Sunday, November 24, 2013

Farewell Iceland and thank you

As we drive down the road to Keflavik towards my official departure from Iceland, we are experiencing a rush of memories of our extraordinary three years in Iceland. We consider ourselves privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to get to know the noble nation of Iceland. Our experiences here confirmed what we have always known: Americans and Icelanders share values that make our friendship deep and strong. It is the kind of friendship that allows us to work on many, many important issues and to understand that in the very, very few instances when we disagree the friendship remains strong. Thank you Iceland for opening your arms and letting us appreciate the indomitable Icelandic character. We are lucky to count ourselves as your friends.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Icelandic soul food at Múlakaffi

I can´t believe that three years had to go by before I learned about Múlakaffi. But as they say, better late than never. This week I joined a group of friends on a brief trek to Múlakaffi to enjoy hearty Icelandic food. It was a place where Icelanders from all walks of life go to enjoy true Icelandic cuisine. I met its owner Jói, and legendary soccer star Ásgeir Sigurvinsson. I am definitely taking Mary and my son Luis back before we leave.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Airwaves 2013 - Another festival with fabulous music

This year I had the opportunity to attend one of Nadia Sirota’s concerts at Harpa—she is an American violist. I must say that having followed Nadia’s performances in Iceland for the last couple of years, Nadia continues to amaze with her virtuoso performances and range. The concert featured pieces by Valgeir Sigurðsson and Daníel Bjarnasson, two of the most creative Icelandic composers today. All three are members of Bedroom Community, an international group of composers and performers that are taking modern classical music to new levels. In fact, Nico Muhly who is also a member of Bedroom Community recently had the premiere of his Opera “Two Boys” at the Met in New York.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Horseback riding finally!

I didn’t want to leave Iceland without having saddled up and ridden the noble Icelandic horse. This week I had the opportunity to go to Laxness Horse Farm and experience a beautifully clear and windless winter day in the Icelandic country riding one of these creatures. We took the opportunity to visit Halldór Laxness’s grave and to reflect on his contributions to literature.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The ocean water off Nauthólsvík is very, very, cold....

I couldn´t think about leaving Iceland without taking a dip in Nauthólsvík. So this week I decided to take the plunge with a couple of good friends. I thought about it for some time and wasn´t quite sure that I would have enough gumption to do it, but when I arrived and saw a large group of people going back and forth between the hot pot and the chilly 3,9 Celsius ocean water, I did it. Having cold, numb extremities is a new experience and swimming with them is even stranger. I think I will do it again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Congratulating Ölgerdin and welcoming Pepsico´s CEO

We were honored by an invitation to participate in the celebration of Ölgerdin´s 100th Anniversary. This milestone event was punctuated by a keynote speech by the world-renowned CEO and Chairman of Pepsico Indra Nooyi, one of the most influential women of our time. Nooyi gave an inspiring presentation of the values that make a good corporation and shared some of her tradecraft secrets that put her in the position as the leader of one of the world‘s largest and most successful corporations. Events like these highlight the success of business connections between Iceland and the United States. It was easy to see why the creativy of Ölgerdin‘s CEO, Andri Thor Gudmundsson, who sent a video invitation to Nooyi, was immediately recognized as a bold and creative move that resulted in the acceptance of the invitation.

Supporting the Icelandic Search and Rescue

I was very pleased to know that I would still be in Iceland to support the yearly Icelandic Search and Rescue fundraising drive. A group of Embassy colleagues joined me on a visit to the Björgunarsveitin Ársæll to buy a few Neyðarkall key chains. This is one of my favorite activities for many different reasons. First, because it is important to honor the work that Search and Rescue teams do worldwide; second, because the Icelandic model is truly unique and deserves support; third, because so many of my fellow Americans have been rescued during their visits to Iceland; and finally, because there is a proud legacy of joint search and rescue missions undertaken by Icelandic and American teams.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fresh perspectives may be coming to Iceland—new U.S. Ambassador nominated

We are very excited about and welcome the nomination of Robert C. Barber to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. Ambassador-designate Barber will bring a wealth of experience to Iceland and is eager to bring his perspectives, ideas, and initiatives to strengthen relations between Iceland and the United States. We wish him the best as he prepares for his hearings before the U.S. Congress. Senate approval is necessary for positions appointed by the President.

Monday, October 28, 2013

University of Iceland’s philosophy students

We welcomed a group of philosophy students from the University of Iceland to one of our regular vísindaferð gatherings to chat about university studies in the U.S., the role of embassies, and any other topic that comes up. We had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on topics such as alleged U.S. monitoring of e-mails, Syria, the role of technology, the U.S. role in the world, democracy, and we even got into video gaming. All in all, it was an excellent exchange and an opportunity for these students to raise questions directly with us and to have a fair hearing of our views. These events are always thought provoking and good opportunity for reflection.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Using film to raise climate change awareness

We were very proud to sponsor the Reykjavik International Film Festival and the efforts of the organizers to use the program to raise awareness of the challenges of climate change by showing informative films and conducting panel discussions on the subject. There were several top scientists and filmmakers from the United States who participated in several events, including noted climate scientist Michael E. Mann (author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars), University of Oregon Professor Kari Norgaard, Peter Sinclair (who runs the “Climate Denier Crock of the Week” website), film producer Patrick Gambuti (Greedy Lying Bastards) and film critic John Defore. I attended one of the panel discussions of the Earth 101 project, which generated a lot of great questions from a standing-room-only audience of university students, teachers, and concerned citizens. I hope some young film makers have been inspired to make more films on this important topic.

