Tuesday, January 25, 2000

January 2000


Happy New Year and Happy Millennium – that is if you believe the millennium just started!

Lena and I just returned from a three weeks vacation to Iceland. We had a wonderful time and almost felt like visitors since we have not been "home" in two years. What is new in Iceland you may ask? – I’ll share some of my observations with you. The first thing that struck me is that everyone is on the phone, that is, on the cellular phone. When I say everyone I mean everyone. The increase in cellular phones has been the fastest in Iceland of all the countries in the world. Icelanders have 170,000 cell phones today and 280,000 inhabitants and that’s counting everyone: children, elderly, etc. I’m glad to inform you that the economy is in good shape. There is no unemployment (1%), little inflation (3.5%), and people seem happier than ever. There is, however, a big difference between the countryside and the Reykjavik area. Reykjavik and the Southwest corner are blooming but unemployment, low pay, and migration from small villages are the reality of the countryside. Fortunately, there are few exceptions. Akureyri, for example, still offers opportunities for growth, but overall the split is overwhelming.

Those are few pointers that I thought you might find interesting. Back to Chicago and the Icelandic Association of Chicago. We had a good year and now that the Þorrablót is coming up everyone is getting excited. This year we are going to have lots of fun, good food, and Bassi is going to play all our favorite songs, English and Icelandic. We must all try to get as many people to attend as possible, because: The more, the merrier! Invite your friends and/or enemies, your extended family, and coworkers. We will welcome everyone as always. See you at the Þorrablót.

Einar Steinsson

Last Friday (21) was the "Bóndadagur" which by the Old Icelandic almanac marks the beginning of the Þorra-season. Since early settlement Icelanders have challenged the gloominess of the harsh winter months by celebrating Þorrinn. The tradition is derived from Asatru and has lived with the nation despite its pagan origin. Today people regard Þorrablót as an opportunity to come together to dance, sing, eat, and be merry. Indeed, Þorrablót is all of the above, but Þorrablót is also a unique opportunity to cherish, maintain, and strengthen our cultural heritage. Without Þorrablót few people would know, let along eat, food that is prepared and processed in the same way as our forefathers and mothers, the Vikings, did. An old proverb claims the way to a man's heart lies through his stomach. Similarly, those who seek to understand a nation should search for answers through its cuisine. How much better must not two individuals from different cultures understand each other if they share a passion for pickled testicles? And how much closer must not a person identify with heroes like Egill Skallagrimsson, Hallgerdur Langbrok and Njall Skarphedinsson when chewing on a sheep’s head or Harðfiskur. Besides, what fun would it be without the expression of a clueless visitor tasting Hákarl and Brennivín for the first time!


On February 26th we’ll have our annual Þorrablót at the Swedish Museum on 5211 N. Clark Street, Chicago (tel. 773-728-8111).

We’ll start the Blót at 6.30 pm with hors d’oeuvre and cocktails on the second floor. Around 7.30 we’ll move to the main floor and dine Icelandic food from Bautabúrið and American food from Wickström’s catering. While we’re enjoying the delicates Bassi will play his piano and, of course, everyone should be ready to sing along and to join the Þorrachorus on stage. Finishing with home made deserts we’ll draw in the raffle, welcome the speaker of the night, and then clear the floor for dancing the night away.

The price for a single ticket bought in advance is $45 for a member, $55 for a non-member. The price for a single ticket bought at the entrance is $50 for a member, $65 for a non-member. The price for children 6-15 years is $25, children 5 years and younger are free of charge.

Like last year, we have a special deal with a hotel in that area which is within walking distance of the museum. It is The Chicago Lodge on 920 West Foster; their number is 773-334-5600. All you have to do is call them, tell them you are with the Icelandic Association of Chicago and they will be happy to help you. Parking will be available at Clark and Foster and also on side streets and at the bank one block north of the museum, no permits will be needed.


Those of you who want to purchase ticket(s) in advance must do so no later than February 15th. Please make checks payable to the Icelandic Association and send to Sonja Johnson, 4812 N. Hermitage (#3a), Chicago, IL 60640. Tel. 773.271.1635. Email: MarcSonja1@aol.com. We are also reminding those who still need to pay the membership fee ($25 or $15) to please send that at this time also.


An organization like ours is dependent on the availability and goodwill of its members. For this Þorrablót we’ll need some people to bring deserts. Pönnukökur, for example, are traditional Icelandic treat easy to make. Baking "experts" out there willing to help, please contact Lena at 773-489-4621 for further information.


Although Orri (Lena’s brother) left Chicago almost a year ago he keeps his ties to the Windy City and the Icelandic Association by updating our web page. Recently, he created a brand new site for us and the new track is: www.simnet.is/Chicago. On the site you’ll find our newsletter, useful links to Iceland, e-mail addresses of members, and much more. Please visit the new web page and write Orri comments and suggestions.


The Icelandic Association will offer mixed cocktail and Brennivín at the reception before dinner. We’ll sell wines by the bottle, beer, and some basic hard liquor. Soft drinks are free and, as before, anyone can bring her or his beverage of choice.


Hörður G. Ólafsson (Bassi) from Sauðárkrókur will visit us to play and sing our favorite tunes. Most of us already know Bassi and his talent as a musician but hopefully many more will get to know him this year. Bassi is probably most famous for his contribution to the European Grand Prix song contest when Sigga Beinteins and Grétar Örvars sang his song "Eitt lag enn" (One More Song) and won the fourth place, which till last year was Iceland’s best achievement. Bassi is a certified maker of porcelain teeth and runs his practice in Sauðárkrókur but keeps busy all year round, traveling around Iceland, singing and playing for people who want to have good time. Last year Bassi published his first CD on which some of Iceland’s most recognized and loved musicians performed.


Generally, there is a vague sense that Þorri was some kind of personification of winter, married to a womanly wight named Góa (the first two months in the Icelandic calendar are supposed to be called after them). According to some Icelandic traditions, the wife went out to greet Þorri and the man went out the next month to greet Góa, who was addressed as being milder than her rough husband. According to others, the man of the farm was supposed to go out half-dressed and walk around the house at the feast of Þorri.

The origin of the name Þorri is unknown, although, Icelanders have known the name itself since the 11th century. Likely speculation is that Þorri is one of many nicknames for the god Thor. Soon, however, Þorri became the metaphor and personator for the harsh Icelandic winters, and is today commonly used as such.