A thing I wrote..

I’ve been living and working and growing in New York for about 8 months now (I know, sorry for the lack of posts). I’ve moved through a lot of phases in that time, many of which I felt during the first months I spent in Iceland in 2013. I came across this article I wrote for a student publication a few weeks into my new life in Iceland and wanted to share – it’s mainly a reflection on my strange, bifurcated identity as an Icelander and an American. I hope you enjoy, and I also hope to update this soon with a few pictures and musings from my last few months in the city…!

(Not) New In Town

Invariably it happens, and the person pauses for an almost imperceptible moment, a quizzical expression forming on her face. What she’s said is nothing incomprehensible; it could be, “I saw that exact sight yesterday at the flea market!” or “Now we’ll do three laps back and forth across the gym.” Up until that point I’ve yet to give myself away, and everything goes smoothly. But it always ends the same way, and I hear myself explaining, “Well, yes, I speak Icelandic, but I’m not familiar with that word (which to every Icelander living in Iceland is obvious). No, no, I am from Iceland. I just moved back. Well, I haven’t actually lived here in 23 years,” my words painting an even blurrier picture.

How to explain the complexity of having grown up largely away from my homeland, returning often, but as a visitor. My Icelandic language formed by the words necessary in my home, but little imbued with the culture of my generation. My mimicry skills and lack of American accent belie my troublesome grammar early on in the conversation, which creates tension later, especially when discussing new subjects. This is exacerbated by my pride in language and my desire for my expression to be crystal clear, a problem I rarely have in English.

It’s not only the language that proves troublesome. My friend tells me where she lives, stating a specific location in a neighboring region, maybe only within a few kilometers of my home, or the University. My blank expression baffles her until she laughs, “Oh right, you aren’t from here.” I’m not. But I am.  My memories of summers spent splashing through wetlands and picking rocks from the shore couldn’t be more vivid in my mind. Tourists are similarly confused when I cannot point them in the direction of the mall, especially if I’m wearing my lopapeysa.

In a comfortable setting with a familiar person, my words flow effortlessly, misplaced modifiers and improperly conjugated nouns lost in the wind. My close friends and family have grown to anticipate these little stumbles, and so I take no notice and move on. In the harsh face of a stranger, though, I might stammer or find myself grimacing when I hear the blunder.

Icelandic is an achingly complex language where nothing remains constant – even your own name morphs in the act of receiving, or bestowing, a gift. I’ve changed, too, and moving to Iceland was a gift. I’m grateful for my mistakes and the curiosity they afford me. Several times a day I find myself looking up the origin of a word, the meaning clicking gracefully into place when I realize its relation to another. When my grandmother refers to my grandfather as “bóndi,” the word I’ve always thought of as “farmer,” I realize that putting together “hús” and “bóndi” creates “husband,” and the world opens up a little bit wider. These small ends justify the means tenfold. The truth is that I’m lucky to be in the situation where every day I learn something new. How many people can say that? Learning and relearning languages brings into clarity what was once out of focus, and if the price I pay is a little awkwardness and a good icebreaker, it’s well worth it.

Literary DEATH MATCH

**This blog is sponsored by my dearest friend Zsofia, not by money but encouragement – Hi Zsofi!**

About 2 weeks ago I got out of work at 2 pm with a spring in my step (even though my bike ride into Williamsburg that morning left me drenched to the bone) and stepped out into the sunshine. I met Dan at Prospect Park and we lay and read as dogs and children scampered past us, chased by parents. After that we visited Skylark in Park Slope for a beer and informal trivial pursuit where I embarrassed myself a bit in how much I knew about celebrities (not that it came as too much of a surprise). I’d read earlier that week about something called a Literary Death Match, a live game-show of sorts held at the Bell House on 7th Avenue, so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a lot of fun – the premise is that four writers read something they’ve written to the audience. They can only read for 7 minutes, and are then critiqued by three judges on their literary merit, performance, and “intangibles.” I’m just realizing how dorky this sounds as I’m typing it out – whatever I’m dorky no sense in pretending anymore. ANYWHO – the event was such an interesting peek into the lives of others (sidenote: one of the best movies ever is The Lives of Others {Das Leben der Anderen} watch it now!) in the world of writing and publishing.

The first two authors had books recently published, and what struck me was how young and approachable they were. Their books couldn’t have been more different – Kent Russell’s excerpt from his literary non-fiction debut “I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son” included devastatingly detailed description of a man attempting to immunize himself against snake venom, while Eliza Kennedy’s “I Take You” offered a chipper narrator’s musings on her upcoming wedding, at the same time sugary and bitter in a prototypically chick-lit way.

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The latter writers, Lane Moore and Josh Gondelman, read short essays, the first the inner workings of a hilariously unaware “popular guy in high school” who hit his peak 20 years before and is unsure where the time has gone, and the second a tour guide of American sights to see written in the comically austere voice of writer and NYTimes mascot Karl Ove Knausgaard. Moore and Gondelman actually performed as their characters and the result was a definite crowdpleaser. I’d recommend checking out the calendar for Literary Death Matches in your area – they are held all over the world and currently in the UK – for a different form of entertainment than your typical Netflix binge.

