Manitoba Musings: Winnipeg and Gimli

When I wrote my last post, I was enjoying the last restful afternoon of my trip.  From that point forward, it was pretty much go-go-go, which is why I am just now, after coming home Sunday night and working all week, sitting down to write about my time in Manitoba and North Dakota.

Tuesday

I flew from Edmonton to Winnipeg on Tuesday afternoon.  My hosts in the Peg were Lindsey and Cara, first cousins and best friends who were born four days apart and are a few years older than I am.  They were both working Tuesday, so Lindsey’s father Scott picked me up from the airport and drove me back to the house he and his wife Debbie share with Lindsey (oh, and with their two dogs – Molly the rescued golden retriever and Bailey the adorably decrepit black lab).  I had a few hours to enjoy some peace and quiet in their beautiful backyard before Cara and Lindsey got home from work.  Then we went to the Forks, a big walking/shopping/dining/outdoor space located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.  This was a must not only because it is one of Winnipeg’s most well-known attractions, but because Len, who was partially responsible for my being in Winnipeg and entirely responsible for my being with Cara and Lindsey, was a city planner in Winnipeg when the Forks was constructed and helped make it happen.  Unfortunately I neglected to get any photos.  We walked through the marketplace, which was pretty quiet since it was getting late, and I resisted buying every overpriced Iceland-themed souvenir I saw, then we went up to a viewpoint where you could see the river and the city, then enjoyed an outdoor dinner (well, Cara and I enjoyed ours, anyway, but Lindsey’s turned out to be poisoned with evil mushrooms, so that was a bummer).

Wednesday

A few months ago, Cara and I were emailing back and forth and she gave me a bunch of options for things we could do on Wednesday.  The one that stood out to me was visiting Gimli, a small town on the shores of Lake Winnipeg known for hosting Íslendingadagurinn (the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba) every year.  Sadly, I had to miss the festival because it runs the same weekend as August the Deuce, but I was eager to see the town anyway.  Before we left the Peg, though, we had a couple stops to make.  First, we found the Lögberg-Heimskringla office.

Ég og Cara
Ég og Cara
L-H ladies
L-H ladies

I’ve been writing for L-H since I got back from Iceland, and I’ve officially been an associate editor since June, so I was excited to have the chance to finally see the office and meet some of the staff I’ve been emailing for months now.  There are two entrances to the office and we didn’t realize this, so after some staring and some pounding on windows, we got in and enjoyed a lovely visit with Audrey and Linda.  The office is quite a large, open space, and there are a couple beautiful collections of Icelandic books as well as scrapbooks with photos and mementos related to the paper over the years.  We happened to be there on publication day, so I got a copy of the 1 August edition, which happened to contain my introduction as an associate editor as well as a book review I wrote.  I would have loved to spend more time there, but we had to get on the road.  Before we left, though, Audrey insisted that we try some Brennivín.  Now, I never did try Brennivín in Iceland, partly because it smelled rather awful (although clearly that didn’t stop me from trying several putrid edibles) and partly because I didn’t want to spend money on alcohol.  But here was someone holding out a shot glass and telling me I had to try it, so I gave in and downed it.  It was pretty terrible.  It’s a super strong schnapps made from potatoes and nicknamed “black death” for good reason.  I know it’s traditional to take a shot of Brennivín after eating hákarl, but honestly, having tasted Brennivín now, I think chasing the shark with the liquor would just make things worse.  The shark is much more potent.

Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!

Skál!
Skál!

The other stop we had to make before heading north was at Parlour Coffee.  I was lamenting the seeming lack of independent coffee shops in Edmonton and Winnipeg (the ubiquitous coffee options were Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Second Cup), so Cara wanted me to try Parlour.  It was definitely not Tim Hortons or Starbucks.  There were about eight drinks to choose from and only one size and I got the feeling that if you were to ask for a flavour you’d be kicked out.  So in that sense it was really somewhat Portland-esque.  In any case, it was definitely tasty coffee.

So, coffee in hand to give me energy and drown out the remnants of the Brennivín flavour, we hit the road.  Gimli is only about an hour up the road, and the scenery got more rural and lovely as we drove north.  Around Gimli, there’s sign after sign for various camps and there are also a lot of little summer cabin communities.  When we arrived, we stopped by Cara’s family’s summer cabin first, then went to Camp Veselka to try and meet up with the Icelandic Camp group (I know a couple of the counselors).  We happened to catch them just as they were heading out for a little Icelandic history lesson, so we accompanied them to the nearby monument dedicated to arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson.

