Monday, October 25, 2010

Small windows into the Icelandic arts scene and some Icelandic soul food

The last few days have provided several windows into the vitality, traditions, and intellectual energy of Icelandic society.   Let me start with something of a great Reykjavik tradition.  I had the pleasure of joining a few of my Icelandic colleagues from the Embassy on a trip to Bæjarins beztu pylsur.  I have to say that it was one of the best hot dogs I have ever had, but the best part was experiencing a tradition that citizens of Reykjavik enjoy:  a walk on a chilly day, standing in line to get “eina með öllu” and standing in a circle with friends having a conversation while enjoying one of Reykjavik´s finest.  My only regret was that I didn´t have a second hot dog; next time.

Ambassador Arreaga with Tómas Jónsson
 The vitality and talent of the Icelandic arts scene is well known in the United States and this week I had a chance to experience it first-hand.  We were organizing a reception at the Embassy and decided that we needed to liven it up with some music.  Our Public Affairs section found Tómas Jónsson, an enormously talented 17 year old Icelandic pianist whose interpretation of American jazz artists was superb.  I believe we are going to hear much more about young Tómas in the years ahead.

I also had the pleasure of attending the opening reception and initial screenings of the Kvikar myndir hátíð.  This event was organized by Kinosmiðja (a grass-roots organization that promotes experimental and avant-garde filmmaking) in conjunction with the Reykjavik Art Museum and with our Embassy’s support.  I must say that the films were provocative but the most interesting part was sharing these movies with the audience.   Having also participated in the Reykjavik Film Festival, I can say that the film scene in Iceland is alive and thriving.

On a more serious note, my wife Mary and I had a wonderful opportunity to engage with two Icelandic fiction writers at a local café.   We talked about so many things (the impact of the economic crisis here and in the U.S., the publishing industry, a bit of history, the Icelandic literary scene, and much more).  It was one of our most memorable experiences to date and one that we want to repeat.

 Art is such a broad term and it covers so many areas that I know we will be very busy exploring it throughout our stay in Iceland.  It was a heavy week of art, deep discussions, and some Icelandic “soul food.“   We decided to take it easy this weekend with a bit of window shopping and coffee  on Laugavegur.   We needed a rest before our next experience:  Akureyri