A long history of conquests, local feuds, trade restrictions, cod wars and several economic crashes combined with extreme weather, frequent volcanic eruptions, a lack of arable farmland, and short days could make a person testy.
But you don't hear "why us?" from Icelanders.
Quite the contrary. You see smiles, rosy cheeks, dancing, poetry, music, art, and good humor.
They're proud to be Icelanders and have no reason not to be. Locals are quick to point out that Iceland has the prettiest women, the strongest men, the lowest crime rate, the lowest rate of mental and physical illness, and superior natural beauty.
According to a recent study, they are the happiest people on the planet. Another study shows that Icelanders, as a people, show few signs of seasonal affective disorder that plagues other Nordic countries.
Maybe it's because they're glad to be alive.
What a concept—so foreign to us who live in lands of moderate weather with food aplenty. In California, our grocery stores overflow with fresh veggies and hundreds of cuts of meat. And still we complain. The store is out of fresh basil. We had to go to three places to find it. We are so distracted by all the stuff we have, that we forget to be happy to be alive.
Here, there are potatoes, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, some wilted snap peas, bell peppers, cabbage, and lettuce in the stores. And dozens of different types of fish. Except for the fish and lamb, potatoes, mushrooms, and onions, most of the things on the shelf are shipped over from Europe or greenhouse-grown, and everything is expensive, especially after a 25% VAT tax is added.
Wow, think the locals. Not long ago, or before we moved to the city, we were lucky to eat dried cod and scrape the meat off of boiled sheep heads. Just a few decades ago, there were famines and snap freezes that trapped people in their homes for weeks on end with no way to heat their homes or call for help. People died.
Icelanders, especially the older generation, vividly remember the lean times and the family members who didn't make it through the winter. And, since the economic crash of 2008, lean times have returned for many Icelanders of all ages.
Icelanders make do.
Their creativity comes through, not just in the arts* that thrive here, but in the ingenious ways they find to adapt and survive. They're brilliant at making the most of what they've got.
Few fresh spices? How about smoking some birch leaves to add flavor. Angelica is another local spice. And dried moss, or lichen is added to soups, sauces, salts, and other condiments.
They bottle their water—pure as the driven snow out of the tap—and sell it abroad. And they create precious jewelry out of the most common commodity on the island, lava. This is a land that inspires gratitude and an appreciation for what is given.
More about lichen and lava in an upcoming blog.
*Virtually everyone is a writer or poet, there are 94 museums, and more musicians and bands here per capita than anywhere else in the world.
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More Travel Tidbits from Karla Jacobs:
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On ImageKind for framed prints of the best photos
On Zazzle with photo gifts featuring beautiful Icelandic horses