14 September 2005

The Iceland Diaries III - Day 2

Saturday, 13 August 2005

I'm an idiot.

I fell asleep at 9:15 when I said I'd be at 22 at 10:30. I woke up and saw the computer screen displaying 12:08. I packed everything quickly and trumbled1 down the street with my suitcase, rollie-bag and overstudffed computer bag, gulping down some skýr for my own good despite not being hungry because at 6:30 a.m.


  • Clowns
  • Protests
  • Girls!
  • Girls talking to me!
  • Girls asking me to dance with them!
  • Girls promising to make sure I have a warm place to sleep!
  • A warm place to sleep.

I got to 22 and it was surprisingly empty, with a few staff and fríends sitting at the de facto employee's table. I got a strange look from one guy I didn't know as I sat down and plugged in while waiting for Halli to arrive and show me the kitchen prep.

I'm an even bigger idiot. I looked at my cell phone and saw it was 10:20, not 12:20. The city's only just waking up. Fifteen minutes later I saw þórdis ride by to open the doors at Ósóma. Since Gulli was DJing in 11 until 6:00a.m., this was no schocker. I'd had a full 90 minutes of sleep which explains my waking up with nothing even remotely resembling sobriety.

By 11:15 the streets were filling up with locals going shopping and tourists stopping everyone on the streets and asking the locals to take their (the tourists') pictures. Maybe The Question is just subtle Icelandic revenge on the invaders, but I've already learned that Iceland's subtlety is based on the German model so I need to work on a new hypothesis.

At around 1:00p.m. I went to Ósóma and chatted with Gulli. I'd decided to go to Nautarsvík, something that, as one guide described, is Iceland's answer to Bondi Beach. Gulli essplained: it's an area near the airport blocked by a sea wall with trucked-in yellow sand and heated water due to power plant discharge. The place is near the municipal airport and shouldn't be too hard to get to since a bus goes very close to it.

Ten minutes after I'd headed for the bus station on Lækjartorg, I got an SMS from Gulli saying Alice Cooper was in the shop. Bullshit. The joke was on Gulli since I was only a block away in the bookstore. I went back in laughing and called shenanigans.

The joke was on me. Alice had been there and had left less than a minute before I returned, so confirmed a couple customers. I'm hardly starstruck and the most I would've said to him would've been, "Hi" unless he'd started talking. I know enough famous people and I also know how tedious their Biggest Fans get. Still, Gulli "got" me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I went back to the bus station only to find it mostly deserted and completely lacking in any information about the bus lines so I walked all the way back up Laugerveg to the Hlemmur station.

As I walked I was thinking about how crap the weather is to go to the beach and figured this might be a better time to go to the mall and get the damned hiking shoes. As this thought hit I saw a few clowns walking the other way dressed up as... clowns. I fucking hate clowns. Then I saw some other characters carrying signs and props and it hit me that there's a protest today against the new ALCOA plant and the dam to be built to supply the juice. Aluminum smelting requires about 13 gajillion volts so it's usually done where the juice is cheap -- Iceland is ideal.

A protest. I'd read about protests here and seen a bit on Icelandic TV last year when the government had gone beyond an acceptable level of corruption in enough people's opinions and hundreds had gone down to the parliamment building, standing in front of it quietly. One person threw some bananas into the street. It was big news despite the lack of disorder, violence, the annoyingly ubiquitous whistles, and no hint that anyone would stoop to throwing bottles and rocks much less wear bandanas or gas masks in case the cops went postal in breaking things up.

This ALCOA protest thing is pretty big by Icelandic standards (i.e., people actually show up to complain). Someone went so far as to spray-paint "Stop ALCOA" on the parliament building. They were out inside 16 hours with the high pressure hose to remove it. Too bad the government didn't do the same cleaning to the private houses that fucker also spray-painted.

While some wilderness will be destroyed when an area is flooded in order to feed the hydroelectric dam, the area's no unique (beyond it being a specific area. Despite it being in an area used by migratory birds, no wildlife is endangered. A little pragmatism, please. The fact is that Iceland needs jobs. The economy desperately needs long-term, sustainable industry and can't continue to rely primarily on fishing and tourism.

Traveller's Tips
They changed all the buses in Reykjavík
That's right. Don't make plans based on your old travel books. Lines were changed and renumbered. This has some good and bad sides to it. It is a lot easier to get to the two malls now with direct lines through the city, but the locals aren't too happy overall.