Thanks for reading!

I want to ride my..

Dan and I went to Berlin shortly after we graduated college in 2009. It was in every way a wonderful experience – we’d only been dating for 2 years at the time (just stop doing the math, I’m old) and it was our first big trip together, not to mention Dan’s first time to Europe and both of our first times in Berlin. I got to impress him with my German (which I’d just acquired a minor in) and we spent hours strolling through the urban and suburban streets, popping into cafes, visiting museums, and going on boat rides and bike tours which now we’d probably sniff at as too tourist-y. There was unseasonable heat but the nights were chilly enough for a jacket.

One of our most remembered moments was when we found ourselves in a main square having just gotten off of the subway. We were standing still, in awe of a big open blue sky and a dazzling array of tall buildings. All of a sudden a man wearing the archetypal spandex and aerodynamic helmet of a true asshole athlete whizzed by us, close enough that I could feel the breeze rush through my the hairs on my arm. “This lane is for bikes!” he screeched, although it sounded more like “ZEES LANE IS FOR BAIKES!” and the phrase remained as we turned toward his figure speeding away, dodging pedestrians left and right. “ZEES LANE IS FOR BAIKES” we’d laugh later, chalking up his stridency to being German, fed up with tourists meandering into his bike lanes which maximize the efficiency of his trip from work to home, and so on. We’d get into a fight about something petty but then dissolve into giggles when one of us exclaimed “I know…but…ZEES LANE IS FOR BAIKES!” That guy was the worst, but made for so many funny reenactments. I mean, take it easy, that guy!

I recently purchased a bike here in New York, as my lovely Trek is at my parents’ house outside of DC and I just couldn’t wait any longer to shave more than half the time off of my commute to work and feel the wind in my face. The single-speed cost me next to nothing, and the very nice individual who sold it to me threw in a lock and three tickets to the Museum of Natural History, where she works – so who says New Yorkers aren’t nice? I rode my new fuchsia Murray home in a wave of ecstasy, hopping onto the sidewalk when traffic became too heavy.

Since I’ve had it – exactly a week today! – I’ve ridden my bike roughly 60 miles – to and from work, grocery shopping at the fancy store which is now accessible without two annoying transfers on the train, over the Williamsburg bridge to visit Dan at work in the East Village, and pretty much anywhere else I need to go. I glow with the realization that I don’t have to spend over $100 this month on a metro card, and my benevolence is visible to all who witness me glide by, a beatific smile glued to my lips.

That is, most of the time. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of bike lanes found all over the city, affording you your very own space to ride along with traffic safely. Although I have a helmet (something I shirked the years I rode my bike in Richmond until I found myself concussed…twice) I’m still nervous riding in the thick of cars, trucks, taxis, and the general mayhem they incur. What I didn’t account for was the other people who find themselves in the bike lanes. Sometimes it’s a nice pedestrian, slowly stepping out into the lane to check on traffic, not realizing that I, hurtling down at 20 mph, also count as traffic. Sometimes it’s a vehicle, casually pulling over to pick up a friend, or unload the trunk. Sometimes the vehicle is moving, and has some sort of strange body dysmorphia where it sees itself as a bike, and therefore believes the giant white painted cyclist on the pavement reflects its image. Construction, litter, flora and fauna, somehow things find a way to my special little lane.

Every once in a while there is a close call, where I have to swerve around a person or open car door. As I catch my breath and the mini heart attack subsides, I find myself, on a sharp inhale of air, gasping, “ZEES.. LANE..IS… FOR… BAAIIIKKEESS!!!” Sometimes we’re all that guy, I guess.

It has sprung!!

So although there have been some dips back into chilly evenings, and this city decided to became “windy” these past few days (as a recently recovered Icelandic resident…I thought I had left that teeth-chattering chapter behind me), spring has officially arrived. The birds are making moves, the snow is melting, and my basement apartment is still freezing. But really, I don’t even have to put on the heater during the day anymore! Progress!

But truthfully, warmer weather and sunny, cloudless days do something magical to your mind and body and I find myself poking my eyes up above my scarf every once in a while to take in more of my new surroundings. I have a *significant* commute (no complaints!) and it involves a bit of walking from the train and now that the streets are abuzz with even more people and everyone is thawing out, I figured I’d list (yes, a list, I’m lazy) a few of the spring-ish things that I’ve observed (spied, eavesdropped, etc.) as of late.

1. Probably the funniest: two tourists caught up behind me in Williamsburg and asked very politely if we were near Union Square (in Manhattan, a 15 minute walk and 5 minute train ride away). In my elation at actually knowing how to give directions I gleefully exclaimed “FOLLOW ME!” and we marched onward together, the two of them cautiously following behind me carrying on their conversation, while I smiled at passersby who probably thought this was some sort of weird social experiment. It was as awkward as you imagine, but in the end they were so grateful to be put on the right path it more than made up for it. Good deed accomplished.

