the short side of the L

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My first hard-learned lesson of couchsurfing: the open-door hosts, the houses that literally overflow with hospitality, while enticing with the possibility of exciting, young, foreign peeps (/roommates), is actually a disaster-in-waiting.

Remember the L couch that we had ‘confirmed’? We arrived back at Sabrina’s only to find the couch made (though ‘cleared’ would be more accurate) and occupied by a very stubborn-looking Ukrainian woman. Now, Y. and I were beyond exhausted, and any crankiness-infused confrontation would, I think, be justified. But we don’t know how to do that, so we deferred — though Ukrainian woman never even knew there was any issue of couch rights, or at least never let on — and had to make do with the less-than-four feet of space of remaining couch space. (I.e., the short leg of the L.)  And logistically, the only way this was going to work, with even a modicum of comfort and chance of sleep, was to spoon. So we did. (Related: We’ve spent somewhere around 15% of our interactions with locals and other tourists trying to convince them that we were, in fact, not a couple, appearances to the contrary be damned. Spooning on a couch short enough to necessitate fetal positions was not helping.) And thus arranged, we slept.* (Y.’s unsolicited advice: “I’m going to pretend you’re a girl, and you pretend that I’m a girl. It’s the only way this is going to work. Space-wise, of course. Here, put your arm around me.”)


Now, a little on Reykjavik.


We joined a walking tour yesterday, led by “modern-day viking” Jonas. And he was great (aside from the extraordinarily insensitive and sexist quips, which were, in all honesty, pretty funny). He twisted the history, “economical” crisis, religion, culture, etc. into one very engaging narrative. Most of the information is readily acessible to anyone who particularly cares, so I’ll skip to what I consider the really salient points of the tour: The Icelandic, it seems, are going through an identity crisis of sorts. (My observation, not Jonas’s.) They’re historically a stubborn and proud people — isolation and geography and astonishing industriousness all, I imagine, play a role — and this collapse (don’t pay heed to any sugarcoated terms) is humbling. The numbers Jonas tossed around were mind-numbing: in debt to the tune of 260% of GDP; 50% of homes facing foreclosure – and values have only dropped 20%, primed to further plummet; 50-70% of businesses facing bankruptcy; 10% of the population’s already left, and that number is set to skyrocket. But the people are “pretending”, as Jonas puts it, that nothing’s happened, at least in day-to-day life. No local I spoke to (and there’s been loads) seemed at all stressed or worried; they’re irritated, really. Severe dependence — on the IMF, on debtors, on the gov’t — is not something they’re used to, or enjoy. “I’m not sure what Iceland is anymore,” a local musician told me. He’s quitting the band and moving to Geneva next week.


Jonas wonderfully illustrated this dichotomy when he boasted of Iceland’s safety, how single women can hitchhike worry-free, and moms can dine in a restaurant while their baby waits outside, in the stroller, unaccompanied. But literally the stop before, he spoke of the unprecedented violence stemming from financial frustration: burning Land Rovers, axe attacks, gun brandishing in banks, no vacancies in the jails. He even said a civil war could be coming, and suggested that it might not be such a bad thing; it’d be a kind of political exfoliation.


Civil war + baby outside? This place is schizo.


*Y. has his own, mostly compatible version of last night’s events. Please recall, however, that he is short and highly suspectible to hyperbole and truth-bending. I will comment/correct when I have the opportunity.

Written by menachemkaiser

19 August at 05:01

Posted in rants

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