Snappy Icelandic Answers to My Dumb Questions

Me: Is this the 11:15 bus to Reykjavik?
Driver: Yes, but now it is 11:16.

Me; Are you serving dinner?
Chef: And why wouldn’t I be?

Me: They never gave us directions on how to get here.
Icelander: How Icelandic!

And the nice kid at the car rental agency drew us a little map on how to get on the highway. And included that specific landmark–a fijord.

From Reykjavik Grapevine–a poet and statues

This appeared in the free English language giveaway…

Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir studies history at the University of Iceland and works at the Þjóðarbókhlaðan, the University Library. But, first and foremost, she is a young poet who is leading the way into a bright future for contemporary Icelandic poetry. She has been a member of the local poetry scene and Reykjavík’s publishing circle Nýhil for years, and has participated in in Nýhil’s annual International Poetry Festival since the beginning. Kristín had her breakthrough when a publisher approached her after a reading at the festival. This is how she finally came to publish her first collection of lyrical works in 2007, Blóðgælur, a self-acclaimed “Best-of” collection. “For me the book was not that huge a step. I have been doing this for many years, and I never really had the urge to publish a book myself. But perhaps that is also a flaw of mine, sometimes I am not very ambitious.”

1 Þotuhreiður

This one is just beautiful, like a bird coming from an egg. And it is on this very appropriate place at Keflavík airport, where it represents the wish of every islander to get away. I can really feel it, when I look at þotuhreiður.

2 Stúlka

This one is the very small statue of a girl, sitting on her knees in a flowerbed in front of my school in Reykjavík. I like it, because it is an interactive statue due to its height. When we were around she was always holding cigarettes, flowers, or Coke-bottles or beer.

3 The giant phone in Hafnarfjörður

When I was a kid and on a trip to Hafnarfjörður, I saw a giant phone, which I found hilarious. I do not know what its called, who had made it or even whether it is still there, but I still keep a photo of me sitting on it.

4 Óþekkti embættismaðurinn

“The Unknown Official“ is a great statue! It is humorous and sarcastic. It represents the unknown warrior, respectively as an official, because there are no warriors any more. There must be many officials walking by it every morning because it is so close to the parliament.

5 Berlínarbjörninn

The “Berlin Bear” is in front of the German embassy, which is also close to my old school. It has the distance to Berlin in kilometers written on it. I like the thought of walking around in Reykjavík and thinking of Berlin.



Beautiful fat housecats with tags walking about in public parks and city streets, chasing birds, purring for a pat–calico and tortoise shell and lovely brown or all black.
A modern design store selling stylized lamps shaped like Viking horned helmets–pink and white.
A melancholy feeling when we first arrive Sunday around noon (easy not too expensive bus from Blue Lagoon practically to the door of Hotel Fron). Trash and cigarette butts, peeling facades, lace curtains below street level, a purple flowerpot nailed to a wall, little half tended yards of wildflowers.

Zeroxed palmprints in a window, a poster with an obscene drawing a La R. Crumb labeled “caterpillar,” ordinary graffiti tags everywhere and then someone spray painting in broad daylight in a public park–something large and vivid and obviously allowed. A little flea market with fancy shoes and anarchist magazines and countrystyle, nicely bundled stems of rhubarb. On a chic street a yellow tin shed with a pale green roof in total decay.Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrim’s Church) in Reykjavik is the tallest  church in Iceland–soaring upward a bit like the Witch’s castle in “Wizard of Oz” or like a giant stone ship turned with its prow facing heavenward. It is called a cathedral but is Lutheran. A statue of Leif Erikson stands in front, art deco style striding Viking who “discovered” America.Somehow reminding me of San Francsisco, Haight Street in the early 80’s, and then realizing it is because there is water on two sides with competing light.

Fountain statue of a girl embracing a fish.

An artificial blue rose in a shop window.
What typifies the place for me–a quiche made of root vegetables. And an excellent cup of coffee.

A Reader Abroad

A Reader Abroad

I went half-way around the world
To sit and read
A book about somewhere else,
A novel of the British raj
In an armchair at the edge
Of an Icelandic lava field.

And we travelled
Far and wide
To gossip over tea
About our lives,
Speculating on details,
Or dissecting
What had turned out
Well, or less than charming.

