Bjartar nætur

Well, the bright summer nights have well and truly arrived in Reykjavík. I got back from the pub yesterday at 11.30, and the sun was only just setting. Weird. This is all right on a Wednesday evening. In fact it's quite nice. Feels like going to bed in the summer time when I was a child, with the sun still shining through the curtains. Or like it's an afternoon nap, my favourite sort of sleeping.

At 4.30 am on a Sunday it's actually pretty depressing. Drunk people and broken glass and shouting are all very well in the dark - that's where they belong. But there's something deeply uncomfortable about encountering your classic town-centre, small-hours, alcoholic shambles when it looks like it should be 3 o'clock in the afternoon. It's just wrong.

P.S. I've had a few people asking whether the baby finally has a name. I'm not going to post it on here when he does, but the answer is: no. Still no name and the boy's almost two months old now! Apparently this is quite common in Iceland.


Well, Judgement Day was a BIG disappointment. Honestly, I'm starting to think Jesus is never coming back. Here in Iceland we got a volcanic eruption instead. This time it was at Grímsvötn, which is easier to pronounce than Eyjafjallajökull, although I expect that foreign newsreaders are either getting it wrong or not even trying. For reference, 'í' is pronounced as 'ee' and 'ö' is like the vowel sound in 'learn'. All the consonants are as you would expect, except you have to make the 't' really soft, almost like a 'd'. Now you can impress your friends and family. I assume it has been on the UK news? It is sort of affecting air traffic, I think, which is what they tend to be concerned about. The airports here are closed at any rate.

There is not much ash that made it all the way to Reykjavík, but you can see a thin dusting outside. We all have to close our windows and turn the heating up to stop it getting into the house. We also should avoid being outside too much, especially if we are young children or have a lung condition, because most of it is still floating around in the air. Mostly this is bad for Icelandic farmers, because the lambing season is in full swing and the spring grass has only quite recently come through properly. Now a lot of farms are covered in ash, which is not good for sheep (although they apparently quite like it because it's sort of salty). So they have to be brought in and fed on hay just when the winter hay is running out.

Speaking of Icelandic farms, I went on Friday with the three-year-old on her playschool trip into the countryside, to some farm in Hvalfjörður. First we walked about a bit in a freezing-cold gale, and I'm not really sure why. Then there were pyslur for lunch, and I spent a lot of time trying to stop the three-year-old covering herself in tomato ketchup. Obviously this was not actually possible, so I shouldn't have bothered. I managed to get most of it off in the toilets afterwards, and then we all went up to the sheep-shed to see the newborn lambs. There was rather too much blood and leaking for my tastes, although the cleaner of the lambs were pretty cute. Some horses tried to eat my coat, and then we went back to Reykjavík, smelling exactly like the sheep-shed.


Well, Icelandic lessons are over for the summer. Got my shiny certificate today, which to be honest is not worth the paper it's written on as an indication of ability in the Icelandic language. Everyone who shows up gets the certificate, and definitely not everyone is making what I would call excellent progress. One member of the class today used the sentence "Mér finnst gaman hérna bókabúð", which means, so far as it means anything at all, "I think it's fun here bookshop". I want it on a t-shirt. Am I just being horrible, or is it a bit pointless to be trying to learn about weak and strong adjectives when you can barely express your love of being in bookshops?

Anyway, I got 9,7 again on the test. Not really a test, because you were allowed to look at notes/books/dictionaries. I didn't, though. So yep, I'm some sort of genius or something. Maybe.


Can't believe Azerbaijan won. What was Europe thinking? I seriously thought Ireland had it pretty much in the bag. Just goes to show, you cannot rely on the collective taste of Europe. I went to a Eurovision party on Saturday night at my friend Pálína's. It was supposed to be a BBQ but, as is traditional, it was raining too much so it was more of a 'cook-your-own-meat-in-someone-else's-kitchen' party. Which I think probably happen more often than proper barbecue parties in Britain.

Our corner of the party were all pretty impressed by Moldova (some were moved to actually vote - not me, though). Unicycle, improbable hats, trumpets, monocle - certainly it ticked all the boxes, apart from fire. I also enjoyed Denmark, Ireland and was strangely taken with Hungary's power ballad. Partly because I find it funny to say the title (What about my dreams?) with the stress on the wrong words. Partly because I not-so-secretly love power ballads.

There was a sort of drinking game when it came to the scoring. Take a sip whenever Iceland gets a point. But nobody could have got drunk on those rules, unless they were sipping neat vodka, so I sort of ignored it. Despite these disappointments, Eurovision is always entertaining and I was with some great people, so it was a good night. I did miss Graham Norton a lot, though.

