Thursday, 29 December 2005

Dreamy Valley

That last photo was making me chilly, so I thought I'd re-post one I took this past summer. Its of Svarfaðardalur, just north of Akureyri and only inches from the Arctic Circle (in an atlas that real life its a couple of miles.)

Though by no means complaining about our snappy winter weather, it's nice remember what awaits us come summer...

Have I mentioned that Kiefer Sutherland (who was here last year as you can read on the link,) Quentin Tarantino and RZA are all here for our amazing New Years madness? You've honestly never seen as many fireworks in one place on one night in your life as can be seen here at midnight on the 31st. I'll even take pix from my balcony to prove it.

In the meantime, let this luxurious countryside scene transport you to a perfect Icelandic summertime day...

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

I thought a real winter scene would suit well today, so I found this ice climbing number from Adventure Peaks Worldwide Expeditions. Never been ice climbing myself, but I've heard that it takes a very cool disposition, tons of endurance and a really good set of crampons.

I'm not sure where this photo was taken on our lovely island, but pretty much anywhere there's serious frost and a waterfall, you'll find ice to climb. I have to warn the adventurous among you though, that every year a number of tourists and even a few locals succumb to the very capricious Icelandic weather and extreme terrain. Do not assume even a short day trip out of town is harmless...anything, anything, can and does happen to the unsuspecting and the unprepared here on the lava rock. This land is alive and does not hesitate to take sacrifices.

Be sure to tell your hotel or guesthouse where you plan to go when you venture out of town and when you plan to be back.

Never ever leave marked roads. Do not drive on unpaved roads during except in high summer unless you have a reputable guide with you and the appropriate vehicle, and never disregard any kind of warning signs, even if you don't understand what they say. Assume they're telling you to stay out!

Watch out about walking through lava fields, especially if they are even lightly covered in snow. The lava is full of crevaces that can go unnoticed under snow. My daughter's cousin, who had his infant in a baby backpack on his chest, stepped on a piece of snow-covered lava just by the side of the road that he knew to be safe and dropped straight through at least five feet into a crevace, baby and all. We were all scared to death. Luckily, it was only five feet!

If you are on a guided tour always do everything the guide tells you. Cockiness has no place in the wilds. I know stories...

Bring extra clothes, no matter where you are going. Wool, silk and fleece will save you and your tootsies!

Here's a good resource for tour operators in Iceland. It's an absolute must that you get out of the city while here. Just do it right. The countryside and highlands are amazing in any weather, during any season and are always worth the trip!

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Tis the Season

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Stay safe, hug the ones you love and smile for a stranger. Oh, and make sure you don't eat your holiday dinner alone...remember that someone out there would enjoy your company. Keep the pretty lights in sight, right?

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Falling Apart

Love this photo. Took it last winter. It's so...frosty. And it smacks of the classic, the decrepit, the once-useful and now neglected. At some point the owners of this corral stopped nailing its wind-rattled boards back into place, and didn't care anymore if hinges rusted and warped gates fell. Maybe it was during a season of poverty, when they sold off their horses and sheep, or possibly a time of plenty when they could at last afford a new steel fold for their stock. Regardless, piece by piece this antiquated enclosure is being blown apart and absorbed into the raw Icelandic landscape with no help or intervention from man.

Saturday, 17 December 2005


Island, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

I certainly didn't take this shot! Rather, it's from the NASA Earth Observatory and here's a quote from the same source to go wtih the visuals:

"The many shades of blue and blue-green in the true-color image above (top) indicate that marine plant life (called phytoplankton) is in full bloom around Iceland. Phytoplankton form the foundation of the marine food chain and, ultimately, support almost all animal life forms in the ocean. Like land-based plants, phytoplankton require sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients in order to grow. During the summer months in the North Atlantic, the main limiting factor to growth is the availability of nutrients. Whenever a strong low-pressure system passes overhead, or a strong shift in current patterns stirs up the water from below, nutrients that have settled toward the bottom of the sea are brought up near the surface. As a result, phytoplankton can quickly reproduce by the trillions, creating beautiful patterns of light blue and turquoise that can extend for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers—features easily seen by space-based sensors."

I like pretty colors...

Sunday, 11 December 2005


Iceland hit the maps again, thanks to the charms of our own Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir, crowned yesterday Miss World. Björk, Sigur Rós and now a new millenium globe class beauty queen! Now that's a quality hat trick, isn't it?

She really is Super Cute, this girl. And smart...studying law at a good university here in Reykjavik, working part time as a police officer and dance instructor, keeping her head screwed on right about the whole pageant culture. Her mother, Unnur Steinsson, made it to Miss World in 1983 and placed fifth. She says that she was pregnant with our new royalty during the's that for being born for the crown?

Anyway, this girl just glows and we're proud of her. We know that however superficial these competitions can be, our representative is a smart and dilligent young woman who deserves all she's worked for. Great stuff!

