Friday, June 27, 2008

Aside: It's All Wrong, All Wrong

I've been listening to Radiolab podcasts lately.

Rebecca insisted I purchase an iPod Nano, and I insisted right back that I'm perfectly happy with the Shuffle: I just need a repository for all the data, I don't need to flip through brightly colored album covers and such. Well, the Nano's pretty cool. I've been fighting against iTunes to make it load what I want (podcasts and photos first, music next) and mostly losing these battles, but now I can get it set up pretty much how I desire.

I'm also going to start up a specific playlist called Workout, because I've been changing my living habits lately. For the past few weeks I've been doing Steps alone--formerly, group work activity where several of us climbed from the 5th floor of our building to the 30th floor--alone, because no one else can be arsed to participate. The first time alone was the hardest, but when I brought my iPod, of course, the time just flew by. I e-mailed Rebecca to show her how long this exercise takes me: taking the elevator down to the second floor, climbing the stairs from floor 2 to 30 (with a break around 27 for stretching), returning to my desk and e-mailing her again took 14 minutes.

So I've been doing Steps for about three weeks on my own, and lately I've been getting into the nutritional supplements. Whey protein after a workout; fish oil at night (for depression); multivitamins after lunch; Metamucil twice a day; and a big bowl of oatmeal every morning. This is all designed to improve my attitude and my health. And lately I've had more energy to clean up the apartment and run errands on foot, I've been a much more contributive member of the household and I feel better about that. I want to work out more and eat better, and I want to get better sleep but that's harder to do so far.

So, the Workout playlist, because this week I've started walking five blocks south on Nicollet to the YWCA. Rebecca got us memberships there and for the most part we haven't used them, but now I am. I used to go to the library to kill an hour on the Internet, and then I brought my laptop to Dunn Bros. so as to avoid the kind of people who hang out in the library for free Internet access, and lately I've been losing interest in my online activities. I rarely get any e-mail, and I'm not enjoying the message board where I hang out, so I've dropped noontime Internet usage altogether. Instead, I go down to the YW and work out. Weds. I changed into full workout regalia, but yesterday I simply took off my shirt and tie, exercising in a white tank top undershirt and pinstripe dress slacks. It's just an upper body workout, so why do I need to change into shorts for that, for lunch break? Afterwards I walk over to Oasis where I buy a bag of vegetables to graze on for the rest of the afternoon.

All this, because I hate the way I look. I hate my flabby neck and weak, sloping shoulders. I hate my sunken chest and bowling ball gut. When I undress to shower and see myself in the mirror, I feel like one of those mutant albino frogs with underdeveloped legs. I'm ashamed to show myself to my wife, looking like this, and I can't comprehend how or why she would ever want to touch something as repulsive as my body. I feel sorry for her, sometimes, being stuck with as poor a specimen as me. So I can't let myself off the hook just because I've secured a partner, I have to eat healthfully and work out.

And I've been listening to these Radiolab podcasts, like I said. They focus on a topic like 'morality' or 'espionage' and consult experts in the field and present anecdotes, all presented with fun sounds and comical exposition. They're fun and informative. Two things have recently come to prominence, and I'll summarize them for you though the summary will sound wildly incorrect. Depressed people actually do have a clearer perception of reality, and that's what shortens their lives and makes them ill. People who lie to themselves about who they are and the nature of the world around them are happier, more successul in their endeavors, and enjoy better health. Biologically, there is no benefit to meeting life frankly as it exists--this is actually detrimental to an organism.

So when I get upset about people threatening me in traffic, I'm wrong. When I disparage people who think some laws are too small to obey, like jaywalking, I'm wrong. When I get upset that jaywalking in Minneapolis has increased to such a degree that groups of people will actually block oncoming traffic, I'm wrong. People who believe they're above the law are correct. People who behave selfishly and expect others to accommodate their petty desires are correct. People who laugh at me when I get upset at threats to my welfare and rights are correct.

This doesn't cheer me up at all, however. The resounding lesson that I have to exercise denial and sublimation in order to stay healthy and get anywhere in life, this does not cheer me up. The conclusion that socially disruptive egomania is the key to success does not cheer me up. This world truly is biased in favor of ignorance, and I'm a foreign body. It's not that people are out to get me: it's that the metabolism of the world has antibodies and white blood cells to eliminate intruders like me. I am un-Zen and the world responds to balance itself.

