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Dark Days

I'm not much of a book reviewer, so don't expect too much from this little blog entry. But, anyway, here it goes.

I've recently read two books by Icelandic authors, 101 Reykjavik by Hallgrimur Helgason and Angels of the Universe by Einar Mar Gudmundsson both of which deal with darker themes though with a lot of humor thrown in.

101 Reykjavik, a book that I really wanted to like, deals with an anti-hero named Hlynur who makes your typical anti-hero look a bit like a prom queen--he even gives Alex from A Clockwork Orange a run for his cutter. Hlynur is an E-dropping, porn watching, welfare-collecting slacker whose nifty world runs aground amidst a series of pregnancies around him, ones which in one way or another he's responsible for (a lesson to you kids out there: don't steal your sister's birth control pills OR sleep with your mother's girlfriend; it'll just lead to messy plot development points!). For someone who's been to Iceland, the best part of the book are the frequent references to places you've been or seen. I found the story to be far too perverse and amoral for my tastes and I'm not a prude, well, not too much of one anyway. But, all I have to say is that the book has a few good moments, a character that just isn't likable even as an anti-hero, and lots of great local references for those of you who like that sort of thing.

On the other hand, Angels of the Universe is a solid book. I liked it so much, I'll even recommend you read it. It's not utterly profound or anything, but it is a well-written story: a depressing tale with a relentless vein of humor running through it. It's the story of the author's brother Palmi, who battles with schizophrenia throughout his life. Told from Paul's (Palmi's) point-of-view, this cradle-to-grave story flows from childhood memories to years spent in and out of Klepp, the local asylum. The story highlights the way in which the mentally ill are shunted aside in Icelandic society; more importantly, though, it humanizes them. There's a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest feel to the trip away from Klepp that Paul and his friends make, ostensibly to go to another friend's funeral. They wind up in one of the finest restaurants in town: a visit that ends with the waiter being handed a note by Paul's companion that reads: "We are inmates at the psychiatric hospital. Please call the police immediately. That was an exceptionally fine meal." As I said above, it's a book well worth reading.

Well, I've also been working my way through Laxness's World Light. When I finish it I will submit my book report. If you've read any of these books and want to lend your own comments below, I look forward to hearing from you.

desember 30, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Let It Snow

Well, I guess Iceland is having a little bit of a blizzard today. Here are a few different looks at it: one from the Rainy Monday blog; another from the A Woman Without a Man... blog; and, finally, some pictures from our favorite moblogger. (You may have to scroll down as I am too lazy to give you anything but their blog addresses today).

Oh, and in unrelated news, I am proud to say that someone did a search on Comcast for "Human Penises" (that's not the part that made me proud) and this blog was the #1 result. That's something to put on my resume.

desember 29, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Shortest Day of the Year

Audi was kind enough to take the time to send me some photos that she took:


As she put it: "Apparently today is the shortest day of the year...I did not notice a day today. It was just dark and then a different shade of dark."

IN OTHER NEWS: Someone actually took the time to use google to translate my page into German. As I'm easily impressed and amused, I'll link to it here.

desember 22, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Laxness Site and Other Cool Stuff

I'm always excited to find out that people out there are looking at my Reykjavik blog. And it's even more exciting when someone shares resources with me. Today's find is a great website pointed out to me by Dennis Haarsager and it is his Halldor Laxness page that has lots of great links to information on the Nobel Prize winning author as well as many other great Iceland-related sites. Thank you so much Mr. Haarsager.

One of his useful links within that site is this "Learn Icelandic" Live Journal site. It seems to be a great resource for Icelandic pronunciation. And another site I found while surfing through all these great interlinked sites is something that I hadn't been able to find earlier: an English-Icelandic (as well as many other languages) translator.

