Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcoming the New Year

I had read and heard that the end-of-year holidays in Reykjavik would be very special.  After experiencing this time of the year in several places around the world, one always has a healthy degree of skepticism about such claims.  The important questions seem to hover around whether family will be near.  Fortunately, our children visited and I don’t know whether it was their visit or Reykjavik -- perhaps it was a combination of both -- but it was indeed a magical time.  Highlights included a stroll down Laugavegur on December 23 at noon, when we enjoyed the  aroma emanating out of a few restaurants.  We returned to Laugavegur that evening,  when it seemed that every citizen in Reykjavik was there to hear the Christmas carolers, purchase that one last present, and partake of the free hot chocolate and fish soup offered by the street merchants.  The bonfires and fireworks displays were spectacular and a fitting way to say goodbye to 2010 and welcome the New Year . I must say that Skaupið added a good bit of humor to the experience.  It was a memorable experience; we consider ourselves lucky to have been here.
 The New Year brings a fresh set of opportunities for Iceland and the United States.   According to several economists, both Iceland and the United States are showing signs that our economies may be rebounding from once-in-a-lifetime crises.    While it is too early to draw sweeping conclusions about the sustainability of these trends, it would be fair to say that the efforts that both governments have undertaken are having their intended effect.   Surely, both governments have a lot of work for the coming year to create jobs, but it is encouraging to witness the emergence of positive signs.   At the Embassy, we are ready to do our part to strengthen commercial and trade ties between our countries.  In this regard, the Icelandic American Business Forum (IABF) offers an excellent forum to discuss ideas and strategies to strengthen our commercial and trade ties.  I am pleased to report that interest in the organization increased in 2010 and the prospects for 2011 are great.
Another bright spot in the New Year will be the May Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Greenland, where we hope all member nations will sign an agreement to cooperate on search and rescue operations in the Arctic Region.  The Arctic Council is a great forum where countries with interests in the Arctic can work together to manage challenges and opportunities arising out of global warming.  It is yet another area where we share common goals with Iceland. 
We are also looking forward to celebrating the centennial of the University of Iceland in 2011.  And when the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center opens its doors this year,  I hope to be there  enjoying the sights and sounds.  Finally, the U.S. and Iceland will become even closer when Delta Airlines commences service between our countries in June 2011.  I plan to be there to launch the first flight from Keflavik to New York,  but just to cut the ribbon, because I hear that Iceland in the summertime is too beautiful to leave.   
P.S. I couldn’t bring myself to eat skata in 2010.  I felt a bit bad about this, but when I conducted an informal poll among my Icelandic friends, I realized that fewer Icelanders than I imagined eat this delicacy.   Maybe this year.