So what is the point of going on?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rundown: Islandic Candy

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There were many American brands of candy I had no desire to explore overseas, and others that just seemed to repeat themselves. Many bars seemed to be variants of forms of licorice (ropes, chunks, flecks, shavings, etc.) embedded in chocolate. The candy listed here is the selection Rebecca and I sampled in our short week in Reykjavik.

Buffaló: Marshmallow creme and puffed rice coated in chocolate. The company's logo is a black cat wearing a gold crown.
Company: http://www.freyja.is/

Lakkris Dúndur: Black licorice and puffed rice coated in chocolate. Their advertisements feature three funny-looking men who represent each of these three ingredients: a chubby guy with curly blond hair for the rice, a luxuriant lounge-type for the chocolate, and this weasel-faced guy with greasy black hair and a Fu Manchu moustache for the licorice. They do have fun in Iceland.
Company: http://www.goa.is/

Risa Þristur: Chocolate and chewy chocolate with flecks of licorice. The company's name is "Sambó" and I hope that little acute mark totally changes the meaning.

Curly Wurly: Similar to the old Marathon bar—caramel spilled out in a pretzel kind of weave, coated in chocolate—but much tougher to chew.

Stórt Æði: Thin crisp wafers and chocolate coated in coconut and nutmeg.

Yankie: (Related to the Yorkie? Not in composition.) Chocolate nougat and caramel coated in chocolate.
Company: http://www.tomsgroup.com/

Dumle Snacks: Similar to the $100,000 Bar, according to Rebecca.
Company: http://www.fazermakelset.nl/ and http://www.fazer.se/

Villiköttur: The wrapper describes it as "karamella + kornkúlur + kex" but not even the list of ingredients (innihald) hints at what "kex" might be.

Opal: One of the hands-down most popular candies in the country. The snazzy little box of Opal I got was green and white with red print. There are three varieties of boxes (black, red, green) but I only tried the green one, which contained small dark brown translucent discs that tasted like very strong black licorice. These are tough to chew at first but eventually give like Gummi Bears. I've still got it sitting on my desk at work.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day Three: Ghosts, Super Nachos, and an Insane Pig

There are multiple Information Services in Reykjavik. I don't know if they're territorial or district-based, like, you can only get certain information in a certain part of town. That might be fun for a day, if you like to play Zelda, wandering around asking villagers for parcels of information. Probably not, though, I'm sure they are not rival offices but all work together to disseminate the largest body of knowledge.

We found a second Information Services office. It was closed, so the information we could get from it was extremely limited. We watched nicely dressed couples walk up a metal spiral staircase and go to dinner in an adjacent bar/restaurant. Eventually a Canadian woman poked her head around the corner and asked if we were here for the Haunted Reykjavik tour, which of course we were. She led us around the corner where we joined the group already assembled. We can't be blamed for wanting to wait indoors, as it was a very chilly, windy day with intermittent sprinkles. I was quite impressed to find our tour guide, Jonas (I've mentioned him a couple times; well, here he is), dressed in a rain parka and hiking shorts and boots. He admitted that he was actually freezing: he didn't bother to check the weather when he got dressed this morning, assuming for some reason that it would be warm and sunny. He should've just let us believe he was that hardy.

The Canadian woman was married to a Canadian man, and they were from Halifax. There's a direct flight from Halifax to Keflavik, just as there is one from Minneapolis to Keflavik. The woman was very lively and cute, great to joke around with; the man was taciturn and perfunctorily polite. The closest we came to bonding was when I pulled out my camera and he accepted that as permission to pull out his. This is the most I learned about anyone in the group at all, and I can barely picture them now. I remember a German family of four and a couple couples from all over, and at one point some street punks thought they might hang around with the tour, but that's it. Not a chatty group.

Jonas's technique was a solid one: if you accept that there are ghosts, decide upon a method most likely to detect them. He collected a large number of ghost stories and boiled them down to a few key locations. Then he assembled a team of five psychics, one of whom was a trustworthy friend of his, Sophia, and took them to the locations to see if they could sense anything. One psychic, oh yes, felt very strong things everywhere, something significant had happened everywhere they went; Jonas learned not to take that one's opinion with too much gravity. Between the remaining four psychics he was able to pretty much isolate several significant areas of emotional/ghostly activity. He then did even more research to find out what he could about the history of these areas, what was going on at the time, witness accounts, etc. He left it up to the audience to make their own decisions, he only presented a large body of facts and a record of events, plus "this is what people say they experienced." I thought that was pretty fair, I mean, within the context. At least he didn't dress up in a black cloak, blacken his eyes, and bait the crowd with false promises of seeing something really scary, you know, no sensationalism.

