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I&I Issues and Images


2 • 2010

Photo: Pรกll Stefรกnsson

Issues and Images Vol. 6 2-2010 Editor: Benedikt Jรณhannesson Staff writer: Eyglรณ Svala Arnarsdรณttir Contributing writers: Bjarni Brynjรณlfsson, Pรกll Stefรกnsson and Sari Peltonen Design: Erlingur Pรกll Ingvarsson Photographers: Geir ร“lafsson and Pรกll Stefรกnsson TCI Editorial Consultant: Lilja Vidarsdรณttir On the cover: Photo by Pรกll Stefรกnsson. Austurvรถllur, Reykjavรญk Back cover: Photo by Pรกll Stefรกnsson Printing: Oddi Published for the Trade Council of Iceland by Heimur Publishing Ltd. Copyright Heimur Publishing. No articles in the magazine may be reproduced elsewhere in whole or in part without the prior permission of the publisher.





4 On and off East Iceland Music Festival Awarded Sixty Icelandic Books Published in Germany Iceland Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 60th Anniversary Keflavík International Airport Named Best Airport in Europe 6 Humorous and Diplomatic Foreign Minister Össur Skarphédinsson 8 A Veteran of Gigs Iceland Airwaves’ new manager Grímur Atlason is no newcomer to staging gigs in Iceland. 9 Bookworm on ice Thórbergur Thórdarson´s museum Thórbergssetur is a must stop on Ring Road One. 10 Floating on a Blue Cloud While all the outdoor swimming pools and natural hot springs in Iceland are worth a visit, the Blue Lagoon is something special. 12 I Am Like a Bird See Iceland in a helicopter, the best way to enjoy the colors, the eruptions and mountains in Iceland’s nature. 13 Saga Swimmer Resurrected Named Male Swimmer of the Year in 2009, Jakob Jóhann Sveinsson is among the foremost Icelandic swimmers in breaststroke. 14 Best Off Vatnajökull National Park covers almost fourteen percent of the country. 15 Moving Mountains Is your weekly routine missing a high? Would you make a vow to climb one mountain per week for a year? Two hundred people did just that. 16 GROW TALL Jónsi of Sigur Rós on the Go 17 Keeping Track of Fish Star-Oddi Follows Fish Underwater 18 Unforgettable Power Eyjafjallajökull (AY-yah-FYAH’-tlah-YER-kuhl)

Trade Council of Iceland Borgartún 35, IS-105 Reykjavík. Tel +354 511 4000 Fax +354 511 4040

INVEST IN ICELAND AGENCY Borgartún 35, IS-105 Reykjavík. Tel +354 561 5200 Fax +354 511 4040

Ministry for Foreign Affairs Raudarárstígur 25, IS-150 Reykjavík. Tel +354 545 9900 Fax +354 562 4878

20 A Diary of Business and Politics The top stories in business and politics in Iceland from March 2010 to June 2010 21 Inspired by Iceland Icelanders Invite the World to Visit Their Country. 22 Daring, Caring and Being Responsible Icepharma, a Company with Values 23 Icelandic Design Design collective Vík Prjónsdóttir, based in Vík in South Iceland, is inspired by the surrounding dramatic landscape and by local folk tales, resulting in energetic, fun and colorful designs.




On and Off


East Iceland Music Festival Awarded

Photo: Páll Stefánsson

The brothers Magni and Áskell Heidar Ásgeirsson received the Eyrarrós—a special recognition award for outstanding contribution to a cultural project in a rural area—on February 15 for the music festival Braedslan in Borgarfjördur Eystri, East Iceland. The music festival has raised significant attention in recent years and has always been well attended. “It is always good to get a pat on the back and recognition for one’s work. It is encouraging for us,” Magni Ásgeirsson said when he accepted the Eyrarrós from Dorrit Moussaieff, the president’s wife, who is the award’s patron. The prize is ISK 1.5 million (USD 12,000, EUR 8,500) and a trophy designed by sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir. c


Agreements have been made for the publication of 60 Icelandic books in Germany by fall 2011 through the ‘Fabulous Iceland’ project, which is promoting Icelandic literature in connection with Iceland being the honorary guest at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair. Many of Germany’s leading publishers, such as Suhrkamp Verlag and Fischer Verlag, will participate in this project and a total of 35 German publishers are known to be planning the publication of Icelandic literary works in the next year and a half. About half of the books to be published in Germany are fiction: novels or collections of short stories. In addition, 14 scholarly works are to be published, including books on Icelandic history and literary history, five volumes of poetry, three children’s books and eight volumes of the Icelandic Sagas. c



