Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Beginning of a Journey in Iceland

It would be difficult, and I won’t even try, to describe the mixed emotions associated with the honor of being nominated to represent the American people in Iceland.   Suffice it to say that I was overwhelmed but at the same time determined to dedicate every effort possible to bring the American and Icelandic peoples even closer together.  Several months before my arrival, I began to read as much as I could about Iceland:  the land, its history, its language, its people, its geography, its culture, especially literature, and every bit of information I could get my hands on, but the more I read the more I realize that  I still have much to learn.   As the picture of an extraordinary country began to emerge, I realized that I was embarking on a unique journey of learning and sharing.   It didn’t take very long to realize that Icelanders and Americans share many values:  self-reliance, individualism, hard work, persistence, and creativity, as well as respect for individual freedoms just to name a few.   This helps explain why our ties run so deep and why it is so important to nurture and strengthen them.  In fact this reminds me of Secretary Clinton’s recent message to Icelanders when she said we are proud to be the first country that recognized Iceland’s independence.

My arrival in Iceland only two weeks ago was very auspicious.  President Grímsson let me present my credentials soon after my arrival when he also hosted a reception attended by many Icelanders and resident Americans.  I am grateful for that opportunity as it allows my colleagues and me to engage fully in those areas where we have common interests:  making the world greener, working together in mapping a strategy for the responsible and peaceful management of the High North, strengthening our capabilities to respond to humanitarian crises, working together to get our countries out of the current recession (the economic recoveries of Iceland and the United States are mutually reinforcing), and strengthening our longstanding security ties.

At the personal level, I’ve already experienced some of Iceland’s wonderful traditions, having been honored as a guest during the christening of Halen Alexander--a beautiful Icelandic-American boy and having tasted the best fish, butter, and lamb I have ever had.  I also saw two great Icelandic films (The Palace and The Last Ride) and shared a meal with Icelandic and American filmmakers during the International Reykjavík Film Festival.   The two weeks were capped with the arrival of my wife Mary and my son Luis, both of whom are extremely happy to be here.  As my Icelandic teacher taught me:  Allt sem éheyrði um Ísland áður en ég kom til landsins er satt og rétt.