Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Lopapeysa, the Icelandic sweater

The Icelandic lopapeysa is dear to Icelanders and visitors alike. They can be seen all over, both in the city and the countryside as they are worn by an eclectic bunch.

They provide warmth to young children at play, hip teenagers trying to look cool and old fishermen battling the cold. The lopapeysa is both beautiful and practical, the unique wool used to make it, called lopi, has insulation abilities and repels water as well. This is thanks mainly to the sheep who provide it, having been isolated in Iceland since the first Vikings arrived to the island.

The pattern used to adorn the Lopi sweater is traditionally most prominent around the neck and shoulder area, with details at the bottom around the hips and around the cuffs. The pattern has developed through time and today there are several versions and the colors used vary as well.

The history of the lopapeysa is surprisingly not a long one, with the first sweaters appearing in the 50's. The original designer is not known, and generally people believe it must have been a group if women knitting together rather than just one person. The original colors of the lopapeysa were not the typical ones used today, which consist mainly of earthy colors like white, brown, black and grey. Back in the 50's and 60's when these sweaters first appeared it was considered more stylish to dress in vibrant colors that did not resemble the colors of sheep. It wasn't until a bit later when tourists began to show interest in the lopapeysa that the natural toned colors became popular.

In recent years a controversy arose over the legitimacy of some of the lopapeysas being sold. It was discovered that some producers were outsourcing work to China, without clearly marking their product as being produced outside of Iceland. Many claimed that the sweaters produced on foreign territory were fakes and should be avoided when purchasing aiming at authentic lopapeysa. This begs the question, what makes a lopapeysa the real deal? Is it the lopi, the color, the pattern, or perhaps even the nationality of the person who made it? The answer to this is unclear, though one thing is for sure, the lopi and the pattern on the round at the shoulders must be present.

In recent years the lopapeysa has gained popularity on the home front, due most likely to the financial crash. The crash prompted a surge of national pride. People felt nostalgic for a simpler time in Icelandic history, a time when we were farmers, fishermen and peasants. Post 2007 the lopi sweater was everywhere, being worn downtown by people of all creeds and by frequently visible on Dorrit Moussaief, Iceland's first lady.

Before this shift in fashion the lopapeysa was generally not seen on a day to day basis. Their use was reserved for national festivals like independence day and cultural night and during gatherings in the country side and camping trips.

Nowadays, thanks to the popularity of this beautiful sweater, they are widely available for purchase all over the city of Reykjavík, and all other towns of Iceland.

If you enjoy knitting and want to create your own lopapeysa the first step is to buy the lopi wool. It can be purchased at all knitting stores and in some tourist shops. You could even make a day of it and take a trip to the historical Álafoss store. It is located in the town of Mosfellsbær, a twenty minute drive from Reykjavík. Álafoss began producing wool in 1896, there is even a type of wool named after it, the Álafoss lopi, which is often used when knitting a lopapeysa.

So, wether you want to stay warm, look good or perhaps try your hand at knitting the lopapeysa is a must have for all.

Source: Planiceland
Iceland24, October 2013

Saturday, 26 October 2013

It's Official: Iceland Is The Best Place In the World To Be a Woman

For five years in a row, Iceland has been rated the country with the world's smallest gender gap by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The rating means Iceland is the country where women enjoy the most equal access to education and healthcare. It is also where women are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country's political and economic life.

Iceland is joined at the top of the The Global Gender Gap Report, 2013 by its Nordic neighbours Finland, Norway and Sweden. Overall, the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, as 86 of 133 countries showed improvements. However, "change is definitely slow", says one of the report's authors, Saadia Zahidi.

Explore the maps below to find out how countries compare overall - as well as in key areas of daily life, such as in health, education, employment and politics.

Overall gender gap

Europe has seven countries in the top 10. The UK is 18th and the US is 23rd.The Philippines, at fifth, is the highest ranking Asian nation and Nicaragua is the highest-placed country from the Americas, at 10th.

The G20 group of leading industrial nations has no representative in the top 10, nor do the Middle East or Africa.

Top countries

1. Iceland
2. Finland
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Philippines
6. Ireland
7. New Zealand
8. Denmark
9. Switzerland
10. Nicaragua

In short: It's awesome to be a woman if you're in Iceland. In Yemen, not so much.

