President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Makes Surprise Appearance at NBA Game

Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson surprised fans at an NBA basketball game on Wednesday when he was spotted sitting in the stands with two of his sons and no visible security detail, Fréttablaðið reports. The trio were attending a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

Idle observers could perhaps be forgiven for wondering what would bring a foreign head of state to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but it was the lack of bodyguards that really got people talking.

Spotted on the Jumbotron, the President stood and gave a friendly wave to his fellow sports fans.

“The President of Iceland is out here watching Celtics vs Bucks and there isn’t any security around him,” sports blogger and Celtics fan Beewol Akandwanaho tweeted. A number of Icelanders were quick to reply, pointing out that although he may be President, Guðni still “waits in line at KFC in Iceland,” and does regular, everyday activities like go to the public swimming pool and grocery store just like anyone else.

Others seem to take more issue with Guðni’s choice of seats. “He’s just chilling in the seats with us norms?” tweeted @PnwToeknee. “He’s not even courtside,” someone else commented.

One of Guðni’s sons sported a jersey for Bucks forward and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, also affectionately known as “the Greek Freak.” Happily for Antetokounmpo’s young fan, given how far he’d travelled to see the game, Milwaukee won, 131 to 125.

US Citizens Account for a Third of All Airport Departures in September

Travellers Keflavik airport

One hundred seventy-seven thousand people departed from Keflavík international airport in September, new data from the Icelandic Tourist Board shows. This makes last month the fourth busiest September the airport has seen since the Tourist Board started keeping such records. Last month, departures at Leif Eiríksson International Airport were 76% of what they were at their peak in 2018.

US citizens accounted for a third of all departures

Most of September’s recorded departures can be attributed to ten nations, with Americans making up the largest proportion of travellers, or 30.1%. All told, 53,315 Americans departed from Keflavík last month. Americans have made up Iceland’s largest block of foreign visitors since 2013 and this year’s numbers are similar to those recorded in 2017.

Germany came in a distant second, with 15,965 departures (9%) in September, followed by 10,791 travellers (6%) from the UK, 8,538 travellers from Spain, and 8,345 from France (roughly 4.7% each). The top ten was then rounded out by Poland (7,639 departures; 4.3%), The Netherlands (7,267; 4.1%), Canada (7,003; 3.9%), Italy (5,887; 3.3%), and Denmark (5,439; 3%).

Over a million foreign tourists since the start of the year

As an increasing number of people return to international travel post-COVID, tourism in Iceland is clearly on the rebound. Since the start of the year, 1.3 million foreign travellers have departed from Iceland, compared to 445,000 departures between January and September of last year. Even so, this year’s numbers are about 277,000 departures short of what they were in 2019.

Icelanders travelling in record numbers

Roughly 60,000 Icelanders travelled abroad in September, making it locals’ most-travelled September ever. Since January, 441,000 Icelanders have departed from Keflavík, which is 95% of the total number of Icelanders who flew abroad during the same time period in 2017, 87% of the total who flew abroad between January and September 2018, and 94% of the same count in 2019.

Dinomite Gift: Scientist Wants to Give Reykjavík 65-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skeleton

Iceland may soon be welcoming an exceptional new resident, and quite an elderly one at that. Vísir reports that the City of Reykjavík may receive a 65-million-year-old triceratops skeleton from half-Icelandic scientist Marcus Eriksen, who is overseeing its excavation in the US state of Wyoming.

Eriksen is the co-founder of Leap Lab, “a center for art, science, and self-reliance,” which hosts an annual “Dino Extinction Expedition” during which laypeople, “ranging from four years old to 84,” take part in archeological digs for dinosaur skeletons in Wyoming’s Niobara County. Per the organization’s website, the goal of involving non-specialists in the excavation process is to “provide convincing evidence that preserving biodiversity and habitat today is essential to staving off the 6th extinction.”

Known as Ken, the triceratops skeleton was found five years ago by Eriksen’s daughter, Avani Cummings, who was only five years old at the time. Cummings’ first discovery was part of a rib, and that was followed by several more bones, including a vertebra from Ken’s tail. “We found some bite marks on it from a T-Rex,” Eriksen explained on the City of Reykjavik website. “This tells us a story about a dinosaur that managed to escape a predator and survive!”

Eriksen and his family, including his daughter Avani, who first found one of Ken’s bones when she was only five. Photo: Reykjavíkurborg, FB

Gift in honor of his mother

Interested amateur archeologists are invited to participate in one of Leap Lab’s two, week-long expeditions that will take place in July 2023. Eriksen is particularly interested in getting Icelanders involved in the dig. “I’d really like to get people from Reykjavík to come out to Wyoming next summer,” he said. “It would be nice for Icelanders to participate in the whole process, including digging up the bones.”

Amateur archeologists of all ages participate in the dino dig. Photo: Reykjavíkurborg, FB

About 30% of Ken’s bones have been excavated thus far. And after the skeleton is fully exhumed next summer, Eriksen would like to give it to Iceland, which has no such artefacts of its own. It’s likely that some bones will be missing from the skeleton, but Eriksen doesn’t think that will pose any problems for future exhibition. “I’m currently 3D scanning all the missing bones and think it would be great if we could find a 3D printer in Reykjavík and print out the bones that are missing there.”

There would be two conditions on the gift, however. Firstly, Eriksen wants the skeleton to be gifted in the name of his mother, who grew up in the capital, and secondly, he wants it to be displayed in a museum in Reykjavík.

Reykjavíkurborg, FB

“The gift would be given in the name of my mother and her siblings, who grew up in Reykjavík,” he said. “They’re now in their 90s. My mom moved to the US when I was three years old. She always worked hard to make sure that my brother and I were treated well, and I can thank her for my thirst for knowledge and strong, Icelandic work ethic. I’ve heard countless stories about her life in Reykjavík in the mid-20th century and I’d like to honor her generation with this gift to the city.”

The Reykjavík City Council has agreed to establish a working group to review the proposal to assess how much the gift would cost the city, confirm the skeleton’s provenance, and explore local museums’ interest in hosting Ken, should the city accept Eriksen’s gift. It’s anticipated that their assessment will be completed by May 1.

Sixteen-Year-Old Admitted to Prestigious San Francisco Ballet School

Sixteen-year-old ballet dancer Logi Guðmundsson has been admitted to the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School in the US this fall. RÚV reports that Logi has been offered a full scholarship to attend the school.

Logi was inspired to start dancing ballet after seeing a production of Billy Elliott at the Reykjavík City Theatre when he was eight years old. He’s dedicated himself to his craft ever since, practicing six days a week, doing intense stretches every night, and focusing, in particular, on agility. “It’s really demanding. You’re always practicing, always [trying to] do better than last time,” he told an interviewer before demonstrating a front split. (He uses a block under his front ankle, he said, to help him be able to stretch even more.) Intense as his practice is, however, Logi always saves Sundays to spend time with friends and enjoy non-dance-related activities.

Screenshot, RÚV

Logi was offered a place at the school after Helgi Tómasson, the artistic director and principal choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, invited him to participate in a course there this summer.

“The San Francisco Ballet School is one of the best in the world,” said Guðmundur Helgason, principal of the Icelandic Ballet Academy. “It’s really hard to get into a school like that. I’m incredibly proud of [Logi] and look forward to see what comes of this.”

Of Time and Water Longlisted for National Translation Award in the US

Of Time and Water, written by Andri Snær Magnason and translated by Lytton Smith, has been longlisted for the National Translation Award (NTA) in the US. The NTA is awarded for English translations of both prose and poetry and is administered by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). Per the press release, it “the only is the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work.”

The NTA has been awarded for 24 years, with separate awards for prose and poetry given for the last eight. The winning translators in each category will each receive a $2,500 cash prize.

