Iceland: Adventures in Lagoons, Booze & Anti-Globalization
You wake up and realise this ho(s)tel bed you're paying a mere Â£130 for the whole week is one of the most comfortable in the world.
You soon realise your eyes are your own again.
The magical Icelandic beauties who stole your soul doors with their chiselled cheeks, leg-ins'n'messy skirts and aloof unknowing cool, have given them back from the haze of a stalkers gaze. But for how long?
Note to Men: They really are all that. Believe the hype. The Danish fought for this place for a reason. A reason with golden locks!
Marry me. No, you marry me. No, hang on, you...ï¿½
You should feel dirtied and ashamed. You grin.
But you can't and you won't even speak to them, as these are some of the most beautiful women in the world, on a beautiful volcanic island, where there are more women than men and we're told by some drunk guy propping up the bar, drinking his Viking, that wife-bashing is not illegal, it's just part of the marital process.
But you, you'd never feed her - or her or that angel who just stepped off the bus - a five finger sandwich. Smack her with a frying pan. Smash a mirror into her face.
Your day in and off continues...
You eat too many crisps, watch too much Mtv (tho in Iceland that means videos by Album Leaf, Nick Cave and Interpol. And channel 'I' where every third band is an unsigned Icelandic act!).
The minutes turn to hours.
You're too excited to snooze. Too tired to sleep.
You drink to unsocially lubricate yourself.
To lose, to detach, to daydream.
You begin to babble nonsense and annoy your clan.
There's not a cloud in the sky, yet it's raining in London. So says Sky News. You celebrate with another sip from deepest Americana to your lips.
And then leave to drink the best flavour drinks: free ones.
You decide blazer and scarf, rather than a coat. It's do-able.
At a record store, a very special tiny record store where Sigur Ros shop for inspiration; you watch UK geek-pop kids Hot Chip.
They dance. They bash keys'n'synths'n'stuff. They wonder how Stevie Wonder has seen so much.
A man with a Borg-like camera for a head trys to capture the eccentric Brits.
Give me nerdish. Give me wigga. Flash.
Act cool. Pretend I'm not here.
Fake it. C'mon!
Let me at your soul. And pause. We'll be right back after these messages.
Fast forward to simultaneous free parties for meeejah scum.
Just act like you belong. Fit in. Sip the piss nectar.
Believe that you've earnt this beer which last night would've cost you a fiver. You're on holiday. It's a jolly. Someone else is picking up the tab.
Drink it. Shut up.
Remember there is no such thing as a free liquid dinner. Write nice things later. Sell the place. Get people to come here.
Call some place paradise. Kiss it goodbye.
And then you realise s'all gone wrong when the conversation slides to who the hottest women was in Neighbours. Then someone whose name you've all forgotten and this bugs everyone for far too long. Then one wonders how electricity is created. Your brain is rotten.
No-one notices your eyes being hi-jacked by another angel goddess.
You feel like a puddle.
The nights seven or so bands blend into one. One helluva band they'd make, but they'd split instantly cus of musical differences.
No band tonight captivates you completely. They're all better than the average indie chancers. Minus could still be one of the biggest rock bands in the world (or Europe at least!). On home soil they sound so wrong, so vacuumed vacuous, devoid of national identity, pride and escapism. Part of an international culture. Homogenized. Sick sick six.
All these bands, they mostly sing in the universal language of English by that we mean American. The language of 'izations.
They communicate between songs in their native tongue. Just to confuse lazy brits and yanks who've never considered learning another language. Never considered watching less tv and learning Icelandic before getting here. You're just as hypocritical. You think you'll try harder next time, but it's easier to be lazy in a land of microwaves and news from around the world in soundbites.
They all continue to sing in the language of the pillagers. The business barbarians. The coca-cola adverts. Man-made atrocities. Cities.
Cites for sore eyes.
...of a place away from this splendour. Better than this?
Blood will be shed with these tears.
Give me darker days. Flash.
You walk home. Alone. Probably mumbling. Eating a burger with relish that looks like kid-made prawn cocktail (ketchup and mayo swished together with a fork). It tastes heavenly. [Guilty pleasures.]
Yesterdays icey gale has gone. The blazer and scarf just about keep you warm (it's probably the Linus badge doing all the hard work), but you have a shot of stashed-away Absinthe anyway.
You should have bought a hip-flask.
As the green fairy walks you home, past Prada and cinema's showing Sharks Tale and the latest apocalyptic block buster, you feel at home.
Impure in the knowledge that there's no place like home. Like one of Hitlers surrogate children.
Everywhere you can lay a flag, is where your heart could have been. Hasbeen.
Day 4.: Nr. Artic circle, in a fucking lagoon!
This morning you should be suffering. But you're doing just fine.
You make the coach with seconds to spare.
Cloud-topped dormant volcano scenery: Tick!
Freezing Outside: Tick! Circle! Double Underline!
