I woke up a bit hung over. It was a little past noon, 5 a.m. Seattle time- it was no wonder that I felt so strung out. I remembered what the guy on the shuttle bus had said about the swimming pools in Reykjavík; a brochure from the tourist agency which had been left in my apartment gave the locations. I had several hours to kill before my meeting with Billy; the walk and a soak would do me good. I emailed follow-ups to Molly and Mrs. Robinson. I was concerned about Molly's comment about "the guy sitting in the car", I told her to get a picture of him and the car if she could do it without being too obvious- one of the benefits of having a smart phone. Mrs. Robinson's email about the Russians was even more troubling. There was definitely something going on with Billy and the Russians and we didn't need this case developing into an international incident.
The wind had died down quite a bit from the night before, the walk was invigorating, almost every house or apartment I passed had some kind of art or arrangement in the window. The pool house was a low gray Euro-Modern building from the forties situated in a residential area about a mile from my apartment. I rented a suit and towel and the desk clerk pointed me towards a flight of stairs leading down to the men's changing area. It was a nice place, wood and tile, surprisingly bright for a locker room. A few other older men (evidently "regulars") were in the in the area adjacent to the shower, it was as much a community center as it was a swimming pool. My headache started to fade as soon as I was in the shower.
The lap lanes were open, I managed to do a few before staggering over to the hot pots. The first two pots were mild but the third was the just hot enough to make me forget my aches. In it were an older couple and an olive-skinned young man.
"Góðan daginn" the elder man said.
I replied "Good day to you, too."
"Ay, an American, yes, and what brings you to our little pool at the end of the world?"
"A little getaway, and to visit an old friend from school."
"Where are you from in America?" the young man spoke with a slight Spanish accent.
"From Seattle, recently, but I've lived in a couple of places in the States. You must have come from somewhere else as well, yes?"
"I am from Madrid, here on business."
"And you two, from Iceland no doubt?"
The woman smiled and nodded, the man spoke: "Yes, we've been here all our lives, except when I was fishing. I've been to Seattle too, but it was many years ago, before I had my trawler."
"I've just lived there a few months, really." I replied, trying not to say too much.
"I've been all around the world, I went to Japan to study their fishing methods. They had a way of casting their nets, I learned it and I would always catch more fish and use less fuel than any other Icelandic trawlers, until I taught them how to do it."
"Do you still get out on the ocean?"
"No, I'm retired, this is my water now. But the water has memory, you see, the water has memory."
"An admirable philosophy, my friend..." It was the man I had met on the flybus coming in a day ago, he was entering the hot pot wearing a Speedo and had a pair of swim goggles around his neck. "... you know, the only philosophy I believe in is about water, too."
"Welcome professor... Shallbetter, I believe it is? Join us in our international symposium. And what is your philosophy of water?"
"Simply put, water is good. I know it isn't much of a theory, you don't have to believe it, unless, of course, you are thirsty." We all laughed. "It isn't really my theory. I borrowed it from Halldór Laxness."
"I should know who that is, I think." I had a feeling that my college computer science classes were a little deficient in Scandinavian philosophers.
"The greatest Icelandic author of the twentieth century, Nobel laureate and an unrepentant Socialist. You could hardly find a better commentator on the human condition in any era."
Things were beginning to heat up in our little hot pot at the end of the world.
This disturbing short film has been causing controversy wherever it has been shown. Definitely NSFW, this sad coming-of-age story has been used as part of the humanities curriculum in Icelandic schools. It is almost too close to reality to bear. The whole film is shown in the YouTube imbed above. If you do decide to view it set aside some time to watch it, uninterrupted, with some additional time to recover from its emotional impact.
King Arthur: “Now stand aside, worthy adversary.” Black Knight: “'Tis but a scratch.” King Arthur: "A scratch? Your arm's off.” Black Knight: “No it isn't.” King Arthur: “What's that, then?” Black Knight: “[pause] I've had worse.” King Arthur: “You liar.” Black Knight: “Come on ya pansy.”
