St. Michael’s, and Victoria, Colleges

St. Michael’s

University of St. Michael's College

University of St. Michael’s College

The Roman Catholic college on the far eastern edge of UofT’s St. George campus. Home to media theorist Marshall McLuhan who presciently penned the phrase “the medium is the message” decades before the birth of the Internet.

Victoria College

Victoria College

Victoria College

“Old Vic,” at the heart of Victoria University’s quadrangle.

Annesley Hall, Women's Residence

Annesley Hall, Women’s Residence

Norhtrop Frye

Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye was one of Vic’s most famous faculty until his death in the mid-90s, and even today his presence is felt on campus.

Jesuits

Jesuits

A Music Video Tour of Iceland

Imagine Peace Tower

Imagine Peace Tower

Recently, while researching scenic locales for my first photo trip to Iceland, I got a real kick outta watching music videos shot locally by some of my favourite bands such as múm, Bjork, and Sigur Rós. All of which happen to be from Iceland. Turns out, not surprisingly, that Iceland’s wild and woolly landscape makes a great backdrop for some inspiring music videos… or maybe it just says something about the kind of music I like. In any case, I thought it would be fun for me, and cool for you, to put together a “Top Ten” list of inspiring music videos. Some of the locales, such as Reykjavik, and the black sand beach near Vik, we did actually get to in March of 2014; others are at the top of my bucket list. Please note that I’m not gonna try and be comprehensive here: these are ten songs and/or videos I happen to like. There’s nothing magical about the number 10: feel free to add your own favourite Iceland-themed music videos in the comments section below!

Bjork

The Sugarcubes, Birthday

 (English)

Reykjavik circa late 1980s – a bird’s eye view (you’ll see what I mean…) and the hinterland. Funky brollies, and a Wonderland-ish dinner party. Hipster before it was hip to be hipster (“Don’t call me ‘hipster'”).

Joga

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindI, 2004) took the refrain “emotional landscapes” to heart when he directed this video. The CG looks a little dated, but the over-all effect works. One of my favourite Bjork songs… and videos.

Sigur Rós

And then there’s Sigur Ros, still my all-time favourite band. More than just minimalist post-rock musicians with roots in punk and classical music, they’re also keen supporters of video art. Don’t believe me? Check out the tour documentary Heima, or especially Valtari Mystery Film Experiment. Better yet, see them live. Meantime, enjoy this small selection of videos from my list of personal faves…

 “Glósóli” (“Glowing Sole”)

Arni & Kinski’s dark, beautiful childhood fairytale set in Iceland’s volcanic desert highlands.

Svefn-G-Englar (“Sleepwalkers”)

Fun fact: this is the first song I ever heard from Sigur Ros, in the climactic scene from Vanilla Sky. In August Jacobsson’s video, Iceland’s elements are interpreted in dance by a troupe of actors from Reykjavik.

Hoppipolla (“Hopping into Puddles”)

How Vikings grow old. Shot in the residential neighbourhoods of Reykjavik. Used in the soundtrack to We Bought a Zoo.

Untitled #1 (aka Vaka)

Floria Sigismondi’s video of childhood as post-apocalyptic (well, post-volcanic) fantasy won the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards for Best Video.

Varúð

This is kinda how I expected Iceland would look in March. It did, and it didn’t…

Rimur

Steindór Andersen – Hugann Seiða Svalli Frá (with Sigur Rós)

Iceland in black and white! Traditional rimor (alliterative rhyming) folk song with scenes shot around Breiðafjörður, a wide shallow bay which separates Westfords from southern Iceland. I can’t tell who shot the video, whether this is an “official” Sigur Ros video or fan art, archive footage or current, but the imagery matches the music perfectly.

Beyond Sigur Ros…

múm, Green Grass of Tunnel

Okay, this video is even heavier into graphics than Bjork’s Joga, above, but the scene is inspired by a real-live lighthouse: “Iceland is shaped somewhat like a dragon, and this was on the dragon’s forehead,” according to band member Gunnar Orn Tynes in an article at The Age.

