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An exceptional article from Times Online

A reader emailed me a link to an article on Times Online this morning.

Iceland: Frozen Assets, by A.A. Gill.

Lots of links get left in the comments to this site – and I welcome them – but I rarely post a link on the front page of this blog unless I feel it is exceptional. This one is. One reader comments below the article: “I have never read a more elegantly written article in my life.” I come close to sharing his view. Very impressive.*

[Thanks Garry!]

It is another morning with brilliant blue skies, though there are cloud banks hovering and slightly more of a breeze than yesterday. Right now -2°C [28F]. Sunrise this morning came at 11.15 and sunset due for 3.30 pm.

* AlthoughI must say I don’t agree with everything A.A. Gill writes, particularly his preoccupation with Icelanders and alcohol. Not everyone here is a lush who drinks until they fall down and spends the night lying on the [geothermally-heated] pavement. Harumph!



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Grímur December 14, 2008, 12:47 pm

    Exceptional indeed. Some “golden nuggets”:

    being the shivering Big Issue-seller of Europe

    The Icelandic government is a dozen shepherds and a couple of grocers in Specsavers and M&S suits.

    The bankers and the regulators, the ministers and the judges are all the same people — they’ve known each other all their lives, their wives and their children are friends

    and there is an element of fairy-tale comeuppance to these three backwater banks […] One of them was run from the floor above a fast-food restaurant.

    They barely have a jail: it’s more of a drop-in centre.

    The Russians bailed Iceland out: Reykjavik could be a very useful place to launder money and cock a snook

    before Icelandic children got a banana. That’s not hyperbole — because they have so little foreign currency

    The groups of svelte and confident girls flick their hair, neck cocktails and make blatant passes at the men with face hair like mangy seals

    Icelanders react to bad news the way they always have. It’s the same way they react to good news: they get hammered.

    They want an election and someone to be Icelandic enough to grasp the blame and responsibility.

    They are horrifically hard-drinking, maudlin and prone to flights of dark nihilism and lengthy bitterness.

  • alda December 14, 2008, 12:50 pm

    He has his views – I prefer that to a homogenized listing of facts, even if – note bene – I don’t agree with all of them.

  • Grímur December 14, 2008, 2:35 pm

    This is the kind of article that I’d like to read about someone other than myself. This “never let truth interfere with entertainment” type of journalism is dubious at best.

    But I notice that a lot of our fellow countrymen are linking to the article now. It’s educational to watch the self image of our nation changing from “we descend from Vikings, proud warriors and raiders. We don’t need advice from envious foreigners” to “we descend from the poorest and most pitiful people in Europe. Why, oh why won’t anyone come to our aid?” This article might after all be an accurate description of the mood of our nation.

    The sentiment that appears to strike a harmonious chord in the chest of our fellow countrymen is where Mr. Gill expresses his loathing of his prime minister for the putting the interests of British charities and councils above the interests of Icelandic bankers. A mortal sin indeed!

    An afterthought: Perhaps AA Gills impression of the nation’s alcoholism stems from where he spends most of his time when over here. Patrons of bars are generally preoccupied with the demon drink. Be it only for the duration of the visit.

  • Perturbed of Malvern Wells December 14, 2008, 3:01 pm

    A wondrous article ruined by superficial ‘analysis’ of Brown and Darling’s actions. Reserve judgement until there is a full and open public enquiry in Iceland regarding the behaviour of it’s Central Bank, Goverment and ‘entrepreneurs’. Will Davíð Oddsson ‘go nuclear’? Does A.A.Gill know who he is?

  • Jenny December 14, 2008, 4:12 pm

    The mention of Haldor Laxness does bring to my mind that these events (seem to me) to read like a further chapter of “Independent People”…the most impressive book I have ever read. IceBank….”Another corpse I will live to kiss”.

  • Keera December 14, 2008, 6:13 pm

    It’s always a bit amusing, a bit odd and a bit frustrating to read a visitor’s account of what people are really like in some country.

    I got hung up on the elves. Does he mean what the Norwegians call “nisse”?

  • Lee, UK December 14, 2008, 7:23 pm

    I thought it an interesting and entertaining article. And a lot more focussed than his usual rambling reviews of London restaurants…

  • Marc December 14, 2008, 8:33 pm
  • hildigunnur December 15, 2008, 12:29 am

    Perturbed, we’re trying, oh my god, we’re trying! But they’re working really hard at covering their tracks.

