‘Our lives depended on being able to swim’


“Is the secret to Icelandic happiness in their pools?” a new documentary short produced by the BBC asks.

The conclusion drawn, not unexpectedly, is yes, for many reasons.  For one, the pool is a great equalizer. “You’re nearly naked, so we’re all equal,” remarks a swimmer warming in a hot pot after a sea swim. “You have to take all your clothes off in front of everybody else,” agrees professor of sociology Viðar Halldórsson. “You leave your status outside—there’s no VIP section.”

Moreover, having to leave your phone in your locker also means that people socialize more in the hot pot, several interviewees agree, and have a chance to interact on a more personal level with people they might normally, like work colleagues.

Learning to swim has been mandatory in Iceland since 1940, which only makes sense for an island nation that has long depended on fishing as a means of survival. “Our lives depended on being able to swim,” explains Viðar.

Having access to ample hot water is also a gift in a country that even in the summer rarely crests 20°C [68°F]. “It’s such a great feeling,” says one interviewee. “It’s like being reborn.”

You can watch the full video here.

Arctic Fox Gets Starring Role in BBC Documentary

Arctic fox cubs in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords have a starring role in the new BBC nature series Animal Babies: First Year on Earth, RÚV reports. The series, which began airing earlier this week, follows “six iconic baby animals as they face the challenges of surviving their first year on Earth” and also features the Savannah elephant, mountain gorilla, spotted hyena, Southern sea otter, and toque macaque.

Mammalian biologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir has studied the Arctic fox for two decades and assisted the BBC with the making of the documentary. She noted that Fela, the fox cub that the series follows, was specifically selected because he has white fur, and therefore easy to differentiate from his siblings, all of whom have black fur. Choosing to follow such an easy-to-spot cub did, however, carry certain risks for the documentarians, Ester said, as many Arctic fox cubs do not live very long.

“It’s not guaranteed that all cubs will survive the whole summer, so to choose a cub that looks different than the others and to always try to find him again was a bit difficult, and people were really stressed about it.”

The name Fela was originally chosen because the documentarians wanted to follow a female cub, but nature did not oblige them in this wish, as Fela is a male cub. “I sat with them for many evenings looking at video where I could see that this wasn’t a female cub. The filmmakers were pretty sad about that, but they made their peace with it,” explained Ester.

Although the documentarians were permitted to film the foxes in Hornstrandir, they were still subject to restrictions that were put in place to protect the animals. One of Ester’s primary roles, she explained, was to ensure that filming proceeded according to the rules that had been set. This is especially important because Arctic foxes that feel that they are being encroached upon will often not take care of their young as well as they would otherwise.

“We set the condition that the foxes are left alone in the evenings and all the way to the morning so that they have the night to rest and hunt,” Ester says.

The filmmakers had also intended to shoot ‘behind the scenes’ footage as extra content and so briefly sent a second team to film the primary team of filmmakers. The foxes, however, were not fond of having so many people in their habitat and so the second team was sent away and the ‘making of’ featurette scrapped.

Víkingur Wins Top BBC Music Prize

Pianist Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson snagged the top prize at this year’s BBC Music Magazine Awards, winning Recording of the Year for his album Johann Sebastian Bach. The album was also awarded Instrumental Recording of the Year at the prestigious awards.

“Víkingur Ólafsson’s beautifully crafted Bach programme is a balm for the ears,” wrote the awards jury. “His mix of original keyboard works and arrangements by a host of pianist-composers is played with such joy – his articulation is pin-sharp, his dynamic and tonal control constant delights. If ever there was an album to demonstrate Bach’s timelessness, this is it.”

“I am very touched to win this important award and to know that people enjoy listening to it,” says Ólafsson. “Playing and recording Bach is in many ways the most personal thing one can do in music, and I am very grateful for the incredibly kind and generous reactions.”

The album, Víkingur’s second with Deutsche Grammophon, has received accolades since its release in September 2018. Last December, Víkingur’s interpretation of Bach’s Fugue in A minor was named one of the top 25 classical music tracks of the year by the New York Times.

Víkingur Ólafsson Nominated for BBC Music Magazine Award

Pianist Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson has been nominated for the 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards. RÚV reported first.

Víkingur’s album Johann Sebastian Bach has been nominated in the instrumental music category of the awards. The album has enjoyed a warm reception since its release last year, charting on NPR’s list of the top 50 albums of 2018, where Víkigur’s interpretations were praised as “personal, poetic, and precise.” One track on the recording made it on the New York Times’ list of Top 25 Classical Music Tracks of 2018, where Joshua Barone hailed Víkingur as “a master of finding and exploiting unexpected pockets of musicality.”

The BBC Music Magazine Awards nominees are selected from among some 200 albums that the magazine has awarded five stars over the preceding 12 months. The winners are decided by public vote, which is open to all until February 19.