31 January 2008

Ferskar myndir (Fresh pictures)

New pictures. I was sent a bunch of new pictures form Iceland in the last little while from those who are currently serving as missionaries for my Church there. This first one shows three missionaries in the foreground with President Ólafur Grímsson. The elders from left to right are Doxey, Balla and Mortensen. President Ólafur has always been very kind to us as a Church.

This second picture is of Bjarni and Regina, two Icelandic kids who are a part of our church in Selfoss with their parents. When I was a missionary in the 80's the farmers did NOT wrap up their hay (or whatever is inside these things) in these monstor-sized marshmallows. Now in the summertime wherever you go in the country you will see huge marshmallows dotting the countryside. I thought it looked funny but cool at the same time.

Everywhere you go there are these cool little nooks and crannies where the mountains and grass are so characteristic of Iceland.

30 January 2008

Saga Mormónakirkjunnar á Íslandi (The Story of the Mormon Church in Iceland)

The Story of the Mormon Church in Iceland. I helped in a small way with the publication of an academic book chronicaling the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or the Mormons) in Iceland. A number of religions have had a major role in the history of religious movements during the more than 1000 years that Icelanders have been there. I helped translate a number of the old journal texts and letters from the original Icelandic into English for the English edition of the book. I also translated an old missionary tract that ended up being Appendix 2 in the English version. The book was first written in English and then translated into Icelandic for use by Icelandic academics (and others) who were making a study of religion in Iceland in its history. The University of Iceland Press published the book in Icelandic.

The book is called, Fire on Ice: The Story of Icelandic Latter-day Saints at Home and Abroad (2005, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, ISBN 084252617X / ISBN 9780842526173). The author of the book, Fred Woods, is a Brigham Young University professor of LDS Church History and Doctrine, an author specializing in Mormon migration and currently holds the Richard L. Evans chair of Religious Understanding at BYU.

Fred and I became friends when my wife and I moved into the same married housing complex at BYU back in 1987. I was considering becoming a religious professor at the time as well, so he and I became friends and spent some time together over the two or so years that I was there. It was about a year after I returned home from Iceland after having served as a missionary.

Fred and I talk quite a bit still since I helped him with his book in 2005 and we both work at BYU now. He called me yesterday and was asking me a number of questions about the recent publishing of the book into Icelandic and about my contacts in Iceland who are now buying it from the University of Iceland Press who published it. During our conversation, Fred was telling me about the trip to Iceland he is taking in five weeks to speak and lecture at the University of Iceland in the Religious History department. He was describing the additional immigration research he hoped to get done while there at the University of Iceland library as well as about the plans he had to go out into the country and interview people about their knowledge about who the Mormons really were. Most of what people think they know about us even today seems to be connected with Halldor Laxness's book Paradísarheimt. I told him that I wished I could go with him since he speaks no Icelandic and I know my way around pretty well. Of course he doesn't need Icelandic to get around at all, but his plans coincided well with things I would like to do while there.

Well, to make a long story short, I just might be going. I could help him with his research and be with him at the University of Iceland when he lectures and lend an additional bit of professionalism to his trip since I am a BYU employee as well, but one who speaks Icelandic and has lived in Iceland for two years. I'll keep you updated. If I do go, we plan to take the hringbraut trip around the island and to do research in all the small towns and interview people along the way. I've never been on the hringbraut east of Akureyri in the north or east of Vík in the south. And I'll have a digital camera this time to take all the pictures I ever wanted, though early March isn't the prettiest time of year there....

And who knows what we might see while there.

22 January 2008

Smár (Small World)

A small world. I remember being in Iceland only a short time when one of my early companions took me to visit a new member family. It was the family of Emil Emilsson and his wife Ingibjörg (Someone's daughter--I can't remember). They were living in an apartment in town at the time and it was fun getting to know them. For the life of me though, I can't find a picture of the two of them together. I only found this one so far that I have converted from a slide with Ingibjörg on the far left in the picture. All the missionaries thought she was beautiful and had a crush on her.

After a time, Emil and Ingibjörg moved with their son and daughter to a little farm house outside of Breiðholt that was quite literally out in the middle of nowhere. There weren't any other homes in sight of their tiny home. You got off the bus at the far edge of Breiðholt and then walked a mile or so to their home on a dirt/gravel road. You couldn't see the little home because it was around some little hills and aways off from the busstop. We would go and visit them on occasion and play with their two kids. They were both such cute kids. I can't for the life of me remember the name of their son, but I do remember the name of their daughter. It was Lára Ósk. We might say in English, "Laura Wish". Lára was very cute, neither of the kids being very old.

