Let Me Tell You About Gigi (written three years ago in preparation for this day)

Inca cuddled up with Gigi today, knowing her friend wasn’t feeling well.

I had a bit of a scare recently. My dog Gigi developed a fever, lost her appetite and began to act lethargic. She’s 12 years old, so I wasted no time taking her to her vet. Dr. Good, who rolls around in a mobile clinic, did a thorough exam, took blood and urine and an X-ray—and found nothing wrong other than the obvious presence of an infection. So Gigi went on antibiotics.

I’m happy to say Gigi recovered. But while she was sick, I began to dread the possibility of losing this amazing creature with whom I share my life and my home. I thought I would write an obituary about her now. Because when she dies—because she will die—I won’t be in any shape to write. At this stage, who knows how long she’s got? She’s a big dog, and the big ones don’t tend to live as long.

So I decided to write about Gigi now, while she’s still with me and I can discuss her unique characteristics without breaking down in floods of tears.

On the surface, Gigi is just a very doggy dog. She’s half Labrador and half German Shepherd, with maybe a dash of Doberman. She’s black-and-tan and shorthaired, with floppy ears. As much as I love her, I do not share my bed with her because she’s 75 pounds of elbows and she farts and groans all night.

I wasn’t looking for a dog when Gigi came to my attention. I had lost my dog, Ringo, a year previously and was still in mourning. My daughter Kerry saw an ad on Craig’s List that said, “Sweetest dog in the world needs a home.” I looked at the picture. This dog was much larger than I wanted. She was black-and-tan, which is not a color scheme I admire. And she lived about 65 miles away.

I called her owner. Apparently, they rescued her when she was about six months old, and loved her dearly. But the landlord of the house they had just moved into said the dog had to go. I asked question after question, because living with Ringo taught me the right questions to ask. (Loved that dog, but he was a hot mess when we first got him.) The answers seemed good, so my husband and I drove 65 miles to meet the dog.

The dog’s name was Gertie, a name I knew I couldn’t live with. She greeted us with kisses and a wildly wagging tail that slapped against our legs like a baseball bat. I observed her with a baby and with cats—completely calm. I did everything I could to elicit a dominant or aggressive response—grab her collar, squeeze her paws, roll her over, and so forth—all of which she responded to with kisses and wags.

I decided I wanted her, but we had five houseguests with a sixth on the way and I felt it was unfair to plop an adopted animal down in the midst of all this chaos, so I said I’d come get her when the house had cleared out. Her owner agreed, but later told me that the landlord had threatened to evict them if the dog wasn’t gone by a certain date. On that day, I drove back to collect her.

Gigi in her salad days. She almost always walked around with a stuffy toy in her mouth. I selected stuffies on the basis of how much they amused me.

In the interim, we had a lively family discussion about what to call the dog, as Gertie just wasn’t going to cut it. I thought we should pick a name that was similar to Gertie so she would adapt to it quickly. I suggested Gigi. My daughter said it sounded like a stripper. After a two-hour discussion, Gigi it was, though still over my daughter’s objections.

When I picked her up, her owner burst into tears and rushed us out the door, handing me a ceramic jar for dog treats. It was clearly a painful parting. I put Gigi in the back of my car and headed home. Gigi rested her chin on my shoulder for the entire trip home, which I thought was a good sign.

It turns out I needn’t have worried about the abundance of guests or about the name. Gigi walked into the house and acted as though she had lived with us her entire life. She also responded to her new name instantly. As a matter of fact, as the houseguests began to go back to their own lives, Gigi seemed to miss the party atmosphere of an overcrowded house. She still loves a good party.

Then we began to get to know her. First of all, Gigi is an extremely obedient dog— except when she isn’t. For example, if she needs to go outside to go to the bathroom or check out the gophers, she will go outside. If she doesn’t, she will wag her tail and refuse to move. I have learned to trust her on things like this and will only insist if there is some compelling reason. She has a stentorian bark that wakes the eldest grandchild from her nap, so I put Gigi out when Jessamyn is napping so if the doorbell rings or there is a package delivery, she won’t sound the alarm. Gigi goes reluctantly, but she goes if I really insist.

She can make friends with just about any other animal. I have seen her buddy up to:
At least two coyotes
A bunny (kisses were exchanged)
A feral cat
A cat that was so terrified of her that it refused to come into the house until Gigi performed her ambassadorial work
Innumerable other cats and dogs and humans

The feral cat is my rescue kitty, Inca. When I first acquired Inca from a rescue organization, they told me she was one of a litter of feral kittens. They were considered too old to domesticate, but they seemed to be adapting to humans, so the rescue decided to place them with families. Inca was okay with me as long as I kept her confined to a bathroom, but she was horrified by Gigi. When I let her out of the bathroom, Inca disappeared for two weeks, flitting about in our peripheral vision like a bat.

One day, I saw Inca and called to her. To my astonishment, she strolled over and climbed into my lap. After a bit, Gigi came into the room and lay down. Inca trotted down the length of the couch, mewing at Gigi. I had no idea what would happen, as I hadn’t had either of them for very long, but Gigi came over as though Inca had been calling her and proceeded to kiss her. Inca adores Gigi. It’s pretty funny to watch her try to give this enormous dog a bath with her tiny pink tongue.

I give Gigi a lot of credit for the rapidity to which Inca adjusted to domestic life and became an affectionate pet. She never used to let me pet her tummy, which I longed to do (best part of a cat). One day, I gave Gigi an extensive belly rub. Inca watched intently nearby as Gigi groaned with happiness. When I finished with Gigi, I turned to pet the cat. Inca flopped down and presented her own belly for a rub, and she has enjoyed it ever since.

Inca and Gigi have seldom been parted, but there was one weekend when I had to use a pet-sitting service. Gigi went to the sitter’s home, but the service had a large enclosed cat area for feline borders, so they were separated for about four days. When I went to pick them up, Inca was there, but the sitter had not returned Gigi. I told them to have the sitter bring Gigi directly to my house as soon as possible, and left with Inca.

When we got home, Inca shot out of her carrier and began searching the house. She went from room to room, mewing loudly, but of course, Gigi was nowhere to be found. When the sitter showed up with the dog about two hours later, Gigi made for her water dish immediately because it was a sizzling day. She put on the brakes when she saw her kitty friend, and the two of them checked each other out carefully, kissed, and then Gigi got her drink.

You might be wondering about the coyotes I mentioned earlier. I am familiar with the coyote trick of sending a fertile female to lure a male dog to its doom (the original femme fatale). That wasn’t what was happening here. The first time, I noticed Gigi making play bows along the fence enclosing our yard. Something was moving around vigorously in the tall grass and weeds on the other side of the fence. When I got closer, I saw it was a small, young coyote. The two animals were playing, each on one side of the fence, play-bowing and running, then bowing again. They seemed to be having a lot of fun.

