Monday June 25
We left the Kidagil community center and headed for Akureyri where some people (us) would rent cars while others would fly to Reykjavik for a stay, and others would fly to Reykjavik to fly to points home, all over the world. Louis, Sam and I loaded our 3 bags into the tiny little trunk of the rental car and headed to the fishing village Hofsos where Minnesotan/Icelandic poet Bill Holm has a house, Brimnes, with ocean a few yards from the door. It is a very small village, a few homes, a grocery with a post office inside that is about the size and shape of a coat tree with a shelf, hung with stamps and envelopes, a museum, a place to rent rooms, a restaurant and Bill Holm's house. We had dinner at the restaurant, Bill calling ahead saying he had three Americans visiting, could they open for dinner? They were happy to, just give them half an hour. Bill read to us from his new work, a letter from Iceland. He said of the island, "It is a landscape you want in your consciousness."
In thirty minutes we walked twenty yards to the front porch of the eatery and had a great meal, and wine. No Sutter Home this night, but Wombat Hill. It was our first night away from the umbrella of the Reykjavik Academy and the first meal we paid for. For the cost of the room and the meal, we could have had a room and a meal in Paris, thanks to a very weak dollar, a strong Icelandic krona, and the fact that almost everything save fish and lamb and hot water must be shipped in. It would have been a poor trade however. A poet, a good meal, an ocean, a rocky beach, a long view, and scores of seagulls is well worth any city.
Tuesday June 26th.
We had breakfast at the grocery store. Though it was a very small place, they had home-made pastries hot from the oven. Icelandic pastries are the best I've ever eaten, and they were delicious everywhere we went. They have exceptionally good dairy products, especially great butter which they obviously make good use of in their bakery items.
At the museum in Hofsos I looked at maps. From apalhraun (black lava) to lyng (heath) to mol (pebbles) to tun (cultivated areas) these maps diffentiated between 24 different land types on each page.
The stories of immigration could be heartbreaking in both the hardships of living in a new world and the struggle to get there. Kristjan Kristjanson wrote in the 1870's "The little daughter of a couple from the East fjords died before the ship landed at Quebec. Grief stricken, the mother could not bear to have the baby put overboard and concealed the death."
One more cup of coffee with Bill and a goodbye and we headed toward Reykjavik.
We stopped at the Skagafjordur Folk Museum. The museum consisted of several buildings made of sod, but not what one would expect of a sod house. These, instead of being low and dark were tall, the sod cut at an angle and stacked so that the pattern of one angle atop another resembled herringbone. A boy of about thirteen took our money, gave us our tickets, poured us tea, cleared our cups and tried to sell us souveneirs, which we couldn't afford due to the previously mentioned weak dollar,strong krona.
Continuing on to Reykjavik we watched the hay being turned in the fields. Icelandic hay is like hair, combed, recombed, teased and fluffed. It is difficult to dry hay when there is (usually) so much rain in the summer months. The Icelandic horses watched from neighboring pastures, their bushy manes standing straight up. They seem to have muscles in their necks that allow them to raise their manes like a coxcomb in addition to having more natural gaits than non-Icelandic horses. They are also very curious and when visiting Bill we stopped at a fence and the horses came running over to see what was going on.
Wednesday, June 27th
Our first full day in Reykjavik. Sam has his favorites museums picked out and has also helpfully found out which ones are free on Wednesdays! First stop: National Museum of Reykjavik. My favorite picks- the Gudbandsbiblia-Gudbrandur's Bible of which 500 copies were made over 2 years on the first printing press in the country. Bishop Aronson brought it in and was then beheaded (because of the conversion to Lutheranism not because of the press) not long after at Skalholt on Nov. 7, 1550 A.D. There was also a watercolor journal painted by Pora Pjetursdottir in the 19th Century that was very beautiful.
At the museum I noticed a group of mothers come to have coffee in the museum's cafe. They parked their baby carriages outside. Here you don't see the two pound folding strollers we have in the States. In Reykjavic the buggies wait like elf sized conestogas but with snow tires and heavy springs, waterproof hoods and pull down weather shields. They look as if the mothers could get in with their babies and drive themselves across the city streets.
At the Culture house, (Pjodmenningardhusid) I enjoy the words of an 8th Century Scribe. "Oh fortunate reader, wash your hands and touch this book so as to turn the pages softly and keep your fingers at a good distance from the letters. No one who is not a scribe believes it is work. Oh how difficult it is to be a scribe! It dulls the eyes, constricts the kidneys and torments all the joints as well. Three fingers write, the whole body suffers..."
