Real men don't ask for directions
But maybe it's not such bad idea to do it where you can get
an answer in a language you speak.
I was determined to make today Penis Day (call me childish if you must), but Laugavegi 24 only has a couple private residences. It's next to the not coincidentally-named 22 where I go for a double-espresso, soda water and then beer every day while I write and have limited Web access. There's still Smálind, the penis-shaped mall. I went to the Hlemmur bus station and checked the schedules. There was a woman at the service/ticket counter but I was determined to figure it out on my own. Instead, I just asked for a schedule and was charged a few hundred krona for it. WTF?
It looked like the 114 bus went by the mall but to get to that, I had to take the 4 to Mjódd. The 4 was late and buses here only run every 20 or 30 minutes. There was a 114 waiting and I went to it, but the little voice said to suck it up, concentrate and ask the driver. I didn't want this bus according to the driver, I wanted a 17 or 16. Fine. I went inside the little station and what should arrive but a 17! The voice was there again.
This driver said a lot of words but I made out the bit that told me I would really much prefer taking the 16, so I had to wait another 10 minutes or so. During this time I studied the bus map and that only bewildered me more. In the worst case I can always get a 4 back into town. I saw what looked like it could be a mall coming up and a couple other signs with a similar-sounding name for the area (Smári, or something like that). Better still, someone else had hit the stop bell so I'd have a few more seconds to decide if it was the right place. It was. As I walked through the underpass to get there, I thought to check the times for the other direction. No need watch the bus leaving as I got there and haev to stand outside for 20 minutes with a cold. The only timetable was for the 17. Strange.
I figured out later that the 16 and 17 are the same circular route but run in the opposite direction. Taking the wrong one means riding for about 30 minutes instead of just seven, and there just isn't that much to see out here.
It's not the pink colour I was expecting.
It's a mall world after all
Where is everybody?
|I went inside a very empty building. Most of the shops are local ("national" in a country of 300,000 is "local" to me) but there are a few international chains and, if you can believe it, a couple national ones. I didn't see much interesting. The international clothing chains had the same stuff they do all over the world (usually about 6-24 months behind London from what I've read), but the kitchen shops had appliances and cookware that. although I don't need, is available at bargain-basement prices on par with the rest of EUia, and there was Hagkaup which was sort of like an Icelandic Wal*Mart.||
In the toy section, I saw almost nothing but the standard international crap, from Lego to Barbie to cheap Chinese guaranteed-for-twelve-hours-or-until-you-touch-it dreck. The notable exception was an end cap filled with these Birgitta Haukdal dolls. Birgitta (originally from Húsavík, a city that a certain museum now calls home) is one of the dozen or so lip-gloss-abusing teenage singers who are pushed on the public here as much as -- if not more than -- in other countries. Three's a pretty big local market for the stuff, despite a market cap of under 300,000. Weird. The doll is ugly as piss and looks a lot more like Celine Dion than Birgitta. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same mould with the hair styled differently. I was tempted to buy one just to carry around in Germany and ask people who they thought it was, but then I looked at the price which was too high for that bit of stupidity on my current budget.
In the grocery section they had some real pre-packaged cheese that wasn't gouda or something like it (they're even making some of their own bleu cheese in Iceland) and a cheese counter for more of the good (and expensive) stuff. There's also a proper meat counter.
Thar she blows!
Oh yeah, this is gonna be a problem...
Along with a selection of normal meats at higher quality, they had some þorrablót foods. Including Súr hval and Súrt hvalrengi. This was missing (or, more likely, all gone) last Saturday. "Hval" is "whale" and these were the two types of preserved blubber Whale was never a big food here, just some preserved blubber during þorrablót. Whale meat consumption has never really been high high here. The real factors involved are national pride, sovereignty, foreign trade and most importantly, dirty politicians. A whaling company got a monopoly and certainly paid off the couple politicians necessary. They use vague claims concerning the amount of fish the whales eat and then contradict this "need" to go whaling in order to protect heavily depleted fish stocks by stating they'll take an insignificant number which means the fish stocks won't be significantly affected.
Worse, by resuming whaling, Iceland has shot itself in the foot (common in questionable political dealings) and could very easily destroy its whale watching industry which earns about EUR7 million directly and 12m total for the country annually. There's a very good report called Iceland’s Whaling Comeback that I read through and which is pretty fair and realistic.
Iceland ain't gonna make that kind of money on selling products derived from about 250 whales. But something else I found out about the whale bits I picked up here: what whale products Iceland has had available have mostly come from Norway, which dropped out of the anti-whaling agreement a few years back. With that in mind -- and knowing I probably won't like sour-preserved fat enough to ever eat it again -- I picked up very small pieces of each. Unless I hear from Buttercup, I may be testing these tonight.
|I took a picture of the þorrablót secion with no flash and the guy behind the counter said "Sorry but you can't take pictures. Store policy." I explained that I just wanted to get the names quickly so I could write later. He told me to go ahead then and I said I didn't want to get him in trouble. That shouldn't be a problem since there were three guys behind the counter at that time and really, how could Hagkaup get upset about some publicity. No other store had preserved whale fat, the locals are unlikely to be sympathetic to foreigners protesting, and there aren't too many foreigners here around this time of year. If you work for Hagkaup and feel differently, let me know. Your store's name is going to show up on a lot more search engines and the only picture I took was of the þorramatur.||
After shopping I picked up a quick hot dog and Coke on the way to the bus stop. While the hot dog was finished before the bus came, the Coke (fountain soda in a cup with lid) wasn't, and as I boarded the bus I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to lighten my load. The bus driver struggled to repeat herself in English, but I'd understood. Munich and New York spoiled me -- neither city gives a damn if you have open food or a fountain soda with you. It must be that every Icelander knows it ain't like that here or driver might've responded to my repeated attempts to say that I understood and it was OK in Icelandic. Either that or my pronunciation is a lot worse than I thought. [That doesn't appear to be the case here as I sit in 22 ordering a beer or three. Then again, they're getting used to me here.] The driver waited as I ran to a bin to dump the cup.
