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Monday, May 23

What do you do when there is a Volcanic Eruption?

What do you do when there is a Volcanic Eruption
The talented Toronto musician Ronley Teper came to visit me here in Reykjavik as well as playing two magical shows, she helped me in the various one-man production adventures throughout the city and beyond. As Ronley was about to hop on a plane back to the land of Canada, we learned that there had been a Volcanic Eruption in Grímsvötn in the Vatnajökull Glacier. This is not near the volcano that made international headlines last year (Eyjafjallajökull)
So what do you do when your plans of planes have been put on hold?
We have two wonderful friends (Anna and Gunnie) here we consider family and they come in at the most unexpected moments to show us nooks and crannies that the tourism books keep secret.
Anna called to say instead of the airport we are going to see beautiful things and drink lots of coffee.
We all piled into the car and experienced what it's like to take a day trip on a lovely lazy Sunday in Iceland (as a volcano is erupting). 
We muscled through the fierce cold winds that threatened to push us off cliffs into the deep pretty blue sea.
Bright blue and orange splotches randomly stain the dirt and the air smells like eggs (sulfur).
 We crossed a bridge amongst steaming beds of earth, a warm haze covers you and nothing is visible. Once on the other end you find yourself sopping wet and cold.
 There is one area where the hot water is funneled into the very cold ocean, causing a mass amount of steam and fun sounds.

Have you ever heard of harðfiskur? It's a very popular fish that Iceland exports and is often eaten as a healthy snack. This fish has been imperative in the Icelandic fishing industry, so much so that they made a museum for the little buggers!

 Nearly everyone has someone in their family a generation ago that was involved in the fishing industry. It's much like where I am from (Central New York) with farming, everyone was involved (within my grandparents generation) in the process somehow, it was a major industry for our area.
 I asked Anna if having husbands out to sea so often was a major stress for the wives and she quickly said it was and that even her great grandfather was killed at sea, leaving her grandmother with seven children.

              This wasn't a mans job, the entire process was greatly reliant on every one's hands. 

You can see the fish drying structures like this near many of the shores.

So this is what happens in disaster... we go on. And it will be much like the days before, maybe even
What if I never see this pile of bright green moss again? 
What if you never see this pile of bright green moss... ever?

 Today is day two of the Volcanic Eruption and it's made its way to Reykjavik. The warnings say do not go outside because the airs pollution is 4x the legal limit. I ran to the grocery store near by and my eyes are itchy and my skin feels like I have rolled around in Pink Panther insulation. 
Tonight is one of the darkest nights I have seen here since the trip began. The ash has reached the city and the wind is violently blowing it all over. A mountain that I can always see from my window is absent from our view and three tones of dusty clouds are over the water.
Here is a video of the Eruption happening now.

Friday, May 20


Last week there was an event that passed North Americans without a peep. This event however was epic to European countries. It is called EUROVISION
Eurovision is an annual song contest open to members of the European Broadcast Union. The event is often viewed in a party setting (much like the superbowl). A number of people in Iceland have said to me "You are going to watch Eurovision, right? You must it's a tradition here." Nearly all follow up that with "but you know we think it's cheesy? It's just fun".

So we went to the new massive music center HARPA and watched Eurovision with over a hundred Icelanders. The costumes were glitzy and the songs were pop but somehow I still felt the need to articulate my opinion on each performance. Why should I care? I don't know... but I did. During the tally I was scoffing and clapping right along with everyone else.  
The contestants for Iceland had a compelling story that made me really hope that they would win. The man who wrote the song died right after submitting it to Eurovision. His friends then got together to perform it. Although there wasn't a big light show, fancy graphics, or women on unicycles it was sweet and I wanted them to feel validated in lue of their friends absence.
Azerbaijan won. It was a jarring surprise seeing that this was the first time I had even heard of this country. It's surrounded by Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia and has a population of 8,781,100, this is what Google told me.

The tradition of Eurovision is that the country that wins, hosts the event the following year. So next year I bet thousands will be following suit and  asking "Dear Mr. Google what/where is Azerbaijan?"

