It’s been four weeks since I left my Icelandic home. Twenty-eight days without my fellow Snorris, twenty-eight days without a sip of kókómjólk, twenty-eight days without a glimpse of the Reykjavík skyline or the sparkling waters of Patreksfjörður. In some ways it’s hard to believe so much time has passed, and in other ways it seems like it was another lifetime. What I know for sure is that I have missed Iceland every single one of those 28 days, and here, in no particular order, are…
28 reasons why
1. Ásta Sól and my Snorri family. I think a certain amount of loneliness is inevitable when you’ve spent 6 weeks with a group of people, but there’s also a sense of loneliness because I’m no longer surrounded by people who understand (and share) my Iceland obsession.
2. Skyr. Apparently they import Skyr.is to a number of Whole Foods stores across the country, but they don’t carry it at my local store (although they do carry Nói Síríus chocolate!).
3. The starkly beautiful landscape. As a lifelong Northwest girl, I was skeptical when an Icelandic friend told me that tall trees make him feel claustrophobic, but now I understand. I suppose I’ve gotten used to the trees again, but I understand the longing for open spaces and far-away views.
4. Being surrounded by the beautiful rhythms of the Icelandic language, and being able to practice and learn more every day.
5. Stúkuhúsið – My home away from home in Patró. A quaint, cosy, kaffihús with delicious Swiss mochas and a beautiful view of the fjord. The lovely owner, Steina, spoke to me in Icelandic to help me learn.
6. Learning Canadianisms from my fellow Snorris. What can I say, I’m such a keener!
7. My host families, and their incredible kindness and generosity in accepting me as family and taking good care of me.
8. Listening to Of Monsters and Men on my iPod while packing cod at the fish factory (seriously, I do kind of miss this, although I don’t miss being yelled at by the Polish lady…).
9. Watching American and English TV shows with Icelandic subtitles (I do not, however, miss watching Danish TV shows with Icelandic subtitles… too much brain hurt there!)
10. Guesthouse Óðinn – Our very beloved first home in Iceland. I miss our little closet of a room, the midnight sun streaming in the window, the sulfurous hot water, the comfortingly predictable (and yummy) breakfast.
11. Háskóli Íslands. Learning new words like Leðurblökumaðurinn, following Sigurborg to Háma like little ducklings during kaffi time, buying lunch from the mean lady who absolutely refused to speak English.
12. Nature. Whales and puffins, purple lupine, fjords, waterfalls around every bend. The color palette of Icelandic nature is magical… shades of blue and green I’ve never seen in the Northwest.
13. The water. I used to think the tap water here was great, but it tastes stale and mucky compared to Icelandic glacial water.
14. The midnight sun. The first night I was home, the darkness really freaked me out. I’ve gotten used to it again, but it still makes me feel a bit trapped.
15. Bónus – Oh, that dorky little pig logo! Oh, the wall of skinka and pepperoni! Oh, the entire shelf of sósa!
16. C is for Cookie. I only went there a couple times, but so far it’s my favorite kaffihús in the city. Mmm gulrótarkaka…
17. Sitting around the dinner table with Hrafnhildur and Sæmundur and making conversation with the help of the ever-present orðabók.
18. The weather. I know we were blessed with unusually warm and dry weather, but I’ll take 60 degrees (or even 50) over 90 any day.
19. Sjóræningjahúsið – I never got to spend much time there, but I love the cozy atmosphere and the book exchange, and besides, it was always fun to say, hey I’m going to the Pirate House, see you later!
20. The colors and textures of Reykjavík. Brightly-colored roofs, cobblestone streets, artwork on the sides of buildings, that one neon green house on Frakkastigur.
21. The ever-present steeple of Hallgrímskirkja in the skyline.
22. Going for a walk and seeing where the city might take me. Knowing that even a directionally-challenged person like myself can’t really get lost.
23. Strong kaffi, always.
24. Kókómjólk, Prince Polo bars, Daim, those weirdly delicious chocolate-covered rice cakes, waffles from the cart in Austurvöllur, and other tasty foodstuffs.
25. Working at Albína. Learning the Icelandic words for all the bakery goods, meeting tourists from all over the place, chatting with my German friend every day, talking to the locals, becoming an expert at saying, ‘Ég veit ekki, en ég má að spyrja.’
26. Going for walks in the late-night sun.
27. My future husband, Helgi. I will return to be with you soon, my love! 😉
28. A sense of belonging. Knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. A feeling of being completely at home.
