Chapter 6 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
I headed toward downtown from the bus station, walking on the sidewalk along Sóleyjargata, past the grand houses on my right, some of which had Jack-o-lanterns beckoning behind crumbling gates that once were used to receive visitors, back before the road became an automotive artery and parking was banned. The Hljólmskálagarður (concert hall park) was across the street. Ten years ago I watched a magnificent auroral display there—people were gasping with delight, no tour needed. Marching bands perform there, a dog-owners club has had meet-ups, and strolling tourists partake the pond and its views of the central district, one of the best wide open vistas of the city. After crossing Skothúsvegur (shooting house road), the street is named Fríkirkjuvegur (free church road), named for the church, and one of the best venues for this week-ends’ Iceland Airwaves. Going further, I passed Kvennaskólinn í Reykjavík, the Women’s school, a 19th-century school with a garden that becomes an enchanted forest at night. Next to it is The National Gallery of Iceland. In 2009, after the crash of 2008, the gallery had an art sale: items from the collections of bankrupt investment bankers. I saw some fabulous stuff priced cheap, but the prices were still an order of magnitude greater that what I could afford. Just beyond the Gallery was Fríkirkjan—in all its sheet-metal glory.
Fríkirkjan is another place of fond memories: the late Johann Johannsson premiering his IBM 1401, a users manual there with a string quartet in 2006, the art-pop group Hjaltalín with an orchestra in 2009, a children’s choir in 2018, and even a recital performed before an audience of 12 in 2006. I went to a CD release party for Biggi Hilmars in 2015 that was an extreme example of cognitive dissonance—everything was in Icelandic except for the lyrics of his Neil Young-inspired songs.
A very short walk along the south side of the church brought me to Castle House, a small apartment buiding with about a dozen units, six of which are available to rent. I’ve been coming here (and to its associated Embassy House)for years. Its location, just a few hundred meters away from the city center, is ideal—if you don’t have a car. Parking regulations in the City Center are Byzantine at best, and worse if you don’t have a working knowledge of Icelandic. The Castle house is a bit of a throwback to the 20th century in its approach to lodging. You deal directly with the ownwer, no refunds, but it does have housekeeping and each unit has a kitchenette. The room rates are, in the shoulder season at least, very reasonable, cheaper by far than an Airbnb and about a third of what a room in a hotel would cost. WhenI arrived the housekeeper was there and had already done my room so I could get in early. I dropped my stuff off and headed out to get my provisions.
Just a few blocks up the hill behind my digs was the Kronan supermarket. It isn’t as big as most, but it is thoughtfully stocked with almost anything you’d need to make simple meals and my whole basket of goods was cheaper than a single restaurant dinner and it would provide me with most of my needs (with some replenishing) for the upcoming week. Milk, cereal (Weetabix!), sandwich supplies and, of course, harðfiskur. An acquired taste, and probably best eaten alone if your companions don’t share your affinity (it has a definite odor!) I brought the bag that I had used for my wine (plastic is discouraged) and the self-checkout was efficient and quick: no lines and no problem with the credit card.Returning to the apartment, I stowed the food and arranged my things in a comfortable fashion.
I went out again, this time to the city centre for a stroll around the harbour. I went by Iðno, another charming 19th century building—the worker’s hall then—now it was a general purpose facility and a mainstay venue in the Airwaves festival. I went further toward the center, past the upscale Hotel Borg, that was once the premiere stop in the city (I stayed there in 2000), now there were a dozen other hotels that were more exclusive. Going towards the harbour I saw new mixed-use buildings, some of which were under construction the last time I was here (in 2018). They were uniformly dismal, replacing views of the harbour with sinister monochromatic rectangles. I walked back Hverfisgata and went into the ticket office of the National Theatre—Þjóðleikhúsið—to get tickets for two plays, a musical and a burlesque show, one play was tomorrow night, the others I would use to fill holes in the Airwaves schedule; not every act was worth seeing. I picked up a copy of The Reykjavík Grapevine, although I had read most of it on line already.
I made my way back to my apartment and prepared dinner, I ate it while catching up on my emails, including a confirmation from tomorrow‘s luncheon partner, Silja. I wrote on my blog for a while and managed to stay awake until 20:00 hours. I hung a ‘do not disturb’ sign on my door and then went to bed and slept for twelve hours.
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