Unnar Geir Unnarsson, on Returning Home
Updated: Mar 23
Unnar Geir was born and raised in Egilsstaðir, Unnar then moved to the capital area for vocal studies. Later he headed to London to study acting and directing. Earlier this year he returned to his hometown after seventeen years away to head the area's Cultural Centre. It was a challenging move for a challenging job. When asked how it felt to return to the small town after years of cosmopolitan life, Unnar says it was quite nice. "I found there were still so many familiar faces in this milieu. Still, the town had changed so much, and for the better.”
“Egilsstaðir was a village until 1987 when it received municipal rights. When I was growing up, it had this village atmosphere. It was an era of prosperity; there was an influx of young people, raising young children. My street was Reynivellir in a brand new neighbourhood, and it was awash with children. We enjoyed life, playing outdoors, throughout summer and winter. Our street was one of the first in the village to be asphalted thus making it perfect for bicycling. Of course, children from outside our street also wanted to bike there – but we would have none of it. And, we defended our street staunchly with rocks. Outside children were literally stoned. Their only option was to befriend someone from our street who then became responsible for them.
Egilsstaðir was different from other towns and villages, as it had no harbor or seafaring. But, we had the airport. My friends and I would climb the airport fences, which was absolutely prohibited, of course. We would crouch down and spy on the passengers. We would record who was leaving and who was arriving and who was suspicious. The most suspect ones were men with briefcases.”
The “Lions” in the Woods
“We also had the Egilsstaðir woods. At that time, the local farmers kept their bulls there. The woods were not open to the public. We would venture into the woods in search of the bulls, which was also prohibited, of course. But, to us this was a jungle, and the Bulls were lions. We were utterly terrified, and whenever we heard a twig crack, we would run for our lives. Still, we would go there again and again – just for the thrill. It was always the question of whether we would get away before the bulls caught up with us. The woods were our area for thrills and excitement.
Afterwards, we would go to the river Eyvindará for a splash. We also had a favorite spot there for fishing. Years later we learned it was the precise spot where the sewage entered the river. No one remembered to tell us and obviously it didn't bother us.
There wasn't much tourism at the time. But, the Norræna ferry had started arriving in Seyðisfjörður. And, every time the ferry came in my friends and I would stand by the road and wave to the tourists. We took it upon ourselves to welcome all of them, on behalf of our community.”
A transient place
“Egilsstaðir rested on farming and services to the area, but it is changing. I am still observing the community as a guest, and it seems to be searching for a new identity. It has a kind of teenage atmosphere. We are not bound by the rules and traditions of the old community and, therefore, a bit infirm. The atmosphere is a bit peculiar. Egilsstaðir feels like a transient place. A lot of people move here only to stay awhile, and it affects the community. Not necessarily in a negative manner. It is essential to import new trends and ideas but at the same time stability is somewhat lacking."
Today, Unnar says Egilsstaðir has a lot to offer. "We have very good schools and access to education is excellent. All services and amenities are a short distance. We have quite a variety of shops, and the restaurant business is booming. We have the airport for the east coast region next doors. Thus, we are just 50 minutes away from the centre of Reykjavík. There is exquisite nature all around us and we enjoy the privilege of a relaxing atmosphere.
Everything is short distance
Egilsstaðir is a prosperous place. Distance learning at university stage is being developed, and I find I enjoy all the services I need here. And, most important to me, the cultural life is very rich. The Icelandic Art College is running an art form faculty here. We have a robust drama company and quite a number of choirs. We are now preparing for Icelandic and international dance companies to stay with us for a while. They will be using our facilities for rehearsals and performances. And, at Seyðisfjörður, our neighboring town, you will find The Visual Arts Centre, which has been a player on the international culture scene for quite a number of years.
If this had been the reality here in Egilsstaðir when I was young, I very much doubt I would have left. At that time, we only had sports. If you didn't do sport, there was nothing for you to do. In mere seventeen years, the community has become much more diverse and open. Still, there are great opportunities for further expansion. One of my aims as the director of the Cultural Centre is to establish a basis for artists to settle here. I aim to make it possible for artists to live off their chosen art form in our region."