An American Heathen in Iceland "The First Day"

In the spring of 1999, I found out after having petitioned the European Studies Department at the University of New Mexico that I had won one of their grants for the summer session to study a European language abroad. As an aspiring early medievalist and and a heathen, I couldn't resist the chance to choose Icelandic. I had already applied to the Sigurđur Nordal institute in Reykjavěk and was accepted for the program. I was one of 48 students world-wide, these students coming from 18 countries, to be accepted into the program. Who would have thought that a New Mexican Heathen would get his chance to go to Iceland so early in his career? I dind't, but the idea of doing something improbable or difficult had never stopped me from doing anything before, so I proceeded. Soon I was buying tickets and making preparations for the trip, and after the whirlwind of on-again, off-again trip dates and flights, I was locked in. I was going to Iceland. I have to admit, it never dawned on me where I was going until I got there and heard Icelandic fluently spoken for the first time. It is a truly beautiful language, and one I am proud to know a smattering of. I soon found that my previous Old Norse learning was to be only a small help when dealing with native speech. There are so many letters that drop right out of the pronunciation, and all of the case-endings had changed. At least I could find emergency exits on the Flybus from Keflavík to Reykjavík and manage to read the road signs saying "Seatbelts Protect" as we sped by. The rocky countryside was a sight indeed. The mossy tumbles of volcanic rock, the Icelandic sheep roaming about, and the occaisional moutnatin bikers all made for a strange, but interesting ride. After my fluttering stomach had subsided and my awe had calmed slightly I was again awakened to wonder as I rode my way into Reykjavík.

Reykjavík is an amazing town. It's hard to think of it as a village, as metropolitan and the place is, but the population is really rather small. I met with one of the organizers of our program at the Hotel Lóftleiđir's FlyBus stop and he drove me to what would be my home in Reykjavík; a fourth floor apartment in a blokk on Eskihlíđ. From there I had a view of Perlan (The Pearl) the giant shining dome onthe hill, atop it's four water-tower legs; and excellent western bay window with a small balkcony, from which I would soon come to watch many, well, sunsets is a relative term when the sun only goes down for about 2 hours at a time, but I suppose sunsets will have to do. The air was indeed clean, the water clear and plentiful, the geothermally heated water from the taps was unending and the pressure in the shower was divine. I liked Iceland from the minute I stepped down, and it just kept getting better. I admit, there were certain parts of me that missed the New Mexican desert, but this green jewel floating out here in the North had already captured my heart after the first day. The the sunny times were fleeting, I walked the length and breadth of Reykjavík, and saw much more than that on our trips south and north.

Nearer the end of the day, I was given a roommate. A funny guy from Pennsylvania who I got along with just fine. I was originally set to be living with the Germans, luckily enough I speak German, but it seemed nice to me that there's be a chance to speak my American English at home. All of this wonder happened only on the first day. I won't be going into quite this much detail for all of the days I spent in Iceland, but I will give a good picture of why I came to love that country so many tourist shops billed as "the Land of Fire and Ice." There is a lot more to Iceland than the tourist shops and hot springs, I wish everyone could get the chance to find that out for themselves.


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