Easter is often the first indication of spring in Iceland. We hope things are getting better. Every Icelander remembers how incredibly boring those days used to be when we were kids. Good Friday was so holy that everything was closed that day. No shops, no movies, no theatre, no fun. Nobody was in doubt why it was called Long Friday in Icelandic. It was without doubt the longest day of the year.
Nowadays it is not as holy as it used to be. I think the restaurants and movie theatres are open. At least two shops were open, the very expensive chain 10-11 and a small neighborhood shop in western Reykjavík called Peter’s shop. Once a year Peter becomes famous and the TV crews flock to see the happy shoppers praise Peter.
In some churches people praise the Lord. Probably in all churches, but in only a few the so-called Passion Hymns by a17th century Icelandic poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson. They take four hours to read aloud and you have to be very religious, very literary or very tired to last through the whole reading. I have not even read them myself, although I often hear it is something every Icelander should do. I agree. Every Icelander should read them – later.
I had nothing to do, and so I decided to do what I often do in that situation. Take a walk through the Laugardalur Park in my neighborhood. It was raining. Drizzling, not pouring.
I grew up in this neighborhood, so I have been through the park hundreds of times. When I was growing up it was small and there were four or five farms in the valley. It seems a bit absurd now, but it was really like that. Some of the farmers were very odd, others well, all the ones I knew were odd.
It was a gloomy day. On the way I passed our church. It was not there when I was young. We used to play basketball where the altar now stands. I saw some people standing outside smoking. Maybe they had an AA meeting in the basement.
I entered the park and there was no one there. At least it seemed that way. Most people probably went shopping at Peter’s. The birds were singing in the trees. I heard there was an owl in the park and I tried to find it. Owls are not native habitants of Iceland. Still they come once in a while. My father once saw one and it was mentioned in the newspaper. He passed a away, but the paper said that there are now owls in the park. If there are, I could not find them.
But I found other birds. Redwings are the most common birds in summer, at least in the city. They nest in many gardens. Their relatives, the blackbirds, are new arrivals to our country. When Paul McCartney was singing with his blackbird in the dead of night, we thought he was talking about a completely different bird, called blackbird in Icelandic, but not much of a singer. The ducks on a pond seemed to be doing fine, even though the geese are by far the more aggressive and tend to push them away.
I also saw that trees are making their first efforts to bloom, quite weak after a snowy winter. The few people walking around were walking their dogs. Two young women were walking three dogs, two of them (i.e. the dogs) quite big and cruel looking. Who wants animals like that, I thought (I was still thinking of the dogs).
A lone jogger passed me into the distance.
I was out of the park and passed by my old school. It looks much the same, except of course there was nobody there. The playground is now a parking space for the teachers. They used to live in nearby houses and walked to school. It took them less than a minute.
On my way back I met the dog walkers again. I said something to the effect of: “We meet again”, but one of the dogs jumped at my throat and I saved my life by an incredible backbend. Shivering, I walked on, until I passed the church again, saw a winding, narrow path leading up to it and would have recited the Passion Hymns, had I known any of them.
Benedikt Jóhannesson [email protected]