23 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 9

Föstudagur, 23 Desember 2005

I'm an idiot.

I can't keep the names of people I know straight which explains an awful lot of confusion that I only sorted out on waking up Saturday. Today's Friday though, and while the day started off slow enough, who'da thunk it?

As usual I woke up and fleshed out yesterday's notes. I took a smoke break outside and DarkMind walked outside. When we went back in he came downstairs with me and we talked as I went through the photos from yesterday, trying to piece together a panoramic mosaic of photos taken down on the bay and doing a stinker of a job. In a couple weeks I can do more with the photos but I can't even colour-correct right now as evidenced by yesterday's crappy excuse for a posted pic.

He wanted to see some of the other pictures I'd taken and I showed him, going through not only shots I'd taken in the past week here but also back home, including pictures of the siren, the Munich U-Bahn and S-Bahn (testing various camera functions and speed of continuous shots), a couple nice artsy-fartsy pictures and the English-speaking ex-pat's xmas party of December 15.

DarkMind said he's going back to Akranes today. No skata tonight? But didn't he call me just yesterday to say we're going? Fuck. Now I need to call other restaurants and try to get a seat. Or something.

We went to lunch next door at the Vitabar and had Gleym mér ei burgers. If the dark-haired woman is working in the kitchen, make sure to order "medium-steikt". We were presented with much food and Darkmind agreed it was a hell of a burger. He's twice my size and had trouble cleaning his plate. I was preparing for a dinner I wasn't going to like so filling up now on the blue-cheese-andx-garlicky Gleym mér ei goodness was my attempt to actually enjoy some food here as well as prepare myself for what was in store later.

Afterwards I went to 22 to pay some bills on-line and to post yesterday's entry. I'm an idiot and left the power supply at home so time was limited. I checked my mail and there was a reply from Addi, the guy from the band Skítamórall. I'm on the guest list! Better still, the band Í Svörtum Fötum is also playing. Hells yeah! The only thing that sucks is that I don't know if I have photo access or if I'll be stuck amidst the masses. This small difference has a huge bearing on the equipment I take.

I already scored another 1GB CF card for less than the cost in Krautland since I get a good chunk of the tax back. I still have to buy this little computerless USB storage/transfer/back-up box. Switch CF cards in the camera, pop the used into a card reader and that into the back-up box and let it fill up. I plan on taking a couple thousand photos of the bands in the hopes that I can get three or four nice ones.

Even better news from Addi was that I have no restrictions: no artist first rights to publish or rights of refusal, no contracts, nothing. Shoot away to my heart's content. All they ask is to see the good pics when I'm done which will take a few weeks. I will get a money shot. Maybe even two.

I sent an SMS to Cheerios asking her if she'd like to go have skata with me. No, came the reply, but a drink would be nice. Ah-hmm...

DarkMind left, I guess to do some shopping. Looking out the window I see the streets are kinda full. A couple hours he came back. His family are on their way to Reykjavík from Akranes to visit a sick relative here. H doesn't know what he's doing but might stay. I told him he's welcome to hang out with me but my night will include skata, drinking and could possibly culminate in going home with a Hottay, an admittedly unlikely scenario but one made likelier if it would cause me to have to make the decision to either turn down the best offer I've had here yet or fuck a friend over and leave him homeless for the evening. He agreed with the reasoning and we parted, agreeing to meet up later after I'd gone home for a rest.

Around 6 I went back out to get some vodka to keep me company tomorrow. First I went to Þriggja Frakka to see about getting a seat and although I was running out of Baldursgata, there was a smell in the air that could only be one of a very few things, of which none terribly pleasant. The place was small, cozy and half-empty. And fully booked. The woman told me that I could try back at around 9pm and should surely be able to get a seat by 9:30.

I decided to pick up a book after the vodka to keep me company at the restaurant until the Icelanders started talking to me which they'd be sure to do after they finished laughing at the faces I knew I was going to make. I'll probably eat the stuff incorrectly, too, leading to more entertainment for the locals.

On the way into town I walked by the German Embassy which, based on the signs at the door, either shares the premises with the UK or get a lot of UKians coming in. Further down I didn't even think about the concrete barriers in front of some building until I'd walked all the way past (between them and the building) before noticing an American flag. Shit. I got my hands out of my pockets and stretched out my arms unnaturally while preparing to scream "Don't shoot! I'm American and unarmed!" WTF? Concrete barriers in front of the American embassy? Why? Could it be all the terraristas running around Iceland? You can't get one minibar bottle of vodka over the limit through the airport without getting busted much less fifty pounds of Semtex.

I got back to the main road and was fighting a tide of people intent on heading up Bankastræti and Laugarvegur. Some had candles. They were all coming from the square. I found out later that it was some sort of peace march (in a country with no military whatsoever). The stores were packed full. I got my bottle of ELDURÍS Iceladic vodka (highly recommended) for the low, low price of only 4200kr or so. That's about €45. Wotta bargain. The bookstore was much worse and it was a challenge to get through there. I found a decent child's book which appears aimed toward 8-12-year-olds and is some sort of horror story. While inside, Sandra called and not-so-subtlely gave me the chance to invite her to eat skata with me which I failed to take.

The streets of Reykjavík just before Christmas

On the way up Laugarveg the streets were packed. The shops were packed, most having doormen blocking people going in. And across from Prikið was some big set-up. Someone was speaking from a balcony, the TV crews were there and people were all trying to get a better position. Then someone started singing Silent Night. In Icelandic. An operatic voice, and as Atli later told me, one of a famous Icelandic opera singer. Atli thinks it's pretty stupid since opera's not too big in this country and I have to agree with him, but at the same time Icelanders are a terribly proud people and if one of theirs makes it in the world in damned near any capacity he comes home a hero and that's a pretty neat thing.

The streets of Reykjavík just before Christmas

DarkMind rang and said he was going soon. I told him I was on my way to 22 and would be there in about 10 minutes. As I got off with him Atli called. Where was I? I told him. We have reservations for Tveir Fiskur at 8pm for skata. Haa... Didn't I remember? Umm... no. I thought that was, erm...

I'll be in 22 in five minutes.

I slowly pushed and shoved my way through the next two blocks and arrived at 22. DarkMind was standing outside on the corner. We walked in and there was Atli who was a bit annoyed that I was checking out some restaurant when he'd gone to the trouble of getting us a table at another. DarkMind's girlfriend was coming to pick him up and we said goodbye. Atli took my bag to the back and two Hottays at the table by the bar started talking to me. I was, unfortunately, sober and rather confused. I recognised them but couldn't place them. They clearly knew me and continued talking in Icelandic despite my clear trouble in speaking either Icelandic or English at that moment.

They asked me if I'd been so drunk last night that I didn't remember anything. Noooo... except I was taking pictures and wasn't drunk. And then before it could hit me they said something about the after-hours time at Kaffihusið. Yeah, they were the girls Cheerios was with. And they wanted to talk to me. And I was trying to let them knew I remembered them and said where we sat and what happened after Kaffihusið and after Stefán's party and it was time to split with Atli. Fuck. Hottays or no, Atli's done me a big fucking favour here and I'm not ditching him and the only day in the year to get skata at a restaurant in favour of some skirt-chasing, tempting as it may be.

We tried to get through the crowd back down Laugarvegur on the way to the harbour and finally took side streets. Atli asked me if I'd forgotten about this already since he called me yesterday to tell me about going for skata. I told him I got his call and another confused, thinking he was DarkMind who'd today told me that skata was off. I'm an idiot.

The restaurant is off the main areas and not so easy to see. I expect they miss out on a lot of tourist traffic; it's supposed to be one of the better restaurants here but it takes a bit of effort to find. We were seated right away and noticed that it was a buffet. On the way Atli had told me that he'd order kjæst skata (or "ready skata") for himself and the more traditional and saltier meira kjæst skata (or "more ready skata") for me and we could split them. This was now moot.

Service was... n't. I'd ordered a beer and was waiting for it for more than ten minutes. Tables weren't being bussed. There were three chefs standing around the buffet and two servers taking their time between the tables of a half-full restaurant that might need three or four competent servers at most when full. Welcome to Iceland. People aren't terribly productive; they're underpaid. But paying them more would mean raising prices even higher and they'd still be underpaid. So they're not terribly motivated, with a few exceptions.

If you open any service industry in Iceland, hire foreigners to do as much of the work as possible, ideally the ones who at least attempt to learn the language.

We went to the buffet and the first section looked positively harmless. There were three different sorts of herring (plain, marinated with wine/onion and plain on a bed of potato salad) and two sorts of lox (smoked salmon), one regular (birch-smoked by the taste) and one gravlad. And three breads: Laufabrauð or "leaf-bread" a cracker-y sort of simple bread which was fried, a heavy, dark bread and flatkökkur, a sort of pita bread. I skipped the latter; I eat enough of it at home. Atli suggested taking just this to start with and then return for the rest which was waiting for us ominously. I did grab a couple pieces of salted mackerel figuring that couldn't be too bad and would go well with the herring. It did.


birch.smoked salmon

'gravad lax'



in preparation for skata
The easy plate

We ate and talked and my defenses came down. We discussed tourists, noting that while Icelanders are proud, Italians are downright arrogant, worse then Germans and French. Americans vary. Then we went back for the fun. There were the two types of skata and also some sort of mash made of skata and potato and Oðin-knows-what-else called skatastappa. I took small portions of each. After that were potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Then there was a gas grill with two pots, the contents of which were light and dark, in that order.

kjært skata

meira kjært skata
"It's lamb fat", the chef standing over it told me. It's called hamsatólg. He spooned some of the light stuff over my plate. I asked for some of the dark, too. "I don't think you want that," he said.
"I don't want this either," I replied, "but I'm here." In for a penny, in for a pound.

