“The seagulls claim the site, the pigeons vanished from the city, no one knows where to or if they were murdered, if they even escaped, but the seagulls get better and fatter on the scraps of Reykjavík residents, hot dogs and bread.”
These are the words of Milla—the protagonist of Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s novel of the same name—as she describes the all but sublime atmosphere surrounding a small shed in the centre of Reykjavík, just behind the building where these lines were in fact proofread. For a few hundred krónur, the shed and its servants offer the town’s very best refreshments, which are particularly enjoyable, as Milla notes, when the oily aroma fills your car.
Despite its cross-class popularity—and not to belittle the former saxophone player Bill Clinton—if anyone is properly equipped to write an honest tourist-brochure-review of this particular hot-dog-stand, it’s much less a person than a whole species: the seagull.
During the first eight months of this year, almost 6,000 seagulls have been institutionally slaughtered in Reykjavík. That’s quite a number. It’s equivalent to the population of Akranes, it’s how many people ran ten kilometres in the recent Reykjavík Marathon, and it’s a little less than half the student body at the University of Iceland.
But who maintained that 6,000 were enough? Nobody. Thus, further shootings are on the drawing board—quite pleasant and titillating plans for all the gunmen involved.
While a large proportion of those thankless birds have experienced their last breath down by the pond, an even larger number have been executed in a place called Álfsnes. Not far from Reykjavík’s beloved mountain, Esja, stands this smaller yet equally mighty mountain.
When viewed from the road just outside Mosfellsbær, the mountainside greets one in the most typical green and grassy manner. But there are at least two sides to every saga—and oh, how different the other side is, decorated with the finest textures and detailed patterns, glowing and glittering in magical blend of at least all the rainbow’s colours.
Such mountains are most commonly referred to as garbage piles. This one is built out of Reykjavík’s waste and wastrels. Thereto the seagulls rally—no less than to the hot-dog-stand on Tryggvagata—to feast and fatten up on this pile of plenty made by his pinioned brother.
In this sense, Mount Álfsnes is a sign of balance between the man and the seagull—a symbol of harmony—the yin and yang of this inter-species relationship—built solely to remind us of the nucleus of our surplus civilization: Where there is man, there is seagull.
But when seeing such an absolute truth being ridiculed by the above-mentioned mass-murders, one might wonder whether this war against the seagull is above all a manifestation of man’s self-hatred. Why would one so systematically strive to exterminate one’s own brother?
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde might bring in some understanding. The garbage-mountain and its societal function are a parallel to the novel’s famous painting, whose model—the ever young and beautiful Dorian—is able to live out his wildest vices in a seemingly infinite continuum thanks to the painting’s magical function, without falling victim to a slightest sign of ageing.
But the magic doesn’t come without costs. And just like Dorian’s unsuccessful attempt to hide his lifestyle’s destructive impacts materialising on the painting, the festivities on top of the garbage mountain bring some unwanted attention to the social defecation playing hide-and-do-not-seek in Álfsnes. By its mere existence, the seagull exposes the wasteful and destructive nature of the current civilization.
While I suggest no solutions, it’s worth noting that when Dorian Gray eventually annihilates the painting, he simultaneously brings to an end his own existence. This brings me to what is certainly the most challenging, futuristic question of our times: When there will be no seagull, will there be man?