"I know what I have experienced and I know what it has meant to me."
“I know what I have experienced and I know what it has meant to me.”
Vilhjálmur Stefánsson monument
Vilhjálmur Stefánsson monument

It would have been fun to spend more time with the group and to see the camp itself, but we had more to see, so we said bless bless and headed into the town of Gimli.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but Gimli is larger than I thought it would be, and it reminded me very much of Seaside or other little towns on the Oregon coast – just on a lake instead of the ocean.  Oh, and much more Icelandic.  Seriously.  This town is all about Iceland.  There are roads and local farms in the area with Icelandic names, there’s a Reykjavík Bakery, there are Icelandic flags everywhere (although most of them are just put up for the festival, I’ve been told), and there’s a restaurant called Amma’s Kitchen.  We went to Amma’s Kitchen for lunch (Lake Winnipeg pickerel) and vínarterta (not bad, but mine is better!), then explored the town.

Vínarterta at Amma's Kitchen.  Notice there is frosting.  Also, the pieces are not cut correctly.
Vínarterta at Amma’s Kitchen. Notice there is frosting. Also, the pieces are not cut correctly.

We visited Tergesen’s, which is kind of like an old-fashioned general store, except they sell an interesting mix of expensive surfer and skater brand clothing, Iceland-themed items, and souvenirs.  They also have the largest collection of Iceland-related books I’ve seen anywhere outside Iceland.  It’s like 20 times the size of Powell’s pathetic Icelandic section.

Cara showed me Gimli Unitarian Church, where her uncle is the minister, we visited the Gimli Viking statue, we saw the beginnings of the Viking encampment for the festival, we walked down to the lake and enjoyed the gallery of paintings by local artists on the seawall, and I learned about fish flies.  Fish flies hatch on the water, then swarm the town but only live for about a week.  When they die, they smell like rotting fish.  It’s bizarre.  They’re completely harmless as far as I know, but they are everywhere.  The live ones land all over walls and benches and trees and people and the dead ones form these crunchy, stinky cakes on the ground.  As disgusting as that sounds, they’re actually kind of cute:

Meet Mr. Fish Fly
Meet Mr. Fish Fly
Gimli Seawall Gallery.  This painting depicts the húldufólk!
Gimli Seawall Gallery. This painting depicts the húldufólk!
The "Gimli Glider," an Air Canada Boeing 767 traveling from Ottawa to Edmonton in 1983 that ran out of fuel and made an emergency landing at an old RCAF Air Force base in Gimli.
The “Gimli Glider,” an Air Canada Boeing 767 traveling from Ottawa to Edmonton in 1983 that ran out of fuel and made an emergency landing at an old RCAF base in Gimli.

All in all, it was a fantastic day in Gimli.  I definitely want to spend more time there, and I plan to attend Íslendingadagurinn in the next couple years.

When we got back to the Peg, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the evening.  We snacked on cheese and crackers and veggies and talked and sort of watched TV and Lindsey brought out some leftover Macedonian treats from her engagement party and they were amazingly delicious and I met Lindsey’s fiancée and I gave Cara and Lindsey some Northwest gifts to thank them for being such kind hosts.

I decided not to rent a car, so I was at the mercy of my cousin from North Dakota to come pick me up from Winnipeg and take me back to North Dakota for the family reunion, which started Friday.  I called him Wednesday night to find out when it would work for him to come pick me up, expecting Thursday afternoon.  As it turns out, my cousin is a morning person and said he would be there between 9 and 10 Thursday morning, so I figured I wouldn’t get a chance to do the last thing I really wanted to do in Winnipeg, which was meet up with Kimberly.  Kimberly is a Snorri alum from 2005 who I had never met before in person, but we’ve chatted via Skype and email a lot the past few months as we worked together to revive the Snorri Alumni Association newsletter.  She’s from BC and had actually been out west visiting her family and was just returning to the Peg late that night, so I figured we would just miss each other.  I sent her a message to let her know, threw my things back in my suitcase, and went to sleep.

I happened to wake up around 6:00 or so, which is ridiculously early for me, and I glanced at my phone to see a message from Kim.  She wanted to meet up for breakfast.  So I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, and waited for Kim to come pick me up.  We went and got some Timmy’s for breakfast, brought it back to the house, and sat outside in the backyard chatting until my cousin arrived.  Kim and I did the program seven years apart, but it almost feels like we went together, we were such fast and easy friends.