"It's preserved fat, like, old and sort of looks like bleu cheese. You probably won't like it."

"Look, I already know I won't like this. How about we compromise? Could you give me some of that in one of those little dishes over there so I can at least try it?"

He agreed, and warned me that the fat was about 100°C. As if I'd planned on drinking it like a shooter. It's called tólgur.

skata is served
The hard plate

Back at the table the ammonia smell was overwhelming. Atli showed me how to peel the fish from the bone and this did require a bit of technique since the somewhat rotted skate was more slimy than flaky. The waiter came over with a bottle of Brennevín and I took two shots.

I took a deep breath and sampled the first bit. Atli told me to stop breathing through my nose. Nice try, bub. I know the "Let's Fuck with the Tourists" games and wasn't falling for it this time. There's no way in hell I'm inhaling a load of ammonia. It was bad enough having it on my tongue.

GAAAHHHH!!! This shit's horrible! I'd read about skata and most people have written that once you get past the ammonia it tastes pretty good.

They lie! The ammonia never goes away! I sat there with this crap on my tongue, breathing in through my nose, out through my mouth, chewing a bit between breaths and it never went away. I downed the first shot of Brennevín to try and clear my palate. At least I didn't convulse when I swallowed as I did with the hákarl. Next up was the "traditional" version.

It was almost as bad, but not quite. Atli figures the salt helped. I don't get it though. How would the traditional be saltier when the Icelanders couldn't get salt back in the day. The next shot of Brennevín helped but didn't fix my mouth which was screaming at my brain to stop moving my hands until the plate was removed from the table.

History lesson
When the Danish had this place under their boot, they withheld salt. If the Icelanders had had salt they could have preserved the fish they caught themselves and sell it for a lot more money. Why the hell they never figured out getting it themselves from the seawater and the free heat from the geysers neither I nor Atli knew, but no one ever came up wth the idea. So salt was scarce, hence the disgusting preservation methods of sour milk and putrefaction.

Why skata? There's a site which explains the history of skata. Basically the origin is the 18th century Western fiords upper society (such as it was) gave the peasant help skata on Þorláksmessa to ensure that anything else they ate over the next year would taste better. Of course, they didn't eat this crap themselves, preferring to stuff themselves with hangikjöt which I'll essplain tomorrow.

On to the mashed version. This was almost edible, it having been made more tolerable with the potato and other stuff. But the ammonia was there.

You can't really fuck up potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Strike that. You can if you pour a bunch of lamb fat on them and put them on the same plate as a load of putrefied, ammonia-laced skate. The lamb fat on my plate was pretty mild. How bad could the other stuff be?

I forked a small potato and dipped it into the tólgur.

Not bad. Good, in fact, but then again, in comparison with the skata, my dirty socs would've seemed a gourmet treat. However, the stench of everything else on my plate was getting in the way. Atli didn't seem too thrilled with his dinner, either, though he made it through a bit more than I did. I went at it again and noticed as the staff and some guests would throw glances over at the foreigner tucking into something clearly not meant for outsiders. Hell, it ain't meant for insiders, either.

I finally gave up after finishing my potatoes and the old lamb fat, put my plate on the window ledge and went back for a fresh plate of herring, salmon and salt cod. Or salt mackerel. Whatever the hell it was it was at least edible. I'm paying a lot of money for this and I'll be damned if I don't get some decent fish in this place. We talked about various things and I felt bad about his attempts to tell me things about Iceland that I already knew , often more than he did. But he picked up a lot of this stuff ten years ago and I've been studying intensely for the past year. Still, I did pick up new things from him.

I had another shot, this time of Aquavít. It only helped a little. The ammonia was on my tongue and breath. My stomach was grumbling. And I felt guilty having taken food I wasn't eating, never mind the fact that I'll be paying dearly for it both in cash tonight and with my lower GI tract tomorrow.

I got the check and told Atli to forget it. The only reason he went was because of me; I'm buying. It turned out to be quite reasonable and nothing like the amount I was actually expecting. Two "dinners", a beer and three shots came to less than 8000kr. I drink more than that in a night here. As we were leaving, I decided I had to go back to talk to the guy who looked like the main chef.

"So tell me honestly, how did I do?"
"That was very good."
"No, seriously, just how bad was I?"
"We have a lot of foreigners who call to make Þórláksmess reservations and we have to explain what it is we serve. They don't come. It's nice that you tried it."
"I have to tell you, I actually liked the dark fat. What were you saying about bleu cheese?"

And with that, he took me into the kitchen. If you don't do fine dining, being invited into the kitchen is an honour (unless, of course, you're the delivery guy or plumber) and Tveir Fiskur can certainly be considered a "fine" restaurant, though maybe not tonight.

Chef Gissur pulled out a block of the fat. It did indeed look like bleu cheese. They take regular fat and bury it until it goes mouldy. I don't understand the Icelandic obsession of burying food until it rots, especially since there's so little dirt here to bury anything under. He gave me his card.

Tólgur, ready to cook down

Oh yum, mouldy fat.

Along with being the owner and chef of this place, Chef Gissur Guðmundsson (C.M.C.) is the European Continental Director of the World Association of Cooks Societies, President of the Icelandic and Nordic Chefs Association and the Promotion Manager for Bocuse d'Or Iceland. The type on his business card is very small.

Chef Gissur Guðmundsson
We talked shop for a few minutes. As a teenager I spent two years at the ***** Culinary Institue. We talked about tradition, Iceland style. He was both surprised and gladdened that I'd been to a Þórablót and understood a little about Icelandic tradition. As much as I'd wanted to stay and talk some more, Atli was waiting for me.

On the way back Atli wanted to stop and an "antiques" store. He'd lived in England as was really impressed with being able to go to shops and buy things which were 500 years old. He'd found a 300-year-old coin in his back yard there when he was eight... and lost it on the way to a shop to sell it. He seemed equally disappointed that there was little in Iceland that was more than a century old. The reason for this is that supplies were so scarce that damned near everything was recycled or re-used.

The shop had more tschochkes than antiques though a couple things caught my eye, including a set of triangular, stackable candle holders from the '70s that my parents had had (only 3000kr) and an old Remington typewriter in almost perfect condition, Only the tab stops didn't work (easy to fix), but the tab and backspace keys were on opposite sides of the keyboard. The thing only cost 7500 and if I can figure out a way to pack it, it's mine. I'll fit it with a load of sensors, get a Web host with some serious power for a couple months, slap on tons of AdSense links and hope the page survives a slashdotting.

Anyway, Atli couldn't find anything appropriate save for a large anchor (too heavy to carry) and a large ironwork gate with the Virgin Mary or something (too heavy and too expensive). As we got back to town around 9:00p.m., the streets were even more packed than before, as were the shops. Everyone was still looking for gifts. Icelanders are some seriously procrastinating mofos.
We went into the bookstore . He ran into a friend and was trying to figure out what to get. I left for 22.

The bar was full, too, and two drunks were singing crappily as Helga tried to stop them. I managed to get a 2-top table, grabbing a bunch of glasses on them and bringing them into the kitchen. Atli got in as I was doing a sudoku puzzle to kill time. He's not into them. Or wasn't, but watched me and soon joined in, pointing out squares I'd overlooked. Sorry, dude; you're hooked now. All the papers here run the damned puzzles and Blaðið has four on Saturdays.

I went to toilet. Now I don't write too much scatological information because it's just not that interesting but I'm not done with the Tale of the Skata. Not quite yet. This was a lot worse than what happens with asparagus. The ammonia was overpowering, as if my bladder had been filled with industrial-strength cleaner. Despite not having eaten more than 50g of the skata, I was peeing ammonia for most of the night. Maybe the ability to get past the ammonia genetically on par with not noticing methanethiol.

Atli realised he'd forgotten a gift and went back to the bookstore. While he was out, Gulli came in smiling and declaring, "I'm rich!" He sold about as many shirts tonight as he normally does in a week, and each one is 400kr more expensive than it was a couple months ago. He's too happy right now to kick himself for not raising the price again now instead of next April. Demand is apparently fairly inelastic.

Atli returned The end of a large table cleared off and we grabbed that and played a game of chess. Some drunks kept trying to help both of us. One of them was at least right that we'd set the board sideways. I told him to take a flying leap. OK, I actually just told him we were both left-handed.

As we finished some friends of his came in. We were all talking for a while and then I got an SMS from Cheerios. She was in Sírkus. Right. Time to cut out. I said goodbye and joined the apparently small queue.

