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There's a Fine Line Between Opportunity and Opportunism, Isn't There?

The view in front of our home on Njálsgata 

Wow, ok, running with my recent time warp theme, I'm going to share the text from this post from exactly four years ago. There's nothing Valentine's Day-ish about it, except for the fact that I love my island homeland (California, I love you too!) and our fólk, and am sad when our darker side exposes uncomfortably. No one, and no country or nation or peoples is perfect, but I still believe we have a better chance, given our small population, to make our country a model state. 

I encourage you to go to the original post and read the excellent comments from my most loyal readers, who've stuck with this blog through thick and thin, and two of whom
I've gotten a chance to meet live, in person, here in Reykjavik. It's one thing for me to comment on how I see things and it's another altogether to get outsiders' opinions, people who love our country and want to see us retain and maintain our rich and beautiful culture, and not get sucked whole into the capitalist consumerism seen all over the world. 

I was discussing this with some friends last night, born-and-raised Icelanders who agree that the fine line between opportunity and opportunism has been crossed too many times in the recent past for anyone here to ignore. One guy said he felt the Icelandic attempt at democracy since gaining independence in 1944 could now easily be deemed a failure as, just over seventy years later, there seems to be no more independence for the common man or woman as there was under the Danish crown. He clearly sees his beloved homeland as an oligarchy, ruled by the same few families as always, under the umbrella of the same Independence and Progressive Parties that seem to muscle and connive their way to the top of the heap over and over again. I added my curiosity as to how the local Freemasons fit into the picture to our discussion. I've heard hints by men whose fathers are masons, and who've been invited to join but have refused, that my instincts about how that brotherhood influences state affairs is right on the money, although their website clearly notes that, "The Order of Freemason does not take a stance in national political or religious disputes. Discussion or agitation regarding these topics is banned at meetings and gatherings of the Order of Freemasons...The Order of Freemasons in Iceland is independent from all power holders other than the legal authorities of Iceland." I wonder why that's so specifically noted, and I wonder as well how that works with regard to the Five Points of Fellowship  and the fact that the 'legal authorities' are so often masons themselves, or the wives of masons. I have no intention of being conspiratorial, but, well, powerful people do tend to stick together and assist one another, don't they? 

Regarding the photo above, I took it just outside my home on Njálsgata the other day. Yesterday the same scene was lined with contrails in regular formation, five or six white stripes at a time jetting through our airspace over and over, always heading west. So now we know the Americans have begun their 'patrols' for dastardly Russian submarines (you have to read the Grapevine article I linked to there, another great piece by intrepid journalist Paul Fontaine.) Very like the US to show off while flexing muscle in such a fashion...

Here's the original text from 2012, then. Things have only gotten more complex, with more of the bedrock of Reykjavík being broken for new hotels every day, and that's a literal statement - we've got hydraulic breakers pounding away all over Þingholt, rattling goods on store shelves and challenging the sanity of the poor locals manning the tourist shops and restaurants, some who say the noise follows them into sleep. And of course our visitors have to listen to it too : ( I was sincerely hoping the elves who I've dreamt have an entrance to their hall right where new bedrock breaking is going on would rebel against this latest insult and bust the breaker, but maybe they've just left us altogether...

From 2012 then: It's sometimes uncomfortable to voice anything other than a Pollyanna viewpoint on current affairs, and so I usually avoid writing about current affairs! Occasionally, though, I just have to write what I feel, and this is one of those days, though I don't have the heart to go into details.:

The glamour/adventure construct that our PR men and women have spun in the past decade has paid off in tons more tourism and happily so, because that's where the money lay, right? I don't disagree at all, and find the average visitor to be a polite and friendly type, willing to help the natives see their homeland for all the glory it has to offer via their curiosity and cash. No cynicism intended: the traveler brings with them a new view and if they open their wallets, it's to share some of what they've got in return for local goods and experiences. Win win for sure! I hope we maintain an ethical, eco-friendly bent in the further development of our tourist industry, because that's why people come here, and not to get what they can get in any other Euro city, and probably for less.

Before we start pandering to Others and their dollars, though, we need to take care of our Own. Though a shiny new hotel might lure a thousand more weekenders into the city, it does little for the morale of the local who can barely maintain the roof over her and her children's heads. It may bring in summertime cash and create a few jobs, but it doesn't solve the problem of once-reasonable and seemingly practical student loan debts, taken by people who honestly wanted to better themselves and their society, that have now doubled since the crash with no discussion on the table of doing anything about it. A new hotel might make us feel superficially proud and even rich as a nation but does nothing for that overwhelming deep-seated feeling that we've completely lost our way and are wandering, ethically compromised, into strange unknowns, missing in our cultural hearts something we can't quite seem to name...

We can welcome our visitors with all the stuff and buildings and ads and magazines and luxuries we think they will need and enjoy, but when traveling nothing ever really surpasses a warm and contented smile from a local, does it? Let's not twist the faces of our single, hard-working mothers and ammas and grandfathers and men into hard-scrabble grimaces because they are just barely scraping by. There's an offended, indignant tone, a bitter swallowed anger that is stuck in the throats of so many Icelanders these days for the ever-mounting evidence of swindle, corruption, greed, violence, and social breakdown happening here, on our beloved wonder of an island. There is no glory in suffering, and there is no glory in wealth if it's at the expense of a distant relative, or the woman who scans groceries. At the expense of one's own people, born here or not.

Something has to give.


Jono said...

Tourism is probably my area's biggest source of income and it is indeed difficult to balance the needs of the tourists and the needs of the locals. We have relatively low wages and high expenses making it critical to keep this balance functioning. It is on a much smaller scale than Iceland, but there is so much in common with benefits and problems between us. It is indeed a fine line.

Iceland Eyes said...

It's crucial that we accept the fact that larger or smaller, we're no different than other places that also have to, as you say, balance the costs and benefits of opening up to tourism. We're being overwhelmed!

And like I've mentioned in other places, we're soon going to have to invest heavily in waste management and invasive species control. If had capital to invest right now, that's where I'd put my money for sure.