More on people in the limelight: a friend of mine, Greg Camp, was on Jay Leno the other night with his band Smash Mouth. Known him for years. How many? Um...lots to be exact, but haven't spoken to him for nearly as many. These are hardworking guys who love music (remember 1997's"Walkin' on the Sun"?) and once again deserve all the publicity and success they achieve. Kudos.

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Morning in RVK

A study in pastels and corrugated iron: the view from our apartment balcony looking north out over midtown Reykajvik at around ten a.m. Pretty, isn't it?

Oh, I've been lax on the celebrity watch, so I'll drop a name: Sir Roger Moore, here on UNICEF biz, has been sighted strolling our main shopping street. And White Stripe Meg spent a colorful weekend sharing air with the locals at Sirkus, our best little bar. Someone else was here recently too...Oh, Quentin Tarentino, for the opening to that horror flick by Eli Roth, Hostel. Roth's last movie, Cabin Fever, which I guess Tarantino luuuuved was just disgusting, but I'm sure he's a nice guy.

Monday, 5 December 2005


It's slightly out of focus but I just don't care because it's a photo of my very happy supergirl after just having earned a silver with her gymnastics team (she's the one waving).

No one expected Valentina's group, team Ármann, to place at all...most of the ten girls had never even competed before in their lives (Valentina is an old pro at it, though she's always competed individually on the uneven parallel bars, balance beam, etc.) On top of that, this was the first time the team busted out their dance routine for an audience...and out of six teams they took second!

I'm the proud mommy of a very hard-working, loving and strong soul...who's cute to boot!

Who could ask for more?

Friday, 2 December 2005


Is anyone missing a pair of black socks? If so, they're down by the town lake waiting to be found.

You never know what you're going to discover in the wilderness of Reykjavik's city parks, do you?

(By the way, here's the unofficial lowdown on glugg, or mulled wine. Thanks for the prompt, McFatty)

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Xmas Lights

Today is the first day of Advent, and as such we can officially begin preparing for Christmas. Lights can be strung up and stored angels dusted off and displayed without hesitation...the good old Christian calendar says its Ok! We're even supposed to light the first of four Advent Sunday candles and place them carefully in windows to light the way for Baby Jesus, or, rather, to begin more intensive preparation for the impending Darkest Day of the Year at the Winter Solstice.

Wherever our beliefs lie, 'tis officially the season to honor light in deepest darkness and be thankful for all the wonderful people in our lives who will help us survive through the coming months of cold. Find your friends and family and gather them to you, light candles and yule logs and fairy lights, mix a big warm pot of glugg, bake some gingerbread cookies and get yourself a pair of fuzzy mittens... wintertime has come.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Northern Lights

Hotel Rangá, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

I didn't take this photo, but uploaded it from the Icelandair Hotels website. It's a lovely shot and appropriate because we're sliding in Aurora Borealis season here in Iceland as the weather gets colder.

Actually, it's not that cold here right now about 45°F/8°C today. There's no snow, only sporadic rain and occasional gusts of wind. By law all cars are to have winter tires on by now, but there's hardly a reason to; the only thing they accomplish at this point is the tearing up of the asphalt on the roads. Still, you never know when you're going to wake up to a frozen landscape here...the weather on this island is so unpredictable that there's hardly any way to plan for those deep-freeze days. Pretty much everyone over twenty agrees that there used to be a lot more snow in winter here in Iceland. Now we never even know if we'll have a white Christmas or what we call a red, or snowless, one. It's a little disturbing and very frustrating: the winters end up being just cold, grey, seemingly-endless stretches where the ground freezes and thaws in turn, and arctic winds whip up the barren, crystalized soil that stings into your eyes and ears with menace. Snow, though definitely not romantic past the first few days of the season's first fall, at least provides a much-welcomed diversion to endless winter grey.

That's what the norther lights do as well. We usually only get the green auroras here, with maybe a little purple blended in, but when they show it doesn't matter what color they are. They slink across the sky like silky dancers, always giving me the feeling that the performance is solely for me. An amazing natural phenomenon.

We just moved back into the apartment on the third floor of our building on the top of Þingholt, and have a stupendous view northwest over all of Reykjavík and beyond. When the auroras light up we can watch them from our living room windows or even just lay in bed and let the show lull us into a soft and dreamy sleep.

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Sunday Feed

On grey weekend days there are always bits of brightness down by the Reykjavik town lake: little ones sporting shiny smiles in their multi-colored parkas offer ducks and geese and swans bits of bread from loafs that never seem to last long enough.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Model Island

When in Reykjavik you definitely have to check out the City Hall, or Ráðhús. It's the big, grey, bowed building that juts out over the town lake, and though not everyone was pleased with it when it was erected (the bowed roof reminded many of the hundereds of American army quonset huts left scattered throughout Reykjavik after WWII, and with that the fact that too many Icelanders ended up living in those unheated corrugated iron nightmares ), its become a certain civic landmark.

