Culture Night

Yesterday was one of Reykjavik’s biggest celebrations of the year: Culture Night. The name is a little misleading, because it actually begins at 1 PM (or 13:00, if you’re trying to get used to this bullshit 24-hour time), and I started the festivities at noon.In my defense, I had a pretty long itinerary to get through, and when you’re Rachel Schollaert, “festivities” means going to a museum and seeing 85% more of it than you anticipated because admission is free on Culture Night.

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Those of you astute enough to realize both that there was not enough time in the day to see all of these things and that time-turners from the Harry Potter universe aren’t real can probably tell I didn’t get to everything on the list. But I did a few extra things not on the list instead, including seeing all of the National Museum of Iceland instead of just the “Bundled Up in Blue” and “Iceland in the World, the World in Iceland” exhibits.

Both of these were moderately interesting, but the former has a definite edge. It explored the uncovering, analysis, and preservation of a skeleton that was already around a thousand years old when the grave was discovered in 1938. Because of the way she was buried, with her cheek resting on a piece of jewelry, a portion of her skin remained intact for over a millennium. It’s now preserved in a jar of formaldehyde with the remnants of her skull and is real grody to look at.

Besides exhibiting this scientifically important anomaly of preservation, they also explained what they were able to learn about this woman and how they learned it. She was most likely of Celtic origin and moved to Iceland when she was around 10 years old (this based on a method of tooth analysis we talked about in human evolution last year– education!), died rather young in her late twenties, and appeared to be rather wealthy (this based on her tomb, which is a type of archaeology I am much more comfortable with because it doesn’t involve 1,000 year old cheek skin). Science is amazing, folks.

The National Museum of Iceland does not allow photography, which is a major disappointment since my snapchat stories are at their best when I’m in a museum where photography is allowed. However, it did give me a rare opportunity to muffle the sarcastic side of my brain that can’t take anything seriously as I looked at art and artifacts from when Iceland was first settled in the 800’s to the first century or so post-Reformation. They had later stuff, but I didn’t care about it as much and had other places to be. And when you throw me in a room with Medieval church artifacts, I lose all sense of time management, so by the time I got to the 18th-21st century I had to make some tough game-time decisions.

After I finally dragged myself out of a maze of beautiful Viking craftsmanship, I met a few other international students downtown to do some Culture Night activities with them. The group consisted of one Canadian, one Brit, and three Germans, because just as Mormons flock to me, so I apparently flock to Germans. I met them as they were wrapping up at an art exhibition and I grabbed a quick bite to eat while we made plans for the rest of the afternoon.

This was stop one.

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Just as it promised, the exhibition showcased a selection of tacky souvenir gifts from around the world. It was small and in someone’s home, and not at all what any of us expected, but the fact that it exists makes me happier than words can say. I guess I’m just relieved to know that there’s an entire country with which I share the weird appreciation for all things tacky and kitschy.

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And tacky and kitschy it was.

After this, we headed over to the Culture House Museum for an exhibit called “Treasure.” It was a single page from a Medieval illuminated manuscript that I was dying to see, and everyone agreed to come along since exactly half the group had some stake in Medieval studies. The other half was notably underwhelmed.

We took a bit of a detour getting there, however, because a mega slip-n-slide separated us from the turn we needed to take. Instead, we walked along the length of the slip-n-slide to the waterfront of Faxa Bay. I’m a little embarrassed to say that this was the first time I had seen the ocean since arriving here.

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Will not be the last time, though.

After a quick break for photos, we made another detour to stick our heads into Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert hall and arguably most beautiful building.

It’s hard to get a sense of the whole building just from these pictures, which is my fault because I was too dazzled by the building to think about those kinds of things, but it is truly a stunning piece of architecture. I will be making a concentrated effort to attend a concert here at some point and will take better pictures then.

I didn’t take pictures at the Culture House because it didn’t occur to me because I was so psyched to see an actual folio from a Medieval manuscript because that’s just the kind of person I am, and after that stop I temporarily parted ways with my group. They went to the National Museum of Iceland, I went to my hostel to change shoes.

Later we reconvened to grab a drink and watch a concert. They got off to a late start, but it was a delightful sampling of Icelandic artists, starting with an all-female rap group (including one super pregnant member, proving once again that women are the strongest forces on the planet except for maybe like giant magnets), followed by what I can only describe as the white, daytime TV version of the Roots from the Tonight Show, then a solo pop singer, and finally a rock band that was about the equivalent of seeing a one-hit wonder from the 80’s performing 30 years and three rehab visits later. The five of us immigrants thought they kind of sucked, but the Icelanders were into it. I swear at least three quarters of the country were there.

The only reason most of us remained at this point is because we were promised fireworks, and by the time we were cold enough to think about leaving we had less than an hour until they were scheduled. We’d made it this far, might as well hang in a little longer. The fireworks were fantastic and mostly worth the wait. But more importantly, I had to pass by Hallgrímskirkja to get back to my hostel.

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THIS IS WHAT THEY’RE HIDING FROM US.

A few minutes after passing the church at 22:30 (ugh), with my blisters protesting under the hostel-provided plasters (I’m starting to think the US is the only country that calls them bandaids/bandages), I decided to take it easy the next day (today). I reaffirmed this promise to myself around 4:00 AM (or just 4:00 if you hate analog clocks) when a new group of hostel residents, including the loudest snorer I have ever heard, moved in. So if you need me, I will be sipping coffee and yawning at the Bus Hostel until I can be bothered to buy groceries and/or address the suitcase issue.

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