New Sculptures

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I have images up of the sculpture I made last month while I was in Iceland. They were the last pieces I made during my stay, basically what came out of my first few weeks painting and drawing. The photos I took at 4 in the morning before having to pack them up and ship them out a day before I left. The scale of the camera angle makes them look deceptively large, which I think is funny. The sculptures are made out of Sculpey (actually SuperSculpey™), a material I thought could be easily transported—not take up too much space. I had a blast with it actually. While the rest of the world was baking holiday cookies that week I was pulling sheets of plasticene in and out of the oven.

The entire body of work is a continuation of the Radiolaria series I started while in residency in North Carolina last summer. It is strange for me, as the whole series has been executed outside of my own studio. The sculptures I actually like, and in reality remind me of overgrown skin tags as opposed to the small sea microplasms they are based on. The paintings and drawings, when I pulled them out of the box this weekend were too hard to look at right now and I’ve put them away for a few months. I was discussing this work with friends over wine a week ago and realized it is the most impersonal body of work I’ve ever executed, and feel too close to it at the moment. I will be showing the entire Radiolaria Series in July at Shift Studio, a date that seems far off now but will be here before I know it.

 

The Great White North

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So the residency. It sounds lovely and everything, and it was for a bit, but I really got nailed by the lack of sunlight and sheer loneliness- it was a hard trip. The good news was I saw some beautiful sights and produced a lot of art, but it was one of the most psychologically alienating experiences I’ve ever had. I kept thinking of Bergman and rented Persona when I got home and was flat on my back last week with some malady.

So yes, the Icelandic folks were not as forthcoming as I had hoped. I was under the impression according to the residency materials I was there to get to know the towns people, yet after the first week everyone just kind of disappeared. I have been told this is typical because it was Christmas, but it was confusing.

I was prepared to give a lecture, have a small exhibit during my stay there, and this never materialized. There was a guest book in the studio from previous artists that showed most guests did indeed have an exhibit, talk and interaction yet when the days marched on and the office running the residency stayed closed I realized this was to never happen. No one ever swung by to see if everything was okay, or said good bye, and on my last morning as the taxi waited for me to go to the airport, I placed the Gueststudio key through the mail slot.

I never once during my month even shared a meal with anyone (Except for with the one American I met during my lava excursion). During the block of days that constitute the holiday (4 days) the entire town shut down with not even a restaurant staying open (luckily I found this out from the tourist office), so I was basically barricaded in the studio, alone watching my two channels of Icelandic television, drinking wine by myself. Boo hoo! On Christmas eve, when I realized that I would not be invited any where most likely, I broke open the special wine I had been saving in case of such invites, and drank it. And I know, such is life.

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of good. Even though most everything was shut down for the winter I was able to take two excursions, one guided out into the lava beds and glorious nature, one to a whaling town, 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Strangely they were wonderfully lovely up there in this town of 2,500 and two separate blessed souls opened their museums for me, gave me personal tours- I was incredibly touched. Someone even said hi to me on the street, it was odd (most Icelanders, similar to New Yorkers look at their feet as you approach). It was a day that made me feel sane again.

Iceland’s most famous Dottir

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01/10/2006 | 10:53

Björk voted world’s most eccentric star

Björk has been voted the most eccentric star in the work in a recent survey for British magazine BBC’s Homes and Antiques. Former UK boxer Chris Eubank came in second, with Ozzy Osbourne in fifth place.

The BBC News website reports that Björk remains internationally well known for wearing the famous “swan dress” to the Oscars in 2001, as well as for her distinctive musical style.

Iceland Review

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The last time I returned from Iceland, the running joke at the time seemed to be for everyone to ask me, “Did I see Björk ?”
The closest I came then was finding her name in the phone book. Of course there are hundreds of Björk’s in the Reykjavík telephone book (alphabetized by first name) , but only one was bold faced, so I took it as proof.

So this time I have been waiting, and no one has asked. The funny thing is she was on my flight on the way over, from New York to Iceland. Five minutes before the air crew closed the plane door for take off, two final passengers entered, Björk- holding the hand of her daughter and looking very uncomfortable. She was so dressed down and headed to the back of coach class with the rest of us that I almost thought it was just someone who looked like her. The constantly swiveling heads in her direction of every 20-something on the plane verified it was definitely her. I was impressed- no entourage, no security, no Saga class (you know- those who pay extra to sit at the front of the plane). I felt sorry for her, if she really is as shy as I’ve heard reported, then something as simple as boarding an airplane becomes a public ordeal. So no, I didn’t venture back and ask her for her autograph, although I am sure others did. The middle age couple sitting next to me remained blissfully ignorant that a celebrity was in our midst, and by the time I left the plane I was so out of it, I neglected to wonder if I would see her at baggage claim. Of course I did not.

I am actually a large fan or her music and it was interesting after witnessing an inkling of what is the Icelandic driven personality (by being there for a bit), that she is really, I don’t think so completely weird as is reported. Talented and driven and given to championing unusual designers, but absolutely a serious artist. I think she has been so well known, for so long in her homeland that she sits in the news somewhere besides the Prime Minister of Iceland. It must be an unusal thing to be so famous in a country that prides themselves on treating everyone the same.

However, that principle didn’t seem to matter when Kiefter Sutherland was in town merely because his band was playing – rating a full page article in the daily Fréttabladid,much to my amusement. I couldn’t tell why he was garnering so much ink- did he die? I found out later unfortunately that was why Richard Pryor was featured.

