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Monument to megalomania

OK, so Christmas is over, and we’re into the period that everybody was dreading, post-Yule, when the awful kreppa would finally dig in its claws and we’d really start to feel it.

And as a nation, I guess we are. The news are pretty depressing – hospitals are closing, potentially 3,500 companies going bankrupt by the end of this year, hundreds of people lined up at the unemployment offices at the beginning of the month, etc. A number of people I know were laid off last October and November, but it seems this was preemptive by a lot of employers … many have since been hired back, albeit usually at lower wages than before. A few people I know have not been hired back, but all of them seem to have found something else to do.

Chez YT, meanwhile, things are much the same as ever – we get up, EPI goes to work, AAH goes to school, and YT sits down at the computer. I’m still getting assignments in, although I have noticed a change … in the past I was pretty much inundated with translations and copy editing work and people weren’t too concerned about price … these days people ask for quotes and are concerned with budgets. Some of them back out, don’t get in touch again, or look for alternatives – despite the fact that I’ve lowered my rates, as have most freelancers I know [and wage earners in general]. Whether there will be an ongoing reduction in the number of assignments still remains to be seen – there are seasonal trends in my line of work and Christmas and the beginning of January are always a bit slow.

Meanwhile, construction of the new Concert Hall and Conference Centre in downtown Reykjavík, aka Da Big Eyesore, has ground to a halt and may very well stay that way. It is half-finished and construction was stopped at the beginning of this year because the contractor overseeing the job hadn’t been paid for three months. If construction stops, that malformed embryo of a concert hall will remain there for the next several years as a bleak testimony to the megalomania that characterized this society in the past few years – it was supposed to have been largely funded by Landsbanki bank and the Björgólfurs.

I remember shaking my head when I heard about the plans – it was massive, like it was being built in a city of a couple million people, not 170,000 or whatever the Greater Reykjavík Area is today. Their website details all those grandiose plans and clearly once had a webcam, which now appears to be defunct, on which people could follow construction work on the site. Perhaps the most ominous part of the plans was the inclusion of the so-called “Reykjavík World Trade Center” [title in English] on the site. In light of the horrific demise of its namesake on 9/11 I am amazed that anyone could even think to use that name – and in light of recent developments it is downright creepy. *Shudder*

Anyway, if no solution is found in the next few days then apparently it may take ten years to restart the project. Personally I have no emotional investment in that concrete monstrosity, but am not thrilled to have to drive past it for the next ten years, every time I go through downtown. Plus I am sad for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, which has been lobbying relentlessly for years for a proper concert hall in which to play, allowing it to move out of the University Cinema, where it is housed now. It really is a shame, because the Orchestra is a world-class act [it was nominated for a Grammy just a few weeks ago] and really deserves better premises [the University Cinema is not designed for concerts and has crap acousitics]. However, I have my doubts as to whether it could have sustained audience numbers in the 1,800-seat hall that it was meant to move into in the new building.

All things considered, though, most of us Nicelanders are doing OK. Everything is going up up up in price and who knows where it will end, but we still have plenty of food in the stores and warmth in our homes and nobody has died from the kreppa. And with daily news reports about the horror taking place in Gaza, our current predicament seems like the lap of luxury.

IT’S GETTING COLDER
The last few days have felt like springtime, what with the balmy temps and whathaveyou [although the lack of daylight kinda gave away the season], but we’re now back to cool temps and snow. A storm is forecast for the northeast, which will likely mean windy conditions throughout the isle. Right now 3°C [37F] [OK, not that cold – YET- sort of like the kreppa forecast] and sunrise was at 11:07 am, sunset crawled past 4 pm to 16.04.

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  • James January 9, 2009, 11:34 pm

    Perhaps the Concert Hall and Conference Centre construction site could be rented out as a large paintball arena. Release Oddsson in there with a 30 second head start, chased by 200 fully-armed Icelanders. Every evening at 7pm, with Saturday matinees. Balcony seats for tourists.

  • alda January 9, 2009, 11:50 pm

    That’s the spirit, James. Creative ideas – just what we need in the kreppa! 🙂

  • Jessica January 10, 2009, 4:23 am

    I often think of the wasted time, money, effort, and materials when I see these half-constructed buildings all over the place. While the half-finished music hall downtown is the biggest and most symbolic eyesore, you’ll see a plethora of half-built condos and Iceland’s own versions of ‘McMansions’ in the outskirts (namely Grafavogur or Garðabaer). Who were they built for? Like Alda’s point about the seating capacity of the music hall, how could this building boom be sustained by Iceland’s small population? Especially considering the exorbitant costs these suburban dwellings demand!

