13 September 2005

The Iceland Diaries III -- Day 1

After an interminably long flight marked by constant turbulence and a 6-year-old directly behind me kicking my seat and playing with the tray (whose father yelled at me when I asked him to ask her to stop), I arrived in Keflavík apparently none the worse for wear despite having dined on the lasagna. My suitcase was one of the last off the belt but I'm used to this.

A lot of people complain that their cases always come out last, but mine really do, every time. There's a simple reason for it: my bags are some of the first ones they put in the plane due to checking in a few hours before flight time. On this trip it was five hours early and yes, that was indeed a bit excessive. It's not that I particularly care for BWI's amenities despite the nice chat with a couple of people at the bar. Because I had to take a shuttle to the airport, the only way I was guaranteed to get to BWI three hours before check-in was to take the 3:00p.m. shuttle. Also, drinking seven-dollar glasses of Samuel Adams in an airport bar is good preparation for falling back into the swing of things Icelandic.

Before heading to the baggage carousel I hit a store on the way and picked up a bottle of the apple-flavoured Egil's Krystal soda water, a taste I've missed for months. Customs never even shot me a glance and I waltzed -- or rather, sheepishly shuffled -- right through the gates and into the main entrance where I quickly pulled my jacket out of my suitcase. I ventured outside and was greeted by fresh air and an overcast sky which is expected to dump rain every day for the next two weeks, so I'm not expecting much in the nature department this time.

Of course, I'm an idiot, and if someone says, "Heyrðu! We are going to go out hiking in some barren wilderness area and quite possibly getting ourselves lost. Wanna come with us?" There's little doubt I will.

It's 7:00 a.m. and the FlyBus is headed into Reykjavík. Looking up I see the clouds resting on the tips of some of the mountainous outcroppings in a way that isn't ominous or threatening and even seems somewhat laid-back. There are even a few breaks allowing a view of a pristine northern blue sky.

The landscape outside is still captivating -- almost haunting -- but I'm getting accustomed to this view between Keflavík and Reykjavík. Hell, I've even driven the stretch myself. No longer pressing my face up to the window, mouth agape, staring and drooling, I'm content to write out a few notes and prepare for the day, one which I expect to continue for another 26 hours.

Arriving back in Reykjavík

Back in Reykjavík

Pink is working tonight, somehing he told me during our call last night. Since I'm staying at his place I'm probably going to have to hang around him all night and well into the morning. If he didn't have the kids yesterday I probably could have gone straight to his place now, dumped the suitcase and gone off to the mall while he sleeps. No such luck. I have the baggage in tow and have some time to kill waiting for anything in the city to open.

I'm also supposed to meet Össur later this morning at 22. He probably thinks I have my tools with me along with all the parts to finish work on the jukebox, pinball machine and video game I worked on last time I was here in March (and haven't yet written about publically). Unfortunately I won't be able to work on those machines before November. This trip I arrived from Stateside rather than from home, the original planned trip (which would have included my carrying tools and parts) having suddenly been cancelled.

However, I might tend bar tonight, tomorrow, or next Friday. He'd promised it last time I was over so we'll see.

Handknit sweater

Today's agenda includes a trip to Smáralind -- the Penis Mall -- and to the smaller group of shops on the way at Mjödd for some clothing. I also have to stop at the hand-knit sweater store, get re-measured and hope they can bang out a custom version of the sweater I want in time.

There's now some blinding sunlight reflecting off the edges of the clouds where a hole has been broken through just over Hafnarfirði. The clouds also seem to be lifting and view's getting better, but my crappy camera won't make much of it, bus window or no.

An espresso at the BSI bus terminal stopped my yawning and some pear-flavoured skýr silenced my stomach. My determination to speak only in Icelandic resulted in my waiting more than half an hour for the wrong bus number 10. I'd asked about the Number 10 bus when I should've asked about the Number 10 Stræto. I'm an idiot.