Halló again dear readers (wow that sounds very Jane Eyre – points to anyone who understands that reference),
I just got off the phone with mamma mín. Today is my parents’ anniversary. Til hamingju for 37 years of marriage! For anyone who might be curious and isn’t in Washington, my dad is recovering very well from his surgery. He’s off the pain meds, is walking around the neighborhood, and is sleeping better. Good to hear!
að vinna: to work
My first day of work was rather overwhelming, as you can imagine, so I made sure I took a notebook to work with me yesterday so I could write down words to know, questions I have, things to remember, etc. Hopefully it’ll help me learn and also help me remember things to blog about.
Work went well today. Nine hours is a long time, and just like yesterday, my brain was getting a bit tired of learning in the afternoon, but it was okay. My coworkers are wonderfully kind and mostly the customers are very understanding. I don’t think I did anything too strange or mortifying today, although it was moderately embarrassing when I thought a customer wanted tobacco or candy and all she really wanted was a receipt. úbs 🙂
My boss (also the owner of the store and the baker) speaks pretty much zero English, so we don’t really talk much. I don’t know if it’s the language barrier or something else, but I find him a bit intimidating. Every once in awhile, though, we’ll talk, and it’s fun to see how he gets excited when I actually understand him. Like today, I walked into the back and he was hanging up some keys. I pointed and said, ‘lykill’? His answer was a bit longer than já or nei, but as soon as I heard the word ‘ruslið’ I understood – he had just come back from taking the garbage out. When you’re learning a new language even those little moments are worth celebrating!
I think the most difficult thing at work is still the money. It’s hard enough to get used to buying things with a different currency, but it’s even harder to count change correctly! Different language, numbers with different genders, big numbers (an average purchase costs maybe 2300 kronur)… add mental math onto that and you have one confused me. Luckily there is a calculator by the cash register and I quickly got over my pride and started using it. Sorry, Dad – my mental math skills are not up to snuff when I’m under pressure! I did however do a much better job saying the numbers today. It is a pretty big effort, but since I’m more accustomed to other aspects of the job I decided I had to really try today. People usually give me an amused (but pleased, I think) look when I say prices. If you don’t know anything about Icelandic, here’s an example of why it’s so freakin’ hard. If your purchase adds up to 2334 ISK, I would say, ‘tvö þusund, þrjú húndruð, þrjátíu og fjögur.’ And even as I type that I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct.
One reason numbers are difficult in Icelandic is that the numbers 1-4 have three forms – masculine, feminine, and neuter. I could be wrong, but I think when you’re counting you use the masculine forms, but when you’re saying numbers like prices you use the neuter. It’s all very confusing. So confusing, in fact, that our Icelandic teacher told us a story about a girl who came to Iceland from abroad to be an au pair, and when she went to the market to buy groceries she would order 5 of everything (fimm) because it was easier than figuring out the numbers 1-4. Our teacher told us that was a bad idea, but I don’t know… at some points today it seemed pretty appealing.
I went to the kaffihús for lunch today… ég borðaði panina með kjúkling, pepperoni, ost, og hvítlauksósu… or something like that. FYI, Icelandic national obsessions include genealogy, black licorice, candy in general, leggings, and pepperoni. Seriously, they put pepperoni on everything. It’s strange. But tasty.
If I didn’t already mention it, Patreksfjörður has a very small population (600-700), so I’ve seen several people three days in a row now at the store. I talked to my German friend again this morning. He’s been living here since October and is working on a memoir. I told him if there’s an English translation I’d love to read it. I also saw this younger guy again today. Yesterday he was asking one of my coworkers about me and they must have mentioned the Snorri Program by name because today he suddenly said in English, ‘So I got curious about you and looked up the Snorri Program. Who are you related to here?’ Yep, apparently I’m an oddity and the word is spreading. But that’s okay… I’m advertising the Snorri Program 🙂
The grocery store where I’m working has a wall by the front door where people can put up posters. Most of them are listing things ’til sölu’ (for sale), but some are advertising places or events. My first day I noticed a poster announcing that Þóra Arnórsdóttir, one of the presidential candidates (the election is this Saturday if you didn’t know), was coming to Patreskfjörður for some sort of town hall meeting tonight. So on my lunch break I called my host mom and managed to tell her that I was going to walk to the Sjóræningjahúsið (pirate house – seriously) for the meeting. If you missed the picture of it I posted yesterday, go check it out. It looks like a dump on the outside, but I was surprised to find that it’s quite nice on the inside. They have a bunch of information for tourists, displays about pirates (which I didn’t have time to look at today – I’ll probably go back and then post about it later), a book exchange (Lopez people – it’s just like the take it or leave it! makes me feel at home!), and a little coffee shop. I ordered a vanilla latte (side note: if you think Starbucks is expensive, try ordering kaffi here. It’s ridiculous – I paid 510 ISK for a 12 oz. latte today, which is like almost $5. The only good news is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get good strong coffee anywhere in Iceland. None of that watered down crap. Oh, here’s another side note: á íslensku, ‘krap’ means ‘slush,’ and it also applies to a slushie drink. ‘I’d like a large krap please.’)