Photo: Páll Stefánsson

Sixty Icelandic Books Published in Germany

On and Off




Iceland Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 60th Anniversary

Photo: Geir Ólafsson

In February, Keflavík International Airport was named the best airport in Europe in 2009, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by Airports Council International (ACI). Keflavík was followed by Zürich in Switzerland, Porto in Portugal, Valetta in Malta and Southampton in the UK. The best airport in the world for the fifth year in a row was Incheon, South Korea. The ACI survey showed that in all of these airports the executives have demonstrated that they perfectly understand that what passengers like today is also what they expect tomorrow. Staying at the top, constant development and novelties are required, the survey concluded. Björn Óli Hauksson, CEO of Keflavík International Airport, said the achievement lies in listening to customers and meeting their needs. The level of service is a result of a joint initiative by all staff members, who guarantee quick and reliable service. He therefore presented each of his staff members with a document of recognition and a gold medal. c

Photo: Geir Ólafsson

Keflavík International Airport Named Best Airport in Europe

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 60th anniversary this year—the first concert was held in March 1950. On March 18, the event was remembered with a concert performed by not just a big, but a huge band. An almost 100-person band played Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and a 30-person choir and two solo performers also participated. Moreover, a new composition by Haflidi Hallgrímsson was performed for the first time at the occasion. “The orchestra’s artistic position is very good and it has been improving in the past years, as we can see by reviews of its concerts and the prestige we have gained abroad through nominations for awards and the awards we have received. We also see it through the increase in spectators between years. For example, there was a 40 percent increase in the sale of subscriptions last autumn compared to the years prior,” said the symphony orchestra’s program director Árni Heimir Ingólfsson. c



Humorous and Diplomatic


ssur has a strong belief in the EU and has never strayed from that belief,” says Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and former Foreign Minister. Skarphédinsson’s path to politics was rather strange. He became a doctor in fish farming and when pushing his way up the political ladder often joked about being “a doctor in the sex life of salmonids.” A colleague of his at the time says he was torn between the scientific and the political. “But his love for being in the public eye won over.” Hannibalsson says Skarphédinsson’s choice of study was the most unlikely preparation for politics but that his education equipped him with better English than most Icelandic lawmakers, a strong tool for becoming an efficient Foreign Minister. Skarphédinsson became the editor of the socialist party paper Thjódviljinn in 1984 but soon joined a group of discontented people within the Althýdubandalag (The People’s Alliance) called Birting (Dawn). Those people dreamt of a broad merger of the small parties on the left. Skarphédinsson left the PA, joined the Social Democrats and was elected MP. In 1993 this relatively new MP was appointed Minister of the Environment. “Other people were higher in the pecking order,” says Hannibalsson, “but the fact that he had a PhD in biology gave him an advantage.”

Although good natured and humorous, Skarphédinsson has always been a wild animal in politics according to his own words. “He is unpredictable but he has a warm and sensitive side to him. Össur is very intelligent and his memory is simply astounding,” says Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, a fellow MP of the SDM. “I’ve no enemies in Parliament, but many friends,” said Skarphédinsson in an interview in 1996. That remark still has truth to it in 2010. He is clever at nurturing relations with fellow MPs and has friends in all political parties. “Össur is diplomatic and humorous,” says Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a new opposition MP. “He is very direct and often starts by flattering his opponents, then shoots his arrows.” Skarphédinsson is the oldest of five siblings. He has two brothers and two sisters. At thirteen, one of Skarphédinsson’s eyes was badly bruised in an accident. As a result he did not learn to drive until forty and is said to be a ghastly driver. Impaired vision however does not prevent him from being an omnivorous reader. He and his wife adopted two young daughters from Columbia in 1996 and 1999. His pastimes consist of reading, walking and battling his extra pounds at a local gym. c Bjarni Brynjólfsson.

CURRICULUM VITAE 1953: Born 19.06.1953 in Reykjavík. 1973: Graduated from Menntaskólinn in Reykjavík high school. 1979: BS degree in biology from the University of Iceland. 1983: Doctorate in biology, University of East Anglia in Norwich; Research for British Marine Federation in Lowestoft, Suffolk. 1984 – 1987: Editor of socialist party newspaper Thjódviljinn (Nation’s Will).



1991 – 1999: Member of Althingi Parliament for the Social Democratic Party. 1993 – 1995: Minister for the Environment in coalition of the SDP and Independence Party led by Davíd Oddsson. 1996: Publishes a book, Urridadans (Dance of the Brown Trout) about the brown trout stock of Lake Thingvallavatn. 1997: Editor of party newspaper of the SDP, Althýdubladid. 1997 – 1998: Editor of evening paper DV.

1999 – 2010: Member of Althingi Parliament for the Reykjavík Constituencies for the Social Democratic Alliance, a party created from the old parties of Social Democratic Party, People’s Alliance and the Women’s Party. 2000 – 2005: First Chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance. 2007 – 2009: Minister of Industry and Tourism. 2009: Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Photo By Páll Stefánsson

