Posted by: jeanne | June 11, 2019

iceland in the summer

we don’t know what time it is here.  it’s light all day and all night, and we go to bed when we get tired, and sleep until we wake up.  the sun does not set at all right now.  it gets partway below the horizon, and then bounces back up.  i hope to go out in the middle of the night and witness this.  both connor and i have been falling asleep at around 12:30-1 in the morning.  the cats wake me around 6 every morning, but i feed them and then go back to bed.  we finally get up around 11am, and it’s usually after noon before we venture out.  if the stores and the pool didn’t keep regular hours, we would be fine.  as it is, tho, we have to scurry to get things done once we’re up because everybody else is used to dealing with it.  not that they keep regular hours in the summer – people are out playing and fishing until very late, and when there’s a party, nobody leaves until 2 in the morning.

there are only two seasons in iceland, summer and winter.  they’re six months long each, and they’re really only names, tho the seasons do start to change at the beginning of them, late october for winter, late april for summer.  because of the latitude, the change in the length of day is dramatic – ten minutes a day and more.  so it’s summer here, and midsummer approaches.  when we arrived, at the tail end of may, it was already light 24 hours a day, and will be until august.  no headlights, no street lights, no indoor lights.  think of the electricity bills in summer and winter (except electricity is geothermally and hydro generated, and almost free).  this leads to the interesting contradiction of having the heat on in the house and the windows open, at the same time.

indoor heating is practically free here, because it comes from very hot water that circulates in radiators and/or pipes under the floor in every building.  only old houses have chimneys, and i’m not sure any of them still work.  the radiators are usually on at a low level in summer, so people open their windows.  mostly nobody has huge picture windows that open, but there’s a little clerestory window that will open a few inches to let the cool breeze in.  otherwise houses tend to be stuffy and overheated.  they like their houses toasty here, but that makes total sense to me, because even in summer the temperatures can be in the 30s and 40s.

global warming (it’s a hoax) has affected the polar regions more than the rest of the world, and it shows here.  the glaciers are melting quickly, and the temperatures get higher and higher.  it reaches into the 70s here now, and that’s just too hot to deal with.  people swim in the ocean, the mountains get more green higher up on their flanks, migratory birds show up earlier and leave later.

the pool is still our favorite thing.  the idea of going to the pool is a scary one, if you haven’t been.  my first time in iceland, i never went until the moment i injured my shoulder falling off a bike, and then i wondered why i’d wasted most of my month being reluctant.  there’s simply nothing like sitting in a hot bath while it blusters and rains, or snows, all around you.  the cold water on your face feels refreshing, the fresh air blowing steam across the pool smells healthy, the patterns of rain on the water of the hot tub make me want to giggle with joy.  since we don’t have a car, and connor balks at having to hike it down to the beach for clean up day, it’s unlikely we’ll be doing much hiking this time.  we have several favorite walks up the four hanging valleys in the fjord, including one with a bunch of troll rocks (really trolls, asleep or merely masquerading as rocks), where one of our friends was badly scared by a malevolent being who recently jumped out from behind a mysteriously dark rock next to a tarn (a glacial pool).  we’d like to go up again to investigate, but it’s a hike to get to the base of the valley, and another hike to the troll rocks, and a very long hike back, and plus the ground is still pretty mucky and connor didn’t bring his water boots.  so maybe not this time.

it has been cold for the first week of our stay.  in the upper 30s and lower 40s, for the most part.  and it rained about half the week.  but we haven’t had a huge blow from the north (the kind that sends the trampolines and bbq grills flying), and when the sun comes out the temperature soars to 60 and 70 in an instant.  i found the perfect arrangement last night, putting my chair in the lee of the house, facing the never-setting sun.  blistering sun at 7pm, only a light breeze creeping around the side of the house, a book and a pint of guinness (yes you can get it here!), and i was in heaven.

sunday. yesterday morning i was awakened by the smell of lamb roasting in someone’s grill.  it was over in tjarnarborg, across the street from unnar’s house, and a guy was grilling ten or twelve legs of lamb in two smokers.  they were coated in garlic, and some sweet thing, either apples or rhubarb (which grows wild here).  he told me it was for an icelandic bar mitzvah, and we laughed, because he actually meant confirmation, because everyone here is lutheran.  an hour or two later, the place filled up with people in their sunday best (it was saturday), because some kid was being celebrated for reaching their teenage years, and the entire extended family was there to witness and celebrate.  this town is made up of extended families, and the ties between families are thick and braided.  i finally got a piece of the lamb, when it was all over and there was only fatty scraps left on the grill.  it was very delicious, even the burned bits.  so i headed over to the grocery store and got a tiny little lump of lamb to cook ourselves.