Nice weather we're having

Today I had lunch in the garden, sat in the sunshine on Austurvöllur with Ahmad and a can of léttöl, and ate three ice-creams. Certain members of my pale Icelandic family actually managed to get slightly sunburnt. The leaves are nearly all out now, the spring grass is coming through green, there are daffodils and birds everywhere and hardly a cloud in the sky. It's like Reykjavík is saying sorry for such a wet and grey April.

Bláa Lónið

Last weekend I went to the Blue Lagoon, or Bláa Lónið as it's known to the Icelanders. My friend Ahmad had two free passes that he got from some work thing, so Brynna and I got in for nothing. Ahmad got the 'special Icelander price'. Except they're not allowed to do that, because it's illegal. You just get a discount by signing up to the Blue Lagoon 'friendship club', or whatever it was called. For which you need a kennitala. Riiiight. 

Everything's a lot shinier than at the other swimming pools I've been to in Iceland. You can tell that they are catering for a mostly tourist clientele because they have shower cubicles rather than just a shower area. This is, I assume, to make things less awkward for foreigners who may be uncomfortable about showering naked in semi-public. You have to do this  before venturing into any Icelandic swimming pool, and will always see this helpful sign highlighting the areas which you should wash especially carefully.

Anyway, the actual 'lagoon' itself is certainly an experience worth having. I'd been there before, on the Icelandic family holiday when I was 17, but it was nice to go again. Basically you languidly propel yourself around a shallow pool of steaming hot, milky-blue water. Which is lovely. There's not much else to say about it, really. It's pretty cool to be outside (in intermittent freezing drizzle, in our unfortunate case), but to feel like you're in a bath. You can also cover your face in white mud if you want to, which is supposed to be good for your skin, although I didn't notice any difference myself. The salts in the water make your hair go like straw, though. Luckily there is free conditioner in the showers. Oh, and we also discovered you can buy beer there! Bar combined with swimming pool doesn't seem like the best idea in the world, but there's no way we were missing the chance to have a pint of Iceland's finest euro-lager in a geothermal pool. 

There are other natural hot pools in Iceland which have not been turned into big tourist centres, which I would love to visit sometime. Although I imagine there wouldn't be any free conditioner, and I would have to bring my own beer.

Að tala íslensku

Time for an update on how the language-learning is going, I think. My feelings on the subject are conflicted, and also subject to wild fluctuations, but I will try to force them into some semblance of coherency.

I've been thinking a bit about attitudes towards learning Icelandic. I've written before on this blog about the intricacies of Icelandic grammar, but I've also mentioned my view that Icelandic is not nearly as difficult as some people would have you believe. It's easy to buy into the myth. You hear it everywhere - that Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages in the world, that it's unpronouncable, that the grammar is prohibitively tortuous. 

Even Icelanders, or perhaps especially Icelanders, believe it. This might come off like some revolting false modesty, but I honestly don't think that it takes anything special to achieve what I've achieved over the space of two years. I won't lie - of course I enjoy the look of astonishment when people hear me speaking Icelandic and learn that I only got here in January. But then I always tell them that I was learning Icelandic before I came. For two years. It sounds like such a long time - when I remember that I think that really, if anything, I should be better than I am. Obviously the truth is that there are simple bits and complicated bits in all languages, and what those bits are depends on how much or how little it diverges from your mother tongue. Icelandic is very closely related to Old Norse, a language that had a considerable influence on the development of English, and therefore diverges from English a hell of a lot less than a lot of other languages. From that point of view I would put it with French and German as one of the languages that us English speakers should find some sort of natural affinity with. It's amazing sometimes how much Icelandic resembles archaic English.

The danger of the myth is obvious. If you get it into your head that "Icelandic is really difficult" then that can easily turn into, "Icelandic is too difficult for me". And then of course you can't do it. Which is why, although it makes me feel sort of proud of myself when people say that Icelandic is a hard language, I think it's an unhelpful thing to say in general.

I know that actually I am lucky enough to be pretty receptive to language learning. When I put my mind to it, that is. I didn't work that hard at learning French in secondary school, something I regret now, and never spoke it that well. What I did learn has now mostly fallen out of my brain through disuse, or been supplanted by Icelandic. But I'm reasonably intelligent, and my brain is that way inclined, so I think that I find Icelandic easier than a lot of people.  I've always been inclined towards reading, writing, words and language in general. Really I'm trying to avoid coming off as arrogant here, but those are my skills. I have to work a great deal harder at anything to do with numbers. Just ask anyone who's seen my face when I'm trying to do simple mental arithmetic. The distant, slightly panicked stare into the middle distance as I concentrate on carefully stacking up the numbers without dropping them all is a source of great amusement for my family. But my brain can handle words, and they stick quite easily.