Foreign Minister Össur Skarphédinsson





A Veteran of Gigs


rímur Atlason has served as mayor of the small fishing town of Bolungarvík and has for the past two years been mayor of Dalabyggd municipality, a job he is leaving soon now that he has become the head of Iceland’s most prominent music festival, Iceland Airwaves. Grímur Atlason’s first real experience with rock and roll was when he provided the booze for The Swans, the loudest band in the world at that time, on their tour to Iceland in 1987. Atlason, then a student at Menntaskólinn vid Hamrahlíd high school, became mesmerized. He carried on the strong and long tradition of alternative rock at his high school for which the students had voracious appetites. (Both Björk and Einar Örn from the Sugarcubes were students there and many other Icelandic rock wizards). Atlason staged concerts with numerous Icelandic and international acts at Hamrahlíd, including the infamous Happy Mondays from Manchester. After graduation from Hamrahlíd he studied development therapy and worked at this profession for some years before returning to old habits and promoting rock concerts in Reykjavík. Among his most successful concerts was a huge event with Eric Clapton in 2008 which is still the biggest indoor event ever held in Iceland; the massive free outdoor Nature Concert with Björk, Sigurrós, Ghostigital and others, also in 2008; and Innipúkinn music festival held annually in Reykjavík over the first weekend of August. Atlason says that Iceland Airwaves has been growing ever since it started twelve years ago in a hangar at Reykjavík airport. The festival has got raving reviews through the years. For example David Fricke



of Rolling Stone magazine called it “the hippest long weekend on the annual music festival calendar.” A cooperation between Reykjavík City and Icelandair, the festival has been attracting larger audiences and wider media attention every year. But the economic meltdown caused some problems for the festival, especially in relation to attracting international acts. “The past two years have been difficult moneywise, because the Icelandic króna lost its value, but last year it was sold out nevertheless,” he says. Atlason says he was not hired to change the festival. “I’m not saying I won’t change anything, because new people bring new ideas. But the main thing is to organize a great music festival which leaves something behind and makes people happy. Iceland Airwaves is primarily a festival to promote the Icelandic music scene. It has also been successful in attracting international bands and musicians that have been on the verge of making it and I hope we can continue in that spirit,” he says. First line-up of Airwaves this year, which will be held over the weekend of 13 – 17 October, indicates that the festival will maintain that tradition with all the major Icelandic bands showing up. Bang Gang, Dikta, Hjaltalín, Ham, Hjálmar, Mugison, Retro Stefson and other prime players have all announced they will be there along with rising foreign acts such as JJ from Sweden, The Amplifetes from USA and Joy Formidable from the UK to name but a few of Iceland Airwaves’ line up this year. The most exciting appearances though are those of promising new Icelandic bands c Bjarni Brynjólfsson.

Photo By Páll Stefánsson

Iceland Airwaves’ new manager Grímur Atlason is no newcomer to staging gigs in Iceland.


Bookworm on ice Thórbergur Thórdarson´s museum Thórbergssetur is a must stop on Ring Road One.

Photo By Páll Stefánsson


n Ring Road One, the road circling Iceland, there are a few ‘must stops’. One is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, one of the most unique and beautiful places on the Ring Road, 375 kilometers east of Reykjavík. Nature at its best. After half a day witnessing the seals, the arctic terns and the ever changing icebergs, it’s good to meet up with some culture. The next farm east of Jökulsárlón is Hali, birthplace of one of Iceland’s best known

writers, Thórbergur Thórdarson (1888–1974). Thórbergssetur museum, designed by Sveinn Ívarsson and opened four years ago, puts Thórdarson’s life and work on display. The permanent exhibition designed by Jón Tórisson gives a good insight into Thórdarson life, as well as the life of the nation. Interesting and well designed. Thórbergssetur is open daily from nine to nine, and in the café/restaurant is a photo

exhibition from this area, Sudursveit. The pictures date from 1930 to 1960 and give a good glimpse of life and play during that period in this very remote and isolated county. Thórdarson himself moved to Reykjavík at the age of eighteen, and lived there for the rest of his life, writing. Very popular in Iceland, he has not been widely translated into English. His best known book: In Search of My Beloved, translated by Kenneth G. Chapman. Bon Voyage. c Páll Stefánsson.





Blue Lagoon

Floating on a Blue Cloud While all the outdoor swimming pools and natural hot springs in Iceland are worth a visit, the Blue Lagoon is something special.

Photo: Páll Stefánsson


loating in warm water, cocooned in a blanket, sunshine in my face, skilled hands massaging my body… this must be what heaven feels like. I was enjoying a massage in the Blue Lagoon on a sunny day in May, compliments of my friends who were throwing me a hen party. Up until then I had dreamt about such a massage but never treated myself to it. I hadn’t even been to this tourist hotspot for years. There is a reason why the Blue Lagoon is so popular among travelers. Apart from its convenient location right next to Keflavík International Airport—it’s the perfect place to drain away that travel fatigue, kick that jet lag or relax before a flight back home—a dip in the lagoon’s silicarich dreamy blue water is like no other. Algae gives the lagoon its distinct blue color, and the combination of natural minerals, silica and algae have a proven healing effect on skin disorders; people suffering from psoriasis bathe in the lagoon regularly for treatment. But even if you don’t have any skin problems, the silica does you good. Just try rubbing the thick white mud accumulated in the lagoon on your skin and feel how silky-smooth it becomes. When you approach the state-of-the-art building through an outlandish lava field, it’s hard to imagine that the Blue Lagoon came to be by ‘accident’ through excess water from the Sudurnes Regional Heating Corporation’s operations in the Svartsengi geothermal area in 1976. It wasn’t until people started bathing in the lagoon five years later and noticed its healing effect on psoriasis that its potential was realized and the first public bathing facilities opened in 1987. The source of the water in the lagoon is 2,000 meters deep in the ground. A blend of seawater and fresh water, it travels through porous lava, undergoing mineral exchange in the process. When it approaches