Here in the very northern light of summer
I read, for once, an appropriate
Prose saga
Where each character, coming or going, is labeled
As part of the story or shared history.
For since childhood
I’ve been seeking
That narrative which sets a frame on life itself
That tells me on the threshold, without doubt:
“Now you are brought
Into the saga–
You are out.”

New Mayor of Reykjavik–punk rocker of the “Best Party”

I wouldn’t normally re-blog from the Times here, but Rich just sent me this article and I’m entranced. Plus, Kath and I are heading out to Reykjavik this very morning (a lovely cool sunny one). Plus, spa towels mean a lot to me. Enjoy!


Jon Gnarr mocked politics, and picked up protest votes.
Published: June 25, 2010
New York Times

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — A polar bear display for the zoo. Free towels at public swimming pools. A “drug-free Parliament by 2020.” Iceland’s Best Party, founded in December by a comedian, Jon Gnarr, to satirize his country’s political system, ran a campaign that was one big joke. Or was it?

Times Topic: Iceland

Hordur Sveinsson
Jon Gnarr is now the fourth mayor in four years of a city that is home to more than a third of Iceland’s 320,000 people.
Last month, in the depressed aftermath of the country’s financial collapse, the Best Party emerged as the biggest winner in Reykjavik’s elections, with 34.7 percent of the vote, and Mr. Gnarr — who also promised a classroom of kindergartners he would build a Disneyland at the airport — is now the fourth mayor in four years of a city that is home to more than a third of the island’s 320,000 people.

In his acceptance speech he tried to calm the fears of the other 65.3 percent. “No one has to be afraid of the Best Party,” he said, “because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.”

With his party having won 6 of the City Council’s 15 seats, Mr. Gnarr needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of “The Wire.”

A sandy-haired 43-year-old, Mr. Gnarr is best known here for playing a television and film character named Georg Bjarnfredarson, a nasty, bald, middle-aged, Swedish-educated Marxist whose childhood was ruined by a militant feminist mother.

While his career may have given him visibility, few here doubt what actually propelled him into office. “It’s a protest vote,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland.

In one of the first signs of Europe’s financial troubles, Iceland’s banks crashed in 2008, plunging the country into crisis. In April, voters were further upset by a report that detailed extreme negligence, cronyism and incompetence at the highest levels of government. They were ready for someone, anyone, other than the usual suspects, Professor Kristinsson said.

“People know Jon Gnarr is a good comedian, but they don’t know anything about his politics,” he said. “And even as a comedian, you never know if he’s serious or if he’s joking.”

But as Mr. Gnarr settles into the mayor’s office, he does not seem to be kidding at all.

The Best Party, whose members include a who’s who of Iceland’s punk rock scene, formed a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (despite Mr. Gnarr’s suspicion that party leaders had assigned an underling to watch “The Wire” and take notes). With that, Mr. Gnarr took office last week, hoping to serve out a full, four-year term, and the new government granted free admission to swimming pools for everyone under 18. Its plans include turning Reykjavik, with its plentiful supply of geothermal energy, into a hub for electric cars.

“Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it isn’t serious,” said Mr. Gnarr, whose foreign relations experience includes a radio show in which he regularly crank-called the White House, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and police stations in the Bronx to see if they had found his lost wallet.

THE polar bear idea, for example, was not totally facetious. As a result of global warming, a handful of polar bears have swum to Iceland in recent years and been shot. Better, Mr. Gnarr said, to capture them and put them in the zoo.

The free towels? That evolved from an idea to attract more tourists by attaining spa status for the city’s public pools, which have seawater and sulfur baths. For accreditation under certain European Union rules, however, a spa has to offer free towels, so that became a campaign slogan.

Mr. Gnarr, born in Reykjavik as Jon Gunnar Kristinsson to a policeman and a kitchen worker, was not a model child. At 11, he decided school was useless to his future as a circus clown or pirate and refused to learn any more. At 13, he stopped going to class and joined Reykjavik’s punk scene. At 14, he was sent to a boarding school for troubled teenagers and stayed until he was 16, when he left school for good.

Back in Reykjavik, he worked odd jobs, rented rooms, joined activist groups like Greenpeace and considered himself an anarchist (he still does). He also wrote poetry and traveled with the Sugarcubes, Bjork’s first band. He said he hated music but was a good singer, and began his career with humorous songs punctuated by monologues.

“I didn’t have many job options,” he said. “It was a way of making a living and still having fun.” His wife, Johanna Johannsdottir, a massage therapist, is Bjork’s best friend.