We passed a hotel where people had reported a large number of ghosts. Jonas's research showed that a couple dozen foreign sailors had been stored there, dying of various seaborne diseases and not receiving a burial because the Black Plague was sweeping Europe at the time so attention was directed elsewhere. The ghosts cleared out when the bodies were removed and buried. It's bizarre to me that a ghost could care so much about its mortal remains, but I guess if you're raised with that conviction it's strong enough to bind you.

We were taken to a kind of well looking down into a museum in a lower level, part of another building with a little port through which to peer. This was where we attracted the two young men slouching about. Apparently they never knew what that was for either (part of a viking excavation dig, I believe) and found themselves intrigued. At one point we stood beside a large fancy restaurant and in a cobblestone courtyard. Jonas indicated the ground beneath our feet and we noticed a large oval design set with glossy black stone, and he explained this was the site of a viking house. The two teens (receiving education for free) stared at the ground, probably having glanced over this location numerous times yet never having known what it signified. Jonas opined that the site should have been preserved but was plowed over and marked instead. A nationalism began to creep into his monologue, a pride for his culture and a disappointment or outrage at watching it deteriorate and sell itself out to multinational interests. "We don't need another aluminum mine for some foreign company that pays below minimum wage," he said a few times this evening. I didn't catch any nervous glances between the other tourists so I assume no one was made comfortable during these points.

It especially arose when he started to touch upon the conflict between the indigenous vikings and the Christian foreigners, proselytizing their foreign god and beginning the cultural eradication. We learned about the "blood eagle": two large hooks are rammed up inside a priest's rib cage, then yanked up by horses so his ribs and maybe his lungs flap up like wings. We learned about the "necropants," where a priest would have a viking skinned, tan the skin, stuff it with straw and mount it as a warning to those who would not convert. Interestingly, this is also the origin of the scarecrow, except instead of scaring off vikings, it's repurposed to scare off birds. And you'll recall that Jonas did not entirely swallow the story that the chieftain of the vikings meditated under an animal tarp for three days to announce the religious unification of the country. It's his belief the process was much bloodier and much longer than this quaint little tale, and I'm inclined to believe that. I think, when you sail across the ocean to find an established civilization and tell them to believe in your god because their gods are stupid, you pretty much receive what you deserve.

I have in my notes the name "Gunnar Gunnarsson" and, underlined, "Blackbird." I don't know what this means anymore. Was it an author and a book?

Some of Jonas's psychics had detected the presence of a young girl who drowned in a building. Research turned up that the building was not always there but used to be part of a lake, and that's where the girl was sighted. This girl in particular was a victim of circumstance: she lived on a farm with an evil step-father, and one night three ravens drew her attention, led her out of bed and across a field, and the farmhouse burst into flames. Rather than rejoicing in her miraculous delivery, the villagers assumed she was a witch and made her life hell. Again with the ravens, again with the escape, and the entire village burned down. I don't remember how it is she ended up drowning in the lake, wish I'd taken better notes. Also, we heard an amusing story of a woman who haunted every wedding to happen in a certain church for over 75 years, ceasing abruptly one year. It seems she had been jilted at the altar and killed herself, thereby preventing her burial in holy ground. Her remains interred in a nearby hilltop, she appeared at every wedding in the church where she was to be married (if this is so, why did people continue to have weddings there? "Oh, that's been going on for 70 years, but I'm sure it won't happen to us."). It would be a tidy story if someone had researched the tragedy, found her bones, and moved them to a graveyard, but what happened was someone was developing the hill and found her by accident and transported her to the graveyard, and that's when the hauntings stopped. How about that.

