Iceland at a Crossroads: the Presidential Elections are Coming Up

A couple of days ago this temporary wall was covered in street art and today it's got this great infographic instead.

Street art rocks (and we've got some masterful spray artists here) but I like that someone thought of utilizing this space to get a message across. Plastic is such a huge issue and plenty of cities across the globe have banned lightweight plastic shopping bags and even, in the case of San Francisco, plastic-bottled water being sold in public places.  Here in Iceland we've had to pay 15 - 20 króna for plastic bags since forever, though it's just in the past few years that shoppers seem to be really getting into bringing their own bags when going out for groceries. Change takes time, and getting un-junked from the 20th century Age of Plastic single-use, disposable, "convenience" mentality is no exception.

if you've been here to Reykjavík you've walked past this site, at Laugavegur 4-6. Back in the day it was where the Nike house was, which then got torn down and replaced in 2011 by a cute old-timey wooden building which housed the Timberland shoe store. Now that's been removed too, and a huge hole has been hydraulically hammered out of the bedrock, something the local residents, shopkeepers and guests have been being traumatized by all winter:

Look, we made another hole! Now what were we gonna do with it?

Faithful readers know I have a thing for construction sites and gaping holes in our hill, so it won't come as a surprise that I snuck past the site barrier and snapped a pic of what was going on behind it. See, this plot of land has held a fascination for me since I was a little girl visiting our relatives here from California. My Amma Ásta lived just up the holt on Óðinsgata, and I wandered around town as often as I could, checking out the fascinating shops and wonders.

Just below this construction location, at the intersection of Laugavegur and Skólavörðurstígur where Kofinn café and Sushibarinn are now, was a butchers shop, replete with hanging sides of lamb in the window. When I was five I found that fascinating! And there was a book store across the street at Skólavörðurstígur 2, Bókabúð Lárusar Blöndal. I loved to hide out there, reading and looking at postcards (they had to close shop in 2001 after nearly 60 years in the same spot due to rising rent.) Also close by was the recently closed shop Vísir, just across Laugavegur, with its magical selection of Icelandic sweets and licorice.

But there's always been something else about this intersection, and this plot of land, that's held my imagination. A little research informs me that the building standing there now, Laugavegur 2, was built in 1886, and hasn't changed much in the past 130 years:

Laugavegur 2, back when it wasn't quite so busy here.

Before that building was built, though, there was a farmhouse on this plot formally named Hólshúsið, but called Snússi, and before that, earlier in the 19th century, a little turf house called Litlibær. There's not much recorded history reaching back farther than that though, when what we now call Skólavörðurholt was a barren, rocky expanse considered too far away from the true town center to the west to be of any worth. Compare this treeless, undeveloped view from the top of Skólavörðurstígur, taken only around 136 years ago, with the same perspective today in this classic shot from the top of the church tower and it's easy to see what they meant:

Did something happen at this crossroads long, long ago? Something dramatic, that may have left an imprint on the land itself? I'm thinking back to the original settlers here, or maybe even farther back than that (some of you know that I suspect this island has a much deeper history than the ones we've inherited from our Norse viking ancestors). Was it a ceremonial spot? Or the site of a murder, maybe? Or was it, as I've dreamt a few times now, the entrance to an elven realm?

I guess we'll never know.

What 's obvious though, is that we're facing changing times here, on all levels. The trash issue I started this post with is definitely something us locals have to deal with immediately. I joke that the best financial investments a person could get into here in Iceland are waste management and invasive species control, but what I'm really saying is the capitalist-consumer mania we've been hypnotized by for the past two decades has to stop.

We have to snap out of it and WAKE UP. We've got presidential elections coming up in June, and the sole voice of sanity regarding our human future on this gorgeous island is Andri Snær Magnason, award-winning writer and the man behind the amazing book Dreamland - a Self Help Manual for a Frightened Nation (2008) and its award-winning accompanying documentary film, Dreamland.

How wonderful of our forefathers and mothers to turn the bleak expanse in the photos above into the lush, colorful and welcoming arctic capital that Reykjavik is today, but we're on the verge of tipping past the point of being able to handle the consequences of our more modern, worldly and greed-based choices.

Being eco-friendly and sustainable doesn't mean being passive, hippie, barefoot grass-feeders. It means designing and creating infrastructure that supports a new-millennial, 21st century model of care-taking and civic maintenance. It doesn't mean fewer jobs or tightened belts or lack or want or repression. It means being innovative to the extreme, utilizing our natural landscape in the most efficient, practical and beautiful ways possible, just as Icelanders have historically found ways to do. Dedicating ourselves to the modern eco-movement is one of the sexiest and lokkandi (inviting) things we could do on the global stage. We'd be the darlings of the world again for daring to reach into a New Future.

