Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Shitstorm in Iceland

The cartoon on the right (by Halldór for Vísir) says it all. Two of Iceland's most revered personages—statesman Einar Benediktsson and poet Jónas Hallgrímsson are depicted rising from the dead as tourists crap on their graves in the churchyard behind them. There has been a lot of commentary in Icelandic media lately about a situation which is rapidly becoming intolerable: there are too many tourists and not enough facilities. The tourist site Discover the World called it “Mass tourism of the worst sort.”

Another tourist problem manifesting itself is the proliferation of hotels in the central city. Many of the charming old buildings are being torn down or re-purposed from nightclubs and other interesting venues into new hotels. The not inconsiderable charm of Reykjavík is rapidly disappearing into a fortress of brutalist architecture:

The music scene has been under concerted attack for years. It is one of the main reasons I started going to Iceland, I really enjoy the atmosphere of their off-beat venues. I don't want to go sit in a sterile hotel lounge. Modern Icelandic pop music, starting with The Sugarcubes, did more to promote the idea of Iceland as a cultural destination than any other factor. Interestingly enough, Björk and her pals started making their name in a wild series of punk shows in the Hotel Borg, which has since been upscaled into a preserve for the rich. Other legendary venues such as Faktorý, Sirkus and NASA are already gone. Several nightspots will be closed to make way for what have been derisively called ‘puffin shops.’ More crap (most of it not made in Iceland) to sell to more tourists=less culture. Change can be good, but it needs to have an artistic component. Harpa is stunning, but it was wisely built a short distance away from the city center. The new designs I've seen are plunked right into the middle of the old town and heartless; a successful building must have some ‘soul’, not just be a package surrounding a money machine.

More troubling than these issues is a poll of Icelandic 10th graders, most of whom see themselves leaving the country in the futrue. Finally, to top it all: another sleazy American corporation is bullying its way into Iceland. I'll be in Reykjavík in October—hopefully there will be at least a few places remaining where I can hear some Icelandic music, get some Icelandic culture, as well as some authentic and uniquely Icelandic places.

This sign could be taken two ways, for both the despoiling of of the natural and the cultural landscapes:

What am I getting myself into?

By Professor Batty


Blogger Jono said...

Growing pains are felt all over. My architect cousin in Reykjavik told me that buildings had to meet certain culturally correct design criteria. That was 8 years ago, but things have changed quite a bit since then (kreppa, etc.). I can't imagine why they would allow a cheesy company like Dunkin' Donuts in.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Dunkin' Donuts—the sleaziest franchise of all, and to Iceland which is noted for its fine bakeries.

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