Published June 13, 2003
So! you’ve marched in Seattle and you’ve protested in London, you’ve been teargassed in Rome and shot at in Gothenburg. For whatever reason, you find yourself marooned in Reykjavik with nothing to rail against but the weather. What do you do?
The two main issues affecting local activists in the past months have been the war in Iraq and the building of an aluminium factory in a scenic spot in the highlands. On most weekends you can see people protesting outside the American embassy against the first and outside the parliament building against the second. It used to be that you could spend your weekends nursing a hangover and worrying about women, but with the worlds’ ever escalating descent into madness, such luxuries can no longer be afforded. However, it’s Friday night, and there’s not much to be done about wars and aluminium plants this evening, so what is there to do but have a drink while Rome burns?
I hadn’t been back home for a while, but I was still programmed to go to the liquor store before it closed. You have until 6 o clock to make up your mind whether you´ll be needing any alcohol that evening, until 7 o clock on Fridays. Being of the mindset that it be better to err on the side of caution, and hence it is far preferable to have beer and not need it than need it and not have it, I usually go to the off license before weekend takes hold, and the booze once bought, is most often drunk.
Plastic bag in hand, I headed home, opened up a bottle of Viking beer and waited for the phone to ring. It used to be that at this time of the week I would be constantly called up by friends, mostly desperate single guys eager to commence the weekly ritual of getting smashed before going out and throwing yourself at the mercy of the meatmarket, where demand always seems to exceed supply. With alcohol prices and gender relations being what they are, it is taken as a necessary precaution to drink yourself into a stupor before braving the bars.
These days, however, most of my friends have girlfriends, kids, and even, in some cases, real jobs. So the phone remained silent as the contents of one bottle after another met their end. Finally the phone rang, and I was duly invited to a party. I bagged the rest of my beer, put on my coat and headed off into the night. Summer was approaching, so the night was bright and reasonably warm. A warm day in Iceland is always good cause for celebration but, I hasten to add, is not a major cause of alcoholism in these parts.
The party, as it turned out, was a single lonely guy sipping his own supply of Viking beer and making about as much progress as I was. We sat there for a while and sipped our beer past midnight, by which time we deemed it safe to venture out and attempt to approach the fair and often fickle creatures that make up the other half of human kind.
I must state at this point that this was one of those rare moments when I had someone occupying the much advertised after, but rarely applied for, position of my better half. So for once, when we reached the bar I could allow myself to ignore the wares of the market, the bared flesh and other products out of my price range, and get down to the national sport of getting staggeringly drunk. It is one of those laws of nature, like rain at a picnic, or being stuck behind a really tall person at a concert, that women only find you attractive when you’re spoken for.I had to fight my way to the bar across hordes of blondes with that look in their eye, none of whom, I am sure, would have given me the time of day had I been single. Finally, I gave up on my endevour to drink away wit, wisdom and contents of wallet, and stumbled home.
Waking up with a hangover as usual, I immediatly put into effect step one of my hangover recovery plan, heading straight to Vitabar, where you can get the towns best traditional Icelandic hamburgers, with bluecheese and garlic and everything. However, steps two and three would have to wait as there was a war to be stopped. Having promised to meet the aforementioned young lady that day, I had no choice but to bring her along. This was a slight problem, as she was a business school student, worked in a bank and was actually a member of the conservative party. The Gods laugh as mortals fall in love.
The peace protesters had recently moved from their usual perch outside the U.S. embassy to the prime ministers office after the government had announced that Iceland was part of the Coalition of the Willing, this despite at least 70 per cent of the population being decidedly unwilling. For a while the protesters crowds swelled, culminating in the infamous red paint attack on the office on the day war broke out. Though the media told us that the war was winding down, there was still a considerable turnout this morning. Just as the campaign in Iraq seemed to be drawing to a close, fingers were being pointed at Syria and Iran. At this rate there would be no return to simple, sexually frustrated hangover weekends for the foreseeable future.
The demonstrations’ first speaker came up, surrounded by posters of Bush sporting a Hitler moustache, flanked by Prime Minister David Oddson and Foreign Secretary Halldor Asgrimsson. He was followed on by a pair of secondary school kids who performed a quite impressive poem/play about an arab being harrased by a soldier. Finally, Albaníu-Valdi (Albanian-Valdi, so called because of an old admiration for Enver Hoxa) sang an acappela version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”
At this point, my girlfriend started to give me “the look.” Months of training had taught me this meant we were leaving. Having done my bit for world peace, it was time to start worrying about my hangover again, and some water was just what it needed. Loads of it, in fact, and so our next stop was Laugardalslaugin, the city´s biggest swimming pool. On the outside, a sign told us in Iceland’s two main languages that the eating of hotdogs was forbidden inside. The main difference between the two languages is that in more urban areas, hotdog is spellt “pulsa,” whereas up north people still stick to the more archaic form “pylsa.” Conversation between the two usually goes fairly smoothly. Checking to see whether I had any hotdogs about my person and finding none, we entered.
Laugardalslaugin is probably the country’s most popular swimming pool, but it has one major disadvantage in its locker system. Upon paying your entry fee, a cool 200 krónur, you are presented with a coin which you must put in the door of your locker in order to lock it. However, once undressed, it transpires more often than not that you’ve lost said coin. This issue is often hotly debated in the papers on slow news days, with quite a few people demanding that something must be done. However, no such misfortune befell me on this day, so I let the matter rest and once in the pool the weather wasn’t too bad, for the second day running. Sometimes Iceland surprises you.
Step three of the hangover plan is only applicable to Sundays, and only during part of the year at that. This entails going to MIR, the Russo-Icelandic Cultural Association at Vatnsstígur 9, for a doze of Soviet cinema. MIR is run by a group of ageing communists who still show Soviet classics as well as newer Russian Federation fare, and, sticking to the ideal, entrance is completely free. The clientèle mostly consists of unrepentant Stalinists and hungover literature students, and during the break it is one of the few places in Reykjavik where you can freely chat with people while sober without being perceived as strange at best. Sometimes the films are thoroughly enjoyable, such as when they show a war epic like Come and See, or Eisensteins’ masterpieces.On other days, as you sit through overlong Soviet era films, praying for something, anything to happen on the screen, you feel that if you can get through this you can get through anything, including your hangover. Today was one of those days, as we were treated to a film from 1962 which dealt with scientists discussing the pointlessness of existence, their wives discussing the pointlessness of marriage, and it left the viewer sitting there considering the pointlessness of watching it.
As the film finished there’s nothing to do but wait for the day to wind down, and another week to get through before the next weekend of politically concious drinking in Reykjavik. By which time, of course, I found myself single again and even the damn weather had turned, getting as cold on the outside of the bars as the women had become on the inside. In a turbulent world it’s reassuring to know that in Iceland, at least, some things remain predictable.