Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fyrirgefðu, ég er bara ád læra...

If you want to know what it’s like when you’re learning Icelandic, let me give you a peek into the e-mail I just desperately sent the only person I know who has studied Icelandic grammar. “Why is the nominative plural of ‘önd’ not ‘andir’ but ‘endar’? Have I misunderstood the U-umlaut-shift, am I using the nominal paradigm wrong, or is it just one of those bloody strong nouns?” ‘Önd’ means duck, by the way.

I had to ask him because native-speaking Icelanders are relatively unaware of how their language is formed - fair enough. I bet most English-speakers wouldn’t know what I meant when I asked for the 3rd person masculine singular pronoun in the accusative. It’s ‘him’. I think.

Anyway, regardless of the countless irregular verbs, nouns and adjectives in this language I’m going at an alright pace, considering this is only my third week of study. I am still only working in the present tense, but that can develop later. I can already write things like ‘Ég er að fara gegnum skógann til að gefa henni bréfin hennar.’, which means ‘I am going through the forest to give her her letters.’, but I can say only little things like ‘Mjólk?’, which means ‘milk’. It’s because I lack the confidence to pronounce words correctly, and I lack confidence in that because it’s the one thing I don’t get a chance to practice, because I never get the opportunity, and I’m not self-confident enough just to start talking Icelandic. If someone said to me “Answer in Icelandic!” I would, but that push is coming neither from me nor from the people I see. I will have to make it happen eventually!

Another reason I’m so hesitant about speaking is that the few times I’ve tried they’ve just stared blankly, and I know my accent isn’t that bad. At least, it’s no worse than a beginner at French’s accent would be in French. It’s just that where the French are used to foreigners mispronouncing their language, it is so rare for people to learn Icelandic that think they find it harder to cope with the way I mangle the sounds of this ancient and noble speech.

Well, I’ll keep you updated!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Big Magnus and Baby Magnus

Months ago, I said I would do a person per post. So, now I feel like doing something like that.

Backtrack two months and a bit. I’m in Iceland with a group of international volunteers. We’re sleeping on camping beds in an empty school, painting a beach on a wall and eating vegetable curry soup for lunch (not at the same time). If you move in closer you may hear a conversation go something like this:

Person A: Who’s seen the big hammer?

Person B: I think Magnus had it.

Person A: [with fear] Which Magnus?

Person B: Big Magnus.

[sigh of relief]

That’s because we had two Magnuses in the Summer: Big Magnus and Baby (or Little) Magnus.

Big Magnus is a prison guard in the only prison in Iceland, a handyman (that’s why he probably has the hammer in the above scenario), a dad, Anna’s brother-in-law, and a fan of riddles. He’s bald-ish and has a laid-back grin on his face. In the summer, he was one of my favourite Icelanders because he is not only friendly, but also patient and actually spent hours with me telling me about Iceland, Icelandic and letting me help him build tables and whatever, even though I was obviously not very good at it. He recognised that I was interested in Iceland and he let me take part, which I can’t appreciate enough.

Baby Magnus is pretty much the opposite. He’s blonde, blue-eyed, short, the size of a rucksack, can only say ‘brrrrrrrr’ and ‘mamma!’ and has a pouty little mouth which can be teased to an adorable smile if you pull faces at him. He is Anna’s grandson, and to be honest at first I didn’t get why everyone cooed at him. Now, needless to say, I have been enchanted. I wuv that wittle pumpkin pie!

To avoid confusion, most people call Big Magnus ‘Vignir’, which is his middle name. Icelandic people, as is well known, don’t really have surnames… they use patronymics. That would make the boy who lived ‘Harry Jamesson’, and me ‘Fiona Wilhelmsdottir’. But ‘Wilhelmsdottir’ wouldn’t be my name, just a descriptive. So to distinguish me from all the other Fionas in Iceland (not that many, I checked), I have a middle name… Let’s say it’s Kirsten (it’s not Kirsten). In the phone directory, I would be listed like this: Fiona Kirsten Wilhelmsdottir. That’s what the Icelandic phone directory looks like! Jon Arni Daviddson, Jon Aron Magnusson, Jon Bjorn Haakonsson.

Anyway, where am I going with this? Well, most people call Big Magnus ‘Vignir’ because that’s his middle name. And I shall do the same, so from now on ‘Vignir’ = Big Magnus, and Magnus = Baby Magnus.

Today Vignir turned up suddenly here at Loa’s house (Magnus’ mother) and asked if I wanted to go with him to feed his horse. Now, I love horses. There was no question, so I grabbed coat, scarf, hat, shoes, cardigan, second pair of gloves and jumped in the car. On the way he teased me by speaking only Icelandic to me (fair enough) and then told me about how he grew up on this farm with his grandparents, and how his father was the oldest of ten children. We fed his horse and the other ones in the field, he praised me for ‘not being scared’ when they whinnied (but really, how scary is horses neighing at each other?), and then we drove back.

As I mentioned above, Vignir is a fan of riddles and so in the summer, he, Melanie (one of my best camp-friends, a German girl my age) and I challenged each other with riddles. He even wrote down a long old one in Icelandic which we had to translate (even though really we largely just got his wife to translate it for us :D). Then we wrote ones for him… and left them for him to solve. Today he told me he’d solved mine…… and he hadn’t! It being the first riddle I’ve ever written, I’m quite proud of myself :) The shame is I can’t quite remember how it goes… but I think it starts “Burns more than dragon’s fire”. When I find it, I’ll write it out here and see if you can solve it.