Source: bbc.co.uk
Iceland24, October 2013

Thursday, 17 October 2013

One in 10 people will publish a book in Iceland

Iceland is experiencing a book boom. This island nation of just over 300,000 people has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.

It is hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik. There is a phrase in Icelandic, "ad ganga med bok I maganum", everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone "has a book in their stomach". One in 10 Icelanders will publish one. "Does it get rather competitive?" I ask the young novelist, Kristin Eirikskdottir. "Yes. Especially as I live with my mother and partner, who are also full-time writers. But we try to publish in alternate years so we do not compete too much."

Special saga tours - saga as in story, that is, not over-50s holidays - show us story-plaques on public buildings.  Dating from the 13th Century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country's Norse settlers, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th Century.

Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups. Each geyser and waterfall we visit has a tale of ancient heroes and heroines attached. Our guide stands up mid-tour to recite his own poetry - our taxi driver's father and grandfather write biographies.  Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit.

Reykjavik is rocking with writers. It is book festival time. Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai and Generation X author Douglas Coupland rub shoulders with Icelandic literary superstars Gerdur Kristny and Sjon. Sjon also pens lyrics for Bjork, Iceland's musical superstar.

"Writers are respected here," Agla Magnusdottir tells me. "They live well. Some even get a salary."  Magnusdottir is head of the new Icelandic Literature Centre, which offers state support for literature and its translation. "They write everything - modern sagas, poetry, children's books, literary and erotic fiction - but the biggest boom is in crime writing," she says.

That is perhaps no surprise in this Nordic nation. But crime novel sales figures are staggering - double that of any of its Nordic neighbours.

So what has led to this phenomenal book boom? I would say it is due to a crop of darn good writers, telling riveting tales with elegant economy and fantastic characters.

Iceland's black lava riverbeds, its steaming, bubbling earth, with its towering volcanoes and fairytale streams also make it the perfect setting for stories.  No wonder JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney were entranced and Unesco designates Reykjavik a City of Literature.

Solvi Bjorn Siggurdsson, a tall, Icelandic-sweater-clad novelist, says writers owe a lot to the past. "We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do," he says. "Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity."

Siggurdsson pays homage to Iceland's Nobel Literature Laureate, Halldor Laxness, whose books are sold in petrol stations and tourist centres across the island. Locals name their cats after Laxness and make pilgrimages to his home.

"When Laxness won the Nobel prize in 1955 he put modern Icelandic literature on the map," Solvi tells me. "He gave us confidence to write."

Source: BBC News
Iceland24, October 2013

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Yoko Ono Made Honorary Citizen of Reykjavík

Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr  nominated artist Yoko Ono as Honorary Citizen of Reykjavík today at a special ceremony at Höfði. Ono is currently in Reykjavík for the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower.

The City Council Executive Committee of Reykjavík agreed unanimously last week to make Ono an honorary citizen of the city.

With the title, Reykjavík City Council wants to thank Ono for her “extremely valuable contribution to Reykjavík and for her lifelong work as an advocate for world peace and human rights and for choosing Reykjavík as a platform from which to spread her message,” as stated in a press release.

“Yoko’s contribution to peace and human rights issues in the world is unique. Imagine Peace Tower has been immensely valuable for Reykjavík,” Jón said.

Ono said it was an honor to receive the award. “It is indeed a great honor. John and I believed in Nutopia, which would make all of us citizens of the world. But inside the world, there is a land of our hearts that is shining with warmth, truth and beauty, called Iceland. Each time I visit the land, I am reminded of what is essential and therefore most important in life,” she said.

The basic idea of the Imagine Peace Tower is drawn from the common and intertwined careers of Ono and her late husband John Lennon and is about the international message of peace delivered through arts.

The Imagine Peace Tower was built on Viðey island in 2007 with support of Reykjavík City. The tower shines every year from Lennon’s birthday until December 8, the day of his passing in 1980. Ono joins a list of four other honorary citizens of Reykjavík: reverend Bjarni Jónsson (1961), ophthalmologist Kristján Sveinsson (1975), former President of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (2010) and Icelandic artist Erró (2012).

Source: Icelandreview (www.icelandreview.com)
Iceland24, October 2013

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Treasury Budget proposal in Iceland 2014

The Treasury Budget proposal for 2014 provides balanced Treasury operations for the first time since 2007. Stopping debt accumulation and achieving balanced public sector finances are the foundations of resilience.