We ended up in the graveyard and we saw the grave of the little girl of the three ravens. We saw the unadorned grave (just a number on a plate) of the avenging bride. We visited the graves of most of the people we'd heard about over the evening. We also stopped by a grave that seems unnaturally heated (to the touch, the ground was warmer than the surrounding turf inches away). Jonas took us to the grave of the first person buried in this graveyard and showed us a small emblem on the tombstone, a lit oil lamp. He explained that it is the duty of the first person buried there to always guard the graveyard and watch over it (hence the lamp). Unfortunately, this person never receives any rest, and Jonas pointed out that the graveyard was actually designed by her ex-husband, a lawyer who had himself buried at the opposite end of the property. Wry chuckles all around, then one nervous glance at the tombstone as a few of us wondered what would be the odds of us being the first person buried in a brand-new graveyard. I'll admit I've never mused over this concept before in my life.

The tour ended there, we walked back to town (at 10:00 PM we were still enjoying a bright sunset), and Jonas let Rebecca and me accompany him to the Uppsalir Bar & Café. There was a selection of paintings done there, mainly of the aurora borealis as it can be seen in Iceland. One portrait featured the silhouette of an old church. Jonas mentioned that the artist was a friend of his, and that the artist happened to be painting this church during a wedding taking place, and that the wedding was Jonas's. They hadn't collaborated this and probably didn't know each other at the time, so there you have it. The three of us got a table and had hot chocolate and shots of Brennivin. He talked more about the tourist trade and what Iceland should be doing to attract more tourism, and then he went home. Rebecca and I went to settle the bill but the young woman who served us smiled shyly and explained in halting English that this was on the house. Any friend of Jonas's is a friend of the bar? We thanked her profusely on our way out.

We thought we'd get some dinner and checked out a place called Tapas, but it was quite popular just then and would have entailed a 15-minute wait at least. We trotted across the square to Tabasco's, Mexican bar and grill, and ordered the super nachos.

Not quite done yet, we walked to the grocery store for some snacks. There are two main grocery stores: 10-11, which is open 24 hours but is pricier than its rival, Bonús, which is not open all the time. Bonús has a logo, an insane looking hot-pink pig with a wandering eye. I experienced much entertainment by designing commercials which mostly featured this logo shaking back and forth and screeching, "Buy great discount BY ME-E-E!" or "Many deal haven BY ME-E-E!" If I can find a good free graphics program I'll scan this bad boy in and you'll see what I mean. Anyway, we picked up skyr and muesli and an assortment of candy bars: Buffaló, Lakkris Dúndur, and Risa Þristur. I took detailed notes about all the candy we sampled in Reykjavik and will post a comprehensive breakdown of these soon.

Back at the apartment, we discovered that even soft music goes a long way toward covering the din of the street: it was quite late and the revelry was just beginning as the drunk men and women left their homes and wandered down the streets.

(End: Day Three—four more to go)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day Three, Friday--The Bus, a Troll, and the Best Croissant

Everything seriously was closed on May 1st, which was Thursday, the day before this entry in my travelogue. Apparently I really needed to stress that point in my written notes so I'm repeating it here, too.

This morning saw my first attempt to upload photos to myself, plugging my camera into Rebecca's computer. I quote: "...that f--king counterintuitive Mac wouldn't acknowledge there was a camera even plugged into the laptop, though it DID open a useless, unrelated program to view, laboriously, all the pictures on the camera. All this, with the extreme maneuverability of a single mouse button meant I got nothing done." See, my regular computer is a PC I built myself, and my mouse has four buttons and all those buttons do very useful things. I've seen gamer mouses (mice? Is that appropriate for the peripheral hardware?) with seven or more buttons and I can't imagine my life will ever lead me to such a point as needing that, but you never know. So when people brag about their home computer which comes with a mouse that only has one button, I imagine they're the sort of people who think ketchup goes on everything and insist on a processed cheese sandwich, white bread with the crusts cut off, maybe a little light mayo if they're feeling adventurous.

Anyway. I woke up at noon (Rebecca doubtless was up before me) and we went to that lovely café in the bookstore for a kickstart. I had an espresso macchiato. We walked down to the Information Center and chatted with a bright and bubbly English girl. She must really love her job, to have so much energy, because I imagine she speaks with a couple dozen clueless tourists from various nations every day and her enthusiasm never diminishes. She had all sorts of ideas for our visit, listened to our plans, shared her experiences, etc. I would've been perfectly content to hang out there and converse with her for another hour, actually, but we had to get on our way. Of course. It would be silly to malinger around the tourist shop instead of actually going out and doing things. I realize this.

