The Iceland Trip, part one
All errors in the following are solely the fault of the Icelandic people.
11.30am Fri Nov 26 1999
Heathrow is big and empty and generally colourless. From here, in the Garfunkel’s in Terminal One, the only break from the grey of blasted tarmac and the brown of the prefab buildings beyond is the tailplanes of the British Airways jets, painted with intricate and elaborate designs from all over the world. Naturally, Baroness Thatcher had a good old moan about this, and drunken hubby Denis was caught on national television shouting at some hapless BA innocent, “For Christ’s sake, why can’t we have some British designs?”
God forbid we should behave like we’re on the same planet as everybody else, eh?
I’m writing this on my handheld PC, a Windows CE-driven Sharp HC-4000. When time comes to send this to CBR, I’ll simply shove the PCMCIA modem into the side slot, jack in and fire the whole thing down the line from this, a machine smaller than a pack of cigars that fits in my inside jacket pocket. This, for me, is my personal little sign of the end of the 20th Century. I’m off to Iceland to do, among other things, a talk on comics at the end of the 20th Century at the University Of Iceland in Reykjavik.
What you are reading now is my diary of the journey; an inkless and paperless journal all about ink on paper.
Thank God for Icelandair. Immediately relaxing. Business class on Icelandair is like nothing else. Champagne and panfried duck in peanut sauce, overhead videotape of the country itself reminding me of when Niki and Lili accompanied me to Iceland. Lili was two, and the Nexus-6 guys arranged for Lili to go horseriding on an Icelandic pony barely bigger than she was, after we went to see the geyser at Geysir. It’s a beautiful, stark country full of strange and wonderful people. (Not to mention some bloody good music. I remember when I first heard The Sugarcubes, very late at night, all alone in the dark, like receiving stray radiowaves from Mars full of sexy music by mad aliens. One of the things I’m going to do here is hunt down some more music by Moa, who looks like Uma Thurman’s evil twin sister and sounds like a drug-addled Marlene Dietrich on helium, and Sigur Ros, who come with serious recommendations from my friend Arni, currently brown-trousering the innocent in Denmark. Been given the name of a good music store on Laugavegur. The question is, can I find Laugavegur?)
|“One of the things I’m going to do here [in Iceland] is hunt down some more music by Moa, who looks like Uma Thurman’s evil twin sister and sounds like a drug-addled Marlene Dietrich on helium…”||
The flag of Iceland
God, Middle England looks boring even from up here, listening to Talvin Singh on the Discman and swilling Piper Heidsieck as fast as they can pour it…
God, I wish Icelandair would fit some bloody Jetphones. I miss Niki, and I can’t run my little Nokia up here (but it should patch into the nearest Vodafone emitter when I switch it on in Keflavik airport). Seven years we’ve been together now, and the way our minds have dovetailed together is frightening. The other night she said to me, “Seven years, Ellis. I’ve given you the best years of my life.” I said, “Fucking hell, was that it?” Though it is nice to be travelling light, as opposed to catching her the morning before the flight trying to pack the kitchen sink and the cats. And I want one of my coffees with the supercaffeinated beans ground up with guarana extract. I’m listening to the opening of Death In Vegas’ Contino Sessions and I want to form a mob and beat people up indiscriminately and at complete random.
Now Scotland. That looks interesting from the air. We should never have let those bastards have independent parliament. What is the point of subjugating these countries with interesting coastlines if we’re just going to let them wander off with nary a head tax nor a righteous war? I tell you, when the masses see the light and install me as Paramount Leader, things will bloody change, and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth…
|“Now Scotland. That looks interesting from the air. We should never have let those bastards have independent parliament.”|
I think coffee would be a good idea.
I must be bloody mad.
It’s minus three here. It’ll be dark in half an hour. We flew in over glaciers stained in oranges and pinks by dusk. Snow on black rock. Keflavik is out on the coast, a good thirty-five minutes outside Reykjavik even at a good speed with no cars on the road. The Americans were staged here during World War Two — “We wanted them as far away from us as possible,” says Petur. Petur being Petur Yngvi Yamagata, manager of the NEXUS-VI comics store in Reykjavik, who have flown me out here.
And “espresso” seems to mean “cappuchino” here. Bastards have started messing me around already.
All over the airport, you hear nothing but mobile phones going off. I go outside to call home and the wind is like knives. I’m going to need a hat and gloves. Or maybe a spacesuit. Someone, please come and take me to the Hotel Holt, with its vast collection of single malt Scotch whisky, water of life…
Early Saturday morning — can’t quite see the clock
The bars don’t close here anymore.
The bars used to close around three or four in the morning, and then people would hang around downtown Reykjavik for an hour or so before going home. This disturbed the Icelandic government, who don’t like to be distracted from things like trying to sell the Icelandic genome to biotech companies and spending all their money on New Year’s Eve fireworks instead of building some proper roads. So, in order to kill that culture, they decreed that bars don’t have to close if they don’t want to, basically. So now Reykjavik clusters in bars until six or seven in the morning, refusing to stop drinking and go home because, well, they don’t have to.
So, anyway, we went drinking. In the bar apparently co-owned by Damon Albarn from Blur. There seems to be this undercurrent of English people quietly colonising the country. He’s got a house in Reykjavik, too, which is something that’s crossed my mind more than once. You can’t resist a place with geysers and massive waterfalls and black rock and bars that don’t shut. Your token comics connection for this paragraph is that Albarn spent a few years recently sharing a house with Jamie Tank Girl Hewlett. Hewlett designs animation for Virgin Cola TV ads these days.
|“You can’t resist a place with geysers and massive waterfalls and black rock and bars that don’t shut.”||
Iceland, the 1547 version
Petur called it “holding court”; a weird and entertaining collection of actors, musicians, writers, journalists and priests-in-training accreted around me. Mobile phones going off everywhere — like the rest of Scandinavia, everyone is wired, everyone has a cellphone, everyone uses the damn things all the time. They haven’t saturated Britain in the same way. There’s still a tendency to seem slightly out of place if you’re using a mobile phone at home in England, the remains of the late 80’s yuppie-pose stigma about them. Scandinavia understands communication in the way only Viking hordes seperated by mountains and volcanoes and fjords and Death Terrain can.
I had to leave relatively early, with genuine regret. I have my stage appearance early this afternoon, and I know from experience that it’s no good to arrive at these things still pissed. (That’s pissed in its English usage, meaning “very drunk”.)
Am still slightly pissed. Went to bars in morning before lecture. No-one notices.
to be continued
And here I am in real time. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Ireland. Cheers.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (Granta, 1999), listen to OK by Talvin Singh (Island, 1998), and hit the Paul Pope website at http://www.paulpope.com. Today’s recommended graphic novel is IT’S A GOOD LIFE, IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996). Now begone.