Thursday, 30 October 2008


Someone told me about an interview held with an elderly Icelander where the topic turned to the subject of the most important innovation to come to the island in the 20th century. The interviewee, in her eighties, pondered the question for a while then announced that the thing that most changed the lives of Icelanders in the past one hundred years were rubber boots. For the first time in a millenia Icelanders had dry feet all year round.

In these complicated times it's sometimes good to remember the simple things in life.

Please take a look at Iceland Eyes' sister site, Iceland Says, with new posts by Reykjavik college students every day for the next few weeks. Comments are always welcome!

p.s. this photo was taken by Valentina Jóhannsdóttir, my daughter.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


As reluctant as I am to break up the comment flow from the previous post, it is time to add a new image.

Today a group of my college students are sitting in class writing short essays on the state of the nation, in English, that will eventually be posted on Iceland Eye's sister site, Iceland Says. They are writing, as one student put it, letters to the world. I'll try to get them up as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I'd just like to say that we are not huddled around the last remnants of a dying fire here on the island. Though imports have slowed to a near stop from Great Britain, we still have food and other necessities to keep us going. I played this NPR story in class and it made me a little uncomfortable if only because the Icelander being interviewed slips into the classic national habit of using superlatives, of exaggerating for what seems like simple effect. We have gone from being one of the wealthiest nations on earth, she says, to being mere beggars. Are we beggars? Do we feel like beggars, deep in the national soul? Does she see herself as a downtrodden, homeless, luckless panhandler when alone, or is she simply describing her country as such on an international media source for the imagery, the pure conceit? We are not beaten, we are not indigent, but we did gamble with the big boys in the great global economic casino and we lost our shirts.

The interviewee also states that we cannot grow anything here but potatoes and sheep [sic] while I beg to differ. We have hothouses, friends, hothouses that are heated by means of the steam that rises from our earth, and in those hothouses we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, lettuce and bananas. Rhubarb grows wild here and rutabagas and angelica and thyme and blueberries and there are more sheep here than people and we have pure fresh water running from mountain streams that we can dip our hands into and sip on site. We have horses, a beautiful and strong breed conditioned, created by this terrain and climate, as we Icelanders are ultimately, as well.

Some say wisdom is gained through sacrifice. But do we sacrifice our worldly aspirations or our cultural integrity?

We are survivors, adventurers, raiders. We are lusty, passionate, creative. We are molded by this landscape and are both strengthened and humbled by it. Now we have to excuse ourselves from gaming table with no shame for having played and lost (along with many others), assess the damages, and regroup for the next great effort.

To everyone who's asked, we are not broken. As things stand our lives go on almost as usual, as if we always knew the ride would end. It dawned on me last night that the past six years of unlimited economic potential felt just the same as all the hope we hold for the performers we send to Eurovision, or our athletes who make it to the Olympics. Anything can happen, we think. This might be our year! Maybe we've finally found the golden key to ultimate success! And then when our representatives flop or fail, are voted out or just don't make the cut, we pout and say to each other, but there's only so few of us, and we made it so far, and we should be proud, and we're all family, and, of course, there's always next year...

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Well, it's happened. Iceland has frozen. Last week in a literal sense, and this week in a more figurative, but just as real way. Our economy is collapsing, assets are unavailable, mass layoffs are in the works and we've managed to piss the British off in a big way. Our leaders have agreed to a major loan from Russia, if I remember correctly something in the way of 600 billion króna, or about 4 billion Euros ("The Russian ambassador to Iceland, Victor Tatarintsev, informed central bank governor David Oddsson early this morning that Russia would provide Iceland with the loan for three to five years at rates 30 to 50 points above Libor."). Construction workers are flocking to Norway and Sweden and grants, parties and ads once funded by our major banks are being cancelled.

Now we're trying to save face and remember all those tips and tricks our grandparents tried to teach us before we got all glassy-eyed with consumerism and the vacuous, instant gratification version of the capitalist dream.

Read more here.