Culture and Royalty

Breakfast nook

Delicious breakfast in a pleasant little dining nook!

Woke up, bathed in the inset bathtub (my notes: “hand nozzle, no faucet, which is cool”), got dressed, and requested the password for Wi-Fi access from the hostess. I didn’t write down what we needed to look up, probably a weather forecast, maybe checking the exchange rate? We sat down in the communal kitchen and prepared our own skyr and muesli (which I have seriously developed a taste for) and orange juice. I’m partial to pear skyr as it turns out.

It was during last night’s grocery store run that we discerned that skyr is a product and not just a brand name. It’s my deepest hope I can find some when I return to the States.

Walking around on this overcast morning we found a bakery, called GAMLA BAKERI, and we picked up a few sweet pastries for snacking on during our journey. We also breezed through Mál og Menning again, just because we really like that place, despite its customers.

Einar Jonsson statues

Influential Icelandic artwork in the garden.

We walked out to the LISTASAFN EINARS JÓNSSONAR, or Einar Jonsson Museum. The garden exhibit, enclosed by a heavy iron fence, is free but the penthouse that was converted into a museum either was not open or we just couldn’t figure out how to get in. There were some teens smoking on the front steps who were not very helpful, but it’s not their job to be. Many of the sculptures were created shortly before or after 1913 and I keyed into the art deco style, very appealing to me.

We also headed out to a museum I specifically wanted to check out: Culture House. We must’ve needed to logon this morning so we could check the hours of these places. That would make sense—the information was also in our Lonely Planet guide but by this time we seriously mistrusted its integrity. Which is sad, because I listened to some NPR or Reuters Podcast in which the founder was being interviewed. He sounded like a decent enough guy and his motives were pure. I guess his own organization has expanded beyond his control.

Culture House lobby

“You can’t be in here!”

Anyway, Culture House! Closed. We walked past a large theater bearing posters for some ’80s punk show and a play featuring Ólafía Jónsdóttir, something about a beach vacation I surmised, and up the steps leading to the Culture House. This was Monday, but if we’d gone on a Weds. it would have been free: all museums are free on Wednesdays in Reykjavik, we learned.

The massy wooden double doors were closed; we pushed one open and a young security guard leaped out from behind his desk to charge at us. “We’re closed! We’re not open right now!” he said.

“When will you be open?” we asked him.

“Three o’clock, we’ll be open to the public again.”

Gray Kitten Cafe

“Oh well, we’ll just get some lunch I’ve heard of.”

Rebecca laughed about the Lonely Planet’s quality of information once again, but this time it turned out the guide was not at fault. We walked around the building, climbed a grassy hill and stewed beneath a statue of Thor while we weighed our options: National Museum was too far away, plus it was closed today. There was always Café Paris, of course, but we wanted to see other things sometimes. It was about 2:30 p.m. so we trotted over to GRÁI KÖTTURINN (“Grey Kitten”), a little café across from the Culture House. Rebecca ordered eggs and bacon, and I had Croque Monsieur. This is because I’d read about it as a recipe in an Amy Sedaris book and had never heard of it before. I thought it was very cute—it appeared as part of a kids’ menu—but it turns out it’s a legitimate recipe.

As we ate, as it got closer to 3:00 p.m., Rebecca asked me how the museum looked. I said that one of the doors was open and a man in a suit was standing in the doorway, occasionally pacing. There was also a woman wearing a blazer and skirt and holding a camera. She asked me my impression of the scene and I imagined that they looked like they were waiting for something.

Rebecca at the Gray Kitten

“Huh. That’s a lot of cops.”

Soon a cavalcade of black SUVs, tour vans, one limousine, and a dozen LÖGREGLAN (“law regulators,” police) on motorcycles and in cruisers pulled into the long semicircular driveway of the Culture House. I started taking pictures; Rebecca climbed out of her seat and got up to ask the patrons and staff of the café if they knew what was going on.

One of the waitresses said she recognized the President of Iceland, ÓLAFUR GRÍMSSON. As I’ve mentioned, his personal phone number is listed in the public phone directory.

There was a table of four customers seated by the bay window of the café. One of them said, “And those are the (HRH Crown) Prince (Frederik André Henrik Christian) and (HRH Crown) Princess (Mary Elizabeth) of Denmark.”

I took way more pictures.

Culture House

All these very important-looking people entered the Culture House.

Our old friend Jonas knew what was up, because he happened to lead another tour group by at just the right time. He was on our side of the street, pointing at the event and explaining it to the tourists, and then he just led them right across the street, right up to the cavalcade. This was when Rebecca noticed that none of the cops had guns. The motorcycle cops blocked off through traffic but only wore orange utility vests over their regular uniform. There were some higher level officers who arrived in cars, wearing dress blues and bearing ivory-colored truncheons, but that’s it. We were astonished that security was such a nonissue here. These international dignitaries could show up and mill about unmolested by protesters or attention whores, quite unlike here in the States (I’m thinking of Desiree Farooz, the protester with fake blood on her hands who rushed Condoleeza Rice during a congressional hearing). All the attention was friendly and polite… until the teenagers showed up.

President of Iceland

The President spent hardly any time at all in there.

Man, teenagers are just shits everywhere, not just in the States. Three young men rushed into the Grái Kötturinn and not because they were really hungry. They made a beeline for the bathroom and crammed themselves into it all at once (very subtle, guys) and came out after a few minutes, each one holding a small squirt gun, dripping all the way from the bathroom, across the café, and out the door. It seems that the worse an idea is, the stronger a teenager is committed to seeing it through.

What’s surprising is that nothing happened. They hovered on the perimeter, waiting for their chance to misbehave, trying so hard to look natural they naturally attracted attention. Teens are never as clever as they think they are. One of the older officers struck up a casual conversation with them and soon the kids were engrossed in chatting with the man. They were caught quite unawares and gave themselves over wholly to the little chat, suspecting nothing. It wasn’t until Rebecca and I finished our lunch and crossed the street that they suddenly became nervous, staring at us, elbowing each other in the ribs (subtly, of course), pointing at us and muttering to each other. They thought we were the obstacle to their plans, not the cop who got them in conversation. That part just kills me. And as it played out, the president and royalty all sauntered back into their vehicles, the teens missed their opportunity, and the cop eased into his cruiser and drove away.

Who is this person?

There were a lot of other people around, too.

We saw the president, prince, and princess. There was an Asian girl dressed in a traditional Danish outfit, she remained on the steps and I don’t know what part she played in all this. A local TV station brought out a camera and interviewed some tourists, getting their impression of the event. The museum opened up and we were free to go in.

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