Of Time and Water is one of 12 titles to be nominated for this year’s NTA in prose. Other nominees include The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated from Norwegian by Martin Aitken, Billy Wilder on Assignment: Dispatches from Weimar Berlin and Interwar Vienna by Billy Wilder and translated from German by Shelley Frisch, In Case of Emergency by Mahsa Mohebali and translated from Persian/Farsi by Mariam Rahmani, and Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West.

Of Time and Water captured the judges’ attention for its ability to make the enormity of the climate crisis seem both tangible and tackleable. In their nomination, they write:

“While the devastations of our climate crisis are measurable, statistics have failed to adequately motivate change. An acclaimed writer and environmental activist makes its scale and scope tangible by sharing tales of his grandparents, Icelandic citizen scientists whose honeymoon was spent surveying the Vatnajokull glacier, when “glaciers were a symbol of something great and eternal, like oceans, mountains, and clouds.” Now Vatnajokull is dying. Weaving together family history, folklore, and glaciology, the book attempts a ‘mythology of the present’ that might inspire the action required to deflect the most horrific Anthropocene destruction. Ably translated by Lytton Smith, Magnason follows his role models, the Dalai Lama and conservationist John Thorbjarnarson, in communicating perilous urgency with unflagging friendliness.”

Translator Lytton Smith is a professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY Geneseo in New York, as well as poet. He has translated numerous works from Icelandic, including Children of the Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir, The Ambassador by Bragi Ólafsson, History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdóttir, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, and Jón Gnarr’s three-part autobiography, The Indian, The Pirate, and The Outlaw. In 2019, he received a Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A former candidate for president and an outspoken environmental activist, Andri Snær Magnason is the author of numerous books, including fiction for children and adults, long-form nonfiction, and poetry. Of Time and Water was shortlisted for the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

The NTA winners will be announced in a virtual ceremony on October 6.

New English Translation Inspires ‘Rediscovery’ of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Laureate

Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s virtuosic Nobel Laureate in Literature, is having something of a renaissance in the United States, reports The New Yorker. The revival has been a long one, with the novelist’s early success in America stymied by those opposed to his outspoken political beliefs—not least nefarious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Slowly but surely, however, Halldór is starting to get his due in the US. The revival started in the late 90s, when authors such as Brad Leithauser, Jane Smiley, and Susan Sontag voiced their unfettered enthusiasm for novels such as Independent People. But most recently, this much-delayed appreciation is thanks to the publication of Salka Valka in Philip Roughton’s translation, which Salvatore Scibona hails as “a gripping wonder, and [Halldór’s] most sustained piece of narrative drama.”

The wide-ranging profile traces Halldór’s remarkable life, which could easily be the stuff of fiction itself. He was raised on a farm called Laxnes in 1902 and died in a Reykjavík nursing home in 1998. In between, he contracted and recovered from polio; spent as many as ten hours a day writing as a child; finished his first novel, some 600 pages long, at 16; travelled extensively; was a voracious polyglot (besides his native Icelandic, Halldór spoke Danish, English, and German, and spent time studying Russian, Latin, and French); almost took orders as a Benedictine monk; tried to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter; became disillusioned with America and capitalism after the start of the Great Depression in 1929; became an outspoken socialist, advocate for Icelandic independence from Denmark, and anti-NATO activist; was probably blacklisted in the US for his political beliefs and definitely investigated by J. Edgar Hoover; and, of course, became Iceland’s first—and as yet only—Nobel laureate at the age of 53 for a body of work that the prize committee lauded for “renew[ing] the great narrative art of Iceland.” (And that’s just the short version—The Islander, Halldór Guðmundsson’s biography of Halldór Laxness, also translated by Philip Roughton, is nearly 500 pages long.)

