After sleeping way too late (9:30am) we staggered out into a cloud and very windy day. It is true what they say, the weather here can change on a dime. I would guess the temperature today to be around 48 degrees but with the wind chill felt cooler. Still, no rain and great walking weather. After a morning coffee we stopped and bought me a scarf and some cool black leggings that all the women wear here. Then we found our way to the Registry offices where we got our marriage certificate translated into English.
Greg and I now have visited quite a few of the civic/civil/government offices here in Reykjavik. Everyone is so nice here and again, all speak flawless English with an incredibly cool accent. (note, Iceanders speak using their tongue on the roof of the fronts of their mouths making sounds and accents I couldn’t even begin to form). Anyhow getting the papers translated into English took a few minutes, but was no big deal. Our original in Icelandic is one of the cooler documents I’ve ever seen, one we will frame. The offices were near the Reykjavik harbor where we saw plenty of whitecaps. Windy windy day. We walked all around the area afterwards and after buying 48 hour tourist cards which get you in free to most of the museums, the 7 Reykjavik area hot pools, the zoo and free transportation, decided to go to one of the many art museums here, the Listasafn Reykjavikur Art Museum located inside one of the more contemporary and architecturally interesting buildings I’ve seen. It houses rotating exhibits of contemporary Icelandic design and the gardens/museum building are reason alone to visit. The title of the exhibit we saw was Magma which refers to contemporary design in Iceland as a living and powerful magma that does not view boundaries or origins as obstacles, but rather the starting point of movement and opportunity. This sizzling magma is resource and an undercurrent that reflects the status of design in Iceland today and the force within it. The exhibition displayed works of Icelandic designers and because of its interactive nature, gives the viewers an understanding of what design it, where it comes from and what the ideas are behind the works. The curator, Gudrun Lilja Gunnlaugsdottir, a designer had some of her fashion designs on display along side of other designers’ works. Things we saw ranged from the latest technology in prosthetic design (silicone, carbon fibers, etc), handbags and cell phone covers made of sea-leather (fish skin), to funky lights with innovative light switches (Greg was particularly impressed so I’m sure will write more about this) to a table made entirely of wax serving as a giant candle. We were with only a handful of people so had the place to ourselves. We almost bought a book on Reykjavik’s diverse street graffiti, but after figuring out the exchange rate, realized it would be cheaper to take an Icelandic Horse home with us. All in all a great visit.
Walking in the wind with a few rain drops, the next spot we hit was the Culture House closer in to town, the National Centre for Cultural Heritage. Here Icelandic history and culture is displayed with an emphasis on independence and governance as well as the original manuscripts of the Icelandic Sagas and Eddas. The first exhibit we saw, “Surtsey, Genesis”, was put on by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. This was a fascinating exhibit about the island of Surtsey which holds a unique place in the history of science. The island was formed during a 4 year volcanic eruption (1963-1967), the longest lasting eruption in Iceland’s history (long by any standard I think). New land rose from the sea and caught the attention of both scholars and the general public all over the world. The exhibit traced the history of Surtsey’s formation and development up until present day, but also predicts biological succession on the island and its general future over the next 120 years. It also explained the grounds for the Icelandic government’s decision to nominate Surtsey for the UNESCO World Heritage List. We loved the exhibit. It truly is amazing to see an island form from nothing and how in a few short years there were creatures and plants living there.
Next in Culture House was an exhibit titled “The Road to Zion” which shed light on the religious foundations of the Mormons and traced the journey of Pordur Didriksson (1828-1894) over sea and land, and gives insight into the community that the Icelanders joined and lived in abroad. The exhibit traced the first Utah settlers from Iceland and traced their long trip to the new land. Having recently watched a special on Frontline (PBS) on the history of Mormonism, I found this to be fascinating. Didriksson was born and raised in Iceland and first sailed to Copenhagen and from there to England where in 1856 he found a berth to New York. Finally he traveled overland to Utah. His journey like so many at that time was long and hard. Even 5 and 6 year old children were expected to walk miles each day pulling their possessions behind them in carts. Trying to leave my opinions of Mormonism aside, I fully appreciated the difficulties these people faced in moving West in the US to join a “cult” in the promised land of Utah.
Lastly we saw the Medieval Manuscripts of the Eddas and Sagas through the ages. The exhibition focused on the cultural and political role played by the Icelandic medieval manuscripts from their earliest days to the present. The poetry and prose works preserved in the manuscripts are the richest evidence on the culture and mentalities of Northern Europeans in Pagen times — traditions and lore which in their oral form served as the source of knowledge and entertainment both at royal courts and among the commoners. I’ll let Greg write more about the manuscripts, some of the originals we viewed in a very dark room, but suffice to say, it was incredible seeing these old documents preserved as well as they were. I’d like to find some of the Viking sagas in English as they stood as the lore for so many for a long time.
We had a nice windy walk back to the hotel. Greg had a traditional Icelandic snack of a chili cheese dog in the square near our hotel. Yuck! Although had he offered me a bite, I would have accepted. Oh yeah, one final detail…. We stopped at a liquor store and bought some Icelandic vodka and my favorite, Bailey’s Irish Cream. The sun is now coming out (it’s 6pm and it’s as high in the sky as at noon in Seattle) so I’m trying to get a second wind for our evening out.