May 3 (8 hours ago)
Sean, I hope your project is coming along. I don't want to sound like a whiner, but I guess I'm missing you more than I thought I would. Work is the sameoldsameold, nothing new there. News in Seattle is bad. Some guy went crazy and shot a bunch of people in a cafe, he killed himself, but jeez it's creeping me out. When I came home tonight there was a guy just sitting in a car down at the end of the block. I know it's probably nothing, but you never can tell.
Come home soon,
The other emails were from Mrs. Robinson, most of them gave locations which Billy used to access the internet. The last one was more urgent:
May 3 (1 hour ago)
Sean: One of Billy's connections was to a Russian Military network, just a little while ago. Be careful, those guys are merciless. Needless to say, If we can actually link Billy to the Russians it must remain a secret, the Senator's presidential hopes would be over if it ever got out.
As I was making a map of Billy's locations I received an email alert. It was from Billy:
May 4, 2 minutes ago
I heard you were in town.
Get out, next flight back is tomorrow.
Don't do anything stupid.
Tell my daddy to go fuck himself.
I wrote back:
Billy, we've got to talk. Give me ten minutes and then I'll leave.
Name the place and time.
Five minutes later:
May 4, 1 minute ago
I dashed off a note to Molly and Mrs. R., powered down my laptop, brushed my teeth and went to bed.
My nightly constitutional has been turning up some "found" literature as of late. Saturday evening I spied this spiritual document on the boulevard near the firehouse:
The superhero allusion aside, this pledge seems sincere, although the wording of the last bit about "love my loved ones and love my enamys the same" might raise a little doubt about just how much the writer really cares for those closest to him.
The very next evening I found this somewhat disturbing note on the sidewalk at the end of my block. It had been neatly folded and placed under a smooth stone:
Are the two notes related? Is "Kill" the "enamy" of superhero "Jesuse?" Is this a sign of the apocalypse? I'll be watching my back, that is for sure.
I was on the prowl for some culture but the street art show was a bust. Making my escape, I fled into the land of Failed Design- the antique mall. That was where, down in the darkest and most remote corner of the cellar, I found The Prison of the Forgotten Dolls. and among them this group of "friends", who, by their look of grim resignation, had been held captive long enough to have had their spirit broken:
Some of the little "friends" where there as well; the ugly cousins of The Great Beauty, not yet without hope:
There was also The Jilted Groom, The Disappointed Bridesmaid, the Bratty Kid Sister, and a couple of Sleeping Beauties who were waiting for the kiss to wake them from their eternal slumber:
But where was The Great Beauty herself?
The Fairest of them all?
The Great Beauty (and her alter ego, the Queen of Darkness) finally did appear...
I told the taxi driver to take me around the city, I really hadn't seen much of it since I landed less than a day ago and I didn't want the thugs from the nightclub following me home. The big church on the hill dominated the town; it was a good landmark.
"Já, just look for Hallgrímskirkja, then you know where you are. Some folk don't like it, jajaja, but you don't forget it." Ole, the driver, was a tall man, in his late 50's, and unlike the Icelanders I had run unto earlier in the evening, was most congenial. "You come to Iceland before?" His taxi was a Cadillac, I wondered to myself if it had been his personal car before the Kreppa and if he had been forced to take this job to make ends meet.
"No, I've only been here a day. I don't know anything about Iceland, really."
We drove out of the center of town, past a huge structure with five tanks and a dome on top.
"What's that?" I couldn't imagine what that structure was for. It looked like an enormous spaceship.
"Perlan, the Pearl." Those tanks are full of hot water- from the geothermal springs. That dome on top is a restaurant. For foreigners. Too expensive for regular people. The Saga museum is in one of the tanks. They have concerts in the center, too, between the tanks. What do you like to eat? Iceland is the world's best place for meat, You can get a all kinds of fish, birds, reindeer, whale, horse, more kinds of lamb than you can imagine. Even the pylsur have lamb in them."
"Já, hot dogs. They're everywhere. Einn með öllu. One with everything. You'll see."
I figured that we hadn't been followed, the streets were empty. I told him the address of my apartment, he knew the place.