Ég og Kimberly
Ég og Kimberly

And thus ended my first visit to the Peg.

Next time: Family, festivals, and very flat fields south of the border

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margir Íslendingar í Seattle: INL Convention, Days 1 & 2

This April, the annual convention of the Icelandic National League of North America was held in Seattle.  It was the first time Seattle has ever hosted and only the second time the convention has been in a U.S. city in 94 years of conventions.  Ninety-four years!

Each convention has a theme, and this year’s was “There’s No Place Like Heima,” playing off the Seattle/Emerald City/Wizard of Oz connection and the Icelandic word for home.

Program photos/design by Amanda Allen
Program photos/design by Amanda Allen

Many months ago, my friend David, a member of the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle and head of the Convention planning committee, asked me to help with some writing, editing, promotion, name-tag-making, music-mix-burning and other miscellaneous tasks in preparation for the big weekend, and I was more than happy to help out.  Most of the time, that is.  Perhaps I was a little less than happy when I spent the greater part of an entire weekend trying to get the name tags to print out with the proper margins and color.  Þetta reddast.

I have so much to say about this incredible weekend that I think I may need a couple posts to cover everything.  We begin with…

fimmtudagskvöld

(thursday night)

I left work early Thursday afternoon, finished packing, then headed north.  Did you know procrastination is an Icelandic trait?  Way back in January, David explained to me his idea of having a few people give very brief speeches, little vignettes almost, ruminating on the theme of heima/home, and he asked me to do one of them.  I had more than enough time to plan and practice it, but I am not a fan of public speaking and I didn’t know how to condense my thoughts down to just 5 minutes so as of Thursday afternoon I still hadn’t quite figured out what I was going to say.  I had a general outline, and as I drove north on I-5 I practiced and tried to work out the kinks.  Eventually I got to a point where the speech was more or less coherent and I was feeling more confident.  The problem was, every time I got to a certain part, a lump would form in my throat and I’d have to stop to fight off tears.  It was an emotional topic magnified by my absolute exhaustion (I had been working extra hours to make up for the day and a half I took off, as I couldn’t yet use my vacation time).

As I neared Seattle, I decided to rest my voice and my emotions for awhile.  After I conquered the maze of one-way streets downtown and finally found the Crowne Plaza, I went to check in.  As I was standing at the desk, I saw someone out of the corner of my eye, a guy about my age, long hair, orange sweatshirt.  “Julie?” he called.  I turned to face him and discovered it was Johnathan, or Nonni as he is known by many, a 2009 Snorri I had chatted with on Facebook but never met before.  “Hi!” I said.  He gave me a big hug and we started talking like we were old friends.  And that was the first of many moments that combined to create a remarkably warm, moving, joyous weekend that I will not soon forget.

After I lugged my bags up to my room, I joined the crowd mulling about in the hospitality suite.  And I do mean crowd.  Those who know me well undoubtedly know that I am not much for crowds.  I get overwhelmed rather easily.  And this crowd was definitely overwhelming, but in the best way imaginable.  First I saw Helgi, a former Snorri who was actually in Iceland during my trip last year and had dinner with our group one night at KEX Hostel.  That was the only time we’d ever met, but of course he too gave me a big, warm, lopapeysa-wooly hug.  Within a couple minutes, I had spotted David, Amanda, Sacha, Ásta Sól, Halldór, Kent, Sunna, and so many more.  It felt like a homecoming.  These are my people.  This is where I belong.

Helgi introduced me to his girlfriend Friðný and another friend, Signý, and I chatted with them for a little bit.  We spoke a little Icelandic together and I was encouraged by Friðný’s kind and generous assertion that my pronunciation is very good.

I stepped out to escape the crowd for a bit and ran into Judy, an associate editor for the Lögberg-Heimskringla with whom I have exchanged many an email over the past several months.  She was heading up to the bar and Signý and I decided to join her.  The three of us took a small round table, sat back, and, away from the happy chaos downstairs, realized we were starving.  Before we had even ordered dinner, we were joined by a couple more Icelanders, then a few more.  One by one more tables were added until there were probably 20 people, 6 tables, four people sharing two extra chairs.  The non-Icelandic people in the bar grew more bewildered as our group grew larger and more boisterous.