I wanted to go to the city centre with the local city bus but I was in fact waiting for a national bus line to Vík, a town somewhere along the central southern coast of the country. I finally figured out my mistake and went to the font of the building for a smoke. That's when I saw the spire of Hállgrimskírkjú -- the direction I wanted to go -- and then the Stræto bus stop. A few minutes later the yellow buses rolled past.

Not feeling like like a long walk uphill with baggage in tow, I waited for a taxi and arrived at 22 around 9:15a.m. It's not open until 10 but the people inside thought they recognised me and when I said I was meeting Össur here, let me in and gave me coffee. Spelling errors in this section are due to excess caffeine without alcohol to mitigate, though a beer is now on its way.

According to the guys here my Icelandic is pretty good. They're more impressed because a couple English speakers who've worked here for a while and are cleaning right now still don't speak a word of Viking.

Geek talk:
I left the Unicode documents I was working on at home and while they're accessible via FTP, FTP isn't accessible through the bar's wireless connection, only port 80. Other unsecured networks appear sporadically. I was able to connect to one but I couldn't get a gateway. So I reconnected to the bar's network to find the IP for the machine in DC. After getting it and disconnecting again, the other network had disappeared. After finding it again it turned out that once again only port 80 was available. I foresee some war-walking.

Language note:
"hjá GustA." Don't forget to change people's names based on case or preposition.

I rang Gusti at 10:30. He's working and then has to run to his place to make sure the floor is dry. I should call back at three. I left the luggage at Ósóma and told Þórdis that I was going to go to the mall. "Why not buy you stuff here on Laugarvegi?" I would if I could, but I need hiking shoes and the selection here is extremely limited. I'd already checked. She agreed and forgave my otherwise treacherous and traitorous decision to go to a mall.

The malls are hurting local businesses as malls around the world tend to do. Add to it an idiotic planning commission which wants to "modernise" downtown Reykjavík (read: "make it look like every other city and every other mall") and you can see where this is going. But I need hiking shoes because I'm going out to see some wilderness, maybe also go on a caving tour. The last hiking boots I had were crap and I'd returned them after they broke. Returning used shoes is hard but I had no intentions of waiting six to eight weeks for them to be shipped them back to the factory somewhere in Slovenia for repair.

Job offers

True to form I never made it to mall. I didn't even make it to the bus station to go to the mall. I got as far as about 30 meters when I saw Halli in 22.

"So you're here!"
"So do you want to start working here?"
"Sure, but..."
"That's great!"

He started talking to me and he let me know he's beat. He's been cooking there for the last 13 days in a row and a shift runs from around 10a.m. to 11:00p.m. or so, depending on how bad the kitchen looks and how much pre-prep there is to do. They need a new cook since the other one left. Would I be interested? "I'm only here for a week but I could jump in so you can get some time off. Just show me how a few of the menu items are prepared."

Halli then remembered the 5000kr he owes me from helping him restock the grocery store shelves overnight a few months ago. We went to the kitchen and he showed me around. It's not big -- in fact, a big part of the challenge is that the kitchen's pretty small. We sat back in the bar having a beer. When I told him I need to know the kitchen prep, he seemed rather pleased since it's one of the most important things to know and do. Cooking is simple, being prepared to cook isn't.

I called Pink again around 3:00 and he was still at work, after which he has to pick up the kids. I should call back at 5:00. Göja walked in. She's at Nonnabuð now; it's the T-shirt shop across the street. Isn't she running 22 anymore? According to Halli, she and the boy broke it off friendly-like. Difference of needs. I've found out a bit more about Icelandic relationships from Alda Kalda's Iceland Weather Report.

I took a break and went to the hand-knit sweater shop. I managed to find one of the two designs I liked in a perfect fit but my most favouritest black one was a no go. Custom sweaters need 2-3 weeks but all I needed was the sleeves lengthened 5cm on an otherwise perfect fit. It'll be ready Tuesday. I only spoke Icelandic the entire time in the shop, as did they with me. One time the woman said something in English but I answered in Icelandic so she went back to playing along. Score!