Well, years passed, I went home to Utah after my mission and after a few years I heard that Emil and his family were moving to Utah. I was excited to see them a time or two after they arrived, the last time being about six or seven years ago out in Spanish Fork, Utah which was settled by Icelandic immigrants. The Icelandic Ambassador to the United States, Baldvin Hannibalsson, was visiting Spanish Fork paying his respects to the descendants of those Icelanders who came there so long ago. About 25 people were invited, a number of whom were returned missionaries who had served there. Emil and Ingibjörg were there. Emil and Ingibjörg had started a business of some kind involved with off-road vehicles, I think.

Since that time, I really haven't heard much of anything about them. Then one night my oldest daughter came home from her work at the Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork, Utah. She told me that one of the girls she worked with said that she was from Iceland originally. My daughter perked up and asked her lots of questions, like when she came over, if she knew Darron Allred, etc. She said her parents would, since they were the ones that came over 15 years ago or so. She came home and told me about it. I told her to find out the girl's name and her parents' names and I was sure to know them. She finally saw the girl again and found out it was the same Lára Ósk that I had known when she was a little girl in far away Iceland. Smár heimur. I can't wait to see them again and to reconnect after all these years. This picture is of the mountains near their Utah home now. A lot different looking now than when I first met them all those years ago.

21 January 2008


Golden Falls. Gullfoss is the most famous waterfall in all of Iceland. I don't know which missionary took this, but it was taken in 2006, I think. You can see the two major drop offs of the falls, the shorter one first and the longer one right after. I went there in June 1986 right before I left Iceland with a member of our church who was a tour guide, Guðmundur Guðmundsson. When I went back in 2004, Guðmundur took me again. The only thing that I noticed that was different was the hiking trail and scenic view landing where all the tourists went. Before we could very close to the water and felt the incredible power that was contained in the falls by being right next to the water as it was falling over the first falls. Guðmundur said it was a bit dangerous to be so close, so we didn't get close the second time around.

This second picture was taken in 2006 as well but from a lower-down vantage point and in the early fall or winter.

I really like the silvers and grays in this photo above (again from about 2006). This next one was taken during full-on winter.

I found a cool website that gives the full history of the attention that has been paid to Gullfoss over the years. It is at http://www.vulkaner.no/n/gullfoss/egullfoss.html.

These last few pictures are ones that I took in 1986. Do you notice any differences in the falls in the last 21 years?

17 January 2008

Tveir Trúboðar (Two Missionaries)

Two missionaries. When Elders Christianson, Benson and I arrived in Iceland to be missionaries in September of 1984, there were seven missionaries on the island at the time. We made the number 10 for a few months. I got put with Elder Dale Tanner to begin with as I have mentioned before. It is common for our "trainers" to spend a few weeks to a few months teaching us everything they know and how to catch on in the language as fast as possible.

I remember going to the bank one day though with Elder Ed Hunt who was from Farmington, New Mexico. I only got about four photos of him total in the few months he was still in Iceland after I arrived. I really like this one that I just got converted from a slide that was 23 years old. We were in a Reykjavík bank exchanging U.S. dollars for Icelandic Crowns (or Kronur). Something about this with Elder Hunt on the right and the Icelandic woman doing some bank paperwork made me think of the James Bond movies I had seen as a teenager before going on a mission for my church. Some of you may recognize this bank. Which is it? I can't remember. We did go in though about once a month to change dollars into kronur. There was one specific woman who would often be at the counter when we went in to exchange our money. She was very efficient and polite. We happened to knock on her door one day after I had been in Iceland only a few weeks. My trainer spoke to her for a few minutes and then she invited us in. I was new enough that I only caught a few words here and there, but Elder Tanner caught everything. The woman was a little too friendly with us (from what Elder Tanner said later) so we didn't stay long. I've always thought this was a cool, 007 kind of picture.

This next picture is of Elder Hunt again with my training center companions, Elder Benson and Elder Christianson. The picture was taken on Christmas Eve 1984 as I recall. We had tried to get into Landakotskirkju for the midnight mass, but there were so many people we didn't have much luck. We stood at the back of the church for about twenty minutes crammed in with loads of others and then went out into the kirkjugarðinn where I took this picture without a flash. I didn't really understand the intricacies of photography but wanted to have some kind of record of the things I was experiencing, so I brought my Canon AL-1 with me. Elder Hunt still lives in New Mexico and works for FedEx.

The second of the two missionaries who are the focus of this entry arrived in Iceland with Elder Hunt. His name is Neil Taggart from Phoenix, Arizona (at left in this next picture). They had been in the missionary training center together. I never worked with him personally while I was there, but I have always wondered what happened to him and where he was today. Elder Hunt told me when I tracked him down that he had run into Elder Taggart once and that he was living in Scotsdale last he knew. The two of them were in Iceland for about a year with us before they went home.

Wondering about people like Elder Taggart is like wondering what happened to people you knew in high school that you haven't seen for a long time--except that the work we did in Iceland teaching the gospel was completely different than the things high school friends spend time doing, so the bond is somewhat different. There have only been about 155 men ever serve as missionaries in Iceland for the LDS (or Mormon) church. We are a tight-knit bunch for the most part. Any of you know this Neil Taggart and his whereabouts. Ég get ekki fundið hann….

16 January 2008

Mormóna kirkjubyggingar (Mormon Church Buildings)

Mormon church buildings. We as Mormons have our share of really cool looking historic church buildings.

This one is a meeting house in Salt Lake City.

This one is the oldest continuously used church building in the history of our church. It is in Pine Valley, Utah and was built by a boat builder.

This is what we call a "tabernacle" and is in Brigham City, Utah. Tabernacles are for larger, general meetings and usually have few or no classrooms, unlike a regular chapel or church building. Very cool looking building.

This was originally a tabernacle in Vernal, Utah but was converted into a temple. Temples are more sacred to us than regular chapels or tabernacles. A very majestic old building with the appearance of solid pioneer craftsmanship.

The most recognizable building in the Mormon faith: the Salt Lake City Temple in Utah. This photo I took on Christmas Eve 2006.

When I was a missionary in Iceland, I developed an interest in the old church buildings that dotted the land there too.

Hallgrímskirkja is the best known of all the Lutheran church buildings in Iceland but is a modern building. The tower and chapel shell were already built when I was there, but the inside was not finished for some time after I left in 1986.

This is Dómkirkja and is downtown Reykjavík in the heart of the city center. The pond in the background is a little bigger in this picture. Later part of the pond was covered over with city or art buildings, I can't remember which since I've only been there once after they were built.

This last one is hard to see, but is the church on a hill in the town of Vík along the southern coast of Iceland. Behind me and to the right is a black sand beach. You can see a little of the black sand in the foreground at right. This picture is 21 years old too, so if you've been to Vík things probably have changed a bit. I loved this little area....
I wonder if anyone in Iceland has a list with pictures of all the Lutheran church buildings still in existence. Anybody know? I'd like to see it.

15 January 2008

Íslenskar jarðfræðilegar jarðmyndanir

Icelandic geologic land formations. My favorite non-major class in college was a class called Geology 101. I had to take it after my mission to Iceland to fill a general education requirement so I could eventually graduate. It was the most interesting class I every took of the GEs I ended up taking. Well that isn't precisely true. I loved my Humanities of Asia class too. But for the sheer fascination of how the world worked, it was this geology class. Studying about aluvial fans, volcanos, rock layers and plate techtonics completely had my attention. I remember my teacher talking about oil deposits one day. He told us all in class that we would run out of oil by the year 2000. I thought that the most incredible statement I ever heard in that class. And here we are in 2008 continuing to use oil like there was no tomorrow.

I was interested in geology before I went to Iceland, but the things I saw there of geologic land formations just made me more fascinated at the complexity, variety and wonder of our world. When I see the endless variety of the world's landscapes, I can't help but see God in it all. Those who are raised not taught that there is a God find it hard to think this way. But those who believe in a higher power at least often ascribe the beauty of the world to that higher power.

Iceland's beauty is in truth a "rugged, wild" beauty.