we go shopping every few days here, as in any small town where we don’t have a car, including every place in europe i’ve ever stayed.  milk, cream, lettuce – the usual.  you have to go to the next town to get beer and wine, so the other day i did just that.  i was actually on a quest for housepaint.  all the paint i used to paint trolls with the last times i was here have disappeared, so i had to get some myself.  i bought a quart of black paint, and that will do me for the outlines of a few troll murals, but i have to hit up the people who want me to paint trolls on their houses for the other colors.  and the first thing i had to do on unnar’s wall was to prep it.  and in this case, that meant painting it a different color.  so i had to go to siglo to get more paint.  i left connor with inga and ingimar (thanks again), to play video games with ingimar.  and i walked to the tunnel and hitched.  apparently everyone knows me, because someone stopped after a few moments (and a good thing, too, because i’d had to shelter under a road sign to avoid being dive-bombed by arctic terns, who nest nearby) and greeted me with ‘welcome back’.


road sign with arctic tern.  they like to come up behind you and scrape your head

the tunnel was completed in 2010, and connected the towns of olafsfjordur and siglufjordur, which have different histories and personalities, and the union is a little unsettling, with essential services being extracted from olafsfjordur because they’re technically one town (separated by a 15-minute drive thru two tunnels and a third fjord) and the larger town gets the lion’s share of the available resources.  siglo is about twice as large as olo, set in a much more precarious position under its mountains, and is the setting for a series of books and tv series, while olo is not even mentioned in most guidebooks.  this is changing because of the efforts of a newly formed marketing board that seeks to direct tourist attention to the northern coast of iceland, and my troll murals play a very small part.  but mainly people are drawn to olo because it’s small and quiet, set smack dab in the middle of the nature, with world class hiking and surfing, horseback riding, jetski and snowcat tours, skiing, and boasts the first swimming pool in iceland.  and best of all, its people are friendly and helpful.  also it has the best food in the whole peninsula (rivaled only by a restaurant in siglo that specializes in moroccan food).  house prices have been rising (they want 17million kronur for the cute little house i want to buy hahahaha), and now they’ve started building new houses on the edge of the freshwater lake, because olo is the kind of place where you’d want to raise kids, and people have been moving here from reykjavik, which is just too big now.


wildflowers in someone’s yard in siglo

siglo does have a kick-ass bakery, tho, and a larger supermarket, and a liquor store.  so i got my gallon of light gray housepaint, stuffed it into connor’s backpack, schlepped to the bakery, had a pastry and coffee, talked with the women who’d given me the lift into town, toured the grocery store for anything i needed (garam masala), stopped to buy a toy for connor from some little kids who were selling their stuff just outside the grocery store (i didn’t open my mouth, but they addressed me in perfect american english anyway), humped the backpack to the liquor store and stuffed it full of guinness and wine, and trudged all the way thru town to the place where everyone passing was going to the tunnel.  it wasn’t a very long wait before someone stopped to pick me up.  he was going to the old folks home at hornbrekka, and it was his kid who was selling toys because they’re moving to denmark in a month, so we talked about that, and about the changes in the towns and in iceland in general.


the view from the living room window

tuesday. yesterday it finally warmed up.  the skies were bright blue and the thermometer on the front porch ranged from 60-75F all day.  it was glorious. the kids were all out on the bouncy thingie in front of the pool, kaffi klara had a jazz combo playing on their patio, and i drew, erased, and redrew my first troll mural, still not happy with it.  because unnar is letting me housesit for her two cats, i am painting my first mural on her wall this year, and have orders for three more as soon as they prep their walls.  because i’m staying here for free, i’m prepping unnar’s wall myself, which is actually quite important, as i get to examine the condition of the wall in detail.  they use corrugated siding a lot here in iceland, and it used to be all iron, but now they’re using plastic, which cracks and comes off, and the paint peels off it more easily.  unfortunately.  so there was quite a bit of scraping to be done, and then several coats of paint on a warm dry day, that i hope will stay.  (but i can already see some parts bubble up, so.)

unnar plans to take her house back to the original bright red, because she’s a fan of color, and so the base of the house is going to be a light gray.  i got the gray paint in siglo a few days ago, and dodged the rain to get the surface coated.  it’s all freshly painted now, and i’ve got chalk and a ruler, so i started drawing the troll in.  but it was too small.  i could only expand it so much vertically, because of the roof line, but expanded it more horizontally, so the figure isn’t as squat as jim drew it, but will extend off the corrugated part (just her foot), and takes up a lot more space, so that’s good.  and since today is another very warm day, i will start painting on it after i have enough coffee.

there was a beach cleanup this weekend.  we met out on the beach at 9:30 in the morning, grabbed huge plastic trash bags, and walked up and down the shore looking for bits of plastic and wood with nails in it.  plastic looks pretty interesting after it’s been washing around in the ocean for a few years.  it gets softened and rounded, like sea glass.  but that’s also what makes it attractive to fish and turtles and whales, and eventually kills them.  so we picked up a bunch of plastic.  if we don’t, who will?

