Have you ever eaten sheep’s face jelly, rye bread ice cream or fermented shark? These are some of the authentic local foods available in Reykjavic,
Iceland. I didn’t try them, although now I wish I had.
Because I love to travel, and I need ways to induce my husband out of the music studio, I convinced him to go to Iceland in October 2013, to hear musicians from around the world perform in venues throughout Reykjavik. Many were from Iceland, some from United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, and USA. A comprehensive 5 day schedule listed hourly performances from 200 different musical groups. Venues were in dress shops, shoe stores, bars, record stores, and in buildings designed for performances of all kinds.
There are advantages and disadvantages being married to a musician. My life is filled with strumming guitars, snatches of lyrics, the click of a keyboard, magazines selling mysterious musical gadgets, and occasional gigs in nightclubs. However, the obsession with how notes can be intertwined differently, how reverb and volume can be manipulated, and rarely hearing a song from beginning to end is annoying and sometimes boring. But I enjoyed the wide variety of music all around Reykjavik.
The Harpa Media Center was the primary venue for Air Waves 2013. Harpa is
a multi story glass building on the water, lit up at night with multi colored
windows. Walkways to it are lit like runways, arching over flowing water. A huge ice floe is poised in one pool, its reflection in the water doubling its glowing white beauty. As our hotel was close to the Lucky Record Store we made this our primary venue, getting there early to get a seat on one of two small couches. A free expresso machine made it feel like home. We heard Gaelic strummers, and violently angry Icelanders screaming epithets and giving the audience the finger over their electric guitars, and electronic music where no one was playing any instrument or singing, just turning knobs and bouncing to the beat.
I had previously read a book Boomerang, travels in the new third world
by Michael Lewis, who discussed the collapse of the Icelandic economy in 2008, after rampant speculation during the financial bubbles occurring all over the world. Previous income in Iceland came from cod fishing, and later aluminum smelting. Iceland, apparently, has recovered well from this collapse, and now appears thriving on tourism. Buses full of visitors travel to the hot springs known as the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Lights tour, and the Golden Circle tour of geysers, Guillfoss waterfall, and the geothermal plant high in the snow covered
mountain. Iceland is heated by, and all its electricity comes from, underground thermal pool, heated by volcanic magma. They make great use of their natural resources. Thirty degrees was common most of time we were there, and I wore a fur lined trapper hat, boots, and four layers of clothes. But inside a room or building it was toasty warm, and then most layers were pealed off and lugged around.
The Icelandic women were beautiful, long shiny blond or black hair, high cheekbones, good figures, often pushing a baby carriage or steering around a toddler. The women without children walked in groups together, rarely in a couple. The men were unshaven, light hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, often wearing a long piece of hair in a top knot, the rest short. They also herded together in groups, many drinking long into the night. I heard that their
Parliament had several factions, but one was all women, the rest men. Men and women did not seem to relish displays of affection, or spending a great deal of time together.
As a whole, Icelandic people did not appear emotionally effusive. They rarely
smile or express effusive emotion, but their kinship for each other is evident
in warm greetings and a kiss on the cheek. With only 300,000 people on the island, it is said they are all related and know each other. There are only limited numbers of first and last names, but everyone knows who is who. Most men’s
last names end in “son” and women’s in “dottir,” i.e. Martinson or Martinsdottir.
I relished the beauty of the lava fields, covered in a yellow-green lichen, that go on for miles, surrounded by volcanic cones, and snow covered mountains. Most of the citizens live in Reykyavik, with a few towns here and there, by the very blue sea, surrounded by lava fields. Minimal to no trees are visible, having been burned by volcanoes, stripped by the Vikings for building, or with difficulty thriving in freezing cold wind and temperatures. Northern Lights come late and are elusive.
The white twirling wisps, shape shifting quickly over the city were all we saw on a 5 hour hunt for them. Photographs, however, revealed a much richer green color then visible to the naked eye. The blue lagoon is a vast geothermal pool in the middle of the lava fields, steam rising from it as many folks from all over the world crab walked to keep water at neck level, smearing mud on their faces to cleanse the pores.
We left there with clean pores and soothed muscles. We greatly enjoyed
this country on the crossroads between Europe, Canada and the USA.