Showing posts from December, 2020

The Icelandic language

I have tried hard to learn Icelandic, I really have.  For two stints of several months each, I spent three-quarters of an hour every morning listening to audio files and reading grammar and teach-yourself books. I'm currently several months in to a lockdown-inspired third attempt.   At first it seemed easy.  Many words, especially the simpler ones, are close to English.  For example, sokkur is sock, takk is thanks and blár is blue. Easy, right?    Wrong.  The grammar is a killer .  Everything has to agree with everything else.  There are cases, moods, tenses, genders.  It’s like Latin, but more complicated.  And the natives really care if you get it right.  For example, the words for the first four numbers are significantly different depending on the gender of the thing you are counting.  In French you only need five words to count to four: un, une, deux, trois, quatre.  In Icelandic you need twelve: einn, ein, eitt, tveir, tvaer, tvö, thrír, thrjár, thrjú, fjórir, fjórar, fjögur

Favourite Places - Thingvellir

Thingvellir is one of my favourite places in Iceland.   Thingvellir , or ‘Thing Valley’ is one of those rare places in the world: it is steeped in history, it is geologically extraordinary and its beauty takes your breath away.             It is about forty kilometres to the east of Reykjavík.  Once you escape the city’s suburbs you turn inland and drive through dramatic, desolate mountains.    You descend to the entrance of what is now a national park, and after a kilometre or so stop your car at the floor of a green valley.  To the east rise rough foothills, to the west a dramatic cliff face of grizzled grey rock.  A clear stream runs through the valley past a church to a sizeable lake, Thingvallavatn.   Small wooden bridges span the river.  Stop on one of these and stare into the stream into deep pools of clear water whose colour changes and shifts depending on the sky, the clouds and the angle of the sun.  A host of native Icelandic plants line the pools: birch, willow, crowberries

Clinging on the edge of Europe: Iceland's history 1264-1976

In my last post, I talked about how Iceland came to have a system of government with no actual ruler, but a parliament of the chieftains, known as the Althing.  This lasted until the late thirteenth century, when there were a series of armed clashes between the chieftains , ending with an appeal in 1264 to the King of Norway to take charge and sort things out.  This turned out to be not such a good idea in the long term. The plan was for the Althing to maintain its authority, but over time the power of the Norwegian king in Iceland’s affairs grew. Then, in a bewildering session of a medieval version of the board game Risk, Norway and Sweden united with Denmark. The Danes ended up being in charge, and over the following centuries they established a monopoly of trade with Iceland. Iceland became a very poor country, one of the poorest in Europe. Tough, cold conditions At this time also, Europe was in the throes of the mini-ice age. The climate was becoming colder, which can’t have helpe