Back at 22 I got a bit more kitchen instruction and I went back to Ósóma before they closed to get my stuff. Pink didn't answer my 5:00p.m. call so Gulli called him (they're no longer a DJ duo). Pink said that even though he told the landlord he had visitors coming, the bastard did the floors and the varnish is still wet. He has to sleep at his mum's I had been on a nod, the lack of sleep catching up to me. Now I was awake.

I walked to a couple of the nearby hotels including Frón where I stayed in March. "Allt fullt" was the response. They're all booked up. No surprise on a Friday late afternoon at the height of tourist season. I asked Gulli to help me ring up some places, in part because he knows the area and which streets are close, and part because he's Icelandic and could talk fast and was more likely to be able to get a room in a pinch -- maybe someone working there would recognise his voice or at least help out one of their own.

I ended up with a broom closet room in Hotel Adam right by Hallgrímskirkjú. At least there's a fridge so I'll have nice, cold soda water when I get up after an hour's nap to go back to 22 to work with Halli in the kitchen.

When I told Gulli about 22 and Halli, then mentioned I might be able to crash at 11, he said Össur doesn't like people being alone in there. However, I'd been in the place alone for hours when I was here in March, working on the machines. I also showed my trustworthiness in ways other than not drinking the bar dry while working. I don't need the place tonight but possibly tomorrow. He'd already offered me the downstairs apartment for a few months (unfurnished, I think) and further assistance if I really want to move here. Gulli had also said that Össur was desperate for some help so maybe we can work something out.

His phone, hoowever, was permanently busy so I took a shuftie to Bar 11. Össur's not going to be there before midnight so no bar shift for this dog tonight. I called again and finally reached him. I wasn't able to say much more than "Hello. It's Doggie." and "I'm back" before losing the signal. Meh. Maybe I'll catch him when I'm out tonight.

Sitting outside the hotel for a smoke, I straddled the wall and started writing. The owner walked by and was surprised that I was able to reach the hotel's wireless from this far away. I wasn't. Well, come along, he insisted. I went to the main building and he told me to go to the second floor. Not only did I have Web access but FTP! I was able to pull my project off the machine in DC. Why come to Iceland to get away from everything if not to do work during my vacation?

Meanwhile my stomach was acting up. All I'd had to eat all day was much beer, eina með öllu, and some sviðasulta. I went the the hamburger joint on Lækjartorg but all they had were kebabs; they were out of burgers. Vaff té eff? I walked along the street and finally went into the sandwich shop. I only noticed after ordering it's the new Quizno's, the first one in "Europe".

The streets being full of tourerists, I headed for the hotel to take a break and watch a couple shows on the computer. Friday nights don't really start until around 11pm here so I have a couple hours to kill.

I watched an episode of Charmed wherein Phoebe sits on a jury, has a vision that the accused is innocent and spends half the episode explaining to everyone why they had to beleive in magic and faeries and such crap. The writing's definitely going downhill on the series since episde 4-3 (Hell Hath No Fury); episodes are becoming as predictable as passion plays. They shoulda left Cole a demon. Anyway, it was even more difficult to swallow since I'd spent a not-insignificant portion of Tuesday dealing with a Bible-thumping troll on an ex-pats forum I spend too much of my employer's time on.

The lasagna from my flight began to make itself known. I was indeed suffering. One day I might learn to stop eating in planes.

I fell asleep around 10:00p.m. with another episode of Charmed running.

At midnight-fifteen I looked around, decided I'd had a good nap and headed downtown. First stop: Bar 11. Gulli was there and surprised to see me awake. Össur's not around; he's sleeping. Why am I not surprised? He doesn't need the jukebox fixed; he's sold it to the tattoo shop up the road. Maybe that guy wants it fixed, though I don't really need repayment in kind or in trade. Then again, who's ever needed a tattoo? Of course, the one I've had since 1988 could us a bit of touch-up...