Go ahead and walk the thin bridge from the duck-feeding corner of the town lake into the City Hall, get yourself a cup of coffee and a slice of cake at the Ráðhús Café, pick up a few tourist brochures and take a good long look at the giant relief map of Iceland that is usuallly on display. I personally sepnd at least a half an hour rediscovering it every time I see it, but then again I've got a definite thing for maps of any kind. This one, though, takes the cake.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Last Holdout

Some sweet sights of summer are harder to suppress than others...
This aged daisy seems to be taking a desperate last stand in a nearby Reykjavik frontyard.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Raising Voices

Here is just a sampling of the nearly 50,000 women (and a couple hundred men) who took to the streets of Reykjavik on Monday to protest wage discrimination here in Iceland. At 2:08 pm, many thousands of women left their jobs for the day to meet up in front of Hallgrímskirkja and march down Skólavörðurstígur.

Why the odd time of day? Well, some clever statisticians figured out that that is the time of day when men, on average, make what it takes a woman to make for a full 8-hour work day. Not such a pretty picture, is it?

The date, October 24th, commemorates thirty years since women throughout Iceland walked out of work, all work. Even the daily chores of home and hearth. Iceland basically shut down for a day. The men were in shock, the children hungry. It was an amazing moment in Icelandic history...

The day was successful in raising awareness, once again, of women's place in modern society. But it's ultimately up to us parents, aunts and uncles and instructors to teach our children, boys and girls alike, to respect and value each other as members of the same nation and, ultimately, the same human race.

P.s. the signs say "We deserve better"

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Castle & Sky

This attractive crenelated building, named Galtafell (meaning Hog Hill), was built in 1916 by Petur Thorsteinsson for Bjarni Jónsson, brother to Iceland's most famous scuptor, Einar Jónsson. It's actually for sale for $1.9 million, if you're looking to buy property in Iceland. It's 4700 square feet and in an absolutely lovely location. Think it over...

I had thought that this building had housed the consulate to Malta here in Reykjavík because I was in University with a girl who lived here: her father was some kind of consulate and Malta always stuck in my mind. But it seems its been a guesthouse for a while now. Just goes to show how creative our minds can be with bits of information.

Malta is very interesting, though. It's a country with an only slightly larger population than Iceland, with 400,000 citizens who are jam-packed onto two rocky islands totalling only 115 square miles. Talk about crowded.

Without meaning any disrespect to my own island culture, I have to say Malta's history kicks Iceland's Viking butt any day. Thought to have been settled by an ancient civilization in the very early bronze age, more than 7,000 years ago, Malta has been changing hands ever since: from Vandals to Arabs to Brits, the country has been plucked from the Mediterranean as a prize by countless land-hungry rulers, and pawned for trade a number of times. Icelanders, on the other hand, have written a couple of famous books and have managed to cling to their lava rock for about a thousand years or so. A mean feat in itself, but slightly less fantastic sounding than the saga of the Maltese.

Back to the house: this castle style was very popular here in Reykjavik in the early part of the past century, and particularly at the intersection of Laufásvegur and Bragagata (on the lower left edge of this map). There are three large and impressive structures with castle tops there, including my daughter Valentína's pre-school alma mater, Laufásborg. Though a slightly odd design element, the crenelations definitely add an interesting touch to the mid-town Reykjavík scenery.

Friday, 30 September 2005


Icelanders are notorious for their hole-digging, an activity which often leaves roads and sidewalks unusable for indeterminate amounts of time. These holes appear literally overnight and are of various depths and dimensions. Whole streets are trenched and refilled summer after summer, creating a kind of seasonal, and very mysterious, work load for young Icelandic ditch diggers, renters of heavy earth-moving equipment and, of course, paving stone manufacturers.

This hole, near the intersection of Bankastræti and Þingholtsstræti, appeared miraculously a few weeks ago. Sadly, I barely remember what used to fill it, though I once lived on this street and walked past this site many times a day. What will this hole's future be? We'll just have to wait and see...

By the way, this Uncyclopedia is a funny and unique take on Iceland and the world. Read and enjoy...!

Monday, 26 September 2005

Park Love

Love, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

A pretty statue by the town lake in Reykjavík, just the other side of the driving bridge that crosses the water. Unfortunately, some funny guy (or girl) marked over a certain sensitive spot with their black indelible marker. Kids, eh?

I'll have to add the artist and title of the piece later. Otherwise, all is well in our pretty little city. It's cold, with a crisp fall wind thrashing the leaves off trees and snow falling in the more northern cities. I'm busy with school and so have slacked off the blogging substantially. Not gone, though, just önnum kafinn í bili.

More pix soon...promise.

Saturday, 17 September 2005

Leaves III

A close-up of my favorite type of bush changing into its fall colors.

