Out shooting birds

by alda on June 24, 2015

This week, instead of posting one picture, I want to post a few that I took during our ring road trip last week. Our final two nights were spent at Kolkuós, a historic trading post that some idiots wanted to turn into the main garbage dumping site for north Iceland. [It’s the same morons who want to build a brand new aluminium smelter in Skagaströnd, on the other side of the peninsula from Skagarfjörður. The mind boggles.] Thankfully Valgeir and Guðrún, the same people who run the Icelandic Emigration Museum in Hofsós, stepped in with the help of some powerful friends and were able to thwart those plans. They have now restored an old building that was located on the site, and made a gorgeous sort of guest house that is rented out to groups [and which we had the privilege of having all to ourselves for two nights – but that’s another story].

Kolkuós is an amazing place – so beautiful, and also so infused with energy, possibly [partly] because it is situated at the estuary of two rivers, that come together there and merge with the ocean. The place is absolutely TEEMING with birds and I was in my element with the camera raised, trying to capture them. In the end it was kind of hard not to, since they were everywhere – although I will say to my credit that they were pretty skittish. Here are a few of my favourites.














Oh, and the answer to last Monday’s little quiz? It was: KIWI. [Though here in Iceland, no one ever uses the name loðber, and everyone always uses the name kiwi.] Thanks to all of you who commented here and on Facebook.

About the Icelanders: making up words

by alda on June 22, 2015

As many of you no doubt know [especially if you have read this], the Icelanders have a language committee that makes up new Icelandic words for things or concepts that pop up. By which I mean that Icelandic doesn’t just take the word, say, “computer” and call it “kompjúter”. Instead they submit the object “computer” to the language committee so they can make up a new name for it in Icelandic. [Incidentally, this is called “linguistic purism”, which I must say sounds rather more scary than it is.]

language committeeIn the aforementioned example, the language committee decided on the word tölva which is a composite of the word völva meaning “prophetess” [from Icelandic mythology] and tala meaning “number”. So “computer” in Icelandic essentially means “prophetess of numbers”. Kind of lovely, right?

Now, only some of these newly made-up words stick – others do not. Tölva, for example, stuck. As did words like þyrla [helicopter] – literally “whirl”, þota [jet] – taken from the verb þjóta, meaning “rush”, and sjónvarp [television] – literally “vision cast”.

Others, however, do not stick. Take for instance the word flatbaka [pizza] – literally “flat bake”. Nope. Just didn’t take. Everyone still says “pizza”.

Another word that is pretty hilarious in my opinion, and which definitely did not stick, is the word loðber – “furry berry”. As a matter of fact I was amazed yesterday that this word actually existed, because the object/concept it describes is something quite familiar that I know under another name, which is a lot more commonly used. Whereas I have never heard the word loðber used.

And now: a wee quiz. What do you think the word loðber means in Icelandic? Can you imagine?

The answer will be revealed in Wednesday’s post, so stay tuned!

The bookdrop tour is ON

by alda on June 10, 2015

Today I am hitting the ring road [that circles Iceland] to distribute my books to retailers. We’ll be stopping in Höfn, Seyðisfjörður [two nights], somewhere near Húsavík [no accommodation booked yet so it looks like we’re winging it], two nights in Akureyri, and two nights at Kolkuós in Skagafjörður.

Here’s a picture from magical Kolkuós – we stayed there last last year. In the background is the historic island of Drangey – such a stunner.


This means that posting on this site will be light over the next couple of weeks, though I will be posting regular updates to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also! You might want to amuse yourself by listening to the mellifluous voice of Yours Truly as recorded on the delightful Radio Iceland recently.

Have a great couple of weeks everyone!

Yesterday I saw a man of a respectable age out walking his dog. The dog stopped next to a light pole, crouched down, and pooped – as dogs do. The man stopped, observed, and when the dog finished started to walk away.

Clean-Up-After-Your-Pet-300x297“Shouldn’t  you pick up after your dog?*” I asked him.

“Yes, I should,” he answered, looking at me sheepishly but making no movement to do so.

“Show responsibility as a dog owner?” I continued jovially. “Do you need a bag?” And I started rifling through my pockets for a poop bag [which, being a responsible dog owner, I always have on me], since I thought surely the poor man had forgotten his at home.

“Er, no, I have a bag,” he said, going on to produce one from his own pocket. He then stooped down and cleaned up the doggie poop.

In other words, he had a baggie but had not planned to use it – unless he got caught.

