Saturday, February 27, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Scenes From An Opið Hús

Nature must have heard my plea as its my last morning in Skagastrond, the winds have died down, and the sky is showing the makings of a beautiful, final day ahead. Below are photos from last night's open house which was met with relative success in light of the furious winds which whipped the powdered snow right up into the air making for complete lack of visibility. All of my friends from around town were there, they're both 8, so that pleased me here. I don't think they'd ever seen the application "PhotoBooth" on an Apple computer, which for those who are unfamiliar (Gram) lets you take an endless number of photographs of yourself using the camera in the computer. Well my desk in the studio was the epicenter of the open house as children kept flocking to my machine to indulge themselves in their own image. I have a long list of 8-13 year old kid's email addresses so that I can send them their pictures.

Here you'll see photos of my desk when its clean, which was just once for the open house, a sculpture I made, though I am not a sculptor, made from Icelandic wool, and my friends. *To clarify, the sculpture is not made from my friends.

I am going to miss Skagastrond terribly, and by no means am ready to leave, the prospect of getting dressed in real clothing on Monday is dauting. But as I told Laufey and Hallbjorg, my 8 year old cohorts, I´ll be back soon. Sjáumst and bless, Skagastrond.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

White Out

Super busy day here in Skagastrond, trying to get ready for open studios tonight, as well as pack, photograph a couple of last minute things, and finish my highly important knitting. So here are just a bunch of pictures of what a white out kind of looks like.. except if it were a really white out, you probably wouldn't see anything...

White outs are great for two reasons:
1. Everything is white and as a result the world is a disorienting place (this could be construed as a negative)
2. The winds are so crazy, screaming as loud as you can to get out frustration is entirely possible and disturbs no one, except maybe a few nearby horses.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So This Is That Harsh Icelandic Winter Everyone Was Telling Me About

Around 5am I knew the winds had started up again but I had no idea to what extent until I woke up bleary eyed to a complete and total whiteout. My windows are completely masked by snow, and if I squint through the small breaks in the ice, the world beyond has been enveloped by a white oblivion. Being told to stay inside yesterday was fun, (though by afternoon we started venturing outdoors) it was akin to learning as a child on the morning news that school was officially closed due to snow. Today is a bit depressing because it is becoming clear just how oppressive the weather can be. I cannot see the expansive view outside my window that I've grown accustomed to, but instead the snow has created the sensation of being in a little white box. Moreover, being stuck inside is not exactly conducive for picture taking. These feelings are compounded by the fact that JeeHee left for good this morning, so I have no one to laugh with about how crazy this is.
But that's all ok.
To console myself I'll imagine I am explorer on the outpost of civilization and probably in a couple of hours will put on all of my ridiculous snow gear, giving me the gait of the Pilsbury Dough Boy, and venture just outside my house for a few minutes to get the full effect. While the burden of the weather is heavy, there is definitely an element of excitement, and the opportunity awaits for me to go outside and, despite my pathetic attempts to defend myself, get a sound ass-kicking from an invisible natural force.

These horses can do it, so can I.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cancel Your Travel Plans

I know everyone just finished buying plane tickets and making travel arrangements but alas the open house has been postponed due to the weather. We just received an email saying "Don't Go Outside" and that was coming from an Icelander, so you know its serious. The weather keeps changing from being a bright and sunny day, to being a complete and total white out where you can't see three feet in front of you. Sounds like fun to me, I think I am going to tie a rope around my waste and go flap in the wind like a kite.


