Two news stories caught my attention during the first weeks of the short and bittersweet Icelandic summer. They made me think of this old chestnut revived by Kennedy in the days following the Bay of Pigs fiasco: “victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
That said, the “victory” of Iceland’s recent economic upheaval has but one father, according to the tourist industry. The first news story that caught my attention was actually one directly descended from the same industry. Apparently, there is a coffee house in Húsavík, a lovely small town in the northeast of Iceland, that decided that a fair price for a bread bun with ham and cheese is no less than 1190 ISK, or around $11.55. It must be mentioned, at this point, that I am in no way an expert on the price development of baked goods or processed meats in that part of the country. It must also be mentioned, at this point, that the proprietor of the business stated that the bun in question was no regular bun, it was a ciabatta.
The second story that caught my eye was an obituary. Régis Boyer, professor of Scandinavian languages and societies at Paris Sorbonne for three decades, has passed away at the age of 84. Monsieur Boyer is not a famous man in Iceland in any normal sense. He did, however, leave his mark in an underrated, yet decisive manner on all of Icelandic society. He translated the sagas, he translated Icelandic modern literature, he paved the way for young poets and writers who came to France to seek and soak up modernist influences. By chance, this remarkable man became an ´Icelandophile´ and we have reaped the benefits.
Fathers of “victory?” How on earth did all these travelers that “saved our country” hear of Iceland? Do they ever ask themselves; how did I get here? Could it be because they heard Björk? Sigur rós? Did they see all these unspoiled streams of landscape in Icelandic movies or music videos? Or read some of the best works of this nation’s storytellers and poets, through people like Monsieur Boyer?
If the tourist industry was the revolution of Iceland society post-financial-collapse, it’s but a few 1190 ISK ciabbata sandwiches away from being like Saturn and devouring its own children. Now tell me, are you here for the ciabatta, or are you here for the music and stories?