The Longest Day and a City of Art

Day 7. 21 June 2004

Monday. The longest day. A cultural day, and I want to make the most of it. I wake early—7 o’clock—and pick myself from my bed shortly after. I breakfast and shave, and then pack my back for the day and head out, catching the #15 bus and jumping off by the sports fields and complexes to go swimming at the Laugardalslaug pool.

Heeding the ever-present instructions to wash thoroughly without costume, I head out into the pool. Taking to the smaller one first, I swim a couple of lengths, and try a water slide, but this one feels a little slimy, so I head for the shallow pool. This proves to be a popular, but again slightly slimy one—so much so that I slip, slide and flip over into the water, crashing down spectacularly in front of half a dozen fellow bathers. I crawl to the side and lie there in warm waters with a cloudless blue sky above me and snow-capped mountains somewhere over yonder.

I don’t stay long though, and make for the hot pott proper – an irregular shape of multi-levels broken up by lava boulders (maybe elfish homes, immovable&hellip!) set in the concrete.

Following a stay in blissful warmth, I take to the fifty metre outdoor pool. This is cold (by comparison) and not a bit slimy. I’m not used to Olympic length pools but I manage several hundred metres none the less. It is during this that I notice the ‘seriously’ hot potts along the side. I try all of them, liking the mid-temperature Hot Pott’s #2 and #3 and finding #4 with it’s 110-114°F temperature just a little too much. The sauna too, I shy from, favouring another swim and a sit in the irregular ‘boulder’ pott.

At about ten-thirty I leave the pool, and, considering the weather, decide upon shorts for the rest of my cultural programme. Breaking out onto Sundlaugavegur I trun onto Reykjavegur and then to the Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum on Sigtún. Designed by the artist himself as a place to live and work, came the igloo shaped dome. A little later, he needed more space and so was added the Egyptian inspired turreted entrance facing the road. Later still, he wanted somewhere to display sculptures to the public that did not have a permanent place, horme, or were not suitable for display outside in the garden—and so the crescent was born at the back of the house.

The sculptures themselves are stark, bold abstractions from Icelandic-inspired human form. But they are recognisable, and I like them. The only odd moment comes when trying to leave, I find a massive, igloo shaped bus shelter completely blocking the pavement – weirdness indeed.

I begin walking on into the city centre before ending up back on Laugavegur and catch a bus into Hlemmur bus station. Whilst walking into town to continue my assault on museums I browse in a couple of antique shops—brought back out by the noise of drums, and whistles out on the road.

Out on the street there is some sort of parade. Intrigued I watch. Two carts filled with sculptures that resemble giant chess pawns made out of what looks like wax or soap, and pushed by children. There are fairies and fire eaters and people riding in open-top cars and on the roofs of other cars. Following them are girls in elven-warrior-maiden garb who run forth and freeze, and forward and freeze. One stops right in front of me. They have red balloons. I recognise them immediately from what was now evidently a rehearsal that I saw on Wednesday.

I follow the procession halfway down the main street, taking a leaflet along the way:

Sheep Plug
Paul McCarthy & Jason Rhodes

It’s evidently a promotional devise for an exhibition that is launching tonight at 6pm in the small Kling & Bang Galleri, at Laugavegur 23. As I stand and watch, men in sheep skins carry the sculptures inside and begin to arrange then in the (until now empty) exhibition space.

When I pass later in the day, the floor of the space is filled with these sheep-smelling, soap feeling sculptures with spray pain markings and numbers. The y do a look and smell like sheep in a field. Confused? I found a website that perhaps explains it all…?

By the time that I have made it to the Old Town it is lunch time, and confused by where which library—City and National—is I go for the option of a hot dog from Bæjarins Bestu before finding the City Library and the excellent Museum of Photography on the eighth floor by Finnish Photographers. Definitely some intriguing ideas fro me to think about.

Next door is the Reykjavik Art Gallery at Hafnarhus. Housed in a superbly converted old warehouse there is a fascinating exhibition entitled I Didn’t Do It by Thornaldur Thorsteinsson wherein he explores the concept of art and the boundary between this and reality.

The last two exhibition spaces are Erro’s Aesthetics and Politics which I find less interesting but then this is Pop Art and I have never been that keen on Pop Art.

From here I break off my culture to walk the harbour to the end of the old town, taking in a view over the sea of Snæfellsjókull and the golden beach of Reykjavik—they brought in loarry loads of sand to artificially make a beach in the city for Icelanders to sit on.

Taking Holtsgata and Tungata back into twon I see the Catholic Church on an opposing hill to Hallgrims imposing church of balsalt inspired concrete columns.

I circumnavigate the City Hall and Lake Tjórnin—fondly known as The Pond—before visiting the medieval manuscripts on display in the Culture House. These are simply incredible ancient books written on vellum, illuminated and bound in leather, leaving one with the desire to take them in my hands ad turn the pages.

It’s 5 o’clock by now and I make my way back to the bus station via 12 TÓ where I bury Sigúr-RÓs’ Vonand Bjórk’s jass album Gling-GlÓ, both of which are available only in Iceland. Stopping by the Skífan store I buy an írafár dvd before enjoying a ht chocolate made the way hot chocolates should be made in my favourite main street café/bar.

Returning to Funafold 13 I arrive back a little after 7 o’clock in time for dinner, and a little tired on my feet.

Note: My Reykjavik Card cost me 2,200 IKR fro 72 hours. After three museums, one swim and three bus journies I have ‘effectively’ spent 2,100 of that already, so with tomorrow’s trips alone I will be well in profit…

Day Eight: Stepping back in time, and stepping back into academia…