The long and short of it: I may never know what really went down at this main Reykjavik crossroad, and what choices were made when, and by whom. I may have no say in how the very granite bedrock beneath our hill is being broken up for underground parking, rattling the psyches of the locals (those seen and unseen!) to the core.

But I do have a say in how I vote, and who I believe to be the most responsible and respectable representative of our island on an international level. At this crossroads in our history, I choose Andri Snær Magnason to be our leading light into a responsible and beautiful future for Iceland.

What will you choose?

Meditating Under the Volcano Snæfellsjökull

Óðinn under Snæfellsjökull a few years ago

It's obvious from my past few posts that I'm not exactly non-political. But at the rate that things are changing here, I'm pretty glad I haven't written up anything since our first lady, Dorrit Moussaieff, was revealed to have links to Mossack Fonseca in the Panama Papers leak. 

If I'd have jumped on the news that her husband, our president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson decided to run again for office, edging out the frontrunners with his older conservative constituency, or that our former PM Davíð Oddsson, a man deemed responsible for the 2008 crash, then said he was running, upsetting the polls even more, the public seeming to now have to choose between two old fogies they knew well, or that in between those two events the sitting president had to claim no knowledge of his wife's finances and admit they lived, for the most part, in separate spheres of reality, then I'd have wasted a lot of time at the keyboard. 

Because as of earlier today, the president backed out of the running, fulfilling again the claim he made in his New Years Eve address that he'd retire the position this year. This move on his part was, in my humble opinion, a set up between Oddsson and Grímsson as a means of allowing the president to gracefully back out of the race now that his wife is definitely connected to offshore accounts (link is to a great Guardian article from May 2), something he'd recently heartily denied. And of course it's timed very well with tonight's second data reveal on Mossack Fonseca by the ICIJ, which may very well cause even more chaos here on our disturbingly corrupt island. As usual, Paul Fontaine at the Reykjavík Grapevine has put it all together very nicely in his coverage of the emerging situation.

So in the meantime, until the next vinkill emerges, I think this is a great time to chill out, breathe deep and meditate on what we're grateful for right Now, and what we'd like to see for the future of our island and for ourselves.

A Nice View, and Me Trying to Avoid Delving Deeper Into Our First Lady's Affairs

A view from Hallgrímskirkja 

Find the clump of trees in the lower left corner of this photo, and that's where I took the last post's cat pic. It's a shady corner of the the garden behind the Einar Jónsson Museum, a favorite spot for locals to ponder and chill, adults, kids and cats alike. As a matter of fact, the cat in the previous photo is one of four who live across the street, in the building with the red roof and all-glass corner 'penthouse.' They come across the street with their human, who enjoys sitting in the garden in good weather while his feline friends meander through the foliage, entertaining and posing for tourists, which our beloved Míó used to love to do as well when we lived in the light blue-roofed building dead center of the photo above, just behind the top of the tall pine tree.

if you've been to the top of Hallgrímskirkja you'll recognize this scene, looking due-west over the Reykjavik city center and our Tjörnin town lake.  I really like this aerial view, though the northwest (no reference to Kim and Kanye's recent visit intended ; ) perspective in the photo from this 2005 post is much more frequently photographed.

But as I wrote after my last visit to the top of the tower in 2012, "locals' complacency" is a real thing that keeps so many of us, in whatever gorgeous and special place we live, from taking advantage of the sites and wonders that visitors seem to enjoy so much. Back then, four years ago, it was my son Óðinn who was celebrating his 6th birthday and wanted to go up, so we did. I took a shot towards the southeast, and then looking directly down at the decorative paving in front of the church, which out of context, very few people recognize. It's always nice to get a new perspective on things by changing your vantage point, and in this case it was my kid who reminded me to do it. He goes up to the top of the church tower every once in a while with his buddies from the 'hood, but I think it's time for me to take another trip up myself. After all, I only live a few hundred meters away : ) 

And now I have to admit that I'm rehashing older post material in a futile attempt to not go any farther into writing about politics as I've done in my past few posts. I have to, though, link to this 2001 interview with the recently deceased father, Shlomo Moussaieff, of our First Lady, Dorrit Moussaieff. I also really want to link to this  2006 article about "concentrated wealth" featuring Dorrit as the "owner of the eponymous shop [in London] and a legendary dealer of diamonds." In these articles Dorrit is portrayed as either a flighty party girl in deep with the international jet set, or one of the most influential diamond merchants in the world. I think the takeaway message is that she's both, depending on what angle you view her story from. 

In reality, it's her mother Alisa who is the "mastermind and driving force" behind the House of Moussaieff, a woman who has been running an extremely tight operation for half a century, a business where what you know and don't know at any given moment could make or break you. After all, the House of Moussaieff is purveying the rarest of gems to the most wealthy, powerful and dangerous people in the world. In that kind of company, you make very certain that nothing's going to come back to haunt you, or discredit you or your very exclusive clientele. 