We caught the S1 bus to Hafnarfjorður ("harbor fjord") for 560 kronur (two tickets, plus free bus transfers/return tickets). The driver did not speak any English as far as I could discern, but he did understand me stumbling over attempting to inflect "Hafnarfjorður" correctly and assured me this was the right bus for that. People appreciate it when you make an effort. Additionally, a very helpful passenger volunteered some advice and confirmed the route. Maybe no Icelander will approach you in a bar, but they are there for you if you're ever lost or in trouble. Being "very lonely" does not constitute "trouble," however.

The S1 deposited us at a large mall in plenty of time for our next appointment, so we wandered around inside. There was yet another Te & Kafe so we got more coffee, and we noticed an awful lot of these children's drawings around the mall. They seemed to be rendered in pastel or even sidewalk chalk, featuring people, short people, balls of light and angelic figures. Kind of unnerving, since we couldn't understand any of the accompanying captions or explanations. We walked through the mall and towards our day's destination, and found ourselves in a plaza behind the mall, next to a large business office building, and I was overwhelmed with deja vu: I clearly remembered seeing this area before. Some months ago I had a dream involving this setting, and unfortunately it was a dream in which I'm with a group of friends and perpetually disappointing them somehow. I buy the wrong thing in the shops, I'm late for appointments and scheduled events, I'm taking too long to look at the sights, my clothes are ugly, etc. The dream ended up with everyone abandoning me in disgust, so I rounded things out by getting drunk off a couple tall cans of malt liquor and getting a bad haircut in a salon that reluctantly agreed to stay open late for me (I showed up right before close, of course). I had a dream like this that took place in Chicago, but this one was clearly prescient because I found myself two towns away from Reykjavik looking at the setting of this gentle nightmare. The area itself is attractive and clean, it's unfortunate it bears any stigma due to my nightmare.

Anyway, this is what the point of this trip was: we met a tour guide named Sippa who led us around Hafnarfjorður, showing us various rocky formations where dwarves, elves, and Hidden Folk live, as well as a crag that used to be a troll but he was caught out in the sun and so all he is now is a large boulder that looks like an anguished face screaming up at the sky. Upon hearing this Rebecca promptly ran up and shoved her fist up the troll's nostril, reporting a handful of grass, though she does not remember this. She does remember putting her head in the troll's mouth, though.

You may not be acquainted with the concept of Hidden People, and I know I wasn't until this tour. The concept is this: in the beginning, there was Adam and Eve and a bunch of their children. They heard that God was coming down to the Garden of Eden to inspect the grounds and they hurriedly tidied the place up. Unfortunately, Eve was unable to wash all of her children in time for the visit, so she hid a bunch of them in shame.

They greeted God and walked around, showed Him all the plants and animals, and had a nice visit. At the end of His stay, God asked, "So, is that all there is?" Adam and Eve assured him, nervously, that it was. He asked again, "Is that everything you have to show me?" and they insisted that there was nothing else. God, being omniscient, knew that Eve had attempted to hide her children from His sight. This was stupid of her, and He said, "I know you've got those dirty kids stashed away from Me. But as you have tried to hide them from Me, so shall they be hidden from everyone, forever." And with that, an entire population of Hidden People started down the path from history to the present. They live in nature, parallel to our existence but imperceptible to all but those with "second sight," or ESP/clairvoyance. Kind of a sad story, but evidently they're very happy not existing with us.

So, yeah, we saw a large boulder wherein dwelt a grumpy dwarf with a sore throat. Not that anything ever happens to indicate the soreness of his throat, he just has one and that's what makes him cranky lately. Sippa had some anecdotes of people who bumped the boulder with a truck, which immediately broke down and would not run again until the driver sat down and sincerely apologized to the dwarf. This was some kind of construction company, and their work was immobilized without the truck, so everyone laughed at the concept of a foreman going out to talk to a dwarf in a rock, but they also acknowledged that was the point when everything started going right again. See, that's how it goes: you can ask the Icelanders whether they believe in dwarves and elves and such, and they'll likely tell you no, that's silly nonsense, but if you ask them to help out with demolishing or moving some body of rock that's reputedly a home to these beings, they will find every excuse to demure and back out of the project.

