In the context of the cosmos, the Big Bang theory is disputed. In the context of Reykjavík, it’s widely accepted that everything begins with a bang. Beer at Kaffibarinn. Dancing at Harlem. A bang. And then maybe a date, maybe a kid, maybe a marriage. Or, maybe not. But regardless, the bang comes first.
María Ólafsdóttir told me to meet her in front of Uno restaurant at 8 PM. From a few blocks away I saw her standing there, a lone wolf—she glanced at the ducks in the small, strange fountain next to the lesser hot dog stand. One male and one female, they swam in confused circles. I wondered what María was thinking about them. Maybe she was idealising their romantic world. Or maybe she was thinking what I was thinking, that the ducks were like the young people of Reykjavík, afloat in a tiny pool, swimming laps until their beaks finally touched. Then because they keep running into one another and because there’s no one else (and probably because it’s cold and they’re bored) they have repeated duck relations that soon result in multiple ducklings.
Iceland’s Carrie Bradshaw
María checked her watch. “Well, I think we will start,” she said. You get a private tour.” The tour is her newly launched guided “Courtship in the City” walk through downtown Reykjavík.
María is a little like Carrie Bradshaw. She’s not excessively fashionable, and she doesn’t giggle and jump in stilettos or rent a five bedroom New York apartment on a writer’s salary. But she had been a journalist for Morgunbla›i› where she wrote a column, “Heimur Maríu” (“The World Of María) that included her personal dating stories and accounts of the Reykjavík nightlife (Sex And The City fans will recognize the mildly nuanced similarity).
It quickly came out that María was indeed a fan of the TV show, had visited New York, and had gone on one of the notorious Sex And The City tours where guides show enthusiasts everything from where ‘the girls’ dined out to where they bought their sex toys. “In a way [Courtship In The City] is based on that tour, but it’s a bit different,” she said. While Carrie Bradshaw stopped at print articles, María, a true martyr, has taken it a step further and transferred her written content into a walking tour with the same plot: her own dating life. It’s a bold move.
Into the dating jungle
María wanted to meet in front of Uno because it’s where she had her “last first date” with her soon-to-be husband. “So we are going to begin the tour and go into what I like to call the dating jungle,” she said. “It’s a little wild and you have to be persistent.” We started walking. I mentioned that a lot of people come to Iceland with high aesthetic expectations for both the land and the people. “Yes,” she said, adjusting her glasses, “many Icelandic men are the tall, dark, and handsome type. But then they start talking and it’s just, bluddddubluuhhhggaaa.” She stopped in the middle of Ingólfstorg, a square where some boys were skateboarding. “So I’ll tell a story here. I went out with my sister and we were walking home just here, and some guys in a taxi yelled to us, ‘hey, come to an after party with us’, and we thought, oh okay, so we turned around and went to the taxi and the guys said, ‘never mind, you looked better from behind.”
She walked on and stopped again in front of English Pub to give a description of when she was invited to join in a threesome (you’ll have to go on the tour if you want to known whether or not she accepted). As she was laying out the scenario, an intoxicated man stumbled by. “We don’t want you on this tour,” María said under her breath.
She went on and led me up Laugavegur. In front of B5, a “tall, dark, and handsome” individual playing a game on his iPhone casually listened in as María expanded on her analysis of the Icelandic man. He turned and looked at his reflection in the window. A sad violin played in the background.
Each of María’s stories was just as blunt as the one before. Everything was matter-of-fact, with very little eye roll worthy embellishment (of course there was the occasional gem of a quote: “I went into Lofti› in a cowboy hat and a pink boa” and “I was a jungle cat,” followed by no explanation). In front of Sushi Samba she told one of two truly gimmicky stories on the whole tour. “This is where Tom Cruise and Katie had their last dinner as a couple, before they divorced. Maybe it was the Icelandic women, or maybe Tom went crazy because he wasn’t getting any sleep in the light. Whatever it was, Iceland was not good for their marriage.” She paused before ushering me to the next stop—an eerie moment of silence for Tom and Katie’s broken marriage.
Ending on a semi-hopeful note
Disclosing all the details of the Courtship In The City tour would be like listings the measurements of all the penises in the Icelandic Phallological Museum, so I’ll refrain from specifics. I will say that the tour ended on a hopeful note (after all, she was getting married), but María isn’t trying to paint a flowery portrait of Reykjavík’s dating culture. “My personal opinion is we don’t have much of a dating scene here. Most often people start off on the ‘wrong end’ by going home together and then perhaps dating. We are quite few here so I’m not sure it would work very well to be dating a few people at a time since some people might be put off by seeing this girl/boy on a date with one of his/her friends or relative for example.”
The overall tone of the tour was grounded, not in the fantasies of love or the gross exploitation of Reykjavík’s party reputation, but in reality—or perhaps even more so, in literary realism. María delivered her stories like an Icelandic Hemmingway—sometimes grim, sometimes dry, but never beating around the bush and always just a little alluring. It’s not often (if ever) that someone invites you into his or her life in the strange yet creative way that María has. When I asked why she thought tourists would be interested in her dating stories, she said that personal is always best. “It’s like when you watch stand-up. It’s always funniest when the comedian makes fun of him/herself,” she said. “The personal aspect brings greater depth and more humour.” Plus, if you are intrigued enough to wander into María’s personal dating saga, you are going to pick up some good bar tips along the way.