Friday, 16 September 2005


Ahh, change...

There used to be a bench here at the intersection of Óðinsgata, Baldursgata and Nönnugata. As in yesterday there was a bench here, but now its gone.

The bench was always kind of odd because it raked slightly downhill which made you slip while you sat. It wasn't a very popular bench, but it gave you the feeling that this wide intersection had once been, or should be, a gathering spot of sorts. As a matter of fact, up until just a few years ago a popular neighborhood shop called Maggabúð had a home behind the two farther windows shown in the photo. I used to go buy milk for my amma at Maggabúð when we came to Iceland for visits when I was little and I know my mother and father, who were both raised within yards of this corner, have their own memories of the different businesses that used to flourish at this intersection including, I believe, a licorice factory. This used to be a thriving location, a gathering spot of sorts for the wider residential neighborhood. Now every one of the old store fronts has been turned into an apartment and we drive to supermarkets to do our shopping. A shame. Only one local specialty store has survived, aside from the very popular Þrír Frakkar restaurant, and that's the fish market on Freyjugata at Óðinsgata, owned and operated for years by a dedicated couple, of whom the husband happens to be my cousin. Oh, and right next door to them is the Venus sex shop, but that doesn't count somehow.

No, this bench wasn't very often used, and in the fall leaves would gather at its feet to rot over the winter. But there were a few old timers who sat there nearly every day, who met at the bench to chat and to watch the activities of the neighborhood take place around them, the children skipping and laughing, the tourists wandering by wtih their maps, well-dressed surburbians drive up for lunch or early dinner at Þrír Frakkar across the street.

It seems like, with this bench gone, an era is finally ending.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Lovely Day

Lovely Day, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

No fancy text today...just a pretty picture of University of Iceland students kicking a ball around on the front lawn of campus, with downtown Reykajvik in the backround and a big blue sky.


Oh, by the way, I've changed my comments to get rid of those pesky auto-spam-advert comments I just started getting. Thanks for the tip, Professor Batty!

Tuesday, 6 September 2005


Univ Iceland.jpg, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

Well, I'm back in the learning saddle again, this time to get my English teaching credentials. It's a pretty stiff year-long process which includes on-site assistant teaching at an elementary school. My first class, "Theories in Education" was yesterday, and it seems like it'll be very informative. I'm definitely going to pay deep attention during the courses on organization and curriculum developent because I have a tendency to create as I go, which can be exciting but not always very logical. My goal is to teach at the college/university level, though gaining momentum at the elementary level is definitely not a bad idea.

Life here in Reykjavik is pretty sweet these days. Of course gasoline prices are up to almost $7 a gallon, so we're walking a lot more, but the weather's good, etc.

There was a wierd spate of arson this weekend, but they were all minor fires probably set by stupid, bored and not too sober teens.

The country's politicians are gearing up for another round of elections, but since I can't seem to understand the Icelandic governmental system I have no idea who's running for what, or even when.

And finally for this post, there is actually a shortage of labor force here on the island: it seems there are not enough people willing to take on low wage jobs in preschool and after school care, restaurant and fast food, supermarket checkout and mail and newspaper delivery. Hmm...could it be because an hour's wages, buys you a sandwich and drink (but only at a grocery store, not at a restaurant) or a gallon of gas or half a pair of decent nylons? (i.e. an hour's minimum wage doesn't get you very far.)

Icelanders are very proud of their reputation for being well educated, with 100% literacy. But maybe the nation is educating itself out of a labor force...that is if a family's (modern) basic needs cannot be met with the minimum wage rate in this social democracy where it is now.

Just for fun, here's an example of modern life for a person who makes 1000 kronur per hour, decent wages for the above-mentioned jobs:

(Skip this if you don't like math or depressing social news)

Full-time wages per month, pre-tax: 160,000 kr.
Taxable income of that total: 90,000 kr.
Total of above amount after 40% tax: 54,000 kr.

Net monthly income (70,000 + 54,000): 124,000 kr.
(Union fees are deducted from your wages, plus other bizzare little amounts I'll never understand.)

Monthly costs:
Rent: av. 60,000 kr. for a two bdrm
Food & sundries: 25,000 kr.
Heat, water and electricity: 5,000 kr.
Phone, basic service: 3,000 kr.
Hot school lunch: 5,000 kr. per kid
Gas (just a guess): 10,000 kr.
Car lease: 13,000 kr.

Total: 121,000 kr.

That leaves 3,000 kr. for emergencies, entertainment and clothes. Hmmmm...