The loser queue.

The girl on the door was being particularly evil that night and a lot of my co-losers were complaining about her, by name. Three Indian tourists were being particular dicks and I was screwed by some sort of guilt-by-association even though no one's ever going to mix me up for someone from the subcontinent.

Honey, you need to let me in. I drop 2000-6000kr every hour in this place. Two rather drunk girls started talking to me, one who was talking about how we had to get married. Her friend wasn't even bothering to cock-block. They finally got in but were so drunk they forgot to insist on bringing me in with.

I saw Sigga leave but she was busy leading a friend off. The worst was when Pink showed up. He got immediate entrance and though he saw me, left me standing. When I get in there he's getting the repayment from last summer he so richly deserves, having stranded me with no place to stay for 10 days.

After almost 45 minutes I finally got in. I'd been a real good boy at the door and was granted entry. My future non-wife and her friend saw me, asked if I'd only just got in and apologised before disappearing again. I got a fast drink at the bar and found a seat. Heyðar was there and we talked for a couple minutes.

And there she was. Cheerios was in a slinky black top and polka-dot pants. She didn't say much and went back off dancing.

I went for another drink and met some girl at the bar. She wasn't happy. I was wiping some tears. Who was she? Pink's girl. Except she lets him walk all over her, he ignores her, and and and...

I really wanted to hit Pink but I'm just not a violent guy. I'm seriously non-violent, really. I can count the number of fights I've been in on one hand, including the schoolyard. But taking his Hottay...

I had another drink, talked with the Hottay and the lights came up. It was 3:00a.m. and all the bars were closing. It's Jebusmas. But not every place was closing. There were after-hours places and a place not 100m away not only one of them but the one everyone was planning on heading to. I was invited and went with.

And I drank. And talked with the Hottay. Some other skinny, Sooper-Hottay from Sírkus was there, too, but she only wanted to dance, such "dancing" consisting of shaking her hips in almost unimaginale and fantasy-inducing ways. Think "Shakira" without the grandstanding. And sexier. And much prettier.

And then... I disappeared. Somewhere in my head, and for a good hour. And when I was back in the world, the place was half empty. I wasn't drunk, I hadn't smoked anything illegal. This is becoming a serious concern. The Hottays I was into were gone, the place was winding down, and I got ready to go. Downstairs Pink was sitting there and with a look I let him know my anger. He saw me and said he had a good excuse. Strangely enough I'd really like to hear it. The idea of stranding someone is so outside my realm of reality that I just have to know what the fuck he was thinking.

I walked up the hill, along the sidewalks covered in ice and snow, thankful I was wearing the hiking boots despite my aching feet. I fucking hate snow and a it more was coming down. It wasn't as bad as the wind which was kicking up.

I was alone again. Passing out was effortless, unlike disrobing.

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 8

Fimmtudagur, 22 Desember 2005

I'm an idiot.

The sky is clear and bright and almost cloudless but I missed the tour to the South. Instead I'm going to be roped into helping move furniture.

I don't have Alex' phone number and I don't remember if I gave him mine. I let Cheerios go and some guy was trying to accompany her. Actually, I don't count that one against me -- I have a bit more dignity left than had I let another girl shoo me away and slam the door on my face.

I have her number. She's getting an SMS from me later. I'll probably get one back saying "You should've kept trying. The other guy is here now. You blew it."

I woke up at 8:10 and realised I was in no shape to go on the tour. What would be the point of falling asleep in the bus for at least half of a €130 ride when the whole point was to see stuff. I went back to sleep for a couple hours.

I put my German SIM back in the phone to check for messages. No signal. Put the Icelandic card in. No problem. WTF? I tried the German card again and started hunting through the settings to see what the Og Vodaphone Hottay had done and failed. I have to go back to the damned mall again.

I left at about 3:00 to post and as I walked down Frakkastígur, saw the mountains past the bay in the setting sun. I made a fast U-turn, got the camera equipment and went straight down there to take more pictures. I was there for more than an hour to capture the scene as the sun hit the mountains from an ever-decreasing angle. Putting away the kit, I opened the top pocket to grab the lens rag and everything in there spilled out onto the rocks and into the crevasses: rechargeable AAs, a spare Canon battery, CF card, SD cards, all of it. I spent the next five minutes willing my frozen fingers to grab each item and not let any slip out of reach.

The Reykjavík bay
The Reykjavík bay
Sorry for the mosaic crap. Once I'm on a real computer and have the right software I can tuvne these pics properly.

On my way to 22 I saw Gulli with a load of new T-shirts. A lot of them were still hot from production. I warmed my hands between the pile he was in the midst of folding. They were still cold an hour later; I need my Belgian Siren. She loves it when I warm my cold hands on various bits of her anatomy and lets me know this with shrieks, screams and an occasional (loving) kidney punch.

I sat down to post and not ten minutes later Atli came in. He's started taking Cipralex so he can't drink. It's making him feel weird. This is a time of serious depression for Icelanders although as of today, the days will finally start getting longer. A friend of his was at the film King Kong with some of his friends, stood up in the middle of it, told everyone to have a nice life, then walked out. He left the theatre, walked into the ocean and died.

An uncanny number of Icelanders suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to the small amount of light in winter. It doesn't bother me but then, I don't live here all year. I don't think I'd be affected; I've spent weeks on end in air-conditioned, windowless server AND mainframe rooms, never seeing anything but fluorescent light during the day and incandescent at night. Guess I'm lucky that way.

I went home for a while but didn't do much. Sandra was cleaning and preparing for the room swap. I told her I'd help with the heavy stuff. She later grabbed the king-sized mattress as I sat having a smoke in the next room. "Do you want a hand?" "No, this isn't a problem." What would be then? That's the hardest thing she's got to move. I tried to decide which restaurant I'd make the primary skata target and Sandra again suggested Þriggja Frakka (or þrigjum Frökkum, depending on the case declension) over the Hotel Borg's "Classic". It's also closer and smaller. I'll stop by tomorrow to see about getting a seat which may be rather difficult. Sandra told me most people make reservations at the end of November.

I sent an SMS to DarkMind, a friend from IRC I'd met up in Akranes last January and who's now living in Reykjavík. He was right down on Laugarvegur. I said I could meet him in half an hour. He messaged back that he wouldn't be there then. I grabbed my coat and shoes and told him I was on my way. A couple messages later I was in 22 and waiting for him. I ordered a beer. And got a message that he couldn't come right now. Dammit.

I talked to the girls behind the bar for a bit. They'd run out of 100kr coins and it was after 10pm so all the stores were closed. No problem. I went out to another restaurant, got all American and asked the guy at a coffee house for change. No problem.

My phone isn't buzzing as messages come in, at least, not every time even though it's set to. It was only when I had three from DarkMind stacked up that it buzzed. I called him to save time and trouble. He asked if I had plans for tomorrow. Not really. "Then you're coming with me to Tveir Fiskar (but at "Tveim Fiskum") to eat skate." Cool. That's the restaurant, reservations and company settled. He'll meet me at 4 here in 22.

As I was finishing up my beer and getting ready to split, Who should walk in the door but DarkMind. OK, another beer. He was talking mostly in Icelandic and said something about "skötu". Huh? "You said you wanted to eat skötu didn't you? I still didn't get it. He switched to English and asked if I hadn't wanted to eat skate? "Oh, skata," and then it hit me. I fell victim to that damned grammar again. "Skata" belongs to a special class of Icelandic feminine nouns which end in "a" only in the nominative case and "u" in other cases. But because the last vowel before the noun ending is an "a", it changes to an "ö". The girls at the bar giggled and I got a bit of language reinforcement. Win-win.

We finished our beers and went to Sírkus. Chairs were in short supply upstairs but we snagged one and I got a girl on a bench to scooch over so I could sit for a minute. I told her I'd get up when her friend got back. She didn't believe I wasn't an Icelander despite my pathetic abilities to understand most of what she said. DarkMind tried to convince her but she kept saying that I pronounced words too correctly not to really speak the language. She finally acceded but remained wary. We talked for a bit as DarkMind went down for a fresh round and shots of Sambuca. Definitely a Hottay and definitely serious with some guy. It was just a hen night but they were quite pleased that I kept lighting their cigarettes for them.

As the place was closing and went downstairs I met another Hottay who called herself Alice in wonderland. Sure, sweetie, whatever. She wouldn't say shit about herself but did give me her number.

DarkMiind and I walked back home -- he'd asked if he could crash -- and Sandra was mostly finished. We had a drink there and talked some more. Sandra offered him her kid's room since Magnus was still at grandma's place. As I was getting ready to go to bed, Steinur walked in. The three of them stayed up a while talking and smoking. I passed out around 4.

22 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 7

Miðvíkudagur, 21 Desember 2005

I'm an idiot.

I woke up pretty late; I must be fighting a cold to be sleeping like this. I couldn't take the disaster area the room had become in only a week and cleaned up, emptying the suitcases into the sparse wardrobe.

That done I got to writing and preparing some pictures. I have the photo shoot tonight so I needed to charge all the batteries. I also really need to find a shop with some goddamned CF cards that'll hold more than a dozen shots. I may be forced to purchase some USB storage/transfer device though I'm rather wary of it, but it's small, portable and battery-powered.