The key objective of the budget proposal is to ensure improved living conditions for the people of Iceland. Real disposable income will rise by 0.3% in 2014 as a result of lower taxes. In addition, pensioners will benefit from increased social security system expenditures.

Over the next three years, the payroll tax will decline by 0.34 percentage points, providing firms with relief in the amount of ISK 3.8 bn by the time the changes have been implemented in full. In the long run, the payroll tax reduction will be of benefit to wage earners and will stimulate investment in the Icelandic economy.

The main element of fiscal policy is to reduce government debt, thereby reducing interest expense. The outlook is for a fiscal deficit of ISK 31.1 bn this year. This is substantially in excess of the estimate for 2013, which assumed a deficit of ISK 3.7 bn.

In the absence of targeted action, the fiscal deficit would have totalled some ISK 27 bn in 2014. Government expenditure will be reduced as a share of GDP through broad-based streamlining measures, decisions to abandon various recent projects undertaken by the previous government, and measures to cut interest expense.

Operating performance will also be improved through revenue-generating measures – in particular, the bank tax, which will be increased and will be imposed for the first time on financial undertakings in winding-up proceedings. Payments made by firms in winding-up proceedings will total an estimated ISK 11.3 bn in 2014, and total payments will amount to ISK 14.2 bn. This provides some scope for changes in focus, in line with the new government's policy.

Increased support for pensioners and safeguarding of children's benefits and interest cost rebates

  • The budget proposal provides for ISK 5 bn in increased disbursements to recipients of old age and disability pensions and to social assistance programmes, due to various changes in these pensioners' entitlements. 
  • Social security system disbursements will increase by an additional ISK 3.4 bn next year because of an increased number of benefit recipients and indexation of benefits. Spending in this category will therefore rise by a total of ISK 8.4 bn. 
  • The increase in interest cost rebates for low-income homebuyers, which was due to expire at the end of the year, will be extended. 
  • The recent increase in children's benefits is protected, in line with the government's policy of supporting families with children. Children's benefits rose by 24% in the 2013 Treasury Budget. Total expenditures for children's benefits are estimated at ISK 10.2 bn in 2014, as opposed to just under ISK 7.5 bn in 2012.

First steps away from increased taxation on individuals and companies 
  • The tax rate in the middle income tax bracket will be reduced by 0.8%, bringing it closer to the lowest bracket.
  • The combined percentage of employers' payroll tax and Wage Guarantee Fund contributions will decline by 0.1 percentage points. It will be cut by an additional 0.1% in 2015 and another 0.14% in 2016. 
  • The tax-free threshold for financial income tax on individuals' interest income will be raised by 25%, from ISK 100,000 to ISK 125,000. 
  • Value-added tax on disposable paper diapers will be reduced from the general rate of 25.5% to the lowest rate, 7.0%.

Further measures to assist households 
  • The ceiling for maternity/paternity payments leave will be raised to ISK 370,000, but plans to lengthen maternity/paternity leave will be abandoned. 
  • The “Allir Vinna” programme providing for reimbursement of value-added tax on labour related to construction and renovation of residential, vacation, and municipality-owned housing, which was due to expire at year-end 2013, will be extended. 
  • The tax-free threshold for children's income will be raised from ISK 104,745 to ISK 180,000.
  • Stamp fees on loan documents will be cancelled.

Contributions to various investment projects 
  • Norðfjarðargöng tunnel 
  • Bakki investment in infrastructure and road construction 
  • Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel 
  • Prison construction at Hólmsheiði
  • General transport construction projects
Source: Ministry of Finance
Iceland24, October 2013

Sunday, 6 October 2013

10 Icelandic Sagas you may not have heard of

Some of the richest and most interesting writings from medieval Europe come from one of its furthest corners: during the 13th and 14th century Icelanders began to write down the stories they had collected orally from previous centuries. These sagas would cover events in Iceland and elsewhere, going back to the days when the island was first discovered and settled back in the ninth century. They are stories of family feuds, outlaws and the occasional monster lurking somewhere the uninhabited stretches of the Iceland.

Many readers will know some of these Icelandic sagas, such as Egil’s Saga or Njal’s Saga, but the Icelandic writers penned dozens of these stories. Here are ten sagas that you may not have heard of, but offer a fascinating tale. All of these works are available in an English translation, but it maybe difficult to find a copy:

1. The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong – It follows the adventures of Finnbogi Asbjornson, a 10th century Icelander known for his great strength. It doesn’t look good for Finnbogi when his birth mother decides to abandon him shortly after he is born, but another family rescues the infant and raises him. As a child he begins to show his great strength – when Finnbogi 12 he breaks the neck of a bull, and a few years later he takes on a bear and breaks his back. In some ways the story is like Egil’s Saga, as Finnbogi faces various challenges in Iceland and Norway.