the surface, a concentration takes place due to vaporization, evaporation and sedimentation. The six million liters of water in the lagoon are renewed automatically every 40 hours. The water has a self-cleaning effect, making chemicals like chlorine unnecessary. Today, the Blue Lagoon boasts a special clinic and treatment center for psoriasis patients, a spa with in-water spa treatments and massage, a range of skin care products and shops in Iceland and Denmark. More than 400,000 people take a dip in the lagoon every year (outnumbering Iceland’s population of 320,000 people by far), which makes it one of the most visited sites in Iceland. Winning Condé Nast Traveller’s 2009 Reader’s Spa Award, visitors seem to feel bathing in the Blue Lagoon truly is an experience to behold, living up to all the hype. Indeed, while all the outdoor swimming pools and natural hot springs in Iceland are worth a visit, the Blue Lagoon is something special. “You can now relax for a few minutes,” the masseuse whispers when my time is up and sends my mattress drifting towards a corner of the lagoon’s spa section. I imagine myself floating on a cloud and doze off in pure bliss. I wouldn’t mind napping there all day but my friends await me with a glass of beer at the bar so I reluctantly part with my blue cloud. The 37-39°C warm water envelops me as I lazily swim towards the other end of the lagoon to reunite with my friends at the bar. I’m all smiles as they hand me a glass. Mmmm, that beer sure is refreshing. My friends and I chitchat for a while, observe all the smiley happy people around us and work a bit on our tans before we head to the dressing room and prepare for a girls’ night out. Best hen party ever. c Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

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Travel Travel

I Am Like a Bird


hen the small eruption started at Fimmvörduháls, March 20, people flocked from the capital to witness the power of Mother Nature. Some walked the 15 kilometers and six hours from Skógar, others rented snowmobiles or small airplanes, but the best way to see the eruption was from a helicopter. From Skógar and Hotel Rangá, the helicopter companies flew tourists from dawn to dusk. Helicopters in the tourist industry are not 12


new, but the short trip with nature at its best was a perfect business model, so many people took a helicopter trip for the first time and came back with a big smile. Bergmenn Mountain Guides in Skídadalur in Eyjafjördur, North Iceland, has offered heliskiing in April and May for many years. It is the perfect way to reach the best skiing areas in Iceland, areas with no ski lifts but plenty of steep mountains and lots of snow. In fact the only way to get there is by helicopter.

The movie industry and international advertising companies have used Iceland and its landscape as a backdrop for many years. The best tool to get the best shots is a helicopter. Like for the Porsche Cayenne advertising in Hvalfjördur, or for Die Another Day, the James Bond movie, partly shot at Jökulsárlón, South East Iceland. There are about five companies in Iceland with helicopters, þyrla in Icelandic, for tourists. Book one and you won’t regret it. c Páll Stefánsson

Photo: Páll Stefánsson

See Iceland in a helicopter, the best way to enjoy the colors, the eruptions and mountains in Iceland’s nature.


Saga Swimmer Resurrected Named Male Swimmer of the Year in 2009, Jakob Jóhann Sveinsson is among the foremost Icelandic swimmers in breaststroke.


ne might think that since Iceland is an island with the North Atlantic Ocean crashing in from all sides, since it has lakes and rivers aplenty and since an important part of its culture is bathing in hot springs and pools, that competitive swimming would be somewhat of a national sport in Iceland. However, that is not the case. In spite of sagas telling tales of heroic swimmers—Grettir “the strong” swam from Drangey island on Skagafjördur to the mainland to fetch fire—few Icelanders even knew how to swim until the 20th century; if fishermen fell into the ocean they were lost forever. However, in modern Iceland swimming is taught throughout elementary and high school and it has also become quite a popular sport. Three-time Olympic swimmer Jakob Jóhann Sveinsson (competing at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics) is among the foremost Icelandic swimmers in breaststroke. In November 2009, he won the 50, 100 and 200-meter breaststroke in the Icelandic Championship in short course (a 25-meter pool), breaking the Icelandic record in all instances. At the championship, Sveinsson also became the first Icelander to

swim the 100-meter breaststroke in less than one minute—58.91 seconds—which, at the time, was the second-best achievement in Europe that year and the second-best achievement in the Nordic countries of all time. However, those records were short-lived as they were broken at the European Championship the following month. After his outstanding performance at the Icelandic Championship, Sveinsson was named Male Swimmer of the Year at the annual celebration of the Icelandic Swimming Association in November 2009. Sveinsson is modest when asked to what he owes his successful career in swimming. “I just like practicing and my parents are very supportive,” he says. He is also not easily starstruck. “I don’t have any specific swimmer as a role model. I follow the achievements of a range of swimmers, define what makes them good and then try to figure out what I can learn from each of them.” Born in 1982, Sveinsson started swimming for Reykjavík club Aegir in 1991. His first big achievement was when he earned the silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke at the European Championship for teenagers in 2000.