The place was empty so I headed down further past Lækjartorg -- the central town square -- noting that there were queues in front of every place. Mike no longer works at Pravda. Ásgeir no longer works at the stage/pool hall. I looked in a couple other places and went back to Pravda. there was no queue and it was almost empty, though some people started shuffling in. At around 2:00 I headed back to 11 which was full. I got a rather large surprise as I noticed the people standing at the near end of the bar: Zimmerer, or wandering German carpenters. The outfit is pretty damned recognisable, though one of the guys was in grey rather than black.

ZimmererThese wanderers learn carpentry and then go off for three years on a wandering tour of the world, carrying little but some tools, bedroll and change of socks. They can't come within 50km of their hometown for that entire time. The outfit is practical (except in summer heat) and has lots of religious and historical meaning. I found out about it from a pretty interesting documentary last year.
The picture was grabbed from the Web to show what a Zimmerer looks like; I don't have pictures of the guys I met.

I said Servus and the conversation started. The guy in grey is a stoneworker but it's a similar program. They'd met their employer in Denmark and he invited them to come to Iceland to work about 75km outside of RVK. They'd stopped in Bar 11 to check out the city's nightlife first and stayed a bit longer than planned.

When they left around 4:30 I went back to Pravda. The ratio of male:female was on par with that of gin:vermouth in a good, dry, American martini. Bah. I went back to 11, avoiding the various food stands catering to the drunken palette.

The night's still young
I got a last beer and 15 seconds after sitting down, some girl plopped herself down in my lap and started talking to me. She's Icelandic but hates Icelanders and didn't want to talk in her own language. I'm game. I remember thinking, "This is going to be amusing," and I wasn't disappointed. The stools are formed in such a way that there's only one comfortable position to sit in them. You can't scootch backwards because of the arse-hugging lip, and they keep you sitting just slightly forward. Girl kept slipping off and clambering back up.

She asked me and some guy to her other side if they'd seen her boyfriend. "He's very jealous." Great, so "amusing" was going to turn out to be "amusing to everyone but me and her jealous boyfriend" and quite possibly "painful to me." I can only hope that if he shows up he's even drunker than she. She talked about nothing, rambling on. I nodded and ocasionally interjected with a . Then I just had to meet the guy to her left. I thought it was her boyfriend from a look he'd given me 30 seconds before but he's not; he's supposed to be some big music star here. We both nodded at each other. He didn't seem happy that not only was I not fawning all over him but that I didn't even know who the hell he was.

I recognised Gulli's signature closing song and as the bar top was being filled with collected glasses from the tables, the girl realised she was being served and started drinking.

"You have to go with me home."

Uh-huh. I doubt it, but let's see what happens. I don't have to be anywhere for another four or five hours. Outside she started talking to one bigger guy, then some scruffy-looking blonde guy in a knit cap out of a Spin Doctors video, then looked over at me. Big guy was dropped and she started walking with scruffy down Laugaveg. Stopping, she asked me to come along and the three of us headed down to the square.

She introduced me to Scruffy who's from Finland and working here. Nice guy. We both rolled our eyes as she again asked about her boyfriend. We talked for a minute as she made a phone call, then kept walking, stopping at the pylsa stand. Scruffy insisted on buying me one as her phone came out again. She came back to us but he'd decided he'd had enough.

"Good luck," he said.

Hah. Anyone who's read previous Iceland Diaries knows all about my luck with wimmenfolk here. She took my hand and we headed toward the taxi stand. "We have to go home now," she said.

"Where do you live?"
"In Hafnarfirði."

Shit, that's about 20km outside the city. At the stand she pulled out the phone once more. I couldn't hear what she was saying or een how she was saying it, but when she hung up, she just walked straight to a taxi, got in and was off.

So I did get lucky. It's about time.

I walked home and watched yet another episode of Charmed. It was 9:15 and I was still awake and rather drunk. I started another episode before I finally fell asleep.

If someone can tell me how to force this fucking system to accept the straight HTML I enter and quit converting it to a bunch of fucked-up DIVs, completely screwing up my formatting and whitespace, I'd appreciate it. I've wasted an extra HOUR on this post due to Blogspot's shitty reformatting.


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