Reykjavik – City of Peace

We had the opportunity to attend the yearly lighting ceremony of the Imagine Peace Tower located on Viðey Island just across Reykjavik’s harbor. The tower was built and inaugurated in 2007 in memory of John Lennon and his peace anthem “Imagine.” The tower is lit from October 9 until December 8—the dates of John Lennon’s birth and death. The ceremony captures Reykjavik’s tradition as a city fiercely committed to peace in the world as thousands of its citizens make the yearly pilgrimage to the ceremony.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The U.S. and Iceland partner to bring geothermal energy to Africa

Photo: Reykjavík Geothermal

We were delighted to learn that the U.S.-Icelandic company Reykjavik Geothermal has sealed a deal to build the Corbetti Geothermal Plant in Ethiopia. The Corbetti geothermal plant will be a 1,000 MW plant to be built in two stages. When completed it is expected to be the largest geothermal facility in all of Africa, and represents an investment of $4 billion over an 8-10 year construction period. We are very proud to note this excellent example of what American-Icelandic partnerships in both the private sector and in government can accomplish in bringing economic development to Africa. The United States Agency for International Development and other U.S. government agencies played a critical role in putting this complex project together. We look forward to watching the development of this exciting
new venture in Ethiopia.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Northern Challenge tests international EOD cooperation

We joined a group of colleagues on a visit to Keflavík where the defense forces from the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, France, and Austria joined the Icelandic Coast Guard to test their skills and operations in explosive ordinance disposal (EOD). The exercise, organized by the Icelandic Coast Guard, gives participants an opportunity to practice responses to real life scenarios involving bomb threats.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Visit to the Sýslumaður in Selfoss

We had the pleasure of paying a visit to Ólafur Helgi Kjartansson, the District Commissioner (Sýslumaður) with the seat in Selfoss (South Iceland). This is a very important position in the Icelandic legal system as the incumbent has a broad range of civilian and law enforcement areas. Our Embassy deals with this office mostly on consular affairs. We are grateful for the support this office provides to American citizens.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Réttir at Jökulgil and then some

This weekend I had the privilege of joining an extraordinary group of Icelanders to participate in the annual sheep roundup at Jökulgil--a spectacular valley of color and unique rock formations. The Icelandic independent and hardy spirit is alive and well with this tradition.  We also took the opportunity to drive up Rauðufossafjöll for unforgettable views of Iceland's mighty glaciers and an up close look at Hekla in the splendor of a very clear day.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iceland and 40 other nations in communications exercise

I had the pleasure of meeting with an Icelandic/American communications team participating in Combined Endeavor--an annual communications interoperability exercise involving 41 nations sponsored by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). This year, Iceland hosted a forward communications site at the Keflavik Air Base for the first time.  This is a valuable exercise for Iceland because it is testing the ability of the country to communicate vital information with allies and partners under challenging circumstances such as natural disasters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Building the Largest Artwork in the World

We had the pleasure of meeting Ingvar Björn Þorsteinsson, a creative Icelandic artist that wants to put together the World's Largest Artwork.  He devised an app using social media to ask people to contribute a brush stroke. The project will last for 66 days in celebration of the 66th anniversary of UNICEF. At the end of the project, the art piece will be auctioned with proceeds going to UNICEF. The current record for participatory art is 201,948 artists, and Ingvar Björn wants to break it for a great cause.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcoming our new Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM)

Personnel transitions are an integral part of embassy life, and one of the most important is the arrival of a new DCM.  This week we hosted a formal welcome for Paul O'Friel and his wife Grace. They've been here for about one month, and it is fairly clear that they are quite taken by Iceland's natural beauty, weather, and most importantly by its people. I know that Paul and Grace will do their utmost to build many more bridges between Iceland and the United States.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NASDAQ picks Iceland for worldwide conference

This week we welcomed the opportunity to address a NASDAQ-hosted semi-annual conference which brings up to 100 financial market experts from all over the world to share best practices in regulating exchanges. We had a chance to lay out our perspective on the Icelandic economy and the opportunity it presents for NASDAQ OMX to increase the capitalization of Icelandic firms. NASDAQ is an excellent vehicle to support Iceland’s economic recovery.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Ice Circle initiative taking shape

We attended the closing of the working group meeting organizing the Ice Circle Initiative, which brings together a group of NGOs led by Iceland’s Vox Naturae, governments, the World Bank, and other multilateral organizations. The Ice Circle is focusing on mobilizing international public awareness and policymakers to address the disappearing ice and shifting snow cover due to climate change. It is quite sobering to know that ice and snow today account for up to one-third of the planet’s total land surface and are crucial to ecosystems.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Syria Crisis as Seen from our Embassy in Reykjavik