In the following years he went on to qualify for semi-finals and finals in the 100 and 200meter breaststroke at a range of adult European and World Championships. Sveinsson’s best Olympic achievement to date was at the 2004 Olympics in Athens when he placed 21st in the 100-meter breaststroke. Closer to home at the Icelandic Championship in March 2010, Sveinsson won the 50-meter breaststroke with a time of 28.72 seconds and was more than half a second quicker than the second-best swimmer there. Yet Sveinsson declared that he was disappointed with his time as he had wanted to swim 0.4 seconds faster. “My goal is to constantly improve as an athlete, and to improve as a person, both in the pool and outside of it,” he says. Right now, Sveinsson is busy practicing for his next challenge. “My biggest tournament this summer is the European Championship in Budapest in August where my goal is to swim faster than I have done at a European Championship so far.” With such ambition, perhaps Iceland has been granted a new heroic swimmer a-la Grettir “the strong”? c Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

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Best Off V

atnajökull National Park is not only Europe’s biggest national park, at 13,600 km2 it’s the same size as all 29 islands of The Bahamas or the entire Republic of Montenegro. Inside the park you have the best of Iceland. Not only is there Vatnajökull glacier, the biggest glacier outside the polar regions, you also have Hvannadalshnjúkur at 2,110 meters, Iceland’s highest peak, and the Kverkfjöll mountains, where fire and ice have the biggest 14


fight in the republic. There’s also Laki, the 25 kilometer long row of craters which last erupted in 1783. That eruption lasted four years and produced the biggest lava flow in the history of mankind. You have Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall on the continent, and Askja volcano area, by far my favorite destination in Iceland. In the park you have two camping sites: Ásbyrgi in the north east and Skaftafell in

the south east. There are good hiking trails from both of these places, and in Skaftafell it’s a short walk to Hvannadalshnjúkur, where you can see almost the whole world beneath. Another mountain inside the park worth trying is the mountain queen, Herdubreid, mid-way between the Vatnajökull glacier and Ásbyrgi. Difficult but rewarding, with an outstanding view over the central highlands. c Páll Stefánsson

Photos: Páll Stefánsson

Vatnajökull National Park covers almost fourteen percent of the country.

National Park

Top left: Hafragilsfoss, Jökulsá á Fjöllum.

Askja and Víti.

Bottom left: Skaftafellsjökull in Vatnajökull.

I&I 15




igur Rós is one of the best known Icelandic bands. The band is laying low and Jónsi the group’s vocalist and guitarist has been working on another kind of treat: his first solo album ‘go’ came out on April 5th in Europe/April 6th in the US through XL, after which he embarked upon an extensive tour on both sides of the Atlantic. But how did he get here? He agreed to a short interview. “I grew up in the countryside,” Jónsi says. “I knew I was gay but I didn’t know anyone else that would be like me, so I had to paint, draw and create a lot to keep myself happy. The only subject I used to have straight A’s in was drawing.” Music only took over when Jónsi left school to work in a recording studio (“I find it important for a musician to master that side of it, too”). He fronted grunge act Stoned, then Bee Spiders, under a pair of black sunglasses and the alias Jonny B. For the past 16 years, Jónsi has been the vocalist and guitarist of Sigur Rós, named after his little sister who was born at the same time the band formed. While debut album Von sold a grand total of 313 copies when released in 1997, the band rocketed to international fame with their 2000 album Ágaetis Byrjun, Icelandic for “an alright start”, a friend’s comment after hearing the first track of the album. A minor understatement, the album became one of the defining records of the 20th century, appearing in numerous ‘best of’ lists all over the world and selling millions of copies. The lyricless, titleless 2002 album () and 2005’s Takk… continued the success story, with single Hoppipolla cropping up everywhere from a David Attenborough narrated BBC documentary to major advertisements (Oxfam, FIFA World Cup) and Hollywood trailers (Slumdog Millionaire, Children of Men), bringing the alternative post-rock band firmly into the mainstream consciousness. The most recent Med sud í eyrum vid spilum endalaust (With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly) was released in 2008. Having sold their Sundlaugin studio (“we’re back at Orri’s garage”), fans can rejoice, a new Sigur Rós album is in the plans for 2011. Going Solo

