Friday, August 15, 2008

Day Four - Saturday - Of Hot Pots and Strange Booze

Whatever my successes in navigation Reykjavik, riding the bus was one of my failures. I never could figure out the system: it was clear that buses ran on a loop, so if you stayed on one long enough (like maybe an hour at the most) you'd arrive where you departed originally, so you were never in danger of getting lost or stranded. That's cool.

But the schedules made no sense to me. The map I had in hand referred to bus stops by name, but the stops were not named after the streets they were on nor the parts of town they were in, as far as I could tell (and I don't read Icelandic). As far as I could tell, every bus stop has its own name. Like, if the bus stop was on Bryant Avenue South, and it's situated in the East Harriet neighborhood, it could be called "Hannah," "Bravery," "Northern View," or anything else. It would not be called "Bryant" or "East Harriet Stop."

As it happened, one of the stops was named after the part of town I was trying to get to, and they were not in the same location... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rebecca and I ran downtown (an area we were handily familiar with by now) and caught the 14, but due to my misnavigation we headed off in the wrong direction. I think the driver was not fluent in English but Rebecca is convinced he was rude, and either argument stands solidly, really. We could call him both and not be far off the mark.

See, we got on the bus and asked the driver if we were headed to the part of town that had these famous hot pots. We didn't call them "hot pots" or heiti potturinn, we gave the name of the part of town (which now I disremember) and this is what he did. He sat there, driving. His face twitched into a half-smirk and he sighed. In a gruff voice he said only, "Right bus. Wrong direction."

Helpful! We sat back down and went to the end of the loop--you'd think a loop would have no end, just kinda go around in a wide curve, but you'd be wrong. We reached the end and the end was located in the wharfs. The bus driver parked his bus beside a bus stop, told us we could not wait on board, left the vehicle and walked into a tiny black shed that served as a short order cafe. We watched him trudge off and looked at each other, then had a seat in the bus stop, behind which an old man had copiously urinated. The old man then staggered across the street, climbed into his tiny little car, and drove away. This is what's called hearing the beginning of the story, but not the middle or end.

Rebecca, determined to enjoy herself despite the overpowering musk of rotting fish and decaying sea vegetation, took funny pictures and promenaded about while I studied the bus map in vain. I dunno, I thought I might have an ah-ha moment, an epiphany, noting some runes running down the border of the map that suddenly explained that this was not a map but a riddle, and I am sly with riddles. Intermittently, small groups of dark-clothed teenagers drifted down the sidewalk, all coming from one area and all heading into a large blue-grey block of a building with one bold title above the door. Wish I'd written it down, for we realized that it must have been a dance club for the local youth, probably of goth or metal distraction.

The bus driver returned, we boarded the bus and road it past our origination point and off into destiny. The wrong destiny, it would turn out, as I saw the one word I was looking for, but as I said that word was both the part of town we were heading to and a bus stop. We got off at the bus stop and it was a good couple of miles earlier than the part of town (did I mention that these bus maps are not to scale?). The driver knew where we wanted to go, because we pointed it out to him, but he made no attempt to stop us from departing the bus. This is where our arguments shift, because Rebecca thinks he did pause and was about to flag us down and warn us. At this point I thought he was being an asshole and Rebecca thought he was well-intentioned. Weird, how perception can turn on a kronur like that.

We were dropped off at some strange part of town, but the magic of Reykjavik is that it's so small, you're never far from somewhere familiar (even if we were out 560kr). Even in a strange part of town I could spot the enormous Lutheran cathedral at the top of the tallest hill. We walked toward that and, from there, were only five minutes from our apartment. Instead we decided to check out some of these bars that were all the rage every night, and walked to the most popular one in the area: DILLON.

It was popular and fashionable, looking like Minneapolis' own Triple Rock if it had been founded in a fishing village: decorations included rudder wheels and harpoons, for example. I saw a bottle on a shelf behind the bar, the label merely said FISH. Discussion with the young, hard-edged, and pretty bartenders revealed that it was an anise-based drink similar to a cough syrup. Rebecca blurted, "Fisherman's Friend!" and the girls agreed, though I'd never heard of the stuff. I tried some and, yeah, it could sit on the shelf next to Jägermeister. I also had a light golden Icelandic beer, THULE. It's a nice enough beer, I'm sure any fan of Bud or MGD would consider it a treat. I like the darker stuff, is all.

We walked to 10-11 to shop for snacks and retired to the apartment, collapsing with exhaustion and a little irritation. Spleens vented, we embarked once more to Vegamot, the restaurant we liked but now featuring its evening population, all the young Icelandic men and women getting ready to dance. We didn't actually see any DJs performing, that probably came later, but a sturdy, platinum blond young man behind the bar recommended a local vodka to me. Again, the label said REYKA but Rebecca informs me it was in fact called "Reykjavik." "It was good on ice," I have written in my little book. We sat at a table in the corner, attractive and fashionable youth all around, and next to us, even further in a shadowy corner, were two young black men in nice shirts and jackets. They were hunched over their table and looking considerably subdued, and it occurred to me these were probably the first blacks I'd seen anywhere in the city. Rebecca agreed that the country was somewhat deficient in racial diversity, though we had seen youth affecting the baggy trousers, street slang, and tagging vandalism in the style of American inner city youth. Gangsta rap had made its way here and was idolized by these kids as tough and dangerous, just as it was in the States. I don't necessarily think those are things to look up to, but I can see how... uh, I won't get into that here.

Anyway, these two young men were quite visibly marginalized, in the darkest corner of this bar, talking to each other and being talked to by no one else. I wanted to speak up and say something but I'm terrible with impromptu conversation in these situations. They had their drinks and hung out at their table, not reacting to the music and not glancing around. It was difficult to tell where they were from but by their clothes I would not suppose the North American continent. They were travelers from yet another land and that made me even more anxious to strike up a conversation, but I didn't because I'm poor at that. Eventually we left or they did and our night was over.

(to be cont.)

No comments: