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THE FINE ART OF FINNISH MELANCHOLY

THE FINE ART OF FINNISH MELANCHOLY

Published August 6, 2004

And despite Icelands latitude being right in the centre of Finland, the climate is somewhat different. Whereas Finns have to deal with long, cold, monotonous winters, which lead to a lot of introspection followed by depression, Icelanders have to deal with endless amounts of wind and rain more likely to result in frustration. Perhaps this explains why Icelanders always try to deny their melancholy, telling each other they are always “hress” and “í stuði,” whereas the Finns celebrate theirs.
A wonderful example of the latter is Arto Paasilinna´s book Glorious Mass Suicide, about a group of rejects who travel through Finland on a bus with the aim of driving off a cliff on the Arctic coast. They then turn around and decide to drown themselves off Portugal instead.
The book does not at first glance seem as if it would lend itself to dramatisation, but this is the ambitious task embarked upon by the newly founded thespian group Landsleikur. For a play that mostly takes place on a bus, the production is imaginative, particularly with the utilisation of a multi-purpose black box that is often the centrepiece of amusing scene changes, such as the drunk metamorphosing into a statue. The dramatisation quite sensibly cuts the journey down, ending in Norway, and staging off bus highlights. The humour is stressed, as it should be for a cast this young, and is mostly funny if occasionally laboured. However, a mistake is made in keeping the original ages of the protagonists. One has to overcome the obvious inconsistency of the middle aged characters of the text and the 20 year olds on stage. Making the characters younger would bypass this as well as broach the dark subject of teenage suicide. Still, you can´t fault a cast for its age, all actors play various characters and Karl Ágúst Þorbergsson particularly shines as Colonel Hermanni. For their parts the actors took lessons in Finnish tango, and the tango music that sets the atmosphere is a particular joy. In a melancholy sort of way, of course. The tango in Argentina celebrates sensuality, but in Finland it seems to celebrate sadness. That´s something we Icelanders should do more often.
Glorious Mass Suicide is on tour.



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One Day in October (During Master’s Month)

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Brotherly Love

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My brother is a fourteen-carat, stone cold wanker. At age twelve he spoke fluent French, at fourteen he was the fastest 100-metre runner in Ireland for his age, at eighteen, he captained our school choir and won a scholarship to university for academic excellence, by nineteen he spoke fluent mandarin. My name’s Tom and I’m his older brother. Yesterday I started putting raisins into my porridge. Raisins contain polyphenolic phytonutrients that can improve your ability to see in the dark, and in Iceland around this time of year I reckon that it’s a shrewd bit of thinking. But society wouldn’t notice.

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The first time I heard it, I did what all good girls do and politely ignored it. The second time, I shot him a look of disgust. By the third time, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I felt like I was going to be sick. I cast a crazed eye around the room, but to my shock nobody else seemed bothered by the fact that a certain member of the Grapevine team, let’s call him Bill (because we have a Bob), has a penchant for sniffling and snorting large globules of mucous down the back of his throat. HAD HIS MOTHER

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In short: Only the privileged few A large number of Icelandic books are available as audio books at the audio books library. Available, in this case, however, means available to those who need them rather than those who would merely enjoy them. The audio book library is publicly funded and to some extent exempt from copyright restrictions, to serve blind and dyslexic audiences. Last week saw a mild debate involving non-blind and non-dyslexic readers who would nonetheless like to be able to buy these audio editions; the manager of the library who explained how absolutely nonsensical and futile not to

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I don’t have the sharpest social skills but I know when someone is making a joke at my expense. My travel agent was clearly making a joke at my expense: “I know you won’t fly through Heathrow or JFK and I know you will ‘never get on another Delta plane as long as you live,’ but of course you want the cheapest fare possible. The cheapest roundtrip ticket from New York to London is Icelandair with a slight layover in Reykjavík.” I had several pertinent questions for my travel agent and she answered with an exaggerated patience that made me

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You’re Wet, And You’re Cold, And You’re Miserable

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You’ve just come in for the day. Your clothes are strewn across the radiator. Your anorak is hanging in the bathroom. It’s creating a giant puddle on the floor. Oh, and you’ve just stepped in it with your last pair of dry socks. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s gray. It’s late October in Reykjavík. You’re kicking yourself for not choosing to visit during the summer, but as some Pollyanna told you, at least this way you’re getting the authentic Icelandic experience. Well, you should know that it wouldn’t have made much difference if you had come during the summer. It

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