Now I’m back at Loa’s watching Daniel and Aron kick a ball around (of course), while Baby Magnus is asleep.

It’s a good day today.

Northern Lights

I just saw Northern Lights! I stepped out of Loa’s house after spending an EXCELLENT day there baking cookies, learning Icelandic, playing with Baby Magnus, talking to her nice husband and just enjoying life.

Just after dinner, I went to go home and what greeted me but A CORD OF GREEN SHIMMERING LIGHT! It led directly from the depth of the firmament to the horizon before me. I danced along the riverside with the Icelandic wind blowing in my face, following the path in the sky. OK, that’s a bit kitschy but I really can’t explain how it felt to see them. Private, almost like I was watching a celestial performance not intended for mortal eyes. I felt like crying out loud,  but my breath was so literally taken that I couldn’t make a sound. I gazed wide-eyed at the sky, not quite believing I was seeing them. They’re so imperial, aloft in the sky. Wow. Have some photos:





Tuesday, 19 October 2010

8-year-old boys

On some days I look after an 8-year-old boy called Daniel. He has a friend who is called Aron, and Aron is also 8. Sometimes Daniel and Aron are spies, and they follow me around the house and definitely aren’t EVER seen by me, and I NEVER hear them giggle when I turn around suddenly to see who’s there. When they’re not spies, Daniel and Aron play football. Sorry, did I say Daniel and Aron? I meant Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Owen. Don’t ask me how they get here from mainland Europe every day, but they run around the living room practising their moves and in the process, skilfully avoiding the glass coffee table, the porcelain vase, the television… most of the time.

There is a sign on Daniel’s door which the boys wrote slowly and stiltingly yesterday. It reads:

FREE ENTRY for people named Daniel or Aron --- WARNING --- Do not enter without the answers:

1. How many situps does Ronaldo do every day?

2. What number is Barry on the England team?

3. How old is Ingvild.

I do not know who Ingvild is, so I sadly can’t enter.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wall of Wisdom

Edit: OK, so I’m posting this a few days later. Just imagine it’s last Saturday, the 9th.

As I write this I still have no internet connection, but I thought… why should that stop me from writing a blog? I’ll just post it when I do get internet!

I’ve been staying in a SEEDS house in Reykjavik. For the first few days James (leader of my work camp in summer, friend, let me stay in SEEDS house – pay attention when you read my blog!) was here too but now he’s doing a photo marathon in downtown Reykjavik. On the first day I arrived there were about a dozen other people here and I am always shy for the first few days in a new place so I hope I didn’t make a bad impression, but if I did I can’t help it. Shyness is shyness, that’s all. It’s not the same as being boring or anti-social or even cowardly. Anyway, now there’s me and four long-term volunteers in the house – Ruth, a Spanish; Marta, an Italian; Amina, ein Berliner; and Luke who is from Derby. Edit: Tobias/Oeck and Eddy came later.

I can’t really describe what the house and the people and the atmosphere are like, and if I try I know I’ll just end up throwing disjointed adjectives at you – alive, colourful, warm, funny, young… so instead I’ll just quote from the Wall of Wisdom. That is, the two pieces of A1 paper hanging in the bathroom with phrases and exchanges scribbled on in thick black marker pen. They range from the witty to the philosophical to the just plain mad. Well, that’s SEEDS!


And because I don’t know when to stop, have some Unbearable Lightness quotes too…

“Not knowing what you want is actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”

“Metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love.”

“A person who longs to leave the place he lives is an unhappy person.”

“Human lives are composed like music.”

“Darkness is the infinite we each carry within us. (Yes, if you’re looking for infinity, just close your eyes!)”

“Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”

“Our dreams prove that to imagine is among mankind’s deepest needs.”

Thursday, 7 October 2010


After a few tearful days (which may or may not be over yet) I have landed in Iceland, in the middle of a vibrant, loud, happy huse of twelve interntational people in their twenties... and one odd, funny middle-aged Israeli bloke called Meir.

It´s been a bit information overlaod in the last few days but I´m ok, considering that I´m a shy person in the middle of a group of strangers without my own access to the internet. Thatñs rightm I´m using a SPanish computer at the moment, which is what youcan blame the typois on.

I´m going to Selfoss and starting work there on Sunday so after that you should hear more from then,

Until then... Wish me luck!

xxx Fioan

Sunday, 3 October 2010

So close I can taste it

I managed to fit in the juggling balls. Phew!

I’m actually in a bit of a weird place at the moment. On the one hand I am SO FUCKING EXCITED that in two days I’m going to be in Iceland! Well, on the plane at least. I’ll get to see James again and all the things I loved about Iceland will rush up to meet me – the climate, the country, the horses, the people. I’ll nibble kleinur and drink coffee even though I don’t like it really. And most of all, I’ll be a person I actually like.

On the other hand, I won’t see my family for 11 months. My Mum especially is my best friend and I’ve had a tight feeling in my gullet for a few days. 11 months is a along time, but she’ll visit, and so will My Friend Lola, hopefully.

Overall the feeling is a mixture of euphoria, anxiousness and bravery. I’m doing something somewhat mental, totally unplanned (for me) and absolutely perfect. I don’t think I’ll regret it at all.

family lunch

Today we all went out for Sunday Pub Lunch l and I asked the waiter to help take this photo of my family and me.