This is close to a real case scenario...I know someone, a single three-child parent, who gets a 140,000 paycheck once a month. She is well educated and is working as an accountant at a government-run museum. She has finally taken over the lease on a car because she had to move into a government-assisted apt a long way from where she works to be able to afford rent. Her son, 12, has a rare form of behavioural disability and needs, if not constant, then a lot, of care. She drives to work and back only. Swim classes for her 10 year-old daughter cost 8,000 a month and the government let her know last year that the special music classes they recommended for her son's development were not subsidized, and that she owed them months of backfees. She barely makes ends meet each month but just kind of grins and bares it. In all fairness, she receives some kind of bare baones alimony from her ex monthly and about 60,000 kr. per child every three months from the state. Thank god, eh? Of course I've heard that Hawaii is pretty expensive too...

(photo from Jónas Hallgrímsson: Selected Poetry and Prose)

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Bums, Reykjavik

Bums, Reykjavik, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

While cruising through GummiE's blog, I found a link to this site about a very important issue that I know has affected me personally. Check it out.

The above (generally content-looking) bums, by the way, most probably do not have blogs...

And one more thing: I have to say that offers of Hurricane Katrina disaster relief by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who God's own Pat Robertson said should simply be assasinated(watch him say it here), and Cuba's intrepid Fidel Castro prove very ingenous "diplomacy". Even Kofi Annan's UN relief-offer announcement the other day had a hint of irony and slight deprecation. Suddenly the lion has a thorn in its paw and all the "mice" of the world are offering to help pull it out, even the Evil Communist Enemy mice. Because its about people's survival, isn't it? Even if those people don't, in general, wear suits to work...

Friday, 2 September 2005


Installation, originally uploaded by blue eyes.

This is one of those fancy French pay potties being erected on Vegamótastígur just off Laugavegur in Reykjavík. I think this is the second one in town, the first being all the way downtown at Ingólfstorg, where all the little skater kids practice their ollies and slides.

While I was taking this picture, one of the worker guys kind of guffed and mumbled scoffingly, "You're taking pictures of this?"
I replied, "Yes, of this monstrosity."
"Monstrosity? What do you mean?" he questioned, sounding kind of offended.
"I mean that it's ridiculous and that on weekends there are going to be more guys peeing on the outside of it than ever pay to go inside." And I pointed at the two bars just a few yards away.

But I guess they're good for tourists, eh? I mean the locals know that all you have to do is go up to the second floor of Mál og Menning, the big bookstore at Laugavegur 18, and use the toilet there (when you go up the main stairs its through the door to the right.) Or of course just pop into just about any coffee shop, grab a latte to go and use the facilities.

But its nice to offer this kind of service, at a 100 kronur per pop, to our friends from other countries. Valentina tells me that you have to be 10 years old to use these auto potties by yourself. That's good to know.

I've just never actually seen anybody use the one at Ingólfstorg, and this one is in a much stranger location, propped up on an odd side street that runs between Laugavegur and Skólavörðurstígur, just a wall's width from the midtown jailyard (that's the jail wall in the photo). Are there going to be signs posted throughout town directing visitors to this unit, or are the city planners just hoping people will stumble upon it by happenstance, or maybe find out by word of mouth?

Anyway, its already been tagged with grafitti and I guarantee by the end of the weekend it will have been put to use as a relief station, just wrong way out.

Wednesday, 31 August 2005


Stapafell, on the Snæfell Peninsula, is a charming little mountain that hovers over the beautiful town of Arnastapi. This photo isn't new, but I thought it would be nice to post some more Icelandic scenery. Some of us can never get enough...!

While doing research for a translation job, I ran across this site again. It's not the most attractive, but it does include some excellent links for those who want to not only see more of Iceland, but learn more as well. Some of the link topics are really obscure, but interesting. Enjoy!

Friday, 26 August 2005

Friends and Neighbors

Aaaack! Haven't blogged in a week!

In the interest of posting something, anything, here's a photo from Toggi's phone of some interesting people...our friends, alas. They really are weird (in everyday life, that is) but aren't usually so dolled up. Ási, far left, is a clothign designer; Begga, center, is an artist/performer; and Kristjan is an East Coast Ivy-League writer who has, like me, repatriated to the Old Country. All highly educated folk with loads of talent. This is from last weekend during Culture Night in Reykjavik at a cute little Garden-ival in our friend's backyard. Fun night, goood stuff.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Little Moneymakers

Valentina (in blue) and Telma held a tombóla, or mini flea market today in front of Krambuð, the cute little store at the very top of Skólavörðurstígur, just across the street from Hallgrímskirkja. There wasn't much foot traffic today during the hour they were out being capitalists, but they did make enough to buy a four-pack of jawbreakers (which they have to save until Saturday, nammidagur, or candy day).

I wanted to post something sweet and colorful because I also want to mention that this weekend in Reykjavík there were two drug/alcohol related stabbings, one that resulted in death. Unfortunately, it turns out that the murderer is the son of a murderer: his father killed someone in, I think, 1976. This news made me think how sad it is that we're entering out second generation of murderers here; I remember a time when I could safely and proudly say that murder didn't happen in Iceland, at least not even once a year. With Capitalism, modernity and consumerism comes much to be thankful for, but also a loss of innocence for a small and once-isolated nation. Sad.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Name Game

Newly engaged Icelando-phile Jared asked me a very good question in yesterday's comments, and I thought I'd go ahead and address it here.

