Thursday, April 22, 1999 5:35 AM
part 14

Some people came to visit from Finland, so it was return to the Blue Lagoon. Having not been there before during winter, I had failed to appreciate the existence of the cold-air buffer, called "outside", that exists between the warm dressing-room, and the hot water. It made getting in all the more enjoyable, and getting out again much less so. Caught between a rockpool and a cold place.

Then we went to the Hard Rock Café. I'm sure that they look exactly the same in every country, but it's not everyone who can say that they have been to the Hard Rock Café in Reykjavík, Iceland. Besides which, there is far more prestige attached to that than going to, say, McDonald's in Reykjavík, Iceland, or Subway in Reykjavík, Iceland, or... :-)

In addition to the trolls and elves that are known to reside in this country, evil snow fairies live here, too, and they have an appropriately evil sense of humour. They agreed to a deal with the rest of Nature: the fairies took away the snow (their idea of recycling, perhaps; share and enjoy; whatever. Who can guess at the motivations of Icelandic evil snow fairies?) to, no doubt, drop onto an unsuspecting country in Eastern Europe who thinks that winter is over, while Nature conspired to produce a day of cloudless blue sky, bright sunshine... and gale-force wind with a chill factor of -10°C. Through the window, it appeared most inviting. Ho ho. Very funny. Astonishingly as it will seem, the Icelandic term for such weather is "window weather". Evidently, I failed to notice the nearby flagpole bent horizontal and attempting valiantly to remain in place.

If you head far enough in an easterly direction, it becomes west again: the evil snow fairies heard me commenting about the weather and returned the snow. Not on an entirely unsuspecting country, we having become accustomed to such things occuring, but for the fairies to have done otherwise would work counter to the Atli theory of the weather - the one about commenting on it makes it change, which is, apparently, the overriding factor.

I described already two traditional days: "Bun day", two days before Lent, where the bakeries sell only cream buns; and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, known here as "Ash day", where children dress in costumes similar to those of Halloween, travel door to door, singing songs for sweets, and attempt to attach a little bag to peoples' back. Now I find out about the Icelandic version of Shrove Tuesday: Explosion day. It is a literal translation, but an apt one, since it is the day on which people feast heartily in preparation for Lent, during which people fast... err, try to fast... pretend to fast... think about fasting... don't think about fasting... There's a reason why Icelanders dumped Catholicism, though that might not have been it. :-)

Time for some Poe:
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
'Tis the wind, and nothing more."


Enough of that. Upon opening the door, quoth Atli "There's a bug in the scanner!", the only reason that anyone risks waking me. He was joking, though - he and Jóhanna had come to take me on a mystery tour of Iceland. It was a mystery tour because they wouldn't tell me where we were going.

First stop was Þingvellir, most famous for being the site of Iceland's first parliament, as well as being the on-land location of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The ridge is moving apart at a rate of a few millimetres per year which, if that rate has been consistent since the fault appeared, would make the fault some thousands of years old.

Next stop was Geysir: boiling mud, and steam eruptions. The mud here was all brown, as opposed to the other place, where the mud was of several different colours. The steam eruptions here reach between 70 and 80 metres in height, making them one of the highest in the world.

The last place was Gullfoss, "golden waterfall", which actually consists of two waterfalls, one at a right-angle to the other. During winter, the falls are almost completely frozen, which cause unusually shaped ice columns to form, much like stalactites.

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