The price of the system map and schedule dropped from 300 to 200kr. More surprisingly, the price of a ticket didn't go up. A single ride is 220kr, a Farmiðaspjald -- a strip of 9 paper bits each good for one ride) is 1500kr and a gold card (two weeks' unlimited travel) is 2500kr.


Back to Hlemmur for tickets. I went to the window and asked for a kort, or map. Except I didn't. The woman showed me the multitude of cards (single fare, strip-'o-nine, gold, green and red), some gesturing and blabbering finally resulted in me getting a Leiðakerfi ("LAY´-dthi-kerr-vee"). After looking through it I went back saying, "NOW it's time for that kort". Too bad it would be a 20-minute wait for the next bus so I hoofed it back, stopping in Ósóma again.

As I walked in þordis said that Gulli had just called from the protest and the cops had arrested someone who was wearing something was too close to a real police uniform despite -- or perhaps because of -- the red clown nose he was also wearing. Icelanders don't have a lot of authority figures to begin with outside some police and politicians who're no worse than anything out of the Big Easy or the Windy City, and not having any military, the choice of uniforms to wear is somewhat limited. You don't ingratiate yourself to them by calling them clowns.

I said I was going there and she said she'd be closing up in an hour. Don't they close at 4, not 2? Yes they do, Brad, yes they do. I've been translating clocks so much due to waking up in the US at 1 because that's 7 in Germany and with the memory that my computer' still two hours fast while on German local time, I'd again forgotten that I'd set my cell phone to local time.

Time had flown and I flew down to the protest before it was over, having already missed the start at 1 (replete with, I expect, some heartfelt blabberings about the global destruction by the greedy corporations) and the arrest. And what a scrubby protest it was. Hippies. Anti-globalisation hippies. Bitching and moaning about all sorts of crap as such troglodytes are wont to do. ALCOA's caught in the crossfire apparently because it's a global concern.

Don't get me wrong; I have no love for ALCOA. The fuckers stole one of my grandfather's inventions and never paid him a dime for it. But on the whole, the company is pretty low on the environmental destruction radar. Energy in Iceland is cheap and emission-free. You'd think these twats would be overjoyed at a major industry which requires an unfathomable amount of energy would choose to go where the electricity is generated in a clean manner. I know I would think that. We'd be wrong.

Big Protest Massive demonstrations!
On arrival I saw the usual Lollapalooza twits: jugglers, clowns, "tribal drummers" hammering away badly on a few two-by-fours supported by a couple foam-covered sawhorses.

Serious Protestor "Hell no! We won't... erm... drop a ball."
The police presence was impressive. All four of the cops (two having departed to handle the treacherous police imposter wearing a clown nose) looked bored to tears.

Police presence

Police presence
Should we bring in the National Guard?
Oh wait, we are the nationial guard.

Alda Kalda assures me the contingency of idiot foreigner protesters was a recent arrival and that Icelanders have been protesting this for quite some time. That Alcoa's decision is indeed based on the bottom line and cheap juice in Iceland in no way changes the fact that the energy is emission-free. Yes, I like the pristine areas of Iceland as much as any tree-hugging nature nut, but I'm a pragmatist at heart. Fyrirgefðu.

Protestors and cameraman News cameraman to the left, 2x4 "musician" in center background,
protestors with Strong Convictions in foreground,
Evil Uncle Sam and partner from some passion play.
I returned to Ósóma where my stuff was being stored and continued to try reaching Gusti who'd been unavailable all day. When Þórdis closed up I decided to leave the big suitcase. I have two days' worth of clothing in the rollie case. If I really need anything from the big case I can call Gulli who lives close by. Providing I don't die of exposure since it's already 6pm and I don't have a place to stay.


Back at 22 I had a beer and went on-line for a bit when Leo came over. He's the cook this weekend. That Brazilian rat bastard moved here and into his brother's place two weeks ago and he already has a job or two and a very Teh Hottay French girlfriend who lives here. I'm going to cry.

