48 Hours in Reykjavik


The phone rings. “Ed, whaddya up to tonight?” Normally my response to this type of Friday or Saturday night phone call is:

Nothing. I’m writing.

You see, I’m not only writing for Iceland Review, and Atlantica, but I’m also working on various scripts which require me to sit in front of my computer for long stretches of my weekend. On more than a few occasions, I’ve gone from Friday afternoon to Monday morning without uttering one word to another soul, except for the conversations I routinely hold with myself. When the silence overwhelms, I hit the bakery, or clear two hours and see a film. Perhaps pick up a book.

This weekend was far from silent alienation.

I delivered yet another revision of a script I’ve been working on for the past three years, meaning I could finally crawl out of my cave, and experience normalcy.

The first stop is Vegamot. I meet a friend of mine at 9. Apparently there were loads of locals who also handed in scripts and also had 48 hours of free time, because the place was overflowing. No tables. We wait. One drink at the bar turns into another, and I find myself frothing at the mouth because I’m so hungry.

Problem solved. I locate the perfect table. Only, two attractive women occupy it.

“Don’t even think about it,” my friend says with panic spreading across his face.

He’s uncomfortable because “This is Iceland, and you don’t do that in Iceland.” The panic comes because he knows I’m stupid enough to ask the girls to make room for us.

But I’m a visitor, so I must respect local customs and the fact that most Icelanders are more insecure than a pimpled freshman in high school who ways a buck-twenty only when he’s wearing his backpack, and has his headgear strapped to his teeth.

Ten minutes pass, and I no longer care about local customs, or the comfortable quotient of my friend. I’m starving.

I walk up to the table, and sure enough the women scoot over. After about ten minutes of us pretending that we have no interest in the girls, and the girls pretending they have no interest in us, I start blabbing on about something pointless. The small talk evolves and I enjoy an hour of conversation while munching on Vegamot’s chicken special of the day that is, for some reason, served with tator tots.

The two women depart about midnight to “get home to their children” and my friend and I meet up with our mates.

“We have a dress code,” the dopy, doorman tells me when I try to enter Thorvaldsen bar.

Reykjavik has certainly changed since I last went out. What the hell does “relaxed casual” mean?

Fine by me. Thorvaldsen is a crappy bar full of men, dressed in suits, who think they’re international bankers, and women who think they’re international movie stars. The Thorvaldsen crowd reminds me of a high school prom where 18-year olds walk around with a measure of bravado because they’re still young enough to believe that the clothes make the person. But they have an excuse. They’re drunk on smuggled-in booze purchased by sympathetic older brothers.

After a short stint at Kaffibrennslan with some of my friends, including Bart, who once upon a time worked for this magazine, I hit Kaffibarinn, a bar that welcomes those of us who don’t spend our paychecks on clothes from Hugo Boss.

Kaffibarinn attracts all sorts. Tonight I meet two American journalists who are in Iceland for a week to write an article on Reykjavik. I can’t help but wonder why it takes a week to get enough material for 2000 words for a glossy. This is Reykjavik. How many times can you walk up and down Laugavegur?

But these journalists, I learn, are thorough. They have many photos to take, and many hip and cool Icelanders to interview.

It’s always interesting to speak to American journalists who have found their way to Kaffibarinn. You know, the sharing of ideas, bragging about how talented and wonderful we are, laughing at George Bush, and then after a few drinks sobbing about George Bush. The experience is greatly enhanced when those journalists happen to be attractive females, and have dark eyes.

Saturday comes and goes with the purchase of “Diary,” a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I also laugh at Bart who always, even by his own admission, looks like he just rolled out of bed. I meet him at Mal og Menning bookstore. He buys me the copy of “Diary”. Later, at his office, I burn the new Springsteen album. (Sorry Bruce, but I need to save some cash if I’m going to see you in concert this summer because European ticket prices are 80-plus Euros.)

Fast forward past the talk about getting five people to chip in on a cheap sailboat purchased at a police auction in Florida. Fast forward past the discussion about where to moor the boat, in the Caribbean or somewhere in the Mediterranean. Fast forward past the incredibly loud, and laughable ten minutes I spend watching the band Minus scream and jump around on stage. Saturday night ticks by with another few hours at Kaffibarinn, a few useless hours spent in Vegamot. Then there’s the walk home as the sun rises.

When you go to bed at 7 am, Sunday afternoon sneaks up on you very quickly. A trip to the pool to hot-pot the wine and beer out of my system. I chuckle to myself as the American journalists splash into the lap-swimming section of the pool thinking it must be warm. They clamber out, and rush into the steaming hot pot. It’s an easy mistake to make. After listening to Icelanders drone on and on about how the swimming pools are heated by natural, geothermal water it’s easy to think all the water is warm. A little advice to the throngs of tourists about to visit Iceland. If steam isn’t rising above the water, it’s not hot. As for the random hotspots found while treading water in the swimming pools, well, those are actually heated by bodily fluid let loose by those of us too lazy or too cold to get out and do our business in the locker room.

“Gross, Ed.” Relax, that’s what the chlorine is for. Oh, that’s right. The brochure brags about how Icelandic pools don’t need much chlorine because pool-goers shower up and wash their private parts before slapping on that swimsuit.

Hey, not to change the subject, but the blue sky has faded to a pale shade of gray, and snow is falling. Today is May 1st.

With so much daylight, there’s no need to rush, so the day ends with another trip to Bart’s office. There’s leftover pizza that’s topped with cheddar cheese. This amuses one of the journalists.

While the American journalists ditch us for a top-notch restaurant, those of us not receiving per diem because we’re on assignment grab takeout. Dinner: a hamburger and a strawberry milkshake that costs 15-plus American dollars, along with the explanation to a Swedish woman, who is studying physics, why the burger tastes better dunked in the strawberry milkshake.

It’s the chemicals from the Strawberry reacting to the energy of the dead cow...ah, just try it.

A dip of her burger into my shake and: “It’d taste better if the shake were chocolate,” she tells me.

You may know how to convert hydrogen into fuel, but you don’t know diddly about the finer points of fine cuisine.

Bart has work to do, and I worry that we’re overstaying our welcome. “Nah. Cool, hip people hanging out at a magazine…the way life should be.”

Yes, cool people, new friends, and the chance, at least for 48 hours, to once again feel normal. EW

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.