Gueststudio

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I was given a beautiful workspace to live in. It was almost literally next door to the famous landmark church that gives Akureyri it’s identity. Every fifteen minutes, the bells would chime, subtly, marking the passing of time as it marched on. There were sky lights in the work area, which on some days were the best way I knew the light of the day would finally appear, if only for a few hours. When it started snowing I could see the flakes accumulate, coving the glass in a soft blanket of ice. The place its self was warm, as most everything in Iceland is heated by the very efficient geothermal heat. Actually, with the exception of my first week in town, it never seemed unbearably cold, the temperature outside sitting at a stable 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). One night while watching a weather report I saw an indication of -17 degrees Celsius (!) and then the weather person moved away from the map and it was Greenland she was speaking of.

I went out and purchased some Christmas lights to put in the window to get into the holiday spirit.

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2006?

I’m back, and hopefully so is my sense of humor. I’ve spent the better half of the last week flat on my back (of course) after being tightly knit into a quarantine unit they call an airplane (or really a succession of them) for almost a 24 hour period….with some malady thanks to the wheezing and sneezing going on all around me. My personal favorite moment of this trip was being dumped into the airport in Las Vegas for 15 minutes as I frantically attempted (and made) a connection, not before being bombarded by those beautiful slot machines that are omni present.

The last bit of my stay in Iceland was a bit doomed by depression (I better not move to Alaska in the near future) and some unmet expectations that I’m still trying to sort out…hopefully I’ll be posting a bit more about this…it’s a good thing I had my hands off the keyboard for a bit though. The good news is I made a lot of work. The only way I could afford to send it back to myself was via ship- they told me I won’t see it for two to three months as it chugs its way across the Atlantic, probably all good for clearing the air so to say.

Joladagur – Icelandic Christmas Traditions

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Ever since I have arrived here at the beginning of December, it quickly became apparent this is the most important time of the year for Icelandic people, and they anticipate and prepare for their celebrations in an enthusiastic and intense manner.

Probably the most atypical tradition you will find in their culture from everyone else that celebrates Christmas is they have 13 Santas! The 13 Santas, also known as the Christmas lads (Jólasveinar) start coming down from the mountains one by one each night starting on December 11th. This is an ingenious tradition, as the children set a pair of shoes out by the window each night hoping for a small present from the visiting Santa. If the child has been good, they get a nice present, but if not they will get a potato. It was pointed out to me that Icelandic children don’t have Christmas stockings, as they don’t have chimney’s (most of their buildings are heated geothermally) In previous generations I have learned the lads were much scarier and meaner and there was the added bonus of the Yule cat who might eat you if you were not wearing new clothes on Christmas (thus a tradition of at least getting new socks for the holiday). Older adults embellished how they shook under their sheets in fear of the Yule cat.
Now, to my own confusion I know the lads are out and about but the red and white suited Santa is also popular both as a concept, and seen in Christmas décor. One woman told me her five year old became very confused because they saw four red and white Santas in a car- why were they not in sleds?

The 13 Christmas lads each have distinctive names and are laden with mischievous personalities that become apparent if you catch them. I love their get ups too, they are much more tattered and plump in different ways than our now commercial airbrushed Santa.

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Typical of the twisted Icelandic humor, when I was out (in what I identified as a remote) lava field a week ago on a small guided day tour of the region, we were suddenly surprised by a tattered but friendly character sliding down a snow covered hill greeting us – it was Shorty, the third lad! I couldn’t stop laughing, as we had trekked a good ten minutes in, over ice to take a closer look at some lava formations. I was like, did he get radioed ahead that we were coming? There was no clear shelter for Shorty and soon apparent friend (who was kicked back on a formation, smoking and also laughing). It turns out it is the idea of the owner of the Hotel Mývatn in the area to bring people out to the area. Maybe on weekends (!) but on that day we were the only four people I had seen. Shorty put on a good show and gave us an apple. A truly insane idea and carried out to full effect even for adults.

 

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As a holiday crazy kid I was always looking for more ways to add festivities to our family life, including the not too successful co-opting of the Swedish Santa Lucia holiday. If I had known that Icelandic children had 13 Santas, I would have been so envious!

Another Icelandic Christmas tradition I am kind of obsessing over is their special holiday bread, called Laufabrauđ (leaf bread). Very thin sheets of dough are folded and cut into special patterns that are reminiscent of cutting snowflakes out of construction paper. There were even special cutting tools made for this tradition that is specific to northern Iceland but celebrated nationally, including the prevalence of prepackaged and pre-cut Laufabrauđ in the frozen foods section.

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Allegedly, tomorrow, December 23rd is St. Þorlakur’s Day, named for Iceland’s major native Saint, Þorkakur Þorhallsson, former Bishop of Skálholt. I haven’t actually heard anything to confirm if this is still traditionally carried out, but if so it includes a family meal of skate, last minute shopping and the decorating of the Christmas tree.

I have been told that Icelandic woman go crazy cleaning and cooking the few days before Christmas, and tomorrow night almost all stores stay open on Christmas. Then, for 2 ½ days they just gather with their families and relax.

In one weeks time after that are the New Years Eve celebrations, where there are supposed to be so many fireworks clouding the sky that all you can see is red.
The newspaper, almost devoid of any political content from America has been running full page articles on Quentin Tarratino and his plans to be in Reykjavík with “unnamed celebrity friends” for the New Years holiday. I had no idea why he was getting so much daily coverage until I read on Iceland Review what the deal was. I have been very grateful for their English coverage of Icelandic news, as at this point I would truly be living in a bubble with out a little help from them in translation.

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Eating and such

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The food.

Entire volumes could be written about the prohibitive cost of keeping yourself fueled in various ways in Iceland. I have met only one American the whole time I have been here and it was our main topic of conversation- she just couldn’t get over how steep it all is. The American dollar has plummeted too since I last visited Europe, which has led the topic of money to sit squarely on my back shoulder at all times.
The few times I have gone out to eat- usually a bowl of soup with bread has been between $10-15.
Subsequently, I have been mainly cooking for myself, becoming a connoisseur of the local grocery stores here, and making half assed guesses at converting Fahrenheit to Celsius with no cookbook in site. Like going to tiny town, everything here seems smaller to me, from coffee cups to spaghetti sauce to vegetables, and unlike what I’m used to seeing there is usually a selection of: one.