Q: why doesn't your dad's name end in "son"? my-mother-in-law-to-be's last name is thorisdottir.

Well, Jared, here's the scoop:

A: My father's given name is Þórir, or Thorir. Just like your fiancée's grandfather, i.e. your mother-in-law-to-be's father. My father's father's name was Páll, so my father was christened Þórir Pálsson. His mother, Steinnun Sighvatsdóttir, never married Páll, but my father was still his son, hence "Páls-son." When my father was nine, his mother married an American who worked out at the Naval Base at Keflavík, Stanley Roff. He adopted my father and gave him the family name of Roff (which, incidentally, used to be a much longer Russian name that was shortened at Ellis Island when Stanley's forfathers fled the Revolution).

So actually I am "Þóris-dóttir" or "Daughter of Thorir" just like your future mother-in-law, but I go with the family name Roff for convenience, as I have dual citizenship and all my US papers us that name.
My mother is Ásthildur Brynjólfsdóttir here in Iceland but goes by Asta Roff in the States. My sister is Addy Roff in the US, Steinnun Ásta Þórisdóttir in Iceland. My daughter's father's name is Jóhann, though, so her full name is Valentína Jóhannsdóttir. No Roff

Got that?

Here's a link to the main page of my online family tree, if you're more curious. Actually, using this online service, called Íslendingabók, I along with most Icelanders, can trace my ancestry directly back to 830 a.d., to one Eirikur "The White" Högnason, one of Iceland's first settlers as well as Eyvindur Bjarnasson, born around 810 a.d. and married to Rafarta Kjarvalsdóttir, daughter of Irish king Kjarval. Oh, and Leifur Eiríksson, or Leif Eriksson "the Lucky." And actually pretty much everyone who came here on that first boat. Trippy, huh?

By the way, the above picture has no connection. It's just a good shot of the inside of Fry's Electronic SuperStore, the one in San Jose with the Mayan theme. A computer lover's dream...

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Sweet Ride

I went out today to troll around town in hopes of making a Cameron Diaz sighting. Seems she's here in town Justin-less just hanging out like normal people connection to Clint's movie.

No luck on that front, but I did get this snap of the President of Iceland's car parked in front of the pharmacy on Laugavegur. Herra Grímsson (or just Ólafur Ragnar to most of us) must have popped inside for a new toothbrush or something. His driver can be seen standing behind the car, probably using the opportunity to get a breath of fresh air maybe catch a glimpse of Ms. Diaz himself.

Speaking of the Flags of our Fathers director, I was talking to my father, Thor Roff, the other day, and he reminded me that my sister, Addy Roff and her husband Dan Nater, got married at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch at Carmel by-the-Sea (here's a little history on the place). My sister and I grew up only minutes from Carmel in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Bay, so that whole area holds a lot of very good memories for the both of us. By the way, you all knew that Clint was mayor of Carmel, California for two years, starting in 1986, right?

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Beach Days

Here's Frank on the beach in Santa Cruz, soaking up the sun. These days he's working another kind of beach, one that looks more like this.

See, he's working on the set of THE FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, Clint Eastwood's latest film foray. It's the story of the battle of Iwo Jima, more specifically of the men who raised the flag immortalized in this photo. Since Iwo Jima, off the coast of Japan, is a volcanic island with black sand beaches remarkably like those of our lovely little homeland, Mr. Eastwood chose to do his filming here.

He's very visible on the set, but true to Icelandic form, us locals are cool and professional in his presence (or so I've heard.) Mrs. Eastwood, Dina Ruiz, is here as well with two smaller Eastwoods (aka their kids). Frank has signed a non-disclosure, so he can't talk about what he's doing out on the barren beaches of the Reykjanes Peninsula, but if Clint is helming the effort, it should end up being something amazing.

Below are a few more shots of our Santa Cruz adventure at the Beach Boardwalk. Enjoy!

Monday, 15 August 2005

The Boardwalk, Santa Cruz

The Giant Dipper

The Giant Dipper, the huge roller coaster in the center of this photo of the nighttime Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, is an ancient wooden monster that rattles your brain and slams you around like a ragdoll...classic fun!

Sunday, 14 August 2005


Frank, center, waiting while Valentina and I did the Ferris Wheel (she discovered that she was afraid of heights while we were stuck at the very top!)

Pretty Lights

Bored Balloon Clown

We stayed with and played with Shannon and Vaughn Roach (lovely people, great friends from the old days), met up with the illustrious and very generous of spirit Kevin Cole, of KEXP radio (their live streaming is one of the most listened to in the US...highly recommended...this is radio at it's finest!), and drank cocktails on a rooftop with one of the best night views in town.

