In 2013, I traveled to Iceland to write the first of my travelogues, Pam on the Map: Iceland. One of my favorite experiences in Iceland was meeting and talking with Jón Gnarr, who was the Mayor of Reykjavík at the time and had been called “the world’s most interesting mayor.” We had a great chat about everything ranging from politics to happiness (the full transcript of the interview is in the book), and he left a real impression on me not just as mayor but as a truly fascinating, honest, and candid person.
Shortly after my book came out, Jón left office (having decided not to run for a second term) and started writing books of his own. Every now and then I still hear about him, and he’s stuck in my mind as one of my favorite interviewees. I was curious about life after mayorhood, so I decided to follow up. Here’s our Q&A!
Pam Stucky: Last we saw each other, you were a few months away from the end of your term as Mayor of Reykjavík. You hadn't told the public yet whether you were going to run again, but in my book, based on my meeting with you, I predicted you would not. I was right! Any regrets in not running for a second term?
Jón Gnarr: No regerts!
[PS: I edited the above to “no regrets,” and Jón explained to me he meant it as he wrote it—"It's a tattoo joke"!]
PS: You entered office due to a bit of turmoil in Iceland. As everyone knows, the US has a bit of turmoil of its own these days. Do you see any parallels?
JG: There are many similarities. I think your next political surprises are going to come from the cities. I would not be surprised if some cities would even declare independence. I'm not sure how it works but it seems inevitable. I think it's just a matter of time, a logical next step in civilization when cities become self governing and sovereign city states. The cities are growing while rural areas are not and democracy is bound to adapt to this and hence become more efficient. There will be another global economic crisis in 1 or 2 years and I think this will start happening after that.
PS: Any predictions on the future of US government? Any advice to people in the US on how to navigate these tumultuous days?
JG: The real political power in this country is not in Washington but in Hollywood and it's growing. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst! That motto really applies to all life in general; health, family, politics, love, books, Hollywood and everything else.
PS: You've been busy since you left office! I've seen you out on a lot of promotional tours! Tell me a bit about your books?
JG: I enjoy writing. Last year I published the last book in a trilogy I had been writing since 2005. My books are translated into many languages and I try to follow, show up and do readings and interviews. I am thankful and honoured. The English translation of my last book will come out next month with Deep Vellum books.
PS: The other day you tweeted that you've finished the first draft of yet another book. What is this one about?
JG: I am writing a book about my wife Joga. When she was 19 she was in a terrible car accident in New York and had to seek justice through the court system. She won and changed some law in this country. But with a prize. I am trying to tell her story.
PS: You've been writing a lot. What else have you been doing? Have you done any more comedy?
JG: Last year I wrote a television series about a man who is the mayor of Reykjavík. I also starred in it as the mayor. And I co-wrote and directed the annual comedy special in Iceland. Now I have a residency at Rice University in Houston and I am also teaching a class in creative writing at UH.
PS: I see on Twitter that on your current tour (for The Outlaw,) you are not just promoting your books, but also a food called lifrarpylsa. I looked it up and apparently it's "Icelandic haggis" or "liver haggis." Tell me about your love affair with lifrarpylsa and why you're showcasing it on the road. Is it as good as hákarl (rotten/fermented shark, supposedly a national dish of Iceland)?
JG: Hahahaha! Lifrarpylsa is one of many Icelandic delicacies. On my long train rides in Germany I posted pictures of it on Twitter. It was mostly for my personal enjoyment. I was raised on this thing. It may not look very good but I love it. Hákarl is Sunday snack but lifrarpylsa is a solid companion on any other day. You have it for breakfast sour with porridge. Lunch, fried on a pan and for supper boiled with potatoes and rutabaga. But always a treat. Most Icelanders can't afford hákarl anymore but lifrarpylsa is cheap. And always will be.
PS: I've also noticed a lot of tweets from you about the Icelandic naming system. Can you give us a brief background on the tradition/law, and why it is controversial?
JG: Oh, don't get me started. So we have this gullible naming tradition. Men should be called Magnus and women Gudrun. And we have a law. Anyone who's not named Magnus or Gudrun must apply to a naming committee. Surnames are banned. And you can not name a boy Gudrun for it's a girls name. A few years ago the committee sent a note to a young woman who's name is Blaer and told her she had to stop using it because they decided her name was a boys name. I could write a whole book about it. And maybe I should?
PS: Do you ever miss being Mayor? What do you miss? If you were Mayor again right now, what would you focus on in Reykjavík?
JG: No I never miss being a mayor. I sometimes miss the people I used to work with. I got to know some really good people in city hall. If I was mayor today I would probably try to focus on affordable housing for young people.
PS: What else is on your mind these days? Anything else you're passionate about that you want to share?
JG: I am passionate about many things. The Icelandic language is one. I want to fight to keep it alive and I do so by speaking it and writing it. So, takk og bless!
Pam is the author of several books including her latest, a mystery, Death at Glacier Lake, as well as the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (traveling the world with wit and wanderlust); and the Balky Point Adventures (YA sci-fi fantasy adventure with wonder and wisdom, a mix of Doctor Who and A Wrinkle in Time).
Pam’s first YA sci-fi adventure novel, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, is currently available FREE online, along with thought-provoking and skill-building activities for parents, educators, and students to work on together.
Find out more about Pam and check out her personal manifesto at pamstucky.com