In the second instance, my son-in-law Mike came home and saw Gigi in the back yard with what he thought was a fox, just hanging out together. He videoed it, calling Gigi in, so we were able to see it was a young female coyote that had found a way under the fence. Apparently, Gigi and the coyote had been chilling together in the back yard for quite a while. We don’t really want her socializing with coyotes, so we fixed the fence.

There is an exception to Gigi’s long list of friends. My daughter’s dog, Hendrix, is a Japanese Chin. He’s one of those fluffy, goggle-eyed little dogs. He annoyed Gigi at first acquaintance by biting her ankles. Gigi responded by squashing Hendrix flat with one big paw, but unfortunately, this triggered Hendrix’s bad back, requiring expensive meds. Although he has lived with Gigi now for four years, Hendrix has not improved his behavior and sometimes still bites her ankles. Gigi has learned to ignore/not squash him, but she cannot overlook it when he steals her chew toys.

Gigi loves to carry toys around in her mouth, usually a stuffed animal, but sometimes a chew toy. Hendrix isn’t allowed bones or chews because of major, life-threatening allergies, and he steals her toys out of jealousy. One night, Kerry took a bone away from Hendrix and returned it to Gigi. Gigi took it with her customary gentleness, but never stopped staring at Hendrix. Finally, she turned her back, walked away a few paces, turned around, and THREW the bone at Hendrix with a snort worthy of a teenaged girl.

Gigi has been wonderful with the grandkids, gentle and protective. She permitted all kinds of indignities, though we tried to spare her and teach the children to be gentle with animals—which they are. When Tom and I aren’t at home, Gigi sleeps in Lilah’s room, squeezing completely under the bed. She’s so big I’m not sure how she gets out again. Both the grandkids learned early to dodge Gigi’s lethal tail. It smarts when her tail connects with human flesh.

The kids loved Gigi. Gigi loved the kids.

While I don’t doubt that if anyone threatened us, Gigi would rip his throat out, I trust her 100% with children, guests and pets. She is one of the most utterly trustworthy personalities I have ever encountered. It’s not like having a dog around so much as having an odd-looking grandmother. A grandmother who might attack burglars.

Whenever I have had to treat Gigi for an ailment, she is the soul of cooperation. She will do anything the vet asks, patiently enduring indignities such as rectal thermometers and intrusive examinations. Once both her ears became infected. I had a bottle of liquid that I had to flood both ears with twice a day—something most dogs would strenuously resist. When Gigi saw me coming with the bottle, she would lie down on one side and present an ear. When I was done treating that ear, she would roll over and present the other one. She’s that way with every medical treatment—including acupuncture, which helps with her arthritis when it get bad—apparently understanding that we are trying to help her even if she doesn’t understand what we are doing. (Although I wouldn’t take any bets on her lack of comprehension.)

We live in a beach town. It’s also a dog town, and many people bring their dogs to play at the beach. I took Gigi frequently when we first moved here, but after a couple of years she started coming back limping and sore. Age, alas, is catching up with her, and her once-black muzzle and face are now frosty. She has arthritis and some old joint injuries that cause her problems. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t understand moderation. If I take her to the beach, she runs around and greets and plays with every other dog present, and most of the humans, too. We have had to curtail her beach visits, which is sad, because she used to have a blast.

It’s hard to express this without sounding kind of woo-woo, but this animal is enormously spiritual—more than most humans I know. She’s kind, gentle, intuitive and loving. I respect her as much as I would respect another human because she is her own creature. She knows who she is. She has a presence. Don’t get me wrong—she’s still a dog. She begs at the table. Sometimes she pees in the wrong place (but only if desperate). She barks at nothing and she barks at everything. But looking in her eyes, I see a kindred being who communicates clearly without words, who respects and loves me.

And when she goes (may it be many moons from today), I will be as grief-stricken as I would be for any family member. That’s why I’m telling you now, while I can, that I have in my keeping a great and beautiful soul. It’s a beautiful soul that farts and groans all night, that’s all.

Gigi died today (November 26, 2019) at the age of approximately 15. So I had three excellent years with her after I wrote this piece. She was going downhill fast, and I wanted to say goodbye before her life became a complete misery to her. She died at home with her family around her.

Blogging, Publishing, Disappointments, Runes, Dried Cod Slathered in Butter

Okay. I admit I am not the world’s most dedicated blogger. I haven’t posted since the end of my Iceland trip, sometime in July—and I was cheating, because after we left Iceland, we went to Copenhagen, then Stockholm, and had a wonderful time. Except for the heat. It was 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time we were there, and of course, Scandinavia doesn’t know from air conditioning. My husband, who walks six to eight miles EVERY FUCKING DAY wanted to walk everywhere. I vividly recall standing in a jeweler’s shop looking for gifts and raining sweat on the display so hard I didn’t even contemplate looking for better prices because I was so embarrassed.

The only place I recall being air conditioned was the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. It is a museum that was built around an entire 17th century ship called the Vasa that sailed for 1500 yards on her maiden voyage, then keeled over and sank. It turns out she was top-heavy and there wasn’t sufficient ballast. A great pity for the king of Sweden, who had commissioned the ship and assured she was as gaudy and painted and stuffed full of guns as a wild west whorehouse. A greater pity for the thirty people who drowned when the Vasa sank. But a benison for the rest of us, because the ship was raised nearly intact and restored so that we can marvel at her and the astounding objects and decorations that she flaunted so briefly. And the entire building was positively freezing. I loved it.

But back to blogging. Why do I blog? I blog because I hope it will help sell my novels, although I don’t talk about my novels that much. I guess I am hoping that you’ll adore my prose style and want MORE! MORE! MORE!

But I have a problem, and I suppose I’d better discuss it. I have two novels of a trilogy in paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.: “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean.” I also have a children’s book that was self-published, but let’s leave that aside for now. Last January, I sent my publisher, Diversion Books, the draft of the third, final, and (in my opinion anyway) best book of the trilogy, “Lords of the Night.”

My publisher basically said, “Oh, did we forget to tell you? We’re focusing on non-fiction now.” Long story short, they are still making the first two books available, but nothing further, and they won’t be bringing out “Lords of the Night.”

I believe that’s called “trilogus interruptus.”