Thursday, June 28
We go to the Reykjavik Academy to meet with Vidar and the other participants who are not our of the country yet. It is a pleasure to see them, as if we were meeting old friends after a prolonged absence instead of new friends after three days away. We enjoy a meal of cheeses and smoked lamb, flat bread and more excellent baked goods. We are glad to get this food, not only because it is delicious and we are sharing it with friends, but because we have had to be so careful with what we buy. We have used soup as our standard, walking up and down the street converting prices to dollars. "This soup is...seventeen dollars a bowl, let's move on." "This is only ten, let's ask if bread comes with it." After lunch we go to Reykjavik 871 plus or minus 2. A museum built around the archeological site dated to 871 (plus or minus two) It was a great museum but I am museum-ed out. I go sit in the sunshine with my coat on and watch the people walking by. Louis joins me and buys me cake and coffee. Heaven. On top of the cake was a small piece of yellow fruit looking like a cherry tomato, but with a husk, like a tomatillo pulled up to the top of it in decoration. I asked several people what it was (drew a picture and I saved the husk) and no one could tell me. Helena later called her mother (a celebrated Icelandic singer and an apparent expert on garnish fruit) and found out it was a veil berry.
Next museum, the Saga Museum at Perlan. A wild place with wax figures cast from actual Icelandic folks. From Monks to Vikings to Volvur (seers of the Norsemen) they cast a vivid spectrum of Icelandic history. We walked into the museum which was a beautiful, huge, light filled building made out of four water towers which were linked by glass walls, and waited until a man dashed out of a darkened room with a broom. He apologized for having us wait, told us about the museum, said the the Volvur was his mother in law, the Icelandic princess his daughter, the slave his other daughter and he was cast for Iceland's first Viking settler. It turned out he owned the three story building, he built the museum, designed the exhibits, and now he took money in the front, (swept) and eventually took Sam's money in the gift shop. When I talked to him about his work, about how many things he did, he gave me his card, a post card of him looking a bit younger, with his name on the back, Ernst Backman, designer.
Friday June 29
Our last full day in Iceland. We started at the municipal pool and I am very jealous that I don't have a pool like it. It was huge, filled with warm water, lap lanes, a curling slide, hot pots to soak in all around...They gave us (and hopefully everyone who came through) a card of a body with the armpits, the groin and the feet circled. It said one must wash...WITHOUT A BATHING SUIT before going in the pool.
Old people go to "the baths" in the morning to soak and socialize. While we were there a number of old Icelanders were in the pool looking up at a rather round older man in a jogging suit who pantomimed actions that they were to do in the pool. The old ladies were wearing flowered hair caps and looked like round flowers gazing up at him. The leader shouted in Icelandic, waved his arms as if in water. The class followed suit. Pulling water front to back, paddling, revolving...they even patted their faces and beat their chests then let out squawks that Louis said sounded like geese landing. I was told these were Mueller exercises. Music was played over the loudspeakers that was reminiscent of 1950's Atlantic City.
We drove out to Pingveller (pronounced "Thingvetler") the center of Icelandic culture where the first general assembly came toether for the first time. We stood on law rock (Logberg) where the laws were recited before laws were recorded in writing. It was incredibly beautiful with the lake below and the black rocks jutting from the green heath. We watched geese and their goslings and ducks with their ducklings, then headed back to Reykjavik to meet Helena and Huni.
Huni met us at our guest house and we followed him to Helena's house. She had pastries(!) cheese and bread for us, and wine. We had a great time visiting and a great time helping move Huni's stuff from the moving van that happened to come while we were there, so that says much about the company. They told us there were three days in February that follow each other. Bun day in which children go into their parents' room while they sleep and strike them softly on the backside, counting. The number of times they can manage to "hit" their parent before waking them is the number of sweet buns they get to eat that day. The next day is explosion day in which they eat salted meet and beans. Enough said. The third day is Ash day in which Kids dress up, walk to the stores and sing for candies. They pin ash bags on each others' backs for a joke.
Hmmmm. I suppose some of our holidays sound really strange as well.
Our last stop was downtown Reykjavik. We wanted to see the runtur, the pub crawl which is so famous. There were a lot of people out, but it didn't seem so wild. However, the next morning at six we went out looking for a bakery (one last pastry) the downtown area looked like a burst bar: beer bottles, trash, and most importantly, drunk people, everywhere. They leaned on the bus stop sign, against buildings, peed against walls. I guess it is really wild, but maybe not getting really geared up until one or two in the morning.
Saturday, June 30
Flying away from Reykjavik, Iceland looks fragile, dark wax poured onto the Atlantic, so thin it seems the wash of waves could sink it. The water is so clear one can see the ledges under the fingers of old lava, can see the landscape of underwater, aqua green, blue green, slate. Farms dot the coast, bright with corrugated roofs, flowers lodge in the rifts of land, the borrows and canyons.