Safe... If Guilty - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Safe… If Guilty

Safe… If Guilty

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Published July 22, 2005

I had a master plan: I had long been interested in city planning for Reykjavík, as modern urban living solutions have become more and more of a draw for tourists, and as Reykjavík is a city that has a history of unusual solutions to difficult problems. There urban planning was, on our chalkboard—okay, actually, on a napkin, we don’t yet have a budget for chalk or slate—and we had just released a comic book issue, so I thought here’s my chance to produce an adult-oriented, sophisticated magazine.

Then our journalist—yes, we only have one full-time journalist on staff, see above chalkboard comment for reasons—hit a snag. Interviewing Reykjavík Independence Party Chairman Vilhjálmur Þ. Vilhjálmsson, our journalist was told that the future of urban living in Reykjavík involved lots of land filling, single-family houses, and the acceptance of the fact that Icelanders weren’t cut out for public transit, because of bad weather—instead, when the city expands, we should look forward to a cross-town expressway.

As editor of the Grapevine, and as a journalist before that, I have tried not to take a firm political stance in my writing. But in more than a few cases, simply quoting the bizarre rhetoric of otherwise sane and goodly public servants makes these people come off badly. As the public servants we typically interview are in the government in power, the Independence/ Progressive Alliance, it begins to seem as though we have a bias against them. Therefore, we have decided not to run the city planning piece yet—we are going to do our best to interview all parties in the hope that they might all be equally… regressive.

There is another postponement to mention: this one a bit more serious. In the aftermath of the London bombings, Stephen Taylor-Matthews, a contributor to the Grapevine who just moved to Reykjavík from London this month, had asked to express his feelings of living in such a distant and safe community while knowing your loved ones, just a plane-ride away, are going through such turmoil.

Writing about such an event takes time—it has been surprising to me, a resident of New York City during the 2001 attacks, to see how eloquent and composed the community in London has been in relation to the recent events. But the trauma of something like this does not fade, and even if Londoners proved themselves resilient, I imagine it will take a good while before a proper expression of the experience of being victim to such events will come forward.

Regarding my own history with such attacks, I openly acknowledge that I get dumb with anger, perhaps even irrational, even now, almost four years after the fact. And reading emails from friends about getting on another subway on an Orange security day, I feel guilty, as many of those of us who moved to Iceland from major cities abroad feel.

The feelings of guilt are exasperated when, in the weeks after the London bombings, I read of massive suicide bombings in Iraq killing more than one hundred people at a time. Iceland, my current home, has supported the war in Iraq, and with a growing worship of big cars, and even an openly anti-public transportation stance from a city leader, it exhibits the kind of behaviour that exacerbates the dependence on oil that is, of course, cited as a main factor in the current state of international affairs. And yet here, where the attitudes are just as destructive as they are elsewhere, the population is safe.

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