Archive for Iceland

burial rites [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2016 by xi'an

snaefell2This book by Hannah Kent was published in 2013 and was recommended to me by Peter when we were discussing about our respective trips to Iceland. This is a novelised re-enactment of a historical murder that took place in North-West Iceland in 1828, when a woman convicted of murdering two men is sent to a remote croft to wait for her execution, the last one in Iceland.  The novel caries many levels at once, from uncovering the true (?) story behind the murders, to the incredibly harsh life of those Icelandic farmers, to the very rigid religious atmosphere imposed by Lutheran pastors, along with a large degree of superstition to the literacy of even the most remote farmers and the love of sagas and poems, to the savage beauty of the land and of its winter, to the treatment of servants and paupers in those rural communities… It is a beautiful book, if of a definitely dark kind of beauty, The description of the communal life in those crofts, with all members of the household sleeping in the same comes out as very outlandish, until I remembered the common room in Brittany where the only privacy was afforded by the lits-clos, box-beds aligned along the walls with a door turning them into as many tiny alcoves… The book also reminded me at times of [the magnificent] An instance of the fingerpost, where another unusual women again stands accused of a murder, with contradicting statements about her, except that there is nothing Christic about Agnes Magnusdottir (or Jòndóttir). The building of her character tiny piece by tiny piece throughout the book is impressive and touching, and so are the other characters at the farm, forced into partaking in this tragedy just like they are forced in hearing the confession of Agnes to the priest while sharing the common room with her. And eventually accepting her as a whole person rather than a murderess.

“I let my body swing, I let my arms fall. I feel the muscles of my stomach contract and twist. The scythe rises, falls, rises, falls, catches the sun across its blades and flicks the light back into my eyes – a bright wink of God. I watch you, the scythe says, rippling through the green sea, catching the sun, casting it back to me.”

The book is truly telling much (too much?) about the daily life of those farmers, as in the above passage which reminded me of watching my grandfathers cutting hay with their scythe in the summer, with a practice that made them go for hours, only stopping for sharpening the blade… Obviously, I am not fit to judge the historical accuracy of such details, especially in Iceland, but it rings true or true enough to merge with the psychological part of the novel. And I wanted to hear about how Icelanders reacted to this book (since the author is Australian, if clearly in love with Iceland!): as a coincidence, I met with an Icelander in Oxford Royal Oak earlier this week who told me that the book sounded Icelandic to her, so much that the English version read as if it had been translated from Icelandic! [I just found this entry about travelling around the sites appearing in the book. As a last note, some sites and blogs have ranked the book within Icelandic or Scandinavian crime novels: this is completely inappropriate.]

Reykjavik nights [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2016 by xi'an

While this is the latest book in the Erlendur series by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason, Reykjavik Nights [or Reykjavíkurnætur] is also the earliest in the chronology of the series since it relates to the first years of Erlendur in the Icelandic police and to murders that took place in 1974 in Reykjavik. The book may appeal mostly to those who have already read (the) other books in the series, as it explains very little about Erlendur’s past and the reasons he is so fascinated by missing persons. It is however a great read, despite or thanks to very little action when touring the nights of Reykjavik and arresting drunks weekend after weekend. (There is a slight interlude when Erlendur takes part in policing the 1100 anniversary celebrations of the settlement of Iceland at Þingvellir where the Alþing, the original Icelandic parliament stood.) Actually, I find the detective part less than convincing but it hardly matters since the development of the character of Erlendur is very well conducted. With a constant focus throughout the series on themes like domestic violence and drunkenness. A very pleasant read.

a glacial PhD in Iceland [job announcement]

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2016 by xi'an

[Here is a PhD offer at the University of Iceland that may be of interest to some readers or their students. I would have been interested 30 years ago!]

The Department of Mathematics at the University of Iceland (UI) seeks applicants for a fully funded 3 year PhD position for the project Statistical Models for Glaciology.

The student will develop Bayesian hierarchical spatio-temporal models to the field of glaciology, working with a consortium of experts at the University of Iceland, the University of Missouri and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The key people in the consortium are Prof. Birgir Hrafnkelsson at UI, Prof. Chris Wikle, and Prof. Håvard Rue, experts in spatial statistics and Bayesian computation. Another key person is Prof. Gudfinna Adalgeirsdottir at UI, an expect in glaciology. The Glaciology group at UI possesses extensive data and knowledge about the Icelandic glaciers.