i’m in touch with jim every day.  as usual, we talk via skype at the end of every evening, for about half an hour, trading things that are happening to each of us.  it helps a lot to stay in touch.  we’ve been having an unusual transaction with someone who contacted us from jim’s blog.  it started about a year ago, when he sent a message that he wanted to buy the painting that was on the masthead of the blog.  his email address was in south carolina, and the painting was selected to be shown in artfields, in south carolina, and so we told him to show up there and see it in person before sending us a check.

he ignored that, but resumed his request to buy a painting for his wife.  gradually he added more details.  he worked at sea and was never home, so he couldn’t check it out; it was a surprise painting, and his wife controlled all the accounts and so he couldn’t just write us a check or she’d know what was going on; he was fixing to move to the phillipines and would be sending an agent to collect the painting so it could be shipped with his household things; he wanted us to cash his check, then give the overage to his agent for shipping fees.  all the elements of a classic bank fraud scam.  i’d heard of these things, but we hadn’t had to deal with it before.  so we led him on.  we gave him a range of paintings, sizes and prices.  his range was $1-2000, and he chose the cheapest painting, which was of a skeleton dancing (not the best choice for a wedding anniversary present, we thought).  then he told us that we were going to have to cash his check and refund him some of the money, and that was it.  this was just last week.  jim went to the bank and asked them how they’d prefer we deal with it if he actually sent us a check.  they told him hahahahahahaha don’t do it, and explained the process.  so we wrote the guy and told him we’d be happy to finalize the arrangement, but that we’d prefer he send the check to his agent, who could then bring us cash, and blamed the bank on our new terms.  and we haven’t heard from him again, and don’t think we will.  greed and stupidity is what he was relying on.  plus, for a guy from south carolina, he had a curiously bad command of english, and called himself by his last name first and used his first name as his last – smith john, for example (not his real fake name).

local football practice for kids starts up today – soccer (tho nobody else in the world calls it that but us).  we brought the cleats, shin guards, and uniform he wore last time connor spent the summer here, and now he’ll fit the shirt because he’s grown so much.  we’re very excited they’re starting up.  connor learned more in his season here than any of the kids he plays with back home have learned, because they’re serious here, and at home they’re more interested in team spirit than technique.  what with that, swimming, and the bouncy thing (aerslabelgur “icetlabelcure”), he’s already tanned, and his hair is turning blond.  he’s been staying out with his friends just as long as i will let him.  the first time i let him do that, he went off with several friends to their house, and only returned to the bouncy thing after 4 hours of being ‘missing’, and with gummi and bjarni out in their cars looking for him.  we had a severe talk, and cemented some rules that he is now following (because i make him repeat them every time i let him go out), and he’s fine.  people here agree that he is very safe, but that they would not let their kids run free if they lived in reykjavik.  he’s never alone, but always with his friends, and knows better (reinforced) than to get into anyone’s car.  i’ve watched from an upper window as he crosses the street, and can see the aerslabelgur from the house and identify him jumping on it, so i’m really not worried.  as long as he comes back to the house and lets me know where he’s going next.  plus, i put my phone number on the inside of his jacket, and he will ask his friend’s parent to call me if he doesn’t make it back here first.  and the door is on the latch if i have to go out while he’s playing.

the summer tours have begun, the cruise ships are docking and the tour buses are beginning their rounds.  so kaffi klara hosted a bunch of americans for lunch yesterday.  i kept my mouth shut and took away their empty plates, but they did let me take a photo (using sign language).  i will talk to tourists, tho, one on one.  we talk about how beautiful it is, about where they’ve been and where they’re going, about the pools and the volcanos and the beautiful black sand beaches, the nature walks, the weather.  and i’m always very happy to make their acquaintance.  i even ran into a couple i met on the plane coming over, who made a detour to come to the troll peninsula on my insistence.  but i listened to this cruise ship bunch complaining about the cold and the small roads and the tunnels and the prices, and decided to keep quiet.

today was the first time i’ve tried to put the troll into paint.  it only went so well, and i found a lot of things that didn’t work, so i painted out most of the first drawing, and started again.  this is how far i got, and it’s not bad.  i used unnar’s actual hoops to make the hoops on the wall, so i could get an actual circle instead of the oblongs i was trying to draw.  i will do more tomorrow, because it’s going to be another gorgeous day.

my friend runa is here now; she came on the evening bus and we went straight to the pool (a 7 hour bus ride from reykjavik).  we’ve just finished dinner (at 9:30pm) and she’s pretty tired, so after i call jim, we’ll all go to bed.  connor had his first soccer practice today.  he’s going to be practicing 4 days a week, 3 hours a day, and he’s over the moon about it.  our days are now so full that we’ll have to start getting up early (before 11am) in order to get everything done.  we have less than 3 weeks left here, and i know i will be leaving things until next time.  like the next blog post…


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