Fast forward to last week, and I attended the World Fantasy Conference In Los Angeles. I wish I could say that a publisher stepped forward and rescued my entire trilogy, all the while warbling promises of AWESOME book promotion, but that didn’t happen. I did talk to an editor at Daw, and editor at Tor, and an agent that handles fantasy, and they all said the same thing, more or less: you are so screwed.

It seems that publishers don’t like picking up series in the middle, even if they can (my publisher will give me back my publishing rights). The advice was to take “Lords of the Night” to Kindle—maybe all three books—and do my own promotion. The agent suggested that a smaller publisher might pick up the trilogy; it would be worth trying. And then I can write my next book—unrelated to the trilogy—and find an agent and a new publisher.

Interestingly, I met at least three other writers who said the same thing had happened to them. Being a novelist is so glamorous.

But I did come back newly energized. I plan to pitch a few publishers and see what happens. And I have started on a new book. It will be set in settlement-era Iceland, as the Vikings began to turn into farmers and build a new society. 

But there will be magic, and it will be Icelandic magic, which is different from other magical systems I am familiar with. As a consequence I am studying the Elder Futhark, which is the set of Icelandic runes used in fortune-telling in the Icelandic tradition. In this tradition, the runes themselves are magical, not just another alphabet. Each does have its own sound, which means the runes can be formed into words—but each also has its own meaning, both symbolic and literal.

For example, berkana:

As you might suspect, the sound associated with it is “B.” It means “birch.” Its more mystical meaning is “purification, fertility and birth.” This can be interpreted a number of ways, depending on where it falls in the casting, whether or not it is reversed, and its relationship to the other runes in the casting. It’s almost as complicated to learn as tarot, except that a standard tarot deck has 55 cards, while the Elder Futhark has only 24 runes. Which I guess makes it about half as complicated as tarot.

I am the rankest of amateurs and I don’t actually believe in magic, but I have been a bit awed by the runes and how accurate they tend to be. I’m looking forward to the role they will play in my new book.

For now, I will leave you with this random observation. In old Iceland, food was always an issue, and many times life depended on finding something dead washed up on the beach. One standby food was dried fish. Here’s what dried cod looks like (this one has a tag on it from the supermarket):

I suppose this could be rehydrated and cooked in a stew, though I haven’t gotten that far in my culinary research yet. But the preferred way of eating it was to break off a piece, cover it with salted butter and eat it. Icelanders still enjoy this as a snack, kind of like we eat potato chips.

I admit I did not know this when we were in Iceland, or I would have tried it. Next time.

Random Thoughts About Iceland on Our Last Evening

One of the inescapable facts about Iceland; unless you possess an awesome camera with all the fixings and know how to use it, you simply will never capture the grandeur of the landscape. The mountains are so high, layered like chocolate layer cake and frosted with patches of snow in July. The glacial valleys are deep, most with endless streams meandering down from the higher glaciers, or tumbling down the steep mountainsides from the snow. Or wide rivers, heavy with alluvia from the glaciers, rush along to meet with the fjords.

A glacial valley with its inevitable stream. You can photograph something like this every five minutes.

Then there are the fjords, glittering in the sun or soft and sullen beneath the clouds. The lava mountains on the other side of every single fjord often have a necktie of white cloud resting midway between the ground and the peaks.

A necktie of clouds.

Then there are the waterfalls, which are everywhere, though of course, there are the faves like Gödafoss.

Gödafoss, the waterfall of the gods. (In this case, the discarded gods.)

The abundance and exuberance of wildflowers was overwhelming for a native Californian. Our brief wildflower season is lovely, but you have to go looking for them, and at the right time of year. The right time of year is critical here, too, but once the season is right, there are bushels of flowers almost everywhere you look.

The people here have been friendly and helpful without exception. Almost everyone speaks excellent English, and those that don’t speak it well speak it pretty well. People here love their country deeply. It shows in the way they talk about the beauty of winter, the knowledge of their past, respect for their environment.

Iceland is supposed to be the safest place in the world when it comes to crime. There are only 1.24 murders per year on average, none of them with guns, despite the fact that many people own guns. Largely, these are shotguns that farmers use if they have to put down an animal–there are no predators except for foxes. To qualify for gun ownership, you have to have a reason to own one, take a three-day safety course, and take a medical examination that presumably looks at mental as well as physical health. Sounds sensible to me. Even theft is uncommon, though not unheard of.

Iceland supports a permanent population of only 400,000. As the interior is uninhabitable, this population lives on the fringes of the island. Even so, it is kind of eerily devoid of people. Reykjavík, the capital city, is quiet and uncrowded outside of the tourist district. It’s kind of weird walking down deserted city streets in the middle of the day. Outside of the capitol, the habitations are mostly widely spaced farm houses, punctuated every hundred kilometers or so by small villages. VERY small villages. They usually have a gas station and maybe a tiny grocery store. The larger ones might have a hotel and/ or a restaurant–usually with great food. Food away from touristy spots was delicious, fresh, and healthy. Except for the potatoes, which are consistently incredibly good, if not good for you. The downside is that selection is often limited. Oh, well. Being limited to three choices isn’t so bad if all the choices are good.

On the drive from Akuréyri, we stopped for lunch at a random guesthouse in the middle of absofucking nowhere. Walking up, we were expecting a plain interior and a choice of salmon sandwich, chicken, and pizza. It was a real surprise. The interior was very Icelandic Modern with blond wood walls, abstract art, and hideous pottery lamp shades that looked like they were your child’s first clay project. It turned out all the plates, vases on the tables, the mugs, etc. had been lovingly created by the same unsteady hand (not thrown or cast), so that nothing sat square on the surface of the table, but wobbled slightly. The menu was presented as a clutch of loose sheets held together by a clipboard, which I suppose made it easy to change the menu quickly. Tom had salmon and I ordered shellfish soup. It was excellent, accompanied by home baked rye bread and butter.

The lamp shades look better in this photo than they did in person.

This restaurant kind of epitomized Iceland to me: isolated, an interest in esthetics and handiwork, focused on fresh, local foods well-prepared, and yet informal, eccentric and slightly makeshift.

There are sheep everywhere, often where they should not be. At Saudafell Guesthouse, which is a working sheep farm, our host Finboggi said he drives the sheep to the mountains every summer to graze, and leaves them there unattended. (In the old days, a dairymaid would have stayed with them.) I asked if he didn’t lose some of them every year, sheep being both stupid and unconcerned about their owners’ economic welfare. Finnboggi said yes, he did lose some every year, and shrugged in an unconcerned way. Just the cost of doing business, I guess.

Icelandic wool is different from your standard- issue wool. The sheep have evolved, as have the horses, to survive in this climate. Their wool consists of two types of fibers and the result is that their wool stays warm even when wet. You would think that Icelanders, who knit and crochet a lot, would prefer their home-grown product, but no. In most of the shops, the yarn I saw was imported. People are funny.