But as the Reykjavik Grapevine recently disclosed, our president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson's wife Dorrit seems to have [update May 2: does have] connections to offshore accounts via Mossack Fonseca, as revealed in the Panama Papers. The power couple has unfortunately denied any knowledge of this. Ólafur actually went so far as to categorically deny any potential involvement in an interview with CNN's hard-hitting Christiane Amanpour only days before the disclosure. I say unfortunately, because it's nearly impossible for them to deny knowledge of Moussaieff Jewelers Ltd's dealings without at the same time admitting to not having performed the due diligence required of a head of state and the owner of "one of the most discreet and exclusive High Jewellery emporiums in the world." I'll put it this way: in their shoes, I'd have set my legal and accounting teams to the task of digging for any possible connection to Panama or other tax havens the minute the leak was made public. That they didn't, and were "surprised" by the revelation, smacks disingenuous. It doesn't help matters that Dorrit moved her legal residence back to London in 2012, a move which some find suspicious (tax evasion?) and which basically just leaves a bad taste in the mouths of plenty of others. 

Regardless, their story is just one more in what's turning out to be a whole lot of crumbling truths and bumbling in the affairs of our once-again inglorious leaders. It's true that any set of seemingly random factoids can be joined up and arranged to support any number of theoretical truths, so just humor me while I play connect-the-dots with regard to our increasingly bizarre involvement in the global game of wealth and power. Maybe, as one (repeat) presidential candidate, Ástþór Magnússon, claims, Dorrit's diplomatic immunity gives her the ability to move portable wealth in the form of diamonds around the world with total freedom, and maybe this whole affair between the House of Moussaieff and Iceland is a much more sordid scenario than anyone wants to imagine. Maybe it's all just as innocent as can be. Who knows. From where I'm sitting though, nothing would surprise me...

Truth comes in shades of grey...

Who is Iceland Actually in Bed With, or Here's a Picture of a Local Feline Because Cats and Internet

A Reykjavik feline in its native habitat, totally not connected to the article 

I got some interesting feedback on my last post, including an enlightening conversation with a friend who's employed as a diplomatic correspondent between a certain extremely high-level European country and Iceland, via their embassy here. He hadn't read my piece when we sat down to talk, but I gave him the general rundown, including some details that had yet to occur at the time of writing, including that Iceland finally (almost unanimously) approving its national defense policy and within hours announcing that US military flyovers will resume posthaste, on their ever-ridiculous hunt for Russian subs.*

Word on the street is that Mother Russia is pumping out submarines like a mamma bunny, far too many for the over-taxed, thinly-spread American armed forces. Who knows but that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between the propaganda (though in my humble opinion, RT has done a noble job of attempting to stay in the neutral truth zone).

But after talking to various sources, it's clear that some grand game is afoot, and our fat and juicy island is right in the middle of it all. Both literally and figuratively.

It's also interesting to note that we're the ONLY European country to have signed an trade agreement with China (and that that 2013 news is still the banner headline on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website) which, if you think about it might complicate our business within the NATO community given that China and Russia are technically, read financially, in bed with each other, along with the other BRICS nations (BRICS = Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).  As per my last post, who are we actually, on the ground, when the shit hits the fan, beholden to? Big Q.

My source in the diplomatic community says that small countries like ours need to keep many irons in the fire given that we never know which way the wind will blow. I suppose I agree, unless we play so many sides against each other that a good slapping down by this or that master is in order, which  may or may not have just happened with this recent first wave of Panama Papers disclosures. With many more to come...

*For the sake of grounding and disclosure, my father, Thor Roff, served in the US Navy, on the USS Great Sitkin, from 1960 to 1964, which ship was part of the Bay of Pigs blockade back in the day. I take no issue with military service or militaries in general, but question the US policy of soft occupation in countries across the globe, both occidental and oriental, southern and northern latitudes alike.

Iceland's MunnyBoys, Russian Loans, Offshore Laundries, Contrailed Skies, Ancient Cults and Maybe a Sheik or Two

Sailing from sunshine into shadows...somehow symbolic

When I found this street art in an alley by my house I was bummed that the bow was shadowed, and that the branches added a stormy sense of unease to the otherwise adventurous image. But then it occurred to me how perfect the symbolism was for the bit I'm about to share, written to day, and posted sans links on my Facebook wall

What follows has been years in the considering, but this week's ridiculousness and sense of just-controlled panicky chaos from the 'ruling' parties here in Iceland brought it all home for me in a nicely wrapped bundle, ready to be typed and published and shared with the world at large. It's not the writing style most of my frequent visitors are used to, but it's as much me as anything else I've shared here on Iceland Eyes.

Iceland 2008: Our MunnyBoys are still gambling at the Big Kids table, betting long and hard and fast and we're proud of them!* They're on a winning streak, until they're not. In early days October,