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Perfect day

Grótta lighthouse
Originally uploaded by Alda Kalda.

What an excellent day yesterday: Reykjavík Culture Night. In the past few years these have surpassed our National Day [17 June] as the biggest party of the summer – and yesterday was no exception.

When this started, a few years ago, the party was just in the evening as the name suggests. But with each successive year, Culture Night has grown in scope and popularity and now officially kicks off in the a.m. with the Reykjavík Marathon. From then on, it’s just a huge celebration all over the downtown area and beyond. There is so much to see! Everywhere you look there are people doing things. Wild things. Crazy things. Gorgeous things. Amazing things. Everyone is in a happy mood, and museums and galleries and shops and hell, even banks, throw open their doors. Out on the sidewalk, street artists do their thing, bands are playing everywhere, foods of every description are being peddled or given away, and tucked away in the corner of some small gallery you may find a couple of guys making music, lost in their own little world. You run into lots of people you know, wander in and out of places you’ve always meant to check out, and sometimes you do a double take [or two]. Basically, Reykjavík Culture Night is culture in the broadest sense of the word. Mannlífið. Human existence. People celebrating and doing their thing, just for the sake of it.

EPI and I hopped on our bikes and cycled downtown around 2pm. We began by checking out the [open house] exhibition in the cellar of the Hotel Centrum Reykjavík. Here’s the story: when they started building that hotel a few years ago they discovered a Viking longhouse just lying there around 2 metres below the surface. Yowsa! So construction was halted while excavation took place and to allow the city council to argue about what to do with all the stuff they were digging up. Finally a decision was made to just leave it there and set up an exhibition in the cellar of the hotel. Long story short, they’ve made a stellar exhibition, ingeniously incorporating modern techniques to enhance the experience. For example, around the entire periphery of the exhibition, along the outside wall, there is long and narrow screen depicting exactly how the view would have been from that house over 1,100 years ago, and in various parts of the screen figures appear and move around, doing stuff that they would have been doing back then. Hard to describe, but very clever.

So having been suitably wowed by that, we decided to wander a bit. Saw some heavy-duty bikers who were offering free rides to the public, stopped to talk to family and friends, wandered up to Skólavörðustígur and ate incredible seafood soup that they were selling out on the sidewalk, drifted into 12 Tónar where everything was half price just because, ran into a seasonally-challenged Santa Claus, checked out a daredevil flying show overhead, wandered into galleries and took photos that EPI [the fine arts graduate] sternly instructed me not to post online, ducked into the Culture House where I discovered this stunningly beautiful sculpture of a benign Jesus in a blue room, and more, and more… and eventually were so cultured-out that we decided it was time to head home.

There we had a brief interlude in which we enjoyed our regular Saturday night dinner of foie gras, caviar, Veuve Clicquot and lobster tails [just kidding!] [about it being our normal Saturday dinner!] In other words, we had a kitchen party and… can you believe that EPI has only just informed me that he owns a CD of the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense?? Which is only the most superexcellent kitchen party soundtrack ever? I mean, how can he have kept this information to himself this entire time?

Anyway… we had planned to catch the fireworks that were being fired off a ship anchored off the shore of Sæbraut with all the other 90,000 Nicelanders who made it into town last night for that purpose… but we were just too damn busy having fun.

… to get on our bikes just before midnight and cycle out to the Grótta lighthouse, which you can see lit up in all its glory on the picture accompanying this post. The lighthouse, which if you’ve been reading for a while you will have seen on previous photos on this site because it’s near my house and, well, we go out there a lot, is actually located on a little island named Grótta, which is only accessible when the tide is out, so twice a day for a couple of hours. And the lighthouse itself has never before, to my knowledge, been open to the public. And then a few weeks ago a handful of artists had the brilliant idea of setting up an exhibition out there and opening a cafe where they served coffee and waffles and played old Icelandic standards from the ‘50s. And of course I’d been meaning to go, and just never quite found the time, and last night was the last night, and it was due to close at 1am. So of course we had to go.

We cycled out there in absolute darkness and found that the little route out to the island had been lit up with candles [which didn’t do much good, unfortunately, because we kept tripping over rocks anyway – still, it was a nice gesture]. When we got out there, we found a bonfire on the shore with – inexplicably – a bunch of English speakers hanging around it. A good friend of ours, Paul Lydon, had been performing out there but had just finished his set when we arrived, which was a shame because we were hoping to catch him. However, we still had the lighthouse to see and it was completely magical – the Northern Lights even danced around it – and it is highly unusual for the Northern Lights to be visible in August. It looked so very imposing all lit up like that – and let me tell you, what an exciting experience to go inside! There’s something so enchanting about a lighthouse – maybe it’s their solitary stance by the sea, maybe it’s their role as beacons of light, I don’t know. [I’m sure the Freudians would have a field day with this one, though.] In any case, going inside – after having walked around the periphery of it so many times in the past – was incredible. Who would have believed the place had so much soul?

The craziest part was entering this room, not seeing anything, but hearing a [recorded] child’s voice eerily coming out of pitch darkness … a child, hesitantly reading from the records that have been kept there for decades and which are gathering dust on the shelves. Very very freaky!

Anyway, it was a perfect day. And now this post has gone on far too long and my better judgement tells me to wrap it up before collective snoring starts wafting out from cyberland. The weather was excellent today, highs of 17 I believe, and scattered clouds. Sunrise/sunset unavailable on account of the calendar being in the other room and YT being all cosied up with the laptop and too lazy to go get it. My guess: around the same time as yesterday.