Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This blog has moved

Hi. This blog has moved to icelandweatherreport.com

Yes, I know, that used to be the address of THIS blog, but it's since changed to a .blogspot blog and the Weather Report has moved to a WordPress platform. These are just the archives.

Remember: icelandweatherreport.com

See ya!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If you had a quarter to spend in a jukebox, what would you play?

Dear readers, I'm in the midst of a small conundrum and need your assistance.

It's like this: EPI belongs to a 'listening club' - i.e. a few times a year he and his pals get together for an evening, eat some good food and drink some beer [or whatever] and introduce each other to new and inspiring music they've found since the last time.

It's a pretty cool undertaking, but what's even more cool is that for the last three years or so they've added an annual event, in which they invite us, their wives/girlfriends, and cook up a spectacular gala dinner with all the trimmings. In preparation for this dinner, everyone must choose a song that they want to bring, and before the event all the songs are gathered together and burned on a disk.

This is now happening on Saturday, and EPI just reminded me this evening that I have to pick my song. This year's assignment is to bring 'a song that you have a physical response to', i.e. that makes you want to get up and dance, or at the very least tap your foot.

I've just had a quick peruse through my iPod and every time I think I've found my song, I go a little bit further and think NO! THIS IS IT! and so on, all the way down. Anyway, I've narrowed it down to just a few, and I'd really REALLY appreciate you leaving me a comment and telling me which song YOU would pick [hoping you know at least some of them]. And soon please, because I have to pick one tomorrow.* Here goes:
  1. Acrobat - U2
  2. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
  3. Call the Law - Outkast
  4. Crazy in Love - Beyonce
  5. Ex-Girlfriend - No Doubt
  6. Hey Ya! - Outkast
  7. Hips Don't Lie - Shakira
  8. Hounds of Love - Kate Bush
  9. I Hate You So Much Right now - Kelis
  10. Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead
  11. Let's Go Crazy - Prince
  12. Misty Mountain Hop - Led Zeppelin
  13. Mysterious Ways - U2
  14. Objection (Tango) - Shakira
  15. She Moves On - Paul Simon
  16. Suffragette City - David Bowie
  17. Thriller - Michael Jackson
  18. Umbrella - Rihanna
  19. When Doves Cry - Prince
  20. When Doves Cry - Quindon Tarver
Remember, it has to make you want to cut a rug! or tap a foot.

The weatherman told us well in advance to prepare ourselves: today would be the day that spring arrived. YT eagerly opened the blinds this morning, expecting to see it sitting out in the backyard, but found just the same old cold sun grinning back. Around noon it started to cloud over and I thought that surely spring would sail in on a cloud bank, but bizarrely it didn't. Still, perhaps it will creep in tonight, since we have 6°C [43F] now at 11 pm, which is rather unusual to say the least, considering how things have been for the past few weeks. Sunrise was at 5.55 this morning, sunset at 9.02 pm.

* Even if you don't make it by tomorrow, I'd still like to hear your picks.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Vín og skel: a wee tale of redemption

A few weeks ago YT and EPI went out for dinner with a couple of friends to a place called Vín og skel, on Laugavegur. Now, having been on intimate terms with the restaurant business in my North American incarnation [many moons ago], and having worked in some places that considered flawlessness to be merely the starting point, YT considers herself a bit of an expert when it comes to the many little nuances that make up the ideal dining experience. [As regular readers will no doubt know.]

Sad to say, the ideal dining experience is about as rare here in Niceland as a favourable review about an Icelandic bank overseas. Icelanders very often seem to equate ‘service’ with ‘servile’ and all too often complaints about service or food or similar are met with a haughty kind of arrogance. [Actually, to be fair, Icelandic society is not an anomaly in this regard – not many places live up to the North American standard of service in restaurants, at least not in Europe.]

So anyway, we had dinner at Vín og skel, YT gave it a wee review, and that review was, well, less than stellar. Not exactly bad because the experience wasn’t all-bad; in fact on the whole we had a very pleasant evening, thanks in no small part to the relaxed and friendly service and laid-back atmosphere. However, a few things went askew, and those were duly noted by our YT.

