From Iceland — Monday Morning Coming Down

Monday Morning Coming Down

Words by

Published August 8, 2003

Monday morning after Verslunarmannahelgi. Something’s wrong. I sit up and my surroundings seem strangely familiar. At first glance, this does not seem to be a moss-covered hill somewhere in the middle of nowhere, or even an unknown tent. On closer inspection, it actually turns out to be my own room. I feel strange. There’s no headache, no dry throat. My body doesn’t ache all over. I attempt to gather my thoughts, and find I can actually remember the preceding day. As it turns out, there’s not much to remember.

This had been my first sober Verslunarmannahelgi since I started sprouting pubic hair, an event that seems to have driven me to drink. The furthest I got out of the city was when I attempted to go swimming in the swimming pool in Kópavogur, which, as it turned out, was just closing.

What was this?, the inevitable onset of middle age? Waistline had duly expanded, and hair seemed to be thinning. It’s just my imagination, I kept telling myself. I was heavily in debt, although this has got more to do with boozing and unsuccessful recording ventures than mortgage or marriage. That, and the Icelandic banks´ inexhaustible will to lend seemingly anybody money. Almost everyone finds himself with considerable debts in his early twenties. Some have cars, others merely hangovers. Probably an evil plot to stop the brain drain. As the money is more often than not spent on alcohol, brains are duly drained; they just never leave the country. I still had no children, at least none that I knew of, and given my social life, or lack of it, not much likelihood of there being any gone unreported. And yet, it was Monday morning after the biggest drinking weekend of the year, and I did not have so much as a headache. This almost sent me running to the nearest bar to drink myself into a stupor to prove my continued virility. I was almost on my way when I discovered that the thought of this did not appeal to me at all. I’d rather read a good book or something. This realisation sent me dashing to the mirror to look for grey hair. None yet, but it was only a matter of time.

Monday is frídagur verslunarmanna, the trader’s holiday. These days, it is everyone´s day off, except for those engaged in trade and those selling wine and drink make a killing. It is also, as you no doubt know, the biggest drinking holiday of the year. In the other Nordic countries, the 1st of May, the workers holiday serves this purpose. Go figure.

One of the big questions this weekend was whether Árni Johnsen would be allowed to perform at the festival. His day job was as an MP, but he was put in prison after it turned out public funds had disappeared and reappearing as upgrades for his house. He has been leading the group singalong for the past 25 years, and for a while he seemed in grave danger of becoming a national hero. Our leaders become villains when caught for stealing from us, and then become heroes again for being punished. Martyrs of the people. If they’d put Nixon in prison, he would probably have become the icon of a generation, at least if he could play the guitar. Jeffrey Archer will probably sell more books than ever. It reminded me of the Rolling Stones, who became tax exiles in ´72, thus adding to their outlaw mystique. The rich, having been made rich by the people, become heroes by refusing to give anything back. No small feat stealing from people and getting them to cheer you in the process. Robin Hood, if he were alive today would probably never get around to giving the money to the poor. He´d have formed a company instead. Or a band. In the event, Árni didn´t get to go, but he´s small fish anyway these days as almost every day brings new stories in the papers of corporate scandals such as tax fraud, insider trading and illegal price collusion. If you didn´t know better, you might start to think the economy is being run by a bunch of crooks. At least the media, particularly Fréttablaðið, seem to be doing their job as the 4th estate. Even the Economist is going after Berlusconi, since the law has become powerless. And apparently the ozone layer is doing good these days. It seems everything might turn out alright. Or perhaps that´s just the good weather we´ve been having causing delusion.

Summer is slowly winding down. The nights are getting darker, a phenomena that always seems to surprise Icelander as much every year. There is but one issue of Grapevine to go, before the tourists and the birds quite sensibly leave before the darkness and the cold sets in. But there is still one more month to go, with Gay Pride and Culture Night to keep spirits up during the final month of summer. There is certain desperation to the festivities; as if we party hard enough we can somehow prevent winter from setting in. What the hell, it’s worth a try.

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