By Jane Derenowski, NBC News producer
I had the wonderful opportunity recently to accompany NBC's Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell and photographer Krzysztof Galica to Iceland to produce a series of reports about genetics airing this week on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and CNBC. The stories were edited by Maggie Kassner and researched by Judy Silverman. Below are a few of my unrelated observations.
Friday had just turned into Saturday when I arrived at Iceland's Keflavik International Airport. The clock ticked 2 a.m. as I drove toward Reykjavik past the moonscape of volcanic rock.
It was all so strange.
The sun had barely dipped below the horizon. The watercolor sky was pink, blue, and yellow. It was daylight, the type of magic light photographers call The Golden Hour.
And it got me thinking about love.
Here in the United States, the color of love is most often associated with night: there's moonlight, candlelight, the golden glow from a warm fire. There are stolen kisses in dark corners and under streetlights. Even Frank Sinatra wrote about how he and his summer love would "hide from the lights, on the village green" when he was 17.
But summer in Iceland means it NEVER gets dark. What effect, I wondered, does all that light have on romance?
Driving into Reykjavik that early morning, the streets were swarming with young couples making their final match-ups before heading home. They all looked deliriously happy. Then and there I decided to spend some time researching infatuation in Iceland.
My decidedly unscientific analysis included a conversation with Icelandic psychologist Reynir Hardarson.
"Spring brings out romantic feelings in humans as in so many animals," he says, and "Romance blossoms best out in nature."
On the other hand, Hardarson explains, Iceland's autumn cold and winter darkness, which last from about October to March, tend to bring people down.
"Much lack of sunlight can have negative effects," he says, adding, "it can be a factor in depression."
The numbers seem to tell a different story. The website Statistics Iceland shows since the year 2000, the most births occurred in August. That makes November, with about 20 hours of darkness a day, the most amorous month of all. That's when our guide, Hlynur Gudjonsson, met his wife, artist Lulu Yee.
"We fell in love in the darkness of November," he says. Gudjonsson proclaims the season of stars the perfect time to make the most of a new relationship.
"We have the Northern Lights, which is the ultimate display of romantic lights and a magical setting for people in love."
That sounds to me a lot like America's version of fireworks on the 4th of July -- especially if there's a first kiss involved.
Finally, I wanted to get a woman's point of view of passion under the sun, especially since for so many of us darkness is a cloak used to hide perceived imperfections and a time to shed our inhibitions.
Icelandic poet/musician/city council member Oddny Sturludottir admits both have benefits.
"There's a huge problem hiding your crush when the sun never sets, but I would say that summer is more romantic. We've waited all winter long for it to arrive so everything kind of explodes when it's finally there. In the summer people take to the countryside and here romance is at its best when you're dancing or kissing in sunshine at midnight, surrounded by great mountains and birds singing all around. Icelanders are like flowers that bloom in the spring and summertime."
Perhaps it is this attitude, this connection to nature, this willingness to see and be seen in full light and still love the one you're with that explains why some have called Icelanders the happiest people on earth.
A FEW REASONS (BESIDES BJORK) WHY I LOVED ICELAND
1. The best coffee I've ever had
2. World-famous hot dogs (who would have thought?)
3. "Dynasty" re-runs all day on tv (scandal in Carrington Country!)
4. The astonishing black sand beaches of Vik
5. Icelandair flight attendents let me carry on TWO full suitcases AND a backpack.
6. If butterfly wings made a sound, the fluttering would sound like the lovely Icelandic language