A Little Land with a Big Heart (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlIcelanders have a funny way of dealing with celebrities. The embarrassing screams and snapping paparazzi are not part of the celebrity culture. Instead, flattering remarks and comparison to Icelandic celebrities are how Icelanders relate to them.

At the moment, Ryan Gosling is the highlight of the news hour, with news sites asking people to send them photos and let them know if they spot him out and about.

Before him, it was Gordon Ramsey who—not here for the first time—enjoyed the city life in our little Nordic city.

Both men received a great deal of attention in the local media.

As a very private person, I cannot imagine living my life in the spotlight; to constantly be the center of the attention and rarely find solace in solitude in a crowd.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to constantly be on guard from paparazzi and screaming fans. To not be seen as the person you are but the characters you create in films, the films you produce or the songs you sing. To never know if you are liked for your status or truly respected for your talent.

Most of us are judged by our superficial qualities but as unknown faces in the crowd, it’s easy to break the superficial ice and introduce people to who you are on the inside. Or to just be a stranger in the crowd.

As a teenager, I remember the regular visits of Damon Albarn. Back in the 90s, we had some of the more popular international bands perform in concerts and apart from the concert dates, they got the privacy they needed and wanted without isolating themselves from the people. Blur and The Fugees were among a few, and Damon Albarn’s Blur came back over and over.

I suspect that at the time, Iceland was a nice escape from the mad world of celebrity. It was a place where even international celebrities could find some peace. These days, the peace is not as peaceful but thankfully still a little more quiet.

In general, Icelanders don’t make a habit out of intruding on celebrities. We are very private people and we don’t show our emotions on public nor do we like to express our admiration of strangers.

Thus, this media ‘frenzy’ strikes me as an attempt to create a celebrity culture not quite innate to our private nature. It’s been tried with local ‘celebrities’ whose achievements vary from insignificant self-entitlement to pure talent.

The pure talent is less visible in the media because they have better things to do with their time, things such as nurturing their artistic pursuits. Some of the members in the former group have an annoying tendency to make a public scene of themselves to maintain the status in a small pond where they can.

Perhaps it is the vast isolation in the North Atlantic Ocean. The bubble that is our harsh rockland resting on top of the plate tectonics, sometimes trembling and sometimes erupting fire on top of ice, that causes us to put up a fence between ourselves and the rest of the world.

We have our ways. We have customs that are born out of the isolation.

From the cold, we grow accustomed to wearing layers on top of layers in winter and when we shed them in summer, we still keep a thin layer to shield us from the cool breeze that is never silent.

Icelandic men do better in shedding the layers in summer. On the warmest of days, they flash their bare chests in local parks and even while walking in the center. Most though make do with the park and the beach.

For us women, we so often get caught up in our habitual ways that we forget to shed the leggings and the dark colored stockings when the sun comes out at last. We worry so much about revealing our pale winter legs in the flesh, unshielded and open to the warm rays of these brief months of sun.

But as our ways have changed, so have our inhibition. Icelandic women are beginning to shed the leggings and the dark colored stockings and replacing them with bare legs and even brighter stockings when the wind is too cool for comfort.

Perhaps the layers of the bubble are gradually thinning out so that we open our hearts and soul to the world. That we want to show the world who we are after all this time alone in the vast north.

Perhaps this is why so many travelers—both strangers and known faces—come to Iceland and bond with this strange land in the north. Perhaps they are drawn to the secluded tribe inhabiting the land and yet, despite its reservations, greets them with a warm welcome.

The desire to let the world know we are here. Ready for the world at last. Out of our cave of isolation and looking to make our mark in the world.

Once an international celebrity has visited, he or she is Íslandsvinur or ‘a friend of Iceland.’ He or she is forever linked to the dramatic Icelandic landscape and its people.

Yoko Ono and her son have been to Iceland to celebrate the Imagine Peace Tower in the island of Viðey. They have set roots of a kind in Iceland and given us a chance to feel significant as preservers of peace through the symbol of peace. 

The crew and cast of Game of Thrones has given the raw landscape with its vicious glacial winds and gray rocky surface the respect that is due to land and soil so rich in extremes and so poor in our more conventional sense of beauty.

But as we withdraw from the bubble, one step at a time, and introduce ourselves to the world, we must be careful to preserve our dignity and not fall prey to the attempted media frenzy.

Iceland is a rugged land, deserted in places and its people live in constant threat of extreme weather. It is what shapes us and gives us strength and measureless respect for forces beyond our control.

So it is my hope, that we disregard the media frenzy, and treat all our guests equally as they take in the majestic landscape, fierce winds and rough seas in peace and quiet.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

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