Eventually, dizzy and exhausted, I said goodbye to the (still quite large) bar crowd and went back to my room.  I spent a half hour or so staring at my speech, made a few minor changes, then decided it would have to take care of itself in the morning.

föstudagur

(friday)

Breakfast and a couple cups of good strong kaffi, then welcoming remarks from our fearless organizer David, Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, the Executive Director of the Nordic Heritage Museum, and a representative of the Seattle-Reykjavík Sister City Association.  While listening to these speakers, I was also thumbing through the beautiful program that Amanda designed.

Amanda's handiwork
Amanda’s handiwork

She sprinkled a few quotes throughout, all relating to the theme of home, and I was struck by this one, which was overlaid on a photo she took while our group was at Hofsós:

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”
– Christian Morgenstern

In that instant, my nerves were calmed and I knew I would make it through my speech.  I was surrounded by people who understood me, and they would understand what I was trying to convey even if I wasn’t the most eloquent or engaging speaker.

David introduced me and I gave my speech, which I called “Home as a Place of Belonging.”  It went so much better than I could have hoped.  I didn’t trip over my words too much, I remembered to make eye contact, the audience laughed when they were supposed to.  Someone even came up to me afterward and said, “You’re such a natural speaker!” (ha!) [You can watch it here, if you’re so inclined.]

When I finished, I introduced Sunna from North Dakota, who shared a presentation she gave all around Iceland last fall as part of the International Visits Program titled “The Love of Iceland in America.”  As you can likely deduce from the title, it’s about how people of Icelandic descent in America have kept Iceland in their hearts over the years.  It was an emotional presentation for many.  Some in attendance were born in Iceland, some, like me, were born in North America, descendants of those who left their homeland and their families behind in search of a better life.  In many cases, their departure left a rift of bitterness behind.  And in a sense, it’s only in relatively recent history that there’s been a fuller reconciliation between the families of those who stayed and the families of those who left.  But there we were, a group of people diverse in many ways but tied together by this obscure, out-of-the-way island in the North Atlantic and touched by the stories Sunna shared.  Eyes watery, hearts full, we broke for a brief intermission.

A lady I had never met before, several inches shorter than me, her pale blonde hair pulled up to one side in an elegant braided chignon, came up to me, introduced herself as Sigrid, and thanked me for sharing my story.  I don’t remember our exact conversation, except that at one point she said something about how it’s people like me who are keeping the Icelandic heritage alive in North America.

Ég og Sigrid
Ég og Sigrid

How do you follow all that emotion?  With sugar, of course.  The crowd meandered back upstairs to the hospitality suite for kleinur (a traditional Icelandic doughnut) and some kind of layered cake that looked like it’s related to vínarterta.

Reinforced by sugar, the tremendous energy of that morning continued throughout the rest of the day.  The afternoon brought a brief presentation by Amöndu about her family’s tradition of making vínarterta every year, and a presentation by Ásta Sól about the Snorri Program.  Dr. Steve Guttormsson, a retired Minnesota doctor who started a nonprofit foundation to support American Snorri participants, presented Ásta with a check to cover $2000 for each of three 2013 participants.  Amanda and I were the recipients of the first two Guttormsson Family Foundation scholarships last year, and we finally got to meet Dr. Guttormsson and thank him for his part in getting us to Iceland last year.

Me, Steve, Amanda
Me, Steve, Amanda

The main event of the afternoon was a lecture by Alene Moris entitled “Women in Iceland are Unusual and Happy.”  Moris co-founded the Women’s Center at the University of Washington and is an outspoken advocate for male/female balance, especially in the workplace.  She’s an absolute powerhouse and it was a privilege to hear her.

Friday afternoon brought some much-needed free time.  I think I did some more visiting, wandered over to the Seattle Public Library, then met up with Sacha and Amanda.  We walked to Pike Place Market, watched a little fish throwing, then headed downstairs to Pike Brewing for dinner.  Sacha ordered a pitcher of Naughty Nellie Ale to share, mostly, I think, because she just wanted to say “Naughty Nellie Ale,” but it turned out to be delicious, as were the fish and chips.  When our waiter checked our IDs, he noticed Amanda had just had a birthday, so he brought her a little molten chocolate birthday cake treat.  After a bite, Amanda realized it contained walnuts, to which she is mildly allergic.  She ate more of it but said her mouth felt rather itchy.  We helped her out by removing some of the temptation.

makríll
makríll

We lingered over our beers a little too long and missed the first part of Friday night’s program, but made it in time for remarks by Halldór Árnasson of Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga (INL – Iceland) and the keynote speech by Ambassador Þórður Ægir Óskarsson of Canada.