A few days after I posted that review on this blog, I received a message in my inbox from the proprietor of Vín og skel, who as it happens had been one of our servers that night. He began by thanking me for my detailed review, saying that obviously many things had gone wrong that night for which he apologized, and said he would like to invite us back to enjoy a meal at his invitation. He reiterated his thanks for the review, saying that they would take a close look at what had happened that night, adding that such critiques gave them an opportunity to make improvements. After all, Vín and skel took pride in providing good service and meeting their demands of its guests.

I have to say, I was flabbergasted. Not only because it is extraordinary for the proprietor of a restaurant to actually go out of his way to make amends in this way, but also because that sort of response to criticism, with not a trace of defensiveness or self-righteousness, is extraordinary in any situation. After some debate as to whether I should take him up on his offer [should I be independent in my ‘reviews’, would it limit my ‘credibility’, such as it is, etc.] and being somewhat uncertain about how to proceed, I decided in the end that I should take him up on it. I felt it was the right thing to do.

And so, last Friday evening EPI and I showed up for dinner at Vín og skel once more and – I am delighted to report – had an absolutely fabulous time. Our host welcomed us graciously and was amicable in every way. He began by offering us an aperitif; we ordered a glass of white wine each, to have with dinner, and were poured a delightful South African sauvignon blanc, crisp and full-bodied. He then brought us menus but we decided to leave the choice of food up to him, which was the perfect move because he chose for us the four-course ‘surprise’ menu, which made our dining experience all the more, well, surprising [and fun].

The appetizer was an amazing combo of grilled lobster and scallops [my favourite] on a mushroom risotto with a melt-in-your-mouth creamy buttery sauce. Talk about a roaring start. The second course was a small piece of kangaroo filet served with a peanut sauce and garnished with fresh coriander. [Incidentally, for my Australian readers: do you eat kangaroo in Australia? I’ve been wondering about that ever since…]. This was my first intro to kangaroo, which I’ve been curious to try for a while, and I enjoyed it a lot – it was a sort of cross between lamb and venison, at least to my palate. With the kangaroo our host brought a delicious Australian Shiraz [I took the name from the label and forgot it, but it had a picture of a dog – dingo? – on the front], that he left on the table [so much for our intention of having one glass of wine and going to bed early, ahem]. Next up was the entrée: monkfish [mmm…] wrapped in bacon [mmm] and cooked to perfection [i.e. not too long] with lobster sauce and a sort of carrot-tomato coulis. By the time we finished that we were – predictably – more than satiated, so when our host offered us dessert we opted for sitting a while and enjoying our Shiraz. When we were ready, he brought dessert: two types of cake [chocolate and a sort of apple-cheesecake] served on a single [large, square] glass plate with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, and coffee [espresso for EPI, regular for YT]. He also invited us to try a delicious port, which we simply couldn’t refuse [because that would have been rude].

Needless to say, throughout all this the service was flawless, absolutely attentive without being intrusive, our wine and water glasses were kept perpetually full and every detail was observed.

On the whole, the entire experience was absolutely delightful. We wound up sitting there for four hours and rarely have I enjoyed dining out so much. The food was truly perfect [ok, for the sake of credibility I’d say – if pressed – that the apple cheesecake was the least perfect, but really, it was an insignificant flaw] and the bistro-like atmosphere was so relaxed and easygoing that we felt almost at home. Topping it all, of course, was the extraordinary conduct and generosity on the part of our host. Now, I realize there may be cynics out there who would question the standing of his invitation and, by extension, of this appraisal – after all, we were no longer ‘anonymous reviewers’ … but even with that factored in, the way the proprietor of Vín og skel handled the entire situation can only be described as admirable. Many of us – in the service industry and elsewhere, in Iceland and even in North America – would do well to follow his example.


Sunny and cool, moderate winds, with a thin cloud cover. Weatherman claims spring will arrive tomorrow with higher temps and [bleh] rain and drizzle. Currently 1°C [34F] and the sun came up at 5.58 am, will set at 8.59 pm.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Someone should take away all their toys and make them scrub toilets

Soon after the first news hit about the serious financial crisis the Icelandic nation was supposedly in the midst of, word started circulating that the whole thing was an elaborate set-up, orchestrated by unscrupulous individuals who stood to gain from the plummeting value of the Icelandic krona. I must confess that this sounded rather implausible, to my ears at least, and I more or less dismissed it as ineffectual spin by the Icelandic banks, since all over the world financial news reports were going on about their precarious positions and claiming they were on the verge of collapse. In the end, of course, the entire nation would go down the economic tubes with them.