“It’s cool!” says Jónsi on going solo, “It’s different. Sigur Rós works like a little hippie community, there is no boss, we do everything together. Alone, 16


there are a lot of decisions to make and it can be a bit stressful.” “Originally it seemed that the record could become small, acoustic and intimate. By the time we got miracle child Nico Muhly’s demos of his arrangements, I realized that it was going to fly out of our hands,” explains Finnish percussionist Samuli Kosminen. “Jónsi had plenty of fine ideas in relation to playing, the sound, almost anything… how the microphones were positioned, how strong the tea should be,” Kosminen says. “He would give lots of freedom yet know exactly what he likes. He is very eager to try new things and open to every unconventional or slightly crazy possibility.” Kosminen lists his instruments, “drums and other rhythmic toys, a little harp, glockenspiel, kalimba, American Tourister 81 cm Samsonite bag.” “But how is Jónsi as a musician?” I ask Kosminen. “Hmm… lower mid-range,” he answers, tongue-in-cheek. “Without a doubt multitalented, enthusiastic and sensitive.” Muhly echoes the sentiment, “Jónsi is a very sensitive musician; he reacts quite quickly to things.” The outcome is a playful, sincere and fairytale-beautiful album, bearing motifs familiar to Sigur Rós fans—the trademark falsetto, vast-as-the-sky soundscapes and folk influences—yet standing separate from the band’s oeuvre. As Sigur Rós bassist Georg Hólm described the single Boy Lilikoi in the local daily paper, “very Jónsi-like”. “Maybe the goal with anything you do is to find the flow, it makes you feel alive, and it is important to me to feel alive. And the more it flows the purer it gets, you know, you get into this mode where the things just happen and you don’t even think about it, and afterwards you look at what you’ve done and you feel like ‘wow that’s really amazing’.” But with international success in a band TIME listed as one of the 10 best in the world today and dozens of times more fans than there are inhabitants in your home country, there is surely not much left to accomplish. “I don’t think about it like that, it is not about accomplishing something,” Jónsi says, “I just love to do it. I love to play instruments. Like four guys playing together and creating music and songs, it is so beautiful, like magic. It is one of my favorite things to do.” c Sari Peltonen New album ‘go’ was out on April 5. www.

Photo Páll Stefánsson

Jónsi of Sigur Rós on the Go


Keeping Track of Fish Star-Oddi Follows Fish Underwater


Photo Geir Ólafsson

ne of the many technology companies in Iceland is Star-Oddi Ltd which was founded in Iceland in 1985. From day one it has been a leading developer and manufacturer of technology used in aquatic and fisheries research. Over the years the company has found uses for its products in other industries such as the pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries. Milestones in the company’s history: In 1993 the Data Storage Tag (DST)—a miniature data logger—was developed. It was originally designed in cooperation with marine research institutes as a small fish data logger for tagging species such as cod and halibut, collecting information on the behavior of valuable, commercial species. The loggers are used for other underwater research as well as in the pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries. The DST is exceptionally well

suited to any research involving living subjects because of its biocompatible ceramic material. It’s not recognized by the animal’s body as foreign material and this lowers mortality rates due to rejection. In 2001 the Underwater Tagging Equipment was launched; a unique product on the market today because it has the ability to tag fish underwater. The fish is tagged in its natural environment and doesn’t have to survive the trip to the surface, reducing mortality rate from pressure and temperature change. Star-Oddi has a wide range of loggers that measure temperature, depth, pressure, salinity, conductivity, tilt and magnetic field strength. These products have been used for an extensive range of studies including fish migration, fishing gear, oceanography, borehole monitoring, toxicology studies, drug development and pasteurization measurements. Company CEO and founder Sigmar

Gudbjörnsson says that the company has always stressed how important it is to be profitable. “In 2009 we had our fifth year of profits in a row. We continuously work on improving our current products to better meet the needs of our customers. We focus our R&D efforts on developing new products that offer solutions not previously available to our customers. We have received awards for our innovations including: the Icelandic Fisheries Award in 2005 for Outstanding Icelandic Supplier and Catching and Research Equipment; and the Icelandic Centre for Research and Trade Council of Iceland’s 2006 Innovation Award. Our employees have also won individual awards for their work for Star-Oddi.” But where does the name come from? “StarOddi is the name of an ancient Icelandic Viking who was known for analyzing the movements of the sun, moon and stars,” Sigmar says. “We thought that was appropriate.” c

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Unforgettable Power Eyjafjallajökull (AY-yah-FYAH’-tlah-YER-kuhl)


n March 20th, a small eruption started in Fimmvörduháls, close to Eyjafjallajökull (AY-yah-FYAH’-tlah-YER-kuhl) glacier, and lasted for three weeks. Thousands of tourists went up to see the small volcano, hiking, snowmobiling, on super jeeps and helicopters, admiring the fascinating show Mother Earth put on. After two days of no activity, early in the morning of April 14th, an eruption started on top of Eyjafjallajökull glacier, and it was no small tourist eruption this time: it was a big one, which did not only affect Iceland, but for five days stopped almost all air traffic across most of Europe. While I was taking pictures and witnessing the power of nature, less than ten kilometers away from Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelandic friend called me from Barcelona, stuck exactly 3,000 kilometers away because of the ash clouds from the volcano. One month later, the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull was still going at full force, but we learned to live with it, and it was a one time experience to come to Iceland and see this big eruption. Not dangerous, but unforgettable to see the volcano pumping up its endless mass of volcanic ash, 700 tons every second. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption ended May 22. For good, no one knows. The volcano is only an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, the capital, you should see for yourself. c Páll Stefánsson

