1918 - 2018 A Century of Sovereignty Hera’s Here The young actor is on the brink of stardom Sink or Swim Iceland’s freshwater fish are under threat
Issue 6 — De cember 2018 / Januar y 2019
C o m m u n i t y, C u l t u r e , N a t u r e - S i n c e 1 9 6 3
Issue 6 — December 2018 / January 2019
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News in Brief 7
Ask Iceland Review
GUÐNI TH. JÓHANNESSON
Dec. 1, 1918 was the day Iceland officially became a sovereign nation.
From Sea to Plate 28-35
ANDRI SNÆR MAGNÚSSON EQUALITY
The Doctor’s Appointment and Its Consequences
A Century of Sovereignty
Making Waves 54-60
A Window to the World
A Sovereign Nation Reaches a Milestone 14-18
The President of Iceland and former history teacher Guðni Th. Jóhannesson gives us his thoughts on the Icelandic nation.
In Other Words 36-41
Andri Snær Magnason, author of LoveStar and The Story of the Blue Planet, is writing a new book on how we can save the world.
Equality for Some 48-52
Iceland is famous for its strides in the battle for equality but it’s possible that some groups are being left out of the revolution.
Hera’s Here 78-83
Hera Hilmar talks about her career, her personal challenges, and her upcoming role in Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines.
Progress or Preservation 84-91
The reasons why we should build the Hvalárvirkjun power plant – and why we shouldn’t.
Sink or Swim 96-104
Biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson is ready to speak up for Iceland’s freshwater fish.
1918 – Day by Day 93-94
A Volcano in the Backyard NATURE
Katla is one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes and can erupt at any time. We find out what it’s like to live in the area surrounding an active volcano.
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FROM THE EDITOR A hundred years ago, on Dec 1, 1918, Iceland gained sovereignty and became a separate kingdom under the Danish crown. It was one of the largest milestones on the way to full independence, achieved in 1944. Icelanders gained the right to govern themselves in all internal affairs, but more importantly, or at least more symbolically, were recognised as a nation in their own right. This issue of Iceland Review is dedicated to Iceland’s century of sovereignty. On the cover of the magazine, you see the anthropomorphised embodiment of Iceland, the Lady of the Mountain, in her traditional costume. Surrounding her image is our national flower, the eight petal mountain-avens, and above them is the instantly recognisable Hraundrangi peak in Öxnadalur valley, where one of Iceland’s most beloved poets, Jónas Hallgrímsson, was born. These symbols of Icelandic national identity represent Icelanders’ shared history and cultural heritage that helped inspire the nation to campaign for sovereignty. Mined from the country’s history, cultural heritage, and nature, this romanticised image still has a place in the heart of Icelanders. At the same time as we appreciate history, a milestone such as an anniversary is a perfect occasion to take a step back, see how far we’ve come, and assess the work that still needs to be done.
In this issue, we look back at this occasion and the events that led up to it. We also get a glimpse of everyday life in 1918, updated for a modern time. But it’s also important to focus on the present. We take a look at how seafood is produced, but also how freshwater fish are faring with the threat of overfishing or escaped farmed fish. We get to know what it’s like to live underneath an active volcano, what makes the national radio so special in Iceland, and what artists were playing at the 20th annual Iceland Airwaves festival. We also speak to Hera Hilmar, an Icelandic actor set to take Hollywood by storm. After looking back at the past century, it’s fascinating to wonder what the next one might bring. The environment is probably the biggest issue mankind has ever faced, and these days, we’re forced to make decisions on how we’re going to act moving forward. Will we continue to profit from fish farming, even though our native wild salmon is under threat? Do we build a power plant in the Westfjords, securing electricity for increased progress, even if it means sacrificing a waterfall and an area of untouched wilderness? Finally, we get some words of wisdom from author Andri Snær Magnason, who tells us that while environmental issues can make us feel small, we’re not alone. One person might not be able to do much on their own but mankind is capable of amazing things together.
Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir Editor, Iceland Review
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NEWS IN BRIEF
Words by Jelena Ćirić
Photography by Golli
The low-fare airline WOW air was acquired by Icelandair Group.
After a year of financial struggles and heavy losses for both airlines, Icelandair and WOW air have merged. The board of Icelandair Group made a purchase agreement to buy all of low-fare airline WOW air’s stocks in November. Despite the merger, the two companies will continue to operate under their current brand names. The airlines had both been facing financial struggles due to rising oil costs and international competition. Icelandair’s CEO resigned earlier this year, taking responsibility for the company’s heavy losses. WOW air, short on capital, had been in a desperate search for investors in the months leading up to the merger. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated she was optimistic about the two Icelandic airlines becoming one, and that the move shouldn’t raise concerns about a lack of competition. “We have 28 companies that offer regular flights to and from Iceland. So, there’s hard international competition […] I think that will continue to be the case.” It remains to be seen how the merger will affect the companies, their customers, and the local tourism industry.
Iceland hosted some 6,000 NATO personnel in October as part of Trident Juncture 2018, the organisation’s largest exercise in recent years. Eight hundred soldiers completed a hike in Þjórsárdalur valley in the Highlands. In South Iceland, 500 US soldiers practiced responding to a potential attack on the Icelandic Coast Guard’s headquarters. Not everyone was equally excited about NATO’s presence on Icelandic soil. Dozens of demonstrators showed up in Þjórsárdalur to protest the exercise, including Left Green Movement MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé. Following the exercise, the Icelandic Forest Service reported that the troops had damaged a plantation of young birch trees in the valley. Meanwhile, troops stationed in Reykjavík harbour drank at least a couple of bars dry. When beer ran out at Sæta Svínið and American Bar, owners made an emergency call to Ölgerðin Brewery, who transported 100 additional kegs downtown. “They were hardworking, the dear boys,” remarked a brewery employee when asked about the military invasion.
A Viking Age Thor’s hammer pendant was discovered on an ancient farmstead in Þjórsárdalur valley. Only one Thor’s hammer amulet has previously been found in Iceland, and none like them have been found anywhere else in the world. The pendant dates back over 900 years and is unique because it’s likely carved from sandstone. Archaeologists have since uncovered ash and burnt bones at the site, which they have named Bergsstaðir, as well as artefacts such as a whetstone and a soapstone pot. Waste from ironwork discovered at the site indicates metal forging was likely carried out at the farmstead as well. Bergur Þór Björnsson, a local resident, discovered the ruins where the hammer was uncovered. Bergur’s great-grandfather discovered the last of 20 known Viking Age farms in the area in 1920. “I thought it was quite far between the ruins here and started to search just for fun,” he said about the discovery.
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Photography by Golli
Words by Mariska Moerland
With the holiday season coming up, could you tell me what Icelanders’ favourite Christmas cookie recipe is?
Since the 19th century, baking Christmas cookies, jólasmákökur in Icelandic, has played a big part in the Christmas celebrations of Icelandic families. Originally following Danish recipes, these days Icelanders experiment more with recipes from different countries. Traditional Christmas cookies consist mostly of butter, flour, and sugar, ingredients that were available throughout the years. Baking six different cookies is common, but over-
zealous homemakers bake as many as 12 kinds. Sörur (Sarah Bernhardt cookies), spesíur (shortbread), Gyðingakökur (Jewish cookies), loftkökur (air cookies, a kind of biscuit), súkkulaðibitakökur (chocolate chip cookies), and piparkökur (gingerbread cookies) are just a few of the options. What better way to get in the Christmas spirit than baking cookies? If you want to try baking Icelandic cookies yourself, follow this recipe.
Mömmukökur (Mom’s cookies) Cookie dough 2 eggs 8 cups of flour 2 tsp ginger powder 2 cups of syrup 2 tsp baking soda 200gr sugar 0.5 tsp cinnamon 300gr butter
Filling 125gr butter 125gr powdered sugar 1 egg A few drops of vanilla extract
Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). 2. Heat butter, syrup, and sugar in a pot. 3. Let the mixture cool and then add two eggs. 4. Sift flour, baking soda, ginger powder and cinnamon into the dough and knead well. 5. Store the dough overnight in a refrigerator. 6. Flatten the dough and make cookies with a circle cookie mould. 7. Bake the cookies for eight minutes. 8. Make the filling by mixing butter, powdered sugar, one egg and vanilla extract until soft and creamy. 9. Sandwich the cookies together with a layer of filling.
I’m an experienced driver living in Northeast Ohio familiar with driving on ice and snow, and I would like to do a self-drive in winter. I want to see the northern lights, but is it safe to drive in winter?
It’s possible to drive safely in Iceland in winter and your experience with driving on ice and snow will come in handy, but be aware that ice and snow are only part of the risk – wind can also affect driving conditions aversely. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to drive without stress. Firstly, always check the road conditions and weather forecast before you head out. Depending on these, you might want to adjust your route or the time you start your journey. Icelandic weather is temperamental and can change quickly. If you do get stuck in a snowstorm, slow down and increase your braking distance. Secondly, plan most of your journey so that most of the driving is done in daylight, which can be scarce during wintertime. Another important thing to think about is the kind of car
The Culture House Hverfisgata 15 101 Reykjavík
you want to rent. In winter, we recommend a four-wheel drive vehicle, both for safety and comfort. If you’re driving out of the city during winter, don’t get the smallest car available: focus on your safety over the price. You will have a chance to see the northern lights between mid-August and midApril. We understand that you’re excited to see them, but don’t get distracted while driving. Don’t stop in the middle of the road, but find a safe parking spot at a designated area. Finally, get some local advice about your planned route. Some roads in Iceland are known to be difficult to drive in certain conditions or wind directions. If you feel insecure about driving yourself, booking one of the many organised tours with certified tour operators is the safer option.
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IN FOCUS Words by Sigríður Eva Þorsteinsdóttir Photography by Golli
The banking collapse of 2008 took its toll on the Icelandic nation, both financially and emotionally. Icelanders came together in protest, yet perhaps surprisingly, without the leadership of their unions. Now, ten years later, Icelandic unions are fighting for the rights of their members. With many wage agreements expiring at the end of this year, labour organisations are preparing for negotiations.
What they want VR, the Store and Office Workers’ Union, is demanding the minimum monthly wage for full-time workers be increased by ISK 42,000 ($340/€300) by January 1. Not only is the union demanding the increase of salaries, but also shortening the work week without cutting wages. VR is however only one of many unions demanding better wages for workers in Iceland. The Federation of General and Special Workers of Iceland (SGS) is demanding a minimum monthly wage of ISK 425,000 ($3,460/€3,070) as well as making the lowest wages tax free. Many have responded to these demands by asking who would be paying
for the increased wages. The Federation of Icelandic Industries (SI) claims that there is little room for wage hikes, especially in the tourism industry. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says that negotiations such as these must be satisfactory to both parties, the unions and the employers. She has expressed her desire for increased collaboration between unions and employers, not only when wage negotiations are taking place. Housing issues For the last several years, the cost of housing in Iceland has risen rapidly, out of step with relatively modest wage hikes for most workers. Many young
FROM REYKJAVÍK, SÓLHEIMAJÖKULL & SKAFTAFELL
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people are living at home longer in an effort to save money to try to purchase a home of their own. Unions agree that affordable housing is one of their members’ rights and that higher wages would enable more workers to access secure housing. According to Íslandsbanki bank, the Icelandic housing market’s difficulties stem from a focus on building larger homes, and a historic shortage of smaller, affordable housing. The wage hikes which unions are demanding would be only a small step in trying to solve the housing crisis. There should also be more focus on building housing for all; from small, cheap apartments to luxury homes. There is, however, no doubt that there is a shortage of housing in Iceland, especially in Reykjavík, where approximately 8,000 apartments are needed to meet the housing needs
of the population. Newly elected president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) agrees with Íslandsbanki that the solution lies in not only increasing wages. There is more than one step that needs to be taken to solve the housing crisis, but it must be solved. New leadership Just weeks into the wage negotiations, Drífa Snædal became the first ever woman president of ASÍ since its foundation in 1916. In her victory speech, she dedicated her win to all the women that are part of the work force, specifically mentioning midwives, a profession who recently renegotiated their contract, but not without months of arduous negotiations. Drífa takes over the position from Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, who became president of the confederation only three
weeks after the 2008 banking collapse. Gylfi’s presidency was highly criticised by unions this year, for example when the president and the board of Akranes Trade Union (VLFA) declared a vote of no confidence on Gylfi’s tenure in ASÍ. They claimed Gylfi and his board were placing the interests of the government over those of union members. Vilhjálmur Birgisson, president of VLFA also claimed Gylfi focused on a lowwage policy when in 2015 he declared a minimum monthly wage of ISK 300,000 was too high. These and many other criticisms are the reason for Gylfi’s resignation. Drífa starts her presidency with a bang, going straight into wage negotiations. In a recent article, she wrote that ASÍ will focus on three main issues in the upcoming wage negotiations: housing, taxes, and undocumented workers on
the labour market. It will be interesting to see how Drífa tackles her presidency. What will come next? If unions and employers could agree to increase monthly minimum wages of workers, many lives would be improved. It is a known fact that many Icelanders struggle to make ends meet, especially those with minimum wage. Increasing low earners’ wages would also boost equality between social classes and give people more opportunities. Higher wages would also help secure housing for many workers, though building more affordable housing is also a necessary step. As newly-elected president of ASÍ, hopefully Drífa will tackle negotiations with union members’ needs in mind, especially those who are struggling the most.
REACHES Words by Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
A Photography by Golli
M I L E S T O N E 14
On the 100-year anniversary of Iceland’s sovereignty, it’s worth our time to look back and appreciate the accomplishments of the people who’ve come before us. At the same time, it’s important to keep our eyes on the future and appreciate how Icelanders have and continue to progress and evolve. On this occasion, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, president of Iceland, graciously answered some of our questions about his views on Icelanders as a sovereign nation, their past, their present, and his hopes for the future.
The history most of us learned in school is heavily influenced by the national romanticism of the 19th century that shaped the fight for independence. In what way do you think that position addresses Icelanders today? In recent decades, much has changed in the way we teach history. As late as the 1970s, history teachers would rely heavily on a textbook written by Jónas Jónsson from Hrifla. Jónas, an influential politician during the interwar years, was well aware of how the past could be exploited to boost the unity of the people, using patriotism and nationalism. He split the history of Iceland into roughly three parts, the first of which was a golden age when brave farmers and chieftains settled here, founded Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and the Icelandic Commonwealth, even exploring new lands in the west, all the while filled with courage and vigour. The writers of the Sagas wrote their tales on vellum and created a unique cultural heritage. Later on, our luck turned, power accumulated in the hands of a few and the nation’s independence was lost in the age of the Sturlungar family clan in the 13th century. What followed, it was argued, was foreign oppression, misery, poverty and misfortune until Icelanders were reminded of their golden age of freedom and progress and finally reclaimed their rights from the hands of the “evil Danes.” Jónas Hallgrímsson was at the forefront of poetry and literature, while Jón Sigurðsson was the unchallenged leader of a unified nation’s fight for independence. Sovereignty was gained in 1918 and independence in 1944. Rise, fall and rise, that was the trilogy of history at the time. Jónas from Hrifla knew how to tell a good story. In his history of Iceland, the characters came alive, the tale was exciting and dramatic. But it also had the purpose of telling history in a certain, political way. Now, history textbooks are different. More people get their rightful place in the story – slaves, women, and the common people – not just the chieftains,
bishops, and other powerful men. The challenge lies in making that history entertaining as well. Of course, that’s been repeatedly shown to be entirely possible. Next, we need to see it on our screens, in a quality television series! One thing is important to remember and has been on my mind after a memorable summit in Paris, at which nearly one hundred heads of state and government leaders commemorated the fact that a hundred years have passed since the end of World War I: patriotism is positive, and so is pride in where you came from and cultural heritage that has been shaped through the ages. True patriotism is the opposite of jingoism, where people glorify their own nation and foster dislike and fear towards others. “Self-aggrandisement and chauvinism have nothing to do with love for your country,” wrote Halldór Laxness. We should promote positive patriotism, the patriotism of pride and modesty as well, when we face the challenges of a new age, globalism, and interdependence. When did Icelanders become a nation and when did that nation start to long for independence? The question is complicated. How do we define a nation? Those who sailed across the ocean to settle here came from different places, and not everyone was here of their own free will. Celtic wives and slaves spoke their own language and, in that way, stood outside the Norse community. Little by little, the Celtic language disappeared, and the Icelandic language developed in another direction from the other Nordic languages. A few centuries after the settlement, it can be said that farmers and chieftains in Iceland called themselves Icelanders but at the same time, they considered themselves a part of the Norse community and the Christian world. To make a long story short, the struggle for independence began here early in the 19th century, in the same spirit as in many other parts of Europe. Broadly speaking, prominent farmers and intellectuals led
When I became president, I promised myself to try to avoid generalisations about Icelanders being this way or that. We are as different as we are many and that’s the way it should be.”