Meanwhile, this was in no way mirrored in the day-to-day lives of the people. It was completely surreal.

A few weak voices tried their best to protest: the banks, of course, contested this the best they could [which one took with a grain of salt; if it were true that they were in trouble they would obviously be loath to admit it], and the government sent a delegation to New York [which included the Prime Minister] to hold press conferences and meetings in an attempt to dispel the rumours. However, nothing seemed to work, talk of Iceland's economic woes snowballed and before you knew it there was a kind of hysteria happening. Everywhere but here.

In the midst of all this, Iceland had one staunch ally, Dr. Richard Portes, a Professor of Economics with the London Business School, who had prepared a report for the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce about the state of the Icelandic economy. He has been a frequent guest on chat shows worldwide speaking about with the state of our economy, and has presented a vastly different picture than most other people, reiterating his opinion that Iceland is a well-run country with a strong institutional framework. He moreover maintains that our banks are healthy and strong [there is an excellent video here that well demonstrates the sensationalist media hype as well as Portes's level-headed take on things]. The main problem, according to Portes, is that "Iceland is being talked down because a lot of people stand to make money." I'm not an expert [by no means] but from what I understand, speculators bet on the devaluation of a particular currency and when it depreciates, it's ching-ching for them.

A couple of days ago, Kaupthing, one of the three main banks here, published the results of an investigation it had launched into the alleged attacks on the Icelandic economy. It named four UK hedge funds: Trafalgar Fund, Landsdowne Fund, Ako Capital and Cheney Capital, and claimed that they had systematically launched attacks on the Icelandic economy, primarily by spreading false and harmful rumours about it and the Icelandic commercial banks.

Now Richard Portes has come forth and revealed that sometime in the last two weeks he received a phone call from a large hedge fund in the UK [he has confirmed that it is one of the four that Kaupthing mentions] in which he was advised that if he valued his reputation he should stop talking so favorably about the Icelandic economy. Portes, clearly a force to be reckoned with, says that he immediately realized what this meant and decided to listen very carefully and take notes. He has since passed on his information to the Financial Authorities of both the UK and Iceland, who one hopes will investigate further.

To me, this is just outrageous. I mean, how can this be legal? The way I see it this is no better than some subversive mafia racket - underhanded, detestable, designed to feed off someone else's vulnerability. And Iceland is an easy target - a small economy that is undergoing temporary difficulties. If I wasn't such a pacifist, I'd say OFF WITH THEIR HEADS. But I'll settle for having them scrub toilets for the rest of their lives. In Guantanamo Bay.

The light is slighly subdued, the sun covered with a thin layer of cloud, but make no mistake: spring is just around the corner. Walked to the bakery at noon and, as always, there was a fairly cool breeze by the sea, but no matter, the sun was out and hearts were buoyant with the promise of brighter days. Indeed, the day is growing longer and longer, and at 9.30 pm last night we actually still had daylight. Which always seems equally amazing, even though it happens every year. Right now 5°C [41F] and sunrise was at 6.09, sunset due for 8.50 pm. W00t!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chez YT: the excitement never stops

So I came back from an errand early this evening and found three of my neighbours all standing around in a tizzy by the front door. Seems the girl upstairs encountered a flasher this afternoon.

GIRL UPSTAIRS WHO GOT FLASHED AT: ... so he threw her down the stairs and he was in his underwear and was, like, pulling her out into the street and she was hanging on to a tree and screaming ....
NEIGHBOUR 1: No way!
YT: What? Domestic violence? Where?
YT: You got flashed at?
N1: Did you call the police?
MoGUWGFA: Yes, and they didn't answer
N1: What??
GUWGFA: I know! I called 112* and they didn't answer. They didn't even call back.
YT: That's weird. I thought they always answered.
MoGUWGFA: Apparently not.
YT: And who got thrown down the stairs?
MoGUWGFA: The superintendent in the building where the flasher lives.
YT: What flasher?
GUWGFA: I was driving with my friend over by Gerpla [a kiosk] and this guy comes out and he was all bleh bleh and he comes over to the car and was going to touch my friend, so she put her window up and then he pulled his pants down ...
MoGUWGFA: ... and he had a big erection.
YT: Ew!
GUWGFA: He's really weird. I see him around here all the time. You've probably seen him too. He's mental.
N1: You see him around here all the time? Lovely.
YT: But who got thrown down the stairs?
GWGFA: The superintendent in the building where he lives. She's this lady and she had to go talk to him about something and her friend asked if she should go with her, and she was like, "No, just phone me in ten minutes." And so the friend phones and the woman didn't answer so she went up to look for her and she sees the guy in his underwear, he'd thrown her down the stairs and she was hanging on to this tree so he wouldn't throw her out into the street.
YT: Oh. Whew. I thought you were talking about someone beating up his wife.