Dimmuborgir was a tremendous place to visit at 4am at the end of a five hour long hike on my last trip to Iceland, and it was equally as amazing at 2pm in January. One of the absolutely wonderful things about Iceland is how different things look every time you see them. For instance, as we drove back to Skagastrond, through the snowy mountains, we saw this sprawling metropolis on the horizon from miles and miles away. And as we got closer and closer and the city lights appeared brighter and brighter we became all the more puzzled. We did not remember driving through a huge town on the way to Myvatn. Had we taken a wrong turn even though there is only one road? Had we been cursed by one of the yule lads at Dimmuborgir and gone through an Icelandic black hole and ended up in Reykjavik? I'd say there was about a three minute period in which genuinely none of us could figure out what lay before us and we were all mildly convinced we'd some how miraculously ended up in Iceland's one great city. Well, the air is incredibly clear here, so visibility is far greater than what one is accustomed to, and this huge urban sprawl before us ended up being Reykahild, a no-where-place that perhaps consists of two streets and a gas station. So much for that sweet time warp, I think JeeHee was a little disappointed.

I spent two hours photographing alone in Dimmuborgir as the others had returned to the cabin or had gone off for other explorations. It was incredibly quite as the rock formations blocked most of the wind and I had the whole place to myself. One of the luxuries I have of being in Iceland, if you exclude the weather, is how safe I feel alone at all times, even in this remote lava field. But occasionally, I would hear the sound of foot prints and whip my head around to see that no one was there. You spend enough time in a place you start to drink the punch, and so I just resigned to the fact that it was Snorri, the troll who often visited us on my last trip, who was likely responsible for our repeated car troubles just coming to say hi and take away my candy as those trolls so relish doing.

I Expect To See You All Here

Open House!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hidden Waterfalls and Volcanic Tea

We almost missed Go∂afoss driving along icy route 1, because contrary to how most imagine a waterfall, Go∂afoss does not tower above the landscape but instead is hidden deep within it. From the road all that is visible is white. But after turning the car around and walking down a road for about a half a mile, we came upon the ice encrusted deep-turquoise blue waterfall. While Go∂afoss is likely impressive during the summer months, I don't think anything could compare to how truly amazing it looked covered in snow. Initially I had luke warm feelings about stopping to see yet another waterfall because I sort of felt like, you seen one you seen 'em all. But this little gem proved me wrong. Superficially, there isn't anything too astounding about a waterfall, its running water falling over rocks, when you break it down. Nevertheless, every time I am completely enthralled by the power and the noise of these endlessly running natural faucets. I know that Go∂afoss is a particularly good one because the customary viewing of a waterfall is to stand below it and be in awe as it soars above you. Set deep in the landscape you look down into Go∂afoss as the water spills down into the icy lagoon below.

We arrived at our little wood cabin with four bunk-beds an hour or so after leaving here. We made a quick stop at a supermarket/gas station for dinner supplies, took some photos in a geothermally active field (smoke coming up from snow covered ground) and by then we were all sufficiently frozen to the core and were ready to soak in the Myvatn nature baths. Its compulsory in Iceland to shower before you bathe in a hot pool, which of course means making a psychotic run several yards in the freezing cold air to the hot steaming water. After showering the four of us lined up in front of the glass doors separating us from the freezing night air, dripping wet, we counted to three and then all ran screaming like maniacs into the water. Initially the water was scalding hot, and the three others were unable to get in, I just bit the bullet knowing the pain would subside the longer I was in. Seeing as this is not high tourist season, we had the entire place to ourselves. The natural pool is surrounded by lava rocks and the ground is composed of lava rock sand and the space was lit by one light. So we all soaked for two hours in the dark, as it began to snow and the moon came out.

We returned to the cabin dehydrated and hungry and made an absolutely mediocre meal of pasta and broccoli but as JeeHee so wonderfully put it, 'hungry makes tasty' and indeed it did. The others went to bed but JeeHee and I stayed up running in and out of the cabin in search of the northern lights. For lack of real tea, we had what we named 'volcanic tea' which has a pleasant non-existent aroma and consists of boiled hot water, mmm..

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Konudagur!! And I Love You Sauðárkrókur Bakery

It's Women's Day here in Iceland, which I guess is similar to Mother's Day as in olden times men were supposed to bring women their first cup of coffee in bed and in present day that has been replaced by flowers.

