pretty low-key day because I woke up with a sore throat.  I think I was just exhausted from everything.  In the afternoon, I went to meet Kelsey at Ingólfstorg, but that didn’t actually happen due to miscommunication and the lack of established cell phone communication at that point (we all had to go get Icelandic sim cards).  I ended up wandering around the square for a while, buying some olives from a guy who was selling Mediterranean food, and going home to make pasta salad.  In the evening, I met up with some friends at Loft Hostel, was schooled by Daniela in how to pour a proper German beer, and realized once again that I don’t understand the point of going somewhere loud and crowded to talk.  Not my favorite thing.

föstudagur / friday (29. ágúst)

On Friday morning, I was surprised and very happy to find a piece of mail from Útlendingastofnun addressed to me delivered to the house.  Finally, I had my dvalarleyfi (residence permit/ID card) and kennitala (my national identification number).  I was finally a legitimate, Iceland-dwelling person!

Results from the placement test were supposed to be posted on campus and online in the afternoon, so I met some of my friends on campus and we all wandered around waiting and worrying together.  I was simultaneously trying to figure out why my registration for the university hadn’t been finalized.  The institute that awarded my scholarship was supposed to pay the registration fee on my behalf, but the day before I had gotten an email stating that I needed to pay as soon as possible.  I was standing at the student service desk trying to sort this all out when my friends noticed the results had been posted.  So I was trying to focus on figuring out the money problem, while sort of watching out of the corner of my eye to gauge what the results were.

Finally, I was able to walk over to the lists and discover that my name was on the lists for the BA program courses!  It was a relief, but unfortunately I couldn’t fully enjoy the moment since I still had to figure out the money issue.  Thankfully, with help from a very kind and patient woman at the Árni Magnússon Institute, we got it all sorted.

A bunch of the other international students were going out that night to experience Reykjavík nightlife, and while I didn’t want to go with them, I did join them for a “pre-party” in what has been dubbed the Gamli Garður party attic.  When I had had my fill of socializing, I walked home and enjoyed a quiet evening with the house to myself as Ásta Sól and her family were gone overnight.  I happened upon “Austenland” on TV and learned some good words from the Icelandic subtitles while eating a box (not a whole box – not quite, anyway) of mini Hraun bars.  That evening was my first introduction to the legendary Icelandic wind.  It was so noisy all night that I kept waking up and was quite tired in the morning.

Well, that might not be the most thrilling note on which to end, and I apologize for the lack of photos in this post.  Bear with me; I promise there are some beautiful Iceland photos coming soon!

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.