So, those are my finds for this morning. With all of hte links on the Laxness site as well as the links on the linked sites, I'm in for a busy day of daydreaming about Iceland.

desember 20, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Photos

Well, I've finally posted a few more photos. I hope to have even more up on the site by the end of the weekend, but we'll see about that. So, anyway, here they are. As you'll see, there's no particular theme to them. I thought they were all interesting in their own way though. I hope you do too.

desember 20, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I (heart) Iceland, part 2

Well, it seems that I've angered my good friend who went to Iceland and found lots to complain about. Oh well, he's not the first blogger that I've upset. Anyway, here is his return rant. One problem you'll see if you read it is that, even though he visited my Reykjavik site on many occasions, he didn't pick up on the fact that I'm from the USA like he is. But that's okay. I don't mind being confused with someone from Iceland.

Oh, though I am wondering where he stayed that his cold water was always sulphury like the hot water is. I'd love to mention that in my recommendations section as place to not stay, if that was indeed not the case.

desember 13, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Today is the release of Einar Orn's Ghostigital in Iceland and the UK. I'm about to head over to Amazon to see if I can find it there. I hope so. For those of you who aren't familiar with Einar Orn, he was the chaos that made the Sugarcubes so damned special. Okay, I know a lot of you think that Bjork made them special, but you are only partially right.

You can sample some of his songs at his Ghostigital site. When you hear it, you'll know what I mean when I say that he puts the avant in avant-garde.

desember 8, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I (heart) Iceland

Well, it seems that not everyone enjoys Iceland. That's because some people shouldn't leave the comfort of what they know. My advice is: if you're not prepared to go somewhere where things might seem "different" to you, stay home and watch a video. Preferably something you've already seen before so you won't find something to complain about. Read this and find the 25 or so reasons why this person should have stayed at home.

Thanks to Au∂i's blog for this link.

desember 6, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Here's Þóra (Interview #3)

"These things really get me angry 'cause Iceland does have the means to support all its citizens."

thora.JPGI'm called Thora in English but my name is really Þóra, I'm 23 years old. I'm born and raised in the beautiful city Reykjavík. I'm one of those youngsters who has no idea what I want to be when I grow up; I've changed my mind about a million times! I've wanted to be a cook to a police officer, but right now I think I'm just focusing on being me. I work as a caretaker, my job is to take care of people who are mentally ill and disabled. I'm good at my job but I do get very tired a lot of times...but that just comes with the territory. I'm pretty sure I will be working with people or children when I do finally grow up and make a decision on what I want to be.

My plan for the next year is to go to Long Island for about three months and stay with a friend of mine and just be happy and carefree. I've decided that life is too short to be worrying all the time that I haven't made my mind up about my choice of careers, and so next year is going to be spent on traveling and just let things come to me instead of me frantically searching for an answer.

Each time I start one of these interviews, I don’t know how it’s going to go or where it’s going to go. Thora’s blog is an impressive mix of personal stories, strong opinions, and an underlying love for Iceland. I think that all comes through in her answers to my questions. As I looked through her blog yesterday for a excerpt or two to share with you, it was a cold and windy day here, so I passed up her social commentary and her personal interspection and went straight to a place I would’ve loved to be on a day like today:

I just came home from the swimming pool, and I just feel so good!!! It has been ages that I've sat in the warm hot pots in -5 Celsius and everything is pitch black...apart from the lamps the throw a little light into the hot pots and the blue hypnotic light that comes from the pool it self. You sit there in absolute silence letting the warm water sooth your body and looking up at the stars....and all this with in our great city!!! I'm in awe....it's amazing just how great the winter can be!!! When ever winter comes knocking on your door, you get a little frightened 'cause you know that now it's gonna get really dark by five o'clock and your gonna get tired really quickly over the day, but then when you do something like going to the swimming pool and just sit there feeling really comfortable even though it's really cold out and everything is quiet you just wish it was winter every day of the year. Iceland surprises me once in a while, and that's what I love about Iceland, it lets you know every so often why it's so great!!! It's like if you go away for a while....and then I mean for more than just 3 weeks.....you start to remember every little detail that you love about living here!!! And days like today I love 'cause they make me see all these little details that I love without having to leave! I'm really lucky to be able to say that I am Icelandic and that my country is truly amazing!!!