The out-of-work truck driver in Myvatn told us yesterday that all day men call in to the radio station all day say who is the sexiest woman in Iceland. Well I'd like to nominate myself because last night, a hopping Saturday night in Skagastrond as I am sure you can all imagine, I wore perhaps the sexiest outfit possible over to Lára's house (my new Icelandic historian friend) for a drink. My outfit consisted of a flannel shirt, snow boots and sweat pants and not a single ounce of makeup. Needless to say, it was hot. I got caught up in my work before going over and all of a sudden it was time to leave. I had been in my flannel shirt and fleece-lined spandex pants all day, and the thought of changing seemed far too daunting so I thought "sweatpants go nicely over spandex, perfect" and as JeeHee pointed out, when I came home at 2am a little drunk and in my sweatpants, telling her about the delicious dessert Lára had served me and which I graciously consumed despite the other pastries JeeHee and I had at the bakery earlier in the day, they give you lots more room to eat. Word, JeeHee, I'm still rockin' my sweatpants now. **Generalization warning** JeeHee is asian, as if I hadn't made that clear enough by now, so she could eat 6 pounds of butter and it would never show, so the jokes we make together about getting fat in Iceland don't actually apply to her. But I really appreciate having someone who likes to eat sweets just as much as me, and who in a healthy way likes to kid around about how gross it is how much crap we are eating, but ultimately, like myself, doesn't actually give a shit because of how happy we are in the moment when we are cramming a chocolate covered, creme filled unpronounceable Icelandic pastry in our mouths knowing very well we would never glut like this in our respective home countries (ok sometimes.) Yet another reason why I am completely in love with her.

Its so nice being here, and not getting dressed at all during the day, and more or less looking like a warmly dressed homeless person at all times. I'm not sure I am going to fit into my skinny jeans when I get back to the city so sweatpants might be my new uniform for the weeks ahead.

On a slightly different note, there comes a time in a blogger's life when she no longer feels in control of her blog. She is no longer certain its just her best friends and a few others who feel obligated to monitor her activity who are reading. Its a bitter-sweet moment, really, because on the one hand she is pleased to have a larger audience reading her bullshit. However, on the other hand, now she has strangers reading her self deprecating thoughts about how chocolate covered raisins make her ass big. I have mixed feelings about this clearly, I think I preferred blogging when I knew it was just Caileen, my Dad, and sister reading, because it felt more like a group email to people I would normally write to anyway.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Costume Parties, Road Conditions, And The Cultural Differences In Between

I sure feel lucky having come to Iceland in February as this is the month when all of the fun holidays take place. Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday) was celebrated in Iceland earlier this week and shares many similarities with the way we Americans celebrate Halloween....but with an Icelandic twist, naturally.... The children have the day off of school to wander town, secretly pinning bags of ash on to people's clothing. And instead simply and cheaply saying "trick or treat" to get candy, the children here must sing in a mildly organized fashion to different businesses in town in order to get their bounty of sweets. While in the bank/post office on this day I was fortunate to have a private concert from two little girls with unidentifiable costumes. They were rewarded with a nice sizable bag of popcorn for their efforts and so I wouldn't feel left out I received one as well, even though I did not perform for everyone in the bank/post office, though I was half expecting to be coaxed into singing by the little girls and I anxiously waited for that window of opportunity for them to pressure me to close.
Through out the day, children passed through the studio to perform, and while yes some efforts were more practiced than others, the overall organization of these little traveling choruses was impressive. There were lots of traditional Icelandic songs sung, one about Skagastrond, and one Icelandic rendition of Frere Jacques which I particularly enjoyed.

At 5pm a party was held in the community center for all of the children in the town during which there would be a costume judging competition as well as the opportunity for the kids to queue up in three different lines according to their age and whack the crap out of hanging, colorful cardboard boxes (sort of a poor-man's pi
ñata)in which gift certificates for pizza were trapped. I arrived a bit early and set up a make-shift portrait studio, because how could I pass up the opportunity to photograph Icelandic children in homemade costumes set against a background of a snow covered mountain?? Does that sound like me or what?