I sat down, perused the book exchange (found a copy of Makbeð by Mr. William Shakespeare), and waited. There was a guy pacing around who I kept staring at because he has come into the store a few times and he looks so much like my cousin Ben. Remember him – we’ll come back to him in a few minutes.
Þóra, her husband Svavar, and their ADORABLE baby finally arrived. She apologized for being late, but if there was an interesting explanation I didn’t understand it. She and Svavar both immediately began making the rounds greeting everyone and shaking hands. Svavar came over to me first and shook my hand and I think I had used up all my Icelandic for the day because I think all I said was ‘Hæ, ég heiti Julie.’ Awkward. Þóra came over and I said hæ to her too.
Before you get too excited, let me tell you that right when I got to the pirate house I pulled out my camera and saw that the battery was dead. So I didn’t get any pictures. But I don’t think you need photographic proof – I mean, I’m creative, but there’s no way I could make up a town hall meeting with a presidential candidate at a pirate museum.
(Oh wait, here’s some photographic proof. Okay, you can’t see me, because I was sitting next to Svavar, who took the picture on his fancy dancy iPhone, but anyway.)
Of course I understood next to nothing of what Þóra said (although more than I would have understood even a couple weeks ago), but I was definitely impressed by her demeanor. She seemed very laid-back, kind, but professional, if that’s even the right word. I did catch words here and there, so I know she was talking about the Alþingi, about IceSave, about the kirkja (church), and about Evropa (Europe – maybe something about joining the EU?). There was an older woman in attendance who Þóra talked to for several minutes at the beginning, and then near the end she was pointing at her and telling a story. Something about how Þóra and her husband were driving in this area once, and I think that lady helped them out somehow… or I could have completely misunderstood. Who knows. It sounded like a good story though.
After the meeting, I was getting up to leave, and Mr. Looks-Like-My-Cousin-Ben came over and said something to me in Icelandic. I very gracefully said, ‘huhhhh?’ and he mercifully switched to English. He recognized me from Albína and was very curious to know how I ended up at a political meeting where I can’t even understand what’s going on. My answer was pretty simple – I’ll never learn if I don’t listen to the language in a real setting, and there’s nothing else to do in this town! 😉
We chatted for awhile and I found out his name is Brynjólfur (didn’t get it until I made him spell it for me). He’s going to the Háskóli Islands but is working here for the summer (something to do with local government, I think). He’s a poly-sci major so is very into politics. He didn’t seem to hold it against me too much when I said I kind of hate politics. Well, at least in the US I do. Here it seems much more civilized. We talked about handball (I just today learned what it is). He loves handball and is of course rooting for the Icelandic team at the Olympics this summer. He doesn’t want the sport to become popular in the States or other big places though because then Iceland might have some real competition 😉
Anyway, it was nice to talk to someone about my age (and in English!). He said he doesn’t know too many people here and gets rather bored, so we might do something next week. Who knows. Hopefully he didn’t notice that I was staring at him. If/when I see him again I might have to explain the whole cousin Ben thing.
I had to take a break from writing this blog a little while ago because my host parents came in and wanted to see more of my pictures. They were kind of shocked that I didn’t enjoy eating svið and hákarl and harðfiskur. Funniest of all was the fact that Sæmundur thought Mahtob (my cat) is ‘falleg’ (beautiful), but he definitely didn’t think Finn is fallegur. I don’t know exactly what he said, but I heard ‘ekki’ several times. Fyrirgefðu, systir mín. I really did try to defend him.
Well it’s late and I must be up tomorrow klukkan korter í sjö (6:45). Ugh. I’m excited for the weekend, although I might not get to sleep in… my host family wants to take me somewhere. Depending on the weather, some options are: Flatey (island south of here; some of my ancestors lived there or on a nearby island); Isafjörður (the largest town in the Westfjords); Rauðisandur (uhhh I don’t really know but I’m assuming there is sand and it’s red); or Látrabjarg (tall cliffs, lots of birds, westernmost point of Europe). Hopefully at least one of them will work out! It would be great to see more of the area.