Monday, March 20, 2023


Chapter 12 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
I have mentioned sprakkar, an Icelandic word meaning ‘outstanding or extraordinary women’ before. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, pictured above, is married to Eliza Reid, who, in a recent book, has popularized the word.

He also happens to be the president of Iceland.

I was in the assembly hall of Grund, a senior residence in Reykjavík. Guðni was speaking to a varied group: Seniors, schoolchildren, media types and a handful of jet-lagged attendees of the Iceland Airwaves music festival. This was a repeat performance, he had spoken here in 2018 (when I was also here) and in 2019. Covid had caused the cancellation of this ceremony in 2020 and 2021; this was a much smaller gathering (the festival had been scaled back considerably) so this event had a special significance. Guðni’s speech was short; a pleasant mix of greetings and platitudes, but his attention to supporting the performing arts in Iceland was a genuine reflection on the country’s support for education in music and the arts. Guðni is a historian and is acutely aware of Iceland’s role in the world and its strategic location in it. He left he following week on a tour of various colleges and universities around the world. I was duly impressed that he took the time to talk with us, even more so after interacting with Eliza (albeit virtually) at the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat and (in person) in Minneapolis the previous spring.

After Guðni’s speech an Icelandic pop duo Sycamore Tree came up and sang several pleasant, if somewhat nondescript, songs in English with a backing of strings:
They have been an act for a while, YouTube videos don’t show much change in their repertoire, although their hats have gained some embellishments over the years. I wondered what the elderly residents (some of which were my age-peers) thought of them. Cognitive Dissonance? After they had finished, the troubadour Júniús Meyvant performed, solo, singing and playing guitar, also in English:
He offered more of the same bland fare, except with whistling. My musical allergies to CD (and whistling) were beginning to act up so I left after a few of his songs. It wasn’t that his music was bad, but it just didn’t measure up to what I had seen here four years ago: The magnificent Soléy, performing heartfelt tunes sung in Icelandic along with her father’s support on the trombone. This situation of singing in English is a not a problem unique to Iceland, English lyrics are everywhere in pop music. It takes real courage to perform in an obscure language before an international audience, and a great deal of determination to write lyrics in one. This issue will come up again and again over the festival—my fear is that in not too many years Icelandic songs will have become historical curios; and festivals such as this one will become even more culturally diluted.

Another reason for my early departure was that I had a luncheon date at noon, and it was a good twenty-minute walk to Hlemmur Mathöll, a food hall at the eastern end of Laugavegur. In 2004 it was a sketchy bus terminal and one of the few places in Reykjavík where I had ever felt ill-at-ease.  I had stopped in there then to change film in my cameras (Film!) and was given the evil-eye by a young ruffian.

Not a likely occurrence today as the station has been transformed from a shelter for miscreants into a bustling hub of dining opportunities. I made it there in time and, as my partner in gustatory delights worked only a block away (at the Foreign Ministry)  I expected her shortly, although that hadn’t always been the case in the past.

Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


Post a Comment

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2023