These facts from Iceland Review reveal I am not imagining things:

According to a new report from the Nordic Competition Authorities food prices in Iceland are 42% higher in Iceland than in EU countries. At the same time there is a narrower range of food products available in Iceland and Norway. The Nordic Competition Authorities examined the food markets in the Nordic region. According to the report food prices tend to be higher in the Nordic countries compared to other European countries. According to the report Baugur controls 47% of the retail market in Iceland. The Icelandic Competition Authorities pointed out that since the report was completed Baugur has added food stores in Iceland.

I was told jokingly before I left to bring some Metamucil with me as the site of a vegetable might be quite rare. Almost half right. The grocery stores do have them, most of the vegetation seems to come up from Holland and Spain. My favorite has been the packaging of baby cauliflower and baby broccoli together. Things like green beans, if you can find them are packaged in little clumps, similar to how herbs are sold in American grocery stores in the winter. I have been making a lot of soups. The meat section is a bewilderment to behold and I have not been so adventuresome. A popular site, reminiscent of the 1970s are cans of carrots and green vegetables cut into cubes.

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I have become quite fond of their Icelandic made Skyr, similar to yogurt but much thicker. There is actually a television commercial of an enthusiastic blonde with an American accent going into a shop and asking for Sky-er. The cashier is confused until she realizes the tourist wants “Skir”. Allegedly in 2006 Whole Foods Groceries (I know) in the States will be importing Skyr and Icelambic lamb to some of their stores, so I imagine there will be many more mispronunciations, this time uncorrected.

The coffee here on a consistent basis is quite good, and I was cheered last night to buy a crate of Clementines (Clementinen) at a cost similar to what I am used to. There are numerous products packages specially for Gleđleg Jól— from smoked salmon, pickled herring to a special Christmas drink that is a combination of non alcoholic malt and orange soda.

You would be sadly mistaken here if you attempted to alleviate sugar from your diet. There is incidentally a health food store here, very tiny that I visited last night out of pure curiosity. They had interesting things from Africa and many mysterious jars along with the standard organic this and that. As you can imagine, the cost of everything was too prohibitive to even entertain. I went home and enjoyed my Clementines.

By the way, the only way to purchase alcohol in any form except to going to a pub is to visit the state run liquor stores. There is a reason the duty free store at their main airport is crammed, as the sticker shock on alcohol is truly unbelievable (an area where they excel at Value Added Tax). Already the newspaper contains postings of when the liquor store (in Akureyri it’s the Vin Búđ) will be closed for the holidays- from noon on 12/24 and closed until the afternoon of 12/29. I’ve been told this is typical and a good reason I am stocking a bunker of food.

 

Islenski bachelorinn and other sophisticated fare

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Yes, there is art here, but I have this report to share that is of more cultural relevance at the moment.

Like any good wanna be armchair cultural anthropologist, I watched more Icelandic television last night. As it turns out, it was the season finale for Islenski bachelorinn, a show so clearly rivaling American reality TV in clichés that it elevated its self above and beyond any language barrier. I was transfixed! However, it was apparent in flashback sequences that they competitive sequences had been played out in the Icelandic wilderness and caves, adding a different allure to the entire show. I have never watched the American version, but can easily see there could be similiar plot lines.

I have not really taken a moment to comment on Icelandic television. From a visit 5 years ago, I know they have the capability of all the same cable tv we have back in the States. Thankfully all I have access to are 2 stations. There is actually one other station, but it mainly shows stills of shopping advertisements while music is played in the back ground. About once an hour a news break comes on. The news is astounding as people are given full airtime to voice their stories, opinions and even their school Christmas programs – in their entirety.

After being here for two weeks the oddity to me as someone used to American sound bytes and high production values is not as apparent. I much prefer this homespun version, and find the programming a wonder – every timeslot brings something completely different- whether a rerun of Law and Order or a highly amusing Icelandic game show called Poppunktur, which is a trivia game show (similar to Jeopardy I gathered) between two teams of Icelandic rock stars, of course the focus of the show is Rock Musak! There is a show host that keeps the quickly paced show moving between questions, activities of skill (the long jump anyone?) and of course each band gets to perform before they enter the final face off. There is another man who stands behind the host with an intimidating muscle man mustache, whose role I could not decipher for the life of me (maybe he is a DJ?). I found myself rooting for the huskier looking band Geirfuglar, with the guy in the red shirt ,the drummer and also the lead singer (much better than Phil Collins).

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A few things American TV could use a bit more of:

      Full 60 second ads for new books

 

The airing of British television shows on regular TV, and additionally the willingness to not editing out f words- all are kept intact. Yes, that is how people really talk.

The allowance of people over the age of 40 on television sets that have not been susceptible to the knife of a plastic surgeon. What a concept!

Less or almost no television commercials. Along with the allowance of long monologues on all locally produced shows (talk shows, without slap dash pacing take on a whole other worldliness) this adds a strange twist of time-reality to all television viewing.

Three minute polka breaks!

The first week I was here I had no music and once I found out the television actually worked, I got down to business in comparing and contrasting cultural differences via the airwaves while I painted. I was actually hoping, like the Japanese lady in the 1970’s movie The Boatniks, if I stayed up all night watching Icelandic television I would be fully fluent in the language in the morning. No dice.

The poor Icelanders are unfortunately susceptible to high amounts of American television shows. All TV is shown in its original language, accompanied by Icelandic subtitles. This has thrown me for a loop when what I think was Swedish programming came on. I am sure I am missing gobs of information, especially during their own news broadcasts. It’s a very pretty language, and one I wish I could speak. Speaking of, almost no American news makes its way out here either via the airwaves (there is no English televised news so I could be fooling myself) or in their newspapers. This has been very refreshing, I can’t even explain how good it is to take a break from hearing about the non stop baloney back home.