Mama and her babies, just chillin’ by the side of the road.

Iceland is volcanic, and the evidence is everywhere, from the great tongues of ancient lava quietly eroding into the valleys, to old cinder cones, to great fields of broken lava, to the occasional volcano that has blown its top, probably thousands of years ago like the one below. It must have been a hellish explosion when it went off.

It’s so easy to see how the mountain ripped itself open with a massive explosion. This is also a common sight in Iceland, which still has several active volcanoes.

I am sitting in Keflávik airport as I write, waiting for a flight to Copenhagen. Am I sorry to leave? Very. In a way, I feel as though I just scratched the surface of what Iceland has to offer.

“The Sun Voyager” by Jón Gunnár Árneson, sits on Reykjavík Harbor, commemorating Iceland’s Viking past. Please note the small children using it as a jungle gym. No one seems to mind.

Renfaire, Icelandic Style

The view from Gasír, looking across the Eyafjördur to the mountains beyond.

Today we went to Gasír, which was a site used only once a year like the Thingvellir, with no permanent habitations. Its purpose was trading with foreign ships that sailed down the fjord every year until the harbor silted up.

There was a two-day market fair re-enactment going on, as we had been told by Hannah at the Akyreyri Museum. While we were driving there, we made plans to go to Grimsey Island, where you can see puffins. It takes an entire day, but I really wanted to see puffins.

Another view from Gasír.

The Gàsir market fair is near the original site, overlooking the Eyafjordur with snow-splotched mountains beyond. A gorgeous spot. We walked down a grassy path through a meadow to get there, and were given small pottery tokens on a cord to indicate we had paid, which we could keep.

Rear view of the “booths,” which were used for sleeping while people were at the market. They are constructed in much the same manner in medieval times as during Viking times. The tents are pitched atop low turf walls, making for much cozier sleeping conditions.

The entire camp was tiny, especially compared to our Renaissance Faires. I expect the real thing had been much larger, given its economic importance. There was no fantasy cosplay going on either–everyone who worked there was dressed in authentic Medieval clothing in dull colors. The visitors who chose to dress in historical costume wore the same kind of garb. Icelanders of the period, being poor, had little in the way of expensive accessories. The jewelry was crude and handmade. The utensils and tools on display were hand-made of wood, iron, bone, leather, and stone. They had few ceramics that weren’t imported and were therefore precious, handed down from generation to generation. Hannah told me that archeologists had found remnants of broken pottery that had been stitched together to save it. I don’t know what they used for the stitching or how well that worked for them.

There were a number of crafts being demonstrated: rope-making, wood carving, sewing, fortune-telling, blacksmithing, and so forth. Some young people played a game of knattleikr, which is similar to lacrosse.

Blacksmithing, using an authentic portable forge.

Wood carving.

Young people playing knattleikr.

A fortune-teller sewing in front of her tent.

The market fair was well-attended by Icelanders. There were a few tourists, but not many. It was nice to be among the people who live here, people who were interested in their history and heritage.

I decided to have a fortune teller throw runes for me (not the fortune-teller pictured above.) After she told my fortune–and she was serious about it, not just pretending–I was, as usual, asking questions, and something she said made me ask her if she worked with the native plants–something that is very important to the book I am working on. I had been feeling rather overwhelmed about learning Icelandic herb lore because it seemed to me that it required such a vast amount of research. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do enough just via books and photos.

Sometimes things just work out. My fortune-teller turned out to be an herbalist. We exchanged emails and parted with a warm hug.

Sigridur Ásny Kettílsdottír, rune-caster and herbalist. And a lovely woman.

We were on the way out when one of the women in costume at the entry booth said, “We have talked before, at the museum!” It was Hanna, of course. She told me that an archeologist would be present later that day to talk about the archeology of the site. So we decided to get some lunch and went to a fish restaurant in Akuréyri, where the young man at the counter tried to talk me into eating fermented shark, claiming it was delicious.

I don’t recall if I have mentioned this before, but I would never eat fermented shark. It is prepared from the Greenland shark, which has poisonous flesh. The animal has developed a biological antifreeze, trimethaline oxide, which is a clever adaptation to its environment. But if you eat its unprocessed meat, you will die. Fermenting the meat destroys the poison and renders it edible. Note that I did not say “palatable.” While it is touted as an “Icelandic delicacy,” Anthony Bourdain said it was the most disgusting thing he ever put in his mouth, and that’s saying something.

But taste is not the issue. The Greenland shark grows slowly and reproduces slowly. It lives for 300 to 500 years, the longest known life span of any non-microscopic animal, and its status is near-threatened. Consider that the only reason for trying to eat this animal had to be extreme poverty and hunger, and that even after it is rendered safe to eat it still tastes horrible.

I think the guy in the restaurant just wanted to see my face when I tasted it. I had fish and chips.

We went back to Gasír to meet the archeologist. I didn’t understand a word he said, of course, but I got his name and email later, and he agreed to answer some questions.

So the Gasír market fair turned out brilliantly. And Tom realized that we are leaving tomorrow, not Monday, as we had thought. No Grimsey. No puffins. We have to drive back to Reykjavík to catch a plane. I suppose/hope that we will stop and see some sights on the way. I am betting on waterfalls, not puffins.

A tiny and very noisy Viking.

The One-Lane, Two-Way Tunnel, Creative Chairs, and Water

We decided to visit Siglufjordur, a small town at the tip of the Trollskaggi Peninsula, overlooking the Arctic Ocean. The northernmost town in Iceland, it is a mere 28 miles from the Arctic Circle.

It was cold. Rain has moved in and the temperatures dropped into the low fifties, along with wind. We had to go through three tunnels to get there. The first one was a doozy. Several km long, it was ONLY ONE LANE, BUT HAD TWO-WAY TRAFFIC, and accommodates semi trucks as well as more petite vehicles. The right hand lane, coming from Akuréyri, had turnouts, while the left did not. We were unfamiliar with the protocol of traversing a one-lane tunnel, never having encountered one before. It seemed to us the oncoming cars would often wait just prior to a turnout to allows us time to pull off. But that isn’t how it works, we discovered when we got to Siglurfjordur; the side with no turnouts has right of way and is not required to stop. The other lane is required to turn off as soon as they see oncoming traffic and stay there until it is clear.

The very short video above may give you some idea of how much fun the one-way tunnel was.

The town just before reaching Siglufjordur was Olafsfjordur, distinguished by a ski jump in the middle of town, next to the swimming pool. Sorry–no pictures.