I have observed with interest the public debate in Iceland about the crisis in Syria and it seems that, on balance, Icelanders and Americans are grappling with many of the same dilemmas:  How to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians by the Assad regime without causing further suffering?  How to stop the use of chemical weapons by a regime that until recently had never acknowledged having them?  How to test whether Assad is serious about turning his chemical weapons over to the international community?  Should U.S. efforts to build an international consensus be supported?  These are all valid questions that need to be addressed carefully.  In doing so, I would urge Icelanders to examine the path taken by President Obama and to think about the case that President Obama made to the American people last night. Click to watch the Presidents remarks. He closed his remarks with this:  “America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Remembering our shared sacrifices

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Hinrik Steinsson who is an avid collector of World War II memorabilia.  We were duly impressed with the quality and breadth of his collection, especially since all of it has a connection to Iceland.  One of his most significant pieces was a letter signed by President Roosevelt to a General who had served as commander of the U.S. forces in Iceland during the war.  These pieces of memorabilia are reminders of the shared sacrifices that Iceland and the United States endured during that terrible war.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Oooooohhhh Bacon!

For the third year in a row a group of very enthusiastic and energetic Iowans descended upon Iceland and joined with an equally passionate group of Icelanders to celebrate the very popular Reykjavik Bacon Festival.  The event, which attracted thousands of Icelanders to Skólavörðustígur, offered a taste of bacon and many other delicacies in a festive environment for the whole family. This year, Members of the Board of Bacon and their Icelandic partners were received and welcomed by the Prime Minister. This event came together as a result of the personal connections between Iowans and Icelanders established through educational exchanges many years ago. Next year’s event promises to be even bigger.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Leifur Eiríksson’s legacy honored through educational exchanges

This weekend Mary and I had the honor of participating in a dinner with the Board of the Leifur Eiríksson Foundation; we also met a group of outstanding American and Icelandic students who have benefitted from the Foundation’s scholarship program. The Foundation was established on the occasion that marked the millennium since Leifur Eiríksson’s voyage to Vínland (currently known as North America). The Icelandic Central Bank and the U.S. Congress partnered to mint silver coins to commemorate the event. Proceeds from the sale of those coins were used to establish the Leifur Eiríksson Foundation and its fund for educational exchanges. Since 2001, more than students from the United States and Iceland have received scholarships to attend each other’s universities to pursue graduate studies in a broad range of fields. While the sale of the coins provided the basis for this fund, its ongoing ability to expand its excellent work relies on the generosity of American and Icelandic individuals, organizations and corporations that believe in the power of educational exchange to change lives and build connections between our nations. This is another example of how deep and important the ties between our countries really are.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The future is here and it is a Tesla!

Our friend Gísli Gíslason invited us to test drive the American-designed and made Tesla S, engineering marvel of enormous power, stealth, energy efficiency, and beauty. We drove to Hellisheiði and had a chance to experience a smooth, firm, silent ride and feel the raw power behind the vehicle. We returned to Reykjavik University where many marveled at the sight of the vehicle in front of the school.

While the Model S was designed for the relatively up-market customer, Tesla Motors is believed to be working on developing mass production vehicles at more accessible prices; if their models produced to date are any indication, there is every reason to believe that they will succeed. Electric vehicles provide Iceland with the opportunity to rely exclusively on renewable energy as most motor vehicles used in Iceland today rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels. We are naturally proud to see American technology taking a leading role here in Iceland.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Icelandic National League holds its annual meeting

Photo: Icelandic National League of Iceland

Photo: Fréttablaðið
We were honored by the invitation to speak at the annual meeting of the Icelandic National League (Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga).  This is a truly unique organization that aims at maintaining the connections between Iceland and the Icelandic diaspora that went West at the turn of the 19th century.The United States is proud to have welcomed those immigrants; over the last centuries many of them have made enormous contributions not only to the United States but to the world.  A case in point is Holger Cahill (born as Sveinn Kristján Bjarnasson), the Icelandic-born Director of the WPA Federal Art Project which introduced art to hundreds of small towns in America during the Great Depression. Like Cahill there are many other “West Icelanders” who have made great contributions to the United States, and the Icelandic National League is keeping that spirit alive.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Climate Change and the Arctic

We were delighted to sponsor the participation of Patricia Cochran, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, at the Northern Research Forum in Akureyri last week.  She delivered a keynote speech in Akureyri on climate change, and then gave a lecture at the University of Iceland and visited the Center for Arctic Policy Studies in Reykjavik.  We invited Patricia to Iceland to share her unique perspective on the impact of climate change on the Arctic and the world.

She is an Inupiat Eskimo born and raised in Nome, Alaska. She has extensive experience working with Alaska Native communities and the Alaska Native Science Commission has helped give those communities a voice in national and international climate change discussions.  She has also represented the Inuit Circumpolar Council in the Arctic Council.  Her presentations gave us a lot to think about regarding the role of “Traditional Knowledge” in the shaping of Arctic policies. She made a forceful case that the indigenous people of the Arctic aren’t simply stakeholders; they are “rights holders.”