    Article was quite OK, I sort of like to read this one alongside it.

  • David December 15, 2008, 1:42 am

    From the alcohol perspective, Icelanders are no different the Irish in Temple Bar (a pub section of Dublin), the Americans on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Germans in parts of Munich, etc., etc.

    I agree that the article by AA Gill was exceptional. (His view of the Icelander’s use of alcohol isn’t a preoccupation – it’s just an incorrect conclusion that any naive tourist might have who stays downtown and goes out in the evening. )

    Thanks for sharing this article with us and your continuing commentary Alda!

  • Lolo December 15, 2008, 1:51 am

    I read the A A Gill article and found it to be beautifully written; whether it is accurate, I cannot say – after all, I am merely a farmer in a hot place in Africa.
    However, despite your “harumph” at Gill’s depiction of a slightly inebriated population, his description seemed to me to be simply a tribute to one of the charms/quirks of the Icelandic people!

    The conduct of Gordon Brown, the cowardly bully, makes me want to pack up my family and move to Iceland immediately, in principle! Through all the angst, recriminations, betrayals by Brown, uncertainty etc the one thing that consistently seems to shine out from it all, is the essence of the Icelanders
    (Nicelanders!). The vestiges of Nordic blood within my veins cry out for me to move North, where the weather is formidable, but the people are quite, quite charming, and throw in my lot with them.
    Oh and the elves, of course.

  • alda December 15, 2008, 10:02 am

    Takk everyone, for your comments.

    Lolo – Africa! I believe this is the first comment from Africa ever received on this site. 🙂

  • Vera December 15, 2008, 10:32 am

    Keera – No, these are elves (think more in the line of Tolkien’s elves) that live hidden inside cliffs/mountain/rocks.


  • Lucy December 15, 2008, 1:37 pm

    read this yeaterday and couldn’t help but feeling like he had spoken to you

  • Keera December 15, 2008, 5:36 pm

    Thanks, Vera. That would be what is called “hulder” in Norwegian.

  • alda December 15, 2008, 6:48 pm

    Keera – they’re actually called ‘huldufólk’ here – “the hidden people”. They’re not really elves – that’s a definition superimposed from outside. Perhaps our huldufólk have something in common with your hulder? 🙂

  • Keera December 15, 2008, 8:06 pm

    I read someplace that the “hulder”, which can be mistaken for humans, are what the English call fairies. In the old days, fairies were large, not tiny little flitting things a la Tinkerbell.

    I love Norwegian folklore and am tickled by the explanation for a colicky baby (my interpretation): The hulder will swap its own baby with a human baby, and hulder babies never stop crying. I’m pretty sure that since the Icelandic folk and the Norwegians have a shared history, our folklores and superstitions will share similarities, too. Speaking of which, does the word “vardøgger” mean anything to you? There is no English equivalent, AFAIK. It describes the phenomenon of hearing someone arriving long before they actually do (when they make the exact same sounds heard earlier).

  • Roy Roesel December 15, 2008, 8:55 pm

    Thanks Mr. Gill for having taken bullshit to an entirely new level!
    It´s best you stick to a subject you claim to know something about e.g. food! It´s obvious that you know very f—king little about Iceland or Icelanders!.

    “Everyone here can change a tyre, strip an engine, ride a horse, sail a boat, dress a sheep and cure a salmon.” bullshit! not even close!

    “The Icelandic government is a dozen shepherds and a couple of grocers in Specsavers and M&S suits.” Cute but bullshit!

    “How could this nation sustain just two main industries: cod-fishing and international high finance? ” bullshit! Only two, how about the aluminum smelters?

    “And the Faroe Islands, bless them, population 48,000, lent £34m. Everyone in Iceland signed a thank-you card.” bullshit. Everyone did not sign a thank-you card!

    “All our energy is thermal and free.” bullshit I definitely have to call our local utility because those bastards have been charging me. Did you forget that we also have hydro power which supplies most of the power in this country.
    You are one phony mother f—-r! Just visiting a country and altering the conversations you have with locals in a bar doesn´t promote good journalism but I would doubt you would know true journalism if came up and bit you on the ass!

  • alda December 15, 2008, 9:10 pm

    Er, okay.