Salka Valka, published by Archipelago Books, began its life as Halldór’s doomed Hollywood screenplay. At the time, it carried at the time the subtitle “A Woman in Pants.” Halldór envisioned Greta Garbo for the lead role. However, the studio wanted to move the setting from Iceland to Kentucky, and that was an adjustment that Halldór could not accept. So he returned to Iceland and turned his screenplay into a novel, which was published in two parts in 1931 and 1932. The eponymous main character is a heroine ahead of her time, a trouser-wearing, deep-voiced, stridently independent, politically passionate woman of “unruly vitality” who will not be dominated or subjugated by men, society, or even love.

Notably, Philip Roughton’s translation is the first English version of the novel to be translated directly from Icelandic. A previous English version of the novel, published in 1936, was translated not from Icelandic but from Danish, yielding a final product that Halldór did not like at all, complaining that “fifty per cent of my style has disappeared.” Roughton’s new version, on the other hand, “moves along with calm assurance,” writes Scibona, “tossing off Laxness’s inventive and always spot-on descriptions as though they were commonplace” and “captur[ing] Laxness’s singular dour-droll tone with uncanny grace.”

Read the full profile of Halldór Laxness and more about Salka Valka (in English) here.

Prime Minister, President Express Solidarity with US Pro-Choice Movement

Iceland President Guðni Th. Jóhannessson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson tweeted their solidarity with the US pro-choice movement, RÚV reports. The statements of support came in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 case that effectively made abortion legal in the United States. The Court’s ruling on the matter, in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was officially announced on Friday.

“Gravely disappointed and heartbroken to see the US Supreme Court overturning #RoeVsWade. We should be expanding women’s rights, not restricting them,” tweeted Katrín about half an hour after the announcement on Friday morning.

Later that afternoon, Guðni echoed Katrín’s sentiments, tweeting, “Today millions of people lost the freedom to control their own bodies and future. A serious setback for reproductive health and human rights in the USA. As Prime Minister @KatrinJak says, we should be expanding women’s rights, not restricting them #RoeVsWade.”

Abortion has been legal under specific circumstances in Iceland since 1975. As of 2019, it is legal by patient request up until the 22nd week of pregnancy.


PLAY Reports ISK 1.5 Billion Loss in Q1, Maintains ‘Strong Balance Sheet and Healthy Cash Position’

iceland budget airline play

Iceland’s newest discount airline, PLAY, reported a loss of ISK 1.5 billion [$11.5 million; €10.78 million] in the first quarter of 2022. Per the Interim Report (January – March 2022) issued by the company this week, this comes as no real surprise, and can largely be credited to global factors, namely, “[t]he Omicron variant impacted revenue during the quarter, and the war in Ukraine resulted in higher fuel price towards the end of the quarter.”

The negative EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) was “expected,” writes CEO Birgir Jónsson, who remains optimistic about the airline’s prospects. Travellers are showing an increasing willingness to fly, and the airline’s “financial position…continues to be strong, with a strong balance sheet and healthy cash position.” PLAY’s equity ratio stands at 22% ($56.5 million; €52.7 million; ISK 7.3 billion) and it is maintaining a cash position of ISK 5.4 billion [$43 million; €39.2]. Currency risk is a factor in the airline’s operations, “…since a large part of its cash position is in the ISK, while PLAY’s operating currency is in USD. PLAY is therefore exposed to the fluctuation of the two currencies against each other.”

Rapid network expansion

Between January and March 2022, PLAY carried 57,500 passengers, with a 20% jump in passenger numbers from February to March. The airline hired 45 pilots and over 100 new cabin crew members in Q1.

PLAY is steadily expanding its network and plans to continue to do so in Q2. Service to Baltimore/Washington, D.C. began in April; service to Prague, Boston, Lisbon, Gothenburg, and Brussels began in May, with destinations Stavanger, Malaga, and Trondheim on the horizon before the end of the month. In early June, service to Palma de Mallorca and Bologna will commence, as will daily flights to New York in the US. Indeed, PLAY will be the first airline to operate international flights from New York Stewart International Airport (located about 75 mi; 120 km outside of New York City) post-pandemic.