So, with thoughts of geothermal pools in my head, I offer up my third Reykjavik interview:

You mention traveling in the statement above. What are some of the places you've been and what differences have you found between the people there and the people you know in Reykjavik?

Þóra: I love to travel...although I can be a little intimidated to really large cities...I'm so used to small places. I've been to 6 different countries, they are Spain, England, Scotland, France, Norway and the States. The place I know best is Spain. I lived in Torremolinos, which is on the south coast of Spain, for three years with my parents. There's a huge difference between Spanish people and Icelandic people...not only in the features but also just how we all act. People in Spain are much more easy going than the Icelandic people. They are not as high strung, the culture is just so different over there. I love how Spanish people eat and how the family is so important over there. Here it's not like that! Here people almost eat while running or watching TV but in Spain meal times are like family times. People in Spain are much warmer than people in Iceland.

My take on France was very little because I only stayed there for 3 days...but I felt they were similar to the Spanish...apart from their reluctance to speak English. I don't speak word in French! I was so young when I was in Norway so I can't really give an opinion on that...but the Norwegians I've met are just like us.

What I found so distinctively different with the Americans was how friendly they are...I was walking down a street somewhere in Long Island and this guy says good morning to me and I look around me like an idiot thinking “is he talking to me?!!!” The poor guy must have thought me crazy. I'm not used to things like that. Here people hardly give each other a kiss when they haven't seen each other in a long time...and they certainly don't say good morning to complete strangers out on the street. The English are more like us and the Scottish even more so...I love the Scottish people to bits. I feel tied to them in some strange ways....they are just so jolly and full of life, I think they are wonderful...meeting a Scottish person brings you fun times--that's the main difference between our nationalities.

Do the tourists that you've met seem to have pre-conceived notions about what Icelandic people are like? Are they accurate notions?

Þóra: Most of the tourists I've met over here do have some pre-conceived notions about us, although those notions do vary! Some of the guys have this lingering thought in their heads that all the women in Iceland are willing to lie down with who ever, but I am really glad to tell you that that is not at all true! Then you have notions like that Icelandic people are cold and tend to push people away. I don't really agree with that and most of the tourists I've met have always changed their minds once they get here and see just how great we are. But I guess that the one notion that does stick with us and is true is that we are a really proud group of people here in Iceland...and tend to think Iceland is the greatest. I'm one of those people when it comes to our country as a nature but not at all when it comes to our politics or sports...

Imagine I'm visiting Reykjavik for a few days. Is there a place you can tell me to go to that I would probably miss if I just went to the usual places tourists go?

Þóra: I guess that it would have to depend on which season you come to Iceland. In winter I think you should go to Bláfjöll which are the skiing areas around Reykjavik. They are really close to Reykjavik and on a good winter’s day they are absolutely beautiful...the view especially!!!

In spring you should go to Kjalarnes, which is just outside Reykjavik but still a part of the area. When you are there you are in the country; there are farms there and the sea is really close; the spring is magical in Iceland so really wherever you go it’s always going to be beautiful, but I think that in the country you are more aware of the spring because of all the things that are waking up, plants and animals!

In summer time just staying with in the city marks is enough to experience a different kind of summer. Go to one of the suburbs, like the old part of town, Vesturbærinn, and see all the kids playing around until late, and all the gardens that are full of blooming trees and flowers! But I think that seeing the children out until 12 or 01 at night just playing games, because of the midnight sun, is amazing. It makes anyone see just how great living here is for children. It’s still safe.

In the fall time you should go to Hafnafjör∂ur, because that town is really old looking especially the old part of it, and it's situated by the sea, and in the fall time it's really beautiful. That place is full of life and people. And just walking through the streets there at fall time with all the leaves on the ground is great. Also just any of the parks we have in Reykjavik is great to be at during the fall!

Compared to other countries, Iceland seems to be very open to the idea of gay rights and women's rights among other issues. But what social issues do you feel Iceland needs to address and improve upon?