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Finally I would be completely remiss if I did not mention the Miss World competition. A week ago, this came on and of course I left it on, mildly amused by the schlock value that any beauty pageant radiates. Little did I know until the end that I was witnessing an event that has made the front page of the newspapers here for the last week: Unnur Birna Vilhjalmsdottir, Miss Iceland was crowned Miss World.

a note from the land of sleet and ice

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Ah, I can´t believe I have been in Iceland for over a week. Time has slowed down. I won´t have regular internet access so intermittently will I post. Strangely my gmail account is not accessible here.

I like it here very much, and life has taken surrealistic tones, as I sit here typing this at 1:30 in the afternoon and knowing the daylight is slipping away. That has taken some getting used to.
There is much activity here over the upcoming Christmas holiday. Icelanders consider this their foremost family holiday and can´t imagine spending it alone. Many have expressed concern I will be spending mine alone, and even the tourist office here said they can´t convince even one restaurant to stay open, so I best take care of myself for the time span (it is a three day holiday for them, starting promptly at 6pm on Christmas eve). That being said, it might be a tad lonely, but I do think it is fantastic that they do not cave- will not give up their holiday. My plan is to bunker in with a good port and some pickled herring I think.

The weather has warmed up a lot. I walked around town today with out my gloves. Unfortunately the entire town has turned into a sheet of ice, which makes even a jaunt to the grocery store an act of treachery. I have been beyond amazed at the Icelandic woman who skate on this ice in their 5 inch pumps, meanwhile you know who here can barely make it across the street in here action boots.

Ensku

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Hallo! From Iceland. It is like a fairy tale here, very snowy, very quiet and very Christmasy. Much to report, as the sun is just cresting the mountains here at 12:10…my biggest snafu so far is I brought the wrong electrical plug with me and can not use my computer. I belive the art gods are telling me to get off the damn thing. So I am at the very nice and beautiful Akureyri Public library using their facilities for 200 kroner an hour.
At any rate, it is beautiful here and if I get my electricity sorted out we´ll be back soon. In the mean time I have to challenge this very interesting Icelandic keyboard that also includes: ðððð, þþþ and my favorite today:öööö ÖÖÖÖ.

I am only one of three foreigners in town right now, it is funny.

Off to the North

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Meanwhile in a few short hours I will be on my way to the North. Back in February of 2001 I made a brief visit to Iceland, really just a vacation weekend, and fell in love with the place. And I promised I would go back. Well now I get my chance. I will be stationed in northern Iceland this time, in Akureyri, a town 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle (if I have my math correct). I will be the artist in residence at their Listagil Society’s Gueststudio.

According to the weather map, the temperature is currently 24 degrees, not too bad considering that’s only 10 degrees colder than Buffalo, New York.
The clincher is sunrise today was at 10:53 AM and sunset- was at 03:08 PM. Should be interesting.

And I have no idea if I will have Internet access, but for certain I’m in for a change of pace.

Three of my favorite sites lately have been those written by Americans living in Reykjavík:
Iceland Eyes
Reykjavík Harbor Watch
and The Iceland Report, including this little gem entry.
By all accounts they look to be into the thick of winter season!

KAC

partners

Last week I had the good fortune of going across the waterway to the Kirkland Arts Center to view the exhibit pARTners. The secondary title of the show is Considerations Rather than Constraints,which is the underlying thread. The group show is a collection of work curated by Deborah Paine and showcases work done by artists that are also live in partners/sidekicks. Paine says in the tidy little catalogue that comes with the show that:

Through the decades, literature has painted a somewhat bleak picture of the artist; solitary, angst ridden, self-oppressed and carried along by a muse that seems less than friendly. I’ve come to consider this a myth. In the introduction of Significant Others, a book edited by Whitney Chatwick and Isabelle de Courtivron, the question is posed,”if the dominant belief about art and literature is that they are produced by solitary individuals, but the dominant social structures are concerned with familial, matrimonial, and heterosexual arrangements, how do two creative people escape or not the constraints of this framework and constuct an alternative story?”

And Paine continues, through the work she has chosen for the show to execute examples. Often two pieces are displayed side by side showing inferred influence two people might have over each other’s work. Some pieces are collaborative showing a joint working style, like the glasswork done by Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman, and the video by Ken Fandell and Patte Loper. Some pieces were possibly done together for the exhibit like the one by Jaq Chartier and Dirk Park. My favorite piece in the exhibit is the collaboration betweenClaire Cowie and Leo Saul Berk– which looks like two Monopoly © piece houses parked facing one another on of Leo Saul Berks strange cartographic work- in separate yet close proximity. Sheila Klein’s billowy work next to Ries Niemi’s embroidered silk pillow offering was also a great combo.
An entertaining aspect of the show is finding out that someone does indeed have an artistic sidekick- perhaps lesser known (both Gaylen Hansen and Gregory Grenon have painting partners).

I never regret the 20-minute drive it takes me out of my way to get to Kirkland, and again KAC has mounted another invigorating show underling work done by local artists. Unfortunately the exhibit ends tomorrow- November 16th. Keep your eye on KAC though- they continually step up to the plate in giving local artists and curators a nice space to show contemporary art.

Photo stream of exhibit.