"Jæ,jæ, jæ, across from the Russians."
"What are they like? What goes on there?" I was still wondering about Billy's little "detour".
"Oh they don't like it here, those that work in the embassy. Not much for them to do, now that the cold war is over. It used to be different. They used to sit in Hornið, the restaurant on Hafnarstræti, and watch the American agents watch them. Now they stay in the embassy. They have a man who brings them duty-free. They don't like it here."
We had pulled up to my building.
"Já, you take my card, I work nights, after eight. You need anything, I can get it."
"Thanks, Ole, I may take you up on that."
By the time I got back into my apartment, It was 4 AM. I opened my lap-top and saw that I had a dozen emails waiting to be read.
Wes Anderson's films are, in spite of all the strong design elements and quirky characterizations, an examination of the mysterious emotional underpinnings of human behavior. When he turns his attention to that most mysterious and emotional of all behavior, adolescence, the result is the awkward, funny and haunting Moonrise Kingdom. The story revolves around two twelve year-old "troubled" children, Suzy and Sam (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), and the reactions of their parents and authorities when the kids run away to seek a better life with each other.
It starts out slowly, the dialog of the children is stilted, even mumbled at times. Scenes have random moments of strangeness. But about halfway through it all starts to click, and the very gentle magic of the film grows. The adult cast is stellar— it's almost an embarrassment of riches: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel and, of course, Jason Schwartzman. But the story is about the kids, and the performances by Gilman and Hayward are artless yet perfect. If you can enjoy a movie that takes its time to develop and you can appreciate subtle and bittersweet humor, this might be the summer "adventure" film for you. You won't need a map either, if you follow your heart.
By Arnaldur Indriðason, Minotaur, 2010
Translated by Victoria Cribb
One way to beat the heat is to spend time being engrossed in chilly Icelandic crime fiction. Although this book isn't part of Arnaldur Indriðason's immensely successful Inspector Erlendur series (Erlendur does make an uncredited "cameo" appearance), it is a one-off mystery/thriller with a plot centered around a German plane which had crashed on an Icelandic glacier during the last days of World War II. Most of the action takes place in the year 2000 as the United States military is engaged in a clandestine recovery operation. The plane holds a terrible secret which still has the power to disrupt international relations. Kristín, a lawyer for the Icelandic Foreign Ministry, unwittingly becomes entangled with with this affair setting off a wild sequence of events to uncover the mystery.
This novel came out in Iceland in 1999; it was only recently translated. It is much less introspective than Arnaldur's other titles (it would make a dandy action flick), but it still retains a strong sense of setting and a few quirky Icelandic idioms. The plot is complex but well handled. The chain of events, while a bit far-fetched, never becomes ridiculous. Because it was written before the US closed its base at Keflavík in 2006, its sub-theme about the US military presence in Iceland adds an interesting historical perspective to the book. The Americans in it are, for the most part, villains and nasty ones at that. Exciting, fast-paced, not too challenging (I read it in one sitting) Operation Napoleon I found it to be perfect summer reading, especially compared to:
A Crime Novel
By Elizabeth Hand
This turgid mess of drug, death-metal music and Icelandic references masquerading as a book comes across as a lightweight parody of the Stieg Larsson thrillers. Told from the point of view of a 40-something female photographer and drug addict, it comes across as a quickie made in order to cash in on the Nordic crime craze. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "speed-read."
Sally was standing by the mini-bar, wearing a silk nightgown, oriental poppy orange with a dragon motif. I could see from glimpses of her arms and legs that Sally kept in shape. Maybe she could beat me up.
"Thanks, is there some red wine in there?"
"I'd have thought you were a hard liquor kind of guy, you know—whiskey, gin, maybe a cocktail—shaken not stirred..."
"I'm just plain Sean, not Sean Connery, much less James Bond."
"So who were those guys, and what did they want with you?"
"I don't know, really, but I suspected that they weren't there to welcome me to Iceland. I've been beaten up before, I know the signs."
Sally handed me my wine, I was pleasantly surprised that it was drinkable.
"I take it they weren't part of your Scandinavian studies program. How's that going?"