From Ásbyrgi

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A Diary of Business and Politics

March 24: Legislation banning striptease in Iceland and barring clubs from profiting from the nudity of employees will take effect on July 1, 2010. The legislation was passed with 31 votes. Two MPs of the Independence Party abstained but no one voted against it. March 30: American company Sabre Holdings bought the Icelandic software start-up company Calidris, which develops software used for airline computer systems. Thórdur Magnússon, chairman of the board of Calidris, said the acquisition is pleasing because it opens a door to a larger market for Calidris’ technology and methods. April 7: The resolution and winding-up committees of Glitnir Bank filed lawsuits against the bank’s majority owners Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson and Pálmi Haraldsson, former CEO Lárus Welding and three other key executives. April 12: The Special Investigative Commission of the Parliament published its report analyzing the causes of the collapse of the Icelandic banking system on this day. The commission found that some ministers and directors of financial institutions, among them former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde, had been negligent and criticized the part of various other individuals and institutions; President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was found to have failed morally. At press date, four parliamentarians have resigned or taken a leave of absence due to them being mentioned in the report. April 16: The executive board of the International Monetary Fund has approved the second review of its economic stabilization program for Iceland. Icelandic Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon said this would radically change Iceland’s situation. April 22: The Icelandic state took over the Keflavík Savings Bank (Sparisjódur Keflavíkur) on this day. Negotiations with claimants had been going on for some time but then it became clear that an agreement could not be reached and the bank went into insolvency. April 24: The German parliament decided with a vast majority to permit the European Union to begin accession talks with Iceland. Now there is nothing in the way of the Committee of Ministers from determining whether talks should begin. At press date, talks have yet to resume. 20


May 3: A total of 292 companies in Iceland went bankrupt in the first quarter of 2010, according to new information from Statistics Iceland. This is an almost 12 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2009, when 261 companies went bust. May 5: The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to lower the Central Bank of Iceland’s key interest rate by 0.5 percentage points, from 9 to 8.5 percent. May 6: Former CEO of Icelandic bank Kaupthing, Hreidar Már Sigurdsson, was arrested on this day after questioning at the Special Prosecutor’s Office. He, along with other former high-ranking Kaupthing executives, was taken into custody. Sigurdsson was released from custody on May 15 but is still under a travel ban at press date. Former Kaupthing chair Sigurdur Einarsson, who lives in London, has refused to come to Iceland for questioning and is, at press date, wanted by Interpol. May 7: Unemployment has not been more widespread in Iceland since the rate was first measured in 1991. According to Statistics Iceland, of the almost 181,000 people on the employment market in 2009, 13,100 were unemployed, which is 7.2 percent of the workforce. The unemployment rate is expected to reach 8.5 percent this year. May 11: A London court requested the freezing of assets held by Icelandic tycoon Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson around the world. Moreover, the winding-up committee of Glitnir announced that its case against Jóhannesson, who used to be the bank’s majority shareholder, began in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on this day. May 15: It was reported that the windingup committee of Landsbanki is in the final stages of preparing a number of cases against the bank’s former management and owners. The requested reimbursement amounts to ISK 90 billion. The board also asks for ISK eight billion in insurance payments because of criminal activity on behalf of the former management.

May 18: Canadian company Magma Energy acquired a 98.53 percent stake in the Icelandic energy company HS. Magma’s Swedish subsidiary bought Geysir Green Energy’s share in the company. With the acquisition, Magma has the right to harness energy in the Sudurnes region in southwest Iceland. The maximum lease period is 65 years. May 20: The Icelandic airlines have suffered significant losses in revenue because of the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. Managing Director of Icelandair Birkir Hólm Gudnason estimated that the eruption has cost the airline’s mother company, Icelandair Group, up to ISK 1 billion. May 21: President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and Minister of Industry Katrín Júlíusdóttir opened the first Icelandic data center in Hafnarfjördur. An Icelandic company, Thor DC, is behind the construction of the center and its operations. Opera Software ASA, a Norwegian company, will move a significant part of its electronic data traffic to the center. May 26: ESA, the EFTA Surveillance Authority, notified the Icelandic government in a letter of its opinion that the Icelandic state should repay the minimum deposit insurance of Landsbanki’s Icesave to the British and Dutch states. June 1: The Icelandic parliament, Althingi, condemned the attack made by the Israeli military on a convoy carrying aid supplies to the Gaza Strip the previous day. Members of all parties on the Foreign Affairs Committee, except for the Independence Party, agreed to a resolution giving the Foreign Minister the task of estimating what measures Iceland can take against Israel, including a possible break of political ties. June 3: The Ministry of Finance announced that there are strong indications that the national budget deficit which has to be corrected in the national budget for 2011 will be ISK 10 billion lower than originally expected; approximately ISK 40 billion instead of 50 billion. June 4: Dagur B. Eggertsson, vice-chairman of the Social Democrats, and Jón Gnarr, comedian and victor of the municipal elections in Reykjavík, announced that Gnarr will become mayor of Reykjavík for the next four years. c Eygló Svala Arnardóttir

