Wednesday, June 30, 1999 12:24 PM
part 16

It was time again for the Eurovision Song Contest. Iceland entered this year, so the boss organised a party at his home, to watch the proceedings. The songs were sung, some were good, some... less so, then the results started to come in: [preceeded by non-Icelandic countries of no interest] Iceland... 10 points (roar of approval from the crowd), Sweden... 12 points (neeeeeiiii!); Iceland... 12 points (jubilation - the highest award is 12 points, so Sweden received no points for that round); Iceland... 2 points (what?! Voted by an eastern European country), Sweden... 3 points (hey!); and so on. It was a very close contest, with Iceland in front for most of the voting, until the very end. Sweden moved in front, thanks to a vote of 0 points for Iceland and 12 points for Sweden. The conspiracy theorists began speculating immediately with that result. Sweden won the contest, and Iceland came second. However, for Icelanders, it's not a matter of who came first and who came second, but who won and who didn't. The winner looked like Agnetha from ABBA, which is perhaps why Sweden won: all of the Icelanders would have voted for her (one was not allowed to vote for one's own country).

Kylie Minogue on the radio. Singing "Locomotion". In Iceland. There's no escaping the singing budgie.

Catherine and I went to see the Volcano Show. If I ever needed a reminder of the awesome power of nature, then that was probably the easiest way - a film about volcanoes, thousand degree molten rock pouring forth and incinerating everything in its path. Lava moves at thirty metres per second; the fastest man on earth can manage just over ten metres per second... the rest of us would get as far as "oh sh" before it was all over. :-)

In the film, an area had been sealed off because of volcanic activity, full of tourists. Before the signs were put in place, the tourists didn't know where to look for the volcano. Once the signs appeared, they knew exactly where to go. Ignoring the signs, of course. What could possibly happen? While the film didn't actually *show* any deaths, some might have easily occurred, considering the pictures of the man standing barely a metre from a crevice full of erupting lava, and of a large rock landing in the spot where only moments before someone else had been standing.

The narrator of the film showed the typical Icelandic sense of understated humour: while describing the pictures containing the tourists, he said that if the volcano had filled with enough water, it would have erupted with the force of an atomic explosion, giving the tourists a free ride back to their own country... and various other countries along the way.

The thing that surprised me most about a volcanic eruption is the noise. Much like a bushfire, the noise is a deafening roar. Watching a pile of ash crush a house was not unexpected, considering the many stories that exist which describe Pompeii.

Atli took us to see a glacier. Apparently, this glacier is special because it is the focal point for a kind of energy that pervades the atmosphere, and connects with the earth where the glacier is located... something like that.

We left in the early morning, the clouds were grey and hanging low in the sky, sheets of rain to either side of us (what one might call isolated showers). There's a tunnel under the sea that crosses the bay. It's nearly six kilometers long and quite deep. At least it doesn't leak. There's a toll at one end that charges in both directions. Perhaps Icelanders haven't heard of the theory that you can earn more by charging twice as much in a single direction and nothing in the other direction. Instead, they charge twice as much in both directions. Then again, the alternative is a thirty kilometre drive around the bay, which would cost more overall.

The weather cleared slightly as the day progressed, but when we got close to the glacier, there was snow on the road, and we had to turn back. As a consolation, we went for a walk in one of the nearby lava fields. It was raining lightly and, true to Icelandic tradition, the wind changed direction every few seconds, describing a complete circle every few minutes. Whichever way one faced, it was eventually into the wind and rain. The moss covering the rocks was about ten centimetres deep, and very spongy, much like a very thick carpet, except that it was green and wet and had flowers growing in it. Apart from that, though, much like a very thick carpet.

Another Icelandic joke: two Icelanders meet in another country.
- How was summer this year?
- Oh it was great. It was on a Tuesday this year.

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