Thursday, November 8, 2018

Iceland Airwaves | Lefsetz Letter

We took WOW Air to Reykjavik. It’s one of those discount airlines, and unlike the major carriers, they fly direct, so we did. I’m warming up to the concept. Since they charge for absolutely everything, people took fewer bags on board. And since they sell everything, you buy what you need, there’s no regular drink service. It’s more civilized. We had the “Big Seat,” which is a fraction of business class and the seat doesn’t lie completely flat but it’s less than $500 each way and it includes food and bags and…I’d like to complain, but I can’t, I enjoyed it!

And we landed in Reykjavik at four in the morning. Maybe that’s why it’s so cheap. But Reykjavik is not. Didn’t the economy crash back in ’08? And I read that it rebounded. But I don’t know whether it’s stuff needing to be imported or what, food is pricey, but extremely good, and after taking a short nap, we went out to hit the town.

It’s cold here. Although they’re having a heat wave. It’s between forty and fifty Fahrenheit, but everybody outside America uses Celsius. Maybe we should just switch to metric overnight, since nobody in America, I mean the States, since Canada went metric eons ago, can do math anyway, metric is easier, and much more coherent.

And Reykjavik is tiny, almost a fishing village. There are a few high rises off in the distance, but the inner city is positively low-rise, walkable, cute. For me it’s kinda like going back to where I once belonged. Last night I didn’t see one woman without a knit cap. Everybody wears casual clothing. It’s like living in Vermont.

So we went to the Settlement Museum, where they unearthed a longhouse from two centuries ago. History is so fascinating, makes you feel like a bug, so little, inconsequential. And the language comes from Norway, as do the people, and do you know they had ornamental beads and bracelets back then? Status, appearance, it’s always a factor.

And around six we moseyed over to this church-like building for the opening of Iceland Airwaves, that’s why we’re here, I’m speaking tomorrow. It’s been going on for twenty years, the airlines started it, they used to have name-brand talent, now it’s all locals and…

The mayor gave an introductory speech, while holding a Heineken. We talked to him afterward, he said he was a medical doctor! And it turns out everybody from Iceland stays here, or comes back here, or so everybody told us. They talked about the quality of life, the good jobs… As for the weather, our driver told us the short days in the winter contributed to more children, he had four, although he was only planning on two. And everybody does speak English, with an accent, but everybody’s super-friendly and you tell yourself “I can live here,” even though you won’t. When you live in a big city it’s hard to fathom living anywhere else, everything’s at your fingertips, but living off the grid in Iceland would be kind of liberating, at least I think so.

And then we went club-hopping.

There are hundreds of bands in multiple venues and you listen to the rumors and you check the app and you wander from joint to joint, although they include the Art Museum and the Opera House, to see bands…

Who never seem to have heard of the Spotify Top 50.

Yes, two acts rapped, but we saw a prog rock act, a yacht rock act, it was all music, very liberating, going back to where we once belonged, since you can’t make any money playing music in Iceland, the focus is on the music itself. But unlike America, and like every other country in the world, the government supports the arts. The bigwig is Sigi, who used to drum for the Sugarcubes, his card says “Supreme Glorious Leader” of Iceland Music, cracked me up. And music is a hard job to keep, a hard business to stay in. Sure, there’s a thin layer of superstars, but below that everybody’s got an angle. A rent-controlled apartment, a rich uncle, some kind of niche that pays the bills. But it’s an addiction, that too many can’t give up. And a club, that most don’t understand.

And today we woke up to go to the Blue Lagoon. You’ve seen pictures. Google it, you’ll recognize it.

It’s about forty five minutes from Reykjavik, and the landscape is a moonscape, all lava, with rivulets where water used to be, if you fall asleep and veer off the highway you’re gonna be in big trouble.

And our friend Ellen told us we needed to go to the Retreat, but it’s temporarily closed for repairs. So we entered the big lagoon with the hoi polloi.

They’re organized, you get a wristband, and a robe and zories and you descend into the water slowly, inside, and then…


It’s pretty massive. And not so deep. From about thigh to neck, depending upon where you are. And it’s warm in some spots and hot in others and you wander around, feeling the heat.

Oh, that’s another thing, it was raining and blowing when we got there… The three minute walk from the parking lot was torture, like being at the top of the mountain before you ski down on a blustery day. And once in the lagoon…

You get a face mask, of silica. That’s why the water’s so blue supposedly, silica. The water’s hot because it comes from nearly a mile underground and it’s unfathomably hot at first, close to a thousand degrees they said, but at the surface it’s around a hundred and…

You wander around, you can’t swim, the water doesn’t feel good in your eyes and…

You glide over to the bar, I had a banana smoothie, made with skyr, Felice had some firefly drink, with carrot and ginger with quite a zing. And the water’s supposedly great for your skin, and the people watching is insane! Different nationalities, different shapes, bad tattoos. I wonder if there’s such a thing as a good tattoo. Maybe you think so, right after you get out of the shop, but give it some years. I wandered into the steam room with a guy who had people on both knees, I’m not sure if they were relatives. And so many women had sleeves, but seemingly no one could stop there. And it’s funny, they don’t seem to know they have tattoos, but they’re new to the viewer.

And after showering we went to the adjacent restaurant, Lava, a reservation at which was included with our admission. It was fabulous! The bread was crusty and moist. Why was the center moist? I don’t know! And the desserts! Felice’s creme brulee was the best I’ve ever had, and not skimpy, but not cheap either!

And on the way back…

We drove through some fishing village. That was scary. Even the police station was closed after dark. Living there in the winter… Although our driver said it was mostly people working in fishing and construction, Poles. Did you see that Poland pulled back from its authoritarian government, at least in the hinterlands? Maybe it’s only a phase.

And our driver said he had no problem with the Poles. Although he did have a problem with the mayor, who he said wanted to give everybody a bicycle and insist they drive the same car, he wanted to be rewarded with the fruits of his labor, but to me the mayor seemed pro-business, but maybe not enough.

And on the drive back, I fell asleep. And have just been napping in the hotel room, it’s impossible for me to stay awake after all that sugar and those carbs, but when out of town I lift the limits…but maybe that’s not a good enough rationalization.


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