Initially I was nervous about my ability to recruit young children, most of whom did not yet speak English, to come outside in the cold to let a stranger take their picture..But fortunately I remembered my favorite trick in the book when photographing kids, and that's to let the other kids do the ground work for you. I wrangled in two girls who looked old enough to speak english, but young enough to be impressed by my camera and excitedly they set off on a mission to find models for me and for about 30 minutes I had a constant flow of one child after another dressed in one outrageous costume after another. The superman's didn't interest me too much, but there were some truly creative undertakings which I can only hope I adequately captured on film.

It was time for the violent beating of the cardboard-boxes to begin so we all went inside where I stood with the rest of the Nes group. Over the course of the party we all independently noticed the young child in blackface and subsequently noticed the single child with actual dark skin and collectively we said "hmm." That one fell into the "Oh, Iceland" category.

They certain have their own way of doing things here and judging road conditions is definitely one of them. For better or worse they have a site Vegagerdin (a word I'll never be able to pronounce as the sound of the soft 'g' is impossible for my mouth to form) and which I learned of about one rescue too late on my last trip to Iceland. In the days leading up to our trip to Myvatn I compulsively read Vegagerdin to see how the roads we would take across the northern part of the country were categorized. The site uses ominous words like 'slippery' and 'icy spots,' terms that you grow to fear in a city that would be paralyzed by these conditions. However, we are in Iceland, and there are still several more perilous conditions one might encounter such as 'extremely slippery' 'difficult driving' and 'difficult road conditions': one of these conditions is represented with a pleasant pale purple color which I don't really understand, if you ask me the whole map should be colored with varying shades of bright neon red. I thought ice encrusted roads were considered bad driving conditions, but I guess not when you have a mother of a 4x4 with 3 foot thick tires. It never failed to amaze us on the first day when cars would fly past us at 120km an hour on a highway glazed with a two inch thick sheet of ice. On day two however, more confident in Olafia's little white fox as she calls it, I felt a little meglomaniacal, defying nature by scaling icy mountainous roads at a shocking 60km an hour. Aside from the road conditions, the only other challenge was actually keeping my eyes on the road (which I did mom and dad, and my hands were gripped at ten and two the whole time) when driving through an area as beautiful as this.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Home Sweet Home....In Skagastrond

I can't say that I ever foresaw the day when I would call a town of 500 people 'home', but man does it feel good to be in my own bed. I suspect Italians and Germans must have a different resting body temperature from Koreans and Americans as JeeHee and I nearly froze to death in our bunk-beds in the little, shared, arctic, cabin last night, despite Nadine and Paola's complaints of the heat....I slept with my coat over my face, and JeeHee hardly slept....couldn't possibly be more in love with this blue polar-fleece blanket I've got draped over me right now... Was woken up abruptly today by this precocious little 8 year old, Dalja, who paid us a visit last night, and was so bold this morning as to come into the cabin and more or less pull the blankets off of me. Her english was limited, but what she made clear was her desire to play with my iPhone (which is functioning solely as an alarm clock, despite her efforts to make calls). She took approximately 50 pictures with my phone of her dog and highly unflattering close-ups of our faces in the morning. Then she wrangled my little digital camera out of my pocket and used that for sometime. Apparently she felt her self instructed crash course in photography had adequately prepared her to rip my RZ out of my hands despite my efforts to convince her it was too heavy for her. Incapable of denying the littlest bit of joy to a gorgeous child like this I apprehensively handed over my camera and thanked some higher being for insurance for the equipment. she took this of me

not quite how to use it

getting closer
figured it out finally, after yelling at me in Icelandic that she couldn't see anything...
her iphone picture of her dog whose name I never understood but decided was something like Maalruff

And They Lived To Tell The Tale...

Excellent trip to Myvatn and back... survived harrowing road conditions and the pleasantly familiar rotten-egg scent of sulfur... tired from hours of driving, so more on all of this tomorrow. In the meanwhile check out this totally sweet frozen waterfall.. talk about otherworldly...