2. I saw a child who couldn’t be more than 7 years old carefully walking up the stairs of the subway while completing his homework. It was unbearably cute and I didn’t even realize until mentioning it to someone else later how inured I’ve become to seeing unattended children on the subway.

3. The conversations – oohhhh the conversations! It is a true dream of a voyeur like myself to feast my ears on the cacophony of the hilariously un-self-aware New Yorker who fulfills every stereotype, the woman forcing the waitress to list every beer on the menu in front of her, or the child singing Let It Go into a microphone at 7:45 am on the 4 train.

Just a sweet sampling for now – but I urge you all to keep your ears and eyes open for the tiny pleasures afforded you by Spring – I’m so glad she’s back!

MoMa PS1

On the final night of President’s Day weekend we ventured out into the abyss (also known as negative degree weather) for a hit of culture. It was the first day that Dan and I had both had off in over about a month, so we were determined to spend it productively. We were not disappointed in our visit to MoMa PS1, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art which acts as an exhibition space (rather than collection) dedicated solely to contemporary art. As the name suggests, PS1 is housed in what used to be a school, and is located in Long Island City, Queens.

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There were all manner of media housed in the museum, from an installation akin to Escher with its mirrors and staircases, to 200 year old marionettes repurposed for a live-action narrative of the crusades. A room downstairs was dedicated to the art of patrons of the museum, where you could sit and create something which would then be hung on the walls. Upon entering a different room I remarked to Dan how strangely it smelled, and we realized it was due to a performance artist having previously filled a cement tub in the corner with buttermilk. So, there was that.

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Probably the most moving exhibition was focused on protests and protest culture – in one room several television screens simultaneously played video from protests filmed around the world, which along with the audio created a loud, chaotic, and unfocused atmosphere. But hanging from each screen were headphones that when worn allowed the viewer to block out the rest and engage with any one singular demonstration. It was a really clever take on the pandemonium that stems from an outside view of such specific discord as protests around the world, and the clarity that comes with actual engagement in any one.

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On my way out I had to pick up some postcards at the gift shop and the first two I grabbed turned out to be from an Icelandic artist, which goes to show I have naturally good (and Nordic) taste.

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We’ll definitely be visiting MoMa PS1 again soon, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a more experimental take on art.

News from Iceland – CarbFix

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Ran across this little item in the NYT – a beautifully shot short video describing Icelandic company CarbFix’s efforts at mineralizing carbon emissions, an innovative approach to conventional carbon capture and storage. A great look at how Iceland can and should be at the forefront of combating climate change. Click the screenshot for the video!

Frida in…Brooklyn?

Hello again and happy new year! It’s been about 6 weeks since I took my last exam in Iceland and a few days later hopped on my plane “home,” a word which has become a lot richer over the past few years. Since then my life has mutated into something very different, so I wanted to take a minute to list some of the things I find myself scribbling in my notebook during the day. This is only a precursor of the future of this blog – which I’ll have to rename, I suppose, although the prospect makes my heart a little sad. Things to be thankful for in 2015:

  • Two weeks after my return, the world welcomed Sofia Alexis Alvarez to Dan’s older sister, and I got to experience the singular joy of looking into eyes that just opened for the first time – additionally Sofia’s birth was of benefit to my grandmother, who is constantly searching for fresh blood to knit sweaters and blankets for, as she has exhausted the entirety of her current living relatives
  • Two weeks after relocating to New York City, I got a job that has so far proved challenging and stimulating, while still allowing me the flexibility to commit time to my thesis-writing
  • Although my thesis is daunting at times, I’m excited to explore emerging trends about sustainable consumption and electronic commerce – and blog about it!
  • A new library card is always something to be thankful for
  • I got to experience 80-degree, sunny weather for 5 blissful days in January, while the rest of the Northeast dealt with a “blizzard” (thank you Puerto Rico!) This reprieve with three of my best friends was enough physical and mental therapy for the whole year
  • Each morning as I walk to the train, I pass a school on my street where students dutifully cross the street while holding hands with each other or their parents – this cuteness warms me up more than a cup of coffee
  • Speaking of coffee – my parents bought Dan and me a coffee maker for Christmas – and I sip it each day out of two beautiful Icelandic clay mugs I received from my aunt upon leaving Iceland
  • Christmas was spent with both my families, (the Oskars-clan, as Dan calls us, and the Sanchi, as I call Dan’s family) and for the first time in my life I opened my presents exclusively on Christmas Day, instead of Christmas Eve. I *truly* am growing up.
  • I am slowly mastering the NYC subway system and it feels as satisfying as I would imagine running a marathon feels (let’s be honest I’ll never truly be able to compare the two)
  • Speaking of the subway – my rides to and from work have allowed me to return once more to one of my purest pleasures in life: the crossword puzzle – oh I’ve missed you
  • Happy hour in New York versus happy hour in Reykjavik. Seriously. You guys. I thought I might cry when I saw that $3 Mojito sign
  • My little brother being invited to present a paper he wrote at a conference in San Francisco this year – the Oskars-clan is killing it!

So, I look forward to blogging here and there about my academic and leisurely pursuits as I become “that new girl in Brooklyn who is still way too happy to be here” Until then!