Published November 12, 2012
My existence in Reykjavík is almost entirely confined to 101, the downtown postal code where I live, work, eat, drink, sleep and hang out. It’s where I do practically everything except shop for non-edible items. Shopping in 101 is almost exclusively for people who like walking around in Timberland shoes, 66° North fleece sweaters and Cintamani jackets.
I may be exaggerating, but there is certainly a dearth of shops catering to the 15,733 people who actually live in 101. It doesn’t really bother me, though. I don’t do very much shopping in Iceland. Icelanders just love going abroad to shop. Come Christmas-time you will be almost guaranteed to see news stories about Icelanders who paid for their flight with the money they saved on their shopping sprees in Boston.
I too like to get out of town every now and then, but as long as I’m in Reykjavík, I’m pretty content to spend my days in the city centre with the rest of the latte-sipping elites.
Much as rural Americans resent liberal city dwellers, people outside of Reykjavík tend to think that those who spend their time in 101 are lazy snobs. It probably doesn’t help that Hallgrímur Helgason’s 1996 novel ‘101 Reykjavík’ so wonderfully captured the postal code through an unemployed 30-something-year-old man who lives in his Mom’s apartment and spends much of his time drinking at Kaffibarinn.
The novel and Baltasar Kormákur’s 2000 film adaptation of it are worth checking out if you’re interested in 101 culture. In the meantime, though, you should read Hallgrímur’s entertaining page-16 feature about the hodgepodge of architecture—which he calls the skin of society—in the sprawling City of Reykjavík.
“In only fifty years it went from being a lovely little harbour town to becoming a concrete monster tied up by motorways,” Hallgrímur writes. “Reykjavík looks like Rönne på Bornholm surrounded by Los Angeles…”
The nice thing about existing in 101, however, is that you don’t really notice and furthermore you don’t have to take part in the exhausting, car-heavy culture. There may be a lack of bike lanes and the misshapen sidewalks sometimes feel like uneven mountain trails littered in broken glass from debauchery of weekend nights, but I can—with the exception of a few snowy weeks a year—go everywhere I need to go by bicycle. Living 101 Reykjavík can be so beautifully simple.
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