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As reluctant as I am to break up the comment flow from the previous post, it is time to add a new image.

Today a group of my college students are sitting in class writing short essays on the state of the nation, in English, that will eventually be posted on Iceland Eye's sister site, Iceland Says. They are writing, as one student put it, letters to the world. I'll try to get them up as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I'd just like to say that we are not huddled around the last remnants of a dying fire here on the island. Though imports have slowed to a near stop from Great Britain, we still have food and other necessities to keep us going. I played this NPR story in class and it made me a little uncomfortable if only because the Icelander being interviewed slips into the classic national habit of using superlatives, of exaggerating for what seems like simple effect. We have gone from being one of the wealthiest nations on earth, she says, to being mere beggars. Are we beggars? Do we feel like beggars, deep in the national soul? Does she see herself as a downtrodden, homeless, luckless panhandler when alone, or is she simply describing her country as such on an international media source for the imagery, the pure conceit? We are not beaten, we are not indigent, but we did gamble with the big boys in the great global economic casino and we lost our shirts.

The interviewee also states that we cannot grow anything here but potatoes and sheep [sic] while I beg to differ. We have hothouses, friends, hothouses that are heated by means of the steam that rises from our earth, and in those hothouses we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, lettuce and bananas. Rhubarb grows wild here and rutabagas and angelica and thyme and blueberries and there are more sheep here than people and we have pure fresh water running from mountain streams that we can dip our hands into and sip on site. We have horses, a beautiful and strong breed conditioned, created by this terrain and climate, as we Icelanders are ultimately, as well.

Some say wisdom is gained through sacrifice. But do we sacrifice our worldly aspirations or our cultural integrity?

We are survivors, adventurers, raiders. We are lusty, passionate, creative. We are molded by this landscape and are both strengthened and humbled by it. Now we have to excuse ourselves from gaming table with no shame for having played and lost (along with many others), assess the damages, and regroup for the next great effort.

To everyone who's asked, we are not broken. As things stand our lives go on almost as usual, as if we always knew the ride would end. It dawned on me last night that the past six years of unlimited economic potential felt just the same as all the hope we hold for the performers we send to Eurovision, or our athletes who make it to the Olympics. Anything can happen, we think. This might be our year! Maybe we've finally found the golden key to ultimate success! And then when our representatives flop or fail, are voted out or just don't make the cut, we pout and say to each other, but there's only so few of us, and we made it so far, and we should be proud, and we're all family, and, of course, there's always next year...


Julie said...

Well said, Maria! While times aren't rosy in Iceland (or here in the US), the NPR story did sound overly dramatic. It's nice to hear some optimism/hope.

Anonymous said...

I know everything will be just fine. You've still got the basics and the indomitable viking spirit to carry you through. And thanks for the Iceland Says site. That looks quite interesting!

Tony said...

You Icelanders are admirable, and I can see from your example that they are very strong-willed. Don't worry...the tempests may come, but I know from what little experience I have that we can get through it. Thanks for having such great faith in your's inspiring. If only we could have more of that faith here in the U.S.

Viszlát Sjáumst said...

Excellent insight, analogy, and outlook here Maria. Thanks for supplying some 'intel' from behind the lines, so to speak.

I'm particularly thankful for the reference to the "classic national habit" of using superlatives and exaggeration. An interesting tidbit on the collective personality of the people of Iceland.

Great job, as always... Looking forward to reading the posts from the students.

Takk, -ed

Castillo said...

The sagas of the Icelanders tell how strong your people is. Finance is only what peole do with their money. It's pure psicology, and that is the miror of a nations culture. Sadly it's only about greed a fear. But psicology is tricky, simply beacause the masses are dumber than the indiduals. Only leaders can change the attitude of a nation. I think now is the time a "new iceland deal". Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

I was really shocked when the situation in Iceland hit our news -- when I was there last year, it seemed so stable, so let's-get-things done. My sense of the people, in the short time I wa s there were that the majority of them with whom I came into contact were literate, thoughtful, intelligent, and active. They could look at a difficult situation and come up with solutions, not have a nervous breakdown and expect everyone else to solve the problems for them. I think that's really the attitude, and I think the nay-sayers will find they're wrong.

I think you'll come out of this global mess a heck of a lot better than many other areas, although it may be a rocky road right now.

Again, I really only know what we're getting on the news, and I don't entirely trust the reporting.

As far as the greenhouses, that's one of the things I admire most -- the use of geothermal energy to grow just about anything you want. One of the facts we were told -- which may be wrong for all I know -- was that you're one of the biggest exporters of bananas outside of Latin America.

Anonymous said...

Icelandsays is a wonderful link! have not read every post yet but I can already see some reflection of myself in the posts...

Are there really any person who is 100% happy and content about their country? hmmm "we cannot grow anything here but potatoes and sheep" made me laugh, simply because I now realize that infact, the richer the countries natural/mineral wealth...the poorer it's citizens are.

Yesterday was the 3rd time in two months that I awoke to loud noises (think firecrackers) and people screaming and after the usual phone 3 times before the police pick up the phone, we eventually managed to get the police to respond (30 minutes later) to yet another night of 7 - 10 teenage youths climbing up poles and cutting the electrical wires.

Now regardless of whom they sell this copper cables to or even why people would risk their lives for so little...does this / has this ever happened in Iceland? This is a daily occurance around the country even before the "world economic crisis" hit.

I no longer read any newspapers or even watch T.V - the skyrocketing crime here means another restless night and worry filled day if I even so much as look at the negative headlines!

Our political scene is in a mess (power struggles, greed, etc.)

Last week the South African rand almost hit 12 to the U.S dollar again and all I could think of is how, since we really import 98% (minus agricultural and minerals) that, prices will go up, but never come down even if economic circumstances change. (what will we do around here if China suddenly vanished one day?!)

Ragga said "The only wild animals we have are foxes and about 4 reindeers." Well..we have the "big five" somewhere in faraway game parks which only tourists visit because we have to do what other countries do, switch on the t.v and watch the animals cause here, we don't dare leave our houses.

So many people around the world are intrigued by Iceland and who knows maybe it's because;

No civil wars
Nice friendly people(nicelanders?)
1000+years of relative stability
Faith (were art thou here?)
Can do attitude!

If ever I see an American wanting to visit or emmigrate to Iceland I always wonder what Icelanders think, America was once the place people wanted to go to not leave...?!

Lastly: I know why I like Iceland and it is definately not because of money or the lack thereof, something else draws me to it.

Be happy and poor rather than rich and miserable :)

Anonymous said...

"We are survivors, adventurers, raiders. We are lusty, passionate, creative. We are molded by this landscape and are both strengthened and humbled by it."

This is the right spirit, necessary for an economic renaissance. Concentrating on the strengths, and making best ude of them. Inspiring!

However, I have to say that I do miss the humbleness when discussing with some Icelandic folks. But I guess these are urban people who haven't been out in the landscape often enough!