Kæru vinir - frændur og frænkur
Yes. Many of you may know these very warm Icelandic words we have of anyone who is related to you. I don’t know of any true equivelant in the English language. They have their cousins, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts - words that define the specific level of relations, and all denote a warm and strong bond. And then - when the relations spread out further than what could be contained in an old fashioned multigenerational household - you can go into the whole designation of second and third cousins, once removed or twice removed. Pretty soon it gets a bit complicated and it becomes necessary to resort to the term kinship which lacks warmth and closeness.
But the Icelandic words are different. Frændi and frænka can mean anything from your cousin that was as much a part of your upbrining as if she was your brother or sister - and it can also be someone who you might only have seen on television, but your mom or dad claim is your „frændi“ because you can find on Íslendingabók a common ancestor that lived in the east of Iceland in the 1850s. Both are your frændi and frænka.
And the words - frændi and frænka - are of the same linguistic root as one of the most comforting words in the English language: Friend.
And so it is here, when I - as the Icelandic minister of foreign affairs - visit these parts - the humorously named town of Mountain in North Dakota - it is really much rather a family affair than it is a foreign affair.
I am here with my frændis and frænkas - and with true and loyal friends of Iceland, the home of their ancestors.
Of course - the words that are written on the printed program says: „Hvað er svo glatt sem góðra vina fundur“ - which translates to „What is as joyful as the gathering of good friends“ - yes. What indeed?
The words come from the famous poem by Jónas Hallgrímsson - Vísur Íslendinga - the verses of Icelanders. In it he celebrated these types of occasions, the moments you get to spend with those you love, your friends - and to make the moment more enjoyable he had a proposal. „Látum því vinir vínið andann hressa, og vonarstundu köllum þennan dag“ - „Let us - friends - allow the wine to raise our spirits - and proclaim this day to be a time of hope.“
This morning we visited to burial site of Káinn. The mercurial poet and humorist who was an early settler here and was a master of the Icelandic art of laying down insults, settling scores and expressing the challenges of life through short and smart verses.
I believe it was the first time in my life that I attempted to let wine raise my spirits at ten in the morning when we took a shot of brennivín and poured the rest of the bottle’s content over his grave. But as a testament to how small the world is - maybe especially Iceland - my husband is very familiar with this tradition because on every Christmas he goes on the morning of the 24th of December to a grave in Fossvogur in Reykjavík and performs a similar ritual. He and his family, his frændur og frænkur - take a shot of brennivín and pour the rest of the bottle to honor his great grandfather who created the current and classic rendition of brennivín in 1935 the year that alcohol prohibition was repealed in Iceland.
Of course, in the case of Káinn. It is a very fitting custom. He did like his drink. So you can imagine how hard it was for him to live—much less to create poetry—under prohibition here in America, when you were not allowed beer stronger than 2 percent.
Ég hlýt að slá við slöku
í slyngri ljóðamennt.
Það yrkir engin stöku
á aðeins tvö prósent.
he wrote, which a friend of mine translated into:
My verses are lackluster
despite my best intent.
words are hard to muster
on only two percent.
Dear friends. Kæru vinir.
I am very pleased to be following in the footsteps of earlier visitors from back home, including the president, the prime minister, my predecessor and many other government colleagues who have come here to honor these strong and unique bonds. Everyone of my colleagues who has had the fortune to participate in these festivals has come back to Iceland with a strong conviction of the need to maintain and strengthens these bonds between Iceland and our relatives in America.
These bonds go back indeed a thousand years and more. Not only did Leifur Eriksson, a son of Iceland, first put down a settlement here - it is quite likely that the journey of Christopher Columbus, almost 500 years later, was directly related to the viking journey - as Columbus very likely visited Iceland 15 years prior to reaching America, and on his visits he may have heard tales of Vínland, and the many centuries of failed attempts to repeat the feat.
The Icelanders who set out from their home in the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth were setting out on an uncertain journey. These were brave people and pioneers—and despite the difficulties, they were the days of hope.
When the Icelandic diaspora started to establish themselves in a new country and finding ever more success - in a new reality - they became inspirations for the old country. As soon as they were able to, they started giving back, sending ideas, teaching new techniques and investing in ventures of progress in their ancestral homeland.
The Deuce of August has its origin in Iceland receiving its first constitution on August 2nd 1874. It was a step on the way to independence - not as big as many would have liked - but a step nonetheless. Iceland became an independent and a sovereign country and it remains so. I believe that the growing success of the Icelandic diaspora in North America may have contributed to the increasing self-confidence of those who remained. And it is a source of strength for Iceland that so many wonderful people are willing to work so hard every year to maintain the legacy of our common history.
The love and longing for Iceland, and all that is Icelandic, was strong in North America among the people who created a new life here - and it remains strong to this day. And let me assure that the pride goes both ways.
I would like to say - from the bottom of my heart - takk. Thank you for inviting me here today - takk fyrir að muna - thank you - frændur og frænkur - for remembering Iceland and keeping it in your hearts, as we keep you in ours.