‘Strong booking momentum’

As part of its strategy to counter rising fuel prices that have resulted from the war in Ukraine, however, PLAY is adjusting its summer fleet plan and will not be offering three weekly flights to and from Orlando, Florida this fall as planned. Additional measures to counter rising fuel prices include a fuel hedging strategy, a fuel surcharge, and ongoing schedule adjustments “to eliminate unprofitable flying.”

Passenger hesitation in the wake of the Omicron variant and global unrest appears to be waning, and bookings are on the upswing. “In February, [there were] 59% more sold seats compared to January, despite the war in Ukraine. This improvement in booking inflow has continued into the second quarter of 2022, with more than fourfold increase in sold seats in April compared to January. Because of this strong booking momentum,” concludes the report, “PLAY expects to report improved utilization in the coming months.”

Phallological Museum to Display Cast of Jimi Hendrix’s Penis

The Icelandic Phallological Museum will soon add a new artifact to its extensive collection: a plaster cast of legendary American guitarist Jimi Hendrix’s penis. RÚV reports that the cast was made by visual artist Cynthia Albritton in 1986, two years before Hendrix’s death. Albritton bequeathed the cast to the museum prior to her death at the age of 74 last month.

Albritton was better known as “Plaster Caster,” a nickname immortalized in a Kiss song of the same name, and made casts of almost 50 phalluses, most belonging to rock musicians. She also eventually added rock and roll breasts to her repertoire. She claimed not to have a favourite cast, but remarked in a 1995 interview with The Evening Standard that “other people are most interested in the Hendrix,” which was also sometimes stylized as “the Penis de Milo.” The project started as an art class assignment at the University of Illinois, continued as “a great ruse to divert rock stars from the other girls,” and eventually, Albritton said, became “an art form,” something she took seriously, despite the inherent absurdity. “I’m laughing with them, not at them.”

The idea to display Albritton’s work at the Phallological Museum didn’t come from the artist herself, says director Þórður Ólafur Þórðarson, but rather, her neighbours and close friends, a couple who visited the museum around Christmas. After speaking to Þórður about Albritton’s work, they suggested holding an exhibition at the museum, and eventually, Albritton decided to donate the Hendrix. She was unable to deliver it in person before her death, however, so her friends will be bringing it to Iceland on her behalf in June.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum claims to be “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country” and boasts a collection of more than 215 “penises and penile parts,” including specimens belonging to whales, seals, “a rogue polar bear,” and more. It also has human specimens, both “legally certified gift tokens” from four individuals, as well as casts like Cynthia’s, most notably of the entire Icelandic Men’s National Handball Team, which won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

President Biden Nominates New US Ambassador to Iceland

US President Joe Biden has nominated Carrin Patman to be the United States’ ambassador to Iceland, RÚV reports. Patman is a former trial lawyer, currently serves as the chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, and was a major donor to Biden’s presidential campaign.

The US’ last three ambassadors to Iceland have all been political appointees and fundraisers for the presidents who have nominated them. Prior to this, Robert C. Barber was appointed by President Barack Obama and Jeffrey Ross Gunter was appointed by President Donald Trump.

Over the last few decades, US presidents have generally given the country’s more comfortable ambassadorial seats to political supporters, says Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir, professor of political science at the University of Iceland. The president’s ambassadorial nominations must be approved by the senate.

“Today, they look at this as something of a sinecure,” she continued, saying that the opposition party tends to approve political appointees as a sort of quid pro quo. It’s a system that politicians seem largely satisfied with, but among “those who work within the foreign service and have worked their way up, there’s a fair amount of criticism,” said Silja Bára, “and of course within watchdog organizations as well.” Critics argue that “you can buy an ambassadorship.”

President Biden has now nominated around 90 ambassadors, 60-70% of whom could be considered political appointees.