One of Those Unpleasant Days

Galtafell Guesthouse

Checking in and changing at Galtafell GH.

After Café Paris, we walked downtown to the central bus area to catch the 14. We were feeling lazy and wanted to cut down on our travel time back to Galtafell. The 14 never showed, however, and I didn’t know whether this was because the Sunday schedule was different from the other days or what. I really could not make head or tails out of the posted schedules.

We caught a 1 instead and requested a bus transfer. We changed clothes at Galtafell, momentarily transfixed by a two-year-old British documentary on Paris Hilton, and went back out to catch the 14 for sure, this time. Finding ourselves with an extra day in Reykjavik, we were going to check out these hot pots that were all the rage. If you lived on a chunk of volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean, gray skies and drizzling rain almost every day, wouldn’t you celebrate the places where the earth opens up and issues boiling water? You bet.

But the 14 never showed, again. We waited at that stop for half an hour, during which time we should have seen two buses. We even witnessed a traffic accident: an Iceland Excursions van drove in front of a local man, or the local man pulled out in front of the tour van. Both vehicles were stopped and the front bumper of the local man’s gold sedan was hanging by tendons. Each driver took his time meandering out of their driving seats to walk around the vehicles and find each other by chance. Very different climate in Iceland than in the States.

We witnessed a minor car accident, but we never saw the 14.

We walked down to a nearby gas station which featured a number of fast food counters as well. I was actually curious about this place: it featured a restaurant called SERRANO which I’d never heard of and wanted to try. I figured it was probably like Taco John’s or maybe Taco Bell.

It was like neither. It was a Mexican fast food restaurant conceived in a fever-dream. I ordered the quesadilla and was asked if I wanted that with mild salsa, pinto beans, crumbled corn chips (they take a regular tortilla chip and crumble it up with their hands and put it in your quesadilla), and it came with two sauces. I chose tzatziki and satay. This was a very surreal little lunch, though they do tzatziki very well.

Rebecca pointed over my shoulder and I turned to watch the 14 drift by the bay windows of our diner. Its arrival did not coordinate with any of the numbers I could interpret from any bus schedule. It was at this point that I began to lose my sense of humor and Rebecca’s sense bolstered and rallied. Quote of the day:

“We were such dismal travelers,
we couldn’t even catch a bus at a major bus stop
in front of the bus headquarters.”

Because yeah, the bus headquarters was behind the gas station. That’s where the gold car was pulling out when he intersected with the tour van, out of the bus headquarters parking lot.

Evening in downtown

Evening descends upon the gray skies of Reykjavik.

We walked back up to the Lutheran cathedral and descended toward a movie theater, thinking we would see some of the local cinema. There is a burgeoning Icelandic independent film scene, you know. Maybe you’ve heard of the music festivals that happen in Iceland? The same thing is happening with film.

The clerk at the theater was a young man with a clear American/Canadian accent, maybe the son of an expat. We bought tickets for BRÚÐGUMINN (The Bridegroom), produced by a local filmmaker but based on Anton Chekov’s Ivanov. Rebecca commented to herself (not) about the price of the tickets (2400 kronur, about $30), and the kid questioned her translation rate. He suggested the dollar wasn’t doing as badly as that and the tickets were cheaper than she imagined. The young man was simply misinformed and I steered Rebecca away to search for the theater.

We found ourselves in a tiny box of a room that could have sat maybe 40 people. It was the barest, most purely functional room: the walls were matte black and unadorned, but were thin enough to hear other films. The screen was about the size of a living room wall in a nice apartment, and Rebecca took a picture of me standing in front of the screen during the previews. We were the only two people in the audience so we felt okay with screwing around like that. It felt as though we were attending a private screening, actually. The movie was very entertaining, some comedy, some very Russian melodrama, and I actually recognized an actress, Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir, from posters of TV shows and local theater. She certainly was a delight in the movie, and in her role she was the one plucking a pile of puffin for the wedding party which assured me that what I was eating in Tapas was acceptable and traditional. As far as I know.

Graffiti mural

We also checked out some local graffiti murals.

After the movie a bunch of clean, thin teenagers poured into the lobby to see some later attraction. I saw someone toss a small red box to the sidewalk. I thought it was cigarettes but it was a box of Opal. I looked up and saw a kid leap out of the theater to stomp on it, followed by his friend.

These kids were most disconcerting and I haven’t been able to excise them from mind. They looked about ten years old, give or take, and were dressed like baby punks, like Lego punks you might pick up at IKEA or something. They wore brightly colored pants and hoodies in red, royal blue, purple, or yellow; the thin one had a t-shirt covered in skulls and his chubby friend wore a black tie around his head. The fat kid was muttering, in clear English, “He’s gonna fucking die. He’s gonna fucking die.” Aside from that line, however, they both spoke Icelandic. I wondered what movie or song he got those words from, but basically my urge was to stride over and smack them or tell them to watch their language. While I stared, a group of teenagers walked into Rebecca as she was leaving the building. No one apologized or tried to get out of the way, they just swarmed about her and demanded their space.

Appelsin and Maltextrakt

Trying out all the local beverages.

We walked back to the Galtafell and changed again (we were done up in rain gear and by this point there was no indication it would rain any more) and returned, once again, to our beloved Café Paris. This time I sampled EGILS (brand) MALTEXTRAKT and was entirely surprised to discover it was not a kind of booze. It tasted not unlike root beer, if anything. Rebecca ordered APPELSÍN (as I’d had at Serrano) and a nice cheesecake.

We stopped at a bookstore similar to the one beneath our apartment at Room With a View, apparently a chain store—Mál og Menning (“Language and Culture”). I liked this store quite a lot, as the layout (staggered half-floors based on the central staircase) was an appealing change, but our experience here was a bit darker, in keeping with the unfortunate events of the day. Several times Rebecca intimated to me that she felt someone staring at her, and each time she turned and found some random customer giving her the hairy eyeball or glaring at her. There was no reason for this, in that we are ideal customers: clean, quiet, and polite, but some of the other customers found some reason to express their poor attitudes at her.

As for myself, I was walking across the store perpendicular to a tall, red-haired, lean man who was walking out. He stopped to look at his daughter behind him so I walked ahead to the other side of the store. Without looking he resumed walking and almost collided with me. I dodged out of the way and he was startled.

I said, “Excuse me,” and he snorted indignantly at me.

I stopped in my tracks, turned to face him directly, stared him in the eye and said, clearly, “I’m sorry.” He smirked at me and left the store.

Later in the week, I picked up a local newspaper, mostly an events periodical tracking music and theater, and read an op-ed piece about a group called Ísland Fyrir Íslendinga, or “Iceland for Icelanders.” They’re a racist organization that publish clarion calls warning the population about such problems as overpopulation by foreigners and the threat to the purity of their stock. Reading that, I wondered if Rebecca and I had announced our alienness by speaking in English to each other in the store, thereby running afoul of certain customers.

It was a bad evening, but it’s important to remember that most people were not like that.

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