Siglufjordur was the location for filming “Trapped,” a murder mystery series about a small town in Iceland that is cut off by a blizzard–and experiences more murders than the entire country does in four years. Since the murder rate here is 1.25 murders per year, that wasn’t hard. I highly recommend “Trapped.” You can find it on Amazon. The story, cinematography, and acting are all wonderful.

Siglufjordur appears to be unchanged by its brush with glory. It remains small and quiet. We had incredible hamburgers at TORGID Restaurant, along with the usual amazing potatoes. I told the owner honestly that it was the best burger I had ever had. He rewarded me with a shot of Jaegermeister—ack. Licorice. I hate the stuff, but it is such a popular flavor here that they have licorice-flavored sea salt.

After that, it was a visit to the Herring Museum or Frida’s Chocolates. We chose the latter, each getting two small but bursting-with-flavor chocolates and hot drinks. (It was very cold and rainy.)

The electric chair. Of course.

All of these are chair art at Frida’s.

If it had not been such bad weather, we probably would have explored more, but honestly, I think we gave Siglufjordur all we had to give today. We headed back to Akuréyri, now armed with the correct method of driving through the one-lane tunnel. Unfortunately, we encountered a semi truck that hadn’t gotten the memo, which forced us into a turnout on the wrong side of the road. But we survived.

Siglufjordur has a lot of art for a small town. These were just sitting in a field on the way out of town.

Water. It’s hard to communicate just how much water there is here, fresh and salt. Waterfalls cascade down cliffs wherever you look, and as you travel, there are creeks, rivers, lakes, glacial ponds, fjords, inlets. The lava mountains have great snow patches on the heights that leak waterfalls and rivulets everywhere, and the glaciers feed great rivers. Being a Californian, I am somewhat overwhelmed by all the wetness.

But travel into the interior (which we won’t do because the roads are terrible, there are no amenities, and it is dangerous), Iceland is a desert of volcanic rubble and glaciers. It cannot sustain agriculture. It’s a wasteland. In the old days, no one went there unless they were an outlaw, an outcast, or someone who could not travel to the Althingi by water and had to take the dangerous interior route. Life in Iceland exists at the edge.

This is actually at Dummborgír. I forgot to post it. Many, many stones in Iceland are supposed to be trolls that got caught by the morning light and turned to stone. This one looks like a troll roaring. I have no idea if it is a locally-sanctioned troll stone or not.

Food, Alcohol, and Flowers in Akuréyri

The guardian monster of the Akuréyri Museum.

I forgot to mention that at dinner last night, I tried the national liquor, Brennevín, also known as “Black Death.” It is essentially high-proof vodka flavored with caraway and cumin, often with other herbs and flavorings mixed in. I thought it was complex and interesting, with the caraway being the predominant flavor. I liked it, but it was obvious to me why it is nicknamed Black Death, and it isn’t for the color, which is clear–I think if you drank much of it, you would feel like you were were about to die.

Speaking of which, there is a popular rock band here called Brennevín, and another called Dunnuborgír (Black Fortress). Interesting that the Celtic for fortress is Dun, more evidence of how closely tied Iceland is to Scotland and Ireland.

Brennevín—the band, not the liquor.

Today we decided to stick close to Akuréyri, as in not leave the town. First we went to one of the world’s northernmost botanical gardens. We walked from our hotel, as it isn’t far. The garden is gorgeous and well-labeled in both Icelandic and English. Because of the way my story is developing (did I mention that I have the first, nascent beginnings of the story going?), I will need to know about the characteristics of Icelandic plants, so this was interesting to me. Besides, what’s not to like about beautiful flowers? The garden also housed the largest trees we have seen in Iceland. They must be extremely old, as trees grow slowly here.

Tom at the Akurėyri Botanical Garden, just a bit south of the Arctic Circle. Note how big the trees are. Most trees here are waist-high.

Then we decided to walk to a store I had read about, called “The Attic” in Icelandic. My tour book raved about how fun it was to comb through the junk for treasures. Tom discovered a steep, gravel path that took us right to where we wanted to go. I was not happy about the path. Gravel and steepness spell a broken hip to a woman my age. But I held onto Tom and got there–only to discover there was no such store.

Tibetan poppy.

Double rainbow seen from our hotel room.

So we continued down the street to the Akuréyri Museum. By this time, I was parched, wanting nothing more than a drink of water. As I was suggesting to Tom that we go find water and then come back to the museum, a lady at the front desk asked me to wait–she would get me some water. This was extremely kind of her, especially as she turned out to be the director of the museum. (I haven’t seen a single public water fountain in Iceland yet, but water is everywhere in fjords, lakes, rivers, streams, fountains.)

I explained what I was doing, and asked her a bunch of questions that she did her best to answer. But she said I should consult with experts in the time period I was researching (pre-Christian settlement). I said she was right, but I didn’t know any. She generously offered to send me some names. People have been so kind and helpful here. They have been kind and helpful everywhere I’ve gone to do research, to be honest. We went back later to get her card so that I can mention her name as a source in the book.

I want these so bad. They are clearly some kind of columbine, but variegated and so gorgeous!

As this was around lunchtime, Tom cheerfully suggested walking to a restaurant, Rub23, highly rated. By this time, my feet hurt, as did my arthritic knees. Tom appears not to have any arthritis, which is annoying. (But I am happy for him. Really.) I agreed to walk to the restaurant, and refused to walk from the restaurant back to the hotel, which I knew was Tom’s next move.

This is an Icelandic bumblebee rummaging around in what was labeled “Asiatic poppy,” but I am quite certain is an opium poppy.

We didn’t find out which band this belongs to, but this is their very long slogan

Rub23 specializes in sushi–and other things, but big on sushi. I can get sushi at home, so I ordered mussels, which were delicious. A lot of Icelandic restaurants offer hamburgers and pizza. The servers say the owners insist on it for the Americans, but Americans never order it. Why spend all the time and effort and money to go to the ends of the earth (literally) to eat the same stuff you can get at home? Of course, I can get mussels at home, but these are harvested locally in clean waters, which makes them different–at least in my mind.

In the botanical garden.

Tom ordered an entire bottle of wine at lunch. This completely did me in. He walked back to the hotel and got the car, which probably burned off some alcohol. I went straight to bed when we got back, and didn’t get up until it was time to go to dinner. So that was today in Akuréyri–not exciting, but hopefully productive if the museum director sends me some helpful contacts.

Also, flowers are good.

Volcanic Vacation

We are staying the in fourth largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, population 18,000. Of note: many of the red traffic lights in Akureyri are heart-shaped. No idea why, but it’s cute.

