Tag Archives: Iceland

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Lóa fiðurgisin

Engis biður ein á strönd
— elsk að friði— þysinn,
Stor­mak­lið né lýð um lönd
lóa fiður­gisin.

[Alone on the beach, the feath­ers worn and shab­by, the peace lov­ing bird tries to evade the noise and the storms that blow through the lands.]

̶ Guð­mundir Friðjóns­son

The above is from an amaz­ing record­ing of rímur sung by Steindór Ander­sen, a renowned kvæða­maður, or tra­di­tion­al chanter. This verse is from an old record­ing, but it is fol­lowed by addi­tion­al vers­es in a mod­ern, rock-like orches­tra­tion by Hilmur Örn Hilmars­son. Both men have worked with Sig­ur Rós. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate to my inves­ti­ga­tions in Ice­land. This small, peace-lov­ing island coun­try has weath­ered many storms blow­ing across the sea from pow­er­ful con­ti­nen­tal tem­pests. While mis­takes have been made, Ice­land is a place where peo­ple seem to believe that prob­lems can be solved. This atti­tude is in sharp con­trast to the mor­bid pas­siv­i­ty and defeatism that enshrouds some of the larg­er and loud­er nations. To under­stand this, I’ve been speak­ing with a vari­ety of Ice­landers. It is just a first step. I have been mere­ly intro­duc­ing myself and estab­lish­ing some rap­port so that these issues can be explored in greater depth by cor­re­spon­dence. It has proven both infor­ma­tive and delight­ful. The egal­i­tar­i­an Ice­landers care not that I have lit­tle pres­tige — I’m mere­ly a curi­ous Cana­di­an. Peo­ple rang­ing from civic and nation­al politi­cians and civ­il ser­vants to aca­d­e­mics, musi­cians, and film­mak­ers, have all giv­en me pre­cious time and hon­est talk. I must thank, among them, Ásgrí­mur Sver­ris­son, Kári Gun­nars­son, Sveinn Guð­munds­son, Herdis Sig­ur­jons­dot­tir, Ste­fán Bal­durs­son, Sibeso Imbu­la, and Sig­urður Bjorn Blondal. There will be oth­ers to thank in the days to come.

Solv­ing the prob­lems that face a nation is not served by con­coct­ing utopias, but by observ­ing sound prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and rea­son. I was delight­ed that every­one I spoke with seemed to take that approach. There was no whin­ing. As one of my infor­mants observed, in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for the deba­cle were lat­er instru­men­tal in cor­rect­ing it. Appar­ent­ly, the well-being of the coun­try in the end over­ruled stub­born pride. This was a remark­able point to make. Every nation, like every extend­ed fam­i­ly, has its fools, and even the wis­est have their moments of fool­ish­ness. But it is a strong fam­i­ly indeed that has fools who learn from their fol­ly. When I was in Ice­land the first time, short­ly after the cri­sis, I did not find peo­ple in a pan­ic or a rage. I found peo­ple who knew that they had made mis­takes, and were deter­mined to cor­rect them. Now that I am back, I see the results of those efforts, and they are impres­sive. Cana­di­ans could learn from this. We are not a small, tight­ly bound togeth­er coun­try like Ice­land. Indeed, we are loose and sprawl­ing, with many fac­tions bare­ly aware of each oth­ers’ exis­tence. But we are not a tor­pid giant like our neigh­bour to the south, and not con­demned to moral and intel­lec­tu­al paral­y­sis — unless we so choose.

We are now enter­ing a time of much greater per­ils than mere stock mar­ket crash­es. We will have to step nim­bly to sur­vive. 

