Egill Bjarnason

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The New York Times
Beauty or Beast? Iceland Quarrels Over an Invasive Plant

In the cool morning air, an assortment of Icelandic warriors headed for their battlefield — armed with long knives and weed whackers.

Their enemy? A field of purplish-blue plants, stretching high up the mountain above, an invader that increasingly dominates and defines coastal scenes in eastern Iceland.

The plants, the blue Nootka lupine, are native to North America and a familiar sight in flower gardens there. They have spread wildly in Iceland since their introduction in the late 1970s to halt soil erosion.

To tourists and plenty of Icelanders the lupine fields are a breathtakingly beautiful sight in midsummer, the attractive blossoms carpeting gorges, sprawling over lava fields and climbing steep mountainsides. But for some natives, the plants are an alien blot on the landscape that need to be eliminated.

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The Associated Press
Icelandic language at risk; robots, computers can't grasp it
Picked up by New York Times Sunday-edition
and Time magazine online, among other

When an Icelander arrives at an office building and sees "Solarfri" posted, they need no further explanation for the empty premises: The word means "when staff get an unexpected afternoon off to enjoy good weather."

The people of this rugged North Atlantic island settled by Norsemen some 1,100 years ago have a unique dialect of Old Norse that has adapted to life at the edge of the Artic.

Hundslappadrifa, for example, means "heavy snowfall with large flakes occurring in calm wind."

But the revered Icelandic language, seen by many as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English, both for mass tourism and in the voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue.

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Hakai Magazine
Pool-landia
This article is also available in audio format.

For 70 years, Iceland has kept afloat the idea that mandatory swimming lessons save lives, but the policy doesn’t hold water.

MOB: the acronym under a red button on almost every commercial fishing vessel. If pressed, it means that a man is overboard, floundering in that 71 percent of the world called the ocean. In cold waters, each number of degrees the ocean temperature registers on the Celsius scale is roughly equal to the number of minutes it takes the average human to reach hypothermia. Crossing through Rósagarður, relatively warm fishing grounds between Iceland and Norway, in early October the water temperature is a balmy 5 ?C. That’s five minutes for a person to tread water while the crew on board throws a life ring, turns the boat, and readies the rescue net for a MOB recovery.

The belief that you can make it back to the boat—or, if it’s close, to shore—once you’re in the open sea is largely a fallacy. Whether you can swim or not, the cold ocean almost always grabs you and doesn’t let go. This myth of potential survival, however, has affected every child, every taxpayer, and every town in Iceland. The story many Icelanders tell themselves is simple: few will drown in the ocean (or, bonus, anywhere else), if you teach everyone to swim.

Outside the greater Reykjavík area, towns and villages in Iceland have, on average, 19 boats, 1,182 people, two petrol stations, one church, and one outdoor swimming pool. Just like every other adult in Iceland, I spent 10 years swimming back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in a 25-meter pot of water—never going anywhere. By the time we finish sixth grade, we can swim 200 meters without aid, the Nordic definition of being able to swim. Compulsory swimming lessons may be a good idea, but not for drowning prevention, like most Icelanders believe.

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The Icelandic sea chef
Commissioned by Al Jazeera.

A chef in the North Atlantic for more than four decades, it’s Icelander Finnbogi Kristinsson’s job to lift spirits, keep his crew healthy, and step in whenever a problem arises.

Reykjavik, Iceland - When you are out on the sea, you don’t choose who you live with, where you go or what you eat. I remind myself of this - everyone’s diet is my responsibility.

Fishermen have long considered tomato paste a vegetable and marinated their meals in margarine. Having witnessed the unusually high rate of cardiovascular diseases among the profession, I have come to realise that broccoli and bananas are no less important than safety helmets.

For large parts of the 20th century, enrolling in a state army was safer than sailing the North Atlantic. However, with the drastic improvements in maritime safety over the past 40 years, danger doesn’t lurk up on deck any more. It has moved into the galley.
Making a difference in a traditional workplace takes time.

More fruits and vegetables have been well received. Exotic dishes like lasagna or hummus? To the blue bin [the ocean] with them. I find that healthier ingredients are more likely to be approved of if they go with potatoes as a side dish.

The industry keeps adding volumes to the safety handbook, while making no official guidelines about the fuel driving the crew itself.

Shanghaied as a sea chef four decades ago, I asked the shipping company for a job description. Sure, they said, we will send a description - via floskuskeyti, a message in a bottle. Either my duties were completely obvious or they were impossible to list.

By definition, the chef’s sole order is serving meals. The traditional authority is greater. Consider the simplicity of life out on sea. Day and night, the crew is running shifts.
Uplifting pleasures are few and life passes without much intimacy. A nice meal, served by someone who cares for your wellbeing, leaves a definite mark.

Everyone on the ship leads a double life, spending one half together in Herman Melville’s ‘watery part of the world’, and the other apart, in Iceland.

On a small vessel, the crew know each other better than their own children, immediately sensing if anyone is plagued by problems at home - paying the bills, raising a child, maintaining a romantic relationship.

To lift spirits or solve debates, the chef is the diplomat on board, grabbing men by the coffee machine and connecting across ranks.

After a full month, 90 communal meals, we dock in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. On fishing boats, the crew share the value of the catch. The cook gets one and a half shares. That’s a lot of money. A chef on a trawler can leave with enough money to buy a restaurant, give or take.

I used to think, and say to friends and family, that I was in it for the money. I can’t say that anymore. I now work on a cargo ship. Same job. Same environment. Same hours. Just no catch to split and thus I could make the same salary cooking on land with fresh produce and no scissors flying around during rough weather.

But I don’t care what people ordering from a restaurant menu think about my food. I cook for my crew - the men who congregate at the sound of the ship’s bell and give me honest feedback. With healthier calories, I hope to prolong the joy of having each and every sailor around. The boat is changing course, one radish at a time.

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