I spent my high school years in southern Utah's red sandstone deserts. I spent my elementary school years in the lush forests of northern Florida. I was a missionary in Iceland where snow never really landed as it came down--it just kept blowing sideways and out to sea. Once off my mission I went with my family to BYU-Hawaii where the contrasts could not have been greater. Living in these lands which were all so opposite each other made me appreciate the good parts of each. This last picture I took out the window of a bus in the winter of 1985-86 somewhere on the north-west coast of Iceland. It, to me, was emblematic of how deadly the weather in Iceland could be if you did not respect it. But if you did respect how dangerous it could be there, the beauty you could discover after that seemed endless.

14 January 2008

Kvöldmat með ókunninga (Dinner with a Stranger)

Dinner with a stranger. I've been to Iceland twice. My first trip lasted for almost two years and started in 1984. My photos back then were all in color (I'm not THAT old) but end up looking grainy when compared with even the cheapest digital camera photos of today. My second and most recent trip lasted for 8 days and was in 2004, twenty years later. I STILL didn't have a digital camera and my photos still looked grainy (I was using the same old camera unfortunately). My next trip will be captured with a good digital camera and will have award winning shots.

A lot can change in a country in twenty years though. When I was first there from 1984 to 1986, I seem to remember that there were not a lot of food choices, when compared to the choices today that is. The main grocery store in those days was called Hagkaup, as I recall. In 2004, by comparison, there seemed to be no end to both the products from Iceland and the products from every other part of the world that were readily available. In 1984 it wasn't very hard to find the svið section of the frozen foods (sheep's head for the uninitiated). Today it is a lot tougher. There seems to be less of the traditional food available compared to my first trip. This first photo of me was during my first svið meal. The old fisherman we lived with brought a full head home for dinner one night. Sometimes he cooked things for us as missionaries. Sometimes we liked them. He thought that svið needed to be eaten within the first month of your arrival in Iceland and living with him. His name was Þorsteinn. He'd buy a head for him and a head for the two missionaries. In the store you would find the svið with all the hair singed off and it would be split down the middle of the skull (stay with me). Then it was put back together and vacuum packed and frozen for the grocery store. The second photo is of a more recent missionary doing justice to his svið. I thought that svið was hard enough to get used to. Then I learned what slátur and hákarl were.

Our fisherman buddy would bring home slátur on occasion too, but said it was not meant for us, since Americans had such delicate stomachs. I didn't realize that this was his attempt at a tricky play-on-words in English. That's because slátur is sheep's stomach, and is known more commonly as blood sausage. I had svið twice. I had slátur only once and it was one bite only. Some foods ended up growing on you over time. Slátur wasn't one of those foods though for me.

The worst of all though was the traditional hákarl. Another missionary and I went to visit an Icelandic family who had recently joined our church. Much of what we did as missionaries was to fellowship and strengthen those who had joined our church. Well, when we knocked on this family's door (was it in Breiðholt then?) the father, Emil, invited us in and asked us to join them for lunch. I hadn't been there too long and wanted to show them that I was willing to try the things that were important in their culture, so we sat down to a rather "traditional" lunch (there's that word again). Central to the lunch was a bowl of what appeared to be cubed, raw meat of some kind. My Icelandic was not at that time the powerful, verbal library that it was to become, so when Emil explained what was in the bowl, I missed most of it. I had not heard the word "hákarl" up to that point, so it could have been herring for all I knew. But, to be precise, it was nearly rotten shark meat. Before anyone had noticed, I had filled my little plate with a bit of smoked meat, crackers, cheeses, etc. The cubed meat had me a bit worried though. One of the kids was just popping the cubes into his mouth and downing them without a thought. It looked suspect to me though. He was six though and I was nineteen. If he could pop them, so could I. When the first cube was half-way to my mouth I caught my first smell of the foul meat (not fowl meat). The smell was so strong and so horrifyingly disgusting that I almost threw up before the meat got to my mouth. Once there, I did not chew but swallowed immediately to shorten the time the meat had to come anywhere near my tongue. I did not succeed in avoiding a strong revulsion for the nearly rotten shark meat for the rest of my time in Iceland. Describing the process of preparing the shark meat for the average Icelander's table is almost as disgusting, so I won't put you through it.

I loved their snúða, their rúsinu brauð and their vínarbrauð, two of the three being pasteries, so who wouldn't. I loved their pylsur (hot dogs) too and had a few when I went back the second time. Of all the breads though, I loved the rúgbrauð (a type of heavy rye bread) which was sold in "bricks". I can't find it in Utah though. Put a slice of this dark, heavy rye bread in the toaster and then add a little butter...mmm, mmm....I can't understand why we don't have this kind of bread in the West. I don't know if there is anything similar back east (we know very little about the eating habits of those mysterious easterners).

