sunnudagur, febrúar 25, 2007

west-side pride

My new job has completely changed my view on the neighborhood in which I live. Since I now walk through the ole 'hood every day on the way to and from work, I feel much more in touch with the place, its people, and its legions of school kids trekking stoically down the icy sidewalks in the pre-dawn hours.

Here are some of the great things about Vesturbær, the West End of Reykjavík.

Pétursbúð The West Side's answer to the Corner Store down the street in Bedford, Mass., the site of my first solo shopping trip. The word on the street is that Björk herself once bought her Ramen noodles here. I bought my pasta there last week on the way home.

Christ the King Cathedral Go Catholics! Having grown up culturally Irish-Catholic, seeing the old lady on the hill always makes me feel at home. Now if they'd just wear green on Evacuation Day...

Sundlaug Vesturbæjar The local-pride swimming pool has the best steam room in the Land, with seaside sunsets that stream in through glass block. The friendly crews of exchange students who gather evenings in the back hot tub even make up for the measly narrow swim lanes. Just don't go on Friday evenings, unless you know what you're looking for.

The Burning Bush Some way down Öldugata, someone has wrapped their front-yard tree in so many white lights that it glows like a halfway marker beacon on the predawn work trek. It's a brilliant tree that's visible for blocks and makes a January morning feel just a little bit better.

Áfram KR! Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (KR) was the first soccer club in the Land, and still the most legendary. Their NFL-referee-look jerseys sow confusion on the playing field and their winning record instills a Yankee-like hatred in the hearts of opposing-teams' fans.

Melabúðin The only food store in the Land that's fun to shop. For just a second, you can pretend you're in a crowded food co-op in Park Slope as you crash wire food baskets and storm the meat counter with your fellow shoppers. The selection of nuts and candies is pretty good too, as long as you don't mind reaching over the handknit-hat-wearing heads of three Icelandic kids to get to them.

The sea At the bottom of the slope that is the West End, there is the vast expanse of Reykjavík's bay, ringed by the lighthouse at Grótta, the mountains Esja and Akrafjall, and the distant peninsula Snæfellsnes with its legendary volcano looming menacingly out of the sea.

laugardagur, febrúar 10, 2007

the summer house

I'm staying the Saturday overnight in a little cluster of summerhouses, owned by my employer. It's a little ways out of town, far enough so that no city lights interfere with the stars. Just now when I went to the car to get a pen, the size and brilliance of Orion in the southern sky was almost shocking. I can't imagine how a good hit of the norðurljós must look from out here.

It's cold outside, a few degrees under freezing, and there is crunchy snow on the ground. There are a few dozen little houses clustered here looking down on a frozen lake. Down the hill from me, someone has lit a cooking fire outside and I can hear the excited sounds of little Icelandic kids playing flashlight games in the dark. Rising up to the west is a sky-filling mountain (now just a gloomy shape silhouetted by the lingering twilight) but in the other three directions the sky is clear and wide and endless. The cabins are nestled within a brambly Icelandic forest, scrubby little shrubs that stand shoulder-high in places. Off across the lake, I can see the twinkling lights of another cluster of summerhouses, at the base of a different mountain.

Every time I come out to the Icelandic country I realize I should be doing it a lot more. The peace and quiet out here always make even relatively sleepy Reykjavík feel like New York City. Maybe I'll get lucky and those northern lights will fire up in a couple of hours, hot-white and brilliant green and spanning the cloudless sky.

föstudagur, febrúar 02, 2007

"go back to your land, bitch"

Walking down the hill to work this morning a beat-down-looking character in a hoodie, drinking something from a Coke bottle and holding a lit cigarette, flagged me down. Even though it was nearly 8 a.m., it was still pitch-black. So, not the walk-to-work scenario you're probably picturing.

I decided friendly but fast-walking was the best option, and he struggled to keep up with me, as he told me his story. It was the same story you hear in Boston, but the locations had been moved. In this version, he needed some money for the bus so he could go to his friend's new 50-bed shelter in Kópavogur. (In the Boston version, it's usually Charlestown.) In his drunken slurring, he asked me if I knew about the shelter and I told him no, I was útlendingur. Then I changed the subject to the weather and we talked about that for a minute or so while I got to the bottom of the hill. Then I broke left and wished him well.

Then he switched to útlenska (outsider's language) and said, "Hey, what about Lækjartorg? The bus station is this way!" (It actually wasn't that way.) I told him I didn't have change (I don't carry cash) and kept walking. Then he started screaming, "Go back to your land, Bitch!" So, it's not all wine, roses, and happiness in the Land. Skitapakk!