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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Northern lights and poo stewed lamb. From the sublime to the ridiculous...

Well today is exactly one week before I am back on UK soil, to Birmingham airport. I am both happy and sad to be leaving. The time is right, but I have had such a wonderful time here and two months is certainly better than one to immerse yourself into the Icelandic way of life.

The past few days have been eventful in terms of weather, people, work, food and the sky, oh the sky.

Where to start? - backwards.

Last night Caroline and I decided to invite Michael and Rhona to dinner for a traditional English roast lamb, roast potatoes, turnip, veg, pudding and lovely chat. This is a tried and tested recipe - one of Jamie's, where you put the lamb directly onto the rack in the oven and let the juices drip onto the roasties, making the most delicious potatoes on earth (really!). Well, I went to the supermarket and purchased the ingredients, an expensive joint of lamb (even by Icelandic standards at £37ish and headed home to cook. Without the obligatory glass of wine while cooking, it felt a bit odd, but I was relishing the chance to cook something different and have meat for the first time in ages. 

I should have known as soon as I opened the plastic seal around the meat - a smell reminiscent of putrid dead animals, offal and something I couldn't quite place. I put it on the rack, thinking that lots of things smell bad raw - such as liver - which I love cooked. Anyway, a smell began to pervade the house - and outside the house and everywhere really... I quickly messaged my one Icelandic friend, sending him the label and asking what I was doing wrong/how to cook it? He said it should be boiled. 

Aha! I thought, that would release the saltiness and perhaps create a wonderful dish instead. So I transferred the meat to a massive pan and put it on to boil. Cleaned the rack and the cooker as the smell was so bad. Waited for it to come to the boil. This made the smell transfer even more quickly and it got into my nasal hairs so that I just couldn't get rid of it. Caroline politely said it could be fine once cooked, but she had gone green and looked really sick. 

We decided to put it outside and run to the supermarket an hour before the guests were arriving, to find chicken. This was cooked and the meal was gorgeous. 

The pot of lamb is still outside the bin and I can't face lifting the lid, hence the lack of a photograph at this point. I put a message on the Skagaströnd Facebook page asking for advice and got this response:

"It is dung smoked lamb"

followed by:

"It tastes like lamb smoked over faeces"
"you have to cook it for hours or it's awful"

Here is a link to the process involved, but I'm sorry, I could never get past the cooking stage as it makes everything smell of death. My nostrils still have the smell and I have washed them out with soap - twice.

So, what else?

Significant excitement came to Skagaströnd a couple of days ago when the supermarket was revamped, rebranded, closed for a day (aaarrrgghhhh!) and reopened to free cake, coffee and discounts. I am not exaggerating when I say that the whole village was out. I counted 25 cars in the carpark and some even had to park at the garage opposite and walk the 40 or so steps to the supermarket. Now usually, there are around two people in at one time and I have never waited to be served, except when the staff are multitasking and doing other things. The opening day however, was something else. Queues of up to five people, lots of fresh fruit, although no spinach, new lines, a bakery section (not a bakery - that would be asking too much) and Tunnocks caramel wafers for the equivalent of around 20p each!! Amazing. The other artists didn't understand, unless you were me, Rhona or Michael, and we were in British heaven.... Little things. 

Caroline and Rhona, stunned at how busy it was

Free kafi and cake

Every time it was eaten another one appeared
Honestly, so much excitement for one day. Everyone spent so much more than usual and there was a sense of bon ami and joyous celebration. Really, promise.

Caroline and I had a great walk to the mountain valley and found snow and stunning views. I had been there before but it changes every time the weather changes, which is every five minutes.

The track to the mountain Spakonufel

Living dangerously

I love Icelandic pylons

more pylons

Great pylon..

on the track with the valley below

My mountain

Last of the Dutch explorers
I haven't spent all my time walking, going the supermarket and getting excited about free cake and coffee. I have been making art and looking at gallery spaces for an exhibition back home. If you remember from a previous blog, I spent a day on a piece of work and then lost it. It's definitely gone, never to be found, so I made absolutely sure to save every one of the 18 layers of the next piece I am working on. This is not finished but gives an idea of where I'm going with it:

I'm quite pleased with the progress and hope to make another 5 pieces within the next few weeks back home. I can't really work on the MacBook as the screen is too small. Really looking forward to getting back to my big mac and spending lost hours and days layering images.

The last thing I wanted to share is the wonderful experience of happening upon a wonderful Aurora show a couple of nights ago. I popped out of the studio and saw green in the sky. It became the most beautiful display and we were there on the hill watching for well over an hour. The camera settings I usually use were wiped out by the brightness of it so I was able to use finer settings to capture the lights. We were all in awe. There was much shouting and whooping and it was brilliant for those artists who hadn't seen anything yet.

just outside the studio

someone said 'it's like death eaters, only positive ones"

so lucky to be working 10 steps from here

The wonderful artist and friend, Michael Coppolov, staring transfixed at the sky
I just found out that the last remaining member of my mam and dad's siblings has died. Feel very sad as I remember spending so much time at Aunty Vera's house as a kid. They had the best toy cupboard and I was jealous of my cousins because they got loads of cast off toys from the family their mum, my Aunty Vera worked for. I never saw the fact that she probably worked her socks off cleaning for someone, as I was too busy being envious of Kathleen's hand me down ice skates..... I forget how lucky I was having my mam and dad there all the time. The funeral will be next week, so I hope I am back in time. It will be really odd going 'home' straight out of Iceland, especially after talking about the North East so much while I have been here. I had a big conversation at dinner last night about childhood stuff in Whitehall Road and it's been on my mind ever since. It's really odd that I should get the message this morning about her death.

I think that's about it for today. I have tomorrow and Thursday before Tom and Linzi come to visit, then I'll be on the road for 3 days. Not sure if I'll manage another blog, but I'll try. I won't, therefore do the whole 'what a privilege' thing yet, although it is. Always, every day.

Have the best of days.

Leaving you with Jane Austin: 

“When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.” Jane Austen


Aly x

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It would be great to hear your views or any questions you have about Iceland, Skagaströnd or the residency. Fire away!!