Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’
May 16, 2013 | by David Bukszpan
When Icelanders talk to Americans about Iceland, sooner or later talk is going to turn to fairies, or hidden people, or elves. And while it seems many Icelanders do truly believe in those things, often you’ll get a response like the novelist Sjón gave Leonard Lopate the other day: “If you actually lean on an Icelander, most of us will confess to believing that nature has the power to manifest itself in a form understandable to humans. So the hidden people, you know, we would say, ‘Well of course I don’t believe that there are actually cities inside our mountains, but it’s possible that nature has a way of manifesting itself in a human form to, you know, have an interaction with the humans.’”
Similarly, when Americans talk about Iceland, sooner or later (probably sooner) we’re going to start talking about one specific fairy, or hidden person, or elf. And despite my not having any photos or videos to back it up, you’ll have to believe me that last week at Scandinavia House, the sprite-like Reykjaviker you’re thinking of did indeed manifest herself in a striking, stiff, white-and-purple dress for a ten-minute interaction with book-reading humans on behalf of her longtime friend and collaborator Sjón.
It’s a young crowd, trendy, expectant, giddy even, though I’m surprised to see so many empty seats. It turns out Scandinavia House closed their RSVP list weeks earlier, almost immediately after announcing the event, grossly botching the numbers and no doubt needlessly turning away scores of would-be attendees. But it’s no matter to those of us here—in fact it makes the evening feel all the more intimate.
It’s a coming-out-from-under-the-mountain kind of moment for Sjón himself. Although a well-known writer in Iceland, if Sjón’s name rings a bell at all in the States it’s been as Björk’s frequent lyricist—notably on her Biophilia album, her 2004 Olympic theme song, and Dancer in the Dark, her Lars von Trier film. Things have changed for him in a hurry though, as Farrar, Straus & Giroux sent the poet/novelist on a U.S. tour (Seattle, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and New York) to promote the three simultaneously released books: the full-length From the Mouth of the Whale and the novellas The Blue Fox and The Whispering Muse. Move over Blue Lagoon, Americans are about to have a new second-favorite Iceland reference.
The five-city, three-book, one-author tour culminates in the event at Scandinavia House, where Björk treats the assembled to the kind of intimate, I-knew-him-when introduction usually reserved for siblings at wedding parties. Then again, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a sort of brother-sister camaraderie between the two. Read More »
November 16, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Today is Icelandic Language Day (literally, “day of the Icelandic tongue”), a festival designed to coincide with the birthday of Jónas Hallgrímsson.
As well as an accomplished poet, author, and naturalist, Hallgrímsson was a committed Icelandic nationalist and founder of the journal Fjölnir. He died in 1844 at only thirty-seven, but to this day is considered one of Iceland’s most beloved poets.
It is said that Hallgrímsson’s poetry, which dealt often with Iceland, its landscapes, and its people, resists easy translation. Nevertheless, even in the following translation, the themes come through.
A Toast to Iceland
Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth's fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!
In 1945, Hallgrímsson was at the center of a rather bizarre controversy. A fan, one Sigurjón Pétursson, spearheaded a campaign to move the poet’s body from Copenhagen, where he died, to his childhood home of Öxnadalur, Iceland. The Icelandic government disagreed: they wanted him reburied at the national burial ground at Þingvellir. Undaunted, Pétursson raised the funds himself, supervised the excavation (which involved digging up four other bodies), and escorted the coffin, defiantly, to Öxnadalur. Once there, however, he couldn’t get any priest to perform the service, and the coffin stood in the church for a week before the government had it moved to Þingvellir, where it was buried and remains to this day.
The poet’s legacy, however, is a happier one. Every year, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award is given to someone who has contributed to the language.
May 10, 2012 | by Jason Novak
A ten-foot-tall panel illustrating the 1909 Norwegian novel by Sigrid Undset. Now largely forgotten, Undset won the Nobel Prize in 1928. I think her books deserve more attention. Gunnar’s Daughter was published a century ago but takes place in the Middle Ages and has all the great dark and bizarre appeal of Icelandic legend recycled for an Edwardian audience ready to be shocked. Click in and scroll down for the whole story.
February 25, 2011 | by The Paris Review
A surprise discovery at my local library’s book sale: our own William Pène du Bois’s 1971 children’s tale, Bear Circus. Koala bears discover the supplies from a crashed pink circus plane and put on a show to thank their friends, the kangaroos. Highly recommended for the juvenile set. —Nicole Rudick
Sometimes, I don’t know why, I want to read short stories—but like, a bunch of short stories. This week I’ve gone back to Joy Williams’s Honored Guest and sampled Justin Taylor’s first collection, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. —Lorin Stein
Nathan Heller has a beautiful essay in Slate about stuttering: “At 3, those sentences first met with some resistance on my tongue, the way a car moves off asphalt, onto dirt—and then, finally, across rocks that jolt the tires and make it hard to track where you are headed. Today, I am still being jolted, and the jagged terrain behind bears the track marks of my own innumerable small humiliations.” —Thessaly La Force
I started the week with this fantastic piece of reluctant Hemingway-ese by Libyan novelist Hisham Matar and then felt compelled to reread his rueful, angry, but ultimately dignified sliver of memoir, from last year, about his father’s abduction. His consummate poise attests to an extraordinary imaginative stamina in the most difficult of circumstances, but there are moments from that earlier piece where he almost anticipates the tumult and excitement of the past few weeks: “This is tremendous news. Tremendous in the way a storm or flood can be tremendous. Uncanny how reality presses against that precious quiet place of dreaming. As if life is jealous of fiction.” That new novel can’t come quickly enough! —Jonathan Gharraie
February 17, 2011 | by Nico Muhly
This is the second installment of Muhly’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
10:15 A.M. While I slept, iTunes seems to have downloaded the complete collected works of MNDR. I must have gone on a pre-ordering binge, because it also is trying to download the film of Never Let Me Go. I’m listening to “I go away,” from the MNDR track. I like electronic-based slowish tracks; I loved that Capslock track off the MIA album whose title I dare not reproduce here. I wish there were a more poetic way to describe the rhythmic passage of time than “tick tock.” I’m looking at this queue: yet more SVU and the new Top Chef are coming! I fly tonight back to New York so maybe I can sneak one of these in on the plane.
3:00 P.M. Good God! The BBC has a story about the “history” of chai in India. The segment begins with a twelve-second history of tea that elides over the idea of Empire so quickly it feels like a blow to the solar plexus. I reach a Kiplingesque encounter with a terra-cotta cup maker in Kolkata just as we reach the rental car return, so I don’t have a moment to jot down who was responsible for this. They should write opera libretti! I do wonder who is responsible for radio’s “generic ethnic background noise.” I’m convinced that if you slow down the audio and remove the host’s voice, you’ll hear the same group of five people chattering—be it a story about Inuit fishing quotas or the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
9:00 P.M. A calm post-flight evening of take-out and listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I am preparing for Saturday night, which is when I will be seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s production of John Adams’s Nixon in China with a bunch of friends. I have the score perched next to my computer. I watch the first twelve minutes of an episode of Top Chef with Isaac Mizrahi saying outrageous things to the cheftestants and pass out.
February 16, 2011 | by Nico Muhly
10:45 A.M. Reykjavík, Iceland. I wake up later than I want, and desperately read, again, the last twenty pages of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star. By this point, the plot has turned into a fun cross-Benelux car chase. I myself have just come from a slightly awkward but ultimately fun week in Benelux, where I was resident at a chamber music festival, and every time I go to the Netherlands I reread this book. I make special digital note, this time, of some good descriptions: “minatory Flemish motets.”
3:30 P.M. Oh my God, there is an Ali Farka Touré album I don’t own: Red & Green. I’m buying it right now. I am going to also take this opportunity to rebuy the Toumani Diabaté album Djelika. I am, as always, fascinated by the weird intervalic overlap between Morricone scores and Malian music. I’m making a note to go know more about this. It is also noted that Mio, the brother of Valgeir, both of whom I am making a ton of records with this week in Iceland, has pants very similar in cut to those featured on the cover of Red & Green.
5:45 A.M. I wake up in a panic—an anxiety dream about an e-mail argument, which is prescient given the early-morning realities of my inbox. To calm myself, I buy music online manically. The new Iron and Wine cover is neurosis-provoking neon, but I buy it anyway. While listening on headphones, I fall back asleep and iTunes continues and mysteriously plays Paula Deen’s “Thanksgiving Special,” in which she makes oyster dressing. I actually like her accent, although the way she pronounces the word for (as in, “I’ll let this fry up here for a minute”) strikes me as uncharacteristically Vietnamese.