I posted about this on Facebook, and one of my [Icelandic] FB friends commented: “So typical for the Icelanders, this “There are rules here that need to be followed, but they don’t apply to me” mentality.

Which pretty much NAILS IT.

* I spoke Icelandic, of course, and this is the literal translation of the question. In English, I would not word it quite this way as it sounds rather abrupt, but in Icelandic it sounds quite normal. The reason I specify this is because of the man’s response.

[Pic found here.]

About the Icelanders: Elves as Prozac

by alda on June 5, 2015

According to the old folk stories, the Icelandic population had a curious relationship with the elves or hidden people [terms that are used interchangeably in Icelandic and mean the same thing]. The hidden folk were, obviously, hidden [read: invisible] to humans, yet they could see the humans without any difficulty. Which is kind of unsettling when you think about it.


“Huldufólk” by Þrándur Þórarinsson.

The thing about the elves was that they decided when they wanted to be seen. Generally this only happened if they needed something. Hidden women, for example, had trouble giving birth with alarming frequency, and in those instances they needed the assistance of mortal women, who helped them to give birth simply by laying hands on them.

When hidden people did decide to appear to humans they usually did so in dreams. If the humans agreed to come away and help the elves they were usually amply rewarded, leading an auspicious, prosperous life from then on. If they refused to help, or pissed off an elf in some way, WOE to them because there would be no end of trouble in their lives.

Many scholars believe that folk stories were the anti-depressants of the day. Stories of elves and hidden people allowed people to escape into a fantasy world that existed parallel to their own, where there was order and prosperity and where the [hidden] people had some power over their own destinies.

Humans projected their deepest desires and longings onto the hidden people. The ubiquitousness of the elf women’s birth trouble, for instance, was likely a reflection of what happened in the human world, where women routinely died in childbirth. No doubt they longed for a world where this did not need to happen – where people came to your aid, like they did in the world of the hidden people. Imagining such a world, so close to their own, likely provided comfort during times of grief and adversity.

To be fair, stories of elves exist where the women die in childbirth because the human refuses to help. As I mentioned, the wrath of the elves comes down on the humans in such cases, and their lives are made miserable from then on. I believe that this story construction was the humans’ way of coping with their own feeling of powerlessness. They could identify with the elves, who like the humans were filled with grief and a desire to lash out at someone – anyone – whom they deemed responsible. However, in contrast to the elves, the humans could only accept their fate. The elves had an outlet for their anger – just like the humans desperately wanted to have.

I could go on drawing parallels like this. There are many, many. But the bottom line is that, examined in this context, the Icelanders’ elf belief is far more profound than simply the stories of strange beings who allegedly still dictate the conduct of the human population, just for the hell of it.

All of this is discussed at length in my Little Book of the Hidden People, available here.

[Painting by Þrándur Þórarinsson, found here.]

Beautiful Brúarfoss

June 3, 2015

This waterfall, called Brúarfoss [Bridge falls] is one of my favourites in all of Iceland. It is off the beaten track, tucked away inland, with no road save a hiking/horse riding track to access it. I used to rent a cottage every summer very close by, and it would take me about ten minutes to reach […]

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About the Icelanders: those beguiling creatures known as elves

June 1, 2015

When non-Icelanders hear about the Icelanders’ belief in elves, they usually picture us believing in the existence of little leprechaun-like creatures with pointy hats, or tiny fairies that flit among the flowers like butterflies. The “belief” aspect notwithstading [personally I don’t know anyone who believes in the existence of elves, though certain sections of the Icelandic […]

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About the Icelanders: of laufabrauð and rotten flour

May 29, 2015

For centuries, Iceland was an oppressed colony. Among other things this oppression took the form of a trade monopoly, in which the Icelanders, by law, were only permitted to trade with Danes – our colonial overlords. All merchants in Iceland were Danish, or Danish proxies, and the merchandise they profferred in return for Icelandic wares […]

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May 27, 2015

Last year when we did our Ring Road tour, we spent the first night in a place called Þakgil, in the south. To reach it, you turn north at a turnoff just past Vík and drive inland for about half an hour. We had no idea it was that far, and were starting to think […]

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The Icelanders: exchanging one set of oppressors for another

May 25, 2015

I am perpetually fascinated by people’s histories and how they inevitably manifest in their present circumstances. The same goes for nations. A nation’s history tends to manifest in its present, just like an individual’s does. Take Iceland. For several centuries we were oppressed by our colonial overlords. Iceland became an independent republic in 1944, just over 60 […]

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