Red light district in Akureyri.

Today we visited Lake Myvatn (pronounced MEE-vah) to see the many attractions of that area. To get there, you have to register online to get a pass to go through the Vadisheidargong (I don’t even have the letters in my font set to write this properly) Tunnel, seven and a quarter kilometers long, cut through volcanic rock. It’s not the longest tunnel in the world, but I think it may be the longest tunnel I have ever traversed.

Most of the points of interest around Lake Myvatn are volcanic, one way or another, but we visited Gödafoss on the way, a beautiful waterfall. The story is that when the Althingi voted to accept Christianity in Iceland, Thorgeir Ljosvetningagödi, a chieftain, returned to his home in the Myrvatn area, gathered up all his Norse idols and threw them into the falls–hence, “waterfall of the gods.” He must have been pretty impressed by the new religion when Odin didn’t strike him dead on the spot.

Godafoss. Those are people standing on the rocks right above the river. They walked past the rope and the sign that says not to go there. There is a problem in Iceland with tourists doing stupid things. They might even start charging for rescue services because so many tourists act as if everything is perfectly safe—you know, Disneyland of the north.

Our first stop was a lava field called Dimmuborgir, the Black Fortress. It’s an area where lava flowed over water about 2300 years ago, which then became superheated and exploded through the cooling crust, creating fantastical shapes.

The Black Fortress.

Just a cute flower with a cute name: pearly knotwort.

After wandering around Dimmuborgir for a while (they have maps of the trails, but they never say where you actually are on the map), we decided to go to the Myrvatn Nature Baths. This consists of Blue Lagoon-style pools of warm, bright blue, silica-rich water. There is a long, shallow, rectangular hot pool as well. The pool is an infinity pool overlooking the lake.

Myvatn Nature Baths.

It’s very pretty, but I liked Krauma better. For one thing, tourists were showering in their bathing suits, which is repugnant to Icelanders, so they never go to these places. You’re supposed to shower nude and wash EVERYTHING to keep their chemical-free pools clean. The pool itself was warm, but not really warm enough for me. It felt slimy from the silica–I hope.

Fumerole at Myvatn Nature Baths, carefully fenced off from crazy tourists.

And lunch at the Nature Baths was the worst so far–not horrible, but not wonderful either. We both had smoked salmon on what we assumed was some sort of brown bread. It turned out to be “geyser bread,” rye bread baked at low temperatures (for baking) two feet underground near a geothermal heat source for many hours until the sugars caramalize. It had the color and almost the consistency of membrillo paste and tasted a lot like Boston brown bread. I had selected a delicious toasted porter with lunch that went well with it, but it had a quarrel with Tom’s red wine. We agreed it was interesting, but we have no desire to repeat the experience.

Then it was off to see the mud pots and fumeroles nearby at Namafjall, just a few minutes away. This was a desolate plain punctuated with clouds of steam coming up from vents in the ground, and some active, bubbling gray-blue mud pots. The ground was a patchwork of pink, white, brown, and gray. I walked carefully along between the ropes indicating safe ground, thinking about the hell that lay underneath this thin crust of earth. Unlike any such spot in the United States, it was free, unsupervised, and your safety is entirely up to you.

Bubbling mud pot.

Wild, uncaged fumerole.

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and we thought we should head back to Akureyri. As we hit the road, the rain began. It absolutely poured. So considerate of the weather to wait until we were done being tourists!

Underground Iceland

We weren’t sure what we wanted to do today, so we asked Bergland, our hostess. She suggested a lava tube and mentioned a number of other places. I wanted to try the geothermal spa not too far from the cave.

We drove a fair distance inland, mostly on paved roads until about 10 miles before reaching the cave. We drove through lava fields covered in arctic moss, past newly-planted fir tree farms (there is an effort underway to reforest the island), and past meadows of soft grass and flowers.

This, according to PlantSnap, is “sulphur buckwheat.”

The entrance fee for the lava tube was astronomical, but oh well. They told us the temperature in the cave was below freezing. I zipped my raincoat liner back in, managing to foul the zipper, and put on gloves I purchased specially for this trip. They were made of padded neoprene, like diving gloves, and I figured they would keep my hands warm. I have a tendency to lose complete circulation in my fingers, which is never a good thing.

The view from the lava tube visitor center. This is hard to make out and very far away, but it is (I believe) Longjokull, a large glacier.

Our guide was a cheery young English geologist. He informed us that the volcanic eruption that formed the tube took place just prior to Viking occupation, and there had been archeological evidence that humans had lived in the cave not too long after the lava cooled. By this time, our breath was smoking in the air and forming minuscule ice crystals, so I asked why they didn’t freeze to death. He responded that the lava took a long time to cool completely, so the lava tube was probably still pretty toasty. (My words, not his.)

The stairs leading down from the cave entrance. There were more stairs going up, and a lot more going down.

After we descended countless wooden steps into the depths of the earth, we had to squeeze through a low-ceilinged, narrow passage where I realized why they made us wear helmets. I clocked my head several times, being tall. I really appreciated that helmet.

After that, there was a section of floor that consisted of loose, uneven scree. I had a really hard time with this–until I took off my glasses. In the dark on uneven ground, they interfered with my depth perception. After the glasses went into my pocket, things got better.

Our guide. I just liked the drama of this image.

Our guide showed us various things–a chamber with yellow rocks of sulphuric dioxide, a reddish chamber of iron oxide, and a chamber that looked like melting chocolate (more iron). Tiny stalagmites were forming. They’ll be impressive in a thousand years. Ice sparkled in pits on the floor and in the walls. Because it is a lava tube and formed only about 1100 years ago, it doesn’t feature the dramatic stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, pipe organs and other formations you might think of as typical for a cave. Those kinds of formations occur in limestone caves, but this was volcanic.

The “chocolate room.” In person, it looked more purple to me.

The cave goes on for another kilometer past where we stopped, but only researchers are allowed there. At this point, our guide asked if anyone was afraid of the dark. No one was–or at least, no one admitted to it. First, he explained about how dark it would be. Then he told us a creepy story about a spiritualist who, when the lights went out, claimed to see evil spirits crawling all over the walls. She kindly exorcized all but one, who must have been very stubborn. Then he turned the lights out (and we all turned off our helmet headlamps).

It was dark. But I could still see the faintest, most ethereal glow of light from the direction of the entrance, so it wasn’t total. Not that I would want to wander around in there in the dark. Our guide told us to wave our hands in front of our faces, and as dark as it was, we could see them, barely.

On the way out, the guide pointed out a troll. It was a “face” in the rock wall–a lumpy, misshapen face that had apparently terrified early inhabitants. I saw another face as wall, an even better one, but no mention was made of my troll.