Sólstafir, Fjara

Heavy metal does Iceland.

So there ya go… ten music videos shot in Iceland. I had a heckuva time choosing just ten. Sigur Ros alone has more than ten videos worth watching before taking a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice. So does Bjork. And Iceland is no two-band wonder; maybe it’s the long, dark winters, but for whatever reason Iceland has an outsize music scene. Heck, even the country’s airline is on the act, sponsoring a music festival and producing a stream of music anthologies they play in-flight and that you can buy from those duty-free carts the flight attendants push around. And, I mean, people actually buy them. We did… There’s also a growing list of websites with pages devoted to music connected in one way or another to Iceland _ I won’t insult you by googling that for ya, but now you know the stuff is out there.

These are only ten music videos, and in no particular order. What are your favourite music videos shot in Iceland, by Icelandic acts or others? Add links in the comments so I can check ’em out before I plan my next trip to Iceland…

Pearson to Union on UPX

Pearson to Union Station, the ride in

The new train service between Pearson and Union Station has been up and running for a few weeks now – and is already the subject of much discussion on travel discussion forums.

I won’t repeat the discussion here, except to say that there are some photogenic moments – of the suburban and/or urban bleak kind – that break up the 25-minute train ride. Unfortunately, I was unprepared when we pulled out of Pearson and missed some shots of condos and overpasses. Maybe next time… These pictures were all previewed and edited in the new Photos app on a MacBook Air 11″: not my usual Lightroom on an iMac monitor. The software is unfamiliar and the small screen on the MBA is difficult for me to really see pictures with any detail, so apologies in advance if these pics aren’t all that great…

Reykjavik, “Bay of Smokes”

The capital of Iceland has a population of about 120,000 (which is, like around the same number of people jammed onto my suburban commuter train into central Tokyo each morning), more than a third of the country’s entire population. We didn’t spend much time in town, but from what little I did see the spirit of the place reminds me of Kingston, Ontario and other small cities: a core of old but brightly coloured wooden houses with steep-pitched roofsin the city centre mostly occupied by hipster shops, cafes, and restaurants, and the bachelor apartments of making-it artists and artisans, and a couple of minimalist, Scandesign-inspired office towers downtown, surrounded by suburbs.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

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IcelandinMarchReykjavik and surroundings.

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Jon Gunnar's Sollar Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

Jon Gunnar’s Sollar Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

(Updated April 30: I continue to post galleries of photos from our recent trip to Iceland on Exit Booted… Check ’em out!)

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. – John Ruskin

Forget what you may have heard about how Iceland got its name: that a group of xenophobic Vikings put the “ice” in Iceland to chase other settlers from their newfound home’s forests of downy birch “from mountain to shore”, and meadows — according to one contemporary account — dripping with butter. Those stories are kids’ stuff.

The trees are long gone. And, I can’t speak to summertime, but in March if there’s any butter on the grass it’s buried under a subarctic winter’s worth of ice and snow.

Apparently the climate was a little different a thousand-plus years ago. During a period known as the Medieval Climatic Anomaly, when 30% – 40% of Iceland was covered in the aforementioned birch forests so dense it made travel inland difficult. Even so, according to the official telling of Iceland’s settlement in the Landnámabók, Iceland’s first Norse settler Flóki Vilgerðarson gave the island its current name (there were others) after climbing a mountain and seeing with homesick eyes an ice-choked fjord.

Kind of the way I stood atop Grábrók crater, staring (I hoped) Viking-like into an eye-biting wind, and glassed through a tear-smeared telephoto lens for troll-sign in the desolate, wind-whipped, frost-nipped volcanic wasteland of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The thought occurred to me, as it must have occurred to Flóki, that it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity it’s not the temperature, it’s the wind.

See, the Anomaly was followed by a Little Ice Age, and by volcanic eruptions, and human settlement, and sheep. The forests were cut down by Vikings long since and the land over-gazed. Today where once was forest now there’s tundra — think the colour of an Icelandic pony’s winter coat of honey-coloured hair — and mossy, fog-shrouded lava fields.