You blink and youï¿½'re out of the 'city'.
You try to believe the outta town KFC (or RFP: Reykjavik Fried Puffin) and McDonalds are mirages. The Icelanders were meant to have overthrown Maccy D's and their Romanic attacks - what gives?
Before too long you're back in the desolate Martian landscape. They could've shot Mad Max or Star Wars here. Cue thoughts of hiring costumes. Bad Vadar impersonations. Air light sabres, schzoom sounds and thoughts of a pre-Passion o'Christ mentalism fill the space between my seat and that of my compatriot.
To your left, the dried up lava flows run for miles to the mountains. Their jagged-upon-jagged edges are covered in a greeny, mossy, ash. So green it looks brown and grey, like the rainbows on fish scales and bacon, only not at all like that.
Snap. Scribble. Chin rub. To your right, front and behind, the assemblage of the worlds media try to capture and note what's going past the window. We could crash and nothing would change but the moments right up until now will have been documented ready for the headline, topic sentences, copy deadline and argument about the most representative half-page photo and tagline.
How will the reader ever feel like they're truly here whilst sitting on the bus in Bognor if the photo is cropped like that?
This is a service announcement: Calling all horsemen of the apocalypse, hello.. hello, are you there? Is this thing on?
You can only feel in contempt for so long.
The driver takes us off the main road (which is more like a dirt track with a white line up the middle) and drives toward the midday burning ball cracking the blue sky.
Ahead, steam rises.
The closer we get, the more the steam looks like it's pouring from a power station plonked in this wilderness by some outta control, god-complex gone crazy, Sim City playing oik in suburbia Anywheresville, desperately trying to while away time, to escape, to avoid thinking about death and love and the realisations of a future as a cash desk clerk. Hoping that building something, to destroy something, is a safe distraction from masturbation and drug crime and Childs Play 3.
That is because it is. A power station that is.
And then we stops.
We're in the middle of nowhere and someone has built a car park and made a coach drop-off point. The Vikings, it was not.
The cold air takes your breath away. That weird cold burning thing blitzes the tips of your ears and tops of your thighs. Your balls (if you gots any balls) are like tinned peas and carrots.
You're given a towel and a bracelet. You take off your shoes. You follow the signs for your gender. Naked men fill the changing room, happily bending over beside you as you crouch to take off your socks. You're not looking at the strange spread of their pubic hair, but you are. Are you abnormal? Or is he? Or he?
Like a true conservative member of Western Society, you hide yourself, incase it is you who is misshapen. Incase of cellulite or a scar you don't know about. A trace of faeces you didn't quite wipe clean. Unexplainable bruising.
For the past few weeks you've feared walking out this door. You knew it'd be cold, but how cold? Yet the idea of a geothermically heated to body temperature, blue lagoon, is special. A wonder of the world. Even tho your nipples will probably fall off, you stand there taking it all in. The steam rising into the breeze. The fact it really is blue gets you. The blue of Man City or of a milky skyï¿½ The way your granddads comatose eyes looked as he led there, looking dead, but still pissing and breathing.
Skip scene of not knowing if they were steps or not.
Skip toe-dipping trepidation in case it was all a joke and these people before you are actually mannequins bathing in icey blue water that's icey cold.
Remember how dangerous it is to hesitate.
Timeout; Zack from Saved by the Bell style.
This is a moment you need to engrave in the back of your temple, stain into your retina's. Dive under. Feel the disorientating tropical warmth. For three seconds, forget everything, ever. Don't think. Twist like a water birth. Be reborn, but more like a knowing newborn, than some extremist Baptist with a megaphone. Or just be a like a kid whose just discovered Nirvana...
Arise, and see things anew. Don't breath right away. Flick your eyelids open slowly and gaze from the monsters lair mist into the blinding sun. Sniff for the smell of salty egg fried rice cooking in the flat below. It os not overpowering like a stream of cars going up hills with their catalytic converters, nor like overused bed sheets or sex juice in a bath. It's much subtler than all of that.
As you swim further out, nearer the bubbling steamy rocks, it gets warmer. This is what a lobster must feel like on simmer. People around look pink like salmon. You can't smell the hormones and testosterone floating into the ether, either.
You swim away from the heat and toward the steam room, sauna and man made waterfall. The water pummels your neck back in line. You put white lumpy porridge-like stuff on your face and let it dry for ten minutes, like it says to do. You float, it's so salty it's easy, like the red sea, only blue. And you bob around and let the fluids flow from your joints. Your spine realigns itself. Your knees sigh.
You exfoliate your feet on the rocks and sand and mud on the lagoon floor.
Patrick Bateman would be proud.
Hours turn to minutes. Your two hours, or the coach leaves you here (you wish), are nearly up. You try the steam room only to find it's full of 16 year olds on a school trip from Walthamstow. You try the sauna but the beauty of people in there make it impossible to relax. If only you had a beer mirror or the self-ignorant pride and the confidence of a (coked up) movie star.