The tubless showers are quite a luxury. With just a curtain to block the cold air coming in the window and another on the other side to keep the water where it will drain easily, you have a lot of room. And they're not nearly as restrictive on water although the shower heads all come from countries which do have flow restriction rules and laws. Still, unlike a German 3.5 liter/min shower I suffered, all my hair was wet inside 10 seconds and since hot water is nearly free, I took my time.

Magnus got an iPod. Yay him. Too bad they have no computer and you can only charge the thing through a USB port. He begged me to charge it for him, hoping I'd forgotten what a shit he'd been the past couple days. Hardly, but I did it anyway, plugging it into my other notebook.

What am I doing later today, Sandra asked. Sandra wants to rearrange a couple rooms, swapping hers (off the living room) and the dining room (between kitchen and kid's bedroom). And she's trying to rope me into helping move this shit. I've got a full dance card today but tomorrow? We'll see if that tour is running to the south again and hope that the weather's more like today's which, though it obviously snowed a bit last night, is cold but clear, and the light of the sun hitting the underside of the clouds at 1 in the afternoon is a pretty neat view.

Off to Vegamot. They have no Net access so I'll head to 22 after lunch. I ordered Vegamótaborgarinn ("The Vegamót burger"): it's 200g (almost a half-pounder) with bacon, ham, cheese, greens and a baked potato (bókuðum kartóflbátum) for 1190kr. Fourteen eurobuck for a burger is getting pretty steep.

Össur (from Bar 11) is sitting at the next tale. Once you've been here for a bit you always run into people you've met. In five years I never once bumped into my ex- in Munich. Anyway, he saw me first and I surprised him with my new local cell number. Maybe I'll get some work at 11 but I ain't holding my breath.

The burger came and it's big, but it came with fries, not a baked spud. Fine. I like fries. A lot. But I'm about to make an ass of myself. Icelanders eat burgers with a knife and fork and I Just. Can't Do. That.
Vegamótborgarinn -- The Best Burger In Iceland Or Anywhere
Vegamótborgarinn -- The. Best. Burger. In. Iceland. Or. Anywhere.

Except that I did. With about 1/3 to go, the thing was falling apart and I had no choice to concede. I took the cutlery in hand and made my way through the rest of the sauce- and cheese-smothered mess. I feel so dirty. And so full. And I'm not done yet.

The burger is perfect! Not overcooked, it's dark pink in the middle and the flavour is just fantastic. It even beats the Gleym mér ei as long as you don't factor in the cost, almost double. OK, not quite perfect. The bun's a bit light and it ripped easily, getting something cheese-like on my fingers. Eating this burger with your hands is also a bit messy. They also went just a tad overboard with the onions but it's still the top burgers here. I understand Hera eats here when in the country as do a lot of other celebs. No wonder. I'm just wondering if Buddy Holly is going to come over and ask me if I want a $10 milkshake.

By the way, Vegamót has a small non-smoking section. It's near the kitchen and a bit noisy. However they have excellent ventilation and the main area, though smoking is permitted, doesn't get smokey, at least during the day. Nights are another mattetr but no one's eating after 10p.m.

In 22 I got the diary up. Göja came in (she's managing again) and I told her I could work a few nights on the bar if she wants. As I was getting ready to leave, Atli showed up and handed me a shot of Topas. Mighty white of him but I have to stay fairly sober and start taking pictures in a couple hours, going all the way back home to drop off the computer and pick up the camera. He brought me another beer since the bartender screwed one up (wrong flavour) and we talked a bit.

Atli came in and brought over a shot. Þakka þér kærlega! He sat down across from me and after a few minutes of chat asked if I earn a lot. I earn well but I don't have a fortune or I'd already have a place here. He was just wondering since I don't look rich, no offence intended. It's just that I drink all the time and keep coming back to Iceland all the time and that's got to be expensive.

Yes and no. There are ways to keeping costs down and getting to know people certainly helps. I have a room for almost a month for less than the cost of a week in a hotel. I know some bartenders so I get some free drinks. I can cook so I'm not reliant on restaurants (and I just don't eat that much anyway). But i am pissing away quite a bit of cash with my near obsession with the country.

At around 7:00 I went home, dropped off the computer and picked up the camera. I got a few shots of the band as they did a warm-up/sound check and then they were off. I slowly sipped at a beer, well aware that I'd had three and a shot already and in two hours I have to take good pictures. I had a glass of soda water.

Around 9:00 the place was getting full and I already was. I had to go to the bathroom but didn't dare leave my seat for fear of losing an almost ideal position. I wasn't supposed to take pictures of the guests but there was one Hottay in a Cheerios shirt I just had to. Almost every shot was blocked, either by the candle flame or the bozo in front of me or her friend.

At 10:00 the band still wasn't there, the place was packed and I was hurting. Someone pushed up against me and it was none other than BEIG. Didn't expect to see her around. Everyone's said they haven't seen her for donkey's. We talked for a minute and that was that. One demon conquered; her hair was still blonde. They band finally arrived around 10:30 and played for the next hour. It was Björk-ish trip/dub/techno stuff without being so terribly derivative; the crowd was thrilled.

Forgive the quality, these should all be re-done and fixed properly once I'm back home. There's just so much you can with Picasa and PaintShop Pro 3 on a crappy laptop LCD screen,

'Sometime' premiere, live at Sírkus
Sometime premiere, live at Sírkus

'Sometime' premiere, live at Sírkus
Sometime premiere, live at Sírkus

'Sometime' premiere, live at Sírkus
Sometime premiere, live at Sírkus

'Sometime' premiere, live at Sírkus
Sometime premiere, live at Sírkus

Afterwards an encore was demanded which they weren't prepared for. Twenty minutes later the show was over, Of the 300 or so shots I took, 208 weren't deleted on the spot. I tried again to get a shot of Cheerios Hottay and failed. I went home to drop of the kit. I still have a lot of work in prepping, colour-correcting and tuning them but I'm quite happy with the preliminary outcome. I blew through both camera batteries and a set of four rechargeable AAs for the flash getting them.

I did get a shot of Cheerios with the little camera. Lots and lots of red/orange eye. Not worth posting and probably irreparable.

Sandy, my German photographer friend who specialises in live music, had given me some advice meant for the major shoot on New Year's but it was applicable here, too. Moreso since there was no lighting to speak of. I kept everything underexposed since the colour information is still there and you can always clean that up. Overexpose and you're going to wash out everything. Also buy keeping it underexposed you keep the shutter time down, important when you're trying to go flashless, which I did about 50% of the time to keep the warm feeling. Yes, I can adjust the colour temp somewhat but you're limited by a point when it becomes clear you've manipulated the image rather than tune it.

So I have that ahead of me.

The sky is pretty clear. Tomorrow if I wake up in time, I may yet go on the South tour. Otherwise I'll probably be helping Sandra with housework and such. She seems to be at the border of another depression; the last one I know of (in November) kept me on the phone after work at the bar for 40 minutes. My cell phone. Victorvox sent a thank-you card with that bill.

I went back down to Sírkus, straight to Rósa who was sitting down. I sat on the arm of the chair next to her which was occupied by a Hottay named Eva who was sitting next to her friend Anna-Lisa. I sat talking with a couple Hottays and saw Cheerios girl again but couldn't get a shot. I was no longer photographing the band and photography inside isn't just frowned up, it's grounds for instant banninisation. Unless you're very close friends with the people there or you're some star. But I was able to secure permission to take a single shot or two by gestures from the doorman. So much for spontaneity.


There was a rubber toad making the rounds. Rósa gave it a kiss:
Rosa and frog
Rósa tries again for a prince

And Eva, well...
Eva and frog
Eva thinks it's prince enough

As Sírkus closed up, Cheerios girl came over and talked to the girls around me for a minute about going somewhere after hours, then turned to me and asked if I wanted to come along. Sure thing. So off we went to Kaffibar. The doorman let the first two girls and guy in but stopped me and Cheerios, who then yelled to the other girls. Doorman: "Oh, you're with them? Come on in," begrudgingly letting Cheerios tow me in with her. The guy who tried to piggy-back on me got a push and a door slam with a rather loud "We're closed!

I grabbed a beer, saw a lesbian I knew with some girl who wasn't the one she was with at Vitabar earlier in the week, saw a red-head who's often at 22 and is a friend of Göja and made it back to Cheerios. She informed me that the guy sitting in front of us was the first one tried to pick her up all night. WTF? "Well, the first guy who is clearly trying."
"And me? We've been staring at each other all night and I'm here with you now."
"We had a look."
W. T. F.
And she sat down. The guys invited me to sit down, too, and there we talked for a bit before fucking off for another party as the people working in Kaffibar had had enough of the guests on a Wednesday night and started herding everyone out.

And off we went to a private house. Stefán's house. Who's he? Dunno, but he's tall. There I met Alex, a Yank who's doing some film work and may want me to do some work for him. I wasn't taking any chances -- I got Cheerios' phone number, the one here and her other number in the Netherlands. She doesn't want to be photographed but she saw a couple impromptu shots I took with the crappy camera and gave me a maybe.

