Day 5, Friday 29th July: moving to back Mávahlíð!

Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 361 kilos
Sigurðar saga fóts: 62/252 (STILL…)

So more or less by chance, when I came here in 2009, hoping to lodge with people who would speak to me in Icelandic, I was directed to a pad on Mávahlíð. Some readers may have encountered the Arnaldur Indriðason novel Mýrin (‘the marsh’), translated into English as Tainted Blood and subsequently rebranded Jar City to tie in with the film version of that name. A cheery story of murder, adultery, genetic disease and drug addiction. Anyway, at one point these world-weary cops are looking for what turns out to be a corpse under the cellar floor and they’re like, what’s that smell, and one’s like, oh, this whole district was built in a marsh, what do you expect. Anyway, that’s where I live! And on this particular visit, I’m staying in the cellar, no less. More cheerily, Mávahlíð means ‘seagull slope’. Not that I’ve seen any more seagulls here than I’ve seen corpses, so false advertising all round really. Anyway, so I came back and lived here in 2010, and now I’m back AGAIN. Woo! I couldn’t move in before because the house was full of people finishing the Modern Icelandic summer school at the university—which led to the disconcerting situation of me arriving to a house already occupied by three ASNaCs, all trying to finish packing. Still, where else than Iceland would you expect to bump into a houseful of ASNaCs?

I like it here. Things look like they’re calming down a bit now, but my landlady seems to have made a post-kreppa career of political protest and charitable work. She and her kids are brilliant at talking Icelandic to me and that’s made a world of difference to my language ability. And they’re also really nice people, as I’ve discovered more and more as I’ve got to understand their language better and got to know them. It’s been lovely catching up with them since I came back, drinking blueberry tea, and finding (again!) that my Icelandic seems to be better than when I left and that I’m pretty much keeping up with everything that’s going on. Here are some of the words I’ve learned talking with my landlady:

  • fátækur ‘poor’
  • glæpamenn ‘criminals’
  • svakalegur ‘terrible’
  • kæra ‘indict’
  • ömurlegur ‘rubbish’
  • rugl ‘drivel’
  • skammast sín ‘be ashamed of oneself’

Because I associate them with my landlady’s monologues, I hold all these words in an affection inversely proportional to their semantic content. And it’s an amazing house, full of cool paintings and stuff.

I arrived to find my landlady trying to coax some lettuces into growing in her garden—she is at least doing better than I did with mine back on the allotment in Helsinki—and plotting the construction of a compost bin. Icelanders, as a nation, are even more rubbish at environmentalism than the British. I know their energy is abundant and pretty clean, but I still find it striking that Icelandic houses seem to be as rubbishly built as British ones–right down to the single glazing! (And basements build in marshes.) It’s a world away from Continental Scandinavia. Environmentalism seems to be quite a new thing here; Icelanders don’t, historically, seem to have had a very affectionate relationship with their environment. But maybe things are budging now. The idea of a ‘green recovery’ is all the rage here: no longer able to tour the world praising financial deregulation and the new-found entrepreneurial Viking practice of over-leveraging, the president has switched to touring the world praising Iceland’s capacity for green energy. Mind you, it would be more all-the-rage if Reykjavík Energy hadn’t virtually bankrupted itself (er, or, as it may yet turn out, actually bankrupted itself) by taking on too much debt during the boom.

Sometimes the rhetoric gets a bit silly: there is a world shortage of fresh water; in the future, access to water will be one of the major issues in world politics… But Iceland has more fresh water per person than any country except Greenland. So really, when you think about it, ignoring things like national debt, Iceland is actually one of the richest countries in the world… This line of thinking seems to miss what I believe economists call place-value. But you can’t deny the scope for clean energy here. I even met an entrepreneur last time I was here who assured me he’d found a way efficiently to synthesise petrol from this infamously abundant water and subterranean CO2 released as a by-product of geothermal energy production, and was about to sign a contract to start shipping it to the UK. Who knows whether that was just self-delusion… Hmm, but this patent might suggest it’s actually a goer.

So yeah, maybe all this is starting to affect how people think generally. Recycling bins have at last turned up at the University. Admittedly, the locals seem a bit confused by them, and it all has to be shipped to places like Sweden to be processed, but on balance that’s still probably better than just chucking it into holes in the ground. They aren’t collecting biodegradeable waste yet, which is a shame; indeed, I once considered buying a compost bin here but no-one seemed to sell them. But I’m impressed that here at Mávahlíð, my landlady is taking the matter into her own hands.


About alarichall
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1 Response to Day 5, Friday 29th July: moving to back Mávahlíð!

  1. Hey, nice that you mention Arnaldur. I’m the one who translated that into Russian (and kept the original title, btw :-)).

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