Friday, January 28, 2011

President Obama’s State of the Union Address

It was sobering, thoughtful, and energizing to hear President Obama’s State of the Union address and his vision for the future of the United States of America.  His emphases on education, carefully targeted investment in infrastructure, credible fiscal measures, and his challenge to his fellow countrymen to heed a call for unity, hard work, and entrepreneurship provided a clear roadmap for our future.  

Ambassador Arreaga with University of Reykjavík Rector
Ari Kristinn Jónsson.
University of Reykjavik – an inspiring visit.

I had the pleasure of visiting with Ari Kristinn Jónsson, Rector of the University of Reykjavik, and taking a brief tour of the campus.   It was quite uplifting to hear the Rector's vision for the young university as well as his plans to expand their contacts outside Iceland.   We look forward to working to expand their collaboration with U.S. educational institutions.  I know for sure that our universities would stand to gain from having a relationship with Reykjavik U.

Running a 5k in Hafnarfjörður

Doing a race at night in the middle of winter can be experienced only in a few places.  The 5K in Hafnarfjöður was fun, the weather cooperated, and I would even add that the bouquet from the fish plant nearby energized runners to go faster.  Look forward to the next run.

The National Museum of Iceland - what a gem.

During a brief visit to the National Museum of Iceland kindly hosted by Dr. Margrét Hallgrímsdóttir, I had the opportunity to see up close some of the artifacts that bore witness to Iceland’s compelling history.  It is definitely a must stop for any visitor coming to Reykjavik.

Iceland’s great handball team

While I share the disappointment of many for the losses of Iceland’s handball team, that doesn’t diminish in the least their skill, spirit, and bright future.   They gave us plenty of great moments.

Reflections on Þorrablót

The inevitable came when I was confronted with a full plate of hangikjöt, sviðasulta, harðfiskur, hrútspungar, and hákarl.   How shall I say it?  Appreciation for hrútspungar and hákarl is acquired.   I hasten to add that I do like the notion of people getting together and having fun to commemorate their heritage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bringing geothermal power to Africa, Iceland’s international schools, the Mayor and handball.

The previous week was productive, interesting, and fun.  It was productive because the Embassy helped advance a U.S. – Icelandic partnership to bring geothermal energy to the developing world.  It was interesting because I had an opportunity to meet the Mayor of Reykjavik and to learn about Reykjavik’s international school, and it was fun because I attended the friendly handball match between Iceland and Germany and watched Iceland’s matches against Hungary and Japan.

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and US Ambassador
Luis Arreaga (right) welcomed participants from five African
countries to a geothermal seminar in Reykjavík.
Our Embassy supported a partnership between American and Icelandic private sector firms and the U.S. government to bring to Iceland a group of officials from the African Development Bank and the power companies from five African nations to have a first-hand look at geothermal power in action.  The group attended a seminar where they learned the nuts and bolts of geothermal development projects and visited power plants to observe their functioning.   It is heartening to see how Icelandic know-how, American capital, and U.S. government support can help bring much needed energy resources to the Rift Valley in Africa.  It was great that President Grímsson accepted an invitation to address the group; he urged them to consider the benefits of geothermal energy.

I also had the pleasure of visiting the International School of Iceland located in Garðabær.  The school has fifty-four students representing eleven nationalities.  It is great to see a place where children from different cultures meet to learn about one another.  For those of us who are here temporarily, the school gives our children an excellent opportunity to learn the Icelandic language, Icelandic culture and to meet Icelandic children.  For Icelandic children attending the school, it gives them an opportunity to learn about foreign cultures.

On Friday I had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Reykjavik.    He certainly brings a fresh perspective to government and is engaging, thoughtful, and very committed to the city of Reykjavik.  I enjoyed the meeting very much and look forward to working with him and his administration.

Finally, I have to say that handball is quite an exciting sport.  I started to like it when I watched the last ten minutes of Iceland’s match with Lithuania last October.   Subsequent to that I attended the Haukar – Akureyri match in Reykjavik and Iceland’s first friendly match with Germany a little over a week ago.   I think I am pretty much hooked since I made it a point to watch Iceland’s games with Hungary and Japan.   I love the fast breaks, the complicated plays that result in explosive shots that whizz past the goalie and the nail-biting that goes along with games with very close scores.   Do I understand what is going on most of the time? No, but the more I learn the more I like it.  My best wishes to Iceland’s handball team and congratulations on their well-deserved victories.

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.