Wind really does make all the difference. Sure, as Wikipedia knows, the Gulf Stream moderates air temperatures even this close to the Arctic Circle. Even in March, Reykjavik stays a positively balmy few degrees above zero Celsius – t-shirt weather for a visitor from Canada or, say, northern Japan (though the coldest temperature ever recorded, in the northeastern hinterland, did reach a respectably bone-chilling -38 C in January of 1922). But that wind: on a stormy day it can average 50 meters a second (112 mph) – hurricane strength on the Beaufort scale, and well below the National Weather Service’s wind chill calculator’s upper limit. But the answer is obvious: don’t go there then. Leave it to the trolls.

Never mind. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change,” the tourist literature brags, and it’s true: on the day we strapped on crampons to hike the Þórisjökull glacier, we left the car park at the head of aptly named Kaldidalur (“Cold Valley”) road under grey skies which unleashed rain and snow showers, then rice-sized hail, followed by blue skies, and finally a second – temperamental, wind-driven – snowstorm which chased us around the off-road bus. All in the space of little more than an hour.

Thing is, the quixotic weather can be part of the fun, if you’ve got warm layers, a rainshell, and the right attitude. And there are other advantages to being in Iceland in March. Daylight, which at the beginning of the month is still a wintery 10 hours, is a respectable 13 ½ hours by the end. And, while Iceland is still off the beaten path, it does get close to 700,000 visitors a year, mostly in the summer months. That’s more than twice the population of the entire country. Come in March, though, and Iceland is still home to the descendants of those original Viking settlers. And the trolls and elvish “hidden folk” who were the island’s first inhabitants.

It’s all about the spirit of place, the genus loci, fuinke, Ultima Thule, the part of the map which reads Here Be Dragons: the undiscovered country.

Hyperbole aside, this really is the land of fire and ice, glaciers capping super-volcanoes which do occasionally erupt: and shut down airports across north and central Europe. Dirt roads and mountain tracks through the uninhabited central highlands – which makes up something crazy like 60% of the landmass. And the aurora…

Reykjavik, “Bay of Smokes”, is the hip, young, artsy capital, with a population of 120,000. As I tell my high school students, where I would go if I wanted to start a band, or an artist of any kind. Or a hipster. Here, or Montreal (just saying). Then again, not everyone is so crazy about life there. Our guide, Christian, tells us (in fluent English and Japanese) that the cost of living is so high most people just work to make ends meet. And Þorsteinn Bachmann, one of the stars of 2014’s Life in a Fishbowl, is quoted as saying “If you imagine a little fishbowl, the fish go round and round and you meet the same fish… that’s life in Iceland.”

This is the place R. and I chose for our Spring Break 2014. It seems kinda crazy to travel, like, 26 hours door-to-door for a four-day bus tour of a barely inhabited island just outside the Arctic Circle (then again, if you know anything about me, you know I’ve always been attracted to wastelands: shopping mall parking lots; rooftops; Toronto’s beaches… in winter). In any case, as you see from the pictures, what Iceland’s famous rhyolite hills and wastelands lack in colour in spring it makes up for in texture and contrast.

Our four-day tour took us from Reykjavik to Reykholt, with some stops along the way. Highlights include Thingvellir, Reykholt itself, Grábrók crater, glacier hiking, the rivers and waterfalls that cut through lava fields and wasteland; the black sand beach outside the town of Vik, and for R. and everyone else in our group, the aurora borealis in – I’ve been assured, many times – full bloom. But we also just enjoyed watching the scenery pass by our tour bus windows, the tundra and hoar-frosted massifs and fjords, and snow-covered volcanoes rising like sugar mounds out of the wasteland.

Wonder what it’s like in summer…

Reykholt Church

Iceland. In March.

Gabrock Crater, Iceland.

Iceland. In Marcg. Read the rest of this entry »

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