    Many building materials deteriorate over time if left exposed to the elements for too long without proper maintenance. And Iceland has plenty of harsh elements. So my fear is that these building-skeletons will be left to rot and eventually be deemed unfit for structural integrity and will subsequently be torn down anyway. So it’s either (a) find the money somewhere/somehow to finish the projects and sell at a loss or (b) leave the half-completed projects and then find the money and labor to tear them down and sell the material for scrap. In the meantime, these half-completed buildings will make nice places for your neighborhood kids to hang out and do some drugs. Hey, at least the graffiti will add some color to the suburbs!

  • Rozanne January 10, 2009, 4:47 am

    Well, I’m glad you’re still getting some work. Putting aside the Little Friskies worry, one of the best things about being a freelancer is that you aren’t reliant on one employer and you can always keep casting a wider net.

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 10, 2009, 4:53 am

    The Concert Hall reminds me of the infamous Ryugyong Hotel in the middle of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea — aka the “Hotel of Doom”, “Worst Building In The History Of Mankind”, “Phantom Hotel” or “Phantom Pyramid”. It’s a 105 floor pyramid-shaped concrete skyscraper monstrosity that was mostly finished but has sat vacant for the past 20 years. It consumed 2% of North Korea’s GDP and officials there are so embarrassed by it they Photoshop it out of photos of the city.
    I think the “Phantom Concert Hall” is ugly as it is, and the original design even if finished would be ugly too. But it could be used for something. If not blown up or turned into a paintball arena, maybe it could be used as a jail or homeless shelter or emigrant processing center, or a Museum of Financial Corruption. Or an Icelandic Blues music hall, or a new home for the busy Icelandic bankruptcy court.
    I feel bad for the talented ISO. The lack of a concert hall is the least of their problems now — they are all going to be unemployed in the next few months. What a shame. Maybe they can move abroad and become the Dubai Symphony Orchestra.

  • Dave Hambidge January 10, 2009, 12:59 pm

    I am concerned to read about hospitals closing. What, if any, state provided or funded health care do you up there?

    dave

  • Ljósmynd DE January 10, 2009, 2:37 pm

    What’s in this new banner? Some details of a painting?

    The prices for tourism related services seem to be on the rise even in EUR terms. Airfares, rental cars and those service providers which obviously have decided to exclude the domestic market – like the Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes – are more expensive than last year – in Euro, that is. I’m not sure that it is sustainable to advertise Iceland as bargain destination under those circumstances.

    But I have booked my flight to Iceland for the summer anyway. Maybe there will be a sightseeing tour available then, presenting all the kreppa ruins and testimonies of the megalomania.

  • alda January 10, 2009, 5:13 pm

    Dave – health care is provided by the state, although we pay a nominal fee each time we visit a doctor. Those fees have just gone up, and fees for specialists even more. Every day now we hear about ORs being closed and even whole hospitals (like St. Joseph’s hospital in Hafnarfjördur, near Reykjavík). So yes, very worrying – and it’s already evoking a lot of anger.

    LDE – Kreppa sightseeing tours – a novel idea. And yes, that is a painting in my banner. Or, rather, arranged painted cut-outs, that I happen to have on my wall. Which everyone is free to interpret in their own way. 🙂

  • Dave Hambidge January 10, 2009, 6:03 pm

    Health care is a softish target when economy tight as ‘the bosses ‘ assume that, if push comes to shove, the ill who matter will fund their own treatment. Those who can’t afford are seen as basket cases anyway!

    Them barricades are getting ever closer?

    dave

  • Mondrian January 10, 2009, 7:46 pm

    Got a look at the Concert Hall’s website and saw the once (and future?) finished building. Ambitious to say the least, although it looked like it would offer a great sea view if nothing else. How have tourist numbers been looking in Iceland since the autumn?

    ORs are being shut down?!

  • americangirl January 10, 2009, 11:06 pm

    Just took a quick tour of the Concert Hall website. The “fun facts” section seems quite a bit less “fun” in light of the current situation. “Monument to Megalomania” indeed. Actually, that would be a much better name for the “fun facts” section.

  • alda January 11, 2009, 12:13 am

    Dave – well said!

    Mondrian – You say ‘ambitious’, I say ‘megalomania’. 😉
    And yes, not only ORs, but entire hospitals. I know.

    americangirl – I think ‘fun’ turned to ‘dread’ sometime around November.

  • hildigunnur January 12, 2009, 12:02 am

    Muriel, I refuse to believe the ISO will be out in the next few months!

    The concert hall will be up too, we do have a tradition for building in recessions. Will take some extra years but we can wait.

  • Muriel Volestrangler January 12, 2009, 5:05 am

    hildigunnur,
    I read somewhere that it will cost 10 milj. to finish the building, or about twice the amount of the recent cuts to the health budget. It seems unlikely that there will be a lot of popular support for completing the building when basic services are being cut.
    I don’t know what will happen to the ISO, maybe Bjork can hire them, or they can do Hollywood soundtracks (not as implausible as you might think). I don’t blame them for wanting out of the Haskolabio, it’s just a huge concrete box.