Stefán announced that we were all going to be playing Survivor. Of the 20 or so people in his place, 10 were going to be gone in the next five minutes. He didn't care which 10 but there were too many people.

Never let the target out of your sight. Especially when another person has the same target. Cheerios got up with her girlfriends and a couple guys, one of whom I think was the guy who tried to pick her up. But fuck it. I was talking to Alex, the night was late, and I'm sick of walking some girl home up and then getting a "Good night, fuck off" in front of a house that's probably not even hers.

There were only a couple girls left including a different Rósa who was free last Friday and now has a guy she's seeing. She reminds me a bit of Bambi, a friend of my girl at the bar in Munich who comes in every Monday. Except she's clearly not encouraging her lesbian side. When I asked her why the hell she didn't come to Prikið last Friday I got a friendly laugh. Them's the breaks.

Göja's friend Heyðar was still there and we talked for a minute. I remembered she was at that little impromptu party in 22 back in August and later confirmed it looking through my pictures.

After a little while we all left in search of yeat another party. As we walked further up Laugarvegur, a few people (including the two unattached girls) broke away and headed home as we neared Hlemmur. I should've done the same -- it was around 4 a.m. But I stuck with the group as we reached the large building. Alex was on the phone with the guy who was either in there or knew who to talk to.

We were supposed to go in a side door so we all walked around the entire building trying every door on every side. Nada. There was a shoulder-climb attempt to get to a lit window on the second floor which failed. There were many pebbles thrown at other windows which also failed. I don't know what happened next but some other guy arrived. We were then supposed to split up, pick up party supplies and then... fuck it.

I'm going home. It's cold, it's late, I'm outta smokes and I want to be up for that tour. But I stuck with Stefán, Rósa and her squeeze and went to the all-night convenience store. On the way Rósa showed us where to go dumpster diving. Lots and lots of sealed, un- or just-expired goods. And with an outside temperature of 2°C, kept perfectly fresh. She lived on dumpster diving for some time as a student. (A check of the dates the next day showed most of the stuff to be a good week out of sell-by. I guess they hold the stuff for a week before binning it to prevent such diving.)

I scored a couple packages of "salads" (primary ingredient in each: with the mayonnaise). What the hell. I sure as shit wasn't going to pay for ham-flavoured mayo.

I said good night to everyone and walked up Vitastígur. When I got to the apartment I saw a light on. Sandra and Steinur were still up at around 4:30a.m., Steinur playing the guitar. I just wanted to have one last smoke before bed but I tried the ham stuff. It wasn't bad on the flat cracker-bread. Half an hour later I went downstairs and set my alarm. I still had about three hours. Well, almost.

21 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 6

þriðjudagur, 20 Desember 2005

I'm an idiot.

I could've gone on the South Coast & Þórsmörk tour with Iceland Excursions but I blew it.

I woke up in time but sat there thinking about the tour too much. I figured there was no light for a good half of the trip and since it starts off at 8:30a.m. The first stop is Selfoss and that's only about half an hour away. Since it doesn't even begin to get light before about 10:30a.m. (sunrise is after 11:15), what would be the point?

Then I decided to go anyway -- after al, it beats wandering round doing nothing and and I'd certainly be able to see some of the sights even if the weather turns crap(pier). I called them to hold a seat and pick me up at a hotel close to here (where I stayed last time, a 3-minute walk). I'd called 10 minutes too late.

I went out for a cigarette and across the steet is a small playground for the house-size elementary school at the corner. The kids were being gathered up to go back inside. I saw the teacher hosing them off. It's two bloody degrees outside and there's a woman with a water hose spraying off the kids (who admittedly had been playing in a mud hole).

I read a bit and kept trying to get the camera to do effects it thought I could do without, insisting on giving me a perfect depth-of-field no matter how tight I made the aperture.

Around noon I decided I'd give the Super Jeep Safari tour a go. It looksed somewhat interesting and again, beat the shit out of wondering what to do. It says "Guaranteed daily departures at 13:30" right on the site.

When I called I was asked to call back in five minutes. OK, but that didn't sound too good. I gave the girl an extra five minutes and called back at 12:15. They're not going today since I'm the only one booking. Haa... Isn't there a guaranteed departure? "We can't go for just one person unless you'd like to pay for three." Some guarantee.

"Have you ever been on one of our tours before?
"Well perhaps you'd like to go on the Golden Circle tour. That's leaving today."
"Heyrðu," I said, "I'm speaking with you in Icelandic! Does it really sound like I've never been here before?"
"Well, yeah. OK."
"I'll call back Thursday about the South Coast trip."

I should've told her to call me if others book.

"But Doggie," I hear you saying, "Weren't you planning on going out to the middle of nowhere and shooting pictues for the duration of sunlight during the solstice?"

Yeah, that was the plan. Except that the weather is shit and I have no model. Nature pictures are great but they'd be a lot better with a person in them, ideally a Hottay. Or two. Or more. I'd also like to get some idea of where to go for better views, another reason to go on an overpriced tour.

I got a call from Og Vodaphone. It was some woman at the real tech support section finally asking about the problems I'd had with calls and even sending SMSes. I told her it was already sorted. "But what was the number you couldn't SMS?" Forget it, honey. It's working now. It took a while for someone in Germany to get through (can't use the 01081 cheap call service) but it's OK now.

The idea of travelling anywhere outside the city shot by both the strage versions of "guaranteed departures" and the constantly changing weather, I decided to hit Kringlan, the other mall. Maybe there's a camera shop there or some electronics store with CF cards bigger than 512MB; I need more cards for New Year's, having left one of my 3 1G CF cards at home. They'd be sufficient if not for the RAW format images which eat 7MB on top of the 2.3MB JPG.

I stopped at Aktu Taktu for my burger of the day. The 750kr meal deal quickly became 948kr, which got me larger fries (oops) and "cocktail" sauce which I'm used to being included in the price. The burger was small (very flat) and bare. The fries were lukewarm, barely seasoned and somewhat soggy. I had to drown everything in ketchup. Not recommended unless you're in a hurry since they have a drive-through, and not really even then.
Aktu Taktu
Aktu Taktu cheeseburger meal (T1): Give it a miss.

I headed off for the Hlemmur bus station intending to go to Kringlan. I got a Number 2 which was just about to leave and saw Vogar, the area with the outlet shops that tourists don't know about it. Same stuff as normal, considerably cheaper. There's a 66°North shop there, too. Unfortunately, I never noticed the Kringlan mall stop and after another five minutes noticed we were approaching Smáralind.

Fine, I need to go back into Vodaphone anyway. I'm going native which means using some of the phone's abilities, such as Web access. While my Nokia includes settings for Bahrain, Hungary and Saudi Arabia along with the more useful UK, Germany and France, Iceland is conspicuously absent. I couldn't make changes to the key settings and trying to use vodaphone.uk or .de as the gateway failed.

I went to the shop and an Og Vodaphone Hottay sorted me out. She had to set something in their system for my number and then went to work on the phone itself. The picture fails to capture her overall Hottay-ness but it was a surreptitious photo and she was lost in concentration, hiding the same frustration with this damned phone I often feel. But she succeeded it. I got onto Slashdot but had trouble with GMail, the main site I want to be able to check because the "News for Nerds" has had so little "Stuff that Matters" over the past five years.
Vodaphone Hottay
Vodaphone Hottay checks out my equipment

I walked around a bit more, found nothing interesting except a USB light for the computer for only 400kr (at Tiger) so I grabbed a bus back to town. It stopped at Mjödd (a major bus transfer point) and hopped off, both because I'd wanted to stop here anyway and also having seen a particular sign:

OK, a BSOD would've been more amusing but I see enough of those on the Munich public transport system. You take what you can get.

I remembered that Aldakalda had said that she couldn't make apple pie because there's no shortening in Iceland but I was sure I'd seen it once. There's a Netto supermarket in Mjödd, a pretty large European chain known for lower prices and decent variety of goods. Sure there was a Nóatún in the penis mall but I wasn't thinking of shortening then.

After quite a hunt I found the stuff hiding between butter and margarine in the chilled dairy room and got a photo so I wouldn't have to write anything down.

The bus back got caught in traffic on the last stretch to Hlemmur. The only other passenger was some kid whose parents kept calling him. He told them he was still in the bus and almost at the stop. The woman asked if he wasnted to get out there and he took her up on the offer. Then she asked me if I wanted to get off, too. Not yet. I want the stop at Vitastígur. She tried again in English and I tried again to say "Not yet". We were locked by traffic again about 50m from the actual stop but right at the alley I wanted. I asked if I could get out there and she opened the door.

I walked up back to the apartment and set the VCR to tape a couple shows, one in Swedish and one in Danish. Cop shows, I think. They're subtitled and since both my Danish and Swedish suck, I'll HAVE to understand by reading the subtitles.