The last two foods that were very common and very yummy for young men who didn't know how to cook very well were fiskabollur and hrossabjúgu. The fiskabollur were ground up fish meat with other yummy spices to make a little ball of meat that was fried or cooked in some other way. One of my favorites. The hrossabjúgu were smoked horse sausages. Sounds terrible to eat one of man's best friends, but the Icelanders had to eat what they could in the old days. Their horses were what kept them from starving to death often in the old days, along with their sheep and fish. The tradition holds on till today, but fewer of the younger kids are "indulging" these days. The family we stayed with when visiting in 2004 were suprised when I told them I had missed the hrossabjúgu, but were happy to prepare some for me the first night. Ahh, heaven. We couldn't even find the balls of fish in the store when we were on that 2004 visit.

We as missionaries were always eating on the cheap. None of us were very good cooks, except for my first companion who ended up being a professional chef and now lives in Oklahoma. I was spoiled by him since he was my first companion. Those who visit today will find such fine things as steinbítur (sea bass) on the menus of classy restaurants, but we had the cheaper lúða (halibut) or þórskur (cod) brought to us on occasion by Þorsteinn free of charge. Over the years the missionaries learned a lot about the Icelanders from the foods they would eat. I suspect that learning such things in Iceland today by newcomers is not quite so easy.

11 January 2008

Ísland. Óvéfengjanlega. (Iceland. Unquestionably.)

Iceland. Unquestionably. Anyone who has spent any length of time in Iceland will be able to tell that these photos were taken there. I spent about 20 months in Iceland. One of the missionaries who was there two or three years ago took this first picture and it was eventually sent to me. It is patently Iceland.

Whenever I see a movie that was filmed in Iceland, I can tell immediately. Iceland has a very unique look and topography. When the movie Batman Begins came out a few years ago, I thought the glacier and supposedly Asian looking countryside that was being shown was Iceland. Sure enough when I checked into it, it was. There is no other place in the world that looks quite like it. I don't know precisely where these two places are in Iceland, but I know that there are in Iceland. I took the second one in 1986. It is impossible to mistake them for somewhere else. The green grass clinging to every spot, but only part-way up the bigger mountains. Everything made out of volcanic rock. Small farms with colorful roofs. Icelandic sheep and horses in many of the fields. It definitely has its own feel and I miss seeing it on a regular basis.

10 January 2008

Svipuól (Whiplash)

Whiplash. For every missionary who serves in a country which is not their own, there comes a time when you feel like you've lived in that country for a very long time. I got sent up to a little town called Akureyri in the north of Iceland when I had been on my mission for over a year and a half. I only had five or so months left when I got there before I would be required to go back to the deserts of southern Utah. I had begun to feel that my life before my time in Iceland had been a very long time before. The Icelandic language was comfortable to me. The way the Icelanders lived and the things they believed had become relatively clear to me. I knew what soccer teams were their favorites and how they felt they fit into the international big picture. I had spent a good portion of every day speaking a language that, just 18 months before, I had not even heard of.

When I arrived in Akureyri, everything was very similar to what I had experienced in Reykjavík. The mountains across the fjord looked similar to the mountains back in Reykjavík. There was snow all around. The people spoke Icelandic in the same way with no change in accent. It was a small town comparatively, so things felt a bit more laid back. But all in all moving from Reykjavík to Akureyri wasn't as big a change as I had been thinking it might be.

I began working with Elder Miller, the missionary in the back of this picture on the left. He was a hard worker and wanted to be a good missionary. We worked hard together in the beginning of a mild winter there at the end of 1985. Not too long later, Elder Miller went back to Reykjavík and I stayed in Akureyri and was put with Elder Holt. We got along fine and tried to work hard in a town with no members, no real investigating non-members and no place to meet on Sundays except our apartment. Before long Elder Holt and I had a routine down and were systematically going through the city to find any who might be interested in our message of restoration.