The application deadline is February 29, 2016.

Detailed project description

Job ad with information on how to apply:

Rams [Hrútar]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by xi'an

After two failed attempts [first time, the movie USB stick had been lost by the Alpine post-office; second time, the Montparnasse cinema was packed by busloads of senior citizens on a New Year afternoon], we managed to get two seats at an afternoon show of Rams, an Icelandic movie about sheep, brothers, and Northern Iceland. Both funny and moving. Mostly moving actually, as the film director does not push the absurdity of the not-talking brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, into a comedy, only allowing a few bursts of hilarious moments. Indeed, the core story is pretty dire as the brothers are ordered (by a Danish veterinarian!) to kill both their flocks of scrapie infected sheep, which constitute the last representatives of a local race.  Obviously, the setting in rural (i.e., deserted) Iceland helps with the story and with getting immersed with the fate of the characters (esp. the sheep!), but this is not a scenery film and the actors convey more by their silence and stares than through the few dialogues. The final scenes are even more dramatic and the film ends up on a question mark… Not to forget, the fairly long credits include the names of a few sheep, as well as an horse and possibly the shepherd dog [but I missed it!]

AISTATS 2016 [call for submissions]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2015 by xi'an

At the last (European) AISTATS 2014, I agreed to be the program co-chair for AISTATS 2016, along with Arthur Gretton from the Gatsby Unit, at UCL. (AISTATS stands for Artificial Intelligence and Statistics.) Thanks to Arthur’s efforts and dedication, as the organisation of an AISTATS meeting is far more complex than any conference I have organised so far!, the meeting is taking shape. First, it will take place in Cadiz, Andalucía, Spain, on May 9-11, 2016. (A place more related to the conference palm tree logo than the previous location in Reykjavik, even though I would be the last one to complain it took place in Iceland!)

Second, the call for submissions is now open. The process is similar to other machine learning conferences in that papers are first submitted for the conference proceedings, then undergo a severe and tight reviewing process, with a response period for the authors to respond to the reviewers’ comments, and that only the accepted papers can be presented as posters, some of which are selected for an additional oral presentation. The major dates for submitting to AISTATS 2016 are

Proceedings track paper submission deadline 23:59UTC Oct 9, 2015
Proceedings track initial reviews available Nov 16, 2015
Proceedings track author feedback deadline Nov 23, 2015
Proceedings track paper decision notifications Dec 20, 2015

With submission instructions available at this address. Including the electronic submission site.

I was quite impressed by the quality and intensity of the AISTATS 2014 conference, which is why I accepted so readily being program co-chair, and hence predict an equally rewarding AISTATS 2016, thus encouraging all interested ‘Og’s readers to consider submitting a paper there! Even though I confess it will make a rather busy first semester for 2016, between MCMSki V in January, the CIRM Statistics month in February, the CRiSM workshop on Eatimating constants in April, AISTATS 2016 thus in May, and ISBA 2016 in June…

Mýrin aka Jar City [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by xi'an

Mýrin (“The Bog”) is the third novel in the Inspector Erlendur series written by Arnaldur Indridason. It contains the major themes of the series, from the fascination for unexplained disappearances in Iceland to Elendur’s inability to deal with his family responsibilities, to domestic violence, to exhumations. The death that starts the novel takes place in the district of Norðurmýri, “the northern marsh”, not far from the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, and not far either from DeCODE, the genetic company I visited last June and which stores genetic information about close to a million Icelanders, the Íslendingabók. And which plays an important and nefarious role in the current novel. While this episode takes place mostly between Reykjavik and Keflavik, hence does not offer any foray into Icelandic landscapes, it reflects quite vividly on the cultural pressure still present in the recent years to keep rapes and sexual violence a private matter, hidden from an indifferent or worse police force. It also shows how the police misses (in 2001) the important genetic clues for being yet unaware of the immense and frightening possibilities of handling the genetic code of an entire population. (The English and French titles refer to the unauthorised private collections of body part accumulated [in jars] by doctors after autopsies, families being unaware of the fact.) As usual, solving the case is the least important part of the story, which tells about broken lifes and survivors against all odds.

Einstök

Posted in pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2015 by xi'an

einstok

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