So is he working Monday and Tuesday? He said he'd talked to Halli and is working at Pasta Basta next week so my services are needed. An SMS confirmed it 15 minutes later. So Leo and I started talking, I can crash at his place tonight and be here in the morning for my one chance to learn the prep here before starting cold Monday. And I still have to buy a hat. Hair, you know. I have a lot of it. Another 15 minutes later it was deconfirmed; Halli's working Monday but after that I don't know. I already have a plan for Monday: the fish head drying factory where Stefán works.

Working on the two computers from the employee table drew some interest as people started shuffling in around 11p.m. Being next to the bar I had immediate access to beer service, always a good thing. At around 2:30a.m. a couple people I knew came in and said we should go upstairs. I packed up the machines and started to take them into the kitchen before being stopped by someone who looked familiar. I started trying to ess-plain what I was doing and that I was going to put the computer bag with my rollie suitcase. He thought I just wanted to pick up the other bag. Once in the kitchen where we could hear each other, he was finally able to understand me and recognised me as the new sort-of-employee as well as someone on the Accepted List.

I went upstairs and was drunk enough that a few girls were able to convince me to "dance" with them, including the one who'd flirted briefly with me at the computers.

"You're writing about Iceland?"
"Yep. And please don't ask The Question."
"What question?"
"THE Question"
Giggles and gleeful pointing ensued.

Another girl who used to work here and whose presence is undeniable in any circumstance was in top form, rather drunk, and insisting on dancing and twirling and spinning. People and tables were moved, sometimes against their wills.

After I'd had enough "dancing", which included headbanging and jumping to Killing in the Name of, slowly swaying to the Joy Division standard and having my leg humped by some girl until she finally realised I wasn't her boyfriend, I went downstairs for a rest and a fresh beer. It was 5:00a.m. and no one had seen Leo for hours. Bam. I need a place to stay and it's raining out. I sat on the table and a blonde started talking to me. Then her sister joined us once I'd said I live in Germany -- sis wants to go there.

Twirl-girl took a break from upstairs and asked if I had a place yet. Nope. "I'll make sure you have one." The sisters went up to dance, asking me to join them. I said I'd be up in about 15 minutes. Some other girl standing at the bar started talking to me. She lives with mum and so can't take me home. A nod from a buddy next to her confirmed this wasn't a blow-off line.

The sisters came down again and announced they were immediately going home to some far-away village. They didn't like the disco Gulli decided to play and wanted out fast. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

At this point, the downstairs was being closed and I faced a dilemma: go upstairs and hope that some girl would take me home or stay with the staff and hope Twirl-Girl would come through, or that one of the others might let me crash. Going upstairs would also mean I wouldn't be able to get back into the kitchen to grab my stuff.

I stayed downstairs. Yet another girl was talking to me and about to let me stay as Gulli came in the door having finished DJing. He asked if I had a place yet and I said no. As the girl was opening her mouth to speak, he said "Fine. You're coming with me." She closed her mouth. Fuck, fuck, fuckity fucking fuck!

At least I have a couch.

Gulli decided he needed a cheeseburger so we left for the square. Down there he started shouting to people to look at Alice Cooper's band, then Alice Cooper, then finally settled on calling me Dave Grohl.

"Hey everybody! Check it out! Dave Grohl's waiting for a cheeseburger!" In Icelandic, natch, and then in English to make sure the tourerists would get it.

A few people laughed but the gorgeous girl in front of us initiated a conversation. Maybe the two guys hanging on her were waiting to be dropped.

After getting past the Dave Grohl shit, she asked where I was from. I was pretty tired of this all day so I said "Akureyrar".
"You are not!"
"Yes I am."
"No! You're not from Iceland!"
"Sure I am."

While I was wating for our burgers, the girl grabbed my hand and we exchanged meaningless words. The guys were hanging back... until they got their burgers. She kissed me goodbye (lips plus tongue plus bits of cheeseburger) as she said she had to leave with her boyfriend. Big surprise. She slipped me her number. Gulli and I left for his place, all the way back up Laugerveg and then some, with him still yelling "Dave" at me and howling with laughter.

As we approached his place we ran into a couple guys he knew who were trying to find a taxi. We all went to Gulli's so they could call one. They started playing a bit of guitar and I sat back on the couch. I blinked and they were gone. Gulli was bringing me a blanket. I'd nodded off for about fifteen minutes. I turned over and went back to sleep.

1Trumbled (TRUM´-bl~d): v., past trumble 1. A cross between trundle and stumble, colloq. esp. after alc. consumpt.

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