Iceland at a Crossroads: Elections, Elves and Old vs New

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?

1 comment:

tradicente said...

I am happy to return tomyour blog, Alva. I was following it... I forgot how long ago...

But this post really touched me. And I can hardly imagine the extent to which the subject touchess you, who knew and deeply felt this place in your heart since little child... I remember I have been at that crossroads in Reykjavík, of course. I will check during my next visit in late September this year...

So, the one you chose did not win the elections... I have not had time to check if you have commented on that in your blog, but I just thought it would be good to know your impressions on the subject...

Of course, I do not know the reality of Icelandic polytics. I feel very congenial with the ideas you express. But... Does the president in Iceland has a real practical influence in those matters? In my country, Spain, the king does not at all: he has no power or influence on waste disposal, or on the crucial strategical decissions of wether the country will head for a more or less green, more or less capitalist, path, etc. He is totally unrelated to any of these things. His is a merely symbolic figure. Which is not unimportant nevertheless (his international presence is very important, he is like a super-ambassador of Spain); also, his rol would be absolutelly essential if one day the country was trapped, for instance, in a really nasty crisis, with huge social turmoil or sonething, because the king's rol is to to be the guarantor of the stability and continuity of the state on an institutional basis, and this IS important. But, other than that, he has cero influence in the direction the country takes for its social and economical development. This is 100% exclusive responsability of the polytical leaders. Does the president of Iceland have a real influence on these things?...

Yours:

Fran