In 2005, a few months into my editorship, Paul Fontaine and I did a marathon road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road—the most beautiful 1,332 kilometers of road in the world. That 72 hours didn’t bring lasting inner peace, but I can say that most of the time I was filled with the appreciation of life, the fully engaged imagination, that monks and junkies and babies on the breast are supposed to experience.
That trip around Iceland, and the people you see, especially if you expand the Ring and include the Westfjörds, is a profound tourism experience—I can imagine nothing else that is so accessible and so inspiring.
And now I should point out: I made the trip not purely for journalistic purposes. I was essentially selling out. I took our sole journalist around Iceland to let advertisers and distributors know that we cared about tourism and about their businesses. During that trip, said journalist and I even became the brochure photo for a fishing business in Húsavík. Mom and Pop businesses lined up to ask us to try their guesthouses, their restaurants.
The highlights of my experience at the Grapevine were dealing with developing tourism in places like Húsavik, Mývatn or Siglufjörður, or the places that couldn’t get a foothold in Reykjavík. You arrive at a truck stop outside Vík, for example, and you’re looking at IMAX beauty scenery. But you’re also talking to people who are sincere, intelligent and acting out of a genuine interest in connecting with people. The bedrock of the Grapevine business has been that we support smart tourism, because people who dedicate their lives to connecting with strangers are worth supporting.
The people we discovered and promoted—I have the dubious honor of having written the Associated Press article that launched “the Clinton,” the godforsaken tourist attraction hot dog at Bæjarins Bestu, but we also discovered Kjartan and his amazing Sægreifinn experience—for all of them, I’m happy if tourism expanded. Things have gotten better since I was the editor of the Grapevine. The Grapevine, for example, is better. Tourism has expanded threefold, which means possibly less freedom for tourists, but for the hosts, for the Mom and Pop businesses, they don’t have to struggle quite so hard.
To bring it back to the Grapevine and to journalism, and to my point that in essentially day one I sold out to people in the tourism business. The Icelandic tourism business supported this crazy ass magazine that offended every person of power, from the Prime Minister to the Mayor of Reykjavík to a homophobic talk show host, to Quentin Tarantino. We never sold a story, or a review—there has never been an advertorial or native advertising associated with this publication (though one journalist was not retained when she attempted to sell a positive review). If you’re a tourist, look at your hometown papers—I’m writing from Seattle, where one major alternative weekly literally sold prostitution of minors to keep afloat.
In my opinion, then, so long as local companies are involved, and the Grapevine is around covering it, the ceiling on tourism here is a lot higher than anywhere else in the world.
Bart served as editor for The Reykjavík Grapevine from 2005-2006. He currently resides in Seattle, WA, where he writes, performs and records music with his band The Foghorns.