You really will do more than 10 sit-ups a week, when you get back to reality.
You will take an afternoon a week to swim.
You will eat better, drink less, take care of yourself...
But you're abroad and shop is in sight, and yoy liked the idea as a kid of having a coke in the bath, now you can drink in the lagoon. Yet there's a queue of obnoxious rich Americans, shouting about how relaxing this is, talking about how jealous the folks at home will be. Living passively, for the entertainment of others. Experiencing life as media. Most unimportantly, working out how they're gonna recount to everyone back home exactly what this was like, without making it sound too hippy-tribal-cultish and not forgetting to mention the hot dogs, just like the ones you can get at home. Image is everything. What they think is more important than how you feel. Right here, righ' now!
Quick, it's a Canon sponsored moment.
Pose for Polaroid. Exit stage right.
Super search past the showering with naked people (clearly not from Walthamstow or Michigan).
Ignore the fact you couldn't find anywhere to put the towel they gave you, so you get your monies worth and stick it in your bag. So British. So predictable. So looking for something to complain about.
You spot the shop and wonder what you can buy as a talking point, so that oneday someone thinks you're interesting.
You sleep the rest of the afternoon. Spend the early evening gawping, again.
The singer from The Honeymoon is much more pleasant on the eye than her Dido through a Blondie lens, Major label euro-pop for folks who like The Sundays, Six Pence Non The Richer and Bridget Jones.
Is it me (and my choices of bands to see) or is there a load more females and a feminine touch to the music out here?
Leaves are a directionless dull smindie let down.
Singapore Sling do sunglasses indoors and do a reasonable post-Mary Chain, Lou Reed impersonation. White Fuzz Tricycle Club?
Despite your better judgement, you make the duteous choice to see so hot righ' now yanks, The Bravery. Expensive haircuts. Duran Duran. Elvis impersonator. Duran Duran. Posturing. Duran Duran. Missing persons. Duran Duran, Duran Duran.
They make you miss starts and finishes to two of the hands down, no bull, best shows of your life. You try not to hate them for it, but you do. You see the two bands whoï¿½ve made two of the albums of the year ('Logic Will Break Your Heart' and 'Chutes too Narrow') play the two best shows you've ever seen them do. The Stills are cranked up the loudest I've heard them this year. They've been great but a bit of a disappointment the four times I've seen them since falling in love with 'Still in Love Song'.
A lost voice at the 100 Club.
Terrible sound at Reading.
They make so much sense here and now (timing, context, state of mind, everything...), contrastingly upbeat party TUNES (what could be called greatest hits set if they had released more than one album), with lyrics of the most poignant distain for the difficulty of dealing with this modern world of guns, drugs and celebs. Mediocrity versus gulfs of contrasting ideals and financial situations. Of similarity the world over. The same problems, different places, different reference points. The same lacks of depths and philosophy. Post-modern nihilism by could-be-models, cool kids from New York via Montreal.
Lava and Ice. Hot pools and scarves'n'skirts'n'gloves'n'hats.
Comets swarm like fireflies, outside your window...
The Shins could save pop culture and bring western civilisation to its knees. Not by being revolutionary per se, but because they write some of the biggest pop songs (and 1000 singing along, screaming for more, Reykjavikians can not be wrong!), in a time where pop is meant to be a dirty word. You could be prophetic and call them the first sign of a new era of romanticism. You could set too much weight on four pairs of shoulders. But then, you have a poet backed by a band who write party anthems for parties too fun to ever happen. They're so great tonight that before you've realised you're singing so loud you've lost your voice, they've broken your heart and given you a free transplant and a bunch of flowers.
When they hit the chorus of 'So Say I' Iceland erupts. The ground shaskes as much as it did centuries ago when the country was formed. You can feel the plates tearing apart and a new world growing between them. This is not (just) some journalistic bullshit. The Shins tonight could be saving the world as we knew it. From here, everything is amplified once its filtered in and filtered out and the processes, like global warming, start and end here.
If the rest of the world was this passionate about new music and had such a clean filtering process, international pop would be more reflective of the world we live in and music we love. Culture would be culturally important. People years from now, could call these the good ol' days, rather than the nearly ran noughties.
There must be a better way, not just for music but for the planet. If the rest of the world recycled and acted as eco-friendly, the nearby ice caps wouldn't be melting. Then again, people wouldn't feel the need to write such great songs to save.
If one place with a better way can show us anything, we should learn from it and fight for it. Have Sigur Ros, Bjork, Mum and all these new bands playing their hearts out across this city taught you, me and us nothing? One fringe gig had 38 local bands playing. 3 nights of music. 5 official venues. Sold out everywhere you look, people queuing in the cold at 2am trying to get in to see the headliner. It's Inspiring.
...And as the last chord of the Shins set rings out, the crowd are grinning and using every remaining bit of their vocal chords to beg for more. The festival can't be over. But it can end like this.
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