Exquisite, truly. A perfect day for flashers. The sun was out all day long and it was just so gentle and caring, not for a moment was it aggressive in all its shining glory. It was reasonably warm, too, above freezing at least ... I think we had highs of about 2 or something, which is pretty good, considering. Right now it's 4°C [oh] which means 39F, and the sun came up at 6.12 this morning, went down at 8.47 pm.

* 911 if you speak American.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Your questions answered, episode III

Alright, so where were we? ~ Yes...

From gkb:

As someone who lived in North America and returned to reside in Iceland, what differences do you notice most between the two places (both good and bad, of course)? Apropos of this, what commentary, suggestions, or advice might you have for someone who is considering moving to Iceland?

~ There are loads of differences, I couldn't even begin to list them all, so I'll mention the first that comes to mind: it's a lot easier to meet people and make friends in North America than here. Icelanders are notoriously reticent, they have very set social circles usually made up of people they went to school with, and they seem to sort of fall into an easy pattern of socializing with the same people all the time. It can be incredibly difficult to penetrate that; however, if you do manage to make friends with Icelanders they are generally your friends for life and incredibly loyal. So my advice - if you're serious about staying here, give it time. It takes ages to integrate.

From Ruth:

Just wondering about how much time you spend blogging daily (reading, commenting, and posting) and if you ever feel it takes away from the "real" things you have to do in life to the point where you have short-changed these more important things and must cut back on the blogging to gain a better balance.

~ It varies. Maybe an hour on average. Let's just say that I get the things done that I need to get done [e.g. I don't let blogging interfere with my deadlines], but when I do have surplus time or a slow day I do tend to fill it with surfing the web or reading posts from my fave bloggers, even though the time probably could be better spent elsewhere. Writing posts doesn't take me a very long time as a rule [I'm a fast typist and things just sort of spill out of my brain, although I do revise, at least once], and posting for me takes priority over reading and commenting elsewhere. These days, for example, I'm scrambling to finish various tasks and assignments, and while I do post regularly [which seems to be necessary for my mental health, incidentally] I don't have much time to read.

From Steve:

If we`re not limited to one question per customer, what tickles yer funnybone?

Googlies! And EPI. He's the funniest guy I know - everybody likes to be around him because he's got this great sense of humour. And I'm lucky because I get to live with him. We laugh a lot.

From Don in Seattle:

I have been visiting Iceland for over 30 years, and I have seen many changes within the economy there. But nothing quite like what has happened within the past month in the Icelandic financial markets. Has there been a dramatic change in the daily life there, or is life going on as before? How is the average Icelander weathering this financial storm?

You know, it's bizarre. Everybody outside of Iceland keeps talking about this serious financial crisis that has supposedly befallen us here, that our banks are going down the toilet, the króna is going the way of the dodo bird and whathaveyou. Yes, our currency has depreciated in value, yes share prices have gone down dramatically ... but the same has been happening almost everywhere. Call me naive, but I don't think it's that much worse here than in other parts of the world. We've been told that food prices will rise by 20 percent in the next few weeks, but that's because food prices are rising everywhere. And yes, we have pretty high inflation now, but Iceland has had high inflation before and survived. I expect that some people are in deep shit because they've taken massive loans and their property, cars or whatever have suddenly depreciated in value, or they have foreign debt which has suddenly increased. However, the Icelanders are remarkably sanguine when it comes to economic upsets. Their favourite phrase is "þetta reddast", which basically means "it will work out one way or another". And often it does. So [to get back to your question] essentially it's business as usual around here.

From Jay:

I imagine the diet of the average Icelander to be high in seafood. How safe would it be for me, as a person with serious fish allergies, to visit Iceland? Is fish everywhere on the menu?