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A note about the sparseness of writing here: 
I have been feeling rebellious about time spent on the computer lately. In two weeks I will be leaving to go to Iceland for a month, and in a bizarre act to reign in all the details that are falling down on me, all I have felt like doing is cooking. I haven’t purposely cooked for years, so this is comical. Lots of soups and cold weather comfort food and time spent over a pot— just stirring. Cooking doesn’t lend its self to multi-tasking outside of additionally just listening to music, so maybe that is what it is all about.
I will be in residency in Northern Iceland in the town of Akureyri which is will soon be boasting a collective 3 hours of daily “twilight”. My sister claims I could be stuck by Seasonal Effective Disorder on day 1 and be unable to get out of bed for the entire month. All I know is this is going to remove me from the hum drum of daily life undoubtedly.

Disbatch from Iceland Day 4

Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes Peninsula Tour Meet the exotic moonlike landscape of the Reykjanes Peninsula on this popular tour. First visit Bessastadir, official estate of Iceland’s president. Then bathe in a natural and man-made wonder – a blue pool of mineral rich geothermally heated water in a lava field. Passengers leaving on afternoon flights will find this a convenient end-of-trip excursion. Others return to Reykjavik.

6:11 pm: I’m thoroughly convinced I want to come back to this wonderful country. I don’t know how much B would agree, but I LOVED the lava fields, the fish culture and all the fish to eat, the incessant sky,and I could get used to the nice and almost sarcastic self effacement of the Icelanders.

My biggest surprise was The Blue Lagoon, I wasn’t expecting it to be so wonderful. B said it was the first time forever he felt relaxed. It was the best experience for anyone not wanting to be seen in a bathing costume,thanks to all the steam rising up and bluish opaque water. The day was super sunny and we both are sporting sunburns. The actual place is out in a remote lava field. You can see the steam rising as you approach it from the distance.

Being a retard and a full fledge American prude, the locker room with its electronic lockers (that synched with a bracelet they give you to wear)was a little daunting, but I finally figured it out. My biggest surprise was I thought that after seeing its brochure, the Blue Lagoon would be a slick operation with a bunch of la-di-da people hanging around. Instead, it was the most relaxing, low key experience. And strangely one of those places that lives up to its insanely photogenic character, especially for a man made location. I was impressed how it beautifully belong to the area it is situated in.

They let us stay and soak there for a good hour and ½, which was long enough because I thought I was going to melt into the water after a half hour. It was really basically heaven.

We next spent a lot of time driving deeper though lava fields, spying more geographic marvels. We saw bubbling mud,steaming holes and more Teutonic fissures.

Stopping for lunch in a small fishing village named Grindevik, we ate at a small, local family owned restaurant. I had a simple fish sandwich which consisted of smoked salmon, asparagus, sour creme on bread.

The smell of fish in the air outside was omnipresent, much to the disliking of some of our fellow travelers. It made me nostalgic for the West Coast though.

After eating we went to the coast and saw lava spilling into the ocean.

The whole day seemed like an on site make-up seminar for a missed geology class (I mean this in a fantastic way though). The final leg of our excursion found us in a very tiny village where someone was keeping up a relatively extravagant aquarium,which included black crabs, turtles,large tanks of fish and assorted marine related information. A spot obviously popular with the Icelandic school children who had left behind drawings of the sea animals.

The most pleasant thing of all was the tour ended by dropping us off right at the airport. Our tour guide Kristina, who I made out to be about 70 (and alarming was smoking cigarettes on one of our photo stops!) was a dedicated birder, really knew the lay of the land and made those silly pun kind of jokes that made B crazy but that I love.

POSTSCRIPT:

3/14/01 I am harboring anti-American thoughts and take the day off work to decompress. I don’t feel so bad physically,not like I did on the way over. I will have to remember the first two days overseas will almost unbearable if I do not find a solution to these jet leg problems. I will admit red wine, not sleeping on the plane and taking naps in the middle of your first day are all no-nos, but basically I thought it was such a short flight I would not be affected by jet lag. Duh. I feel relatively functional today, poor B, he had to go to work. My final take on Iceland:it continues to haunt my thinking. I truly felt inclined for a return visit after I saw the landscape and sat in the Blue Lagoon. I wish I could go back and stay up north, I would love to see what that is like in the spring time.

 

 

Disbatch from Iceland Day 2

3:30 pm: Cafe Paris coffee,crepes B had a smoked lamb on bread smothered in mayo. The sun came out. Not much else open ! At least their tv programming? Is good- a video channel we both are feeling pretty crummy,

I don’t think I am the perfect person for Icelandair’s “Take-A-Break” holidays. They make it seem so refreshing, but here it is day two and I am still feeling completely run down from jet lag. Here we lie in the hotel watching TV. I couldn’t sleep on the plane and even though we are only 5 hours away from NYC, I am wiped.

My secondary frustration is there is not really any concise information around here about what to do. I know it is winter, but with everything shut down (especially today- Sunday!), with the exception of the KolaPortid flea market,which we exhausted in the first hour of our day, you would think they would have some in-town activities going on.It is chilly out and we’ve walked around trying to find a warm open cafe or a museum to visit.

We don’t find a place to eat lunch until 2 (Cafe Paris),and spend time at the bookstore next door to our hotel because it was the only other place open (besides the few tourist tchotchke shops). There is sun today, which I think is very lucky considering it is not even mid March yet. A bit too cold /chillier than we had anticipated, I guess I really was hedging my bets against the Gulf Stream’s magic.A guidebook said:”dress for a fall day in NYC”? Well, more like a shitty winter day in NYC.

Both the guidebooks I have brought along have been extremely unhelpful! Outdated, misinformation found in both. It must be expensive to publish a current guidebook for this area. I thought there would be a renegade guide like we found in Amsterdam to at least the night life, or some sort of definitive guide to all the pubs/cafes/museums that I have seen a mention of here, a write-up of there. I did not get my stuff together before the trip to cross reference everything. Well, I have read, people’s expectations of places are often misplaced when they are traveling.

The city absolutely shuts down on Sunday, which is a shame for us as it is our main day here. I would still like to find some things to love about this place. I have to give it a chance. Horrible fears well up that I have turned into an unenlightened city person.

