Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Thoughts in Iceland

I don't think I'll be able to structure my first posting in Iceland around a destination at this point. We've been in the country for three days and for all of the promises that are beyond the limits of Reykjavik, the capital still holds a strong allure.

Saturday was spent out on a tour of the so-called Golden Circle and visiting the waterfalls at Gullfoss, geisers beyond there and being completely rapt with the landscape. The first temptation is to throw the word barren into the mix and talk about moonscapes but there is an undeniable life out on the land beyond Reykjavik. There is a grey-green moss that covers places for huge stretches at a time, but there are plants of several varieties to choose from. It is certainly not of the variety that your would find further south in either Europe or North America but there is enough variety of those hardy breeds to dispel notions of the place as barren. There is always a flower finding root in a stone to illustrate a metaphor but things never flourish too far. As our tour guide said on Saturday, "If you are lost in the woods in Iceland, just stand up."

At this point I am completely preoccupied with how a country of 300,000 people finds the people to get all of the things done that nations need to do for themselves. How big is their diplomatic corps? Their civil service? How many translators and interpreters do they have and how good are they at what they do? There have to be countless other examples of fields of endeavour, or national needs that there are so very few people to choose from. A look at the corrugated walls or the minimal lines of the buildings here and I wonder how the architect or architects of this country encapsulate and communicate the desires and needs of this country into the function and form that a nation desires. Whether this expertise is something that comes from one of Iceland's nordic brethren would be a satisfactory answer but I'm still wondering how a nation finds the means to define itself in terms other than the most cliched. A thousand years of history and an environment that is so unique and assertive certainly help.

Another thing that has certainly stood out is the sense of design and the visual that is here. I'm not sure if it is specific to Iceland and has its own distinct look and style or if it has happened to be outsourced from their Scandinavian neighbours. There are several small niches of Reykjavik where there is a vibrant splash of colour - usually from graffiti artist. The first few times I've seen it I've wanted to proceed with caution, not sure if I was heading into a dodgy neighbourhood or some realm of protest in the aftermath of the financial collapse here. I've gotten the feeling, however, that it is more a matter of exercise a particular desire to express for expression sake.

At this point, I still don't feel like I have the grasp of Reykjavik that I'd like. It may remain beyond my grasp well beyond the end of this trip but it has been an entrancing host thus far.