Hands up who missed me last week when I was on holiday! Didn’t think so. Anyway, I’m back now, pondering Rochelle‘s prompt pic:
and thinking of 100 words. I’m not sure exactly where she is or what she is doing, but this is what the fiction-generating part of my brain thought:
“She walks here daily from her village carrying the same tool her grandmother used,” Raul said, “and digs for salt she sells at the market.”
“How far does she walk?” Alan asked.
Raul conversed with the aging woman and translated “Fourteen miles.”
The mirrored window of the air-conditioned car slid open and Hugo beckoned Alan over. “We should get some shots of her arriving back at the village, that would look great. How far did he say it is?”
Hugo drank deeply from his water, adjusted his dark glasses. “Jump in,” he said, “we’ll meet her back there.”
My first full day in Reykjavík, and I had already booked a walking tour around the city with Auður. (Quick plug – Auður is a blogger and independent tour guide. Visit her informative and entertaining site iheartreykjavik.net and enjoy the wonders of Iceland through her words and pictures. If you are heading north, it’s a treasure trove of advice.)
Two hours flew by in about fifteen minutes as Auður showed our small group of eight around the city she hearts, offering tips on where to eat and drink, insider knowledge on the street art around town, and fascinating and knowledgeable information about the history of the city and the country. If you find yourself in Reykjavík, this tour is a must.
Then time for a spot of lunch in Café Babalú while I set up the sim card I had bought (through Auður!). I sent a couple of texts home from my new Icelandic phone number, posted on facebook (even though I had said I wasn’t going to) and enjoyed my veg lasagne with hot chocolate.
After lunch I wandered around Kolaportið market for a while, people watching and browsing book stalls and Lopapeysa stands, followed by a teeny bit of gift shopping before heading to the Harpa concert hall / conference venue. I had booked for a show that night and needed to collect the tickets, and I had also read in my guide book that there was a daily guided tour so I decided to do both at once.
At this point, I need to interrupt my tour diary to talk about the language. It had become very obvious very quickly that my Icelandic was basic to the point of useless. I knew a few simple phrases – hello, goodbye, thank you, how much is this – and I could recite months, count to ten, ask what time you start work tomorrow etc, but none of these were terribly useful. And I was also encountering the tourist’s classic language barrier problem whereby I would rehearse my opening line, say it, and then be offered a reply which I could only answer with an uncomprehending blank look. I was stuck in a dilemma – I knew that everyone in Iceland speaks good English, but I felt it would be disrespectful just to speak English and assume I would be okay. But by thinking this, I was making communication difficult for myself. What to do? As I approached the Harpa ticket office, a solution occurred to me. From now on I would open every conversation with “goðan daginn, talar þu ensku?” (“hello, do you speak English?”) thus assuaging my post-colonial Briton abroad language guilt, whilst also knowing that I would always get the answer yes and we could then have a conversation we could both understand. TRG, you’re a genius.
So, to Harpa, and the second fascinating and informative tour of the day, this one ending with views across the city and the harbour from the roof of this beautiful glass building. Along the way, Elsa our tour guide explained how the acoustics worked and could be altered according the requirements of each event. And when we reached one decent-sized theatre space, she took to the stage and sang an Icelandic aria in a perfect mezzo. Exquisite.
I still had an hour or so till the show began so I nipped out to take some more pics and do a spot more shopping. I picked up a couple of fridge magnets, chocolates, Icelandic socks, that sort of thing, and headed for the counter. The girl serving looked at me strangely and then said “didn’t I see you in the other shop?” It turns out she was covering shifts in two shops and yes, she had sold me some gifts earlier. I had been in Reykjavík less than thirty six hours and already I was being recognised by the locals.
An entertaining hour back at Harpa for the show “How to be Icelandic in 60 minutes”, and afterwards it was back to the hostel for a couple of beers while I wrote up my diary. It turned out that the barman there was Brazilian so I offered him a cheery “obrigado!” as I took my drink, the only word I know in portuguese. Sometimes one word of a language is all you need.
Ah, you’ve gotta love the old skool 80s rap thing. This is one of the better examples with its bared-down beats in the verses and just the required amount of synth melody in the chorus. I’m sure we have all memorised the words to this and sung along in front of the mirror. And I’m sure the video looked high-tec and cutting edge in 1988.
I had dreamed of visiting Iceland for so long that even up to the time I climbed aboard the coach to the airport, it didn’t seem real. But as we drove through London I began to realise that it actually might be happening. And the closer I got – waiting for check-in, hanging over my bags, taking off my shoes, waiting for my gate number, boarding the plane – it grew more real. When the plane touched down in Keflavík airport, I looked out the window and a swell of excitement filled me. I couldn’t stop smiling. Then the cabin attendant came on the tannoy and said “Welcome to Iceland” and for five minutes I couldn’t stop crying. I had made it. It wasn’t a dream anymore.
