INL 2013

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Getting to the INL conference in Seattle this year was easy. Participants could drive from Vancouver or White Rock. For those of us in Victoria, harbour to harbour on the Clipper was two hours and forty-five minutes and no having to deal with airports.

It rained. Let’s get that out of the way first. We’d had weeks of glorious sunshine but on Thursday when we stood waiting for the bus tour to begin, it started raining, it kept raining, and it was still raining when I was waiting outside the hotel for a cab on Sunday morning. As I write this, Monday morning, with the conference over, the sky is blue, the sun is shining, the apple trees have crowns of white blooms.

None of this mattered, except that as hosts, we’d like the weather to be glorious. However, the Icelanders who came are used to not just rain but horizontal rain and those arriving from the prairies are coming from unseasonal snow and cold and are returning to nineteen below. That assuages our guilt.

The heritage bus tour was sold out. We headed north toward Blaine, passing vineyards, snow-capped mountains, blooming trees, a welcoming countryside but as the miles passed, many thought about their ancestors in the early days, with no paved highways, no buses, continuing their trek that had started in Iceland, to Scotland or England, to Montreal, across half a continent to Winnipeg or Selkirk, from their across the prairies to the coast and, finally, south to Bellingham, Blaine, Seattle.

Jonas Thor lectured us on this migration, the names and places and dates as we sped along the highway.
We visited the Free Unitarian Church where many of our group were thrilled to read the names of the original founders, to see the pictures of people who were from the earlier settlements such as Gimli. The special moment was when Heather Ireland found Guttormur Guttormsson’s poems rendered as a hymn in the church hymnal. She played a bit of it on the piano.

The Blaine Icelandic Club welcomed us with open arms, sandwiches and cake and coffee (and fed my celiac body with cheese and grapes and coffee), entertained us with the Damekor chor and educated us with a slide show (Rob Olason) and a talk about Point Roberts by Joan Thorstonson.

We visited the local graveyard where the graves, ten percent of the total burials, testify to the size of the Icelandic community in Blaine.

We went to the Nordic Heritage Museum. It is huge and, at the moment, has a show on in cooperation with xx on Danish immigrant times. There is room after room of displays. Upstairs, each of the Nordic groups, including Iceland, has a room. I was amazed by the size of the museum but we were later informed that a new site has been chosen and fund raising is in progress and a new building will be built. These displays, alone, could have taken up a whole day. However, we had to be on our way.

The first day we heard from Julie Summers on home as a place of belonging and then Sunna (Pam Fursteau) presented a slide show and talk about her trip around Iceland visiting communities to tell them about our North American community made up of descendants of Icelandic immigrants. We had all heard about this epic voyage and it was a pleasure to share it, even the moment when Sunna lost her cell phone in the middle of an ice covered beach.

A panel of six representing Iceland, North Dakota, Minnesota, Ontario and Manitoba discussed ways that we might strengthen our community. Heritage tours came up quite a bit, that is visits among the various North American groups.

After lunch Ásta Sól told us that the Snorri program, after weakening for a couple of years, has now come back stronger than ever with 15 Snorris and 23 Snorri Plus participants. This program of visiting Iceland and meeting relatives and learning as much about Iceland as possible in the time available is praised highly by former participants.

The hit of the conference, though, was a complete surprise. To my shame, I did not know who Alene Thorunn Moris was. Seeing her sitting at a table, unpretentious, unassuming, elderly, it would have been easy to mistake her for a vinarterta granny visiting to hear a few words of Icelandic. Boy, would that have been a mistake. She took the stage and delivered one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard. She has spent a lifetime fighting for women´s rights, human rights, and she doesn´t mince any words.

She compared the gains made by Icelandic women,the results, with those of American women and summed up by saying Icelandic women turn up, American women don´t. She never once blamed American men. The fate of women has to be in their own hands. The crowd reacted to Alene´s impassioned speech by rising to their feet and applauding long and loud. If there had been a Bastille to march to, I think they´d have been out the door ready for battle.

Patricia Baer, after the aroused mob had settled down, gave an academic talk on how mainland Europe lost its knowledge of the Viking gods. And, how those Viking gods were found by an Icelander. Because of Iceland, misconceptions about the gods were cleared up and the times of the Vikings better understood. As her part in this, Trish has created a digital repository of images from the Eddas.

In the evening we heard from INL president, Ron Godman, Halldor Arnasson for INL Iceland, and Ambassador Þorður ægir Óskarsson. After the awards ceremonies, Lowry Olafson entertained. Those Snorri graduates met at the Regetta bar and partied away the night.

Saturday, Prof. Fred E. Woods, of whom I had often heard, but never met, gave a highly informative talk on the conversion in Iceland of Icelanders to Mormonism. His slide show of photographs and documents was fascinating for it provided details about an incident in Iceland´s history that most of us have only known about in the vaguest of terms (or, if you are like me, from reading Halldor Laxness’s novel, Paradise Reclaimed).

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After a break, the hippest of the hippest among us, gave a knockout presentation on “Iceland Airwaves: The Hippest Event on the Planet”. Only Donald Gislason, musicologist, Icelandic music fanatic, could have given this talk. It was a Hunter Thompson special. We were besieged, entertained, informed, overwhelmed with music and musicians and I, for one, finally understand many things about Icelandic music that had been mysteries to me. Like how come 320,000 people can produce one successful music group after another? Simple. Every kid gets music lessons. How come they constantly produce new kinds of music? Simple. They don’t have big corporate music companies telling them what to do.