Mr. Gnarr said his idea for the Best Party was born of the profound distress and moral confusion after the banking collapse, when Icelanders fiercely debated their obligation to repay ruined British and Dutch depositors.

Practically speaking, Mr. Gnarr said he had no qualms. “Why should I repay money I never spent?” he asked, a common sentiment here. But on a deeper level, he had misgivings.

“I consider myself a very moral person,” he said. “Suddenly, I felt like a character in a Beckett play, where you have moral obligations towards something you have no possibility of understanding. It was like ‘Waiting for Godot’ — I was in limbo.”

LAST winter, he opened a Best Party Web site and started writing surreal “political” articles. “I got such good reactions to it,” Mr. Gnarr said, “and I started sensing the need for this — a breath of fresh air, a new interaction.”

The campaign released a popular video set to Tina Turner’s “The Best,” in which Mr. Gnarr posed with a stuffed polar bear and petted a rock, while joining his supporters in singing about the Best Party.

“A lot of us are singers,” said Ottarr Proppe, the third-ranking member of the Best Party, who was with the cult rock band HAM and the punk band Rass. Mr. Proppe now sits on the city’s executive board, where he will be deciding matters like how much money to allocate for roads. “Making a video was very easy,” he said.

At a recent budget meeting, Mr. Proppe, who has a wild red beard, ran his hand through his bleached-blond hair as he studied the fiscal report from behind tinted, gold-rimmed glasses. His old band mate S. Bjorn Blondal quizzed the city’s comptroller. Heida Helgadottir, who ran the campaign and is now assistant to the mayor, wore a diaphanous minidress and typed notes.

Mr. Gnarr, who comes across as thoughtful and reserved, did not speak often. When he did he had the whole room, including the strait-laced Social Democrat, in stitches. Still, he is not just playing a cutup; friends describe his move to politics as a spiritual awakening. He agreed.

“Of all the projects I’ve been involved with, this one has given me the most satisfaction, the greatest sense of contentment.”

Iceland: Arrival at the Blue Lagoon

The flight to Iceland was smooth—even getting on the plane felt like the start of a foreign country. We arrived jet lagged (2:30 am Boston time) at the airport but were promptly met by Northern Lights–young woman van driver said her two favorite things in Iceland were hot springs and looking at sculpture. The airport had a big egg with a tail hatching out–a dragon’s egg, I presume.Later I was amused to realize I’d quizzed her about Iceland’s educational system, and found out about college and vo-tech too.  We were very lucky to be able to check in and go go straight to sleep! Northern Lights is a bit chic and bit cozy, with a full view of the admired geo-thermal plant–steam billowing. Feels a little Soviet Union to have industry as a view. Woke up at lunch (onion soup and smoked salmon–really EXCELLENT smoked salmon) and then walked (more a half hour than “across the road”) to the Blue Lagoon,  enormous human made hot spring–indeed very blue–salt water–with silica sand you can rub on your skin. Lots of tourists, but mostly European. Suddenly I thought I understood Icelandic, but Kath pointed out it was Spanish (familiar even if I don’t understand IT). Snack of more smoked salmon. There is NO TIPPING in Iceland.
Right now overlooking vast flat barren stretches of lava, pocketed with gorgeous wildflowers from tiny white bell shaped ones to great clumps of lupine (presumably not native) and brilliant purple ones and yellow composites.
Some seagulls dive bombed us.

The launch of ABQ Writers Co-op

Lynn C. Miller & Lisa Lenard-Cook
are delighted to announce
the launch of ABQ Writers Co-op

June 25, 2010

We’re already offering classes in fiction and memoir writing and holding a monthly critique group, & in October we’ll host our first writing salon. Watch for our first short story contest in November, & the launch of our literary magazine, Bosque, in March 2011. Next summer, we’ll introduce our first writing retreat, & future plans include creating a dedicated space where you’ll be able to write—& meet other writers. Please visit our website,, & write to us, lynn@ &, to let us know the kinds of programs you’re seeking to fill your writing and community needs.

We’re tremendously excited by the growing numbers of writers and artists in our area, & look forward to supporting—and drawing increased attention to—the unique creative combustion enlivening Albuquerque and New Mexico. We hope you’ll join us in this exciting new venture. Creating community for New Mexico writers is both our passion & our mission.

Lynn C. Miller
Lisa Lenard-Cook
ABQ Writers Co-op
creating community for New Mexico writers