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A Diamond In the Rough

There are three things that make Iceland distinct. Firstly, the relatively small land itself is full of glaciers, volcanoes, and its stark beauty. Secondly, the remarkable people who populate the land and whose ancestors only survived countless catastrophes with a combination of tenacity, hope, and stubborn love of their petulant land. And finally, the peculiar Icelandic language which is spoken by fewer than 350,000 people worldwide and is notoriously difficult to learn. This last aspect of Iceland, the Icelandic language, is perhaps one of the most difficult to appreciate for foreigners.

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Þjóðbúningur Icelandic national costume

It’s a Living Thing

In 2004, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, then Minister of Education, Science, and Culture, appeared on live television wearing Iceland’s national costume. The outfit seemed perfectly appropriate for the occasion, which was the reopening of the National Museum of Iceland following its renovation. But it soon became clear that the Minister’s choice of outfit had backfired – […]

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Labour of Love

In early January, my colleague and I drove north from Reykjavík toward the northern tip of the Tröllaskagi peninsula. Although Iceland’s dimensions appear sizeable on satellite maps, it takes less than four hours to traverse its length by car; before noon, we turned into Vestur-Fljót, in the Flókadalur valley, and parked in front of a red-and-white house on the farm Syðsti-Mór. The farmstead had been abandoned since 2013 – until 20-year-old Kristófer Orri Hlynsson moved in alone and began farming.

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Helga Páley Friðþjófsdóttir Helga Páley Friðþjófsdóttir

Cracked Earth

The earth’s crust cracked at the poles. Inside, there was nothing but air and the little sun at the core of the planet. When I was a child, you could just barely make out the edge of the North Hole (a lame pun even then) from the northmost tip of Iceland. The only trace of […]

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Valdimar Jóhannsson

Of Lamb and Legends

Valdimar Jóhannsson is not a man of many words, preferring a visual medium to express himself. That’s what shaped his whole approach to his first feature film, Lamb. Years in the making, the film premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, winning the Originality Prize, going on to garner accolades and become a sleeper hit all over the world. At the time of writing, the film is longlisted for a BAFTA nomination, shortlisted for an Oscar nomination, and has become the highest-grossing Icelandic film ever screened in the US. But it all started with a simple sketch outlining a fantastical figure – a new addition to Iceland’s folklore.

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the ash-streaked ice walls of the Sapphire Ice Cave.

Ice in His Veins

Upon entering the cave, I become immediately wary of its integrity. It would be a rather foolish way to go. This apprehension endures for all of two minutes, however,
as the mind, seemingly bored by its own alarm, begins to wander. Few profound thoughts emerge, aside from the somewhat flaccid observation that being inside an ice cave is vaguely like standing inside an Iittala glass. After another two minutes, the unease has dissipated completely, and later, I find myself following our guide deeper and deeper into the darkness, utterly devoid of any reservations.

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Churning Onward

Gunnar Birgisson’s journey as an entrepreneur has seen many unexpected detours. As the CEO of Reykjavik Creamery – an American dairy processing plant located in Newville, Pennsylvania – Gunnar’s story spans both continents and conmen, bringing him from Akureyri to Denmark to California in search of a way into the US dairy industry, where he would eventually carve himself a niche specialising in skyr production using ultra-filtration technology – the natural way to optimise the nutritional value of fermented dairy products.

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Friðrik Gíslason. Westman Islands

The Westman Islands Army

Iceland’s largest town throughout the pre-modern period was not Reykjavík, which for most of its history was little more than a collection of small farms. One of its largest was Heimaey, or “Home Island,” in the Westman Islands archipelago, just off the south coast. The first Icelandic census of 1703 shows only 318 people living […]

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Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir

Wielding Narrative

History is a fairly new academic subject in Iceland, having first entered into university curriculums in the 1970s. The discipline is a form of intellectual time travel that puts historians in charge of bringing information from past to present – a task made immediately more complicated by the distortion of context. Put simply: history is […]

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Helga Páley Friðþjófsdóttir

The Dwarf with the Ear

People who travel through space often have poor digestion because their internal clock gets thrown off mid-air. Time travellers such as myself on the other hand, get a ringing in their ears, sometimes long before we even set off. The ringing is constant, a sign of our continual desire to exit the moment. You can […]

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baby swimming

A Splash of Happiness

Long before I got pregnant, I heard about parents in Iceland taking their newborns swimming from a colleague of mine who joined baby swimming classes with her infant. She shared her experiences online, and in one of her videos, her four-month- old son stood unaided in the hands of his swim teacher. I was intrigued; […]

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