Sunday, October 26, 2008

The crowning Perl and a big wax fish

It’s hard to believe that two months have passed since we were in Iceland! I’ve been lax in my post-travel updates so I’m going to try and do that this week. Just to mix it up I’m going to hop around a little chronologically so bear with me! (Credit for the IKEA & wax fish photos goes to M & D!) Come along as we travel back in time to the land of fire and ice…

Tooling around Reykjavík
After a week of non-stop travelling and sight-seeing we were kind of worn out so we decided to tool around the city and do whatever struck our fancy. And what better way than to visit the IKEA outlet?! Believe it or not this small island nation whose entire population hovers around 320,000 has a gigantic two-level store that would be the envy of… well, frankly London (pop. 350,000)!

My goal was to get an Icelandic IKEA catalogue as a souvenir. We had a quick lunch of the ubiquitous Swedish meatballs with gravy & mashed potatoes and then launched into our cross-cultural shopping expedition. Mark drolly speculated whether the product names would all be English and perhaps the Scandinavian names we were used to seeing at IKEA were just a big joke being played on North Americans!

I noticed that the kitchen appliances were consistently smaller sizes than what we’re used to (no Costco I guess!), shower stalls (instead of tub/showers) and dual-flush toilets were in every bathroom model, and there was a big emphasis on space-saving items and furniture. I ended up buying a lovely set of sheer curtains that were dirt cheap on sale and at the check-out scored my coveted catalogue!

Our next stop was the Perlan, a beautiful but interestingly utilitarian building set on a hilltop overlooking the city airport where we had flown from at the beginning of our trip. Perlan gets its name from the reflective glass dome that crowns the ring of five gigantic water tanks which hold geothermally-heated water used in the city of Reykjavík. The hilltop site features walking/cycling paths and hundreds of trees planted in ongoing efforts to restore forests to Iceland. Outside the main entrance is an exuberant jazz quartet sculpture and I couldn’t resist dancing to their beat!

Inside, the central atrium is lit from all sides by glass walls between the tanks – bizarrely there were several large palm trees huddling in a corner looking very lost and out of place. The atrium is used for receptions of all sorts, there was an art exhibit on display when we visited. We strolled around the wide observation deck that encircles the glass dome at the top of the building where the entire city spread out below us framed by stunning views of distant mountains and fjords.

Downstairs, we visited the Saga Museum which has been created inside one of the de-commissioned water tanks. Told through a series of dioramas populated by startlingly life-like mannequins, we learned about the very bloody and colourful history of the island from when it was first settled. We had a great chat about the building with the museum attendant who had visited Canada.

Tired from our busy day we decided to head home and came upon a couple of evil little hooligans throwing rocks at the birds on Lake Tjörnin near our apartment! The initial effect of my loud angry “NO – STOP!” lasted for less than a minute until they realized that I was just a silly tourist who wouldn’t give them a good verbal thrashing in Icelandic. (I did briefly entertain the idea of throwing stones at them to see how they liked the sensation.)

Our evening ended with yet another delicious meal at a nearby restaurant that had been recommended by several people. It’s housed in a rabbit-warren series of second-floor rooms in an older apartment building. At first glance it feels like you’ve arrived at a great-aunt’s home stuffed with 19th century antiques and crocheted doilies. To add another element of other-worldliness, the maitre’d was from Montreal! After chatting in French we were seated in one of the four dining rooms – ours featured a large fish carved of wax and mounted on the wall… weird.

There was nothing weird about the food though! I splurged and ordered the scampi. Expecting the usual four or five, I was flabbergasted when presented with a heap of nine large beautifully grilled tails and salad! (Yes, I did eat them all - along with wine and chocolate ganache with crème fraiche & fresh Icelandic blueberries for dessert.)

Stay tuned for a few more updates... coming soon to a computer near you!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Excuse me, your cone of silence is defective

I just have to vent some steam! Last night a friend and I went to see Feist in concert. That girl can rock but she can also carry you away on the voice of a nightingale. The show was great – a mix of rock out blistering guitar work, toe-tapping pop tunes, and lilting acoustic solos.

Now you would think that having paid for a ticket (plus possibly dinner, parking, and/or a babysitter) that everyone would be there to listen to Feist and her band. Apparently not... We had the stunning misfortune to be surrounded by not just one but three couples (mid-age adults whom you would think would know better) who seemed to think that they were at home watching a music video in the privacy of their own living room.

