Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Iceland: I want to have your babies Pt. II

I've kind of been putting off writing this entry, just because I visited so many fantastic places in the 2 weeks I was in Iceland, the prospect of editing a small selection from all the beautiful photos & trying to stitch together my journey to and from each destination in a clear & cohesive fashion was more than daunting, so this is exactly what I'm NOT going to do. Instead, you're going to get an ambling & mildly incoherent post that has little or no plot. Hopefully you'll be so busy looking at those photographs to care about my lack of journalistic professionalism. Yeah? Oh yeah, right now there are a few (a lot) of place names that I'm not sure of, so I'm going to substitute them with "unknown location", but I promise that I will find out the names from my official Icelandic tour guide & update this within the week, in case you're curious. 

To pick up where we left off, we departed the farmers market in Mosfellsdalur with a huge bag of fresh cale & rhubarb chard courtesy of Clint Eastwood, and a 12 pack of free range eggs from Birta's 10 year old nephew Máni. This market couldn't be more local, the vegetables were grown literally 20metres from where they're sold & are picked fresh the same morning.  Máni is an enterprising young whippersnapper who is offering a better quality product than the supermarkets, at almost the same price. His egg yolks are so rich in colour, they could be raw pigment. We even got to visit the chickens in his pen, y'know, VIP treatment. ( if you're a fan of Portlandia, you might be sniggering to yourself & thinking of the "Is this local?" skit, I don't blame you).

Scrambled eggs on sourdough with cherry tomatoes & rocket pesto.

Organic food really does taste better, Icelandic produce is still sparse, but of excellent quality & as their climate warms up, the potential for agriculture is improving. Because agriculture there is so young, the soil is naturally rich with minerals & vitamins that haven't been depleted by centuries of farming & the low climate means produce really takes time to mature, giving it plenty of time to absorb all of this goodness.

Every other morning we would trek down to one of Reykjavik's most renowned cafés,  Kaffismiðja which is a pretty serious café & roastery, part of the 3rd wave coffee movement,  primarily using from beans sourced by direct trade out of Columbian micro-lots. The number of certificates & awards lining the wall of this place takes up almost all of their wall space, but the proof was in the pudding, they make really nice coffee, in a jar nonetheless?

It's a really homely space with seating inside composed of a charming ramshackle of second hand furniture, artwork & records (yep, a turntable in the corner playing Fleetwood Mac).

Massive outdoor seating area made from wooden pallats & stuffed hessian coffee sacks. The week was punctuated with several day trips out of Reykjavik, every time it was somewhere with its own awe inspiring natural characteristics. One evening we drove somewhat blindly off the main road down a windy rocky mountain trail, that would have been no challenge to Bjork in her white Hummer, but it felt like it was going to rip the undercarriage off of poor Toyota Yaris, our trashy city car. Still, we threw caution to the wind, and within 15 minutes were lost deep in a volcanic desert of lava, moss & mountains. 

Our quest was to locate a natural hotpool that's unmarked from the roadside which was allegedly another 20 minute walk from the nearest rocky trail. We parked Yaris on a level clearing, grabbed our bags & hoped for some divinity to show us the way to the springs. The cool evening air pulled at my hairs, they stood to attention as dusk briskly settled in. A wash of grey saturated the valleys & crevices of the landscape, while the hard light gave its final burst of illumination before fading. We trekked on towards a distant  steam cloud in hope we would find our geothermal saviour. Approaching the shadow of the valley, the crackle & scuff of loose gravel underfoot broke the silence of the eerie landscape, an escalating hiss of steam escaping from the wheezing earth confirmed that we had found our bearings, our little secret paradise. It's a very special location where a heavy flowing boiling spring meets a fresh water stream, the water mixes & is eventually is cool enough to bathe in down stream.

We bathed our weary bones for hours, until our flesh nearly dropped from its bones. Leaving steamy vein we trekked back over mounds of volcanic rock, earth & moss under the moonlight, watching other distant hot springs bellow smoke into the air, I had the acute feeling that I was a tiny creature on the surface of an enormous living beast.

Don't think that all of this soaking in hot water was going to mean a casual dinner of beans on toast, oh no. 
When we got home it was straight into the kitchen to whip this together.

Icelandic cod baked in lemon juice & fresh coriander with baby tomatoes, new potatoes & diced shallots with white vinaigrette & rocket / baby spinach with lemon juice & hemp seed.

