Iceland: Akranes and Reykjavik

Icelandic beach

The morning after our post-midnight sunset, we woke to a cloudless sky (a rarity in Iceland) and breakfasted with Borghilder on her deck, overlooking the ocean. As parting gifts, she gave us CD’s of her daughter’s indie rock band, Cosmic Call.

The we went in search of the ceramicist Kolbrun Kjarval’s in-home studio, because Jamie remembered her from her last time in Akranes and is a tentative collector. Kolbrun didn’t answer her phone, so we slipped through a gate into her courtyard, where we found the tiny, firecracker of a 70-ish year old woman sunning herself on a lounger, her skirt pulled to the top of her thigh. She was not happy to see us.

kolbrun kajarval

She grumpily led us into a small display room, but as we oohed over clay birds and bird-shaped wine glasses and tea cups and her flat-faced women, she softened, even showing us her workspace and her beautiful kitchen. The kitchen was all bright colors and hand-painted tile, and it was unfortunate that neither of us brought cameras, because the space was majorly cozy. (We also oohed over her grumpy cat, name unremembered).

Kolbrun’s grandfather, Johannes Kjarval, is perhaps the most well-known Icelandic painter, with work in MOMA, among other museums. Some of the women in Kolbrun’s work imitate those in her grandfather’s. Her own father opened one of the first art schools in the country.

Reykjavik
Reykajavik Art Museum

Akranes is only about a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik, which is where we headed next. We hit two of the buildings housing the Reykjavik Art Museum, but didn’t have time to make the third before close. (For the record, Reykjavik is a tiny city with an extraordinary number of museums—20 or so. We definitely wished we had more time there.)

erro

Erro

We had a late lunch at Kaffi Vinyl, the city’s only all-vegan restaurant, which is also a coffee shop (people seem comfy hanging for a bit and bringing their dogs) and a record store. We were lucky enough to be in town for the Reykjavik Art Festival, so afterwards we hit up The Nordic House for The Weather Diaries opening.

Erro Icelandic Artist

We were the first people there, which was amazing, because we got to sip wine and wander through this dark fairytale-come-to-life before the chatty masses, so we could actually hear the live accompaniment of ethereal music (courtesy of a few members of Mum). The exhibit was a series of large-scale photographs, lit gorgeously enough to resemble oil paintings (think Caravaggio and Rembrandt), and fantastic fashion installations created from beads, fur, wool and feathers.

theweatherdiaries

One piece included hundreds of bits of suspended tulle, like wintery butterflies or fat snowflakes. The designers were all from Nordic countries, and the photos were shot in Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The work was a response to the landscape of these countries and the intense survival drive of their people, flora and fauna. It was thantos romanticized, both accepted and subverted, and monochrome dramatized, shimmering and exotic. The exhibit included a short documentary, which is posted on Vimeo.Reykjavik

reykjavik

But after all this loveliness came the ugly business of Couchsurfing Guy. The short version is, we’d planned to couchsurf throughout the trip, but Iceland is sparsely populated, which means there’s not a lot of couches on offer. However, we did find one “metal” guy in Reykjavik, and he was even producing a show while we were in town. We thought it would be fun to learn something about Nordic metal culture, and we also thought we understood show kids. Sure we were veterans of the punk/low-fi house show scene, which is not the metal scene, but by and large, we knew grimy music kids to have tough exteriors and big hearts. We should have read the blood dripping down his face in his profile pic as a warning, rather than a comical and slightly endearing cry for attention.

When we found the place, we tried to make small talk as the guy belched and farted (not because he couldn’t help it…because he seemed to think it was manly and somehow sexy) and devoured pizza, two gigantic-mouth-open-bites per slice, and talked about how he mostly accepts requests from ladies and how much “action” he’s gotten from couch surfers, and what a horrible person his baby mama is (there were toys around the small flat, belonging to a daughter he has partial custody of), and what’s wrong with American girls anyhow? The night before he tried to convince an American tourist to come home with him, and she refused to leave her friends, and why are American girls such co-dependent babies? (Um hello, Natalee Holloway? Plus, you’re just gross.)

Jamie and I telepathically communicated to each other that no way were we going to his metal show. He told us where the key was and that he wouldn’t be home till 5 a.m. As we drove him downtown, he waxed poetic about how much he hates French people.

The second we dropped him off, Jamie said, “Ok, we are definitely going to be ‘asleep’ before he gets home.”  We felt like we needed to burn sage to purify the car.

By this point most of the museums were closed, except for the Volcano House, which costs more than we wanted to spend. So we wandered around and ate licorice ice-cream (which is soooo good) and near the harbor, bounded about in a playground built from trash. While resting on a fishing-net turned trampoline(ish), we were approached twice—once by a kid of about 12, who slid right between us and looped an arm around each of our shoulders.

“What makes you think you have the right to touch us?” I asked him. The kid dropped his arms, but he was ballsy and told us he was a contractor, built houses and was “mature for his age.”

The other was a 26-year-old British guy, who was slightly more subtle, a member of the artist collective that built the playground. We followed him to his favorite pub, which happened to be Stofan, our adorable coffee shop from our earlier visit, now about 10 days back, to Reykjavik. At night Stofan’s basement turns into a bar, where we had white Viking beer and hung out with the Brit’s mostly Icelandic friends, killing the hours till clubbing time.

Reykjavik is noted for clubbing, and the scene reminded me of a less aggressively hip version of New York’s Lower East Side, around the turn of the millennium. It was pretty cheesy and “bro”-ed out, lots of vomit puddles even early on, and btw, young Icelandic men seem to have a penchant for that unfortunately trendy Nazi-youth haircut.

Most of the clubs don’t charge cover, so we wandered about, trying different places. Often the music was terrible. One place was promising, with 90’s hip-hop, but then it switched to bad top-40 dance stuff. Finally we landed at a bar with a popular local DJ (Ljoortur? Jamie wrote his name down, but I can’t find him online) who spun mostly 90’s electronic.

Usually I’m the first and most persistent body on the dance floor, but Jamie is my dancing superior. She’s smooth and rhythmic, in constant motion, and she never tires. I took breaks just for the pleasure of watching her.

But we left at 4 a.m. sharp, so that by the time the asshole came back to his apartment, we were sprawled on the couch and floor, pretending to sleep as he purposely banged doors and drawers and turned on every light and blared TV and made as much noise as possible. Apparently he thought if he woke us up, we would both crawl into his bed.

We were careful to be absolutely quiet as we gathered our things and left a few hours later (even before peeing! we found a gas station pronto), and when we logged into Couchsurfing to message him that we wouldn’t be staying the second night, we saw that he’d changed his profile (in the interest of transparency?) to read “only attractive members of the fairer sex welcome.”

(Months later, that’s no longer on his profile, but this is: “If I ask you to bring me something from the Duty Free, you will bring me only what I ask for or nothing at all.” WHAT A TOOL.)

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