They provided a running commentary on everything from how much they liked (or didn’t like) a particular song, the band’s skill (or lack thereof), the stage lighting & screen show, etc, etc. But what stunned – and irritated – me was the absolute lack of effort to lean towards their companion and speak quietly. It didn’t seem to occur to them that a) their ongoing conversations might be disrespectful to the performer and the setting, b) that their conversations might be considered incredibly annoying and disruptive to everyone within earshot, and c) that their ongoing behaviour might be legally defendable grounds for physical assault.

This was the third concert I’ve attended in about a month – luckily the first two experiences were amazing: the music, the venues, the energy, and the rapt appreciation of the audiences. Sadly my very enjoyable memories of the Feist concert are marred by the utter bloody rudeness of these people.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten how to behave in a communal setting. We don’t hold doors open – or even bother looking over our shoulder – anymore; we don’t teach (or show by example) our children to say “please”, “thank you”, and “would you like some help”; we’re so caught up in our me-centred experiences that we seem to have forgotten how to be civil and considerate of each other. Remember that warm, grateful feeling you get when a complete stranger does something nice for you? That’ll only keep happening if we pay it forward and remind each other that we live in a village, not under a cone of silence.

BTW I did finally tap one woman on the shoulder and, pressing my index finger to my lips, gave her the international ‘sshhhh’ gesture followed by a frustrated “Please”. Her outrage at being shushed boiled over when the lights came up and she jabbed me on the shoulder 4-5 times, telling me that she had been enjoying the show until I so rudely interrupted her. Mustering all the withering and dismissive disapproval I could deliver I simply said “You’re so rude.” and walked away. Like me, she’s probably still fuming! :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back to square one

So here we are, right back where we started. Was it worth all the money and time and energy? Not to my mind, but I'm just one voter.

I have no representation in federal government. My riding went Conservative and there is little if anything in their leadership, policies or values that speaks to the kind of Canada that I love.

Thankfully the country has managed to avoid a majority Conservative government - I shudder at the possibility. Sadly the downward slide of voter turnout continued. Why don't people vote? Any number of reasons I suspect: apathy, disinterest, frustration, hopelessness, etc. Strategic voting and vote swapping - aided by technology - seem to be gaining ground, but to what end?

I looked at the voter share with interest because it’s often quite a different picture than what ends up filling those seats in Parliament. The final tally stands at Con 143, Lib 76, Bloc 50, NDP 37, independent 2, and Green 0. If Canadians were represented by vote share things would look just a little different: Con 117, Lib 80, NDP 55, Bloc 31, Green 22, and independent 3.

So in reality the voices of Con and Bloc voters are substantially over-represented and those of the NDP and Green voters are substantially under-represented. It’s particularly fascinating how the Bloc with only 9.97% of voter share ends up with 50 MPs in Parliament but the Greens with a slightly smaller vote share of 6.8% end up without a single representative! (Don't assume you know who I voted for...)

Ahhh democracy – mysterious and glorious all at the same time – a work in progress. Still, there are a lot of places where people can’t even speak out, far less vote. I hope everyone earned their right to complain by going out to vote!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Should I or shouldn't I...

"Sandra's thinking about caving."

That's what my Facebook profile status would say right now... if I were on Facebook, which I'm not... yet.

Chris was all over that trend - especially given his research interest in social networks and information-seeking behaviour. For many researchers and organizations Facebook has become an invaluable tool and resource if not a research focus in and of itself.

But me, I've been hanging back - partly out of paranoia, partly trying to stay out of the tsunami of sheer overwhelming mass popularity of social networking websites. To be honest, I've been cheating because I'm a bit of a stalker - signing in under Chris' profile and checking in on friends to see what's up.

And that's the allure isn't it? Part of me does want to know what's going on in the 'cool kids' corner; what fun things are being planned and discussed that I might be left out of; looking up old high school and university friends; sharing photos and book suggestions; etc.

But then it can all become so much navel-gazing and self-absorption. I'll be the first to admit that I can talk about myself and my interests for hours (as if this blog isn't evidence enough!). I think that's what holds me back. The whole privacy paranoia can be somewhat mitigated with the settings one chooses and really, if someone wants to find out something about you, they will - I know, I've done it myself (it's fascinating what some people put up on the internet!).

I struggle with all that 'Me' broadcasting - maybe it's being an only child (there I go disclosing personal information again!) and being teased about the stereotype of being spoiled and selfish - something I deliberately try hard not to do. Maybe it's because since Chris' death, I've been undergoing a slow metamorphosis of sorts - I'm just not sure what I'm becoming. I know that I don't want to be pigeon-holed and I've become more guarded about myself when meeting new people who don't know me or my life.

Something to chew on. Any thoughts dear readers?