As I was flying out of Iceland on Monday morning, the entire banking system in the country collapsed. I sat next to Robert Wessman, the former CEO of Actavis, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and one of Iceland's many success stories. It seemed that even he was escaping the turmoil and reduced to flying budget with Iceland Express.
Now all three major Icelandic banks have been nationalised and Iceland is about to be return to the stone age, or rather the pre-boom fishing age. How did the fairytale story of rags to riches come to such an abrupt end? Here's a good explanation:
I was a bit surprised to see a good dusting of snow on Esja this morning, the mountain ridge running opposite Reykjavik on the other side of the fjord. Although it hasn't been particular cold lately, temperatures are now firmly in the sub 10 degree range.After 5 weeks of incessant rain and, quite frankly, the worst kind of boring weather I have seen here, the trees are approaching their full autumn colours.
The light is still with us though; sunrise at 7.23 and sunset at 19.13. It's quite comparable to London with 6.53 and 18.49 respectively.
My favourite bits are:
"The best acclaimed allure is Gullfoss double-tiered avalanche which is set off with an outstanding bubble"
"The altitude of Iceland can be termed as abstemious with clammy and air-conditioned summers"
Yesterday was an eventful day for natural phenomena. I was woken up at 7.24 by a short, sharp earthquake which shook the apartment building and rattled my cupboard doors. It only measured 3.6 on the Richter scale but was a unwelcome reminder of the powerful 6.7 quake we had in May.
Then last night the first storm of the season hit Iceland. After a nice summer, I had forgotten how bad these North Atlantic storms really are - driving horizontal rain and continous high winds gusting for hours upon hours, usually during the night. In Reykjavik the gusts (only) managed to reach storm force 10, but out on the exposed headlands and highlands, gusts of up to 40 metres/second were recorded, which is nicely into hurricane territory :-).
Good news! I have been accepted onto the Masters course at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, which is run by the Slow Food movement. The course starts in November, lasts one year and has the most delicious menu of courses and field trips I've ever seen! Here's the syllabus to whet your appetite:
FOOD HISTORY AND CULTURE
History of the Cookbook
History of Food and Cuisine - Middle Ages and Early Modern Age
A History of French Cuisine
Continuity and Change in European Food History From the 18th to the 20th Century
Introduction to the History of Italian Cuisine: At Home and Abroad
Elements of Food Culture
Food Consumption and Food Culture: Geographical and Historical Insights
Theory and Method in the Anthropology of Food
The Anthropology of Food Globalization: Culinary Implications
SOCIOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY OF CONSUMPTION
Sociology of Food Consumption
Psychology of Food Consumption: Symbolic Aspects and Social Construction of Meaning
JOURNALISM AND THE WEB
Food and Wine Communication and Journalism: a Writing Workshop
Journalism and Writing for Websites
Journalism and Web Communication: the Slow Food Movement
An Introduction to Food Communication Analysis
Semiotics of Gastronomy: From Senses to Sense
TECHNIQUES OF FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
FOOD TECHNOLOGY AND SENSORY ANALYSIS
Plus there are field trips to the following places:Spain - Catalonia’s regional gastronomic heritage.
France - Burgundy wine, French cheese, Bresse chicken, Charolaise cattle and snail farms.
Crete - Dairy products, olives and olive oil, domestic animal rearing, herbs in diet and health.
Tuscany - Olive oil and Tuscan wines.
Puglia - Indigenous grape varieties, artisanal pasta and olive oil.
Marches - "meeting point between the gastronomy of the north and south"
Around Parma - Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello di Zibello, Parmigiano Reggiano and Barilla pasta.
Ice-cream trip to the Carpigiani Gelato Institute!
It all looks rather yummy!
Owing to the American disposition for huge amounts of food, Sharky is getting fat in Chicago, Boston and Martha's Vineyard. So far I have eaten local delicacies such as a Chicago hotdog, Italian Beef, cornbread, muffins and more muffins, lobster, clam chowder, grapeade, ribs, corn on the cob, etc etc.
Groan.....I'll be eating nothing but lettuce when I get back to Iceland.
It's not often that polar bears manage to get to Iceland. They sometimes hitch rides aboard floating icebergs from Greenland but it's now June and there is no ice in the sea. So the huge adult polar bear which was spotted in the north of the country must have swam here from Greenland, or from an iceberg near Greenland - a journey which takes several weeks.....
Anyway, he's been shot. The authorities had run out of tranquiliser and the environment minister couldn't risk it running around eating Italian tourists, so she ordered its execution. What a nice lady.
My first earthquake - what an excitement! I had always imagined my first to be nothing more than a slight rumble, as Reykjavik often has very small earthquakes which are barely noticeable. But the one that hit Iceland on Thursday was different. I was at work when it struck, the epicentre being near Selfoss in south Iceland, about 1.5 hours drive away.
The scary thing about earthquakes is that you never know when they happen or how big they are. But I was rather pleased when the walls of the office started shaking - finally my first earthquake! The pleasure soon turned to terror as the office kept on shaking and images of the ceiling collapsing sprang to mind (I grew up in an old house where collapsing ceilings were a common hazard). So I hid under my desk til my boss came out and started laughing - apparently seeking shelter under an Ikea desk is no protection from falling iron girders!
Damage to Selfoss consisted of cracked walls and every shelf being emptied of its contents, but Reykjavik got off scot-free. Except for a little candle holder which fell off my TV at home, which is the only evidence I have of that most unusual Thursday afternoon.....
Have a look at the earthquake's full power in a bar in Selfoss here.
For anyone who's ever asked me, "but why Iceland?", here are all the answers.
It's long, but good.
On Monday the Icelandic government issued this year's whale quota for our hungry stomachs! 40 fresh little minke whales will be caught which means I'll no longer need to buy the 2006 frozen meat from the market. And at 4 GBP a kilo, it means I can afford some healthy protein this summer.
Whale steaks on me!