One day Elder Holt and I were in a grocery store downtown just picking up some things we needed before going back to our apartment late one afternoon. I had already gone through the line and was waiting for Elder Holt. All at once I noticed a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman looking back and forth at me and then at my companion. She quickly decided to approach me and asked in English if we were Mormon missionaries. I was very surprised since we were in an out-of-the-way town with no members. The woman told me that she was a member of our Church, originally from Argentina, but now living with her husband in Canada. The two of them were just visiting their family in the area. That suprised me too, because in those days in the mid 80's there were very few foreigners living in Iceland, let alone in Akureyri in the middle of nowhere. The woman went on to tell me that her husband's family lived across the fjord and ran a chicken farm! I was blown away. I was so deeply immersed in the Icelandic culture, language, land and people that I was feeling a bit of whiplash mentally and culturally.

Before we left the store, the woman had invited us to dinner at the brother's home across the fjord in a few days. We of course accepted. They came around the fjord and picked us up by car. When we got there we were introduced to the whole family. None spoke English or Icelandic except the brother who owned the farm. He spoke a bit of broken Icelandic. Their aged mother lived with them and had talked to missionaries like us years before and had even accepted a Book of Mormon once and read it. Trying to communicated during dinner and afterwards was very difficult. I had always up to that point been able to switch from English into Icelandic for the last 18 months when I had trouble communicating with someone. But now neither English or Icelandic helped. And myyears of Spanish during junior high and high school weren't coming back to me. Cultural whiplash big time.

The dinner was superb but completely different than anything I had eaten my whole mission. After dinner they had us go with them into their living room where they proceeded to get out the guitars. I didn't have any idea up to that point how extreme the cultural whiplash was going to get. These folks knew their guitars! They began to play and quickly I realized that these were no amateurs. After playing a bit (with our mouths wide open) they shared their secret that, on weekends they performed in restaurants and hotels all over Iceland. They raised chickens AND were professional musicians. Their music gave me chills. All the events of that entire evening were so other-worldly compared to the last 18 months that Elder Holt and I were quite overwhelmed with the differences. We had never heard Icelanders be very musical on the whole, but these Argentines were pros. It took us days to stop thinking so much about it afterwards. We reimmersed ourselves fully back into the Icelandic culture all around us. We stopped trying to remember our high school Spanish and went back to trying to memorize ten new Icelandic words every day before we went out to find people to teach. A wonderfully unsettling time at the end of 1985. No matter how many languages or cultures a person becomes to know well, there will always be thousands that are nearly completely unknown to us. God did not intend that our sphere of influence cover all people in all cultures. But we do have a sphere of influence, some of us in more than one culture. What are we doing with our influence?

05 January 2008


Bessastaðir. In the two years I was serving in Iceland I never once made it out to Bessastaðir to visit. Bessastaðir is the residence of the President of Iceland while he or she is in office. When I was there in 1984 to 86 the current president was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Vigdís was the world's first popularly-elected woman president and the people loved her. I remember hearing that she spoke English, Swedish and a few other languages fluently. I took this first picture of Bessastaðir when I went back in 2004. The long glass windows in the little arboretum on the right hand side of the main residence at that time had large green leaves from all kinds of plants pressed up against them. It must be quite a nice place to relax and mentally remove yourself from the harsh conditions that are often right on the other side of the windows.

I thought back on why I never visited the place while a missionary. No buses went out that way plus there isn't a lot to do there once you've arrived except go into the little church which is at the front of the building. We would have had to have a member drive us out if we were to get there at all. So we never went.

When we pulled up in our rental car in 2004 in September, there wasn't a soul to be seen except for two workers who were replacing some of the paving blocks in one of the walkways by the church. We didn't know if the church was open or not. The workers didn't even look in our direction. We walked up to the church door and pulled, and sure enough, it was open. We went in and saw the most beautiful stained-glass windows that I have ever seen. Okay, I haven't seen many, but these were cool. They depicted famous people and events in the settling of Iceland. I took these two pictures during this trip. I half expected a priest to be in the building, but most of the historic church buildings in Iceland do not have priests in them day-to-day. The newer ones, like Hallgrímskirkja and Háteigskirkja have priests, but that is because the buildings are in the middle of Reykjavík with people who attend on occasion.

I learned a little of the history of Bessastaðir recently. The first time that it is mentioned in Icelandic writings was by Snorri Sturluson sometime between 1200 A.D and 1241 A.D. He owned it at the time, but there is no mention of who built it. Snorri was a writer, historian and poet. He was part of the most influential family of the day (the "Sturlung" age was named after his family), but when he and his family fell from power, Bessastaðir was then confiscated by the king of Norway who used it to house his chief representative until the 17oo's. That's about 500 years worth of time! For 40 years or so in the early 1800's it was used as the sight for the most advanced school in the country, which was a Latin school.