The it was off to 22 to post. Bjössi was there and I offered him a Sambuca, asking if he'd forgotten me the other day, not an easy thing to do. No, he was just lost in thought. Or something. I sat down with a beer and got to checking a few sites inclding the ex-pat's site on which I found a thread about pulling a car out of a snow bank. Before it got to the payoff I recognised tags as being from Maryland. When the inevitable occurred, I laughed so hard that the people at the next table looked over so I replayed it for them. They laughed and started talking about where that had to be. I said (in Icelandic) the tag is from Maryland in the US. They nodded: silly Yanks. Then I said that that wasn't the worst part. Oh really? "Ég er frá Maryland". Much more laughter as I slid down in my seat.

One of the girls (the Hottay) asked where in Maryland I'm from. She has relatives in Richmond, VA and friends in Bethesdull. "Þú talar mjög goðar íslensku!" We talked for a bit and then I went back to writing as they went back to their conversation.

Atli came in as I was finishing and we talked for a bit. He's shopping for gifts and has no idea what to get but the stores are open until 10;00p.m. for the last days leading up to xmas. The hardest gift is for an ex-girlfriend who's now with a guy he despises. I tried to essplain that his revenge intention -- angering th guy and making the girl feel bad -- just ain't gonna work. He nodded but was dead-set on it.

Atli's leaving 22, too. Since telling them wasn't working he resorted to not coming in on his work days. It turns out the upstairs disco isn't closed; it was blocked until 1:00a.m. for a private party on Friday and running normally Saturday. Hmm... They're short-staffed but I don't really want to work in the kitchen; perhaps I could tend upstairs on Friday, though all the bars may be closing at 3:00a.m. this Friday/Saturday due to a legally enforced xmas quiet day. Still, it could be a lot of fun again. As he walked by to leave I asked Bjössi if he needed help but he was lost in some other thought and didn't know. I have to leave my number at the bar.

I was home before midnight and the VCR was still taping. Sandra had made some diinner for her and her kid who once again asked if he could have some Coke. WTF? It's just a bit late. I'm just not going into this. I had some various types of smoked salmon I'd bought earlier at Netto. The results: Birch-smoked is great, Beech-smoked isn't as good and I'm really tired of taðreykt (sheep-shit-smoked).

Earlier Sandra had said that xmas would take place at home. Her mother's bringing Peking Duck (duck for xmas yes, but Peking-style?), amma Kristin is bringing ham and Sandra is cooking hangikjöt which you actually cook earlier. It's smoked (yes, taðreykt) leg of lamb, cut into as many pieces as you want. You dump it in a pot with water and maybe a bit of sgar and cook it for half an hour, then let it cool. No veg, no spice, nothing. It's served cold with a warm, white sauce and some potatoes. I'll apprise in a couple days.

I drank some more voddie & Coke and made an early night of it, wondering when the hell I was actually going to do something more interesting than review a bunch of hamburgers. Rósa's singing tomorrow night around 9:00p.m. and I have the camera. I may go on the South Iceland tour on Thursday. Maybe work Friday night and deal with family issues Saturday. I'm finding a car and fucking off Sunday or Monday for a few days though I have no idea where to. Maybe up north to the West Fjords.

19 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 4

Sunday, 18 December 2005

I'm an idiot.

I should've looked at the Reykjavík Excursions guide a little more closely. The 8500kr (€100) "South Shore Adventure" bus tour skips doesn't go to the Sólheimajökull glacier in winter. And it's raining. I should've gone out last night.

I woke up with enough time to get to the bus but in re-reading through the guide saw that the glacier wasn't part of the trip in winter. Fuck that. I had some water, finished yesterday's diary, watched a couple repeat episodes of the kid's program on my other latop and decided that today I would finally have a Gleym mér ei again ("Glame myair ae", or Forget-me-not), a burger that most other burgers want to be when they grow up. It's one of the best burgers in the world (right up there with the Space Burger in Munich), it's under 700kr, and best of all, it's right next door at the Vitabar (corner of Vitastigur and Bergþórugata). I don't have to have to trek through the rain.

Gleym mér ei
Vitabar's Gleym mér ei, unforgettable indeed.

Speaking of rain, that's what the skies are doing when they're not slamming us with ice pellets or snow. I think I'm going to the mall(s) today. There are a couple shopes in Mjödd (not a mall) that I want to see, too. I really don't have anything better to do on a Sunday.

Monday or Tuesday: Find restaurant with skata. Atli said 22 may have it on Friday but I'm not risking missing it again this year.
Wednesday: Sírkus: Rósa's singing
Thursday: Go way the fuck out into somewhere far away but pictorial and shoot photos from sunrise to sunset on the solstice. Must remember to buy a large thermos.
Friday: þórláksmesse. No idea what it is but I have to find/participate

Next week?: Sex. I plan to find out everything possible about all aspects of any sex industry here, including Vegas bar, Oðal strip club, the porn shop peep show (no film cabins) and whatever else I can find.

At around noon the weather had changed rather drastically (the norm here) and it was sunny. My Gleym mér ei, covered in seasoned salt, grilled with more sauce slapped on during cooking along with garlic and blue cheese at the end, all on a large bun with lettuce, tomato and lots of hamburger sauce, was wonderful if not slightly overcooked. Of course, I think most burgers are overcooked since I'm in the "grill it for forty seconds on each side and serve" camp.

I thought about going to the mall but the clouds were playing nice and the air was clear because it was so windy. I realised this might be my only chance to get a clear view during daylight. I quickly grabbed my camera and went up the road to the cathedral, Hallgrímskírkju. While a number of Japanese tourists were happy to wander around the main building, only an English couple and I were ready to brave the cold and wind (and fork over 350kr for a ticket which was never taken) to go up the tower and outside for a spectaculaar view.

A look down Skólavörðustígur

And what a view it was, as long as you're able to keep your eyes from welling up with tears from the wind. I started taking photos and realised I'd forgot to set the camera to take RAW images. I had to trust the camera to focus because my eyes just kept going blurry. Inside to warm up and reset the camera and out again. I took a couple dozen shots from two of the four sides to stich up into a panorama later when I realised the focus wasn't right. I'd somehow managed to switch the lens to manual. I'm such an idiot. Back inside again with half frost-bitten hands to reset everything.

The bay
The bay

I did an idiot check on the camera as my hands thawed and saw I had a bad ISO setting and the auto-focus decision field was set incorrectly. Format the CF card again and back outside.

When I got two sides done again and was in some pain, I figured I'd go inside to change to the long zoom to get a couple close-ups. I took a close-up of Perlan and looked around for anything else that struck my eye. Nada.

Perlan at scale
Perlan at the same scale (just below the horizon, 1/4 width in from the left)

Perlan close up (and losing light quickly)

It was now around 1:30 and I was losing both light and weather. The bad weather's on its way back and I needed to finish up. All of a sudden the clock chimed. The bells are only about three or four meters above the floor and they're loud. Good thing it wasn't 11:59.

Heh. I noticed the name of the elevator manufacturer on the ride back down. I was on.. wait for it... Schindler's Lift! I slay me, I really do.

As I headed back home, I stopped first to see if a 17mm lens was really short enough to get a full frontal view of the cathedral. That meant waiting as one schmuck after another went in, came out, or stood in front of the door for no other reason than to piss me off and make my hands hurt more. After finally getting the shots I walked home and thought of a certain blonde who I regularly torment with my cold hands. If she were here right now she'd really be in for a treat.

At around 3:30 Sandra had to pick up Magnus from Amma Kristin. On her way there she dropped me off at Smáralind, the penis mall. Most of what I was looking for I couldn't find, like Reebok Classics and whatnot. I did come across a couple interesting food items which I'll report on. Most importantly, Skata (skate) which smells really bad. I didnt buy any; for that one I'm going to a restaurant.

I noticed my phone was dead and that reminded me I wanted to go to the cell phone store and find out about an Icelandic SIM card. Sadly my phone doesn't handle dual cards but I can switch to the German a couple times a day to check messages. I stopped in at Og Vodaphone and asked the woman if she spoke English. Yes, and then idiot I, I spoke in Icelandic. It didn't sound like such a sweet deal after all. That shouldn't be a surprise. I left thinking about it and calculating the costs of the German vs. Icelandic cards and carried on. In front of some electronics/record store were a group of guys and a poster. The name was vaguely familiar but...

There wasn't a queue and I figured these guys had to be a band. I looked at the name again, went inside and asked if I could listen to the album. Not there but at Skífan, the major record store on the upper level. Fine.

I went into Skífan and there was Sandra. She'd sent an SMS earlier to let me know she was in the mall but my battery was dead. This damned Nokia 60-something-or-other really sucks down the juice. She was willing to give me ten minutes when I essplained what I was doing.

With Sandra waiting I found an album from these guys (though not the latest one they were promoting) and had a listen. It was pretty good, and it was fairly easy to understand the lyrics so I dropped 1800 kr for it and went back downstairs. I asked the guys if I bought the album from them (they had some on the table) or if I needed to go inside. Inside to drop another 1700 or so. I came out and started talking to them. They realised I wasn't of Viking descent.

We talked as they signed the new CD and I pulled out the older one from my bag. They were all surprised and quite happy to autograph it as well and happier still that I actually liked the music enough to buy two of their CDs, the music on which is only in Icelandic. They were also well impressed with my half decent Icelandic abilities and then they told me they're playying at NASA on the 14th. Or was it the 13th? They weren't sure themselves. Sorry, Charlie. I'm back off to Germany on the 8th.

