We have a teenage granddaughter named Iris who was born here but who lives in Iceland, her mother’s country – making her an “Icelandic-American.” August is a good time to be in Iceland, especially if you like daylight, which is available just about round the clock (of course they make up for it in winter). That means you can cover a lot in a day, and there’s a lot to see – volcanic landscapes, glaciers, waterfalls and hot springs, just to name a few choice sights. And, despite the country’s name, the temperature this month isn’t bad – usually in the 50s or low 60s (that would be around 14 or 15 for Celsius fans).
During our first visit, nearly twenty years ago, we went to the Blue Lagoon – a geothermal spa that’s good for your skin. The rules there are very strict. You have to shower before you go in and after you come out, no exceptions. There’s no rule against leaving your bathing suit behind, however, and that’s what I did.
Iceland had a good run for a long time, pretty much from 874 A.D., when the Norwegians arrived, to 2008. You can read about the early days in the sagas, literature treasured by Icelandics. The country does have a few peculiar traditions, such as elves, also known as “hidden people.” Not everyone believes in them, but enough do to prevent building roads in certain places for fear of disturbing their rocky homes.
By the beginning of this century Iceland was ahead of most countries. According to the United Nations, it was the most highly developed country in the world, and the fourth most productive country per capita. Of course the “capita” is pretty low – 320,000 people, excluding elves, less than one fourth the size of New Hampshire.
Then, in 2008, the roof fell in. The banking system failed, the country entered into a deep recession, the krona (that’s their currency) fell, interest rates and inflation ran into double digits. England and the Netherlands inquired as to just how Iceland intended to pay over $5 billion in debt. No final word on that yet, but some political leaders have fallen by the wayside, as usually happens in a country when things go wrong.
Then, this year, along came Eyjafjallajokull, the unpronounceable (try “AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul”) volcano that turned day into night out of season and made most of Europe a no-fly zone for much of April and May. Some countries just can’t catch a break.
But some politicians can. Icelanders recently elected Jon Gnarr as Mayor of Reykjavik. He’s a high school dropout and professional comedian known for a routine where he makes crank calls to the White House, the CIA, the FBI and New York police stations asking if they’ve found his lost wallet. A man after my own heart, as those of you who read last month’s piece (“My Missing Wallet”) can appreciate. I can understand how he got elected. He promised free towels at public swimming places, including the Blue Lagoon.
Speaking of which, I still have the bathing suit I left behind. We called, they sent it the next day, and I picked it up at the Reykjavik bus station. And the economic news isn’t all bad. Iris got a summer job waiting tables.