Monday, January 18, 2016

Iceland, day 2.5: not all is as it appears

I was tired but hungry after a Golden Circle Wednesday teeming with sights, sounds, and other Icelandic stimuli, so I went for the second evening in a row to Icelandic Fish & Chips in the Volcano House building, across the street from Katla, which is how my apartment 405 is termed in the Ice Apartments. 

Let me digress for a second to illustrate the scene from my bedroom window: a view of the Old Harbor; Volcano House to the left; a mountain or mountain range in the background that looks close enough to walk to but is, I am told, more than an hour's drive away; the modernist Harpa concert hall to the right (suitably attractive but I never did walk over to there and go in it); some ships, including work on one or two in dry dock; the library across the street closer to the right; and directly in front a construction site with ostensibly fewer than a dozen workers for a structure slated to take up half a block. They worked on concrete forms and seemed unhurried. Who operated the crane? was a big mystery to me until I tentatively concluded the crane operator was up near the top. The workers were my alarm clock, with their radio blaring pop music and their hands hammering forms securely in place, though I suppose getting up past nine was inevitable anyway. Do workers around the planet require the blare of distracting theme music while they pound, saw, cut, weld, or rivet? 

The night before I tried white hake, and loved it. I found it light and not very fishy, over roasted potatoes with a side tin cup provided for tartar sauce (it was some other zesty concoction; it changed every night). My server said she believed hake is the fish depicted on the 10 kronur coin. The place is not pretentious, very inexpensive comparatively, and low-key, friendly. I liked it. And it was less than a hundred steps from my apartment. The second night I had cod, spread over a salad with mango sauce to spread over the fish. Again, I liked it a lot, even though I am not that much of a fish eater (mostly salmon and haddock). At the table next to me, to my right, a couple spoke more quietly than Americans do. They spoke French, from what I could discern. She started weeping. He touched her elbow. I, an old stranger, wanted to comfort them though I was curious about the emotion. He seemed detached but not uncaring, leading me to conclude her tears were not about "them" but some outside upset. It passed, as they were able to eat calmly, and find smiles and laughter.

Being awake, a tad restless though tired, I strolled in my downtown Reykjavik neighborhood. I stopped at the Stofan Cafe, where I had gone for breakfast (tea, bagel, cheese, salad greens). I ordered asked for decaf tea but ended up getting Earl Grey (not decaf) and engaged in friendly conversation with my server, asking if she was the owner (no). I was promoting this book, already in its early stages. Just as I was sitting down amid the cozy and comfortable couches and warmly inviting wooden antique furniture, I spied Gordon and his wife across the street, the Irish folks from the tour today. I walked out to the doorway and called out (you have to think of downtown, at least on Wednesday, as a quiet village): "Hey, Gordon and wife! Hello!" They came in and joined me. I was wrong in my assumptions (one of the temes before, during, and after this journey). It was not his wife, but his sister, Denise. We managed to secure a table (it was fairly crowded), and chatted amiably. She's a doctor, in Newfoundland; he's an entrepreneur and consultant, who lives near Dublin. Shortly before 11 p.m., we were told upstairs was closing; we'd have to go downstairs, which would stay open for an hour. We repaired down there, where it was harder yet to find a table amidst mostly twenty-somethings conversing, playing chess, drinking, laughing. And it was louder.

This was my first inkling of Reykjavik's fabled club life: in this instance civil, orderly, gregarious, a weeknight vibe.

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