2. The Saga Of Gunnlaugur Snake’s Tongue - a classic love-triangle tale, where two men love the same woman. Being Icelanders they decide to settle it by a duel to the death. Click here to find the book on Amazon.com

3. Audun’s Story – a poor farmhand in Greenland decides to buy a polar bear and goes a journey to give it to the King of Denmark.

4. Magnus’ Saga – a short account of the life of St. Magnus, Earl of Orkney (1075-1116). Magnus is one of two earls who share rule over the Orkney Islands, but discord between them leads to battle, where Magnus is captured and executed. But that is the only the start of his story, as we read of the miracles performed by Magnus as he is declared a saint. There is also a longer account of his life.

5. Viga-Glums Saga – a struggle for power set in tenth-century Iceland, it features a ruthless chieftain named Glum who is determined to get his way, by legal means or by force. You can read a 19th century translation of this saga from the Icelandic Saga Database.

6. Heidarviga Saga – most of this story involves Bardi Gudmundson and the feud he has that gets more violent and leads to a bloody battle taking place on a moor in 1018. You can read a 19th century translation of ‘The Story of the Heath-Slayings’ from the Online Medieval and Classical Library.

7. The Saga of the Confederates – a kind of comedy saga, this story set in eleventh-century follows Odd and his father Ofeig. While Odd goes into business and becomes wealthy, his father remains a poor farmer. But when the  eight most powerful chieftains of Iceland come together in a confederacy so they can legally outlaw Odd and take his wealth for themselves, it is Dad who comes to the rescue, using his wits to get his son out of trouble. You can learn more about the saga from the thesis: The Saga of the Confederates: Historical Truth in an Icelandic Saga.

8. Gongu-Hrolfs Saga – a romantic saga, where a Russian princess is doomed to marry the man who killed her father unless a young Norwegian warrior can rescue her. This story has everything – sorcerers, demons, dwarves and legs that are cut off and sewn back on! And yes, he gets the girl. Read more about it in History or fiction? Truth-claims and defensive narrators in Icelandic romance-sagas.

9. Svarfdale Saga – set first in Norway and Sweden, and then the Svarsdale region of Iceland, it follows three generations of a family who have feuds and need to gain revenge for the wrongs done to them. Similar to other family sagas, historians haven’t been particularly interested in this work as it lacks the style found in works like Njal’s Saga. You can read some of the proverbs and quotes from this saga at this site, including lines like: ”Someone who loses his gloves cannot be happy even if he gets another pair.”

10. The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki – a mythic saga, it is the story of King Hrolf, the ruler of Denmark from the 6th century AD. Similar to Beowulf, this story has wizards, berserkers and several interesting female characters. Learn more and read some excerpts from the saga from The Viking Site by Jesse L. Byock.

Source: Medievalist
Iceland24, October 2013

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Operational cost per student in primary schools in Iceland

Statistics Iceland has calculated the average operational cost per student in all primary schools that are run by local governments, according to paragraph 2 Article 56, Act No 66/1995 on Primary Schools and paragraph 6, Directive No. 320, March 26, 2007 on the accreditation of primary schools and the minimum contribution from local governments to such schools.

This calculation is done according to paragraph 2 in Article 6 of the aforementioned directive that states:

„The calculation made by Statistics Iceland according to paragraph 1 shall be available in September each year.  The calculation shall be based on the Annual Reports of local governments for the previous year, according to price changes until the day the calculations are done.  Calculation of price changes shall be done according to general rise in the wages of employees of primary schools and changes in the consumer price index allowing for the weight of each component in the operational cost of the primary schools.”

The average operational cost per student in primary schools in 2012 turned out to be 1,411,812 krona (8.625€ or 11.672 US dolars) and the increase in the weighted average price level from 2012 until September 2013 was estimated at around 3.9%.

The findings of the calculation are, therefore, that the estimated operational cost per student in primary schools that are run by local government is 1,466,718 krona (8.960€ or 12.126 US dolars)  in September 2013.

Source: Statistics Iceland
Iceland24, October 2013