"Hm. I hope tonight was an aberration."
"Perhaps a case of mistaken identity?" Sally was enjoying playing the interrogator. I was starting to realize that her apartment wasn't exactly the best place to hide.
"How about you Sally? Any luck with the locals?" Anything to take the spotlight off me.
"Well, I did make a dinner date for tomorrow night. A professor of some sort, an American. He seemed harmless enough. You never know about those kind, though. Most of them are hopeless neurotics, while some are very... enthusiastic. Hahaha! That how I met my last husband. He was VERY ENTHUSIASTIC. For a while anyway. With me that is. What about you, have you had much experience living with someone, I mean besides your current "relationship?"
"There was someone, just out of college. She seemed to really love me. I think what she really wanted was to get out of her parents' control."
"That's been the case more often than not with my old girl friends. I mean a guy is nice to have around, but its more important to a lot of women to have a life of ones own. It is a rare man who can understand that, especially a younger man. So how did your thing with her end?"
"She stopped loving me. That's all."
"She kicked you out?"
"No, She still liked having a man around. I think she enjoyed the fact that she had shut me out of intimacy, I think that was some kind of strange conquest for her. I finally asked her to leave."
"Were you seeing someone else?"
"The next day. That didn't work out either, but for a whole different set of reasons."
"You went from too much of nothing to too much?"
"Something like that. I learned a lot. She had a 'special' wiggle."
"Ahahahah!" Sean, you're alright by me. I could probably teach you another thing or two..." Sally spoke as she absentmindedly let her gown open a bit "... but I'll understand it if you want to remain faithful."
"Thank you. Sincerely." I wanted to get back to my apartment, but didn't want to tangle with those thugs from the nightclub. Evidently they thought I was Billy, and had some kind of score to settle. Sally began looking better after I finished the wine. She was really looking hot after I finished the second glass. "If you don't mind, Sally, I think I'll take a taxi back to my apartment."
"You think it's alright? I would feel terrible if something bad happened to you." Sally was looking straight at me, hard. I couldn't figure her out. There was more to her than she let on. The depth of her experience, perhaps.
"I'll be OK. There's a taxi stand just outside the hotel..."
I'm wondering if there will be anything left by the time I get back to Reykjavík this October.
NASA, one of the main concert venues at Iceland Airwaves, has been closed, to be replaced by a modern hotel. It was a pretty good room, like most older structures in the old town it had gone through many changes in its lifetime. Since I've started going to Iceland (March, 2000) the old town has been whittled away, buildings of character have been replaced by soul-less Modernist monstrosities or by nothing, thanks to the Kreppa. City planning seems to have been overtaken by crass economic development. It is unfortunate. The old town, with its small streets and mixed use is (or was) a perfect attraction by its very nature. Another big hotel, especially on an important square, won't add anything but more congestion.
by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Philip Roughton (Translator), Minotaur Books, New York, 2012
The third of the Þóra Guðmundsdóttir series (anglicized to Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in the US edition), this mystery continues the adventures of the Icelandic lawyer/sleuth who is drawn into the investigation of four old murders and one modern one. Most of the action takes place in the Westmann Islands where houses which had been buried since the 1973 Eruption are being unearthed for a "Pompeii of the North" attraction. The discovery of three bodies and a head in one of the buildings sets off a chain of events concerning the usual family and small town secrets which are Yrsa's stock in trade. Competently written, although Phillip Roughton's translation is a bit clunky at times, the multiple characters and the minutæ of plot elements remained clear throughout. Not so well handled was any sense of plausibility. The story wrapped up a bit too neatly for all of its messy details.
I've already reviewed to first two entries in the series; this one is a little better that the second (My Soul to Take) and much better than the first (Last Rituals). If your taste in mysteries tends toward the "jigsaw puzzle" type, these books might be just the thing you are looking for. The Icelandic references ring true, especially how the unique set of circumstances around the eruption created a massive upheaval in the lives of those who were present. Just after I finished this book, Rúvbroadcast a feature on an actual house which had recently been uncovered! (In Icelandic.)