I skipped the AGM meeting and even the walking tour of Seattle. When you are filling in for the editor of Logberg-Heimskringla, it isn’t all party party. Writing doesn’t happen by itself. I did make the banquet but only stayed long enough to hear Ambassador Guðmundur Stefánsson (USA).

The computer and deadlines called. So did the fact that I had to be up at 6:30 a.m. to catch the Clipper back to Victoria. The seas were rough on the return back but not as bad as Lake Winnipeg in a storm. If we’d sunk, I could have said, too bad, but there are worse fates than to sink beneath the waves after a great party.

See you in 2014 in Winnipeg.

INL Convention Seattle: Day 3

I’ve never been to an INL convention like it. It’s been all over the place re types of speakers and topics. I think people are discombobulated in a good way. They’ve had their conceptions un-concepted, they’ve heard and seen things that have left them puzzled, curious, excited. It is hard to capture the excitement that has been generated. I am so grateful, happy, that I decided to come to this convention. I’m not a great enthusiast but I’ve found myself being amazed, amused, bewildered.

David Johnson is the Co-Chair of this Convention. He has been everywhere, checking on everything, making sure that we all stay on time.

David is Mormon and he introduced the first speaker, Prof. Fred E. Woods. Fred is highly personable, an experienced teacher and public speaker. He presented a slide show with commentary. Some of his slides were pictures of Icelanders who went to Utah in the early years. Other slides were of documents from that time, often letters, that have been translated into English.
I have read quite a bit about the Icelandic Mormons but Fred’s lecture made me aware of how much more material there is that I did not know about. I, and I expect, many others, will be going online to read the work that has been translated.

He is working with the Icelandic scholar Kári Bjarnason, head of the Vestmannæyjar Folk Museum. Together, they are collecting and publishing Icelandic materials which are in Utah. You can read much of this material on the “Mormon Migration“ website hosted by BYU.

We went from this rather conservative individual who describes happy things as “sweet“ to Donald Gislason. Now, I have to confess that I‘m a great fan of Donald. That‘s because when I was editor of Logberg-Heimskingla, Donald provided marvelous interviews about the music and cultural scene in Iceland. I remember telling him at the time that he was the best interviewer I‘d ever worked with.

He has a Ph.D in Music History from UBC. He‘s made six trips to Iceland but given his knowledge of the music and cultural scene, you‘d think he‘d spent a lifetime there. I certainly did. He says he is a hopeless “miðbærritta“, that is a guy who thinks the whole world revolves around 101 Reykjavik.

It would be impossible to do justice to Donald‘s lecture, slide show without writing like Hunter S. Thompson.

We saw bands of every kind. And, in Iceland, there are bands of every kind. I‘ve always wondered where Bjork, Monsters and Men, Siguros, etc. Etc. Etc. came from. How come, with a population of less than 320,000 that there are musicians of very kind, playing multiple instruments, old instruments, space age electronic instruments, playing multiple styles?

Donald provided the answer. The system in Iceland provides funding for every child to have music lessons. The child in Reykjavik and the child on the most isolated farm. The cost is split between parents and state. I wish I could have hauled all those people into the auditorium with us, those people who want to fund nothing in the education system unless it leads directly to a job, to a trade, who think things like music lessons are a waste of the taxpayer‘s money.

Donald told us about Icelandic music culture. About the Airwaves festival which he describes as the hippest event on the planet. Five days of musical mayhem. He credits some things that Iceland doesn‘t have for the creativity and productivity of musicians and, remember, everyone is a musician.

What don‘t Icelanders have? They don‘t have the powerful influence of marketing companies. They don‘t have corporations telling them how they ought to be. They don‘t have fear of failure. They are playing among friends for themselves and their friends instead of for paid audiences of strangers.

Everyone, no matter what age, listens to the same music. Parents, teenagers, kids listen to the same music. Part of that has to do with demographics. Iceland‘s population is young. There is a lot of support for young parents and young children. Parents take kids to rock concerts. Musical events, a lot of the time, are family events.

I saw this when I watched a video about Of Monsters and Men. Crowds were streaming into an open area to listen to them. There were young parents with babes in arms, kids in strollers, kids holding their parents’ hands. There were even some people who might have been grandparents in the crowd.

What a contrast this morning, from Fred who is dedicated to preserving Mormon history to Donald with Reykjavik 101, party, party, dance all night, drink all night, listen to music all night, and then eat Subway type sandwiches for breakfast.

It’s all Iceland. It’s all part of our history. I know that I’ll be looking up those Mormon sources. Some of the letters we got to read were surprising, even shocking. I know that I now understand more about the Iceland of our ancestors. I also know more about the Iceland of the present.

Before I forget, did I tell you about breakfast? Before we listened to these lectures, about the scrambled eggs, the bacon, the scones, the jams, the fruit, the yogurt, the coffee black as the devil’s soul but, I’m sure, much better tasting?

Did I tell you that next year this party is going to be in Winnipeg?

Did I tell you…? Never mind. Later. I’ve got to get dolled up for the banquet tonight. Comb my hair, try to look respectable. More food, more talks. More surprises. I’m glad the Clipper doesn’t charge passengers by weight. It would cost more to go home than to come to Seattle.