Monday, November 12, 2018

More Reykjavik | Lefsetz Letter

That’s why you travel, for the perspective! You think you know what’s going on, have a hold on the situation, and then your whole world view is blown apart. Live in the U.S. and you believe it’s a hip-hop world, listen to the bands at Iceland Airwaves and then you find out it’s not.

You see there are three figures of acts, playing in multiple venues across the city, none of them beyond walking distance. And you listen to the buzz, and you make some mistakes, and you discover… Eivor, a woman from the Faroe Islands who’s released ten albums and filled up the National Theatre. That’s one thing that wowed me, the coughing up of respectable venues for this theoretically unrespectable music. Like the Art Museum, and Reykjavik’s crown jewel, the nearly-new concert hall Harpa. And a church and…

We stumbled upon Eivor. A tall blonde woman who fronted a trio whose music was percussive and whose voice was wailing and held the assembled multitude in rapt attention. Our driver said every Icelandic male knew Eivor, I’d never heard of her.

Equally as impressive was the following act, Solstafir, metal with melody and psychedelic and classic elements, I love this sound, and the act delivered, kinda like the Aussies, as in tight! In America everybody is following trends and trying to make it, bitching while they don’t, not deserving attention to begin with, and then you stumble upon acts who’ve been honing their craft for years unaware or not caring of trends and your jaw drops…is this the way it is in the rest of the world?

And then that same night, after midnight, Hatari, who sounded like a weird melding of Kraftwerk and Rammstein with a healthy dose of fascism mixed in. There was that driving beat, that had Sigi near pogo, and the way the vocalists spit out the vocals, it was funny and intriguing all at the same time.

And the thing is unlike with the big bands, the big venues, not that all of these were tiny, was it was only about the music. Not everybody was on their mobile. You needed no distractions, the music was enough. Like it was the seventies or eighties all over again, you were glued to the sound.

And last night, after a few misses, too many droning guitars and airy vocals, I went to see Junius Meyvant who fronted a soul band with two horns that brought that sound back without being so reverential that it was a recreation, but something new. I couldn’t tear myself away, the music made me feel good, everything vaunted today has to have an edge, has to push your buttons, or has the classic drum sound of the TR-808 and no choruses. I’d rather listen to Junius than Ariana Grande any day of the week. Sure, she’s got the pipes, but the material is too often mediocre, she’s selling celebrity, which was not the case with the acts at Airwaves.

And on Friday night we went with a group to Essential for dinner, and what struck me most was we were a tribe, just when you think the scene has splintered and dissipated, that you’re alone and everything you knew has evaporated, it turns out that’s not the case, there are still people who live for the music, without having to wear leather and put down your opinions.

As for Iceland, as for Reykjavik, like I said, the dining is expensive and incredible. Last night, on Daniel Glass’s advice, we went to Fish Market. Since we had not made a reservation, they told us the only seats available were at the chef’s table. We said yes, that turned out to be the right decision. Whether it be the conversation with the Icelanders back home from L.A. where they were trying to make it in the entertainment business or the geologist from Alaska who was eating puffin. And the conversation with the help was even more interesting. The chefs interpreted the dishes for us, as well as the lifestyle. Turns out the restaurant is the creation of Hrefna Rosa, a young woman with an international footprint. But she was not there, all those in the kitchen had graduated from or were still in cooking school. As for the head waiter, he’d gone to hospitality college, his dream was to own his own restaurant. Turns out ninety plus percent of Icelanders go to college.

And yesterday we went on a tour of the Golden Circle. You see where all the tribes met for nearly a century to hash out legalities and drown those deserving it. It all took place at the Law Rock, about a mile from where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet in a big black strip.

As for the geysers… Have you ever been to any geyser that’s gone off on time? I certainly haven’t, Old Faithful is anything but. Our guide said every five to eight minutes. We waited about twenty for a little puff of water. And we’d taken his advice and stayed fifteen feet away, out of the wind so as not to get wet. Felice had seen enough, but I just couldn’t believe that was it. So I went right up to the rope and waited. The water was percolating, going up and down, but there was no eruption, and then… A blast comes out of the hole, goes about twenty feet in the air, full-throated and wide and I’m running from the rope as fast as I can so as not to be burned, don’t mess with Mother Nature.

And then on to the waterfall, which is quite a sight.

And then to the tomato house restaurant Frioheimar, where we did not have a reservation, so we could not eat, but we did go into the hothouse and see the ripening vegetables and the bees that pollinated the vines, kinda cool.

And after our driver took us to the top of a volcano, the rock within striped deep red and green, we ended up eating at a bakery in a town thirty or forty minutes from Reykjavik. Like stopping in one of those burgs in western Colorado, where there’s a grocery store and maybe a Subway and a few people who look like they’ve never left. But in this case they did speak English and seemed completely normal, but you wondered what they did all day, the only diversion seemed to be the land and the internet, then again, maybe they worked at the power plant, run from steam deep beneath the crust of the earth. Our driver told us Iceland is the only place where they have to cool the water down for consumption. Is this really true, I don’t know!

And we saw the second largest lake and the third biggest, or maybe it was the second biggest, glacier, just an endless sea of white.

And then it was back to town. Which, like I said, defies expectations. It’s all low-rise and intimate and everybody’s friendly and there is no crime and maybe now I know why no one leaves.

But the sun didn’t rise until ten and I can say it never was really bright, with the orb so low in the horizon. And we debated which was worse, the short days or the short nights, we’re still not sure, we’ll have to go back to find out!


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