Thursday, May 19

My first constitution

I experienced my very first Constitutional Meeting today~
Maybe you are wondering to yourself "What is it like to go to a constitutional assembly?"
It all starts in an conservative looking building on the outskirts of the city center. I sat there and waited in a room filled with chocolate candies and cookies. I came to  the happy conclusion that it's vital to have treats when taking on such important business. An older man dressed in full professional attire bolted into the room with great focus. He walked past one candy dish and then stopped and ran back snatched a handful of candies and ran into the meeting. 

The room is kept FREEZING. Is this to keep the elects from getting too cozy and dozing off?
Are the windows open to reinforce that this council is representing the people outside these walls?
I had the lucky seat of sitting directly behind the council members. Even though the backs of heads are normally uninteresting, it is interesting to see what people are doing on their computers. Many are on Facebook and the rest are keeping notes on the meeting. 
I was able to see for the first time in person all of these wonderful people I have been in communication with since the election. In my own way it was like seeing celebrities.

The intention of the assembly meetings on Thursdays is to allow each committee to come together and discuss as a group the issues at hand. When I asked a few individuals how everyone is getting along they said "swimmingly, there are no major issues on the table yet to decide on but when there is... that's when the gloves may come off. But it's been an incredible experience because even if we don't always agree we are coming from such different places that it feels like it's genuinely representing the Icelanders across the board.

The entire meeting is open to the public but also broadcasted online. How's that for transparency?!
It's all in Icelandic but it's still interesting to see. Go ahead take a peak CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY MEETING If you would like to know what is happening you can see the Icelandic transcript below and send it through an online translation, I use this one ONLINE TRANSLATOR

Part of what they are trying to accomplish with this re-write is to come to conclusions on issues that the parliament has not been able to reach.
I met a woman whom has been working day and night with a highly skilled team in preparing the elects for the re-write. She has been collecting the necessary materials so that the assembly can brief themselves on the issues, arming their brains with data, studies, and a cohesive history so that a proper analysis can be made. This is a bit like cramming for the exam of a lifetime.

This was also the first time I entertained the idea that there was an entire fleet of people behind the "curtain" when it came to preparing for the constitution.

At the end of the meetings they close out the session in song.

Saturday, May 14

Harpa, pumpkin bread, and the blue everything

This film is not about making a point as much as it is having a conversation. I have been having unique rich discussions with people I have met, internally considering things I have experienced first hand, and the stories I have listen to second hand. This conversation has been going on now for three years. What will be left on the cutting room floor? How many films could be made from all of this information? This is what is spinning in my head more often than not. I can say I feel full here; my head, my heart, and the inspiration tank is topped up and running at its optimum.

What does it look like when the sun never really sets- it's 10 pm and my room and the hallway has  filled with a red and pink light and everything else is water, blue clouds, blue mountains. 
 A wonderful friend here told me she still wears a sleeping mask to bed because it's so bright even at midnight.

A good friend (Anna Torfadottir)
that I have made here is a visual artist in Iceland and took us to her studio today. It's an old dairy barn converted into artist studios called Korpúlfsstaðir. In this building there is a gallery where the hay mow used to be. The show currently up was under the theme "Aggressive text", which meant that the piece could be very tranquil but needs to have this aggressive text somewhere within it. Anna (the friend that took us here) showed us one of her works that was this lovely vertical piece with flowers, gentle colors, and if you didn't know Icelandic it would seem like it was something really sweet. They translated it for me and it pretty much was about a women saying to a man, you are a pig and you will not place your dirty hands on me, you can put them on your own privates because that is the only place you have a right to put them. 
I liked this contrast.

We all then went to Anna's house and had a really great American style dinner with pizza and soda. Tonight this feels like home, not just because of its similarity to the back in the states cuisine but there was something more. I realized it when she brought out the pumpkin bread which was just like a spice cake my grandma makes back in New York. Anna said it was made just for us. Sometimes life has a really intense way of kissing you and punching you at the same time, letting you know you are exactly where you are suppose to be at that moment.
     We watched the opening ceremony for Iceland's new massive concert center (HARPA). When we passed it today there were protesters outside. The center has been under a bit of scrutiny. Why you may ask? Harpa was only partially built when the collapse hit in 2008. It seemed to some like a spit in the face to continue with this grandiose structure after the economy had tanked and with cuts to medical facilities, artists funding, and fact that so many lost their entire savings overnight the idea of Harpa continuing seemed to some... patronizing.

