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Farewell to Bobby Fisher

Chess wunderkind Bobby Fisher died here in Reykjavík last Thursday.

Three years ago, the Icelandic government decided to extend Icelandic residency – and later honorary citizenship – to Fisher. At the time he was incarcerated in Japan for travelling without a passport, since the US had revoked his papers for playing a chess match in the former Yugoslavia while sanctions were imposed. Extending sanctuary to Fisher was a bold move by the government of this country; US authorities were opposed to it and had said so in no uncertain terms. Thumbing his nose at this ridiculous and inappropriate intervention was possibly the best thing Davíð Oddsson did during his entire reign as king of this country … but that’s another story.

Anyway, Bobby arrived on Nicelandic soil, spewing rants and the odd profanity about whatever happened to be on his mind, and I think a lot of people – YT included – thought this was how things were going to be from then on: old Bobby shooting off his mouth at every available opportunity and the scandal-hungry press lapping it up. Yet Bobby Fisher settled in to become more or less a recluse, although he did get out to the pub occasionally. He was fiercely protective of his privacy and lived a scandal-free life for the duration of his time here. There were no complaints about Bobby Fisher.

Apparently he had been ill for a while, and true to form [‘eccentric’ is probably as good a word as any] he declined all medical intervention. He didn’t believe in Western medicine. So last Thursday he passed away at a Reykjavík hospital, from kidney failure.

Personally, I’m proud of this nation for having reached out to Bobby Fisher and helped him in his time of need. At the time I had my doubts – he seemed pretty much out of control and I thought he might abuse the goodwill of his benefactors. But he didn’t, and that proved that the gesture had not only been kind, but correct: to offer sanctuary to a man who was, yes, slightly off his rocker and harbored some radical opinions, but who was also a bit like a wounded, hunted animal and needed help. It seems to me that he found a safe harbour here at the end of his life, and that is good.

That said, the latest notions by his supporters concerning his burial seem completely out of whack: they would like for him to have a state funeral and to rest in a plot at Þingvellir, Iceland’s national burial ground, which is reserved for statesmen and national heroes. Which unfortunately is just absurd. Sure Fisher helped put Iceland on the proverbial map back in 1972 … but there is a limit to everything, and I’d say that extending honorary citizenship to Bobby Fisher three years ago was it. Wouldn’t you?

I must say, I’ve been relishing this state of Proper Winter. I’ve even taken my camera with me on occasional outings. Yesterday was very dramatic, with snow squalls and strong winds, while today was exquisitely beautiful, with blinding white sun and hardly any wind. We’re in for a storm tomorrow and rain and sleet the next day – yick. That’s the worst part of all this beautiful white stuff … when you have to wade slush up to your knees on the days it’s melting. Right now -7°C [19F] – brrrr. Sunup 10.45, sundown 4.34 pm.