the way and touted the idea that nations should govern themselves; nations with a shared cultural heritage, language, and interests, both short- and longterm. Later, workers and tenant farmers also started fighting for their rights, for independence within a community that had been marked by oppression by the few and powerful. Fortunately, the will for independence is still powerful in the minds of Icelanders today – the desire to realize one’s dreams in society and to show one’s worth, and the desire to maintain Iceland’s independence in an international context while fortifying it with cooperation, collaboration and friendship with other nations on our own terms. This longing for independence by individuals and communities is something to bolster and support. When we were fighting for independence, a strong sense of national identity was vital, especially since the battle wasn’t fought on the battleground but through letters, articles, and poetry. How has national identity evolved with the nation and what are the values Icelanders consider important today? Fortunately, Icelanders are as different as they are many, but we also benefit from the common ties that bind us. Broadly speaking, it can be said that contemporary Icelanders appreciate the freedom of the individual, they’re not in awe of people in power and prefer not to be under the direct control of anyone, be they Icelanders or foreigners. But we also appreciate the value of empathy and cooperation: we would never have survived here for more than a millennium if each had only tended to their own. We joke that the phrase þetta reddast (roughly translated as “things will work out somehow”) explains a lot about Icelandic society, that it can be helpful not to worry too much about upcoming tasks but tackle them head on. On the other hand, we can’t forget the old saying “haste makes waste.” But what are the values that we want young people to espouse? I’ve often thought about that. I think we
should, to the best of our abilities, work on building the confidence of children and youth, let them feel that they can grow on their own merits and show us who they are, for the benefit of themselves and others. Open-mindedness and tolerance must lead the way, especially in the school system. A positive discipline will inspire the youth of the country. If we manage to build healthy confidence in our young people, it’s less likely that they will fall into the pit of prejudice and evil towards others but will help others when needed and feel good in their souls and minds. On the other hand, when I became president, I promised myself to try to avoid generalisations about Icelanders being this way or that. I repeat that we are as different as we are many and that’s the way it should be. Icelanders have been a sovereign nation for a hundred years. In this century, more has changed, and faster, than in most of the centuries before it. In what way is the Icelandic nation the same as it was on Dec 1, 1918, and in what ways is it different? Today, we are more fortunate in almost every way, from the cradle to the grave. In 1918, birth could be very dangerous for both mother and baby; infant mortality rates were high. Now no nation does better than Icelanders in ensuring the safety and health of its infants and babies. In 1918, people suffered from diseases that now can be cured or at least managed. In 1918, the average life expectancy was significantly shorter than it is now. On average, we in Iceland live longer than almost any other nation. The people in the country are a lot more diverse. Icelanders of foreign origin have increased greatly over the past few decades. Several languages are spoken in workplaces, schools, and wherever people gather. The culture is more international and more intricate. Homogeneity has disappeared and the people in power don’t have the same absolute power as they used to. Everything seems to happen faster than it used to, and the solidarity in the community
We must allow ourselves to be optimistic and hopeful, despite everything. ”
has decreased. It has to remain the common and worthy goal of the Icelandic nation to guard what unites us. We have been more or less united in our effort to build a welfare system for everyone, we want to exploit the natural resources of the land in a way that won’t irreparably damage the environment and nature, and we have to ensure that the Icelandic language will grow and prosper in our days and the days to come. We also must be able to use Icelandic to communicate with smartphones, televisions, and other gadgets. We need to appreciate Icelandic culture and we need to keep speaking Icelandic and helping the people who settle here master the language. In 1918, there was more affluence here than in most corners of the world. We had a higher standard of living than people in Southern and Eastern Europe, even though we had less than our neighbours here in the north. In the hundred years since we gained sovereignty, we’ve become one of the richest states in the world. No longer does the majority of people have to suffer from hardship, deprivation, and the cold, as would happen a century ago. Education is no longer a luxury of the rich. Surveys show that Icelanders
are generally happier than most other nations and enjoy more equality and social justice, as well as more safety and individual freedom. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone is happy here, or that we don’t have any complaints. The challenges of the future include becoming better at helping those who need help. Too many people feel bad, suffering from anxiety and other mental conditions. Too many people have difficulties finding their footing in a community of stiff competition and constant comparison. We still have work to do even if we take some time to celebrate the things we’ve accomplished over the past century. We must allow ourselves to be optimistic and hopeful, despite everything. Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir was recently awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize for her novel Ör (Hotel Silence). The protagonist Jónas had lost the will to live and was going to say goodbye to this valley of sorrows. He regains hope and the wind in his sails and at one point in the story, he speaks this truth: “I’ve met enough good people to believe in mankind.” I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Words by Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson
Photography by Reykjavík Museum of Photography
December 1, 1918 Dagurinn. The day. So read the headline in newspaper Morgunblaðið on December 1, 1918 – the day Iceland gained sovereignty. Despite the importance of the occasion, celebrations were sombre. A small crowd gathered in front of the Prime Ministry near Arnarhóll hill in the centre of Reykjavík, in crisp, cold weather. A bouquet was laid upon the grave of independence hero Jón Sigurðsson. Sailors from the Danish Coast Guard ship Islands Falk fired 21 ceremonious shots, and the Icelandic flag was raised for the first time. Icelanders, finally, were free to rule themselves. “Townsfolk are invited to show up en masse. Organisers will try their best to ensure a short ceremony, so that people are not in danger of hypothermia.” – Official announcement for the sovereignty ceremony on December 1. This year, 2018, Iceland celebrates 100 years as a free and sovereign state. The Kingdom of Iceland was established by signing the Act of Union with Denmark. Foreign affairs and national defence interests were left in the hands of the Danes, while Iceland took control of all other matters pertaining to Iceland. An
independence movement had been brewing for the past century, spearheaded by Jón Sigurðsson. The movement culminated with Iceland’s independence in 1944, but with Iceland being granted status as a sovereign state, the largest battle had been won. Year of disaster Despite the occasion, Icelanders weren’t in a position to celebrate. The year leading up to December 1 had been a taxing one. Abroad, World War I was raging, and Iceland was affected by coal shortages and substantial price hikes for consumer goods. On home turf, the year started off with the Great Winter of Frost, during which temperatures routinely hit -20°C (-4°F). The Denmark Strait, the waterway between Iceland and Greenland, froze, bringing polar bears to Icelandic shores in droves. Fishermen and labourers were unable to work, which, coupled with a coal shortage, had a devastating effect. The volcano Katla erupted in October of 1918, creating a massive glacial runoff flood, wreaking havoc and devastation along its way as ash blocked out the sun and killed animals in swarms. Sand deposits from the flood extended the Icelandic coastline by three kilometres. In the same month as the eruption,
“TODAY, WE STAND FACE TO FACE WITH THE WORLD AS ICELANDERS, NOT AS DANES
RESPONSIBILITY, ON OTHERS’.”
MORGUNBLAÐIÐ, DECEMBER 1, 1918.
the Spanish flu came to town – bringing Reykjavík to a near-complete standstill. Most of the city was bedridden, leaving the streets empty, and people passed away in masses. At the time, people spoke of an unnerving apocalyptic feeling. These events led to a sombre, stoic celebration of Iceland’s newfound status on December 1.
largely believed that by freeing themselves from Danish rule, opportunities would arise for progress. A national referendum was held on October 19, where 90.9% of people voted for Iceland becoming a sovereign nation. There were some dissenting voices, as many believed Iceland needed Danish rule to progress. Looking back, the decision seems to have been the correct one.
“Some kind of warlike condition was in place those November days in Reykjavík, the casualties were so high. My grandmother always found it difficult to speak of those weeks, even when she had become an old woman, the trauma paralysed the townsfolk and changed her life.” – Guðrún Nordal, Skiptidagar, 2018.
Reykjavík in 1918 At the time of the modest sovereignty celebrations, Reykjavík was a capital in name but perhaps not in magnificence. Home to just over 18,000 people, the city was experiencing a severe housing shortage as people fled rural areas to seek work in the capital. Most of the nation’s workforce worked in the fishing industry and agriculture, which were far from lucrative professions. At the time, around 45% of housing in Iceland were traditional turf houses, but Reykjavík’s newest residents settled in cold, poorly-built, concrete houses – where whole families lived in one room. The city was on the brink of change, however, as the capital of a newly sovereign nation. A year before, in 1917, the Reykjavík harbour was completed, and the University of Iceland had been established in 1911, while women received partial voting rights in 1916. The city expanded rapidly in the next decades, becoming the focal
A broken people Even though the day itself lacked glory, the effect of Iceland gaining its sovereignty was profound. Reading through the newspapers of the day, it’s clear what this meant to Icelanders. At the beginning of its sovereignty, the nation was on its knees, after scraping through the calamitous year of 1918. Bent, but most definitely not broken. A developing nation at the time, but a proud one nonetheless, Iceland was one of the poorest nations in Western Europe at the end of World War I. Icelanders
“ICELANDERS HAVE A BETTER CULTURAL FOUNDATION THAN MOST OTHER NATIONS. IT IS FOR US TO ENSURE THAT WE CONSTRUCT A CULTURE WHICH IS WORTHY OF OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE.” MORGUNBLAÐIÐ, DECEMBER 1, 1918.
point of the Icelandic economy. Icelanders, who had been used to looking to the past, now found themselves looking to the future. A national identity created The main driving factor for the Icelandic independence battle was the right to be recognised as a nation, separate from their Danish cousins. The fight for sovereignty was not fought with fists or iron, but rather ideology and a deep-seated nationalistic pride, grounded in nostalgia. A clear national identity was created in the years leading up to December 1, rooted in history and Iceland’s unforgiving nature, but what mostly defined it was that Icelanders were emphatically not Danish. National identity is by necessity fleeting and changes with the times. One constant, however, is that the small nation has always compared itself staunchly to others. Having another nation ruling over the Icelandic people is believed to have created a sense of national identity. There was solidarity to be found in the opposition to our rulers. Before Norwegian rule and later Danish rule, Icelanders around the country had identified themselves with their nearer surroundings, professions, or religion. Icelanders’ status as subjects of the Danish Crown banded Icelanders together. Nowadays, the right to be a nation is still a matter of pride for Icelanders. A large part of Iceland’s national identity relies on its cultural heritage, Icelandic literature and the sagas, and the Icelandic language. These factors, coupled with nature and isolation, go a long way to forge a national identity. The independence movement largely revolved around the inherent magnificence that Icelandic land presented. That Icelanders’ forefathers were in some way greater than other people in the world because they
managed to eke out a living in this harsh environment. Today, it is still in Iceland’s interest to cultivate an image of a nature-loving nation, as the Icelandic economy largely relies on the fishing industry and tourism. Looking towards the future December 1, 1918 was the day Icelanders took a step into the future. One of the most important victories in the peaceful war for independence that Icelanders waged against Denmark, Iceland’s sovereignty let a proud people stand on their own two feet. Today, 100 years on, we ask ourselves what it means to be Icelandic. Iceland’s small population, nature, and isolation still play their part in forming its national identity. Iceland is a young nation and Icelandic nationality is ever-changing. A nation is a collective imagination of a people – a group with common myths or memories about the glories of the past, and a collective vision for the present and the future. The Iceland of 1918 can hardly be compared to the Iceland of 2018. One hundred years on from gaining sovereignty, the country has been transformed from one of the least-developed countries in Europe to one of the most-developed countries in the world. No one knows what the future holds for Iceland, but Icelanders will always remain a proud people. “It has been stated that Icelanders budge little for sensible reasoning, barely for financial reasoning either, and even less so for religious reasoning, but rather solve their problems by hairsplitting and arguing over small potatoes that have nothing to do with the matter; and become terrified and quiet when the heart of the matter is discussed.” – Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, Innansveitarkrónika, 1970.
THE CASE OF THE FLAG
The photo caption reads, “Einar, in the boat that was seized by Islands Falk.”
Leading up to 1918, the Danish flag was considered by many to be a grotesque symbol of foreign authority and Icelanders yearned for a flag of their own. June 12, 1913, the merchant Einar Pétursson caused an uproar when he rowed in the Reykjavík harbour under a white-blue flag. At the time, the flag was a symbol for the Icelandic independence movement – a white cross on a blue field. Danish sailors from Islands Falk intercepted Einar’s rowboat and confiscated the flag. That didn’t go down well as the flag had important symbolic connotations and people rallied around the flag in the next years. In 1915, Iceland gained its current flag – a white-edged red cross on a blue field. It was chosen over the white-blue flag because it was too similar to a Greek flag in use at the time. In 1917, Icelandic authorities requested
that Iceland be allowed to use their flag as a maritime flag. The Danish government would not consider this, but rather opted for reconsideration of the relationship between the two nations. Thus, Einar Pétursson rowing in the Reykjavík harbour on a sunny June day paved the way for Iceland’s sovereignty. “The flag is the symbol of our sovereignty. The flag is the image of the nation’s most beautiful ideals. Each major victory which is won by us increases the flag’s success. Whether it’s won on the seas, battling with surf and heavy seas, or in construction, sciences, or fine arts. The more noble this nation becomes, the more noble our flag becomes.” – Sigurður Eggerz in a ceremonial speech on December 1.
JÓN SIGURÐSSON Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) is considered the leader of the Icelandic independence movement. Jón spent his life fighting for Iceland’s independence, stating that Iceland couldn’t be controlled from Copenhagen. He led the movement both from Copenhagen and through Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, which he was a member of for most of his life. He is thought to be the Icelander who travelled most often between Iceland and Denmark by boat, completing the arduous trip 29 times. In bad conditions, the trip could take up to two months to complete.
Divorce per 1,000 couples 1918 – 1.1 2011 – 9.6 Reykjavík Capital Area residents 1918 – 18,815 2015 – 213,619 Average age 1918 – 28.6 2017 – 37.9
Jón was a patriot through and through, and his knowledge of history and literature fostered his love for Iceland and its people. Jón fought with a pen instead of a sword, organising the independence cause and pushing its drive forward. In addition, Jón was a staunch believer in the Icelandic language, and strived to preserve his mother tongue in print and speech. Iceland received a constitution in 1874 under Jón’s leadership. In 1944, the Republic of Iceland was founded on Jón’s birthday, June 17, in his honour, and his face also adorns the 500 krona bill.
Foreign residents 1950 – 1.9% 2016 – 8% Workers in the fishing industry and agriculture 1920 – 53% 2016 – 3.9% Percentage of graduating secondary school students who are women 1918 – 0% 2017 – 59%
Time it took to earn the price of one litre of milk at minimum wage 1918 – 63:36 minutes 2018 – 5:17 minutes University of Iceland graduates 1918 – 23 2017 – 3,004 Number of residential turf houses 1920 – 5,007 in Iceland 1980 – Last residents move out of their turf house in Reykjavík
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F R O M T
Words by KT Browne
Photography by Golli
PL ATE The inner workings of the worldâ€™s most sustainable fishing industry
It’s 10.00am in Iceland. The sun is hanging low in a technicoloured sky. Siggi, a fisherman, is preparing his small, private fishing boat for the day’s task. At 11.00am, he departs into the open waters. While he’s at sea, while the waves bob against his salt-worn vessel and the wind shifts north, then west, then east; and while thousands of cod surge beneath the current, an online auction begins.
1.00pm. Handfuls of buyers bid on the highest price for the fish that Siggi anticipates catching. Once the fish is caught, and even before it returns to land, it has already been sold. Siggi lands his catch sometime around 3.00pm, and at 6.00pm, a truck arrives to take the fish 200km (125mi) south to a processing plant near Reykjavík. Machines start up at three in the morning,
blaring into the windy, daylit night. Employees begin their task of cleaning and gutting the fish, of packaging it fresh, over ice, and packing it into containers to be shipped across the ocean. The night ends; another day begins, the sun rising over snow-capped mountains. It’s 10.00am in Iceland again. In a truck veering towards Keflavík International Airport, Siggi’s processed fish awaits its next move. Meanwhile, in offices across the world, export companies are on the phone with networks of food brokers and seafood experts, working directly with distributors and restaurant chefs to match them with the right product at the right price. Before noon, the fish is on an airplane heading to the UK, or Germany, or Poland. The plane lands, hard tires hitting the tar-stained tarmac somewhere,
Friðleifur Friðleifsson - Director of sales at ISI
where immediately upon landing its cargo is unloaded, packed into trucks and distributed to its buyers. By evening, Siggi’s fish is sitting beneath bright lights in markets and fish stores around Europe, donning the proud phrase “Country of origin: Iceland.” That very fish, and other fish just like it, are bought, taken home, eaten and enjoyed by thousands of people around the world every year. Iceland has long been known to have the world’s most sustainable fishing industry. Catching regulations are based on detailed scientific research, and
the industry’s management system has put Iceland on the map as one of the top exporters of quality seafood products. Icelandic fish is caught, processed, exported, and enjoyed throughout the world thanks to a complex and highly efficient system involving hundreds of steps, processes, and vast networks of industries whose functions go far beyond fishing alone. Fishing vessels large and small, as well as companies that make the processing equipment, packaging equipment, and even airlines, are all crucial to the smooth functioning of the fishing industry.
Most Icelanders are well aware of what goes into the fishing process. Fishing has been, after all, a major economic force historically, often having been the economic backbone of society and the main source of employment. Yet as one of the major pillars of society, fishing is, expectedly, not only an industry, but indeed an essential part of Icelandic identity – one whose influence can be seen economically, culturally, and socially throughout the decades.
Fishing, identity, and cuisine As an industry whose history stems far back into the Middle Ages, fishing has played a crucial role in Icelandic cuisine. “Fishing has always been very important for Icelandic cuisine and the economy,” explains Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, cookbook author and all-around
food guru. “From the earliest times, people would be fishing, and fish would play a large part in the diet here.” Everywhere in Iceland, whether that’s in the departures hall of Keflavík International Airport, or at an N1 petrol station in the far reaches of the Westfjords, one can see fish’s influence. Dried, salted fish snacks, otherwise known as harðfiskur, are extremely popular, along with a number of fish-derived products ranging from face serum, to collagen powder, to the beloved and widely popular cod liver oil. The wide availability and unavoidable presence of fish not only points towards a thriving industry, but also shows how fish has always been an integral part of Icelandic identity. As Nanna puts it, “In the 70s or 80s, dried cod was Iceland’s national emblem.” While fish may be a strongpoint in the makeup of Icelandic identity
Björn Matthíasson - Operating officer of VSV
historically, the question is whether it continues to play a similarly important role in Icelandic cuisine today. “It plays an even more important role today than it did in the past,” Nanna explains. “Cooking with fish was not very big in Iceland historically. Back then, we only had a few recipes and fish was mostly just boiled. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that people began frying it. Fish was such an everyday food that people were not trying to cook masterpieces with it.” Today, it’s nearly impossible to go to a nice restaurant in Iceland and not be able to order fish; Reykjavík
is bursting with fish restaurants, and chefs are always striving to come up with new and exciting recipes that challenge the status quo of fish cooking. “Even 40 years ago, when you went out to a restaurant, you didn’t want to eat fish because fish is what you had four, five, or six days at home. Now, that’s completely turned around,” Nanna says. This points towards a shift not only within Icelandic cuisine, but quite possibly within the culture itself: a shift towards a greater appreciation of its food and the industry that has for so long been a major part of Iceland’s success.
The importance of marketing Iceland It’s one thing for a country like Iceland to be fortunate enough to have rich waters for fishing, but another thing entirely to be able to promote that fact internationally. The perception of Iceland abroad has, in large part, been crucially shaped by the way it markets itself and its fishing industry in particular. Major strides are made every day to promote the good quality of its fish, along with its freshness and the industry’s sustainability. “In most markets, Icelandic fish and fish products are known for good quality,” explains Björn Matthíasson, operating officer of VSV, a fishery located on the small island of Heimaey, part of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, that catches, processes, and exports a wide range of
products. “But it’s not enough to offer Icelandic fish, and having quality products doesn’t mean that we don’t need to keep up some effort in selling and promoting them.” But with so much focus on promoting the outstanding quality of their products internationally, Icelandic companies in the fishing industry are perhaps missing one critical element to further success – promotion at home. “The industry has been trying to make itself appear interesting, especially for young people to step into. When young generations think of the industry, they often just think of raw fish and bad odour, but there are huge opportunities to be had.” This sort of promotion may be especially pertinent
considering the trend of decreasing populations across rural Iceland, where the fishing industry is often the economic backbone of small towns and has the potential to provide a larger number of varied jobs. Ultimately, jobs in the fishing industry aren’t simply about going out to sea or gutting haddock in pungent factories – and that needs to be communicated to young generations looking to enter the workforce. “There are so many opportunities to travel and meet new people [in this industry],” Björn explains. “To be in direct contact with customers, to travel a lot, to learn about new markets and trends and to understand various cultures. It’s a very interesting industry to be a part of.”
The international reach of Icelandic fish The fishing industry’s reach extends beyond its international markets and savvy marketing; vast networks of industries are also involved in the fishing industry’s success. For Iceland Seafood Iceland (ISI), one of the largest exporters of Icelandic fish products (and one of the oldest at 86 years), relations across a number of different sectors are critically important for their success and smooth operation. “There are so many jobs that are not directly in the fishing industry, but that totally rely on it,” Friðleifur Friðleifsson, director of sales at ISI, explains. “Everything that is happening with high-tech companies, the manu-
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facturing of processing equipment, shipping equipment, and airlines, they all benefit from the Icelandic fishing industry thriving. We need to get our products to the market with vessels or airplanes, for example, and we need high-tech equipment to process the highest quality, so there are a lot of secondary jobs that are connected to the fishing industry.” In this sense, the Icelandic fishing industry is much more than a single industry and rather part of a larger orchestration that contributes greatly to the success of the entire economy. And so, a success for the fishing industry is a success for a number of other industries. Likewise, its hardship would be felt far and wide, which makes raising awareness of how it works extremely important. Like Björn, Friðleifur also sees a gap in awareness about the industry across the younger generation in Iceland. “There are very few young role models in this
elling the world, we’re living in many different cultures. It’s a very dynamic industry,” adds Friðleifur. If the country’s young people do realise the diverse opportunities in the fishing industry, Iceland’s economy only stands to grow; this would in turn provide further stability across the country, and especially within small-town economies, where fishing remains the main occupation.
industry,” he says. “That’s something we have to consider. The fishing industry as a future workplace is not something that young people would necessarily jump into because they don’t have a detailed understanding of what we’re doing.” Just as important as the quality of fish are the efforts that must be made to ensure the future of the fishing industry’s success – and that’s achieved through education. “We would recommend that at some stage in school, kids are taught about the different industries in Iceland,” says Friðleifur. “What happens with fish? Tourism? Aluminium? It’s good to know what your country is about.” With a deeper understanding of the fishing industry, a greater number of young people in Iceland may very well become interested in the opportunities it provides, which would pave the way for its continued growth. “We’re selling to more than 50 countries, we’re trav-
Still, the fishing industry as a whole is on a good way to achieving further success in Iceland. “The Icelandic seafood industry has a very bright future,” Friðleifur admits. “We are a fishing nation and we will always be a fishing nation. That will never change.”
N Words by Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
OTHER Photography by Golli
WORDS Author Andri Snær Magnason is using his pen to fight climate change
A recent report concerning climate change revealed in no uncertain terms what many of us had suspected for some time. It’s not only real, it’s happening quicker than we feared. One of Iceland’s staunchest environmentalists is not an activist or a politician – he’s a writer. Some of Andri Snær Magnason’s most beloved works include the children’s book The Story of the Blue Planet, his eerily prophetic LoveStar and his non-fiction work Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation. He’s currently working on a tonal sequel to Dreamland, and this time, he’s set his goals high: he wants to save the world. Foreseeable future Andri has a habit of looking into the future and seeing just a little bit more than the rest of us. His dystopian novel LoveStar, published in 2002, predicted the rise of social media advertising as well as the possibility of launching your ashes to outer space. In his 2006 non-fiction book Dreamland, he urged Icelanders to to protect the highlands of Iceland for future generations instead of harnessing them for large scale industry. Now, he’s got water on his mind. “The nature of water on this planet will completely change in the next hundred years, according to scientists. The glaciers of the world and even much of the poles will melt, with devastating consequences. They are currently melting faster than we’ve ever seen,” Andri tells me. He’s well aware that talking about this subject is difficult and scary. The vocabulary we have to describe it is not enough. “These concepts are so immense that the words we use create a false understanding. Terms like ocean acidification don’t have the same meaning they will have to someone in a hundred years’ time, when the consequences have become clear. By then, people won’t be able to utter the word without a chill running down their back. Right now, it’s just a word that was first printed in Iceland in 2006. Once.” Manufacturing ideas According to Andri, concepts of this scale need to be introduced gradually in order for us to be able to grasp them. “Take the Icelandic republic. We’re currently celebrating 100 years of sovereignty, but Icelanders were technically given independence in 1809.” He’s referring to the story of Jørgen Jørgensen, known as the Dog Days King. “He and some English merchants had a dispute with the local Danish authorities. They had no military, so he basically locked them up and created a declaration of independence in Iceland. He said every man was equal, we should make a parliament and choose a local head of state, elected by the people. The problem is that when he used these words in 1809, nobody
understood what he was talking about. Nobody had asked for freedom from Denmark, nobody actually had a concept of what freedom was or democracy, elections or anything in that direction.” Later on, the idea that Icelanders had been a prosperous independent nation before submitting to the Norwegian king in 1262 became integral to the Icelandic independence movement. But Andri stresses that it had to be created first. “It’s not a default position to want to return to a former state of being. We don’t dream of becoming pagan again. But you could create that idea in a hundred years. You could instil future generations with the idea that our gods have been taken from us and that we want and need them back. You can manufacture all sorts of ideas but it takes a hundred years of poetry, stories, and writing. For this, we don’t have a hundred years.”
In Iceland, we need to put international affairs into our own language. It can become a race for who gets to be the first to name the ideas. If everyone is talking about the Icelandic highlands as an underutilised resource, that sets the tone. If you call untouched wilderness in Iceland, where hardly anyone has stepped foot, unpopular, it’s almost Orwellian.”
Deciding to act While Andri is first and foremost a poet and an author, he doesn’t find it easy to stand by when an issue is calling out to him. Dreamland was one of his first forays into non-fiction. It was a threat against the environment that jolted him into activism. “There are moments when it’s hard to stand by and write fiction that has nothing to do with the world. In a way, not having an opinion reveals your opinion.” At the time, many of the wonders of Iceland’s uninhabited highlands were being considered for electricity production. Several waterfalls were set to be dammed and enormous reservoirs planned which would flood vast areas of untouched wilderness. “A small group of men with deep pockets and old-fashioned ideas had decided not only that their point of view should be heard but they should have
total control over the Icelandic highlands. It was such a huge and appalling issue, I couldn’t let it continue without doing something about it. And that’s how it starts.” Andri found that his actions could make a difference, simply because the majority of the nation opted for silence. “If everyone is neutral, it takes a small donkey to pull a very heavy load. If we don’t speak up, we can be pulled in a direction we don’t like.” Now, Andri is writing a book to make people understand that the most important words being used today are a bit like the word freedom was in 1809. It had no meaning then, but it’s celebrated today. The same goes for the largest concepts connected to the future of earth. Scientists say time is running out, but the words we should be reacting to are merely noise and the threat doesn’t register. When asked if he considers himself an optimist or a pessimist, he tells me “I wouldn’t be writing this book if I didn’t think that something could be done. That’s the height of optimism. It’s like standing at that field near Kitty Hawk in 1903 with the Wright brothers and thinking of jumbo jets.” In his opinion, it’s amazing what people can do when they discover that they want to. “The very thought of flying must have been difficult to understand at the time, but people really wanted to fly. Twenty years later, they had started selling passenger flights.” Andri’s belief in the capabilities of humankind is infectious. “Humankind has shown several times that in ten or twenty years, it is capable of changing the world. If it wants to. We just have to decide that we want to fly.” Brave new words At this point, the science is clear, but the discourse is muddled. According to Andri, one of the most important parts of public discourse about climate change is the words we choose. “In Iceland, we need to put international affairs into our own language. It can become a race for who gets to be the first to name the ideas. If everyone is talking about the Icelandic highlands as an underutilised resource, that sets the tone. If you call untouched wilderness in Iceland, where hardly anyone has stepped foot, unpopular, it’s almost Orwellian.” Andri is struggling with what words and language to use when your subject is so enormous it’s hard to grasp. “What language do you use when you’re talking about all of the ocean, all of the glaciers, and all of the skies? In this context it feels limiting to talk about being a responsible consumer.” One of the solutions to the problem of vocabulary is simply to talk around the subject. Andri compares it to looking at a black hole. “Black holes have never been seen. You can’t take a photo of a black hole because it swallows all light. The only way to experience it is to look
at the things around it. How it swallows other stars and pulls everything into it.” In the same way, a problem that involves the oceans, the weather, the atmosphere and our future is like a black hole. It swallows all meaning. The words global warming or climate change are far from being so powerful that they contain all the change, all the pain and all the consequences that lie under it. Andri tries to give us an idea of the immense size of the current problem by talking about the small things. “My grandparents took their honeymoon in 1956 up on Vatnajökull glacier. They were ordinary people who joined professional scientists as guides and expedition leaders. When they travelled over the glacier, it was in the context of eternity, it changed on a geological timescale. Now it is retreating on a human scale, big parts vanishing in the span of a lifetime.” A world on fire Andri tries to translate science, figures and numbers into a human language to make the impact of human actions understandable. “For example, oil production in the world recently surpassed 100 million barrels per day for the first time. I calculated what that would be in cubic metres per second and it’s the same flow as Dettifoss [Iceland’s most powerful waterfall]. All of this oil is burning, it’s the greatest fire that’s ever raged.” The sum of it is like 600 Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, erupting around the clock. Andri wants to point out the fact that we’ve designed and ordered our world so that we don’t realise what we’re doing. “Just one tank of a burning oil truck is a sizeable disaster. But we go through our days without seeing any smoke or fire. I haven’t even seen a fire since some time last year, and I never see oil, except for a few drops when I fill up my car.” Since the fuel and combustion are neatly kept away from us, we don’t appreciate the force needed for seemingly mundane tasks. “If we set fire to sixty litres of oil in our backyard and realised that that’s how we get to work in a week, we’d realise how primitive and violent our technology really is.” Preparing for battle It’s easy to feel small when faced with the threat of climate change. After all, what can one person do? But it isn’t only a question of one small person, but a whole movement. It’s not preposterous to imagine large groups of people getting together to fight for their land – it’s happening all around us. “In many countries, it’s considered normal to draft people to an army, take them away from their lives for a year or two in order for them to run around with guns in the name of their country. It’s not ridiculous to consider the current threat [of climate change] a matter of
ICELAND LUXURY LODGES ItÂ´s in the details
national security and expect people to do their duty. We have thousands of solutions waiting to be implemented. In the 1940 they had the Manhattan project, they had the New Deal, nations used up to 40% of the GDP for military spending. With all the current science showing us a very bleak future, what would be wrong with using five years to shift everything in the right direction?” Andri says that educating future generations about nature and where it is currently heading is key. “The educational system has always had a larger cause, a big story it is serving. From being developed to serve the church, to serving the kings and then building democracy and industrial societies.” He continues, “For the past few years, we’ve seen the belief in our capitalist consumer society start to fade. We have seen how destructive and wasteful it is. During the banking collapse, we saw the belief in lawyers and businessmen start to dissipate. The belief that banks and consumption in general are contributing something is fading. It doesn’t feel very idealistic to educate our children to contribute to this. It feels empty.” Andri believes we need to focus our attention on preparing our children to understand nature in a deeper way. “we need to educate people for the express purpose of adapting our society so we won’t harm the planet for good. We need educated people in social studies, in engineering, biology and so on. The ocean is becoming more acidic which means that we need incredibly smart marine biologists, whose voices have to be strong enough to drown out the people who want to increase consumption.” It’s a more hopeful thought that every little action helps. “In the book, I tell the story of a man who was reincarnated as a prehistoric crocodile. My uncle was a crocodile specialist. When he started his work about 21 of 23 species of crocodiles were under threat. He and his team managed to save a few species from extinction. Imagine mighty animals living on a planet for 70 million years and one human can actually impact its existence by making and implementing conservation plans. My uncle dies from malaria, only 55 years old. But a few years ago scientists found the remains of a huge prehistoric crocodile in Kenya, and gave it my uncle’s name, Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni. The generation that is going through the educational system right now, during what has been called the sixth extinction, will need to save several species of fish and birds and other parts of nature, each. But if a billion people combine forces and throw their weight behind fixing this issue, a lot can happen. We’ve never had as much knowledge, never had as much computing power and never had as much of a chance to be able to pull something like this off.”
Words by Jelena Ćirić
Photography by Golli
Sunna Axels and Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir, hosts of radio show Smá Pláss (A Little Space).
A WINDOW T O T H E WORLD How the radio led Iceland into nationhood
It’s Christmas Eve in Iceland. Snow is gently falling. The tree is up, the table set, and the family gathers together. But there’s one event which truly marks the arrival of Christmas in households across the country: the ringing of church bells on the radio. “Right before the bells ring at 6.00pm, there’s always a moment of silence,” Haukur Ingvarsson tells me, with a gleam in his eye. “It’s almost as if the ghost of Christmas floats into the living room.” Haukur is an author and literary scholar who spent many years as a host and programmer at Iceland’s national radio, RÚV. While in other countries, radio may have been relegated to gyms and elevators, in Iceland it still enjoys a privileged place in people’s homes and their hearts. When you look at its history, it’s easy to see why – radio gave Iceland’s small, dispersed population a way to connect to each other and to the world, playing a crucial role in the country’s development as a nation in the 20th century. Connection and education When a new technology known as radio broadcasting was reported on in Icelandic papers early in the 20th century, local scholars quickly saw what it could mean for the country. While its practical uses, such as broadcasting weather forecasts to fishermen at sea, were quickly recognised, it was also seen as a medium that could make the highest education accessible to all Icelanders – no matter how remote their homes. Ottó B. Arnar, a telecommunications specialist, wrote enthusiastically about the medium in Morgunblaðið newspaper in the summer of 1925. “Transport is bad here and therefore news propagation is very limited. It’s difficult for scholars to travel around and relatively little of the population can benefit from their knowledge. Then the nation strays from the healthiest and noblest of entertainment, singing and music, and those who have the greatest desire for the word of God and need comfort and courage rarely hear it,” Ottó asserted. “The radio solves all of this.” “When the radio was being established, there was a group of scholars that had a lot of influence on the programming,” Haukur tells me, “and they believed the radio should be a sort of university for people in the countryside. Iceland is of course very big and there are few people who live here. And transportation was even more difficult than now. So, it really was a revolution for people who for example lived on an isolated farm.” With the arrival of radio, those who rarely received news from beyond their doorstep could suddenly listen to orchestral music in their living room or learn about the latest discoveries in science. A sheep farmer in the Westfjords and a merchant in Reykjavík now had access to the same entertainment and education, and perhaps for the first time, felt like part of a single nation. Guðmundur Finnbogason, a prominent scholar
at the time, touted the radio as “the world’s best home improvement device. It makes the whole country one debate chamber, concert hall, church, university.” Language and culture Though radio was a brand-new technology, in Iceland it was seen as a continuation of an ancient tradition known as the baðstofa. “The baðstofa was a warm place where people came together in the evenings to do some kind of handiwork,” Haukur tells me. “And it often was the case that whoever knew how to read well, would read for the others while they were working.” Now the whole country was a single baðstofa, and the farm’s best reader replaced by learned scholars, and musicians trained in Europe’s conservatories. From the radio’s first days in Iceland, university professors were contracted to lecture on their area of expertise, and emphasis was placed on making the information accessible to all Icelanders. “One thing the radio did was it taught people about new concepts and taught them new words for these concepts,” Haukur says. “In that way, it had a lot of influence in disseminating new words.” Ragnheiður Ásta Pétursdóttir was a radio announcer at RÚV for 44 years. Both of her parents and her husband also worked as announcers at the national radio. “The radio was invaluable for Icelandic culture,” she tells me. Her father, Pétur Pétursson, hosted a popular variety show featuring music and other entertainment. “Everyone listened. There was no other station.” Although the programming often featured local musicians, RÚV also introduced Icelandic listeners to the newest music from abroad. In fact, it was Ragnheiður’s husband Jón Múli Árnason who introduced jazz to Iceland through a regular program he hosted on RÚV. An impartial medium Not only did the radio ensure news could travel quickly around Iceland, it was the first media source that aimed to be politically neutral. In early 20th-century Iceland, all newspapers were backed by political parties. Their purpose was propaganda first, then information. Yet when Parliament first laid down some guidelines for the establishment of a national radio service, politicians of all stripes agreed the medium should be impartial. The radio thus became a platform for discussing social issues instead of pushing political views. That wasn’t always an easy task for its employees, including Ragnheiður. Coming from a family of activists, she grew up taking part in International Workers’ Day marches on May 1. Although she took her responsibility to be impartial seriously, she occasionally allowed herself a little wiggle room. “When there were marches on May 1, I maybe played some songs that were connected to the labour struggle. Some people thought that was political. And maybe it was,” she says with a smile.
guard their culture, but also that Iceland should be a modern nation.” Haukur’s own show Víðsjá, one of RÚV’s longest-running, discusses both low and high culture, preparing shows on the newest literature, art, or music. Though it is an important platform for Icelandic artists to introduce their work to the public, it also explores international culture. RÚV’s mandate of promoting the Icelandic language was never seen as contradictory to educating Icelanders about the outside world. A long-standing feature of Icelandic radio programming (and later television) was instruction in foreign languages. Ragnheiður tells me that Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson, a prominent scholar and folklorist, learned English from the radio while living in a remote part of North Iceland. “He sent Björn Bjarnason, the teacher, a letter in English. And Björn said it didn’t have a single mistake.”
Haukur Ingvarsson, author and former radio host.
Despite the occasional musical choice, RÚV’s employees took their task of neutrality seriously. Even advertisements, which were read by announcers, had to adhere to strict rules about wording and announcers had to be careful to not show preference for one over another with their tone of voice. Nation among nations Radio gave Icelanders a chance to imagine the kind of nation they wanted to be and served as a platform for creating it. “Among the scholars that helped establish the radio in 1930, there ruled a feeling that Iceland should be a nation among nations,” Haukur says. “There were two points of view. That Icelanders needed to safe-
Reaching for the moon The establishment of a national television station in 1966 did not upset radio’s role in Icelandic society. This was partially because Icelandic television did not have the technology to broadcast live until 1971. “The radio continued to be immediate,” Haukur says. “It could be live. It could report on events right away. Television was always a step behind.” Indeed, until 1983, the Icelandic television station took a month-long summer vacation in July, and until 1987, it broadcast only six days a week (when programming on Thursdays was finally introduced). Though an older medium, radio was cutting edge in comparison. “In 1969, there were special notices published in the papers explaining that Icelanders didn’t have the technology to broadcast live television, so they couldn’t show the moon landing. And the TV station was also on summer break, so the recordings weren’t even broadcast until the TV started up again. But there was a really fantastic and ambitious radio broadcast of the moon landing.” Safe space From 1930 to 1983, RÚV operated a single channel. After much demand from the public, a second channel was launched in 1983. RÚV only recently launched its third channel, RÚV núll (RÚV Zero) with programming largely targeted to a young audience. Sunna Axels and Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir host a feminist talk show on the channel called Smá pláss
Ragnheiður Ásta Pétursdóttir, former radio presenter.
(A Little Space). They invite specialists to discuss various topics related to feminism in an informal setting. “We wanted it to be relaxed and cosy, as if you were just listening in on a conversation between friends who are interested in the same topics, and not necessarily an interview,” Elín tells me. The two say radio has many advantages as a medium for difficult topics like abuse and discrimination. “Having it on the radio, there’s a lot less pressure,” says Sunna. “You can focus on what you’re saying instead of how you look or your body language. Sometimes I even forget we’re recording, especially when talking about personal experiences.” “Since we’re talking about sensitive and personal topics, I think it’s a lot more comfortable when our faces aren’t immediately attached to them. Because we’re sharing so much, we can be a little bit behind the curtain,” Elín adds. “After some episodes I’m totally drained. But I imagine there are women out there who are listening and hear us talk about something they have experienced and feel validated. I have experienced that myself, and if we can do that for other women, that’s the dream.”
A common thread Icelanders are now more plugged in than ever, and many consume more media from abroad than from their home country, including when it comes to podcasts and radio. This means the national radio has more competition than ever. While keeping listeners interested will require continued effort, for the moment RÚV still serves as a unifying thread among Icelanders. “I think there’s a certain kind of togetherness in the radio,” Elín reflects. “Because it’s accessible no matter where you are. It’s something you can have in common with anyone else in Iceland no matter where they are or where they’re from. It’s a part of some kind of basic national spirit. Like on Christmas Eve. My mom always puts on Channel 1 to hear the bells ring in Christmas.”
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As Iceland celebrates 100 years of sovereignty and congratulates itself on another year topping lists for most equal country in the world, a certain group of women lacks both freedom and empowerment.
EQUALITY F S
Words by Anna Marsibil Clausen
When the #metoo movement took hold in Iceland, former parliamentarian Nichole Leigh Mosty was invited to join a few different Facebook groups where women were sharing their stories of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. “One thing I noticed was that I wasn’t willing to share my experiences in these groups; I wasn’t willing to go all the way.” When a young MP posted in the political group about men commenting on her appearance, Nichole, who is originally from the United States, thought about all the stories she’d heard from other women of foreign origin. “I knew women who were beaten, raped and held down because of discrimination[…]who were stuck in horrible relationships because their green cards depended on their husbands. This was something I couldn’t talk about in that arena.” So, Nichole started a Facebook group for foreign women in Iceland and over the course of a few weeks, its numbers skyrocketed. Many of the sto-
Photography by Golli
ries were outright horrifying: they told of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at home and in the workplace, human trafficking, blackmail, and discrimination. They seemed to lift the veil of Iceland’s image as a paradise of gender equality. Below the surface In 2017, immigrant women numbered just above 10% of Iceland’s female population, according to Statistics Iceland. When women who have at least one foreign parent are taken into account, the number rises above 16%. The number of women of foreign origin has more than doubled in the last 20 years and they are more visible than before, mostly due to surface factors, ranging from skin tone to headscarves. Their problems, however, seem buried. “It’s sad that [sexual abuse] is happening to any woman but I think women of foreign origin are slightly more vulnerable,” says Angelique Kelley, chairperson of the Women of Multicultural
Velina Apostolova, 28 Living in Iceland since 1996 From Dobrich, Bulgaria “I have a very strong memory of our first day in Neskaupstaður. We arrived late the previous evening so it was already dark, and but waking up and looking out the window was something I will never forget. It was the middle of December and everything was covered in snow. The mountains surrounding the fjord towered over the small town and made me feel like I was in a fairytale. I think the first year was much harder on my parents because it took them longer to learn Icelandic and they pretty much didn’t have a clue what was going on in school or at my sister’s kindergarten. They just had to trust that everything was going well. People were very helpful, especially the people associated with the volleyball team my father coached. This one family took us in as their own and taught us all about Icelandic traditions, brought us along to their family’s Christmas parties, helped my parents with practical things like their first mortgage when they bought a house and pretty much anything we needed. We still joke about the them being our ‘Icelandic grandma and grandpa.’ I’m not sure we would have been so lucky if we had moved to a bigger town or if my parents hadn’t come here for volleyball.”
Cindy Eun, 40 Living in Iceland since 2005 From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia “I was excited and curious to be moving to a whole new country, especially for love. The first year I was a real tourist but I tried to settle down and make it a home with my Icelandic husband. The weather was totally different but the culture and scenery amazed me – I really only needed to adapt to the cold and the wind, as well as a lack of Asian cuisine. Being a part-time housewife when I first came to Iceland was a happy thing! I had more freedom compared to my hectic work life back in Asia. It’s also an unhappy thing, due to the language barrier and my Asian appearance – even with great working experience and a high-profile job before – employment opportunities are limited for me here. I get homesick from time to time. I’ve had a few experiences where some Icelandic stranger stared at me and my friends and when we tried to smile at them as a courtesy, they ignored us. Some also sound and act rude without apologizing, but I think that’s just a stubborn, conservative minority. I still love Icelanders, they are sometimes cold on the outside, like the weather, but on the inside they are warm as a volcano.”
Jewells Chambers, 32 Living in Iceland since 2016 From New York City, USA “Before I moved to Iceland, I was afraid that people would discriminate against me because of the colour of my skin. Thankfully, during my interactions with my husband’s family, new friends, co-workers, and many strangers in Iceland, I have not felt discriminated against. Of course, adjusting to living here hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. Through many conversations with Icelandic people about being a person of colour, I realized that most of them have no idea about the challenges that Black people face in a predominately white country. Being stared at, people assuming you don’t live here because you don’t look Icelandic, and individuals wanting to touch my tightly-curled natural hair, are just some of the things that happen to me regularly here. I created a YouTube video with my friend Tabitha, who is also a woman of colour, about our experiences of being Black in Iceland. To my surprise and delight, it created an opportunity for dialogue about a topic that most Icelandic people never considered discussing. Many Icelandic and non-Icelandic people that I interacted with after they watched the video wanted to understand more. There were also a handful of trolls, some racist, that left comments but I didn’t let them bother me. I think it is important to continue sharing our experiences with one another. In understanding each other better, we can build a more inclusive and compassionate society.”
Ethnicity Network (W.O.M.E.N) in Iceland. Women of foreign origin are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than Icelandic women, research conducted by The Women’s Shelter shows. Four out of the ten women murdered in Iceland since 2000 were of foreign origin. Women of foreign origin often don’t have a network to lean on – no family and few friends. Many are also afraid of the police and are often lied to by their spouses who threaten to take their children away. Women from outside the EEA are also particularly vulnerable, as their residency permits are often contingent upon their spouses. “A lot of the time they don’t know their rights,” Angelique says.
The same goes for discrimination in the workplace and the type of immigrant labour abuse recently exposed in the investigative television series Kveikur. “It’s quite scary but this is nothing new. People in the foreign community have been talking about it for years: ‘I’m not getting paid, they wouldn’t sign a contract but now they are firing me…’” Whose rights are they? Iceland consistently ranks first in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index and in January, the country became the first in the world to legislate a framework for enforcing equal pay.
Shima Safari, 27 Living in Iceland since early 2018 From Shiraz, Iran “I have a master’s degree in architecture. Before I came to Iceland I thought I would continue into the next stage of my career but when I arrived here everything was different. They expected me to have had several years of experience but in fact, I had just finished my education and I had to start somewhere. I became a housekeeper in one of the great Reykjavik hotels. At first I was very happy that I had a job but on the other hand, I was also upset – why am I a housekeeper with all this education? I have been working for six months and during this time I have not felt even the slightest racism from Icelanders. Communicating with them gives me energy. In fact, I do not really feel different. Now, I’m so interested in my work environment and my career that I would like to run my own hotel in the future. I love Iceland. I always speak of it with pride to my friends and really, in this way I feel like I am Icelandic. At the moment, I am trying to strengthen my English since the hotel is an international one, but even with all its difficulty, the Icelandic language sounds very sweet to me.”
But while Icelandic women are vocal about expanding their rights, Nichole says many women of foreign origin don’t feel these rights apply to them. “They see young Icelandic women walk around with their nipples out and know that if they ever did that they would get beaten by their husbands,” she says, referencing the #freethenipple movement that shook Iceland in 2014. “And they don’t know who’s going to protect them.” She quotes one of the anonymous #metoo stories: “‘[My neighbour] could talk English to me if she needed something from me but could not talk to me when she saw my bruised face.’ For women to be willing to open themselves up and look for help, they need to know that there’s someone there.”
Even after spending years in higher education, she adds, many immigrants don’t have their degrees recognised and have to take low paying jobs outside their fields. This fact could further complicate the discussion of the wage gap but is rarely brought up and poorly documented. “In the workplace, when women feel like their education isn’t valued, their power is taken from them,” Nichole says. Space to be part of the solution As Nichole sees it, the #metoo movement helped women of foreign origin gain back some of their power, by exposing the barriers that make up their
Ida Karolína Harris, 13 Born to English speaking parents in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2005 “When I was little, I used to go shopping with my parents and they would speak English in the shops. They know Icelandic but there’s no reason for them not to speak English. There would always be some old person in the shop thinking of that one bad tourist out of the millions who come here and they would assume we were tourists as well. I guess I don’t really know, but I just remember people giving us kind of odd looks – looking at us as if we were weird. People still do it. Back then, I’d always try to get my parents not to talk so much or be quieter or something. I don’t really care so much now. I see how stupid it is and that it shouldn’t affect me as a person that I’m not Icelandic. Difference isn’t good or bad. It’s just a word, it doesn’t need to be categorised. A word doesn’t need to pick a side – it’s like saying yellow is good or bad or that trousers are good or bad. Being ‘different’ has its upsides and downsides, some people are difficult about it but most people aren’t. It’s not being different that’s good or bad it’s how people react to it.”
own “story of Iceland.” Now, for the first time, the government is embarking on an in-depth analysis of these obstacles. “We didn’t want to be victims,” Nichole says. “The strength it takes to deal with this is something you can never imagine, until you sit down for coffee with that woman and walk away feeling like you have a new hero on your list.” She’s a project manager for W.O.M.E.N. now. She says #metoo made their network tighter, and gave way to open meetings on the subject as well as more funding and cooperation opportunities. “We have a little bit more space to be a part of the solution,” Nichole says. She also mentions an enjoyable conversation with a group of older
women who come in to knit in Gerðuberg Culture House where she works as a project manager for the City of Reykjavík. While the women didn’t know how to invite their foreign counterparts in, she says, they wanted them to be there, to know that Icelanders could help them and that they wanted to learn from them. “That’s a conversation I seem to be having more often,” Nichole says with a smile. As for Angelique, she worries about what comes next. In order for things to change people need to be held responsible for their actions. Still, she’s “very hopeful that [#metoo] is going to bring about change in this country. It’s such a small country… it really should.”
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M A K I N G Iceland
JóiPé x Króli perform at Iceland Airwaves 2018
W A V E S celebrates
Two decades ago, a handful of Icelandic music industry professionals felt their country’s music deserved some more attention from abroad. They organised a one-night showcase, inviting the world’s biggest labels and music industry pros to hear the local talent – in an airplane hangar at Reykjavík Airport. Thus, the Iceland Airwaves festival was born. Over the years, it has served as a stepping-stone to the international music scene for many Icelandic artists, while its focus on up-and-coming acts from Iceland and abroad has kept it fresh and exciting for festival goers. This year Airwaves celebrated its 20th anniversary in the hands of a new producer, Icelandic company Sena,
known for bringing the likes of Justin Bieber to Iceland. The artists taking the stage at Airwaves are, however, of a different sort. “At Iceland Airwaves, you won’t necessarily hear your favourite band, you’ll hear your next favourite band. We focus on up-and-coming artists,” Sindri Ástmarsson, the festival’s booking manager tells me. “Or artists that have been around for a while but are doing something new and exciting.” Not only did this year’s acts offer up quality and variety, attendees lucked out with the weather. Clear skies and even some northern lights made it fun to wander from venue to venue and enjoy some great music, of which the three artists below are just a small sample.
B R Í E T —
A rising star who’s made a strong debut, BRÍET is a perfect example of the kind of artist Airwaves aims to showcase. Her first independent release caught the attention of Icelandic producer Pálmi Ragnar Ásgeirsson a couple of years ago. “He didn’t call me right away or anything, he just started to follow what I was doing. Then I was at a party and this girl told me that Pálmi really wanted to work with me. I was like ‘Pálmi, who is that?’ and then I realised he’s really big in Iceland.” The two eventually set up a meeting and got to work in the studio. Their first collaboration, In Too Deep, landed BRÍET a gig at Sónar Reykjavík music festival in Iceland’s prestigious concert hall, Harpa. It was a big step for the artist. “I was always in bars and coffee shops just singing jazz in the corner, and now all of a sudden I had to perform and talk and stuff. The whole time backstage I was like ‘What am I doing here?’ But I had so much fun.” Though BRÍET is hardly a shy performer now, she says it wasn’t always easy to speak her mind in the studio. “It’s really hard for a 17-year-old girl to say her opinion, sitting in a room with three men who know everything about the industry and know what you’re supposed to do and what works. It was hard for me to believe my own ideas were good enough. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great guys and they were helping me, but it’s still hard.
But now, we’re really good friends and we can talk about everything. It’s changed a lot.” BRÍET says Reykjavík is an exciting place to be during Airwaves. “It’s a really great festival and there’s so much to see. So, it’s fun just to walk between venues and see something that you know and then you’re maybe waiting for a certain act and you see something unexpectedly awesome or something really weird, or maybe you’re at a library and there’s a rock band playing. I heard it’s the first time there’s an equal number of women and men performing at the festival. Of course, that’s positive but it’s strange that it’s only happening now.” With lyrics that often reflect her own experiences in life and love, BRÍET’s songs range from pop ballads to dance hits with an R&B feel. “It can be difficult to go up on stage with this material because sometimes you’re pepping people up, and next thing you’re like putting them to sleep. But I don’t think that’s going to change. I find it difficult to just stick to one thing.” Though the young songwriter has some ideas about where she wants her career to go, she says she doesn’t dwell on the future. “It’s really hard to plan ahead. For example, I never thought I would be playing Airwaves this year, and yet here I am. You can’t plan for it, it just happens.”
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G Y D A —
In Iceland’s tight-knit music scene, many artists have a knack for constantly reinventing themselves. Gyða Valtýsdóttir is one of them. First coming to prominence as a member of experimental pop group múm in the late 90s, the multi-instrumentalist left the band to study classical cello and has since built a diverse and vibrant solo career as a performer and composer. Despite her productive output, Gyða only just released her first album of original music, Evolution, in October. “I don’t think of myself as a singer-songwriter. I do so many things in music. When I was younger, I would write songs really just for myself. They would be like diaries or something, and I didn’t feel like I needed to share them with anyone because most of the time it was about my own struggles of being human.” The songs on Evolution, however, are mostly inspired by others. “I’m singing to other people. I feel like that made the process easier.” The album was recorded in two sessions in Los Angeles with co-producer Alex Somers. “He used to be my neighbour for like 14 years. But just when he moved to LA we decided to work together,” Gyða laughs. “It was very beautiful and very fun. I didn’t put pressure on the album to show all of me. I thought ‘I’m going to make this record and it’s allowed to be what it wants to be.’” While Evolution features Gyða’s cello and voice in delicate, shimmering arrangements, she also played most of the other instruments heard on the record, including piano, guitar, and percussion. “I don’t really look at myself as a cellist. I look at myself as a musician, I
just happen to play the cello. But if a cello isn’t the right sound, I might look around for something else.” Since Airwaves was founded, Gyða has performed at the festival solo and with various groups, including múm. “We played with the Kronos Quartet in Eldborg [Harpa]. That was really special.” Gyða is excited about Airwaves’ changes, though she knows other musicians have a certain attachment to the festival’s humble roots. “There is a certain nostalgia about how it used to be, but I don’t disagree with changes. I don’t think they’re going to kill any spirit.” Ever exploring new territory, Gyða already has two other albums in the works. One will feature compositions by contemporary Icelandic composers, while the other is a duo record with Úlfur Hansson. “There’s a language that we share and are both very interested in that is so much about sound and texture. It’s just kind of a timeless flow of shifting sounds. It comes very naturally as a communication between us.” Gyða also hopes to record a solo cello album one day, “preferably improvised. But I’m going to wait for a long time until I do that.” Though Gyða says her musical journey has not always been clear to her, she’s grown comfortable with her many musical voices. “I think we all have multiple personalities and that’s a good thing. And instead of trying to put it all together and say ‘This is who I am’ because that’s the loudest voice and the other ones are quieter, you can allow yourself to have different sides and nurture all of them, even if they’re very contradictory.”
JÓIPÉ X K R Ó L I —
Hip-hop duo JóiPé and Króli burst onto the Icelandic hip-hop scene with their album GerviGlingur (Fake Jewellery) in 2017. Their hit B.O.B.A. has since amassed more than four million plays on streaming platforms and their infectiously fun and candid music has quickly earned them a spot in the hearts of Icelanders. Though it would be easy to cruise on their overnight success, the two are working as hard as ever in the studio. In October they released an unannounced EP recorded in a single night. “We didn’t want to generate any discussion about it,” Króli tells me. “That wasn’t our plan.” In fact, the EP wasn’t really planned at all. “It was just the first time in a long time that the two of us were alone in the studio,” JóiPé says. “We started with one song, which is the last one on the album. We decided to just finish it right then. Then we got into the next one, and the next one, and we ended up in the studio all night making these six demos. Then we just finished them up a few days later.” The guys’ enthusiasm for working together is palpable. I ask if they’re ever frustrated in the studio. “I’ve been frustrated outside of the studio, but never inside,” Króli says. “God no,” JóiPé chimes in. “If something doesn’t work, then we just start again from scratch. Or we just take a break and go to sleep.” Króli doesn’t quite agree: “No, no, sleep is overrated.” The duo’s music is often praised for its honesty, tackling difficult emotions and even playfully poking fun at the hip-hop scene itself. Writing about their feelings
and experiences just comes naturally, they say. “It’s the easiest material to work with,” Króli says. “What I think is great about hip-hop, especially in Iceland, is that people rap about all kinds of things. And when it’s personal then you really connect to it.” The Icelandic hip-hop scene is definitely thriving these days. The pair tells me it’s a supportive community. “Everyone is friends,” says Króli. “There are basically two studios where everyone’s making music, really close to each other. And you’re often going between the two.” “Yeah, everyone supports each other,” JóiPé adds, asking if I’ve heard Auður’s newest album, released on November 2. “You have to listen to it!” says Króli. “It’s so good,” adds JóiPé. The duo had their first Airwaves performance last year – though it was really more of a series of performances. “We played an unbelievable amount of shows. Sometimes twice a day,” says JóiPé. “It was crazy,” agrees Króli. “But so much fun.” So far, the duo has only released material in Icelandic, but they tell me they’ve often thought about writing in English. “We tried it for the first time together yesterday,” JóiPé answers. “It was hard.” “It’s just totally different,” Króli explained. “You can’t use the same stress or rhythms.” The two insist they’ll keep working on it, though. If their current productivity is any indication, I’d expect an English-language album from them soon.
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This October marked the ten-year anniversary of an event in Iceland’s history that most people would almost rather forget – the banking collapse. Iceland’s small economy is susceptible to fluctuations, inflation, and even depressions but the nation had never been hit this hard before, and despite a recent time of prosperity, we’re still dealing with its repercussions. Iceland was first condemned and later praised in international media for jailing the bankers and getting their economy back on track in just a few years. It’s a good story, inspiring even, but as is often the case, the truth is a little more complicated than that. The economy has recovered but people are still wary of trusting financial institutions and worried it might happen again. I met with Konráð S. Guðjónsson, chief economist of the Iceland Chamber of Commerce, to find out more about the state of Iceland’s economy.
Words by Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
Photography by Golli
CRASH COURSE: What we learned from the banking collapse
Not business as usual First of all, even though Iceland’s small economy has in the past taken deep dives and high upswings, Konráð stresses that the banking collapse was an anomaly. “The collapse differed from other economic downturns both in scale and in nature. Most other recessions and blows to the economy have been a lot smaller, and their effects haven’t been felt for so long. In this case, it’s ten years later and we’re still talking about it.” While the economy has fully recovered, the social consequences of the event are still evident and there are still court cases that haven’t been resolved. Konráð tells me it’s not just a matter of scale. “The other thing about this depression is that the root of the problem is only due to financial reasons. During other eras of economic hardship, it’s been because we haven’t caught as much fish as we expected or that fish prices had fallen internationally. “The actual products of society - buildings, machines and ingenuity - were all there, producing something of value.
The financial system, which is important to make sure that all the other parts of society can function, that’s what failed and that’s what separated that crash from all the others.” It’s getting better Much has been said about the financial collapse in Iceland. Articles have been written and books published – what led to the collapse has been analysed and dissected into atoms. In fact, the collapse was so present in people’s minds that it came as a surprise to many to find out a few years later that the depression was over and times of prosperity at hand. “Economically speaking, we’ve clearly emerged from the depression and then some.” Konráð tells me. “The standard of living today for the average Icelander is better than it was in 2007.” Not only are we currently doing better than ever, it appears that, for the time being at least, we’ve learned our lesson. While Iceland has had depressions and downswings before,
After the banking collapse, a nation historically averse to public protest gathered in front of the parliament building and lit fires when the cold set in.
Former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde in his office, moments before the government takeover of Glitnir bank.
the key difference is that we were living on borrowed wealth. “The reason we were so heavily impacted by the collapse in 2008 is that homes, companies, and the banking system were in so much debt. The whole economy was in a lot of debt. It’s not like that today. It can even be argued that compared to the countries around us, the ones we like to compare ourselves to, Icelanders have very little debt. When it comes to depressions and economic setbacks, not being in deep debt gives us some breathing space. Of course, there are plenty of risks as well today but looking into the crystal ball, you don’t see the house of cards coming down.” Do you feel lucky? While it’s tempting to credit a quick recovery to Icelanders’ shrewd business acumen, in light of history we need to look at other factors. It looks like we might have just got lucky, as favourable winds lined up perfectly to blow us out of the depression. Konráð tells me “things have lined up perfectly in the past few years. The króna started getting stronger and our export prices compared favourably to our import prices. Oil prices also went down, which helped as well. Today, we can see some storm clouds gathering on the horizon but for the past few years, things have been going incredibly well, in the full sense of the word.” Another part of the recovery was introducing
a new source of income to the economy. “Also, since the collapse, we’ve basically gained a new export industry, which is tourism.” Building a foundation The economic benefits of tourism in Iceland are also well-documented and its rapid growth has been noticed all over the world. That growth is currently slowing down, but Konráð isn’t worried. “this kind of growth isn’t sustainable, it’s good that it’s slowing down.” The tourism sector has been having some growing pains and some worrying voices have questioned what will happen to the economy if we can’t rely on tourists. “Tourism might not be the most stable industry right now but it’s obvious that when you have more pillars supporting the economy, it gets less likely that they’ll fail all at once. One of them might get in trouble but when there are more of them, the total effect is not as strong. Fluctuations will still happen but to illustratate it’s more likely to be a 5% downswing than a 10% one.” At this point, Konráð stops to find his “favourite graph” to show me. What it tells us is that while tourism has gotten a lot of attention for its rapid growth, other parts of the economy have been steadily growing as well. The seafood industry, the energy sector, as well as international commerce have been steadily growing for a while.
Photo: Reto Kuhn
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The protest became known as The Pots-andPans Revolution, so called for the kitchenware continuously banged together by the angry people.
Learning from our mistakes The crash had a cultural and emotional impact on people, in addition to a financial one. “The collapse was a difficult experience for many people, traumatic even. Since then, trust in institutions has greatly decreased.” Konráð doesn’t necessarily consider that a problem. “If there’s too much trust, no one’s checking up on if people are doing what they should be doing and asking the right questions.” One of the solutions that has been suggested to avoid another collapse is to get rid of the króna in favour of a more stable currency. Konráð explains, “All currencies fluctuate, the problem with the króna is that all our export and all our import is in a different currency and we are heavily dependent on foreign trade. The result is that fluctuations in other currencies as well as our own affect the Icelandic economy more than others.” But there are also some advantages to having our own currency. “If you have your own currency, you can correct fluctuations and imbalances through the exchange rates.” Ultimately, having a different currency probably would have made the experience of the collapse a lot different, but it still wouldn’t solve all our problems. “It would probably solve some of them but what would make the biggest difference would be more disciplined economic policies – fiscal policy, monetary policy and labour market.”
Looking into the future The effects of the collapse ten years ago were deeply felt and as the economy has been riding high for the past few years, some people have been uncomfortably reminded of the past years of prosperity. Konráð admits that there are things to worry about. “Some of the things that have been working in our favour for the past few years have been turning against us. The króna is depreciating again, oil prices bounced back and we’re not expecting huge growth in tourist numbers. Also, we’re a small country and depend heavily on what happens around us and there are storm clouds gathering in the global economy. One of our main business partners is leaving the European Union and there are some risks there such as how Brexit will pan out.” Still, Konráð stresses that downswings are a natural part of an economy and that as the situation is now, we’re probably not headed into another disaster like the one ten years ago. “I’m very optimistic that we won’t have a collapse like we did in 2008. On the other hand, after a period of prosperity like the one we’ve been enjoying, with labour negotiations coming up and troubling news from the airlines, if you look at all that, it’s possible that a slight downswing and some lean times are ahead.”
Photography by Golli & Reykjavík Museum of Photography
down to its knees – yet the people’s spirit remained unbroken. Much has changed since then, but much has also stayed the same. For the anniversary of Iceland’s sovereignty, Iceland Review dug through the Reykjavík Museum of Photography archives and recreated some of our favourite finds.
Words by Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
The year 1918 was a special one in Iceland’s history. It was the year that Iceland became a sovereign nation with its own government, but it was also marked by catastrophic events. A devastatingly cold winter, a volcanic eruption, and an outbreak of the Spanish flu should have been enough to bring any nation
A family portrait of Guðlaug R. Árnadóttir and her children, Árni, Þorbjörg Hólmfríður and Gunnar, the oldest.
Árný Figfúsdóttir is the granddaughter of Þorbjörg Hólmfríður, the youngest in the photo on the left. Here she is with her own children, Aron Brink, Sara Karen Svavarsdóttir, and Rakel Rut Svavarsdóttir, the youngest.
Seamstresses, possibly at Egill Jakobsen’s Sewing Firm, around 1918 in Reykjavík.
Employees at Henson Clothing Company, in 2018 in ReykjavĂk.
A classroom in Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík, which in 1918 was the only secondary school in Reykjavík.
Today, itâ€™s one of 11 secondary schools in ReykjavĂk and there are more young women in the group, but the classroom remains the same.
The children in the photo are, from left: Inger Tofte, Kristín Bernhöft, Jóhanna Ingibjörg Bernhöft, Þórunn Þorsteinsdóttir, Sighvatur, Kristján and Ólafur.
The playground has changed. The seven cousins pictured are the greatgrandchildren of Kristín Bernhöft, second from the left in the previous photo. From left: Steingrímur Haukur and Sverrir Haukur Aðalsteinsson; Kristófer Víkingur and Úlfur Guðmundsson and Nanna Katrín Lukka Guðmundsdóttir; Þórunn Klara Símonardóttir and Árni Alexander Rúnarsson.
In 1918, the square in front of the parliament building (out of the frame) was under construction.
A hundred years later and there is still construction in the area around the square.
HARBOUR VILLAGE MEET THE LOCALS IN HARBOUR VILLAGE Get off the beaten track and take bus number 1 from downtown Reykjavík for 20 minutes to Hafnarfjörður. Harbour Village is perfect to explore on foot, with free museums, curious little jewellers, cafés, boutiques and galleries. Enjoy the cosy hangouts and the family-run restaurants that serve a variety of tasty dishes. Take a stroll along the beautiful harbour. For the history enthusiasts, visit the Hafnarfjörður Museum for a journey through the town’s rich heritage, and enjoy contemporary art at Hafnarborg Art Museum. See the fascinating view at Hamarinn cliff. Have a round of golf at Keilir golf course, surrounded by lava and with views to Snæfellsjökull glacier. Take the children to Víðistaðatún playground and spot elves in Hellisgerði Lava Garden. Last but not least, have a soak in one of the three fantastic swimming pools there are to choose from.
H E R A’S Words by Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson
Photography by Allan Sigurðsson
H E R E
“I’ve always felt a need to be on the move, and I It’s a rainy afternoon in Vancouver and actor Hera Hilmar has taken time out of her busy schedule to talk to Iceland Review. The young actor was making waves in the Icelandic scene only a few years ago, impressing in her starring role in the well-received Life in a Fishbowl as well as on stage. Now, she’s playing the lead role in an upcoming Peter Jackson blockbuster due for release this holiday season. It’s not your typical Hollywood blockbuster, featuring a clear environmental agenda and a strong but flawed female lead. Tackling her newfound fame effortlessly, you get the feeling Hera’s role as ruffian hero Hester Shaw has changed her, but not quite in the way you’d expect.
The eagerly-awaited franchise is led by Lord of the Rings legend Peter Jackson, who co-writes and produces the movie. The project has been in the works since 2009, and it’s fair to say that expectations are high. Despite the pressure, Hera’s remarkably calm about the anticipated critical response. “There’s a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of curiosity. But mostly a lot of excitement and trying to enjoy the moment. There’s a certain mystique when a project’s about to be released and no one knows what it is. It’s a bit like how people sometimes enjoy the anticipation of a summer vacation more than the vacation itself. We’ll just have to see how it goes – it’s just a movie, so it’s not a do-or-die moment for me.”
Devouring cities The post-apocalyptic Mortal Engines takes place in 3,000 years’ time when city engines roam the earth, devouring smaller cities to survive in a form of so-called municipal Darwinism. Hester is the lead role, making this one of the biggest opportunities an Icelander has received in the international film industry. Based on Philip Reeve’s tetralogy bearing the same name, the world of Mortal Engines is like no other according to Hera, “It’s a large concept at first to get your head around, before you get to know it. Cities on wheels – it sounds incredibly different. The world Philip created is astounding. The characters and the story sparked something in me. There’s even more to this project than meets the eye.”
An Icelander abroad Hera has never been afraid to carve out her own path. A daughter of actor Þórey Sigþórsdóttir and film director Hilmar Oddsson, she headed to the UK to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after finishing her studies in Iceland. “I could easily have been born a different person. My parents didn’t push me in this direction, if anything they warned me about the difficulties of the industry. It’s something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to be part of the acting world,” Hera states matter-of-factly. “I lived in London for a year when I was younger but I felt the need to go back there as a a young woman, and find my own way there in a new and unfamiliar environment. I’ve always felt a need
find it difficult to stay in the
same place or the same group for too long.”
to be on the move, and I find it difficult to stay in the same place or the same group for too long.” Her nationality has only affected her career in subtle ways, so far. “It’s good to be a foreigner in Hollywood, Americans are very welcoming to you. It also helps that Iceland is on everyone’s lips. Everybody’s either heading there or have already visited. The country is always a talking point in auditions and meetings.” She’ll never forget her first winter in London, however, as she moved when the Icelandic recession hit in 2008. Tensions were high as many Englishmen had lost fortunes in the Icesave scheme. “The only obvious negative experience was when I couldn’t open a bank account anywhere in London. Apart from one bank, actually. It was the only time I’ve literally been shown the door for being an Icelander. Which says a lot,” Hera says with a laugh. The acting world is opening up, allowing people of different nationalities to take on roles, “I’ve got it going for me that I can work with accents and portray different nationalities. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there now for people who work with different accents. We seem to be telling more and more stories of all kinds of people, that portray the whole spectrum and sound accordingly. You don’t need to be a generic American or British character to have a part in the English-speaking film and TV world. There is more space and more opportunities for variety, for everyone, and people seem to dig that.”
Globetrotting career Hera’s career has taken her around the world in recent years. After her breakout performance in 2015 film Life in a Fishbowl, for which she received the Icelandic Edda award, her career has grown leaps and bounds. Currently in Vancouver to film the TV series See, from the creator of Peaky Blinders, her film schedule has taken her to New Zealand, Serbia, India and everywhere in between. “I love the nomad lifestyle, but it can be difficult. I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s okay to be vulnerable, tired, or weirded out. The internal body clock is a mess and it affects you mentally. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love travelling and seeing the world from this vantage point. Of course, it’s different from a vacation, where you go where your heart desires, but, really, I’m going where I want through my work. Just last week I saw a dozen wild bears in a nature reserve, and I’ve just recently filmed with one too.” Hera worked with acting legend Ben Kingsley on two films, forming a strong bond with the British veteran. The Ottoman Lieutenant and An Ordinary Man were both released in 2017. The twosome spent a lot of time together on the latter project, which follows a Serbian war criminal in hiding and his maid. “It was intimate work, and very enjoyable to work with such a seasoned actor. We spoke about everything under the sun between takes. I learned a lot during filming, and he was such a good dancing partner, to put it that way. You don’t act on your own and the
more you can play off your fellow actor, and take each step together, the better. The momentum between actors is so important, and An Ordinary Man was a very good example of that intimate one-on-one work. We’re still in regular contact. We had even planned to shoot a third movie together but in the end my schedule with Mortal Engines didn’t allow for it. One day.”
size of a role more clearly, and ask me if I’ve realised how big this role is,” Hera states. “But there’s incredible energy in a project like this, and it’s an entirely different experience going to meetings after I got it. Everybody knows about Mortal Engines, while not everyone had seen other movies I’ve worked on such as A Hopeful Place or An Ordinary Man. All kinds of doors suddenly opened up.” Flawed female lead Hester Shaw is far from the female characters Hollywood usually churns out. She’s nowhere near
Rapid rise In early 2017, Hera stood in front of an audience of 180 in a small theatre in downtown Reykjavík, acting in the duet play Andaðu. During the run of the show, she got the role in Mortal Engines, which will play to an audience of millions. “I wasn’t thinking about the scale of the movie, you can’t look at it that way,” Hera tells me. “Often, people with an outside view see the
perfect and sports a big scar across her face. Hera relishes the opportunity to portray a strong female character, who might have a ripple effect on society. “There are so many superheroes out there right now, who’ve been our heroes for some time. The last big female hero that comes to my mind was Wonder Woman, who, of course, is great – and believe me I was even just emotional seeing so many women in the film. Wonder Woman has always been sexy in a tight outfit with good makeup. But what I found really exciting in Hester, and wished we could see more with female heroines today, is that she isn’t sexualised at all,
Still from Mortal Engines, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
“For six months I’ve been acting as someone who would do this without batting an eyelid. Then I’m something you can’t take lid. Then I’m sitting here sitting here at home for granted. She’s written at home and think ‘Oh, no, like a young woman, but I can’t do that.’ But then has the story-arc of a male I thought to myself, why and think ‘Oh, no, I hero. In a way, she’s like can I do all these things at Macbeth when it comes to work as someone else but can’t do that.’” the storyline, but with the not at home as myself? I capacity of Lady Macbeth have an issue sometimes inside her. And then there is the scar. She’s physi- with heights, but when I’m in the mindset of Hester cally scarred, and emotionally if we go into that, and I’m totally fine. I decided to awaken that element in that is something we’ve also seen male heroes por- me and jump off the bridge. And what do you know? It traying visually way more often than their female turned out alright.” counterparts.” “It’s still not easy to come by in Hollywood,” Hera Fame and fortune continues. “We’re not yet at a place where it’s easy When Hera is asked about her ambitions, in light of to portray a female, a heroine, with a deformed face. her recent successes, she tells me that for her, it’s not Young kids today spend a tremendous amount of time about filling out her resume. “It’s just like the drive to on Instagram and social media. Of course, it’s not all paint a painting, or to set up a theatre performance. bad, but there’s pressure on kids to be perfect and It’s the drive to create a project. Yes, of course I have a always on display. More and more kids are affected drive to do as well as possible, so I can do what I want by depression, and there seems to be a connection. to do, and so that others can enjoy my creation,” Hera Whether this film can change that, I don’t know, but responds pensively. “I don’t view each role as some there’s a chance it will have an effect. There’s a clear sort of a stepping stone, I think it would just kill me. subtext that beauty in real life isn’t flawless, but That’s just my mentality. In some ways you’re always in rather the opposite: flawed and unique.” your dream role if you’re going all-in. If you look at each role as a rung on a ladder, you’re always chasing someHester or Hera thing elusive. I think you’ve got it wrong if you’re waitA role like this can affect an actor and it seems like ing for the moment when you become famous, or the Hester has made an impact on Hera. “The fun part movie that makes you. I just try to be selective when about acting is to step into a character’s shoes and it comes to projects and enjoy what I’m doing – that’s experience things one wouldn’t normally do. For the goal – to enjoy what I’m working on and life itself.” example, I went bungee jumping in New Zealand. Hera seems to have her head screwed on right I wasn’t going to do it, but in the end I said ‘fuck it.’ as she stands on the brink of stardom. Whatever I said to myself, for six months I’ve been acting as project she takes on next, Hera Hilmar is a name to someone who would do this without batting an eye- remember.
PR O G RES S O R PRESERVATION: Words by Tinna Eiríksdóttir Photography by RAX & Golli
Progress. Since the beginning of industrialisation, it has been our goal. Without it, there is no success, no change, no improvement. With it, there is advancement. Driven by the idea of progress, the Icelandic nation experienced great strides during the 20th century. Unfortunately, this mentality of constant progress sometimes comes at the cost of nature. One project that has been heavily debated in recent years is the building of the Hvalárvirkjun power plant. Located in Ófeigsfjörður in the Westfjords, building the power plant would mean disturbing the wilderness,
as it would require five dams and three reservoirs. Environmentalists are opposed to the construction and the environmental impact that it entails, but those behind the project argue that it is a matter of human rights for the people of the Westfjords to have access to a secure power source all year round. On the other hand, we would be tampering with one of the few areas of untouched wilderness that remain in the world. One side will ultimately win out, Icelanders are now in the difficult situation of having to decide what price they are willing to pay, for progress or for preservation.
Bulding the power plant Safety and security If you live in the capital area of Iceland, you can’t begin to imagine what it is like to live in a rural place like the Westfjords. We’re used to being able to rely on electricity. Those rare times there is a power failure, it feels like losing a limb. Now imagine this is not an exception but, during winter, the rule. Residents of the Westfjords are tired of unreliable electrical transmission systems. Birna Lárusdóttir is public relations officer for VesturVerk, the main developer of the Hvalárvirkjun project. She says unreliable electricity is not just an inconvenience, it’s also hindering industrial growth in the Westfjords and even threatening national security. “It’s a matter of public security to have access to an energy source situated far away from the most active volcanoes in Iceland. Most plants and a large part of the energy transmission system are located on, or near, areas where there is growing risk of earthquakes and eruptions. No other known power plant option is situated further away from Iceland’s turbulent regions than Hvalárvirkjun,” Birna points out. “It is therefore a security measure for the Westfjords to become sustainable in electrical energy produc-
tion, and the power station is a big part of that.” Hvalárvirkjun has been approved by Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, through the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilisation. The plan rests on the ideological foundation of sustainable development and is intended to be a tool for reconciliation of different viewpoints and interests regarding the utilisation of natural areas rich in power options. Decision making about Hvalárvirkjun are now in the hands of the local government, Árneshreppur, which has approved all steps taken towards building the plant. Results in the local elections last spring supported the project even further. Opening opportunities Another incentive for building the Hvalárvirkjun power plant is the possibility of industrial development and new jobs in the area. Birna says that the current electrical power system just about supports the existing businesses operating in the area. They can’t add more users to the system or expand those businesses and industries that are already in place. For an area that hasn’t been economically prosperous for decades, the opportunities a new system would bring
are more than tempting. Though the power plant wouldn’t create jobs directly, Birna says the strengthened infrastructure would create a positive environment for industrial development. She also points out that both the inevitable road construction as well as the construction of a visitor centre at Hvalá are likely to create possibilities for tourism in the area. Finally, according to Birna, Hvalá is the best and possibly the only option for a power station in the area. If Hvalárvirkjun isn’t built, it would be impossible to construct other pending powerplants in the North Westfjords because they aren’t large enough to support the expansion of the transmission system that would be required. Birna says that according to law, Landsnet (responsible for the national electricity grid) cannot back a construction project that would burden other users of Iceland’s main transmission system. Other pending plants would be too small to be connected to the main transmission system without interruption and increased cost – unless Hvalárvirkjun is built first. Opposition and impact When asked about the opposition to Hvalárvirkjun, Birna argues that the individuals and organisations
objecting are often misinformed. Some might even be opposed to all environmental disturbance, no matter how urgent it might be. “Hvalárvirkjun has changed a great deal in the planning and design process and all the changes have focused on lessening the environmental impact of the plant. Dams have been lowered and reservoirs reduced,” Birna says. “The main structures will be underground and neither river beds nor streams will be tampered with.” She also points out that all human construction has an environmental impact and stresses the positive effect of hydroelectric power as opposed to burning fossil fuels. “I’d like to quote Þorsteinn Másson, the regional director of aquaculture company Arnarlax,” Birna says lastly. “Our strength in the Westfjords and our advantage is the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. That is the story we want to tell ourselves, our guests, and customers all over the world. Clean energy from a hydropower plant like Hvalárvirkjun fits well into the story of a forward-looking community that wants to flourish in harmony with both nature and people.”
Definition of wilderness: a territory that bears no indication of human impact and where nature is allowed to develop without the stress of human activity, and is situated at least 5km from man-made and technological structures, such as powerlines, power stations, reservoirs or highways.
Preserving the wilderness A wild world We are at crossroads when it comes to the environment. We know that human impact on the planet has caused severe damage and time is of the essence: we must act now before it’s too late. We also know that untouched nature is becoming scarcer, and it is invaluable. Therefore, a construction project that involves impacting a large area of wilderness in an irreversible way seems like an anachronism. One of the most prominent protesters against Hvalárvirkjun is Tómas Guðbjartsson, a cardiac surgeon and conservationist. In his opinion, preservation is vital. “If the power plant is built it would be a catastrophe for the Westfjords,” Tómas says. “A great deal of untouched wilderness on the doorstep of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve would be ruined.” Tómas points out that by building the station and the dams, the largest untouched wilderness in the Westfjords will be cut in half and we’d lose a multitude of some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. There have been suggestions to establish a
national park in the area. According to Tómas, construction in no way conforms to those ideas and if the area would be declared a nature reserve, it could stop the Hvalárvirkjun project. The right to power Hvalárvirkjun has been presented as a way to secure electricity access for Westfjords residents. According to Tómas, the electrical problems in the Westfjords aren’t a question of production of electricity but of delivery. Building Hvalárvirkjun won’t solve that problem, sasys Tómas. In fact, it will have little to no effect on electrical delivery in Bolungarvík and Ísafjörður, the towns most affected. Hvalárvirkjun will simply produce more power, something the area has no need for at the moment. “The electrical power is planned to go south so that HS Orka (the energy company behind the project) can deliver peak power to customers in the south that are now buying it at a high price from Landsvirkjun (the National Power Company of Iceland). The argument that the plant would be the
property of the people of the Westfjords is therefore false,” Tómas states. In addition, the majority stakeholder of HS Orka is Magma Energy, a subsidiary if the Canadian energy company Alterra Power. Felix von Longo Liebenstein, an Italian baron and the owner of Eyvindarfjörður, has also sold utilization of water rights in the area to HS Orka so both the Canadian company and the Italian baron foresee to cash in on the construction. But what could be done instead of building Hvalárvirkjun? It has been suggested that the problem of delivery reliability could be solved by using battery containers and diesel generators to supply electricity during winter storms. In the case of a power failure, the diesel generators would start up, supplying electricity to residential areas. Since diesel generators take a little while to start up, the battery containers would be used to bridge the gap between the blackout and until the generators are up and running. The use of both the diesel generators and battery containers combined would still have a lesser environmental impact than the building of a power station. The price of progress The construction of Hvalárvirkjun has been presented as an opportunity for the people of the Westfjords, because employment opportunities are likely to follow increased electrical delivery ability. It is doubtful that Hvalárvirkjun itself would create jobs after its construction, though there would be need for employees while building the power station. After it is completed, however, there would not be a single year-round job at Hvalárvirkjun. The territory where the power station is to be built is, however, an
important one to Iceland’s growing tourism industry. Tómas suggests that the focus should be on preservation of the area rather than development and mentions in that context a National Waterfall Park. “[Hvalárvirkjun] would have a negative impact on the development of tourism in this incredibly beautiful area, where instead a National Waterfall Park could be established, that could increase income for the locals as well as create employment opportunities.” Preservation could potentially create more jobs than development. Tómas says it’s a fact that there are many inhabitants of the Westfjords who are opposed to Hvalárvirkjun, or at least doubtful. He has been contacted by many who support him and encourage him to continue his advocacy. While the public discourse somewhat focuses on residents of the Westfjords who are pro-Hvalárvirkjun, Tómas says that the discussion is often political and quite extreme. The conversation gets polarised and perhaps those who are pro-conservation aren’t prominent in the discussion. Of course, he adds, the people of the Westfjords are proud of the unique nature that characterises the region. Tómas believes that if the area weren’t so remote, Hvalárvirkjun would not be up for discussion. “There are many that aren’t familiar with the area and therefore are unaware of its worth. But those who have been there and experienced the wilderness have no doubt that the area is valuable as a natural treasure for future generations,” Tómas says, adding that “untouched wilderness is not an inexhaustible resource. We must take good care of it because every generation is only borrowing this country, from the generations to come, for a very short period of time.”
A difficult choice There are arguments for Hvalárvirkjun and against it. You can easily imagine how tiresome it is to live with little electrical delivery reliability. Just think about losing the work on your computer or having a freezer full of food that is at risk of going bad because at any time the power could suddenly fail. The people behind Hvalárvirkjun say that they are trying to lessen the environmental impact of the construction as much as they can and there is no denying hydroelectric power is better for the environment than burning fossil fuels. On the other hand, if there are solutions to the
delivery ability problem that have less impact on the environment, why not go with them? At this point we should know not to undertake irreversible construction rather than giving nature the benefit of the doubt. We have no idea what environmental importance the Westfjords will hold in the future but what we have to decide now is how much are we willing to sacrifice for progress and how much are we willing to sacrifice for preservation. There are two opposing sides, and both believe that their cause is the right one. Which will prevail, preservation or progress, only time will tell.
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1918 – DAY BY DAY
Photography by Reykjavík Museum of Photography
Words by Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson
The centennial of Iceland’s sovereignty is being celebrated in several different ways this year, but the project Frostaveturinn 1918 is in a league of its own. Named after the Great Frost Winter in early 1918, the equal parts humorous and mournful project covers the year’s events on social media day by day, in real time. Creator Gyða Fanney Guðjónsdóttir delved into history annals, newspapers, and oral tales to give followers a unique look into Icelanders’ lives in 1918. “I wanted to share this idea with people, since it’s such an incredibly important year. It appears again and again in history annals,” Gyða says. She studied literature at the University of Iceland before completing a master’s degree in political history at the University of Edinburgh. “The idea came to me as I worked in a hotel reception where everything revolves around dates, as guests check in and out. I’m essentially using the same format for this project – trying to follow the year day-by-day as much as I can, 100 years later.” The way Gyða sees it, Icelanders haven’t changed all that much in 100 years. “There’s still this need to talk about what people are doing, like this notice in the papers at the time proves: ‘Jón arrived from Copenhagen this Tuesday. He did a tremendous job and finished theology with the highest marks.’ The papers also published the passengers lists when
ships arrived from abroad. We’ve always followed media extremely well and still continue to do so.” Some things have changes, however. “The death notices were on the front pages of newspapers at the time, which I thought was quite remarkable.” The project has proven popular and her audience watches her posts closely. “One time I accidentally wrote that a 40-pound polar bear had arrived in Iceland and everything went crazy. I received endless messages that it was in fact a 400-pound polar bear. It was really enjoyable to see how many people were interested in the project, and I fixed the error right away,” Gyða says merrily. How important is 1918 in Icelandic history? “In some ways it shows how important the year is that we’re still talking about it 100 years later. It was an incredibly weird and dramatic year that started with this cold wave, went on to discussions about the relationship between Iceland and Denmark, and then you had the Katla eruption and right after that the Spanish flu. Everybody is sick right now, and the armistice is around the corner,” Gyða said in early November. It’s clear she’s taken the project to heart, and lines have become blurred between the present and the past. “I 100% feel the events are happening right now. There’s such a lot happening at this point in time which I want to share with people.” Today is 1918 and 2018 at the same time for Gyða.
1918 – DAY BY DAY
January 13 On this day 100 years ago, mass in Fríkirkjan church was cancelled due to the cold. Severe frost all over the country puts animals in distress. Horses freeze to death in Kjalarnes and swans are found frozen in ice near Bessastaðir.
October 12 Katla erupts after a 58-year silence with sharp earthquakes around noon in South Iceland. “Terrifying roar” in earthquake as Hólmá river bridge is swept away, concrete pillars and all. As if by miracle, no one was hurt. Shepherds from Álftaver narrowly escape a gas column on the run.
January 22 A crisis was declared in Ísafjörður. The town sought help from the government for coal supplies. Little food or work to be found. Most wage earners worked in fishing, which was cancelled due to the cold. In total, 374 households were unemployed. All in all, around 1,270 people were reduced to begging.
October 20 Of those who showed up to the polls, 92.6% vote for the Act of Union. The first confirmed Spanish flu carrier arrives in Iceland on the ship Botnia. Darkness over Reykjavík due to volcanic ash fall. Noises heard from the mountains.
February 19 Sea ice began to break up in North Iceland, and a sailing route from Siglufjörður opened after a six-week closure. The clock was moved forward an hour according to a year-old law. Food rationing based on neighbourhood started again due to war operations in the Atlantic.
November 4 Two infected have fallen. Estimated that a third of Reykjavík is sick. The sickness is followed by pneumonia. People often died within two days of noticing their sickness. The sickness is characterised by bleeding, blood streams from noses and out of the lungs, out from the intestines, up from the stomach and through the urethra.
March 5 An urgent notice in the paper. The man who bought fish for the woman Þuríður was asked to explain where the goods had been left. A rust brown dog was unclaimed at Laugavegur 6. A store advertised an opening for a teenage boy or an old woman.
November 5 Papers stop being published due to staff illness. Contact with other countries is cut as all the staff of the National Phone Company, bar one, have fallen ill. First registered death was Sólveig Vigfúsdóttir from Eystri-Skógar beneath the Eyjafjöll mountains. Severe housing shortage in Reykjavík. A biting cold sweeps into the city.
July 31 A bookkeeper in Siglufjörður dies from blood poisoning after picking a zit on the back of his neck. A rust brown horse unclaimed at Reykjavík police headquarters.
November 11 The armistice between USA and Germany comes into effect. Sick people are moved to the Children’s School of Reykjavík. The district doctor of Reykjavík estimates that no fewer than 10,000 have fallen ill, of an estimated 15,079 people. Flag at half-mast.
August 19 Announcements about the illness of a number of upper-class people. Unclear if a case of influenza or a fall cold. The following notice appears, in English, in Morgunblaðið newspaper: To the little girl. The unknown man would very much like to correspond with you, and would you mind very much to send him your address.
December 1 Act of Union signed with Denmark. Iceland was now a free and sovereign nation. Small crowd gathered in front of the Prime Ministry as a sombre ceremony took place. The official announcement for the festivities promised a short ceremony so attendees would not be at risk of hypothermia.
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Twitter: @Frostaveturinn1918 Facebook: Frostaveturinn 1918
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FRESHWATER FISH
S W I Words by Kjartan รorbjรถrnsson
Photography by Golli
“Some things in nature simply inspire an emotional response. The Þingvallavatn lake brown trout is one of these phenomena. It’s a fantastical, mythical creature,” says biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson. For the last two decades, he has studied the brown trout stock in the lake, unique in Iceland and even the world. Trout numbers in the lake are up, after years of decline. That’s good news, but the same can’t be said for another of Jóhannes’ research subjects: wild salmon, currently under threat.
Big fish At 84km 2 (32mi 2), Þingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest natural lake. lt lies in a rift valley between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian plate and the North American. Most of the water comes from springs at the bottom of the lake. The rivers that do run into it are not large, the most well-known is Öxará. Each autumn in October and stretching into November, the lower end of the small river fills up with giant brown trout who swim up from the depths of the lake to spawn. That’s where Jóhannes catches, measures, and weighs them before releasing them back into the river. Several of the fish he has seen many times before. When Iceland Review met up with Jóhannes, the temperatures had dropped below freezing and the caged fish he had already caught were underneath the ice. According to Jóhannes the brown trout in the lake was originally anadromous and colonised the
lake following the end of the last ice age. Some 9,000 years ago, when the ice cap melted the land rose, the fish were cut off from their feeding grounds in the sea by impassable waterfalls. Luckily, some anadromous arctic char was also stuck in the lake at the same time and thrived there, the perfect nourishment for the trout to grow large and populate the water. “Þingvallavatn and its unique underwater ecosystem is so large and diverse that it offers the perfect conditions for this king of Icelandic freshwater fish, larger by far than any other in the country.” Jóhannes breaks through the ice by the cage, prepares his measuring equipment and captures a 9-kilogram (20-pound) male trout from the cage. On its side is a deep cut from repeated biting of other males fighting over females at the spawning grounds. “They are incredibly hardy and strong, he’ll be healed in early summer,” says Jóhannes, as he documents its measurements, takes a scale sample, and fits it
Some things in nature simply inspire an emotional response. The Þingvallavatn lake brown trout is one of these phenomena. It’s a fantastical, mythical creature.
with a tag in order to recognise it when they meet again. The research has made it possible for him to study the trout’s behavioural patterns with the help of electronic tags. The trout usually reach an old age, so they tend to have some adventures through the years. “Everything you, as a scientist, would hope the trout is doing, it does. It dives from the surface to the bottom of the lake for an adventure and some thumb their noses at the winter cold by skipping hibernation, keeping its metabolism running and heating up by finding sources of warm spring water.” In most Icelandic lakes, fish need to spend 24 hours a day eating during the summer months to be able to survive winter, but in Þingvallavatn, there’s enough to eat all year round. The trout in the lake also reach maturity later than most, often at six or seven years of age. Until that point, they grow quickly, as no energy is spent spawning. “Another thing is its long life. After it hits puberty, it can still grow. The oldest trout I’m currently observing is 17 years old,” Jóhannes tells me as he releases the fish through a hole in the ice. The heaviest fish Jóhannes has handled was a 12.7-kilogram (28-pound) female fish. “I was lucky enough to get her electronically tagged, so I could
watch her movements for two years after that.” He says the longest fish can reach 110cm (43in), but they rarely grow over one metre. Making a comeback Despite their hardiness, Þingvallavatn trout were recently in danger of extinction. The main spawning grounds of the brown trout were almost wiped out when the river that runs from the lake, Efra-Sog, was harnessed for electricity production in 1959. The stocks that survived were either overfished or suffering from the change of environment. In recent years, the biggest spawning stocks have multiplied rapidly and now well over 2,000 trout spawn in the rivers Öxará and Ölfusvatnsá. It also helped that the catchand-release method grew more popular with anglers. “Luckily, people can battle the brown trout without killing it. The lake has several stocks of the trout and all of them were looking pretty rough at the end of last century. People were talking about it in the past tense.” Since the turn of the century to this day, actions have been taken to save the trout that have proven successful. Jóhannes doesn’t mind that anglers fish for the huge trout, as long as they release them afterwards, as the hardy fish generally is not
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In order to catch every single fish in the river, Jóhannes catches them by night, using strong lights to spot each one.
harmed. “I’ve tagged fish that have later been caught several times over by fly fishermen. I’ve even caught the same fish again repeatedly when they come in to spawn year after year.” Catching intruders Jóhannes’ efforts and research have been instrumental in keeping the brown trout happy and healthy but his mind is elsewhere these days – on wild salmon. “I’m embarrassed for not talking about it more publicly until now,” he says. “There’s only a handful of us doing this type of research but we should all be speaking up. Wild salmon is the biggest treasure of freshwater in Iceland and we are putting it in grave danger.” The threat stems from extensive salmon farming by the coast of Iceland. “How is it that we, with our unique wild salmon stocks, are confident enough to import fertile farmed salmon of Norwegian origin and rear them in open-net sea pens, while we forbid importing foreign breeds of cattle or horses? Those are animals that we can contain while salmon is kept in open pens and can always escape into nature, as recent history has shown.” Four years ago, Jóhannes started monitoring the fish stocks of three small rivers in Ketildalir valley by Arnarfjörður fjord, armed with decades of scientific experience and in co-operation with landowners. The fjord is home to the biggest fish farms in Iceland. The wild stocks in these rivers are very small, which
makes it easy to spot any changes. Earlier this year, a considerable number of farmed salmon escaped their pens in Arnarfjörður. The exact number of the escaped fish couldn’t be established. Iceland Review joined Jóhannes on his trip west to monitor the conditions in one of the rivers. One autumn night in late October, Jóhannes and his helper caught every fish in the river with dip nets, measured, and tagged them, before releasing them. The native spawning stock consisted of twenty salmon and their spawning season was almost over. But in the river, they also caught two large female fish that looked markedly different. They had large wounds caused by salmon lice, damaged fins and gill flaps, and torn tails: typical characteristics of farmed salmon. “Four farmed salmon have been caught in Icelandic fishing rivers this year. These two make for a marked increase and they are the first confirmed examples of mature farmed salmon about to spawn in an Icelandic river. I think we caught them in the eleventh hour. One would have spawned in a matter of hours and the other in a few days,” Jóhannes says, clearly distressed. Rivers at risk But what’s at stake if farmed salmon spawn in an Icelandic river? Jóhannes points to Norway as an example. Wild Norwegian salmon is struggling, even though their farmed salmon is a Norwegian stock. “Each river has a special stock of salmon, that has
Left, a healthy wild salmon in its natural environment. Right, two farmed salmon, wounded by salmon lice and ready to spawn.
adapted to the environment and evolved for thousands of years, each stock differing slightly in when it migrates to the sea, how long it stays there, how it spawns, how it’s built to jump waterfalls and so on. When you mix foreign DNA into the gene pool the damage is done. The adaptation might disappear and the worst-case scenario is that the stock goes extinct. Still, we accept farming a number of salmon hundredfold the numbers of all native salmon spawning in Iceland without hesitation, knowing that these fish tend to escape.” Jóhannes says there’s even more risk involved. “Farmed salmon spawns later than wild salmon and when doing so can dig up their eggs and replace them with its own, destroying the eggs laid out earlier by native salmon. We think we’re so exact when it comes to our actions in nature but we’re not consis-
tent. We have a history that we don’t want to repeat,” Jóhannes says, referring to the case of mink importation in the early 20th century. “It’s the only example I can think of where no one has stepped up and apologised for the mistakes that were made.” Minks were imported in 1931 and only a year later, the first ones escaped. Since then, the mink has wreaked havoc in nature and proven impossible to keep under control. “We know we have to do better if we do not want to risk Icelandic salmon stocks. An official apology by some politician decades later will not help Icelandic salmon. It’s not a question of not caring about people in the countryside and their employment. Somebody needs to speak up for the salmon. Someone has to talk about what people are only dimly aware of. We know that salmon is in danger and we have to act accordingly.”
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THE ICELANDIC MUSEUM OF ROCK 'N' ROLL Visit Iceland's largest music museum and enjoy the history of Icelandic rock and pop music. Browse through the timeline of Icelandic pop and rock music with the Rock 'n' Roll app on iPads, spend time in our soundlab, cinema, karaoke booth, gift store, exhibitions or simply grab a cup of coffee at our café (free wi-fi!).
A VOLCANO IN THE BAC K YA R D Photography by Golli
Words by Kjartan Þorbjörnsson & Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
Katla, topped by Mýrdalsjökul glacier, towers over Mýrdalssandur plains. Previous page: Jónas Erlendsson, farmer at Fagridalur.
2 1 Fagridalur
2 Herjólfsstaðir 3 Sólheimahjáleiga
Vík í Mýrdal
Iceland is a volcanic island, prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A volcano in Iceland erupts approximately every 4-5 years, but not all eruptions are created equal. Some are so tame that they become tourist attractions. In other cases, flash floods, ash clouds, toxic gas and, of course, lava flow can have catastrophic consequences. Katla is one of Iceland’s most fearsome volcanoes. Since the country’s settlement, it’s erupted approximately every 50 years, but the last eruption was in 1918, one hundred years ago. Scientists have warned that the volcano is about to erupt soon, but “soon” in
geological terms could mean either tomorrow – or 20 years from now. Despite the constant threat of a volcanic eruption, the area around Katla is one of the most thriving agricultural areas of Iceland. Plenty of farmers live in areas that could be affected by an eruption, but still some families have lived there for generations. Even though Katla hasn’t erupted for a century, other, smaller volcanoes in the area have erupted in the meantime, sometimes covering a vast amount of land in a thick layer of ash. The locals face the uncertainty with a resilient stoicism.
JÓNAS ERLENDSSON Fagridalur
“My grandfather was born in 1912 so he was only six when Katla last erupted,” says Jónas Erlendsson, farmer at Fagridalur. He is the fourth generation of Fagridalur farmers: his great grandmother bought the land at the turn of the 20th century. “My grandfather often spoke of how he never wanted to experience that again. He said the darkness during the ash fall and the flashes of lightning were the worst. His dad was with him up on Fagradalsheiði moor when they saw the cloud of ash arrive. He grabbed him under his arm and ran to the farm. It was a close call. Just as they got inside, everything turned black.” The eruption started in October and lasted until spring. Despite its intensity, the ash didn’t affect work on the farm. “A few years ago, geologists made some tests in my hills. They dug down to settlement-era strata so I asked one of them how many ash layers from Katla he’d found. He only saw five, even though Katla has erupted 18-20 times, all of them very thin. He found thicker ash from Mt. Hekla eruptions, even though Katla is so much closer.” According to Jónas, it comes down to dominant winds: the wind rarely blows from the north. Fagridalur is very well located
in that respect. It’s also relatively safe from the flood Katla will trigger when it melts off Mýrdalsjökull glacier. “We’re fortunate that we can produce our own electricity. It’s mostly telecommunication that you worry about. We have a fibre optic cable connection to the internet and if that goes, we lose all contact with the outside world.” Jónas says everyone sleeps well at the farm despite Katla’s presence. “We’ve recently experienced the Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn eruptions. We had a little ash fall here but that only helped the soil.” He says his neighbours feel the same. They’re aware of the dangers of the mountain but they don’t think about it every day. Two years ago, experts believed a Katla eruption was imminent and raised the alert. Locals in Mýrdalur were herding sheep in the mountains when the area was supposed to be cleared. “We were so far up that it was impossible to go back. The leader of the group simply said that if we saw something red coming from the mountain, we should hurry back,” Jónas says with a smirk. “You’re mostly wondering where you can get the best photos of the eruption,” he says with a laugh.