We also found time to trundle down to Pike Place Market where we saw this mildly grumpy clown guy who just couldn't seem to attract the kiddies to his wares. What's up with that?

Friday, 29 July 2005


A Big Hello from California!

(note girl on Paul Bunyan's foot)

More soon...

Sunday, 10 July 2005


We're in Cupertino in the Golden State, swimming, soaking in the sun, shopping like there's no tomorrow (or like there's many to come in Expensive Iceland!), and bonding with the wildlife (turtle doves, lizards, deer, programmers.) Blogging has and therefore will be spotty in the coming month...We do have some pix to show though, so be sure to check in every once in a while for updates from the Great West Coast, aka the Edge of The Modern World.

Sincerely Sunkissed and Stoked,
Maria and Valentina

Saturday, 2 July 2005


We went River Rafting!!! And we had sooo much fun! The picture to the right is not of our group, but is a great shot of the Green Room Rapids on East Glacial River, or Austur Jökulsár, in North Iceland. This river is rated a 4+, meaning it's not for the weak of heart. There were nine of us who went together, and along with a group of 16 Italians, we were split into four rafts with six people each plus a guide.

Our raft went down the Green Room rapids last, and we totally wiped out! Gulli, shown here on the left (looking like a MIR space station veteran) almost died...he was stuck under water in an obnoxious whirl pool so long that he is actually reassessing this whole being alive thing and thanking the River Gods Mightily for letting him keep on taking part in it.

We had a Super Great Extreme Rafting experience, despite how scared we were while being tumbled like so many socks in a washing machine. I know we'd all like to thank the Excellent guide crew at Activity Tours for making us laugh and for telling us we could Do This River as long as we stayed focused and remembered, above all, the immortal message written on the back of the best guidebook in the Galaxy: Don't Panic. We all touched Nature and found a far too neglected Core of Courage in our hearts during our four hours on the river.

We're all here in Svarfaðaldalur tonight, just south of the Arctic Circle, looking out past Eyjafjörður at the Midnight Sun as it dips it's toes in the North Atlantic and we're glad to be alive and happy to be together.

A very perfect weekend.

Thursday, 30 June 2005


This cute little store, called Frú Fiðrildi (or "Madame Butterfly"), is located on Ingólfstræti, just off Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík. Its absolutely filled with charming things, from sparkly butterfly pins to fluffy pillows, candles, statues, glasses, decorative baskets and all things pink.

Shop owner Ingibjörg, whose son Breki is Valentina's classmate, puts out little dishes of cookies for her guests, and welcomes them to relax on cushy chairs and enjoy the atmosphere, old fashioned tea-time style. This store is a must for anyone who adores precious things, so do drop in and see if you don't end up finding a gift for someone you love.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005


Hvít = White
Á = River

Valentina cartwheels across the Old Bridge over Hvítá. This one-lane bridge just off the main highway that runs around around Iceland (the Ring Road) used to be frequented by buses loaded with travelers going through the Reykholt region, and was built at the site of an important ferry crossing for the area. My mom remembers how scary it was going over the tiny bridge in a towering bus, and how at the west side of the bridge the travelers would stop for refreshments at a small inn. Now the bridge is hardly ever used. It hasn't, though, lost any of its charm.

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Sirkus in the Sun

I finally got some shots from the 17th of June, our Icelandic National Holiday. This is from the backyard at Sirkus, a favorite and very Bohemian bar on Klapparstigur at Laugavegur. Taking pictures there is extremely frowned-upon at night, but since this was such a uniquely sunny and joyous day, I thought one photo wouldn't do any harm.

(Picture-taking at Kaffibarinn is also banned...the reason at both these bars is that everyone, even the celebs who frequent these spots, are guaranteed a reasonably anonymous night of pleasure without any nasty pictoral evidence floating about the next day.)

Anyway, I decided to escape the suburban masses that converge on our little downtown each major holiday by slipping into the gated Sirkus backyard and having a beer in the sun. Perfect move on my part!

There's a running joke here that the one thing we can count on each year is rain on the 17th of June. Regardless of the weather, though, Icelanders pour out onto the streets in slickers and hats to watch parades and listen to speeches and hear bands play on outdoor stages. This year there was a collective national amazement at the fact that the sky was cloudless and blue...take into consideration also that the last time the weather was this good (15 celsius, and windless) on June 17th, we had a fairly major earthquake. I don't know about everyone else, but I was definitely thinking the whole good weather thing was a little dubious...

Nothing happened to shake the joy of the day, though. I received my award (along with the school) at a very nice ceremony, went and sat at Sirkus with my handsome man, hosted a great midnight sun party in our backyard, then went with everyone back to Sirkus for a bit of seriously fun late-night dancing. All in all a wonderful way to celebrate a great life in a good land.