Our next excursion was to Gullfoss waterfall, or "golden falls" in English. We had been blessed with another crisp blue day, so it was picnic time we had in mind. On the way we stopped at a series of hotpools which are also the location of Iceland's two geysirs, Strokkur & Geysir. I hadn't realised that the word Geysir is Icelandic, and that all other geysirs are named after the one here. Strokkur, the smaller of the two erupts about every 8 minutes to about 30m in height, while Geysir perhaps only 3 times a day.

Deep blue hot springs.

This guy was standing around all casual, like he couldn't give a flying-fuck about the wonder of nature he was about to witness, but a split second before the eruption, he whipped his camera up & furiously snapped away. I guess he had his street cred to protect. Stay wild, Wild Biker Schönfeld.We arrived at Gullfoss downright starving, but we had plenty of sourdough, gouda, kale, rhubarb chard, tomatoes & hummus to end that problem, so a quick picnic was in order before a walk along the ravine edge to the mighty falls.

It's mesmerising to watch this huge body of water continually fall, and difficult to comprehend the power of nature when we spend so much time living in cities in control of our light, our water, our heating - you almost expect there to be a tap to cease this flow. The most inspiring thing about Iceland for me is the lack of human interference with the land, you can drive for kilometres & see no other roads, no fences, no plantations, no farms & when you do encounter some kind of manmade construction, it's dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape, as you can see in these assorted pictured from the week below.

The view from a hill we climbed in an unknown location.

Well deserved nap on the hilltop.

Wild blueberries were everywhere on the way down!

I just want make an aside to talk about a guilty pleasure in Iceland, and that's candy. I really ate way more chocolate and licorice than anyone should in a two week period, but part of the charm was the amazing packaging. It is so fantastically time-warp-retro, it really delighted my sensibility for 1960's graphic design and illustration. Now don't get the impression that this is some company's engineered attempt to sell in a retro style to a young generation pining for some mark of authenticity. No, it's purely because these confectionary companies haven't changed the look of their packaging for 30 years, and I love them for it.

There was just one of these chocolate bars (unknown) that I found so utterly obscene, I couldn't help but make fun of it. It basically looked like a ribbed, veiny, chocolately mutant cock - at least that's exactly what I looked like when I put it in the zipper of my jeans...

Birta returned mid-shot, horrified that I'd managed to stage this photo in the 2 minutes she had left me alone in the car. I say she was horrified, but probably not as much as the 8 year old kid in the car next to me, who might have seen this. If he did, good luck to his parents figuring out why their child now screams uncontrollably when granddad asks if he'd like a chocolate bar.

We spent the last days in Iceland in a very special part of the country, in an even more special house. "Bakki" in Snæfellsnes is one of the studios & holiday homes of the artist Dieter Roth & his family. It was a privilege to stay in the space of such an influential artist, you could really feel the energy & vision still resonating in the space. There was a pared back simplicity & pure functionalism to everything in this house. The austerity of decoration & orderliness that is typically Swiss, combined with the obsessive collection & documentation of this avid artist. Birta's Auntie Vera is Dieter's daughter, which is why we were lucky enough to borrow this little haven out of the city. It was absolute bliss to get away from Reykjavik for a few days, with no internet, surrounded by books, the ocean & enough drawing materials to sink a ship.  Snæfellsnes is right beside a glacier, unfortunately the weather had turned a little sour so the glacier was constantly hiding behind low grey cloud, but that didn't matter, we were away from civilisation with a fully stocked studio, a fridge full of food & ocean views - it was as close to heaven as I could be.

Studio table at Bakki.

Cucumber, mint, red onion, feta & blueberry salad. Drizzled with red balsamic.


Haddock baked with pepper, lemon & lime.

Haddock & mixed vegetables stir fried in chilli, coconut cream & lemon juice, with a side of brown rice & bananas covered in unsweetened yoghurt with fresh mint. 

Egg, tomato, onion & parsley quiche on a spelt flour base with a radish, olive, paprika & leafy green salad

Mossy lava fields.

After these peaceful days away, it was time to head back to the city, & then Berlin was calling. I never thought I'd be sad to return to Berlin, it's such a fantastic city (I say as I sit in my Berlin apartment, having not been outside yet, writing this article all day, wearing yesterday's underwear, unshowered & barely nourished) yes it's a wonderful city, but I had grown so attached to Iceland. I wanted to stay in Bakki, so I could live a life of creative introversion as the hermit I am destined to become. I don't need the world's best techno clubs, I don't need currywurst (I really don't, that's a story for later). I need YOU Iceland, with your geothermal gasps & volcanic temper, your fiery/icy bi-polar elemental condition. I think it's time to get a job & start saving, I don't think I can go long without seeing you Icy baby. I miss you.

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