~ Well, unless you are so allergic that you cannot breathe in the air of fish being cooked [which I'm told some people are] you should be OK. Just avoid anything that says fiskur on the menu. There will be other options, for sure.

From Jon [via email]:

I am sure you have addressed this before, but how do you survive the gloominess of winter?

~ Jon! You've just reminded me that I never did get back to my loyal readers on the subject of the SAD lamp and its effectiveness, even though I promised to. [So thank you.] ~ To be perfectly honest, the winters here are deadly. For me it's not really depression in the mental sense, but rather an extreme sluggishness that starts around the beginning of November and persists until, say, the end of January. Problems concentrating, lack of energy, and boy is it hard to drag my ass out of bed in the mornings. I used to take massive vitamin doses with ginseng but I stopped ... and finally this year EPI and I went out and got the SAD lamp. I have to say, it works wonders. Within three days I was back to my normal self. My father-in-law got one too, and felt like a newly-minted two-shilling piece*. ~ Oh, and I also take cod liver oil.

And the final one, from Runa [via email]:

When I was young my parents didn't put up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve as it was 'tradition' not to put up decorations until the 24th in Iceland (my dad was Icelandic and adapted the tradition to fit in with 24th/25th thing). We loved it and the neighbours thought we were weird. My mum was frantically rushing about on Christmas Eve when we were in bed decorating the house, on top of everything else she had to do for our lovely Christmas morning surprise on the 25th. So you said in your blog all the houses were decorated earlier - is this true? Was my mum rushing about on Christmas eve giving herself a mind blowing work schedule for nothing?

~ It is tradition here to put up the tree very close to Christmas, on the 23rd or the 24th. However, the other decorations go up much earlier, like at the beginning of Advent [four Sundays before Christmas Eve]. So if your mother was putting up the tree AND all the other decorations, then yes, I'd say she was giving herself a mind-blowing schedule for nothing. Or that she thrived on stress.

Okay! That concludes our little Q&A session, thanks for your input everyone, I'm feeling so much better now as far as the mojo thing is concerned ...

I couldn't believe it, I looked out earlier and everything was white. And here I thought we'd left winter in the dust already. With any luck the white stuff will all be gone tomorrow; in fact if it isn't I'm filing a formal complaint. Today was a gorgeous day as seen from the window, very enticing, enough to have you believe that spring was here and that it was OK to go out running in shorts and a t-shirt [like one guy I saw today - you've gotta hand it to the Nicelanders, if there's sun they'll take their clothes off]. Right now we have -2°C [28F] and SNOW, and sunrise was at 6.20 am, sunset at 8.41 pm.

* Yet another Nicelandic idiom.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Hi my name is Alda and I'm sad and I spend my nights surfing the Internet

So, I was just up at the Iceland Review offices having coffee with my friend Jonas when an unnamed someone who works there came up and joined in the conversation. And we started talking about t'Internet and blogs and pedantic readers and such, and in the heat of the conversation the unnamed person said something like, "You know, there are so many sad people out there who spend their evenings just surfing the Internet" and all of a sudden everything went QUIET and Jonas and I just sort of looked at each other and then there was a pause and TUP's face went the same crimson colour as her sweater and when I finally caught my breath I said, "I am so going home and making that into the title of my next blog post."

And as you can see, I did not stand with the empty words*.

Anyway, we were all feeling slightly subdued today because our friend Sara, who has been a staff writer for Iceland Review for the last couple of years, got on a plane this afternoon and soared on out of here, leaving Niceland with one less supertalented writer. She left us with this poignant Daily Life post [the Daily Life column grew out of the original Iceland Weather Report, betcha did not know that] and undoubtedly has some fantabulous adventure waiting just around the corner.We'll miss her!

I've been pretty busy these past few days so haven't had much of a chance to post or answer your questions, but I promise I'll get to them tomorrow [barring a major catastrophe, like a wayward teenager not coming home for an entire night *cough* again *cough*]. Till then!

Overcast and fairly gloomy day, but mild, so that makes the cloud cover more than bearable. There are already crocuses [croci?] blooming in people's gardens and that makes me very happy. Currently 5°C [41F] but was a balmy 8°C earlier [at least that's what the thermometer on the N1 gas station said and who am I to contest that?]. Sunrise this morning was at 6.23 am and sunset scheduled for 8.38 pm.

* Nicelandic idiom.