The bus trip from the airport to Reykjavík gave me my first proper view of the country, and the stories I had heard were true. The landscape was alien, barren, a thin green scrub was the only vegetation between the rocks dotting the plains which extended to the high mountains beyond. The earth wasn’t brown like at home, it was black, evidence of the fact I was visiting a country created by the volcanic force of two tectonic plates butting together over millions of years.
As the bus approached Reykjavík, I could see the spire of Hallgrimskirkja, the gleaming dome of Pearlan – both places I had visited through the PC screen thanks to Google maps, but now I was seeing them first hand. And when we transferred to a minibus to be dropped off at our various hotels, we set off on an impromptu tour of the city and I recognised more streets, shops, bars, corners, from my virtual streetwalking over the preceding months. I knew this city already, I had my bearings before I arrived.
After checking in to my hostel, I took my map, my camera and my insufficient knowledge of the language, and wandered the streets, taking in the reality that I was there, marvelling at the multi-coloured houses and the sound of Icelandic voices.
It wasn’t all straightforward though. As I browsed café and restaurant windows it became apparent that options for the vegetarian diner were limited. Icelandic cuisine is based around fish and lamb, and some menus offered nothing I could eat apart from a salad. This wouldn’t deter me though, I would just have less of the dizzying number of eateries to choose from, and for a ditherer like me this was an advantage. So I found an Italian restaurant and had one of the best pizzas I have had.
Due to sleeping in the airport the night before, it was then back to the hostel for a couple of very well priced beers, and then an early night.
Assuming Bárðarbunga hasn’t erupted and closed the North Atlantic and European airways like Eyjafjallajökull did four years ago, I will be in Reykjavík this week, ticking off a few bits and pieces from my bucket list. The fact that I am in Iceland is one for starters. Today I will be on the Golden Circle tour, taking in Þingvellur, Geysír and Gúlfoss (tick), before rushing back to watch an International football match where I am a neutral (tick) being played outside of Britain (tick), namely Iceland vs Turkey.
Anyway, I have linked this before but not as part of a Ch Ch post. It’s the first introduction I had to Icelandic culture (apart from Magnus Magnusson on Mastermind), the first introduction to the unsurpassable, stunning, extraordinary voice of Björk, and while this tune by itself isn’t the reason I am here, it was the first step on this road.
Nearly there. Two more days (less than that in fact, less than 36 hours) and I will be on the plane. Other people must be getting mightily sick of me going on about it. Ten months ago I booked the flights, ten months of me wittering on at every opportunity. Everyone goes on holiday, not everyone makes such a big deal of it.
To me though (and this is the excuse I tell myself) this isn’t just a holiday, it’s a tick right at the top of the bucket list. It’s a trip I have wanted to take for twenty years. But even now, so close to take off, it still seems like a far off dream. I have been variously excited and nervous for the last few days but at no point has it seemed real or possible that I’m going. I thought just yesterday that if Bárðarbunga erupts before I leave and spews ash into the air, cancelling my trip, I won’t even be that sad. I’ll be disappointed, obviously, but this whole thing just feels so… other… that I won’t feel any loss. The same as if I saw that there was a £100 million lottery jackpot and I realised I hadn’t bought a ticket – a bit of me would think “that could have been me” but 99% of me would know it was never going to happen. That’s pr0bably why it took me so long to get the enthusiasm to pack this evening. Yes I’m lazy, but mainly I haven’t fully accepted that I’m going. It hasn’t “sunk in” as sporting winners like to say.
I know it’s real though. Once I get to the airport it will start to make sense. I’ve got the tickets. I’ve learnt a few basic phrases that I can get wrong. I’ve booked trips and theatre tickets. I’ve planned more trips, bus journeys, operas, ferry rides, shopping expeditions, cinema visits… a week isn’t long enough for what I already know will be the best trip of my life, and just the first trip of many to a stunningly beautiful country of openarmedly friendly people.
Be nice to each other while I’m away, play nicely, and I’ll see you soon. I’ve also bought a camera so that when I get back I can upload a few pics and bore you with them. Who knows, if I meet a nice Icelandic girl and snag myself a job offer, maybe I won’t even come home. Now that would be something to blog about.
Back in the very late 70s, Eno began collaborating with Talking Heads. This then led to Remain In Light and Speaking In Tongues which are, for me, the high point of an incredibly strong catalogue, and its no coincidence that Eno was heavily involved. Amongst other side projects at the time such as Tom Tom Club, there was also the collaborative album between Eno & Bryne “My LIfe In The Bush of Ghosts” which bridges the two worlds of heavily-influenced world rhythms which Talking Heads were filling their works with, and Eno’s legendary ambient-based sound collage approach.
Enjoy the hypnotic, infectious Afro-rhythm underpinning this track, and smile at the fact you are tapping your foot to vocal samples from a genuine exorcism. It’s genius, it’s a perfect mash-up, it’s a