First of all I think that the social system in Iceland is a big scam! My main concern in our social system is the issue of disabled people. The people that can't work have to live of welfare, but the welfare is so ridiculously low that they have a really hard time putting food on the table. When it draws near to the end of the month, some get put out on the streets because their income is so low that they can't pay of their rent. And every year our government promises improvements, but every time they fail miserably! These things really get me angry 'cause Iceland does have the means to support all its citizens.

You mentioned working with the mentally ill. Have you read the book Angels of the Universe (Einar Mar Gudmunddson) and if so do you have anything to say about it based on your own experiences?

Þóra: I have not read that book, I did start it once but never finished it. I have seen the movie though. My experience in my job is nothing comparing to the life of the mentally ill in the book! The people I work with are not as seriously ill like the main character was. I work at a little home for the mentally ill and they are also handicapped. They are all very easy to talk to and even easier to work with. Of course it can be hard but nothing compared to working with people who are as ill as the main character in the book.

But what I think is related between these two different things is how it’s been hushed up for so long that there are people like that in our society. In the book you can see how instead of really helping him out, they rather like to think he doesn’t exist--they punish him for being ill almost. In my job I get to see a lot of discrimination towards these beautiful people I work with, even doctors are very discriminatory against them in the way they feel they aren't worth all the efforts they could be giving a "normal" person. Now don't get me wrong I am not saying that all doctors are like that...but some are. They seem to forget, well a large part of society seems to forget, that these people and people like them are first and foremost people: the thing that separates us comes after...we shouldn't look down upon them we should rather help them stand as individuals in our society. They are individuals just like you and me. It’s the same thing that's been going on throughout life...(what is different must be bad!), I just hope that one day we will be mature enough to see that that's just stupid.

How do you feel about the USA/NATO presence at Keflavik?

Þóra: I have no problem with them really, although I'm one of those people that wishes that no one needed an army or stuff like that. I'm a peace-loving person. But I do like the idea that we are protected if anything should happen...since we don't have any kind of army ourselves. Although I can't say that I trust the US government very much, maybe I would feel a bit safer with another army? But I know that all of this is just politics and not really about our safety... I'm just a bit naive and like to think that they are here to keep our safety up. All I really have to say is: Make LOVE not WAR.

Here's a question I also asked Audi...You are a fan of the TV show Friends. If you were a Friends character which one would you be? Which one would you most want to be?

Þóra: I think I would be Rachel, I guess, 'cause she is so reckless when it comes to money, and her problem with men, i.e., Ross, that resembles something I'm going through. I would like to be like Joey. I think he is adorable...I wouldn't mind being stupid if I was that lovable! He takes care of his friends and gives so much just being himself. He is by far the best character on Friends!

Another question I like to ask: what Icelandic bands should I give a listen to?

Þóra: I would recommend, Bubbi Mortenz, Sálin Hans Jóns Míns, Rottweiler Hundar, Sigur Rós, Vinyl and also our DJ's like Chico Rockstar and many more. All of these artists are very different ranging from hard rock, classic rock, rap and instrumental. But these are my favorites.

Where should I go to see live music in Reykjavik?

Þóra: To see live bands you should go to places like Nasa and Gaukur á stöng. These two always have some bands playing every weekend. If you like to listen to dj's whether its drum & bass (breakbeat), techno or just hip hop places like Vídalín, Kapital and Grand Rokk are good for that.

I'm a teacher on a budget, can you recommend good, relatively inexpensive places to eat?

Þóra: Well inexpensive places or really just inexpensive things in Iceland are a rare sight...but we do have a few. Most of the cafes are fairly cheap. I would recommend Cafe Viktor...not only because it's cheap but also because the food is really quite good.

Thank you, Þóra.

As always, if you are interested in being interviewed or know someone who might be, email me and let me know.

desember 3, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (173) | TrackBack

While We're Waiting

Well, my third Reykjavik interview is long overdue. Look for it later today or early tomorrow. I've had some computer "glitches" that have slowed the editing process.

In the meantime, I found these pretty pictures today.

desember 3, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack