Monday, May 24, 2010

Niceland # 16 - Egilsstadir

A photogenic mountain caught in the midnight sun.
Egilsstadir is located at 65°17′N 14°23′WCoordinates: 65°17′N 14°23′W. The town is young, even by Icelandic standards where urbanization is a fairly recent trend compared to mainland Europe. It was established in 1947 as an effort by the surrounding rural districts recognising it had become a regional service center. The town, which is named after Egilsstaðir farm, is near the bridge over Lagarfljót where all the main roads of the region meet, Route 1 as well as the main routes to the East fjords.
Egilsstaðir and nearby river, Eyvindará, are mentioned in the Saga of the Sons of Droplaug and Saga of the inhabitants of Fljótsdalur. The urbanization of Egilsstaðir started when a farmer erecting a large residential building at the start of the 20th century. The house is still in use as a hotel. The town soon grew and by 2004 the population exceeded 2000. Egilsstaðir has grown to become the largest town of east Iceland and its main service, transportation and administration center. The growth has slowed markedly since the banking collapse in 2008.
I packed my bags for my move to the great east of Iceland; Excited to finally see the east fjords and meet reindeer. I was to fly with the local fleet called AirIceland -similar in name to the international fleet: IcelandAir.
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano delayed all domestic flights, grounding all flights within Iceland.  At this time, all international flights over the northern atlantic had been cancelled as well. My cab driver dropped me off at the airport only to be met with a wave of angry Icelanders fuming out of the building. The flight had been canceled within the last few hours before of the flight. My driver drove me home without charge. I promised I'd rebook our cab ride with him when flights resumed. The next day when my flight had been rescheduled to depart, the dispatch company refused to let me pick a driver by name. They'd only accept their working identification number. How typical. Quintessential Icelandic costumer service.
I flew into Egilsstadir out of Reykjavik Domestic airport. I re-booked myself a window seat I could see this mass thicket of barren trees stretching far into the distance as our tiny perpeller plane made its decent to land. It was the first time I had ever seen anything forest-like in Iceland. Egilsstadir is the land of reindeer and trolls. They need somewhere to hide.

Exhibition - Partial Memory, Egilsstadir 2010

I have seven photographs up in a solo exhibition at Skriduklaustur in East Iceland. My work is on display in tandem with the another exhibition in the upstairs space. These are some snap shots of the exhibition.

701 Egilsstaðir

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Niceland # 15 - Flora of Iceland

Lupinus nootkatensis: Nootka lupin is one of the taller and robust herbal flowering plants in Iceland. The vibrant purple nootka, or Alaskan lupine is quite common sight in Iceland.

It was introduced in 1945 to add nitrogen to the soil and anchor the soil to prevent erosion. As member of the pea family (Fabaceae, Papillionaceae section) it is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into organic nitrogen by using specialized bacteria living symbiotically in their roots.  Iceland suffers from erosion and foliage loss is due largely to the extreme conditions of the environment, in particular the high winds. Lupine has since spread to other regions because of its high productivity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Niceland # 14 - Icelandic Performance Artists

Kitchfríður Kvaran is name of an Icelandic performance artist and writer for one of the leading lifestyle magazines in Reykjavik. Her columns are published in VIKAN, mirror 1950's American conservative values. They touch on health, marriage, cooking, and the home. Recently, a collection of her work was published by Salkaforlag:  

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Niceland # 13 - Icelandic Cats

Iceland has a flourishing cat population in the capital city of Reykjavik. Walking down the street will yield cats in windows, under cars, and skulking through the gardens, or greeting human friends. A genetic survey of cats  from  Reykjavik and adjacent rural areas have shown a distinct difference between cats previously studied in north-west Europe.
Let me introduce Kattaselur(Cat-Seal). He's a all-black, yellow-eyed cat with a polite disposition. He's an older gentlemen cat, with an escapist's mentality when confronted by unfavorable discourse. 
We obtained this little fellow from Kattholt, the biggest cat shelter in the Reykjavik area. The staff kept him in the backroom with the less desirable cats,  aggressive or the very old, because of his ears. They had been damaged from a fire or an abusive person with a lighter, they told us. In actuality, his ears seem to have suffered from severe and constant swelling, draining into the curled and deformed clumps that create his seal-like appearance. Hence the name Kattaselur.
I made a comic inspired by Icelandic cat culture.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Niceland # 12 - Siglufjörður

Sigga and I drove up to Siglufjordur, in the northern part of Iceland, for the annual folk music festival. The drive was long, totally around eight hours, but extremely beautiful in the midnight summer sun.  Icelandic folk ballads, folkdance, courses, and lectures make up the festival activities. Sigga leads the folk-pop music band Varsjárbandalagið as the accordion and voice, Jón Torfi Arason on trumpet, guitar, and voice, Magnús Pálsson on clarinet, Steingrímur Guðmundsson with the percussions, and Hallur Guðmundsson on double bass and voice.

Siglufjörður is a small fishing town in the northern coast of Iceland. The population is shrinking and currently at  1,206 people. The town is situated in the narrow fjord on the peninsula of Tröllaskagi. High mountains and deep fjords can only be reached by a small mountain coastal road.  The town sprung up around the fishing history in the 1940s and 1950. The population of  herring fish died out from over fishing and the national Icelandic government has tried reversing the population shrinkage by improving land transportation into the town.
The town has a folk music museum which documents forms of musical expression in early Iceland. Icelandic folk songs have no known composer but have been handed down from one generation to the next. There simple tunes have individual characteristics that differ from district to another. Many of the Icelandic folk melodies have ancient characteristics that have preserved some of the oldest and most interesting aspects
of early western music.

Rímur Songs are long narrative poems that describe the world of ancient heroes and noblemen. The whole story is divided into several cannons which served as chapters of the story chanted to the same tune. Rímur were performed by both among farmers and fishermen.

Two-part songs or Tvísöngur are sung in unison and in parallel fifths.  The two-part songs
were never played on instruments. They were sung slowly but fairly loudly with the final notes drawn out. The tvísöngur was most commonly in the Lydian mode which is like F major with the B-flat raised a semi-tone to B natural. One part is the original tune and the other is the counterpart. At a particular point in the song a voice crossing takes place – the upper voice becomes the lower and vice versa. As the voices cross over they meet in unison on the tritone, the diabolus in musica, of the Lydian mode.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Niceland # 11 - The Most Interesting Person in Iceland

At a coffee shop in Akureyri, 2010.
To introduce the most interesting person in Iceland as part of my Niceland chronicles, I'll introduce the artist and poet Solvi Signhildar-Ulfsson. He's a dear friend of mine and one of the most interesting people I know. He will accept any invitation to adventure. We met in 2006 and we were roommates in Reykavik in 2009.  We've met on and off through out the years as we weave through different countries.
Akureyri swimming pool, 2010.
He grew up in Reykjavik and Canada before settling in Selfoss with his parents. Solvi studied at the University of Iceland, earning a degree in literature. He speaks English and Icelandic at the native level, and speaks several other European languages at varying degrees of fluency. He travels to foreign countries for extended periods of time while adapting to local cultures, lifestyles, and languages. He's lived in western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, North America, and Scandinavia. He has been able to live an untethered life style. I like to view his adventures as a collection of experiences that will be re-rendered into book form. He is a window into the life style of a great writer before they began publishing work.
On New Years Eve, 2007.
We first met at an small house party while I was working in Reykjavik in 2006, as a summer aupair. Everyone at the party had been friends since junior high. The party was intimate and Icelandic was the main language spoken that night. While I was meeting everyone else, we were introduced through a friend and didn't speak much to each other. For a long time I thought of his as a friend-of-a-friend. Over the years, that status as changed. He is an incredibly warm person; also one of the smartest people I have ever met.