Nights and Evenings Down by the Sun Voyager



Has everyone had enough of politics for the time being? I have, so here's a pretty shot taken a few weeks ago down by the bay. The sky turned red right around 10 pm, so I bundled Óðinn into the car and zipped the few blocks down the hill to the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) sculpture to try to catch the light. I didn't get quite the dramatics I was hoping for, but this is still lovely.

Back in the 90's I had the strangest experience at this very spot. I wrote about it a few years back, and in the interest of getting as far away as possible from current affairs, I'm going to share it here now. I hope you enjoy the read:

it’s decades ago, i’m a jaded baby, and i’ve been drinking. summer night on the lava rock, down by the big bay with that treacherous looming mass of old-school mountain across the water, esja, rubbed smooth by winds and rains and snow, gully-lined and recently planted with the kinds of things that stick in this blasted place, some semblance of how it used to be before the crass and destructive race of us came to stay. 

but that low mountain is nothing more than a scene set for this memory. the real action takes place at the sun boat, stretching its aluminum prow upwards into the endless summer twilight. there i go, tipsy, alone, wrapped in a thrift store vintage dior of wide knee-length black wool, black stockings, black cowboy boots, pre-emo, or what we used to call alternative. i’ve met the boys of the night and they are hopeless and desperate and dour, frisky at 3am and just as gutless. i have faded from the party (which party doesn’t matter...it’s all the same in this town, on this kind of night) and ghosted off by myself to hear the whispers of the sea. i grew up alongside a different sea. 

i stand, as is my practice, in mountain pose. tonight there is no wind and the sky is clear, i can see the outline of summer houses there over the wide water, and i’m more than alone. i stand. i am still. 

we're not supposed to be still. it’s a dubious situation, fraught with the terrors of a constant Now. i stand and watch the sea, small waves lapping at the well-placed rocks (this little city’s coastline is the work-in-progress of an artisan of unrecognized genius...for over two decades now he has found and moved and placed ton-weight boulders in an astoundingly orderly fashion along seaside walking paths with nothing more than his instinct toward beauty and a small yellow bulldozer.) i see tiny whitecaps emerging and remerging with the salty deeps. i place myself directly in line with the prow of the scale-model skeleton of a ship of the type our ancestors emigrated here in. a circle of smooth paving surrounds the sculpture, with a thin ring of rougher concrete separating it from the organized boulders that slope into the dark northern waters. i stand on the concrete, heels and toes together, hands in pockets, warm and content. behind me on the seaside thoroughfare cars whiz by at a four a.m. frequency, not so many then in this mini metropolis. all is good. i'm in the elements, the light breeze lulls me, i'm alone and fully happy, reminded of what i think i must have wanted as a child standing on scaled rocks laden with tidepools all those years ago on the edge of another world, with a very different ocean as my dear friend. 

in my stillness the water comes alive. i see a dance of ballroom proportions, duets of water fairies in perfect takt, just below and somehow of the surface of the cold arctic briny. they don’t waltz on top of, nor really below, but are the water itself, maybe a few human feet deep and i am mesmerized! in my stolid state they are the only things alive, there is no city behind me, there is no man-eating mountain in the northern distance, there are only lovely dancing díses and a pair of human eyes as witness. i accept that this show is for me, and at the same time that this happens always, this perfect ritual. they don't disappear. minutes pass. they emerge even more distinctly, the music they sway to fills and blossoms, they arc and twine in sacred couples, trailing lovely silken elvish dresses in their wake. i know i am blessed to witness this! long moments pass in clock time, i am still, the sun flows eastwards to its dipping point where it will rewaken as a sunrise. a respectful smile fills my heart. i am in awe. 

how is this happening, how does this beauty show for a soul so late into a hopeless party night? i ask in silence, but the sprites don’t answer. 