(Another tour guide, Jonas, would express a little outrage that Icelanders will preserve a large rock that a dwarf lives in, a dwarf they've never seen and can't perceive, yet they think nothing of renovating an area of land that's the natural breeding ground for a species of birds, which they can see and interact with and whose livelihood their actions are clearly threatening. I'll talk more about Jonas later.)

We walked through a park with a short rocky cliff and Sippa related a story about some trolls that reputedly lived in these little caves and tunnels we stood next to. She's a short, round woman with an all-weather jacket and a peaked red cap, very friendly, very sweet, and very respectful of the supernatural and a little mournful at the deterioration of her native culture. In the park were two young men, maybe teens, futzing around with a plastic shopping bag: looked like they'd bought a couple six-packs of beer. They looked surly, like teens do, and probably mocking of all things deemed "not cool," and I imagined this folklore would fall in that category for them. Imagine my surprise when one of them actually got up off the bench, walked over to us, and talked about how he used to crawl around in the tunnels when he was a little boy. He was pleased when we noted how tiny the tunnels were, how daring it must've been for a small boy to crawl under the ground far enough to emerge at a different location. When asked whether he'd seen a troll as a child, he could not say that he had. Sippa led us on with the tour and the boys picked up their bags and went back to town. I was just touched that one of them bothered to get up and make nice with the Americans. That was very cool.

There was a much larger cliff on the edge of the town, which we could just see over the buildings. There was a flagpole at the top of it, then a sheer dropoff to some jagged rocks at the base. Sippa said that, not too long ago, two boys had been playing on the top of that cliff and, surprise surprise, one of them fell off. The other ran down to attend to his friend, only to find him standing there, perfectly fine, unscratched. The second kid grilled him as to how the hell that could happen, and the first kid avoided the answer for a long time, insisting he just got lucky, but then they both agreed that the kid should get checked out by a doctor. Sure enough, the doctor found him in the pink of health and wondered why the kid bothered to come in. The boy confessed that he'd fallen off the cliff and his friend was concerned. The doctor said this couldn't be possible and demanded to know what happened, and the kid finally broke down and confessed.

He said that he fell off the cliff while playing, but immediately felt as though a pair of hands had come out of the cliff to catch him and slowly carry him down to the ground below. He reported seeing a tall, beautiful woman with long golden hair and a silver belt, and she explained that this cliff was a palace for the elves. The doctor who examined the boy related this story to Sippa, our guide, and he couldn't come up with any other explanation as to how someone could fall off a cliff and be perfectly fine lke that.

We got some souvenir maps... oh, I forgot one part. At the beginning of the tour, Sippa asked if we were expecting actors dressed up in costumes to pop out of the bushes and entertain us. We assured her we had no such expectation, and she explained that other families taking the tour had thought this would be the case. The tour book, Lonely Planet, asserts that such a tour does happen, but Sippa frowned and sighed as she explained no one from Lonely Planet has ever been on her tour, and they've ignored her requests to correct their review of her tour in their guide book. What I think happened is this: the writers at Lonely Planet got their hands on the souvenir map and became confused. There is a picture of a woman on the back, and she's surrounded by people dressed up as dwarves, trolls, and elves, so they assumed this was the tour. Incorrect: the woman on the back of the map is the clairvoyant who identified the homes of these supernatural beings and marked them on the map. The costumes were designed to her specification, made to emulate the entities she was able to perceive, but they have nothing to do with the tour at all. Sippa consulted with the clairvoyant and leads the tour, but the clairvoyant does not come along. Lonely Planet simply made an assumption about the tour and published it without checking their facts, and in fact we would encounter this annoying condition several more times throughout our week's stay in Reykjavik, the locals disabusing us of certain notions the guide book put in our heads. Extremely annoying, when the book is completely wrong about the hours of a museum or the price of a hotel; probably no less annoying for the proprietors of these, having to explain the facts to a stream of misguided tourists.