    Roy, thanks for your input, but I should probably point out that this is not A.A. Gill’s website. You might want to put your comment beneath his article, where he’s more likely to see it.

  • David December 15, 2008, 11:30 pm

    Well, I understand why Roy doesn’t dare post there. The previous 85 posts are strongly in disagreement with him, most of them from Icelanders.

  • Tony Lesen December 16, 2008, 12:33 am

    Gill’s modus operandi is to stay in posh hotels, hang out in bars, and then write about a place he knows little about as though he is some kind of expert. A few years ago he wrote about Albanians as though they were Untermenschen. He’s kinder to the Icelanders, and Icelanders in their troubles nowadays seem to be accepting of any compliments, no matter how backhanded. But honestly, AA Gill is a true misanthrope and no friend of Iceland. His Albania article was subject to a complaint to the British press council. In the end, freedom of speech won out, as it should have…but his nastiness speaks for itself:

  • David December 16, 2008, 1:50 am

    Tony – What do you think of this article by AA Gill I hate England … where he has lived for 50 years… Is it the result writing about “a place he knows little about as though he is some kind of expert”?

    Or is he just provocative and “fearlessly impressionistic articles” (according to the Times) for us to chew on. The last thing I want to read is homogenized, pasteurized and always politically correct boring reports. I understand this is his point of view and that he is reporting necessarily facts. I want a perspective. I enjoy writers who give me something to think about. I appreciate an opinion different from my own.

    Let me decide for myself – still thanks for trying to help me! 🙂

  • Roy December 16, 2008, 8:15 am

    Hi Alda,
    Believe me, I tried to put this exact text beneath his article but my browser kept giving me an error so I chose the what I thought would be the next best location for my comments. Strike the first paragraph from my comments and see if the rest are appropriate for your location.

  • Karen December 16, 2008, 1:45 pm

    While I can’t agree with Roy’s vitrol, I thought the article was pretentious and long-winded. It bored me to tears. And I thought it’s description of Icelanders to be…. lacking complexity.

    By the by, the wikipedia entry on A.Gil says he’s a recovered alcoholic. Perhaps that’s why he focussed on the drinking culture in Iceland.

  • Perturbed of Malvern Wells December 17, 2008, 11:34 pm

    Just went back to The Times article and my comment regarding his simplistic political analysis has been removed having been there for some days. Clearly Mr Gill is not one to take dissent from his readers. Very amusing. I’m sure this would never happen in the Icelandic media.


  • alda December 18, 2008, 12:05 am

    Perturbed – wow. That’s bad. I’ll have to reconsider my evaluation of the guy – assuming it is he who ordered the removal.

    That said, I’ve experienced some nasty stuff from The Guardian concerning my own articles their site, so I’m not entirely surprised. As someone said, the bigger the media, the lower the scruples.

  • Dublin Brian December 18, 2008, 1:42 am

    I thought AA Gills article in the Times was rubbish.

    He says that the Icelanders are “the most liberal, reasonable, hard-working, decent, moral, amusing and well-educated people on the Continent”.

    Obviously, Iceland is not on the continent, its an island. Thats just one example of rubbish, in another rubbish article written by Mr Gill.

    He also says that Icelanders have money for binge drinking, but they have no money for fruit for children.

    AA Gill has a track record of ignorance. Check out his wikipedia page.

  • David December 18, 2008, 1:58 am

    C’mon, it’s the spirit of his writing that is so interesting. If you read him literally, of course it might be perceived as rubbish. He clearly didn’t think of driving to Iceland because he knew it not on the continent. You clearly must believe he doesn’t believe Iceland is “on the continent”. So, if you soften a bit and enjoy a bit of poetic license, you’ll understand that he clearly is emphasizing that Icelanders are “the most liberal, reasonable, hard-working, decent, moral, amusing and well-educated people” among Europeans. How can that be rubbish? I think it’s very true. It might be hard to give him slack if you are British or if you are a literalist: that’s understandable.

    It truly is amazing that one who has a track record of ignorance hasn’t been “found out” by the Times long ago….

    Chill, he has interesting observations, empathizes with Icelanders and is appropriately critical of Gordon Brown. He also knows how to yank a few chains… priceless… 🙂

  • BiB December 22, 2008, 5:36 am


    Here’s another one, though perhaps you’re fed up of reading articles on the subject now! This one, I’m guessing, is written by a Nicelander at least.