Tom and I as we were exiting the tunnel. In this area, there had been a cave-in, exposing the tunnel to the sky.

I was happy to get back to the surface because my neoprene gloves had not kept my hands warm. They were freezing. But when I took my gloves off, my fingers were pink, not white, so I guess the gloves worked even if they didn’t feel like it.

The next stop was Krauma, a geothermal spa fed from Ok, Iceland’s most petite glacier. It’s kind of a fancy place for Iceland, which tends to be informal and makeshift in many ways.

Small geothermal geysers greet you at the entrance to Krauma. Also the smell of sulphur.

We had a lovely lunch, then paid to enter the spa. The fee included amenities–hot pools, cold pools, steam baths, saunas, relaxation room (you lie on waterproof couches circling a hot alderwood fire while New Age music plays).

We didn’t meet any Icelanders (no surprise), but I did get to practice my French on a French tourist. She spoke English, I spoke French, and we helped each other with the words we couldn’t remember. OK, I am a geek, and this was fun.

We also ran into a group of women who go on worldwide mind/body/spirit tours together. They seemed a bunch of very fit, intelligent older women. And one of them was interested in my novels, so what’s not to love? They were having a session tomorrow at the full moon with an expert on the huldefolk (hidden people, elves, fairies) and invited me to come. I would have LOVED to, but we are moving on to Akurayri tomorrow.

The sculpture represents a volcano.

Eric the Red Was a Total Jerk

We began the day with a visit to the graveyard right next to our guesthouse. It has been in use by the immediate (very widespread) farming community for a long time, and is still in use.

The view from the graveyard. The gray two-story house in the background is the Saudafell Guesthouse, built as the family home 150 years ago.

Then we visited Erik the Red’s homestead. It is a careful reconstruction of the ruins of a turf house a few hundred yards away. And it looked like a hellish place to live in the winter. More on that later.

I hope you can tell from this image just how small Eric’s house was.

Eric the Red was what you might call a piece of work. He was born in Norway, but his father was banished for “murders,” number unspecified. When Erik grew up, he was just like his daddy. He married a woman whose parents gifted them the homestead we visited today. The trouble started when Erik’s slaves allegedly started a landslide on a neighbor’s land. Under Viking tradition and law, this would have entitled the neighbor to kill Erik’s slaves, which he did. Then Eric killed the neighbor, who had also been a friend, Eiyolf the Foul, and another man.

This was absolutely run-of-the-mill Viking behavior, by the way. The sagas are all about who killed whom for some petty grudge or slight.

Erik was banished for three years. He packed up his household, including, according to a geologist, the wood structure that supported the house underneath the turf. By this time, wood would have been getting scarce, as the Vikings cheerfully deforested the island for ships, houses, and fuel. He left some carved beams of mystical meaning with a friend, Thorgest.

You know what’s coming, right? Eric moved to the island of Oxney and returned to get his beams, but they were not at Thorgest’s homestead, and apparently Thorgest regarded them as a gift. Erik went to another of Thorgest’s households and killed the man’s sons “and some other people.” As a result, the Althingi (yearly parliament) banned Eric from Iceland for three years.

Eric sailed to Greenland, where he explored for three years, then returned to Iceland and launched one of the history’s most effective (and ultimately disastrous) public relation campaigns. He told everyone about a lush green, unpopulated new land–Greenland–a wonderful place to raise grain and sheep. (There were indigenous people in Greenland, but they wisely stayed as far from the Vikings as they could. Their wisdom is only confirmed by the name the Vikings applied to them–skraeling, or “wretches.”) He persuaded many people to go with him to colonize this wonderful new land. Five hundred years later, the Little Ice Age started, and Greenland became a death trap. It isn’t known whether the population evacuated or died in situ. But Erik apparently stopped killing people, as there are no further records of him murdering anyone.

Tom in Viking gear. It looks like the helmet had horns, but that’s in the background. Vikings did not have horned helmets. The horns would have provided a convenient handle for your enemy to grab you and chop off your head.

The turf house reconstruction tells you all you need to know about life in those days. It was a rectangular building completely covered with turf, walls and roof. No windows. There were two doors, one at each end of the house, that could be opened in good weather, and they must have needed all that fresh air desperately, because 15 to 30 people slept in that little house, two or three to each narrow bed. The beds were built into the walls, like ships’ berths. They slept head-to-foot–fragrant! There was no chimney, so it must have been smoky, despite the hole in the roof. Between that, the smell of raw wool, the sweat of hard labor, the chamber pots under the beds, etc., the stench must have been stomach-turning. But of course, they were used to it.

Exterior of Eric’s turf house.

It was also what they had to do to survive. Winters here aren’t as cold as in the American Midwest, but the wind chill factor can be deadly. The wind can blow so hard that waterfalls fall up.

Our next stop was the harbor village of Stykkishholmer. I had thought of it as a way-station on the way to the Snaefellsnesjokul, an enormous glacier on the volcano at the tip of the peninsula. We had just started to get breathtaking views of the glacier when the clouds rolled in, veiling the entire landscape in gray fog and rain.

Snaefellsnessjokull on a clear day. We didn’t see this through the fog and rain.

Stykkishholmer, population 350, was much smaller than I had imagined, but they had a truly great restaurant, Narfeyrarstofa, specializing in local ingredients. I had a fish soup with mussels, scallops and fish from the fjord, and a creative salad full of goodies like blueberries, amour-en-cage, pine nuts, dried parsnip, and shredded veggies. (Always happy to see the veggies.) Tom had a salmon filet that was to die for.

The harbor at Stykkishholmer. This was taken from the elevated perch of the Water Library.

Iceland is not a large place, but it takes forever to get anywhere. In Ireland, which has a few similarities with Iceland, you never drive very far before hitting a village. Every few miles, you can count on it. Here, the villages are spread hours apart, and when you get there, there may not be many amenities. All you see are isolated farmsteads, usually miles from any other farmstead. Everywhere, you can see small rock cairns, usually built on top of a lava flow or other elevated area. I think these are very old boundary markers or markers to show the way. Tourists have started piling their own cairns, and Icelanders call them “tourist warts,” tearing them down when they find them. Another reason it takes so long is the gravel roads, upon which the wise traveler will drive slowly, especially when it’s raining.

We realized that due to the weather and visibility, going back to Saudafell Guesthouse was the best idea. So we walked around in the rain for a while to check out the village. First, we encountered a museum that focused entirely on eiderducks. Quick visit. Then we walked up a scenic path and found a place called the Water Library. Inside, there were enormous glass columns of water from various glaciers, unlabeled and providing zero information. Another room had books on water. There was one book in two volumes entirely upon the subject of brackish puddles. Quick visit.