I'm a fair mimic as well. Apart from that pesky rolled r, I haven't really had that much trouble learning to reproduce the sounds of Icelandic. Of course I speak with an accent, but I'm confident that I rarely pronounce things incorrectly, if I am careful about how I'm speaking. Evidently some people find it difficult to even distinguish between the Icelandic sounds and the sounds that they are making, which must also make it harder to identify words that you hear other people saying. I had to practice a  fair bit to train my tongue to produce the 'au' sound easily, but I could hear what it was supposed to be, and I can hear the difference between the weird noise I make and a proper Icelandic r. 

I also know that my situation here in Iceland is incredibly advantageous, and I'm lucky in that respect as well. I live with many native Icelandic speakers, so I am exposed to the language, and interact in it, on a daily basis - although I still suffer from guilt pangs because I don't use this opportunity to its full advantage. I said on here before that I planned to give up English for Lent. I failed spectacularly at that, you may not be surprised to hear. It went almost as well as my attempt to give up caffeine. The trouble is that although I can communicate in Icelandic, I can't really express myself well enough to feel comfortable. My English reaches right to the edge of my thoughts. In fact, it's probably inseparable from my thoughts. But for me speaking Icelandic is  still like being stuck in a little cave, and all my thoughts keep banging against the ceiling. It's maddeningly claustrophobic, now that the thrill of simply communicating in a foreign language has pretty much worn off. Still, to extend the metaphor, I remain confident that if I keep bashing about in there, I will have more and more room to move around. One day I might even be able to be funny in Icelandic. That's one of the hardest things, not being able to be funny. Not saying I'm hilarious in English, but you know what I mean.

If I had to assess my level right now... I don't know what I would say. It's very hard for me to do that. I understand most of what is said to me, although rather less of something like the news, when the readers are speaking quickly and using more complicated language. Then I can usually get the gist, but I miss important details. However, I can easily follow Icelandic programmes when there are Icelandic subtitles.

I would say my vocabulary, in terms of words I understand instantly when I read or hear them, is expanding at a steady rate, although the rate has slowed down considerably from when I first started learning Icelandic and was picking up all the simple words. My vocabulary in terms of words that I use myself, that come readily to mind when I am speaking, is not nearly so good. I think what I need to do is carry around a notebook and write down every time I want to say something, but can't think of the word, then look it up and actively learn it. 

My grammar is a lot better in theory than it is in practice. I can write out a lot of declension tables, but unless I speak very carefully I still muddle things up.  My current thing that I notice myself doing is adding the definite article to the ends of words when I shouldn't, just because the declension comes more smoothly for me with the article. Today, for example, I said, "It's like in the restaurant," when I was not talking about a specific restaurant. People understand you if you do that, but it's not ideal. I still plan out my sentences before I embark upon them, which is tedious and I wish I didn't have to.

Yes, as expected, this has turned into a long post which lacks focus. Which fully reflects my rambly internal reflections on myself and the Icelandic language. I hope you enjoyed it.

Think of me when you are in glorious sunshine

Well, after a thoroughly depressing weekend (weather-wise, that is - otherwise it was a great weekend), it seems that summer is finally making an appearance in Reykjavík. The weekend was wet, cold and snowy. Yes, snowy. In May. I have definitely had enough of snow for the time being. I'll probably be excited to see it back again in the winter, but sunshine now please.

Yesterday afternoon, though, the sun finally came out. This morning I saw a golden plover (Icelandic: lóa), the bird whose arrival in Iceland is supposed to signal the beginning of summer. It was pecking about on the grass down by where I was waiting for the bus, and it gladdened my heart. I read in the newspaper this morning that there was only one day in Reykjavík this April with no rain or snow. The temperature today has been a sweltering 10 - 12° c. That might sound a bit chilly to you, but you wouldn't think it from the behaviour of the good people of Reykjavík. Seriously, everyone's out in shorts and t-shirts, lounging about all over Austurvöllur with ice-creams and beer. The children are having an actual water-fight in the garden. Different standards in Iceland.

So all of you back in the UK, remember this the next time you complain about British weather. At least it has never come to the point that people will lose their minds over a 10° day. Here is a quotation from World Light by Halldór Laxness that I always think of when I am in glorious sunshine (sort of because it tells me to - it always pops into my mind).

"He continued on, on to the glacier, towards the dawn, from ridge to ridge, in deep, new-fallen snow, paying no heed to the storms that might pursue him. As a child he had stood by the seashore at Ljósavík and watched the waves soughing in and out, but now he was heading away from the sea. "Think of me when you are in glorious sunshine." Soon the sun of the day of resurrection will shine on the bright paths where she awaits her poet.
And beauty shall reign alone."

I really love that novel. I may write about my love for Laxness here soon. I have tried to before, but it always ends up as a massive ramble.