Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sugar Mountain

Pascal Pinon press conference, Reykjavík, 2009

Oh, to live on sugar mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can’t be twenty on sugar mountain
Though you’re thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You’re leaving there too soon…

                     ~ Neil Young
Childhood’s end is the end of a dream.

In Neil Young’s Canada the end was turning twenty, when ‘kids’ were no longer allowed into a certain amusement park intended for youngsters. I’ve been nurturing my own dream these last fifteen years; a dream abetted by many fine people on both sides of the Atlantic. For me, Iceland’s allure was always more than its considerable natural wonders. Right from that first windy March day when I stepped out of the Keflavík terminal the whole of Iceland—its nature, people, and culture—has held me in its thrall. As I became further immersed in its cultural aspects: literature, cinema, music and theater, I was overwhelmed.

Recently, however, I’ve been losing the spark.

Icelandic pop music, always quirky, is an acquired taste, but a taste that needs to be nourished for it to thrive. If it weren’t for a few reliable sources I’d be starving. My limited impressions of the recent Iceland Airwaves music festival (from what I was able to see on line) wasn’t encouraging: in the span of four years since I last attended it appears to have morphed from a mix of unique, artistic, and very musical acts to a uniform parade of post-punk screamers. Of course, I wasn’t there, and subtlety never goes over very well in video clips. Still, it was a marked change: music made with an emphasis on shock value, more of a unpleasant burlesque than an expression of the human spirit. In other words, a freak show. Looking back, I was spoiled and/or lucky in my Airwaves experiences (2006 and 2009). In 2012 I did attend some good shows in Iceland (not in Airwaves) but some of the acts, although polished, were exercises in cognitive dissonance, i.e., Icelandic bands playing in a faux American style. I won’t despair of Icelandic musicians yet: there seems to be a trend of them becoming astute social commentators and political activists.

Iceland is a literary beacon, and it that area it continues its appeal. The problem here is dilution. The market demands more Icelandic mystery fiction following in the vein of Arnaldur Indriðason’s successful Inspector Erlendur series. What the market demands, the market gets. I’m guilty of it myself. But after reading the third or fourth work of mediocre Icelandic fiction in a row (generally by non-Icelanders) I find the whole genre to be losing its appeal. The more esoteric works still captivate me. I won’t give up on Ice-Lit quite yet.

Icelandic films, when I can see them, are still excellent, but the economic hardships imposed on the industry since the Kreppa has reduced their amount and distribution. Again, the world cinema market in films is over-saturated. I find it hard to choose anything to watch.

Nothing lasts forever. The most poignant example of this is the musical group Pascal Pinon (pictured above, at the age of fifteen) who created a body of work which perfectly expressed the dilemmas inherent in a girl’s coming of age. Of course, now that they have matured, they can’t continue to play ingenues. The idea of adult women performing songs of their adolescence is mortifying. I’m grateful for that which they have accomplished.

The medium of “blogging” (does that mean anything anymore?) has changed as well; it’s hard to keep a fresh approach to something with a limited audience, and sometimes life just gets in the way. That said, I’m still amazed at Alda and Auður’s contributions over the past ten years: establishing world class portals that are the entry points into their wonderful, strange and troubled island. Auður, in particular, is going above and beyond what anyone expects of a blogger. In contrast, I’ve noticed that my Icelandic posts here have dwindled recently and, unfortunately, a return trip to recharge my batteries, seems unlikely. The continuing economic hardships in Iceland haven’t helped diminish my sense of pessimism either.

I’m now twenty three times over, and then some, but Iceland still casts its spell.

And I’m thinking that I’m leaving there too soon.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Jono said...

In my case it helps to be related to some Icelanders so I can look forward to meeting them. As I have only been once, there is much more to see and do. But I understand that everything changes.

Anonymous I'd Rather Be In Iceland said...

I know what you mean. The novelty factor wears off. Sadly most blogs I read have also gone quiet.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Jono and IRBII ~ that's one of the reasons I've been doing the serial fiction, something with a little more depth to it.

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