Travel Broadens the Mind


Iceland artist dips brush into beauty of land
I GOT A CALL from a friend the other day who needed some travel tips. She was going to a strange, far-off land — a place most Californians have never seen: South Dakota.

“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” I told her. I was born in South Dakota and visit the state annually without ever showing my passport. You don’t need shots or special currency — but it helps if you like sausage and sauerkraut.

It’s strange how Californians can go their whole life without seeing the Dakotas. They’ll travel to London and France repeatedly but a visit to America’s heartland never crosses their mind.
“What would I do there?” people ask me. “It seems so — bland.” Well, if you call a palace made entirely of corn husks “bland” — then your life is more exciting than mine. But South Dakota has more than the Corn Palace in Mitchell. My hometown of Eureka is the kuchen capital of the world. Folks come from miles around to enjoy this yummy custard-filled dessert. And South Dakota has the faces. Mount Rushmore at night, illuminated by the moon, could turn a communist into a flag-waving patriot.
But a trip to South Dakota is more than just a visit to Middle America. It’s a way to open your mind to what other people think, and how they live their lives. And if more people did this, it would help bring a fractured America together.

ICELAND ARTIST: After returning from Iceland last month, I found a new friend. Arngunnur Yr is an Oakland Hills mom who not only hails from Iceland, she paints Icelandic landscapes and takes tour groups there. Her work is seductive and poetic, and often as raw as the nature she paints. “In the winter months, I work in my studio when my kids are at school,” she says.
Arngunnur admits that art is the most important thing in her life — second only to her family. But she also works as a guide in the mountains of Iceland, where she says you can travel through a raw blackness with vast skies, majestic volcanoes and glaciers that lure you into the distance. “At the day’s end, you return to the gentle soft aromatic greens, the deep moss and fragrant herbs that feel almost like a physical caress!” she says, describing the pastoral towns that dot her homeland. The landscape is reflected in her work. “On one hand my paintings of vast skies and landscape lure in the viewer, but on a closer look, the image seems to be disintegrating and almost undermine the initial beauty of the image,” she explains. The result is a constant conflict in her paintings, which makes viewers stop and think. It’s a direct contrast to her personal life, which is rich with adventure, fulfillment and, most important, family. You can see Arngunnur Yr’s work on her Web site at www. arngunnuryr.com.

ICELAND EATERY: A taste of Iceland is literally just a short drive through the tunnel. Katy’s Kreek is a popular restaurant in Walnut Creek owned by two charming Icelanders, Ari Gardar Georgsson and his wife, Benedikta Gisladottir. The night I was there, the room was filled with blond diners, enjoying native dishes like hashed fish stew served with chopped cod, potatoes and melted cheese. I had the ciappino, which was a savory dish of scallops, mussels and other seafood in a dunkworthy broth. And dunk I did, as I mopped up every bit with a piece of sweet beer bread. The only thing that would make this place better is an ice bar which would give folks some relief from the broiling Walnut Creek heat. It’ll take some convincing, but I think I can talk Ari into it.

ROAD RAGE: The heat must be getting to some folks. Reader Furio Soto says a crazed motorist was on his tail all the way down Shepherd Canyon Road the other day, and then cut him off in Montclair Village. Minutes later, Soto ran into the guy inside Safeway, and the man blew his top.
“YOU WERE DRIVING TOO SLOW!” he screamed as surprised shoppers scattered to other parts of the store. Soto tried to reason with the guy but realized it was useless. He left the man steaming near the stewed tomatoes.

SEASON’S GREETINGS: Who thinks about Christmas in July? Collectors, who stormed Annie’s Hallmark in Montclair last weekend to get a newly released Christmas ornament collection. Owner Mohammed Khatib says, “I’m supposed to hide them and then unveil them — but I don’t.” He doesn’t need the fanfare. Many folks had the date circled for months and spent up to $50 apiece for the Christmas collectibles.

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