[Speaking of ambassadors, I can’t recall when exactly this happened, and this won’t make sense unless you’ve listened to my presentation, but some time after I gave my speech, the Icelandic Ambassador from D.C., Guðmundur Stefánsson, came up to me and said, “So that guy you were talking about, at the coffee shop, was he hitting on you?”  It was hilarious and embarrassing and I had to explain that actually, the guy was with his girlfriend but I hadn’t mentioned her in the interest of keeping the story short and simple.  I got the feeling Mr. Ambassador didn’t entirely believe me, and then I made the huge mistake of saying that his hometown of Hafnarfjörður is basically a big suburb of Reykjavík, but anyway.]

Friday evening, former Snorris (and friends of Snorris) gathered together for a casual time of conversation and reminiscing.  Many different years were represented, ranging from 1999 (the very first year!) to 2012.  Ásta Sól said a few words and told us about a documentary she made telling the story of three Snorris from several years ago.  She was going to show it but we couldn’t find a projector, so instead we talked.  And drank.  And laughed.  And talked and talked and talked.  Oh and at one point some people started singing Icelandic folk songs.

I spent most of the evening chatting with Matthew, an alum from the Seattle area.  He participated in the program 12 years before me, but we had so many of the same experiences and feelings.  I don’t think anyone but a fellow Snorri can truly understand the joy and fear and awe and magic of the trip and the way you feel like a little piece of your heart has been ruined forever and nothing else will ever satisfy it and you have to go back, you just have to.

Matthew og Julie 2
Matthew og ég

Sacha og Amöndu
Sacha og Amanda

góður hópur
góður hópur

Most presentations from the 2013 INL Convention can be viewed here.

að leita: the strangest search terms so far

Okay, it’s time for that classic blogger rite of passage – exploring the funny, interesting, and downright bizarre search terms people have used to find my blog.  Let’s break them down by category:

FOOD

I guess I write about food a lot…

  • vinartorta with strawberry jelly – Quite a few people have found my blog by searching for vínarterta, which is just fine and dandy.  What’s not so fine is the idea of someone making “vinartorta with strawberry jelly.”  Prunes or bust, in this Icelander’s opinion.
  • candied puffin eggs iceland – Hmm.  Now there’s something I didn’t try.
  • iceland moss pancake – Never heard of this either.  Icelandic moss soup, Icelandic moss tea, and Icelandic moss bread, yes, but pancakes?  Not so sure about that.
  • bourdain gag – Haha.  If you use these search terms, my blog is on the first page of results.

PICTOGRAMS

Blame it on the Canadians…

  • pictograms of nationalities – Do these even exist?  Sounds racist…
  • grow up pictogram – Peter Pan would not approve.
  • essence of pictogram – Wow, getting philosophical.
  • paranoia pictogram – Creepy.
  • free sandwich pictogram – Now, there’s a pictogram I could get behind.

CELEBRITIES

Iceland.  It’s so hot right now.

  • katie holmes iceland – Yep, she was there.
  • tom cruise iceland – Yep, he was there.
  • ben stiller iceland – Him too.
  • katie holmes bound – Now this is a little disturbing.
  • mel gibson – Mel Gibson?  What???
  • katie holems reykjavik
  • jonsi saetur
  • celebrities who speak icelandic

RANDOM

A selective sampling of disparate search terms…

  • iceland people proud of pirate – my blog is the #1 result for this search.  Try it and be amazed.
  • how to explain why going to iceland – If your supposed friend requires you to give him an explanation of why you’re going to Iceland, he probably shouldn’t be your friend.
  • hello kitty reykjavik – This is all Jolene’s fault.
  • nei! icelandic kids book – Never heard of this book, but it’s probably right about at my reading level.
  • indoor fleemarket icelanders – only amusing because of the spelling error
  • work in fish factory, I smell – I particularly appreciate the syntax of this search.
  • funny girl dish washing – Um, why would anyone search for this?

SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST

Why oh why were people searching for these things?

  • ég tala kaka íslensku t-shirt – For the record, kaka and ekki are not synonyms…
  • twitter tasting cream – Not sure I even want to know what this is about.
  • thai lottery chat boun – Of course.
  • care bears natural wonder – Pretty sure care bears are not indigenous to Iceland.
  • gran bar asland/green knight/gays – Uhhhh what?
  • icelandic words for “this savage knows our ways”? – Speechless.