i hear footsteps behind me, and i'm tempted to turn around, but i don’t. “are you ok?” someone asks. a woman. “is everything alright?” she is close to me, very close, she is right behind me and i can sense her moving in to my bubble of stillness. “yes, i’m fine,” i answer without turning around. i can’t take my sight from the sea, my reply is almost a whisper, my human voice is chilled and unused, but i know the stranger can hear me. she moves into my line of sight, and i see that it’s a police woman. she smiles at me. “are you sure?” and i smile back. i can see right away that she is a gentle person, though i don’t know why she’s there with me at the edge of the city, where the boulders meet the ice cold sea. she says, “we got a call. someone saw you, someone thought you might be....someone thought you might be thinking of....” i look at her with my newly sober sight, questioning, curious. “we were worried that you might be thinking of...jumping in...”  

 stillness, stillness at night, stillness dressed in black at the very edge of a cold cold ocean, is a suspect state. and there’s no way to explain, in the endless twilight of a nordic summer night, what i’ve seen. i give in to a more mundane reality and say a silent goodbye to the lovely forms of the waters. i think i know in that moment that i'll never see them again. i pause, then turn to the policewoman and smile. she smiles back and nods her understanding, and so i start my quiet walk home. 


Iceland at a Crossroads: the Presidential Elections are Coming Up

That's literally 10kg of plastic waste in a net tacked to the wall. There's even a white toy pony in there.

A couple of days ago this temporary wall was covered in street art and today it's got this great infographic instead.

Street art rocks (and we've got some masterful spray artists here) but I like that someone thought of utilizing this space to get a message across. Plastic is such a huge issue and plenty of cities across the globe have banned lightweight plastic shopping bags and even, in the case of San Francisco, plastic-bottled water being sold in public places.  Here in Iceland we've had to pay 15 - 20 króna for plastic bags since forever, though it's just in the past few years that shoppers seem to be really getting into bringing their own bags when going out for groceries. Change takes time, and getting un-junked from the 20th century Age of Plastic single-use, disposable, "convenience" mentality is no exception.

if you've been here to Reykjavík you've walked past this site, at Laugavegur 4-6. Back in the day it was where the Nike house was, which then got torn down and replaced in 2011 by a cute old-timey wooden building which housed the Timberland shoe store. Now that's been removed too, and a huge hole has been hydraulically hammered out of the bedrock, something the local residents, shopkeepers and guests have been being traumatized by all winter:

Look, we made another hole! Now what were we gonna do with it?

Faithful readers know I have a thing for construction sites and gaping holes in our hill, so it won't come as a surprise that I snuck past the site barrier and snapped a pic of what was going on behind it. See, this plot of land has held a fascination for me since I was a little girl visiting our relatives here from California. My Amma Ásta lived just up the holt on Óðinsgata, and I wandered around town as often as I could, checking out the fascinating shops and wonders.

Just below this construction location, at the intersection of Laugavegur and Skólavörðurstígur where Kofinn café and Sushibarinn are now, was a butchers shop, replete with hanging sides of lamb and sheeps heads in the window. When I was five I found that fascinating! And there was a book store across the street at Skólavörðurstígur 2, Bókabúð Lárusar Blöndal. I loved to hide out there, reading and looking at postcards (they had to close shop in 2001 after nearly 60 years in the same spot due to rising rent.) Also close by was the recently closed shop Vísir, just across Laugavegur, with its magical selection of Icelandic sweets and licorice.

But there's always been something else about this intersection, and this plot of land, that's held my imagination. A little research informs me that the building standing there now, Laugavegur 2, was built in 1886, and hasn't changed much in the past 130 years:

Laugavegur 2, back when it wasn't quite so busy here.

Before that building was built, though, there was a farmhouse on this plot formally named Hólshúsið, but called Snússi, and before that, earlier in the 19th century, a little turf house called Litlibær. There's not much recorded history reaching back farther than that though, when what we now call Skólavörðurholt was a barren, rocky expanse considered too far away from the true town center to the west to be of any worth. Compare this treeless, undeveloped view from the top of Skólavörðurstígur, taken only around 136 years ago, with the same perspective today in this classic shot from the top of the church tower and it's easy to see what they meant:



Did something happen at this crossroads long, long ago? Something dramatic, that may have left an imprint on the land itself? I'm thinking  something to do with the original settlers here, or maybe even farther back than that (some of you know that I suspect this island has a much deeper history than the ones we've inherited from our Norse viking ancestors). Was it a ceremonial spot? Or the site of a murder, maybe? Or was it, as I've dreamt a few times now, the entrance to an elven realm?

