Friday, June 7, 2013

Despise Rules & See Through Fools

...or a few nights in Reykjavik. The long-awaited (?) second part of my Icelandic adventures.

If you were to ask me what are the main things etched into my memory of Iceland's capital, I'd have to state the following order: cats, graffiti and Bonus. 
After you read this post, you'll be like "Uum...what's Bonus?". So just to get it out of the way: Bonus is some kind of  Icelandic supermarket institution. You can barely walk a few feet on its streets without falling over some cute hipster carrying a yellow Bonus bag with picture of a pink piggybank on it. And yet I have not a single picture of said bag, or a Bonus shop, which in my observations seems like a cross between an Asian market and a Grossout. Moving on.
Reykjavik's city council, police department (I saw like one cop the whole time I was in the country. An unarmed traffic cop. I love Scandinavia.), citizens, whomever is in charge, don't seem to mind graffiti, and appear to encourage all forms of street art, which is everywhere, in many shapes.
They do however regulate dogs. Really, I'm not joking. There's some sort of old law in the books, that prohibits  folks from having dogs in densely populated areas (a rather relative term in a country 200 000). The end result? A city of kitties.
Cats that look like orange lynxes, cats stalking each other awkwardly, cats in the windows of seemingly empty houses, cats walking the seemingly empty streets, cats ambling around like in some strange, surreal dream where there's no humans, only cats, or maybe some fun post-apocalyptic cat society. Cats, cats, cats.
They're no stray cats either, they're fat and well-cared-for-looking, just wild and free to roam, with no dogs or cars to fear.
If you're not a cat person, or are a cat person that doesn't love blurry shots of random cats from distant lands, now would be a good time to stop reading. This blog.
Just kidding. Some of my best friends don't like cats.
I plan to murder them in their sleep. Wait! Did I just say that out blog? Moving on. About that street art...
From your average tags, to all-out amazing murals, to weird pieces of three-dimensional artworks, there's no end to puzzling and mesmerizing art. From collages to painted electrical boxes, to pieces of astroturf glued to the pavement, nary a street corner doesn't have some form of it.
It's hard to tell how much of Reykjavik's tolerance for outsider art in its streets has to do with a love of art and freedom and how much of it with simply not caring too much. I say this with all the love in the world for graffiti, tags and stickers. It wouldn't even have occurred to me, if it wasn't for the fact that Reykjavik is also a kind of a dirty city. Buildings look dirty, there's trash flying around all over the streets, many public places, though not decrepit, look a little uncared for.
Perhaps it's simply because Icelanders are a rather irreverent bunch. A nation of rebels. Certainly I was amused by a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, who's inscription simply stated: Son of Iceland Discoverer of Vinland. You know, the Americas. I love the casual tone of it. Like "Oh you know, everyone's so over the fact that Columbus wasn't the first European to get there."

No wonder his statue is surrounded with a city full of wild art. Or Despise rules & see through fools, as one mural stated.

Personally, I prefer an abundance of free expression to a neat and orderly city. I mean just look at Seattle. It's so tidy you barely even notice it's there.

Whereas in Reykjavik anyone can sow their own seeds of quiet revolution, beauty, confusion, new ideas.
If you've ever wondered what a city with less rules about commercial and personal space might look like the answer is all over Reykjavik's walls.
Like this.
Or like this.

Or like this.
Or like this.
A culture that doesn't differentiate between high and low brow, is okay by me.
And how could it, when its traditional wooden Scandahuvian houses are actually made of corrugated metal?

Perhaps the slightly worn look simply comes from weather; many of these lovely homes have rust on them and no wonder.

Oh and speaking of despising rules, the anxious law-abiding American in me was a little timid about taking an early evening walk with beer in hand. "Is it okay drink on the streets?'' I asked in a quivering voice, only to be met with a rather withering look. "Of course." The tone conveyed that I was either from Mars or inherently stupid. Did I mention yet how much I love Scandinavia?
The walk, of course, involved a little thrifting action at the local Red Cross store (the equivalent of Goodwill).
The vintage selection was pretty, but also pitifully small and while I would have loved to have found an Icelandic prairie dress, I was content with the huge rack of Nordic Sweaters at very cheap prices.
IMG_7116 IMG_7118


No tourist sight left unseen, no geothermal magic available unexplored, I didn't limit my hot springs experience to the skin healing (got rid of my two-year-long eczema problem!), sulphur-smelling, eternally hot showers at the hostel, or even swimming in the frozen Atlantic with a little hot-spring bubbling up right in it,  but dove into the waters of the famed Blue Lagoon spa on the way to the airport.
There's certainly nothing more Scandinavian than diving into the waters while the air temperatures are less than lukewarm, but it was nice to really lollygag in it for a change.
The healing silica may mess up your hair (someone was in a rush to catch a plane and didn't rinse properly!), but it makes your skin baby smooth.
And being immersed in hot waters just hours before your flight is both relaxing and slightly surreal.
Arriving at SeaTac that night, I could scarcely believe mere few hours before I was soaking in volcanic heat, but the evidence was apparent in my hair.

Iceland. Magic. Did I already mention that before?


  1. Oh my goodness. I want to go there. So badly.

  2. ughhhh this whole thing is so rad my heart turns somersaults over and over. some of that graffiti is seriously beautiful, i love the colorful braid going in the window and some of the critters,craand most of all what all that crazy art means about an unruly city. i'm with you, give me the little bit raggedy, free and untidy and beautifully messy any day. and those waters!!!! i LOVE that photo of you with the silty face and messy hair. you are an icelandic wonder child and fit right in to all that magic.

  3. Love. This. Post!! Wonderful pictures, I especially love all of the cats and the street art :)

  4. I am really hoping to go to iceland next summer- maybe we can chat if I end up going!

  5. that mushroom graffiti is the tops...just the absolute tops...the bees knees.

    i love that bright blue glacial sludge that you got to magically soak in...

    i once drank from the magic blue river in olympic np just cuz.

  6. ohhhh geeezzzz! I sure wanna go to Iceland!! lovin all that candy colored graffiti! It looks almost magically post apocalyptic. and yay for a city of all cats, right on! xo m

  7. Eääähh... Just kun täällä Suomessa on lempeä kesä ja mun kaukokaipuu merten taakse vähän pienempi...Ihania kuvia.
    Voihan nenä. Ja vielä toi kissa-asiakin, en tiennytkään siitä...:). Aloitin lukemaan uudestaan Kyllikki Villan lokikirjoja tän sun kirjoituksen takia.
    Ehkä mäkin joku päivä pääsen katsomaan tarujen saarta.

  8. that water! gorgeous! and all those cats, you weren't kidding :) and wow, the street art. it appears you summed it up pretty well!

  9. What an interesting looking city! I love the art, especially the hat wearing walrus? Seal? It looks like it would be wonderful to explore. I hope you enjoyed your trip :)

  10. Wow wow wow! I wish there were a way I could transport myself to those hot pools now. And that sweater! And that cat!

  11. Oh I LOVE this post - especially all of the cats! I love posts like these - it's a really lovely snapshot and I'm glad to have seen it.