Time lurches forward in fits and starts when you work in the kitchen at Fjörukráin, the Viking Restaurant. I know, I survived a year working there. One moment I’m standing in the prep room, slicing row after row of tomatoes in preparation for the 400 or so people who are expected in less than two hours while the Viking musicians sit in the kitchen drinking coffee in their horseskin tunics, and then a moment later the three of us who have to cook for these people are running around and yelling at each other, the Viking musicians putting out their cigarettes and entering the dining room to greet the tour bus. Then I’m carrying 20 kilos of sliced lamb meat through a seething drunken mass of people outside of the restaurant, trying to avoid lit cigarettes and get the meat to the one of ten booths set up in the makeshift Viking village. And then suddenly the kitchen is closed: you clean what you can and leave the waitresses to deal with the hundreds of drunken tourists in paper hats with horns on them.
On the last day of the Viking Festival, I was mercifully put out at one of the outdoor booths to sell pita sandwiches while dressed as a Viking (i.e., wearing a horseskin tunic). It was June 17th – Independence Day – 2000. I listened to the storyteller repeat the tale of Þór, Loki and the Giant Worm for the five hundredth time and watched the Viking combat re-enactments. Steini, a neighbourhood teenager who was sort of the punching bag of the kitchen, was listlessly turning a whole lamb on a spit. And then came the rumbling.
At first I thought it was a large truck driving by. But then I noticed that there was no truck, and that people were coming out of the restaurant, their houses, looking around. Seconds later, the rumbling stopped. Everyone filed back inside without comment. This was how I experienced the Independence Day earthquake of 2000, the one that tore up a few roads and cracked a house in two in Sellfoss.
Steini left the lamb, motionless over the fire, and came to my booth to ask, “Do you think that was an earthquake?”
“I think it was,” I said, still not entirely sure.
Steini giggled excitedly.
“Wow,” he said, and then looked worried and asked, “Do you think I should call my mom to see if she’s OK?”
This kid had been washing dishes every day for the past month or so, was picked on mercilessly and yet did every shit job the kitchen staff could find without complaint. He had been so tormented, that he was afraid to ask for phone privileges after an earthquake.
“Of course, you should,” I said and handed him my GSM. “Use my phone.”
His mom was fine, much to Steini’s relief. Later that night, after we’d cleaned the kitchen, I declined to go to A. Hansen to celebrate the end of the madness with the rest of the crew and went home instead. As I stretched out on the couch in my living room, the Viking songs ringing in my head, still smelling the spilled beer, cigarettes and charred meat, my muscles finally daring to let their guard down and relax, I knew that this was going to be the last Viking Festival I would ever work at. Maybe I’d come back as a guest some day, put on a paper hat, get drunk and eat three kilos of lamb like the other guests. It’d be nice to know what the other side of the experience is like.
Strandgata 55, 220 Hafnarfjörður, 565 1890