Fun Travel

Inspired by Iceland Icelanders Invite the World to Visit Their Country.


he eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull and Fimmvörduháls created a lot of interest in Iceland, but also some misconceptions. To counter the impression that traveling to Iceland was in any way dangerous, a campaign was started in May to encourage people to travel to Iceland. The song ‘Jungle Drum’ by Icelandic singersongwriter Emilíana Torrini is used in a video promoting Iceland as a travel destination. The video, which shows people dancing to Torrini’s ‘Jungle Drum’ in various locations, should correct misconceptions about the situation in Iceland caused by the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull and encourage people to come visit the country. Icelanders were asked to send the video to

friends and family. The ‘Jungle Drum’ video initiative, called ‘Thjódin býdur heim’ (‘The nation invites you home’), was formally launched in Idnó in Reykjavík at a ceremony attended by representatives of tourism companies, the government, Reykjavík City and the Trade Council. People, including various celebrities, are also using social websites such as Facebook and Twitter to share the video with their friends and fans. Among them is musician-artist Yoko Ono, who tweeted about the initiative. She has nearly 900,000 followers on Twitter. Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk placed a link to the new video from her Facebook profile. Five cameras show images from Iceland around the clock. Three are placed in Reykjavík, one at the Blue Lagoon and one in Jökulsárlón,

the ice filled lagoon in southeastern Iceland. Friends of Iceland include Viggo Mortensen and Stephen Fry. The Lord of the Rings star is a true friend of Iceland. He has been here on many occasions and even exhibited his photographs here. And he has nice things to say about Iceland. Fry, who convinced me to do a road trip in the United States after I watched his travel show Stephen Fry in America, tweeted that, “Despite what you might think, Iceland is as alive and charming as ever.” And he’s right, you know. At this time of year, life is everywhere. The leaves on the trees are opening up and have acquired that bright green color of spring; the first of the flowers have started to bloom; and lambs are being born at farms across the country. c

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Daring, Caring and Being Responsible M

argrét Gudmundsdóttir, Chairman of The Icelandic Federation of Trade, is one of the leading executives in Iceland. She has been Managing Director of Icepharma since November 2005. Before that she was a member of the top management team at Shell in Iceland for a decade, having earlier served for nine years as a director at Q8, a Danish subsidiary of Kuwait Petroleum International. Icepharma is engaged in the sale and marketing of products from leading international suppliers. It is a relatively young company in the Icelandic healthcare market, founded in October 2004, although the roots of the company can be traced back to the foundation of the pharmacy Laugavegsapótek by Mr. Stefán Thorarensen in 1919. The last decade has been characterized by mergers and acquisitions, but fortunately the company’s solid foundation and extensive knowledge has been preserved through those changes. “Icepharma currently employs approximately 70 well educated people with broad experience in their respective fields,” Gudmundsdóttir says. “We have been lucky enough to attract very qualified employees and in the 22


last 3 years Icepharma has been nominated as an Outstanding company to work for. Moreover, Icepharma was awarded The Environmental Prize by the municipality of Reykjavik in 2007.” She goes on: “I find management interesting and the idea of running a company in a way that makes people feel good and gives them the opportunity to develop both professionally and personally on the job is very exciting.” The majority of Icepharma employees are women but Gudmundsdóttir says that is not company policy. “It just so happens that there are many women in the pharmaceutical profession, but of course we employ men as well. We are an equal opportunity workplace in every sense.” Finally, we ask what Gudmundsdóttir likes best about the business world: “The best thing is that since business principles are so general, your background is not so important. You will not get a job as a health care professional unless you have the right experience and qualifications, but as a business manager, you can go through all sorts of companies and work in all sorts of scenarios even if you don’t have professional knowledge about every little detail within the company.” c

Photo: Geir Ólafsson

Icepharma, a Company with Values

Icelandic Design Playing Seal, Napping Volcano Design collective Vík Prjónsdóttir, based in Vík in South Iceland, is inspired by the surrounding dramatic landscape and by local folk tales, resulting in energetic, fun and colorful designs. Products include a spread printed with a topographical map of the neighboring volcanoes Eyjafjallajökull and Katla, covered by the Mýrdalsjökull icecap, and a seal-shaped blanket.

Photo: Gulli Már

Photo: Egill Kaveli Karlsson

An excerpt from articles by Sari Peltonen, published in Iceland Review and Atlantica.

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. Trade Council of Iceland . . invest in iceland agency . . Ministry for Foreign Affairs . 24


ICELAND - Issues and Images  
ICELAND - Issues and Images  

News and articles about Icelandic culture, nature, business, art etc.