Finally in 1941 it became the residence of the Icelandic head of state. In 1944 when Iceland won its independence from Denmark, Sveinn Björnsson became the first president of Iceland and made Bessastaðir his formal residence (he had been the head of state since 1941 in case you were wondering). The presidents who lived there from 1944 on have been these:

Sveinn Björnsson--1944-1952
Ásgeir Ásgeirsson--1952-1968
Kristján Eldjárn--1968-1980
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir--1980-1996
Ólafur Grímsson--1996-present

I saw Vigdís in the airport during this 2004 trip. She had no security with her, no group of followers. Just the beloved past-president of a small country heading somewhere. I almost stopped her and talked to her, but didn't want to seem like a groupie...

What we see today as the buildings at Bessastaðir were not the same as the ones that existed in the 1300's, for example. The oldest part of the current presidential residence was built in 1763, but there have been loads of changes since then. The current church was built sometime between 1780 and 1823, as the U.S. was struggling to become an independent country. The stones of the walls are about three feet thick and made out of cut stones with lime mortar.

As you stand in the doorway of the church and look out to the left you see the view in this last picture. Remote, cold. Birds on the water, wind and snow. A quiet place removed from the beaten track holding as much of a place in the history of Iceland as any other place. When visiting with President Grímsson on a visit a few years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley said of Bessastaðir that he liked it so much that he might like to retire there someday. President Grímsson thought that was nice of him to say. Then when president Hinckley left he was told that Mormon prophets don't retire. They die on the job. He told us that in a meeting at BYU two years ago when we hosted him on campus. Everyone thought that that sounded exactly like something President Hinckley would say.

02 January 2008

Ólík Sjónarmið (Different Views)

Different Views. I don't live by the sea right now. But I have a few times in my life. When I was fresh off of my mission my whole family (with all eight kids) moved to Hawaii so my dad could teach at BYU-Hawaii. I found out about the move shortly before I returned home from Iceland. We lived on the edge of two towns in Hawaii: Laie and Hauula. Laie is the town where BYU-Hawaii was located. Hauula was right next door. Both are very small places on the edge of the water before the mountains begin. The water was only 100 yards from our home on the famous Kam highway. We spent a lot of time in the water there with all kinds of eels, fishes, corals, sharks (further out), and shell creatures. Even sea turtles could be seen off the shore nearby just swimming along.

About half way through my mission I got transferred to a little town called Keflavík. It was about a half hour from Reykjavík. It was where the NATO base was located until about a year ago when they shut it down and moved nearly all the military people out. Now they have a bunch of old military buildings that I don't know what their plans are for them. This picture was taken in 1985 out our apartment window to the right facing Reykjavík. You can't quite see it, but its out that direction. Poseidon was the name of a clothing store across the street. Moms, many with strollers, would go in and out all day.

If any of you have ever lived on the ocean--which we were literally doing here--you know that with the changes in the weather came lots of changes in the "faces" of the ocean that was right in front of you all the time. In Reykjavík I always lived where I could see the ocean from my apartment. In Keflavík and Akureyri it was the same. In Akureyri we lived on the edge of a fjord. You can see the water and then the other side of the fjord in this second picture. I learned to really love seeing the water wherever I lived.

In Keflavík my companion and I lived right on the water in our apartment. The beach consisted of a barrier of large rocks, similar to what I remember the water's edge being like in San Diego when I visited there two years ago. At high tide there were about six additional feet of rocks before the water would hit the businesses right across the street from us. The first late-night storm or two really caused some anxiety for my companion and me. We thought for sure that the waves would just come up and take us away.

I found myself looking out at that ocean view pretty regularly when we were in our apartment. It was better than look-ing at the mold in the room that we didn't use. I began to know the different "faces" or "moods" of the water and took pictures of some of them. I recently had these three converted from slides to digital images. Quite a bit of difference between them.

I remember sitting in that apartment one day and thinking about these different faces. I started to think about how different the views of the every-day Icelander were from ours as well. They really did come from a completely different background and history. Their socially-but not spiritually-based Christianity was quite a different viewpoint when compared with the restored Christianity we were teaching. Most couldn't even comprehend how anything we said could possibly fit into their world.

I was always glad when the sun came out after one of those major night storms. The light always made all the difference....