Friday, March 9, 2018 — Ghosts and Zombies

18-03-09 - BLOG DraugrAccord­ing to the Eyr­byg­g­ja Saga, when the Ice­landic penin­su­la of Snæfell­snes was plagued with ghosts and zom­bies (specif­i­cal­ly Thorir Wood­en-leg and his undead com­pan­ions) dis­rupt­ing dai­ly life and harm­ing the econ­o­my, Snor­ri Þor­gríms­son solved the prob­lem by tak­ing them to court and sub­mit­ting them to tri­al by jury. Always the pro­ce­du­ral­ist, Snor­ri was best known for his fair judge­ments in cas­es of blood feuds, bound­ary dis­putes and the end­less squab­bles over fire­wood. The zom­bie prob­lem was just anoth­er such case. The Eyr­byg­g­ja Saga is not one of the best known of the Ice­landic sagas, but it would appeal to any lawyer or polit­i­cal jour­nal­ist. I read it in 1992, and then twen­ty years lat­er I hiked exten­sive­ly in Snæfell­snes, tread­ing foot­steps in most of the places the saga men­tions. I’m return­ing to Ice­land ten days from now, for anoth­er vis­it to that mag­i­cal lit­tle coun­try, so it’s much on my mind, and so is old Snor­ri. Today, Cana­da is men­aced by a plague of ghosts and zom­bies, orig­i­nat­ing south of the bor­der. The ghosts are an assort­ment of old and stu­pid ideas, the zom­bies are the march­ing morons of Trump­ism and the moral­ly cor­rupt leg­is­la­tors of the U.S. (most­ly Repub­li­can, but quite a few Democ­rats as well). We could use a Snor­ri to sort things out. Read more »

Of Monsters and Men, and Of Men and Monsters

Ice­land, con­sid­er­ing its small pop­u­la­tion (329,100 at last count), has pro­duced a phe­nom­e­nal amount of rock music that has reached a glob­al audi­ence. It’s as if Oshawa, Ontario or Eugene, Ore­gon each had a half-dozen world-lev­el bands. Absurd­ly improb­a­ble, when you think of it. Reyk­javík is a live­ly lit­tle city, but its frisky music scene, what Ice­landers call jam­mið, is con­fined to a hand­ful of clubs in the “101” dis­trict: Café Rosen­berg, Kaf­fibarinn, Bar 11, Dil­lon, Den Danske Kro, The Celtic Cross, The Eng­lish Pub. After mak­ing the rounds, peo­ple stag­ger out­side to find a hot dog or a crushed sheep’s head as a post-gig snack. The hard-drink­ing Ice­landers take their jam­mið seri­ous­ly. Bands and audi­ences mix freely in this pro­found­ly infor­mal and egal­i­tar­i­an coun­try. This small, but intense scene has pro­duced phe­nom­e­na like the Sug­ar­cubes and Björk, Mínus, Sig­ur Rós, Quarashi, Sálin, Botnleð­ja, Maus, Agent Fres­co, Samaris, Mam­mút, and Jakobí­narí­na.

Ingólfr Arnarson founds the first settlement at Reykjavík in 874 A.D., laying the groundwork for jammið and the Icelandic music scene. An 1850 painting of dubious historical accuracy by Johan Peter Raadsig.

Ingól­fr Arnar­son founds the first set­tle­ment at Reyk­javík in 874 A.D., lay­ing the ground­work for jam­mið and the Ice­landic music scene. He appears to be stand­ing pre­cise­ly at the spot where Kaf­fibarinn stands today. An 1850 paint­ing of dubi­ous his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy by Johan Peter Raad­sig.

Read more »

Thursday, September 18, 2014 — Romancing the Volcano

I can’t help it. I’ve fall­en in love with a vol­cano. It’s so damn beau­ti­ful. Here is a video from Feel Ice­land TV. In the plane are Haukur Snor­ra­son, pho­tog­ra­ph­er & his son (un-named), and reporter Lára Ómars­dót­tir. The music is by Jónas Har­alds­son. Note on scale: the lava field shown is the size of Man­hat­tan.

Read more »

Friday, September 12, 2014 — Bárðarbunga Walk

Yes, some peo­ple actu­al­ly do walk away from an explo­sion with­out look­ing back.…

14-09-12 BLOG Bárðarbunga walkAn Ice­landic vul­ca­nol­o­gist is obvi­ous­ly fed up with Bárðarbunga’s tem­per tantrums. Those lava plumes are high­er than most city sky­scrap­ers.

A land­scape I walked on a few years ago no longer exists. Yes­ter­day, sul­phur diox­ide lev­els peaked at 2600μg/m3 (sig­nif­i­cant­ly dan­ger­ous) at Reyðar­fjörður, a fish­ing town on the east coast. When the lava flow reach­es a small moun­tain called Vaðal­da, its path will nar­row, with unpre­dictable results. The Skí­nan­di water­fall, a land­mark, appears to be doomed. The worst dan­ger remains pos­si­ble: a jökulh­laup, or mas­sive out­burst of glacial melt, accom­pa­nied by tox­ic ash clouds

Pho­tos by Axel Sig­urðs­son / Morgun­blaðið. Read more »