Well, we're playing the Hotel Ísland on New Year's. Oh really? Maybe I can be there. Any chance I can get a photo pass?

"You are taking pictures?" (with gestures).
"For whoever pays me, among other things."

And with that Arngrímur gave me his direct E-Mail address. I'll have a photo pass. I know what I'm doing after the fireworks. Of course, I'm now going to have to buy a couple more CF cards for the camera because theres no way I'll have time to dump the fireworks photos nor the band photos halfway through. I'm shooting full-sized plus RAW which tends to fill up a 1GB card after about 66 shots.

After leaving them we stopped by Vodaphone again. There was a stand outside the store and Sandra started asking about the card again for me. I had to chime in a few times and was able to talk mostly in Icelandic with them though it was a struggle. The deal sounded a lot better: 2500kr for the refillable card with a 500kr fee. Which these guys then dropped. I was making enough effort and they turned to Sandra and said, "He needs it." I handed them two 1000kr bills and had a neat little package with SIM, PIN, PUK and 2000kr of credit to lead into the phone. Anyone who really needs to get hold of me immediately will just have to call the Icelandic number. It's +354 661 9781 in case you want to send an SMS (which doesn't cost extra for foreign countries). W00t! I have an Icelandic telephone number! That's pretty cool, Beavis.

Well, it would be cool if it actually worked. After a few problems I can get and make calls here but I can't send an SMS to Germany though I can do it with my German SIM card. I called the help number (1414) and ended up doing the tech monkey dance, exhausting all options, arguing the suggestion that a lack of contracts between providers was bullshit by explaining that it worked when I was roaming with Og Vodaphone on my German card and running the girl out of all the possible answers on her call center screen. My case has been transferred to actual technical people and I have to wait for a call from them. "Have them call me on my German number." I don't want to have to carry around a couple SIM cards and lose them.

That was dealt with after returning home but first we went shopping in Hagkaup, then Bónus for Hangikjöt and some other things. Sandra's cooking some traditional xmas food. I think we got the birch-smoked rather than shit-smoked stuff. The aroma's still pretty strong. We shall see. At least it's not sour-preserved.

Skata (skate). Very smelly.

The drive home had me scared. Unlike some people, Sandra has no studded tires, only all-season radials. The wind was blowing hard, ice crystals and pellets were coming down, the streets were slushy and hilly and cuurved a lot, and Sandra's a bit of a leadfoot. I kept trying to see the bright side figuring that no foreigner had ever wwritten about Icelandic emergency medical services and hospitals. I had the small camera with me and held it in a death grip. If they were going to be prying us out of that tin can with the jaws of life, I was going to get pictures.

Such reporting was, alas, not destined to occur on this evening. We made it home safely, her 11-year-old kid tormenting me with his renditions of Eminem tracks, all of which he knew word-for-word. He was intentionally being a shit, and the caffeine and sugar in the Coke he had with his burger earlier is at least partly responsible. I find it rather disturbing that this overweight Icelandic pre-teen is spewing out some of the more vile Eminem sentiments.

I did a bit of work on the photos as the computer ripped the CDs in the background. I want my mp3s; the memory stick eats up a lot less power than the CD. And maybe I'll dump the tracks into my phone.

I went out to 22 to post yesterday's diary rather late, then went to Prokið for a change of scenery. It was a rather young crowd and I spent the time it took to drink two beers answering a series of PMs from the owner of a particular restuarant I was involved with, packed up and stopped in at Sírkus.

Sigga was there and happy to see me, happier still that she didn't have to talk to me in English which generally seemes a language of exasperation for her, used when thick-skulled tourists act touristy. I asked about the no-photo policy and explained what happened Friday. It was no big deal. Will I be able to shoot on Wednesday when Rósa sings? "Rósa's singing here?" Yeppers. And yes I can. I drank a couple and split around 3:00 when the lights were turned up. The wind wasn't so bad last night.

(If you're wondering about a couple screwy picture names, Blogger managed to fuck those up, mixing names with the wrong pix. Big surprise)

18 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 3

Saturday, 17 DEC 05

I'm an idiot.

A Hottay wanted to take me home last night but I'd drunk so much that the only thing I could do was get back to my own place.

I woke up at noon with massive hangover. Sandra drank all my soda water leaving me high and dry. Tap water is OK -- great here, actually -- but in the mornings I need my soda water and/or coffay.

I started sorting through the pictures from yesterday and working on them. Unfortunately it's all being done on an LCD monitor so I'll have to redo them all when I get back home. If a particular picture sucks, check back in a few weeks.

I walked to to 10/11 for more soda water and got my soup, then to the tourist information office to pick up brochures and find some things to do. Maybe I'll make it out to the south all day tomorrow. I'm sure as hell not getting ratted tonight. I may not even be going out tonight since I heard the woman tell a couple Chinese tourists that the trip they'd had in mind would be a Bad Idea since there was a major storm coming in from the southwest.

Have a little Reykjavík streetscape, Scarecrow.
It's pretty colourful here.
The not-the-most-engaging-or-competent weather-reading woman on TV seemed to be hemming and hawing a different tune and the isobar charts didn't appear to be too threatening. Still, I'm betting the tourist info woman has a lot of experience.

I nuked the soup which, if you missed it back last year, is very, very good with lots of meat and veg. Five eurobuckies may seem a bit steep but it's hardly abnormal here and well worth it. It's also one of very few native Icelandic dishes that both taste good and are available in microwaveable form. Sandra then told me about her mother's lamb soup which is, of course, simply the best there is. Mum's soups are always the best -- excepting perhaps grandma's.

Maybe that's why the ex-wife and I never had kids: she would've starved or poisoned them. Noodles were either crunchy (After draining spaghetti that had cooked for two minutes or so I was informed she'd cooked them al dente and my culinary knowledge was called into question) or wallpaper paste. Ever seen the results of cooking capellini for 40 minutes? She was banned from the kitchen after the burnt water incident. I'm not making this up.

Anyway, around 4:30 I went with Sandra to Vitabar but wan't hungry enough to have a burger myself. I nursed my hangover with a beer as I tried to do the sudoku puzzles in Morgunblaðið. They print three a day: easy, medium and hard. I normally don't bother with the easy ones but I was pretty wrecked and figured that would be the way to go. I should be able to knock out an easy one in four minutes; it took me almost 10 but I was slowly able to start thinking again. I got the medium (normal time: 6-8 mins) done in under half an hour.

At 6pm yesterday's diary was done, as were two beers and I still wasn't feeling any better. I have to go buy some video tapes. Instead I ate some more salmon and watched a subtitled Men in Black 2, stopping and rewinding constantly because I couldn't read and register he words fast enough (I also had to repeatedly watch Lara Flynn Boyle show off her rack in some Victorian Seekrit bra despite my hatred of product placement). Who the fuck makes a VCR with no pause function? Panasonic.

Though I tried a couple other places first, I ended up in 22 because the coffee house and other bar got rid of their Net connections. Össur (from Bar 11) and Gusti were there and on their way out. The place was dead but he'd been told to keep it open for a while. For two hours I fought with blogger to get the damned entry up and with the computer to stop giving me BSODs (5 total).

When I went up for my second beer I asked the bartender if he was new. No, he's worked there for three years,mainly in the kitchen. Ha... That can't be. I worked there this summer and he wasn't there. "I was in Sweden all summer. You're the guy Halli was talking about." Yup, that was me. I bought him a shot and when he told me to choose, I said Opal. He preferred Topas which I said was fine, too. Those licorice shots are all pretty much equally vile.

I finally finished yesterday's entry and started reading and answering mail. The bartender came over about ten minutes later, the three-top table having left and only one other customer there. "I didn't hear anymore cursing so I figured you were done." Erm, yeah. I'm not good at keeping my feelings inside.

Atli aske what I was doing and I told him. He insisted I add that his name is decended from Atilla, as in "the Hun". He's also the first Icelander I've met who says he's not decended from the Vikings but from a bunch of farmers. I wasn't going to argue but soething in that idea doesn't work very well. We had another shot, this time Ga Jól. He went for the gold and I asked what the hell the difference was. The blue is more anise and the gold more licorice. He gave me a half shot of the blue to taste test and indeed, the gold is much nicer... for a given value of "nice".

So why the hell does he prefer Topas to Opal since the former is anise and the latter licorice? I got a laugh and a shoulder shrug.

People started coming in and Atli had to get busy. Some girl came in to work on the bar. The disco upstairs is closed (which I don't understand since it rakes in €13-18K on a good night). Still, Atli also had to work and I had to leave. I was going to drop off the computer, pick up the camera, go out and not get shitfaced.

Except it was raining outside. In 22 I'd checked the weather outlook for Iceland and Reykjavík. The good news: Our low temperature is still higher than Munich's high. The bad news: it's supposed to rain for the next 10 days. It had started. Maybe I'd leave the good camera at home and just take the Ixus although it red-eyes up a storm at times despite reduction.