I am going to go to some of the awesome free concerts tomorrow and will report back on the experience.
Goodnight pumpkin bread loving friends.

Sunday, May 8

Windy Bright Nights

The wind is strong today. I saw a woman attempting to stroll along the ocean side with her dress flying up and giving the gulls a peep show.

A friend of mine in Iceland said that he only knows one person who is in danger of losing his home. And while talking about it his friend realized that if he took out nearly 100% loans for everything in his home then essentially he was... renting. And that somehow eases the panes of losing control over belongings. I thought that was such a neat realization to come to.

There is an area out near the lighthouse where you can see these wooden triangular structures from really far away. They were used to dry fish. I have seen a lot of useful antiquitous contraptions near the sea side here. This particular area however comes with strong warnings. This is the season the neighborhood birds start laying there eggs and they get mighty defensive of their chosen area. There are few things that are as scary as angry birds, just to name a few:
1) Raccoons
2) Cucumbers
3) Cars
I will not be visiting during this time as to allow these birds enough time to prep their spawn.

I've had the darndest time trying to sleep here. You know that feeling you get when the days get longer and all of a sudden it's 8pm and still really light out? Those are the nights you feel like time is on your side and fun is on the horizon. So imagine it not actually getting any darker than the picture below. That picture is taken at midnight. I had my legs in a tiny hot spring right amongst the rocks looking out at the ocean and it's not a situation I could have planned but I was small in comparison to it's serenity. 

Thursday, May 5

In a place far far away there is coffee

             It's day one and Reykjavik is pumped full of sunshine and clean ocean smells. 
I fumbled my jet lagged self into a cafe just shutting down for the day and I must have looked like a mess because the barrista said "ok, just one more". I then hobbled over to a friends house whom I always get lost trying to find but this one just this one time I found it!
So today you have been dream like.
I am staying near the ocean and at night there is this really thin road that cars race up and down for hours. When I was little we could hear the racetrack from two towns away, that's how silent the country is. This makes me feel safe.

Yesterday was bright and warm and today is rainy and chilly. I'm sure as anyone living in the Northern part of North America knows, we don't count on the weather being anything but unpredictable. So Iceland's weather makes sense to me. Then I came across this on my walk today and thought it was pretty spot on!

I went to pet a fluffy awesome cat today on the sidewalk JUST to see if anything had changed... NOPE!
Cats are still mean as snakes here.
Click for backstory

Next week is when the real "meat and potatoes" begins (i.e. interviews, meetings, gatherings etc.)
And so this week I am going to slowly move into focus and be really greatful I am finally ready... ready to finish this film.

Monday, May 2

Canadian politics inspired by an Icelandic Comedian

Tonight we went to a screening of the Icelandic documentary Gnarr. The film is the true story of one of Iceland's most popular comedians becoming the mayor of Reykjavik. Screening this film in Toronto couldn't have been timed better. I leave for Iceland tomorrow to document the re-writing of the Icelandic constitution AND tomorrow is a very important election day in Canada.

I have been hearing so much hope in the air about this federal election!  I can only keep all my toes, eyes, fingers, and.... well anything else I can find crossed that you too will experience the surge of excitement that so many of us felt when we got Obama. And that citizens of Reykjavik felt with Gnarr.

The theme of the film Gnarr was that absolutely ANYTHING can happen if you get enough people behind it. One woman in the audience asked during the Q+A "Is this real, did this really happen?"  There was a this really neat laughter that came over the crowd as sort of a comradery that we would love to see that happen in Canada.  One person said "wow, I am moving to Iceland". But I feel we can't  just leave our countries because we are in troubled times, we all live in countries right now where amazing change is possible.
As outlandish as electing a comedian politician sounds it actually was proof that the voters do have a say in the decisions being made. And as said in the film there are some very difficult issues on the horizon but if we can find a way to laugh and find joy while working through them then life won't feel unbearable.
I will make this short, as I have not packed yet. I hope for you tomorrow Canada that you don't feel defeated before you even reach the polls. Please use your voice and the power of your vote to say something about where you want your country to go. There are some scary issues on the table right now socially, economically, and environmentally and Canada you stand as a global example.
Be loud tomorrow!