Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Way Down We Go" Kaleo

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Ok, time for my annual post, so I'm going to make this one really worth it in case I ghost for awhile again.   
"Way Down We Go" by Kaleo is definitely my latest obsession.  It doesn't hurt that the band is from Iceland (a.k.a. my primary obsession, but we'll get to that in a bit.)  
Kaleo first made an impression at Iceland Airwaves in 2012 (think Iceland version of woodstock), with a cover of an Icelandic song, "Vor í Vaglaskógi"  The Reykjavik Grapevine reports that the song was originally written by beloved Iceland radio host, Jónas Jónasson, who used lyrics from a poem by Kristján frá Djúpalæk, about a spring night shared by two lovers in Vaglaskógur forest in Northern Iceland.  The vocals are performed by another Iceland darling, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson

The next single to hit big for Kaleo was "All the Pretty Girls," Lead singer, Jökull Júlíusson, has an impressive range; from pleading, eerie vocals, reminiscent of Bon Iver in "
All the Pretty Girls",  to a throaty, sexy drawl in  "Way Down We Go."  To put a cherry on top of this already perfect - ice cream sundae of a song, Kaleo recorded the video for "Way Down We Go" live... from inside of a volcano. Yes, pretty commonplace in Iceland I suppose, NBD.  

So, now I'm going to make like a sommelier and pair this fine song with an even finer article.. that I wrote.. that was published!!  Yes, I'll be doing headshots any day now and doing book signings in a long velvet evening gown with my feather quill pen.  I wrote the article after returning from my first trip to the motherland (a.k.a. heaven on earth, a.k.a. my Valhalla, aka Iceland).Keep scrolling my friends, the ode to Iceland continues below.

"To Iceland, with Love (from a Vestur-Íslendingar)"

My great Amma and Afi immigrated to Manitoba in the 1800’s and were among the first Icelanders to settle on the shores of Lake Winnipeg and call Gimli (Home of the Gods), Manitoba home. My family has always maintained a strong sense of pride in our Icelandic heritage, even if for no obvious reason other than that we love Pönnukökurs, and cheering “Skål” when we drink vodka. Gimli is home to “Islendingadagurinn – The Icelandic Festival of Manitoba”, where every August long weekend, for the last 126 years, over 50,000 people have gathered to celebrate Icelandic culture and heritage. After years of forced, and then voluntary volunteering with Islendingadagurinn, I joined the Board of Directors and fell in love with Icelandic culture. It soon became my mission in life to visit our beloved motherland.

In May of this year, my three cousins and I packed our Icelandic mitts and completely weather inappropriate leather jackets and boarded an Icelandair flight to Iceland. Dr.Seuss wrote, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams”. When I first arrived in Iceland, I fell head over heels; love at first sight.  It was everything I had dreamed of and more. 

Oh what's up Iceland, maybe I'll do book signings
 behind this waterfall 
I was delighted to find that my gorgeous, fair of hair and blue of eye cousins failed to hold the same appeal that they do in Canada. In Iceland they resembled every other Freya, Guðrún and Sigrún. While posing alluringly near the bar at a local pub, trying to entice someone into buying her a 25,000kr drink, my youngest cousin pouted, “I don’t like it here.. everyone looks like me”. So, it was I, dark horse cousin, with hair and eyes the color of … lava fields, which piqued the interest of local gents. We came to the conclusion that Icelandic men come in three different varieties;

Scandinavian Stud:  Birthed from an H&M ad, impeccably groomed and painfully stylish.
Viking:  Burly, covered in tattoos and piercings, and often sporting the ever-trendy “man-bun” or “man-pony”.
Old MacDonald:  Smelled vaguely of sheep, remnants off moss clung to their slightly less stylish clothing and they carried around large agricultural tools. Ok, the last part might not be true, but you get the idea. 

PRO:  The Norse Gods have bestowed Iceland with many attractive Scandinavian men.
CON:  All of the men vaguely resembled our relatives, “Oh that’s a Brett”, “Hey check out that Luke”, “I’d date him if he wasn’t an Erik”.

Icelandic food was just as terrifying as we imagined, but significantly more delicious, and VERY local. At any given restaurant it was easier to order whale than chicken. Nightly menu features often included every available living creature in Iceland; horse, puffin, shark, and the extra adorable, lamb. It should be noted that I did imbibe in a fan favorite, the pylsir, after a night of many Brennivíns, which apparently is the only way to enjoy this cultivated National treat.
PRO:  Icelanders did not seem to understand appropriate portion sizes, thus regularly giving us enough food for a Viking’s hoard. 
CON: Overall the food was quite expensive compared to North America.
Icelandic people are amongst the loveliest in the world. Friendly, helpful and polite, we easily made friends with the shop keeper, the server, and the bouncer at the strip club. They humoured our terrible attempts to pronounce street names and made us feel at home in their beautiful country. They’re as striking as the Icelandic landscapes and their fashion forward style often made us feel like trolls that had stumbled down from the mountains. Everywhere felt very safe, which was regularly demonstrated by Icelanders leaving infants outside unattended to enjoy some fresh air.
PRO:  We felt very welcome in Iceland, the people are amazing.
CON: Returning to Canada, the land of hoodies, sweatpants and stab guards in taxi cabs was a bit jarring.

Prior to leaving for Iceland I would regularly check the weather forecast and was pleasantly surprised to find the temperature hovering between 8°C and 14°C. I’m from Canada after all; those kinds of temps are positively balmy. So, I filled my suitcase with leggings, dresses and various cute outfits, which according to my Pinterest search, were the epitome of Scandinavian style. I realized very quickly that while my leather jacket was passable in Reykjavik as soon as we ventured out into the countryside I felt like Jon Snow, North of the Wall. The fisherman chic ads for 66°North started to make sense as the youngest cousin and I spent the better part of the trip wearing half of our suitcases (one day I lost count after putting on seven shirts and two pairs of pants).   
Enjoying the fresh Iceland tourists do.
PRO:  It’s a common saying in Iceland that, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”.
CON: Even after waiting five minutes the weather was still mostly cold.  
Iceland is nothing short of devastatingly beautiful with its’ starkly contrasting landscapes and unearthly stillness.  While lounging in the hillside moss at Hjörleifshöfði, a Viking burial site, what struck me most was that in this vast, barren place, absent of life; trees, animals, people, I felt most alive. The great looming glacier tongue distending out of the fog at Skaftafell and the eerie, blue glacier lagoon, Joklusarlon, in all their glory, almost brought a tear to my eye (if only my tear ducts hadn’t been frozen shut). Driving around the Ring Road and staring out at the barren lava fields, all-consuming green moss and sporadic plumes of steam from the geo-thermal hot springs scattered across the country,  I couldn’t decide if this was heaven or hell. In Iceland, with its’ black sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, ever-present rainbows and acres of untouched countryside it’s not hard to believe that the Norse Gods really did exist, and that this is probably as close to Valhalla as it gets. 
PRO:  With as many natural attractions to choose from as a McValue Menu there’s something for everyone to enjoy.    
CON: Not one. 

At the risk of sounding like a love-struck teenager, when I left Iceland I felt like a part of me stayed. I am now a believer in true love. I won’t forget you Iceland, and until my return I’ll keep a lava rock around my neck, a bottle of Brennivín in my cupboard,  and thoughts of you in my heart. Till we meet again.
With love, from a Vestur-Íslendingar.  

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