“It’s a Shire. It’s a Hobbit town”
– Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr on the harmlessness of Iceland.
The Two Degrees of Björk
Today I came to the realization that my seventeen days in Iceland will mark the 2nd longest time I’ve been outside the USA (the longest time was studying abroad in France in 2005). My absolute favorite part about being in a single place for an extended time is getting to know and really understand the people. So after spending almost two and a half weeks with them, I can honestly say: I love Icelanders!
The single biggest obstacle to truly getting to know people in another country is language. Fortunately in Iceland, everyone learns English in school and there’s a significant American influence, so language is no barrier. As a result, we’ve made a lot of friends here. And besides the occasional drunk, obnoxious 19 year-old asking us “Do you speak douchebag?”, everyone has been great. Douchebag must be a dialect in certain regions of Iceland, but we never learned it.
A few of our most memorable encounters include being invited back to an apartment with Icelandair flight attendants, sitting in the mayor of Reykjavik’s office (more on this below), two girls cooking us a delicious traditional Icelandic meal, and some guy in Akureyri giving me the shirt off his back. By this I mean that he literally took off his long sleeve Akureyri Motorcycle Club t-shirt and insisted I keep it (I lost it thirty minutes later).
By getting to know Icelanders, we’ve uncovered a phenomenon I like to call The Two Degrees of Björk. You’ve probably heard of the Six Degrees of Separation or the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. In Iceland, it’s more like two degrees. Literally, everyone is (at most) one person removed from anyone else in Iceland. And being a country of only 320,000 people, I guess it makes perfect sense. It reminds me Chagrin Falls, OH, the small Cleveland suburb where I grew up. One noticeable benefit with a tightknit community is that crime basically nonexistent. On the flipside, things like incest is an actual problem. There even exists a government-run website that allows you to check if you’re related to your significant other, which Steve calls “Incest Facebook.” Good thing Chagrin Falls isn’t an island.
We joked before coming to Iceland that everyone is someway connected to Björk, the eclectic Icelandic singer-songwriter who became popular in the 90’s. We stopped joking when the 2nd Icelander we met happened to sing in a choir that tours with Björk. The Two Degrees of Björk is very real, and it’s a little scary.
Interviewing Reykjavik’s Comedian Mayor, Jon Gnarr
When Steve decided to come with us to Iceland, he flexed his journalistic muscles and tried to land an interview with one of the most famous current-day Icelanders, Jon Gnarr. Jon Gnarr was elected mayor of Reykjavik in 2010 amidst the financial and political turmoil in Iceland (Iceland was hit incredibly hard).
What makes this story unique is that prior to running to mayor, Jon Gnarr was the most famous comedian in Iceland. He originally ran as a joke, but people were so fed up with the current political state of affairs that they actually started to support him. He was elected mayor and is two years into a four-year term.
Fortunately for us, Jon Gnarr accepted Steve’s request for an interview. So on the morning of June 13, Steve, Mike, and I were invited to the mayor’s office (Steve informed the mayor he was bringing his videographer – me, and his assistant – Mike). That morning we spent about 45 minutes with Gnarr while him and Steve discussed becoming mayor, their obsession with the HBO series ‘The Wire’, and how Iceland is a Shire. As “videographer”, I taped the whole thing. Steve will be trying to submit the piece to a popular magazine or other publication (anyone have contacts?). I’ll share some video snippets soon, but I don’t want to release the whole video yet.
Of Monsters and Men
In addition to Björk, some very popular artists have come out of Iceland lately. Most recently, the band Of Monsters and Men has begun to gain notoriety (they’ll be playing Chicago’s Lollapalooza this summer). And thanks to the Two Degrees of Björk, we happened to be staying in the apartment where the band members once lived.
We found the apartment using Airbnb.com, an incredible website that enables people to rent out their spare bedrooms, houses, or apartments to travelers. Split three ways, this apartment was as cheap as sleeping in a 18-bed hostel dorm. Plus we had the privacy of our own living space. It was a no-brainer. The Of Monsters and Men piece was an added bonus. Here’s a video that was shot in the living room of the apartment: Little Talks.
Next Up: London Town
Last night Mike and I landed in London. Our original plan was to spend only a couple days here, but we may end up staying through the weekend.