Thursday, 1 January 2009

To the whores of Italy!

New Year's Eve began with us getting the bus out to the Kringlan shopping centre to buy food for the week. Icelandic supermarket highlights: all manner of "Lazy Town"-branded fruit products, tens of types of flavoured butter (garlic, herbs, tomato etc.), and more types of gouda than I could count (but no cheddar! b*stards!).

Of course along the way we encountered a lot more embarrassingly good English-as-a-second-language speakers - the woman in the shop who told us where the bus stop was (clueless bloody tourists), the exceptionally friendly woman at the bus stop who, unprompted, told us which bus to get and to have exact change, and various members of staff at the supermarket who recognised all of our requests except "pancetta". To be fair our description of it consisted purely of the words "pig" and "carbonara".

In the evening, after dinner and a few rounds of fuzzy duck with some wankered-on-gin cockney couples we met in the jacuzzi, we wandered into town to see how the night's preparations were getting on. There were fairly regular fireworks going off every couple of minutes, seemingly all from family homes. We saw several bonfires across the bay but couldn't find the one alleged to be nearby (we surmised later we'd somehow walked round it several times without seeing it - pesky buildings getting in the way).

Eventually we made our way back to the apartment building and the party the owners were throwing in the lobby. After much champagne and chat we wandered up to the roof to watch the fireworks. From there we had a panoramic view of the city, all of which was alight with explosions. In every direction there was pyromania. It felt rather like everyone in Reykjavik was trying to outdo everyone else - the major fireworks started at 23:30 (because that's when the comedy revue on TV finishes, apparently - and out of interest last year's audience figures showed 96% of Icelanders watched it. Eat your heart out Angus Deayton) and remained constant until 00:30. Tourist jaws remained dropped throughout, but some of the Icelanders seemed a little ambivalent - enjoying themselves but somehow a little disappointed. One said "you can tell there's a recession on". If only all recessions could be so spectacular!

On a related note I had an interesting chat with one Icelander, who'd said I might be "surprised" by the roof itself - because there was no guard rail. Walk too far and you'll fall off. So don't walk too far. Similarly the stairs up to the roof go past the (completely unguarded) lift control mechanism. We're talking big grindy gears at face height. The chap I was talking to (who'd spent many years living in England) suggested Iceland just has a different attitude towards health and safety - he pointed out the Gulfoss waterfall had no guard rail either until a tourist fell to his death about 5 years ago. Something to bear in mind when we visit next week!

As the fireworks slowed, and the cold started to bite, people gradually started making their champagne-soaked way past the grindy-geared lift back down the stairs to the lobby. Russell, Mikey and myself decided to stay out - the fireworks were still ludicrously impressive by our standards. We wandered around the roof and found a very drunk Norwegian couple. The husband mainly stood in the background, laughing at his wife, who was very loud and very entertaining. We were shortly joined by an Icelander who kept lighting flares in his mouth, which was an interesting sight. There was much cheers-ing - I enquired what the Icelandic for "happy new year" was and quickly regretted it, so we settled on "skál" ("cheers", in case you hadn't worked it out - oh, and it's pronounced kind of like "scowl"). Various toasts were proposed by the Norwegian woman - to the people of Iceland, to the people of England, to Barack Obama. For some reason at this point the Icelander decided to recount a tale about losing his virginity at the age of fifteen to an Italian whore. I raised my glass: "To the whores of Italy!".


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