You would think for a girl originally from Seattle,that the atmosphere would be heaven,and really for the most part it is. The air smells of the salt of water and fishing, which I love. The mountains that surround the city are beautiful. In fact, this place has a total mountain town resonance to it. I dare say though, much to a disappointment in myself, I find it a bit dull. There seems to be something missing, and I can not quite put my finger on it yet. The town feels very small, as the population count indicates… And what does one expect from a nation that boasts 100 percent literacy rates, the love of chess and handknit products? What did you think they would be doing? Maybe I will figure out why I don’t feel the excitement I was expecting. I am tired and fuzzy headed.

Our wallets are losing speed fast. Another downside,which I think is really sinking in is the expense. And I know all the guidebooks warned about it, but until you are drinking a $7.00 dollar beer with a 24.5% VAT tax added on top of that, you don’t realize really how thin your wallet quickly gets. It has kept us from our usual souvenir/junk collecting. Even the weekend flea market (KolaPortid) had no real thrills or deals mostly because they have a lot of the same cast off American products).

Luckily it was good advice (one of the first things mentioned in everything I read) to bring your own spirits and B brought two bottles of wine from home. The food we have eaten has been marginal because we have been trying to keep it affordable, and as B discovered (to his continuing disappointment),the beer is awful. So they are not a beer drinking country. The Brennevin,their national alcoholic drink, AKA “Black Death” is appropriately named as well, a caraway seed nightmare, as we found out last night. But I am not a fan of the hard liquor anyway, so who am I to say.

But on to more pleasant thoughts… because,it’s okay. The people here are extraordinarily pleasant and down to earth. Not snobby at all. And yes, so far my inability to memorize any Icelandic phrases has not led to insufferable shame. Everyone speaks English, and even look at you strangely if you attempt to say “thank you” in Icelandic.

Reykjavikites, in general,dress in hip fashion, which almost seems odd in the context of the landscape,but really it is just very European. I can say now though that I have seen a city that wears more black than New York City! I kept thinking,if the joke of the matter finds that Eskimos have over a 100 different terms for the color white,then people who live in Reykjavik have over a 100 different ways of wearing the color black. It was very funny last night to witness the unwritten dress code when we went to some of their bars.

The people here are attractive, but not in way like you feel like you are surrounded by a bunch of supermodel snobs. All the guys have short hair and dress up for going out around the town. There is something to be said for the posse of blonde people that were manning the club door last night, but there are allegedly more dark-haired people here than in the rest of Scandinavia.

The two coffee shops I have been in so far I really liked for their mellow temperament. I love being served a French Press of extremely good tasting coffee, to share with B. In the coffee department, Icelanders have it down to genius.

Hotel Skjaldbreid, our hotel is very nice, and lucky for us located right in the center of Reykjavik. In the morning we get a good meal in a very sunny breakfast room surrounded with windows. We accidentally showed up late today (our sleep schedules are such a mess) and they were putting the food away but insisted on bringing it back out so we could eat (“It is very good!”). Their breakfasts remind me somewhat of Dutch breakfasts with the eggs, slices of cheese, bread, although this time with the addition of fish.Icelanders like salty licorice as the Dutch do too.

 

Our room is pleasant and very Scandinavian in decor (blond wood, sparse in details). We have a few more amenities than in the places we can normally afford- like a refrigerator in the room, a hairdryer! The TV as I have already stated has excellent programming, a lot of American movies but I am finding it depressing that we have come all this way to watch it. We still have yet to have a good traditional meal, or get rid of our jet legged stomachs. I guess the two of us do not travel well.

That situation is soon resolved- finding us eating a chunk of Free Willy:

We were craving a more traditional meal, and the trip just rejuvenated itself when B took us out for dinner at: Prur Frakkar Hja Ulfari. They specializes in Seafood and Whale Meat. We found ourselves sitting in a very quaint and homelike restaurant, lovely lace curtains gave us a glimpse of the setting sun outside. We started with an appetizer of whale, Japanese style, which meant it was served raw with wasabi, soy sauce and chopsticks. It was delicious, as B said, better than tuna sushi (really sashimi). For a main course I had plokkfisk which is “hashed fish with black rye bread” and B had “Halibut and Lobster in lobster sauce”. They were both excellent. My hashed fish tasted as if there were mashed potatoes and cheese were mixed in, and the rye bread was sweet, and insanely good. B’s meal was also nice. We each had a glass of Merlot, although we found a bit later neither one of us had much desire to drink.

Our fellow diners appeared to be mostly American which I gathered from the conversational goings on. Two college girls behind us,(which I quickly surmised were from Boston) animatedly discussed in detail the plot of last nights television show Temptation Island.

A man to the other side of the restaurant kept asking the waitress really inane questions regarding the food, “Do you also serve dolphin here? Can I get shark”? We were fearful he was going to ask if they served human as well, from the strange tone in his voice.

My favorite moment, especially in light of the current foot/mouth meat scare going on in Europe right now, was when we complimented the waitress on how delicious the whale appetizer was, she said in a very matter of fact tone, “raw meat is good for your health!” Luckily we were in Iceland, where they have strict regulations regarding the import of meat considering this paranoid climate.

She was so proud,I felt if you did not like the food they were serving you would be personally offending her. Luckily we did love everything.

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Disbatch from Iceland Day 3

“Iceland is not a place to spend time if you don’t like the great outdoors and are expecting a bustling nightlife- outside Reykjavik are few entertainments laid on. But the spectacular unspoiled landscape and relaxed lifestyle are reasons alone for taking a trip”

– More Woman Travel- A Rough Guide Special

“Golden Circle Tour-“Visit Thingvellir, a Viking landmark, See Gullfoss falls, Great Geyser, and a geothermal greenhouse.8 hours,daily at 9AM,tour will pick up at hotel approx 30 minutes prior.”