I guess we'll never know.

What 's obvious though, is that we're facing changing times here, on all levels. The trash issue I started this post with is definitely something us locals have to deal with immediately. I joke that the best financial investments a person could get into here in Iceland are waste management and invasive species control, but what I'm really saying is the capitalist-consumer mania we've been hypnotized by for the past two decades has to stop.

We have to snap out of it and WAKE UP. We've got presidential elections coming up in June, and the sole voice of sanity regarding our human future on this gorgeous island is Andri Snær Magnason, award-winning writer and the man behind the amazing book Dreamland - a Self Help Manual for a Frightened Nation (2008) and its award-winning accompanying documentary film, Dreamland.

How wonderful of our forefathers and mothers to turn the bleak expanse in the photos above into the lush, colorful and welcoming arctic capital that Reykjavik is today, but we're on the verge of tipping past the point of being able to handle the consequences of our more modern, worldly and greed-based choices.

Being eco-friendly and sustainable doesn't mean being passive, hippie, barefoot grass-feeders. It means designing and creating infrastructure that supports a new-millennial, 21st century model of care-taking and civic maintenance. It doesn't mean fewer jobs or tightened belts or lack or want or repression. It means being innovative to the extreme, utilizing our natural landscape in the most efficient, practical and beautiful ways possible, just as Icelanders have historically found ways to do. Dedicating ourselves to the modern eco-movement is one of the sexiest and lokkandi (inviting) things we could do on the global stage. We'd be the darlings of the world again for daring to reach into a New Future.

The long and short of it: I may never know what really went down at this main Reykjavik crossroad, and what choices were made when, and by whom. I may have no say in how the very granite bedrock beneath our hill is being broken up for underground parking, rattling the psyches of the locals (those seen and unseen!) to the core.

But I do have a say in how I vote, and who I believe to be the most responsible and respectable representative of our island on an international level. At this crossroads in our history, I choose Andri Snær Magnason to be our leading light into a responsible and beautiful future for Iceland.

What will you choose?

Meditating Under the Volcano Snæfellsjökull

Óðinn under Snæfellsjökull a few years ago

It's obvious from my past few posts that I'm not exactly non-political. But at the rate that things are changing here, I'm pretty glad I haven't written up anything since our first lady, Dorrit Moussaieff, was revealed to have links to Mossack Fonseca in the Panama Papers leak. 

If I'd have jumped on the news that her husband, our president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson decided to run again for office, edging out the frontrunners with his older conservative constituency, or that our former PM Davíð Oddsson, a man deemed responsible for the 2008 crash, then said he was running, upsetting the polls even more, the public seeming to now have to choose between

A Nice View, and Me Trying to Avoid Delving Deeper Into Our First Lady's Affairs

A view from Hallgrímskirkja 

Find the clump of trees in the lower left corner of this photo, and that's where I took the last post's cat pic. It's a shady corner of the the garden behind the Einar Jónsson Museum, a favorite spot for locals to ponder and chill, adults, kids and cats alike. As a matter of fact, the cat in the previous photo is one of four who live across the street, in the building with the red roof and all-glass corner 'penthouse.' They come across the street with their human, who enjoys

Who is Iceland Actually in Bed With, or Here's a Picture of a Local Feline Because Cats and Internet

A Reykjavik feline in its native habitat, totally not connected to the article 


I got some interesting feedback on my last post, including an enlightening conversation with a friend who's employed as a diplomatic correspondent between a certain extremely high-level European country and Iceland, via their embassy here. He hadn't read my piece when we sat down to talk, but I gave him the general rundown, including some details that had yet to occur at the time of writing, including that Iceland finally (almost unanimously)