Anyway. We finished the tour, went to a restaurant in the mall—Café Aroma—and ate lunch overlooking the harbor for which the town is named. We caught the S1 back to Reykjavik and walked around on our own some more. We found a nice coffeehouse, Kaffi Felagið where I had a decent espresso and Rebecca tasted what she proclaimed the best croissant she's had in a long time. I thought it was fine but I have no standards or point of reference; Rebecca's a keener judge of baked goods (all the more tragic she's allergic to gluten) so her opinion means something, here. We wandered around, Rebecca shopped for purses at a bag store, brought back a cunning little trophy she still uses today, and we went to a CD store, a place that struck me as the Icelandic equivalent of Sam Goody or Media Play. I mean, much smaller, just a clean white store with tidy aisles and lots of CDs, DVDs, and video games. I did not see any video game titles I didn't recognize, but I couldn't have gotten them anyway since we're NTSC and they're PAL. But still, that would've been neat. Rebecca got a couple CDs that we still listen to once in a while. They're good, but it's mostly for nostalgia.

(More later...)

Monday, June 9, 2008

The End of Day Two

After the church, our tour bus hauled out to see an exploded crater. This is not a crater where something fell to earth from tremendous distance at great velocity. This is where a magma chamber, close to the surface, finally erupted and took out a good chunk of land. Now it's an enormous crater with a little lake down in the center. My first stop was to walk to the side and take a picture of yet another caern, just off to the side of the crater.

These things are all over the place in Iceland, tidy piles of rock that stand relatively undisturbed for vast stretches of time. Historically they served two purposes: they were placed upon the graves of vikings to seal them and prevent a vengeful or malicious spirit from returning to harm the living. They also helped horseback riders estimate straight riding lines: when you're in the middle of a volcanic field with sparse patches of scraggly grass, and it's overcast and foggy, every direction looks very like every other direction. But if you're standing beside one tall pile of rocks and you look off and see one other pile of rocks, you can ride to it with great confidence and then spot the next pile of rocks. The most unbelievable part of this story is that anyone could ride a horse with any efficacy across the Icelandic terrain, as the hardened volcanic floes are so pockmarked and potholed as to immediately cripple any horse that dared tread upon them. It truly is hazardous terrain.

So, the crater was neat. Rebecca and I were experiencing a moment of tension so she went down into the crater to examine the lake while I rimmed the perimeter and took closeups of various indigenous plants and flowers, as well as advantageous shots of the crater.

The final site on the tour took us through a dozen geothermal processing plants to a place called Eden. It was one man's folly, to create an elaborate garden in the middle of nowhere, but it had since been bought out by other people who expanded the floral variety and kept the name. There was an automated toy machine in which a small furry ape laughs at you in Icelandic and gives you some manner of bauble or trinket. We took a video of Rebecca earning a billard-ball keychain in this fashion. We also picked up some potato chips that said they were paprika flavored, but Rebecca said, "These taste like barbecue," and damned if they didn't. Is that all a company has to do? Make a big noise like "oh, we've captured the authentic flavor of the southwest with our fancy-ass BBQ potato chips" but just sprinkle a little paprika on them? I want to see roving bands of vigilante ethicists come roaring up and raze every goddamned marketing consulting firm in the world.

We bused back to Reykjavik, walked to our apartment, watched a DVD of Samurai Champloo, and went out for dinner. We'd seen this Chinese restaurant called ASIA and thought we'd check it out. Apparently the sign was missing two words: "WE" and "HATE." The food was mediocre at best and the waiter was indolent at best, easily confused with rude. Friendly enough to the Icelandic family two tables behind us, but we were on our best behavior and the young Chinese man acted like we were a tremendous imposition.

We went back to the apartment and picked up some writing gear and returned to the town. Most businesses were closed because today was May Day--akin to the Communist May Day, which would be Labor Day to us in the States.

Cafe Paris was open so we stopped in and split a slice of chocolate cake, and I tried Egil's Gull beer. It was a golden yellow, not my preferred style but still an okay beer. Cafe Paris would turn out to be our most-frequented hangout.

Thus ends the second day! Phew, sorry that was so hard. Five more to go, though.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Aside: Who's a Pissy Boy? Oh, Who's a Pissy Boy?

There are certain lyrics that, upon hearing, give me to understand the song has nothing to offer me.
  1. "Ye-e-e-eah, boy" or "one time" or "(anything) to the (anything)".
  2. Songs that rhyme "crazy" with "baby"--"(blah blah) love you baby / (blah blah) drive me crazy"
  3. Contrived self-aware lyrics: "I'm being raped by (society's whatever)."
  4. Creaky voices that rapidly ascend to meet the first note in any given line.
I'm sure there's more but I'm not done with my second coffee yet so my processing is at 70% or less.