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The Golden Circle Tour redeems my attitude. It was truly enjoyable, and it would be horrible if you came here and did not get to see the natural beauty that lays outside of the city.

I was concerned that being a Tour Bus activity that it would be lame (Disneyish) and that the fellow travelers would be unbearable. Luckily not a single obnoxious person was with us, a quiet group, and I was really wowed by the tour. I was skeptical because I had read this tour is the most common tourist activity in the country, but if you do not have a car, or a knowledge of the land,how would you even find out about any of the countryside? “Pingthar” their National Park, is stunning. Just to see the mountains, and moss covered lava beds was enough.

There was a fair enough travel time too as we were driven out of the city, that I fell asleep in the bus for awhile (not sleeping so well the night before and then sleeping through the alarm- B got us up at 8am, much to my panic). I am so glad I had some foresight to figure we would be tired for at least two days, because I think the bus travel would have been grueling even yesterday. I finally felt fine after getting some food and coffee into me. B is still a little shaky.

So the Golden Circle Tour consists of first stopping off at a Greenhouse which was pretty touristy, but it was warm! We have been really lucky with the weather- only the wind has been trying, although it was blowing so hard it gave B a headache. Today was clear and we had sun for a bit. The Greenhouse was basically a pit stop to sell souvenirs and a place to use the bathroom.

This was followed by a stop at a large crater blown out by volcanic action which you witnessed from above a ravine.

Next we drove one hour (this is where we both dozed) until we got to the Gullfoss Falls, which I found beautiful. We were told at one point in time they were thinking of doing away with the falls and turning it into a harness for electrical power, but a farm girl protested so effectively (even threatening to throw herself over the falls), that they saved the falls in its natural state. The weather was extremely windy, and of course we were all there for one reason with our cameras and video tapes. I found it too cold to spend the allotted half hour looking at it and headed back into the bus.

The scenery on the ride to the Falls is sparse and almost barren, but I find it stunning. You have the mountains bookending the landscape of lava fields and small occasional horse farms everywhere you look. We went through an area where the Icelandic summer cottages are. They looked like mini scaled down colorful versions of their regular houses in the city, very toy like. The tour guide is informative and interesting, filling us in on bits and pieces of knowledge about where we are.

Our next stop was the to see the geysers or as our guide also said “geezers”. There was one that basically performs on command every 5 minutes and then other little scattered hot pots.

You could see this was basically a tourist destination, (albeit a very beautiful one!)which became more apparent as we crossed the road to have our lunch. We dined at the Geyser Hotel, which was a buffet of pickled herring, salmon, smoked salmon, salmon cakes, meat and vegetables (I am pretty much in heaven here with all this fish, water and nature- I never knew how much I missed it). B said between the buffet lunch and Tom Jones soundtrack they had rolling the whole time we were there, that he felt like he was in Las Vegas. The girls next to us laughed and imagined they could easily see Siegfried and Roy joining us.

Outside I requested B to take a picture of me next to the man-made geyser some handy person had constructed on the back side of the hotel attached to the restaurant. Said handy person had rigged up a lawn sprinkler placed in a pile of snow to resemble the action going on across the street. I thought it was very funny in the sense of “man versus nature”.

Post lunch, we rode on to a church, which is more of that beautiful stark Scandinavian architecture, really out in the middle of nowhere with stained glass mosaic windows. I was glad to have stopped there, it was a strange sight to see. B was wondering who the heck drives there to go to services. I imagine that their sense to getting around is a little less defined than ours.

On to Thingvellir. (or Pingvellir, the P being an Icelandic letter that doesn’t exist in English or on my keyboard)- I am embarrassed to say my eyes almost glazed over when I heard we were going to the grounds of the worlds oldest surviving parliament. I was fearing a repeat of a droning lecture like the one that occurs in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell.

Suddenly though our guide announced we were in their National Park and we drove by more moss covered lava beds and then by actual Tectonic Plates that were separating at our eye level. I was blown away by the landscape. They let us out and we took a walk by this huge wall of Grey Basalt and moss, and climbed to a look-over that surveyed all the mountains and the lava beds. After a good amount of surveying time they drove us back.

As I said, I can’t imagine going to Iceland and not experiencing the landscape. We drove by the now deceased author Haldor Laxness’s house on the way back Reykjavik. It was way out in some remote lava fields, outside of Thingvellir. I feel rejuvenated and completely pleased that I have some knowledge of this country.

We are now back at the hotel room, drinking a little wine, watching the end of “In The Company of Men”. Tonight we have dinner and then tomorrow another tour and then bam! its over. I couldn’t help thinking I have got to look into ways how to prevent jet lag, which basically ruined half of our trip. I can’t help think it colored both our ideas of this city the first couple of days so it took until today to get that real vacation feeling…. I suppose if you feel shitty enough you can dislike any place.

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 Another side note, I was thanking our good luck in not being able to get here before now. I originally thought it would be “interesting” to come here in January (B doesn’t know about that!). Oh for god’s sake, you wouldn’t be able to see anything(official statistics state average hours of sunlight per day in December: 0.3, in January:04, in February :1.7)except the Aurora Borealis, which would also be great to see, but would it be worth it to brave the cold? I don’t think I am such a trooper.

We are going to try to eat MORE FISH TONIGHT! I wish I could easily adapt the Icelandic diet, fish, lots of coffee (always either a French Press full or a full thermos! with milk and sugar) and black rye bread that tastes like cake.

Of course,Reykjavik totally redeems itself! This is a totally different and more lovable town on Monday night. B took us out for a very gourmet (albeit expensive )meal at Tveur fiskar, a very upscale and not apparently visited by Americans restaurant. They make the kind of fancy food sculptures that B hates. But the food was good, although perhaps a bit too expensive (7,670Kr = $88.16 + 24.50% VAT).I had the two-fish special (Tveir Fiskar), B had the lamb (Lambafillet Poivre). It was all delicious, but outside of our full and satisfied stomachs we both agreed we kind of liked the simplicity of last night’s dinner better.

Of course,Reykjavik totally redeems itself! This is a totally different and more lovable town on Monday night. B took us out for a very gourmet (albeit expensive )meal at Tveur fiskar, a very upscale and not apparently visited by Americans restaurant. They make the kind of fancy food sculptures that B hates. But the food was good, although perhaps a bit too expensive (7,670Kr = $88.16 + 24.50% VAT).I had the two-fish special (Tveir Fiskar), B had the lamb (Lambafillet Poivre). It was all delicious, but outside of our full and satisfied stomachs we both agreed we kind of liked the simplicity of last night’s dinner better.

Disbatch from Iceland Day 1

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4:29 pm: Prikid -french press. Antonio Carlos Jobim soundtrack. The girl beyond B looks xactly like Bjork probably did ten years ago. I spilled my coffee all over the table, strong coffee jitters. 2 coffees are 400Kr=4.59.

The stores are closing up for the weekend, being Saturday at 5PM so I go buy the two Icelandic CD’s I want, which I haven’t seen back home.(2 CDs =4098 Kr=47.00US).

We realize we forgot to bring a bottle opener for our wine and all the stores now are closed. After much searching, a wine opener is located as an amenity for our room via the front desk man. For dinner we went to eat at Kaffi Brennslan, the bar that boasts 101 beers and B proclaims 101 crappy beers, after he witnesses the price list: (Bjorlist: Chimay Reserve- 1,690 Kr = $19.42, Blanche De Bruge- 590 Kr=6.78, Viking Sterkur-590 Kr=6.78,Thule-590 Kr=6.78…and so on, and this is before the 24.5% VAT-Value Added Tax) Our food was fine,if not bland which was good considering we both were not feeling up to par.

On that note we knew it was our only chance to see what all this weekend nightlife was about, but after visiting two more bars our jet lag won out. We go to the Dubliner, which becomes extremely packed at 11PM, and I was very grateful they were still serving coffee after I drink one beer. There was, what I thought to be an American, (his accent became hard to place after awhile) playing folk songs very loudly into a microphone. Two other American girls we had seen earlier in the day at the coffee shop were now our bartenders,(two Guinness cost 1,300 Kr.= $14.94)and there is the standard Guinness, Jameson and Newcastle paraphernalia hanging on the walls,candles burning in empty beer bottles.It is a warm,cozy Irish bar.

We cross the street to Gaukur a Stong, where we are hoping to catch the Icelandic bands that were to play that night.We had to get past the eight young security guards at the door to get in.

Eager to try out the Icelandic traditions, we both order a shot of Brennevin or as they nicknamed it, The Black Death. B almost throws up immediately, being it tasted of caraway schnapps and rubbing alcohol. We watch a slurpee machine go round and round on the bar as a boxing movie plays behind it.B comments on how he has noticed they really seemed to be into boxing.Next to us is a vending machine containing toys, salty fish licorice candy and assorted things like condoms,cameras and a ladies “extendo cock” for sale.

I take a photo for my friend Susan back in the good old USA because she had always said this would be a brilliant money making idea- put a vending machine of impulse items in a bar! We are far too early for any bands to be playing,and after I eat an entire bag of “Katjes” salty fish licorice and B bemoans another horrible Viking beer we call it a night.

We find through halted sleep the bars really do stay open all night on the weekends. Outside of our hotel room on the street people are frolicking into the late,late hours of the night,even setting off fireworks.

A Dispatch from Iceland

3/09 Friday Night

Flight to Iceland on Icelandair from JFK

9:52 pm: “We will serve you a varm meal…chicken curry”. Space Cowboys is the movie of choice. There is complimentary red wine. I would kill for coffee right now but it is 9:50 pm. which would be vacation day-one suicide. It feels strange but nonchalant to be on vacation. We have no agenda for the next 2 days. Icelandair so far has been pleasant. Classical music in their waiting area at JFK to soothe your preflight jitters.This movie is un bearable. 2-3 more hours of flight time.

The stewardesses are nice,efficient and none of that fake sunshine bullshit. We get there promptly on time.

When I told people I wanted to go to Iceland this winter, their first question was usually “why?”.

A Dispatch from Iceland:

I imagine that response was provoked by one fact. I am not one who generally enjoys even the mildest of East Coast winters and in reality I probably complain far too much about them. It does seem though that most people harbor the belief that Iceland really is after all- just land and ice.I felt certain this was just not true.

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I knew in my heart that Iceland’s geographical designation was closer to the Arctic Circle than I wanted to acknowledge, but I developed a romantic compulsion that convinced me I absolutely had to see so for myself.

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My fantasy vacation was directing me to a land that boasts literacy rates of 100%, chess playing as a national pastime and sitting in hot mineral baths as another. I felt a desire to go someplace that held in its cultural belief system the notion trolls and fairies are real entities. I wanted hear a language spoken that was almost unaltered from the days of the Vikings. I had also read that the capital city boasted quite a nightlife if you tired of all that nature. Really most of all though, I just wanted to get away from the daily chaos of living in New York City, breathe some real fresh air and for just a few days not worry about a thing.

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Icelandair in the winter season runs extraordinarily low airfare/hotel destination packages that offer “Take A Break” holidays, that let you stop over in Iceland for a few days. I convinced my partner B that this would be fun and an inexpensive break for us, and the next thing he knew we were on our way. Soon I found myself facing the reality of my own expectations though. A four day holiday jaunt to Europe takes a little more out of you than I expected.

ice_iconOn to Day One—>