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Sheep Crossing

Another charming scene from our road trip...these beasts were being herded across the main island road by a whole family, three generations, all in rubber boots.

We stopped and waited patiently, which is more than some townies do these days. They just can't wait to get to their rented weekend houses, so they barrel through the landscape at high speeds in their SUVs to get to where they're going and have a few more hours to relax. The irony.

There were three or four kids in the group, so we waved to them and smiled. They seemed a little surprised at first, but eventually waved back shyly. Then my mom told Valentina about going out to the country when she was her age. She said she and her cousins would sit by the side of the main road, sometimes for hours, waiting for a car to go by. When they saw one kicking up the dirt on the far distance (the main roads were of course dirt in the early Fifties) they'd jump up and down and wave and call out "Hello! Hello! Hello!" She said it was sometimes their most exciting game.

Oh, here's an Iceland Eyes entry about Road Sheep. If your going to drive here, you've got to watch out for them!

Monday, 20 June 2005

Beautiful Day

From our Grandmother-Mother-Granddaughter adventure north to Akureyri and south again...a wonderful two day trip on Icelandic country roads.

Thursday, 16 June 2005


Valentina and I saw Real Live Vikings at the airport the other day! (I think the guy with the Viking Beer looks like that Bog Man from Bronze Age Denmark, but of course more...alive. It must be because of his cool hat).

Turns out these cool linen-tunic-clad folk are here in Iceland for the annual Viking Festival in Hafnarfjordur. When I told them that Valentina and I had thought that maybe their time machine had broken down and they had gotten stuck in our reality, they smiled patronizingly and explained that they travel dressed this way to promote their gigs. Then they posed for us and told us we should come see them at the festival this weekend. I think they were from Norway.

Sunday, 12 June 2005

Midnight in Reykjavik

The title says it all...

This close to the Summer Solstice (on June 21st this year) our lovely little island is brightly lit all night long by the Midnight Sun. For travelers it can be almost disturbing having to adjust to the ever-present light so definitely bring a sleep mask for your stay!

But for residents of Arctic Circle lands the lengthening of the day happens slowly over the course of months, from the Spring Equinox in March onward, and seems as natural as the sprouting of new green leaves on trees and the return of millions of migratory birds to their nesting palces here in the north. We are forced gradually awake from our winter slumber by the ever-increasing brightness and we use each moment of sunshine, while we have it, as best we can.

Saturday, 11 June 2005


This photo is for digdug and for my 12 year-old niece Mekkin (read her new short story here) because they have a taste for the othernatural and for magick in all its esoteric forms.
Oh, and its also posted because I mentioned the other day that I talk to animals and that cats always seem to follow me's living proof!

I don't know these two cool catz at all, though one looks alot like our Mio. They just decided to walk with me to the store, just like Mio often does. They waited at a corner for me while I shopped, then walked me back to my doorstep. Schrödinger's Cat, anyone?

I also think this photo is a bizzare study in greyscale and movement...and you?

Friday, 10 June 2005


I just got a call from Árný Inga Pálsdóttir, principal of Víkurskóli where I spent the last semester teaching English. She informed me that the Blog Project my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students worked so hard on had been selected to receive an award!

The City of Reykjavík asked grade schools in the Reykjavík area to submit descriptions of recent learning projects that they feel have been successful in encouraging kids to take a more active part in their education . At one of our weekly meetings, Árný asked for suggestions. When nobody reacted at first she said, "I've learned through experience that there's no shame in nominating yourself for this kind of's better than waiting for someone else to do it for you." And immediately a hand shot up. Two people later, I though to myself, What the heck and mentioned our project. Árný aksed us to write out descriptions for her to submit. We did, and I forgot about it for the next month and a half.

She called today to let me know that our Blog Project will be presented with an award on the 17th of June, our National Day, at the Reykjavík City Hall, with cake and coffee to follow. I am so excited and so proud of all of the students who took part in this award. They own it, really, because if they hadn't taken part and trusted me, it would never have happened.

And once again, thanks to all my cyber-friends who read, commented and encouraged!

Thursday, 9 June 2005


Kría= Artic Tern. Can be a girl's name. Also used as a term for taking a nap.

Valentína has a brand new sister, born June 8th, 2005 at 3 am (the magic hour). Welcome to the world, little baby girl!

In Iceland, parents usually don't present the name of the child until they are baptized (or formally named at a naming cermony) two or three months after their birth. Until then they are often simply called Stulka (Girl) or Strákur (Boy). This hearks back to the days, not so long ago, when survival, especially for brand new little humans, was often tenuous. Today, the tradition lives on in the form of a superstition.

By the way, for the curious, here's a post you should read if you wnat to understand our convoluted Icelandic social world... ;-)

Wednesday, 8 June 2005


I finally discovered where old garbage cans go to die...
(behind the cement factory on the Höfða, for the extremely curious).