I made Tom walk back down this path after he reached the top so I could take a picture of him.

At the Water Library. No info, but cool image.

Tom graces the Water Library.

Walking back to the car, we encountered an old house, painted entirely in black. We’ve seen several dwellings painted black, and my conjecture is that it absorbs heat and helps to keep the building warm. A THIRD museum in tiny Stykkishholmer! It turned out to be a house built from Norwegian wood (sound familiar?) by a wealthy merchant in the middle of the 19th century. It was the first two-story building in Iceland. Inside, it was spacious, elegantly furnished in the Victorian manner. Everyone else was still living in tiny turf houses, some windowless. This place must have looked like a gleaming palace to them.

The Norwegian House.

It rained all the way back. I literally didn’t recognize our car when I came out of the grocery store where we stopped in Budardalur (the closest village to Stykkishholmer, about an hour and a half drive). The car was so inundated in mud, I thought it was someone’s beater.

The patterns made by the mud on the back window of our van.

The Home of the Necropants

Today we visited the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery in Hólmavík, which was about an hour and a half drive from our guesthouse. We went through exactly one town on the way–it’s about a 20 minute drive from our guesthouse. After that, nothing until Holmavik.

We did see massive, eroding plateaus of ancient lava, their sides crumbled into scree. Tons of wildflowers, buckets, and baskets and bowers of flowers.

Sheep are everywhere, largely unconstrained by fences, so you have to watch out for them. And the fjords. It was an overcast day with a few spatters of rain–but not terribly cold. The fjords are like gray-blue silk beneath the ancient volcanoes, calm as mirrors.

Hólmavík is a minuscule harbor town. But it boasts the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, which was one of the key things I wanted to see. The museum is housed in a sod-roofed building with a small cafe in front. I had zero expectations of the cafe, but it was lunchtime in Hólmavík, and there wasn’t a plethora of choices. I ordered a lamb steak, which was delivered perfectly prepared, tender and tasty, with a bearnaise sauce. A lovely roasted potato on the side with a few slices of cucumber posing as the vegetable portion of the meal. I am eating all the veggies served to me (except the beets, of which there are an abundance), because they are a bit scarce.

These are white cotton flowers. The flower looks very much like a tuft of cotton or wool. Valdis said they were used to stuff pillows and mattresses, like kapok.

To digress for a bit, Iceland started growing produce in greenhouses in about 1920. They started with–drum roll–bananas. That worked out fine until the country dropped its tariffs on importing fruit, at which point the banana business in Iceland slipped under. But they still grow a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. The ground stays warm because of the volcanic heat, and they have virtually unlimited geothermal energy.

At the witch museum, I asked for a certain individual who turned out to work for another museum entirely–but hit the jackpot. The lady at the front desk sent my email address and info on what I was researching to the director of the museum, who promptly responded with THREE names of experts with their telephone numbers and email addresses. I will contact them tomorrow and hope they are willing to assist a needy author.

The museum itself was somewhat less than useful in my research. It focuses on the witch-hunts of the 16th century. Iceland, in common with many other countries at the time, went bonkers over witches. However, it was only really one region that went crazy in Iceland, Strandir in the Westfjords. Based on what we learned, one woman, Helga, married to a minister, was responsible for a disproportionate number of witch burnings. Helga kept getting sick and blaming this person or that, and these innocents were summarily executed, often without trial. Helga was a minister’s wife, and therefore beyond reproach. But Helga wasn’t the only hysteric who went after witches.

It seemed to me that the practices mentioned in the museum were degenerate remnants of the old religion–the worship of Odin, Baldur, Thor, etc. They used the old runes and sigils (“staves”) in combination with the blood of a virgin, or blood from the left nipple, or other noxious substances–if, in fact, any of these people were actually attempting to practice witchcraft, which is doubtful. During the 17th century, being burned as a witch could likely come about because people just didn’t like you–no evidence required. Nonetheless, there were lots of supposed evidence of witchcraft used to convict people–runes, sigils, charms, and so forth. I rather suspect these were planted on the victims.

There were some truly gruesome exhibits, the necropants being the worst. Here’s how it worked: the witch or sorcerer would obtain permission from a man to dig up his body after burial ( I was so relieved that they asked first). The witch would then skin the corpse from the waist down, penis, scrotum, feet, toenails and all, being careful to never puncture or tear the skin. He (Icelandic witches were almost all male) would place a coin in the penis and wear the pants over his own skin. The coin in the penis would call money to the man and his descendants for many generations–always assuming his descendants didn’t barf at the idea of wearing the gross things. I didn’t take a photo of the disgusting pants, complete with hair, but if you are attracted to the gruesome, you can see them here.

The visit was more than worth the time and effort, just for the experts’ names I was given. But I think I will set my book sometime earlier–during the transition from. Christianity (started in 1000 C.E.), and before the Lutheran Reformation.

The next stop was at the Dalir Heritage Museum. I thought we had been misled by our GPS, because we found ourselves at the end of a road with nothing but a hotel in sight. Further investigation revealed that the museum is IN the hotel. So is a pool fed by hot springs. Up the hill is a natural “hot pot,” as they call it, which is a natural hot spring, free to all. (Most hot pools charge.)

The museum focused on farm life in the immediate area (next door to Leif Erickson’s place), and had a genuine turf house from around 1850. The lady who talked to us, Valdis, really knew nothing about Icelandic magic, but had a wealth of information about how the people lived. She also provided me with a contact for research.

We checked out the pool and asked about the hot pot. We had bathing suits with us, but no towels, so we decided to get some cheap towels and come back. We returned to the only village south of Holmavik (at least on that route), and discovered that there is no store in town that sells towels, cheap or otherwise. (You can, however, buy any number of hand-knitted sweaters there.) We dined at a different restaurant (there are only two), and I had lamb again, not wanting fried haddock or pizza. The lamb was not quite as good as at the Museum of Sorcery, but tasty. AND it was served with a large portion of salad with tomatoes and cucumbers. I ate that first. Veggies are not to be overlooked when you can get them here. French fries–potatoes in general–are superb. But woman cannot live on potatoes alone.

On the way back, we stopped to let me say hello to the Icelandic horses at Saudafell. I must find out why they have so many horses–what do they possibly do with so many? There must be 20 or 30 here, eating their heads off. It is interesting that these horses, introduced by Vikings, have evolved into a distinct breed capable of dealing with long, harsh winters that would kill other breeds.

My new friends.

Tomorrow: contact the experts!