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JÓHANNES GISSURARSON Herjólfsstaðir í Álftaveri
“My grandparents moved here in the spring of 1919, after the last Katla eruption. Their old farm was destroyed in the glacial flood that accompanied the eruption,” says Jóhannes Gissurarson, farmer at Herjólfsstaðir í Álftaveri. “This farmstead is considered safe from the floods. It’s so high up. Historically, it’s never flooded. But you can get cut off, temporarily.” The view on this clear autumn day is incomparable. One hundred and eighty degrees of glaciers and snow-capped mountains. Katla in the west and Öræfajökull glacier in the east. Both large volcanoes, set to erupt at any given moment. “I’ve got a lovely view over Katla from my kitchen window and I’ve made sure not to plant any trees around the house, so I can see everything clearly,” Jóhannes says with a laugh. “You’re raised on the stories your grandparents tell you of the disaster. I think of them often, especially after I experienced the Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn eruptions. My grandmother was at home with the kids, but my grandfather was in Vík í Mýrdal the day the eruption began in 1918. They didn’t know what had happened to the other for almost two weeks. How did they feel and what did they think, knowing nothing of what had happened to the people closest to them?”
Jóhannes doesn’t think of Katla every day. In case of an eruption, he and his family are expected to leave the farm and drive to Kirkjubæjarklaustur village. “We’re supposed to vacate the farm in less than half an hour after we receive our orders. They have the technology to send a text message to every phone in the area at risk, but I still wonder about the tourists that are everywhere these days, especially during the summer, how will they react? Will they realise where to go?” Jóhannes doubts that evacuating the area in a hurry is the best idea. They could be of more help by staying home. “We had a little experience with it in 2011 when Grímsvötn erupted and Múlakvísl river flooded, carrying away the bridge. There was a family reunion here and the place was evacuated. When everyone was gone, tourists started popping up who had no idea what was going on. I’m actually against having to leave the farm and evacuate the area in case of an eruption.” They have also refused to go in the dark, snow or other conditions where they can’t see the mountain, as they will have to drive against the flood to begin with.
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ELÍN EINARSDÓTTIR AND JÓNAS MARÍNÓSSON Sólheimahjáleiga
Elín Einarsdóttir and Jónas Marínósson are sheep farmers and hotelkeepers in Sólheimahjáleiga by the roots of Sólheimajökull glacier. Elín’s parents started the country hotel 30 years ago, so the family has experienced the effects of volcanic eruptions and the tourism boom in Iceland. Her forefathers moved to Sólheimahjáleiga in 1860 and her family has been there ever since. “My grandfather hated volcanic eruptions after living through the eruption in 1918,” Elín says. “In August 1980, we were going to a horse competition in Hella but as soon as we’d left Hvolsvöllur we saw in the distance that Hekla was erupting. My grandfather who was 80 years old at the time wanted to return immediately and go home. I didn’t realise until then how deep his distaste for volcanic eruptions went.” She says that she herself has never been afraid of volcanic eruptions. “I was a lot more scared of the Russians and the Cold War. It felt a lot more threatening somehow. I had a plan in case the Russians would come,” she says and smiles. “I think the people who live closest to the volcano might be the ones who worry the least about it,”
Jónas adds. “Even though I was born elsewhere and only moved here ten years ago, I don’t give it any more thought than the people who have always been here,” he says. “I think it’s a matter of stoicism in the face of nature,” Elín says. Jónas tells me he was excited when Fimmvörðuháls started erupting and went with a few others up to the eruption to take photos. “I got some good ones,” he says proudly. “He thought it was important,” Elín says with a smile and adds that he hadn’t seen it as often as she had, living her life surrounded by volcanoes. Asked if their guests talk of the imminent Katla eruption with them, they say no. “Many of them have no idea,” she says. “We don’t mention it ourselves. We have an emergency plan to follow if there’s an eruption.” The plan isn’t complicated: let everyone know, get dressed, go outside and climb the crest behind the farm. “The only thing we’ve made sure of through the years is that we always keep a working flashlight around. I don’t have an emergency bag or piles of canned food or anything,” she says with a laugh. “Sorry, but I just never think about it.”
ÞORKELL EIRÍKSSON Fljótsdalur “Can I help you?” Þorkell Eiríksson, farmer in Fljótsdalur, asks me in English as I wander around the farmyard. I introduce myself and he offers me a cup of coffee. His farm was hit hard by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The area was showered with ash and the road to the farm flooded. “During the last week of the eruption, the wind blew the ash cloud our way. Everything was completely covered in ash. We had to plough every field after the eruption was over,” he says. His family stayed at the house during the eruption, but they soon discovered that they had to get the sheep to safety. According to Þorkell, the ash cloud was an absurd experience. “You don’t know what darkness is until you’ve seen the inside of an ash cloud. You can’t see your hands in front of your face. It’s so pitch black that it blocks all your senses,” Þorkell says, waving his hands for effect. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption was difficult for Þorkell and his family, but the Fimmvörðuháls eruption was a nightmare for him, personally. “Every news outlet said the best view of the eruption was from Fljótsdalur. Everyone came here. I think that about 25,000 cars came here over Easter in 2010. The place
was flooded with people, releasing their dogs, even though I had newborn lambs in the middle of lambing season.” Þorkell shakes his head. “During lambing, you’re awake all night. Every now and then you’d go in for a nap and when you got back to the sheepcote, it would be covered in empty beer cans and cigarette stubs. I was lucky the whole farm wasn’t burnt down!” If Katla erupts, Markarfljót river could flood. Þorkell states that the dikes by the river have been altered so that most of the water will hit Fljótshlíð, where his farm and others are located. He says those dikes have been a bone of contention between institutions and the locals since the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The argument went all the way to the Supreme Court. “We won the case, but nothing was changed.” According to Þorkell, the last few eruptions have been great exercises for when Katla erupts. “You almost hoped she would blow right then. Get it over with,” Þorkell quipped. He doesn’t seem worried, but tells me he’s hoping Katla won’t erupt in the middle of lambing season or during the summer, when the sheep are in the mountains.
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By publishing new short stories by Icelandic authors, Iceland Review hopes to bring readers a taste of the vibrant literary community of Iceland. While the novel has long been the dominant form of fiction among the country’s authors, the short story has become increasingly popular. For tourists, residents of Iceland, and armchair travellers alike, these stories can serve as entertainment as well as a bite-sized introduction to the country’s rich literature.
Translation by Larissa Kyzer Story by Brynjólfur Þorsteinsson Illustrations by Helga Páley Friðþjófsdóttir
The Doctor’s Appointment and Its Consequences Not long after the doctor’s appointment
A year later
Arnar was on a diet, so he bought Viking Lite. A tenpack, the small cans, because Arnar was on a diet. He wasn’t asked for his ID at the cash register – Friday, a lot going on. Undoubtedly because my hair’s started to thin, thought Arnar, and then didn’t bother to respond to the question of whether he wanted a receipt. He drove over the speed limit all the way home. Seventy on streets marked 50, 50 on 30s, never signalling – where he was going was no one’s business. When he opened his first beer in the vestibule at home, Arnar still hadn’t taken his coat off and he’d barely stepped out of his shoes by the time he’d polished off the can. He wasn’t hungry at dinnertime and didn’t bother eating. Just had a Lite – he was on a diet. It was almost 11.00 when Arnar sent three messages. One via email – strange, almost incoherent, to email@example.com, and two via Messenger. One of the latter a note of appreciation to a musician who Arnar listened to a lot but didn’t know in the slightest, the other to a girl, Linda, who he’d chatted up a little before. Not long after, and much to Arnar’s surprise, she responded.
“You haven’t touched me in a week.” “Now, now.” “I’m not kidding – seven days. I remember perfectly: we were making dinner together, you were getting something out of the fridge, and you laid your hand on my shoulder for a second. A week, Arnar.” “I’m just…you know. I’m feeling a bit peculiar.” “You don’t love me, there’s nothing peculiar about it.” “Of course I love you, Linda.” “No. A person touches the one they love.” In the waiting room The dermatologist was located in a shopping centre on the east side of town. It had been two months since Arnar had made the appointment; he didn’t want to be too late, and so he showed up too early. He waited for 25 minutes in a sweltering waiting room, but still didn’t take off his coat. Browsed through old tabloids, sweaty.
In one of them, there was a headline over a photograph of the singer Pink on the red carpet which read: “The Soul is Immortal! But Yours Will Probably Burn in Hell!” How bizarre, thought Arnar, turning the page.
Propecia, possible side effects Rare: • Decreased sexual desire • Difficulty getting an erection • Problems ejaculating, due to a reduced quantity of semen • Depression
A common conversation between Arnar and Linda “Do you think I’m going bald?” “No.” “Are you sure?” “Lemme see.” Arnar sits down, Linda examines his hairline. “I mean, there is definitely less hair here,” she says, pointing at the back of his head, “than in the front. But does that necessarily mean you’re going bald?” “The doctor says so. And how long do doctors go to school? Seven years? More?” “Why are you asking me, then?” “Do you think it’s thinned out since we got together?” “No, I don’t think so.” “You’re just saying that.” “Jesus, no…and what of it if you go bald? I wouldn’t love you any less, you know.” “Don’t be so sure of that.” The answer What did I get myself into? Arnar wondered almost constantly that whole weekend. In the car on the way to Hella (where Linda grew up), when he shook Linda’s father’s hand (far too limply), when he sketched out his family tree (as best he could) at the dinner table. The answer to the question that haunted Arnar that weekend was simple: a serious relationship.
Frequency Unknown: • Allergic reactions, rashes, and itching • Testicular pain • Rapid heartbeat • Infertility among men and/or poor quality of semen • Elevation of hepatic enzymes • Anxiety The patient information label neglected, however, to note an additional side effect: • Religious revelations
Ze I: Under the angel’s white robe The angel was hairy but sexless and lacking anything that could be called an ass or its auxiliaries – a crack, cheeks, hole. Arnar could see that much clearly when he opened his eyes. The angel stood astride his face in bed and looked down, hands on hir hips; it was night. “Behold!” ze said. “And who are you?” asked Arnar, quite certain this was a dream. “I am the angel Pythagoras and no, this is no dream, little man.” Ze jumped down onto the floor and it was then that Arnar first noticed the wings on hir back, raven-black. “I am come here to urge you onward.” “With what?” “Celibacy.”
Matthew 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
The variable impact of the things that Linda forgot When Linda moved out, she forgot three things: two sweaters – one gray, one mustard-yellow – and a black book by a Russian woman. Arnar had no interest in getting these things back to Linda, or, if it came down to it, in ever talking to her again, so he took them to the Red Cross charity shop. Linda’s sweaters were resold. They were bought a week apart, by women around Linda’s age, both of whom got into car accidents later in life. One of them died on the Hellisheiði plateau, on the highway just above the power station, the other was paralysed from the waist down. The book, on the other hand, ended up in the dumpster.
Ze II: UPPENBARELSE in IKEA “Lust is the root of all evil in the world. Or rather, a principal symptom of evil, a consequence of original sin. When you get a boner, it is the serpent to blame, the apple on the tree of knowledge to blame. Renounce boners!” “How about this one?” Linda pointed at a grey couch. Arnar shrugged. To be entirely truthful, he couldn’t care less. Under different circumstances, he maybe would’ve formed an opinion, but at the moment, he was just doing his best to ignore the angel Pythagoras and hir blathering. “C’mon, man. Participate. We need to pick it together.”
“I don’t know. To be entirely truthful, I couldn’t care less.” Linda sighed. “Don’t act like that. You love sitting on the couch.” “Yes, that’s true. Sorry.” Arnar tried sitting down on the grey one. “Yeah, yes, this one’s fine. It’s good to sit on, at least. Soft.” “Blessed are those who don’t submit to their lust, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He who banishes sexual congress from his life will redeem his soul!” “Ugh,” said Linda. “I’m not really into the feet. There’s something off about them.” It was Arnar’s turn to sigh. The morning after Arnar usually woke up before Linda in the morning. Such was the case the morning after Arnar first told Linda he loved her. Everything about that night was as romantic as could be – a star-bright sky, an extravagant bottle of red wine – but now it was the morning after and he had a headache. He looked at Linda as she slept. Wondered to himself who this person was. Whether he had a place in her dreams, as he did in her waking life. Arnar hoped not but couldn’t say why. Sleep had turned his red wine buzz into anxiety, he was filled with melancholy. At least I’m not alone, he thought. That’s the most important thing.
Ze III: Angel lust “Hanged men often get erections. This is called ‘angel lust,’ the final stumbling block on the road to Paradise. Overcome it and your passage is paid.”
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The actual doctor’s appointment “So, how can I help you?” “I…maybe I’m being a little neurotic…I get a bit fixated on things…” said Arnar, who was still wearing his coat. “Anxious, I mean. But…I think I’m going bald.” This clearly rubbed the doctor the wrong way, as he didn’t – Arnar suddenly noticed – have a single hair on his head. But he stood up, turned on the harsh lamp that Arnar was sitting under, and examined his hairline. “Yes, there’s clearly less hair here on the back of your head than in other places.” The anxiety in Arnar’s stomach turned to a heavy stone. “Yeah, you’re probably going to go bald.” “Okay,” said Arnar, and thought: I have to go on a diet. I’m going to die alone. No one’s going to look twice at me with a bald spot. Gotta go on a diet and find myself a girlfriend before it’s too late. I’m going to die alone. “And what…” “There’s nothing wrong with that as such,” the doctor interrupted. “It happens to most of us. Including me and I survived, as you’ve perhaps noticed.” Arnar’s back was wet with sweat. “But…isn’t it still possible to do something? I saw something about some pill on the internet.”
“Yes, it’s possible. But Propecia can only slow the process down – there’s no cure for baldness. And the drug can have serious side effects.” “Sure, sure,” said Arnar and thought, Alone! “But can you write me a prescription for it?” What wasn’t mentioned in the obituary Linda saw the obituary by chance when she was flipping through the morning paper at the gas station, having just eaten eina með öllu, a hot dog with all the trimmings. The obit was short and included the words “died suddenly.” Arnar looked exhausted in the photo and much fatter than he was when they were together. But he still – and Linda couldn’t help but smile at this – had a full head of hair, and she suddenly remembered what they’d cooked the last time he touched her, she could almost feel the heat of his hand, ever so briefly, on her shoulder. This wasn’t mentioned in the obituary, but that was the last time Arnar touched a woman. Linda sat for a long time with the paper open in front of her, staring at the cars coming and going outside. Until finally she thought, Well, that’s that, and took the last sip from her can of Coke. Better get going.
Brynjólfur Þorsteinsson (1990) is an author from Hvolsvöllur, South Iceland. He studied literature and creative writing at the University of Iceland. His stories have been published in Tímarit Máls og menningar, Starafugl, Stína, and the anthology Í hverju ertu? (What Are You Wearing?), which was published in 2017.
17 - 1501 — HVÍTA HÚSIÐ / SÍA
E A R LY B I R D C AT C H E S After her time in Iceland, Naomi arrives early at the airport so she can enjoy her last hours there before continuing her journey.
GIVE YOUR SELF MORE TIME TO SHOP
W W W. K E FA I R P O R T. I S
Arrive early at Keflavík Airport and we will greet you with open arms. Check in up to 2 ½ hours before your flight so you can enjoy your last moments in Iceland. We offer unlimited free Wi-Fi, many charging stations and a range of shops and restaurants, so you can embrace the last drops of Icelandic taste and feel — and of course Tax and Duty Free.
MORE TIME FOR SHOPPING To remember her time in Iceland, she brings back home unique souvenirs that she bought at the airport.
Women’s Day Off
Photography by Golli
Words by Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
On October 24, 1975, Icelandic women took the day off. Tired of getting paid less for the same work as men, not to mention taking on the brunt of the work in the home for no pay at all, women left their posts in offices, factories, and the home, in order to prove once and for all women’s importance as part of the workforce. On the day, newspapers weren’t printed, telephone services were down, flights got cancelled and fathers struggled to make dinner.
More than forty years later, Statistics Iceland confirms that there’s still a gender pay gap. Women have taken the day off five times since 1975 and every time they do, they hope they won’t have to do it again. This year, the women of Reykjavík gathered at Arnarhóll hill and all around the country women took the day off, demonstrating their worth in society. Hopefully they won’t have to do it again.
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