With 15 minutes to wait at the station for the 4 back to the city centre, I hit another smaller mall right there at Mjódd. There was another food store and while it had singed half sheep heads (svið) pretty cheap, I had no idea whether to eat them warm or cold, and with the another þorrablót coming up this weekend, I expect I'll be able to try it there and so I passed on that opportunity. I already have a fridge full of this crap and only five more days here to eat it all.
There was also a bookstore. I looked at the dictionary section and saw the one English-Icelandic dictionary I'd seen at the library which, in comparison to others there and in other bookstores, was the best compromise. They all suck, each having its own weaknesses. This one was the least of all evil. It's either 7000kr for the one not so good one or about 40,000kr for a pile of mediocrity making up for each other's shortcomings. I ended up stayin at that mall for almost an hour.
I mean it this time!
Like you don't see it coming
As we were nearing Hlemmur, I sent an SMS to Buttercup to see if she was feeling better and was coming into town. Her answer came back yes and she really wants to see me. I replied asking her when she's done and would be in the city. No answer came back, but she's working.
All you need is cash
Top of the world, ma, and no mun-nay
Back in town I noticed I was down to less than 1500kr so I went to a cash machine, having spent most of my remaining cash on the dictionary. Since my credit card is from a US bank and because transferring money is troublesome and expensive, I avoid using the card as much as possible. I asked for 50,000kr. The machine gave me a wrong password error. I entered it again carefully. Same problem. Maybe the damned bank never changed my maximum weekly withdrawal and that's the only error it shows rather than spitting out the insufficient funds or access error. However, German banks automatically terminate a card after three incorrect PIN entries inside a week.
I needed cash and with the heavy computer bag (2 laptops in tow), went down the street to an ATM on the square that I know works. I also only tried to withdraw 20000kr. Same error. Shit. Big trouble. It didn't eat the card, but I've possibly given three bad PINs in a row inside a week. I have less than 20 Eurobucks in my pocket in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I hit cancel when it asked me to give my PIN again, got my card back and wondered what the hell I'd do as I walked back up Laugavegi.
So I went back to 22 to type in the day's stuff and ordered my usual double-espresso and water (beer comes later and the staff are starting to learn this), having no choice but to use my USian credit card. I went on-line and checked my bank account. It showed the two previous withdrawals this past week but also showed the 20k withdrawal as successful. I went looking for the phone numbers for my bank. All but one are 0180 numbers which have per-minute charges and aren't available to my cell phone. I called the outside Germany number. The call was rejected because my cell phone number comes up as being in Germany. I have to get a phone card and call the bank tomorrow from a pay phone if I can find one. I hate German banks.
I heard the staff talking to some girl sitting with them at the bar in English. I heard her accent and she's definitely not a native English speaker, probably some Scandinavian. After a bit the cook asked the two girls who work here plus the other girl if they'd seen his lighter. I whipped out the promo one I got a couple weeks ago and let him borrow it. He looked at it a bit funny and I essplained that it's German, that the Sueddeutsche Zeitung is a German Newspaper, and the lighter was swag from some guy who I allowed in the bar a couple weeks ago to try pushing subscriptions. The cook said the girl at the bar is German.
Why did you come here and how can I?
She and I started talking and she's from Ulm. That's at the northwesternmost tip of Bavaria, but technically still Bavaria. We started talking for a few minutes. She's lived here four years and offered me the name of someone who might be able to help me with digs should I indeed move. She then also mentioned that if I needed any natural or holistic or herbal medicinal help or consultation, I should call her.
Yeah, I know. <shudder> Still, she was quite nice and helpful and I expect we'll meet again. When I told her where I was staying her eyes lit up. She's been trying to get hold of the owner of the building because she needs a flat there for a month. I not only had the main building number, I had his name and direct cell phone number. Shit can move really fast here and personal relationships are everything.
Other shit moves real slow. Three hours later there was still no response from Buttercup. I was done with what little I could or wanted to do on-line, finished with writing for the day and my beer was empty. I headed off home to watch bad TV and do a few more food experiments.
The news was a bit interesting. While I don't understand a lot, I did pick up that there are questions about whether Icelanders were involved with the Nazi death camps on this anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. One seems to have been. There's a really thick book that I'll try to look for at the bookshops. Whether it's been translated to other languages yet I doubt, but the theme is hot enough that it has a good chance. OTOH, Icelandic news is pretty self-centric. They don't talk much about the outside world and vice-versa. The lead story was about the parliament giving themselves a raise to over ISK 800K (10K Eurobucks) per month, net if I understood it correctly.
There have already been protests, but not like you or I understand them. They're quite peaceful, very controlled, and nobody gets hurt. For some Icelandic reason, many of the protesters dropped bananas in the street.
There was a commercial about a sale and I think that all the sales end tomorrow. I was going to write a rant about how every single shop has signs about sales from 15-50%. Now I think that this is just one of those once- or twice-a-year limited sale time things like Germany had up until last year. It looks like tomorrow will be spent shopping, dammit.
After my feast of various nastiness, I went to bed and watched another episode of Stundin Okkar.
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