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.

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