When I walked in, Sandra was sitting with Steinur who also lives here and someone else named Siggi. Easy to remember. Would I like a piece of pizza? Not really... well... what the fuck, sure. Siggi works at a pizza place and had brought it over. It was surprisingly good, topped with pepperoni, ground beef, extra cheese and a metric buttload of garlic. We started talking and drinking beer, then vodka. They were playing a Gang of Four CD. Siggi's only 18 or so and is just discovering the punk music that I grew up with when it was a political and not fashion statement.

He asked if I wanted to hear some of his music. Why not? I'm going downstairs soon anyway. He put on the CD an I prepared for the worst. Instead I was thrown back to memories of mixing tracks in a studio late last night. What I was hearing was a very rough mix of some very good music. Very good. So good that I asked to hear all four tracks again.

We kept talking, mostly in Icelandic. I'd listen to the music, watch subtitles to some lame film on the TV (the sound was off) and occasionally ask what a word meant.

The wind outside was picking up and there was some rain, too, so I decided I was just to stay in and have an early night. Maybe I could finally take the bus tour of southern Iceland which meant getting to the pick-up point by 8:30 and it was only 1:30 now.

It only took two epoisodes of Charmed to put me out.

17 December 2005

The Iceland Diaries IV -- Day 2

Friday, 16 December 2005

I'm an idiot.

A sure-thing German girl had invited me to go to concert. I missed it. A more than sure-thing Icelandic Hottay hung on me for hours but the night ended as usual.

Today's writing is being done with a very bad hangover some 10 hours after the stupidity.

I woke up to a very dark 9:30 a.m., got dressed and went down to the water to get some photos carrying a camera case on one shoulder and a computer case on the other. I got a few nice shots of the mountains but nothing to write home about. Either I need to get to a different area to get the shot I want or I need to modify the Earth's orbit somewhat drastically. From that vantage point the sun rises nowhere near the mountains. I stuck around for an hour and a half in the hope that the mountain tops might be hit by some light. No dice, but in the dawn light the statue looked majetic.

Sólfarinn frá Jón Gunnar Árnason

Sólfarinn, by Jón Gunnar Árnason. Click for large version.
Photo by and © me. Commercial use prohibited without license.
Private use must link or provide URL.

After a windy 90 minutes I walkd up to Laugarveg and into Prikið. At first I sat at the bar but a bunch of kids started banging on the window. Then the horde of them started coming inside, holding the door open, quickly dropping the temperature. One of the bar girls started scolding the children and then went around to the door to shoo the kids away. They came in again and shouted (in English) "We love you Sylvia" before reluctanty leaving again as the bar girl started heading back to the door. I looked around and didn't notice anyone exceptional but I guess she's on some kids' program here. She's not on Stundin Okkar. I went upstairs where there were electrical outlets to be had.

I spent most of the day in Prikið answering mail, dealing with business and trying to get Blogspot to take the damned long post. I sat upstairs in a corner writing, working on these diaries, sorting through pictures, learning to better use my camera, and basically killing the day until night comes to go out and party.

It's almost 6pm now and time to head back up the hill after a quick stop at Bónus to see if they have some soup. Four beers, a big soda water and a double espresso have been my only sustenence today.

I stopped in at Ósóma and talked to Gulli for a minute. He said he was doing some vanity surfin on his and the shop's name together and the Iceland Diaries were in the top results. There was a girl in the shop so he, as usual, started taking the piss at my expense. I replied with something in German and the girl turned around. She's on an art school semester exhange as is going back to Germany Monday. We kept talking in German, which prevented further commentary from Gulli. That didn't stop him making certain gestures any time her back was to him.

Her name is Jackie and she said a relly good band was playing at the Naked Ape tonight, asking if I'd like to go. Hells yeah! She kept talking with me and we finally left with Gully making a few more crude gestures understood worldwide.

They didn't have my lamb soup at Bónus. Dinner (breakfast really) was a bit of smoked salmon, some of the herring and some lifrakæfi with cracker bread which I ate while watching Latebær (a.k.a. Lazy Town) with Magnus, Sandra's kid. It's an Icelandic production which is shot in town at the studio... in English. So it's overdubbed. The show's supposedly very popular worldwide. One of the characters is called "Sportacus" in English and Íþrott-something-or-other in Icelandic. It's certainly... different.

I had a nice, long, hot shower, after which Sandra and I sat talking for a while. As I poured some vodka into my soda Sandra mentioned she had a bottle of "homemade Icelandic vodka". Moonshine? w00t! I tried it pure and it wasn't bad but could certainly have done with a second distillation and more filtering. Looking back today, that's wwhere the idiocy of the day really got started.

Sandra wanted to see the pics I'd taken from the air yesterday and also those from this morning and we talked some more. I didn't get out -- camera kit in tow -- until around 11:30 which is when things normally pick up anyway.

Reykjavík late afternoon in winter

Except the Naked Ape was already closed. I'd missed the concert and the girl. I'm failing it spectacularly on only my second day back. I went to Prikið and for the next couple hours sat taking pictures and talking with people, mainly in English. A professional-looking camera alone is definitely a chick magnet and the foreigner behind it speaking English reaps the benefits. Being able to speak a bit of Icelandic but falling back to English rather than struggling along in Icelandic isn't going to help my language skills but damned near every girl in the place wanted to talk to me.

Icelandic Hottays
Icelandic Hottays
Icelandic Hottay

So did every attention hound, such as afro man. "I bet you never seen a Icelander with a afrrro". That's because it looks So. Damned. Lame. Mike the Indian (AIM member, now a bodyguard), on the other hand, was quite friendly though he managed to get himself into an awful lot of shots I was trying to take of just Hottays.

Indian Mike and Icelandic Hottay w/ boyfriend

Icelandic Hottays
Icelandic Hottay
Icelandic Hottays
I left for Sírkus and was immediately informed by a very large, Nordic-looking tower of worked-out muscles that if I took one picture inside, all the rest would be outside. For evar. No photos allowed? Loada bollocks I say, but the owner, Sigga, wasn't there so no appeal was possible. I finished my beer and left for Sólon where a couple of the Hottays said they were going and had invited me to meet them there.

I didn't see them in the place which itself wasn't terribly full, a bad sign at this time of night/morning. The music was OK but there weren't many people dancing and fewer interesting people that I felt like photographing. The mood wasn't the weekend party I'm so accustomed to. Maybe Pravda would be better. While hit-or-miss, the place is usually hit. It's also very warm inside so the Hottays tend to shed most garments.

I got outside and saw it had started snowing. Fuck. It was also very windy. Double fuck. The snow crystals stung as they hit my face like a sandbaster. There was a queue outside Pravda and despite the camera, I was going to have to wait in it. Fuck that, I went next door to Hressiskálinn, but not before going to a hot dog wagon for a pylsa með öllu. And they had potato salad for it! Some girl I'd seen in Prikið came up to me and asked what I was doing. "I'm eating this pylsa and then going to Hressiskálinn." She was going there, too. Fine, I'll see you inside. There's no way I'm rushing this very messy but tasty hot dog drowning in mayo and ketchup and "mustard" and onions and roasted onions and potato salad, especially for a girl who's not only not going to sleep with me but is quite likely to introduce me to the slob she just grabbed off the dance floor who will be going home with her to take care of business. You have to keep your priorities (and reality) straight. Except there was this shit weather. I didn't rush but the dog disappeared a bit quicker than it otherwise would have. I went into the bar.

And there's where I made the next mistake. Instead of beer I ordered a double-gin and Coke. And then the third mistake: I didn't refuse it when he brought me a double G&T instead. Tonic does something bad to me. I didn't notice at the time but as I went through the photos today, I was already quite drunk and the pictures proved it. Not pictures of me (which a few people took in "revenge") but all the piss-poor, crap composition, blurry, shaky, mis-aimed 3MB disasters I discovered on the CF card in the morning. I only kept three or four out of dozens of shots.

And it was no better back at Prikið where I kept drinking, harder and faster. I did get a decent shot of the crowd at entrance, though I edited it and slammed up the fill light to so you can actually see the people all the way to the back, turning the foreground people into spotlights. Maybe that's why I'm getting paid to photograph teddy bears and not portraits.

Prikið er fullt, og mér lika!

I finally realised just how drunk I was, which was around the level of "double-vision with one eye closed". At least I don't get the spins anymore. I could barely stand and I was facing a long walk up a very steep hill. I started ignoring the Hottays who were talking to me and began switching over into that auto-pilot mode that gets me safely back into my bed. Because I know from experience that she may get annoyed with me for leaving now, but that's nothing compared to how she'd feel if I got into her bed in this useless condition. You can't shoot pool with a rope.

It was a long, hard trudge up that hill and it was made a complete hell thanks to the biting wind and stinging ice crystals masquerading as snow slamming into my face which I tried to shield with my gloved hands. My eyes stung every time I peered between my fingers. On some parts of the sidewalk there was slush, on others a powder that would be great to ski on but not the sort of thing you want to stumble uphill while drunk on.

It was about 6:30 when I walked in the door, slowly undressed and quickly lay down before gravity and alcohol could finish the job for me.