Until I touched down at Keflavik airport, I didn’t believe in love at first sight. The very idea seemed too wishy-washy, too cliched.
But just glimpsing your otherworldly landscape from the window of the plane, I knew I’d made the right decision in coming here to meet you at last. Like your aurora borealis, you’d weaved your way deceptively anatomy mind: I don’t know where you came from, but you were soon all I could think of.
This was 2011 and all people seemed to know about you then was Sigur Ros and Bjork. There were tourists — there are always tourists, but mostly Laugavegur was uncluttered. On my first night, Reykjavik seduced me with its midnight sun that saw me up all night and roaming the harbour where it was just me, some birds and sculptures.
Sometimes it’s hard to describe love unless you were the person involved in it. I’m sure lots of people think I’m just being too selfish, too greedy. After all, you’re too beautiful to remain truly monogamous, aren’t you?
Except that when I returned in 2014, you were still the same. It felt like you were waiting for me, as much as I was you. I wandered the black sands of Vik entirely alone, and the sun overpowered what started as a rainy morning to return the country I’d first fallen in love with years earlier.
Next year, I came back thinking our love could survive the distance (after all, my country, Australia, is an island too). Boy, was I wrong.
Gone were so many of the shops I knew, not by name, but by sight and replacing them was hideous construction. Gone were the rainbow flags, some of the local stores; the water sculpture was now but a trickle. Another American import, Dunkin’ Donuts, was already in the works, (though at least it didn’t last long). Last year, the only change I’d noted was the appearance of Subway. Walking Laugavegur had always so pleasing. This time, I wondered if I was in America, not just because of the shops but the steady number of US travellers following the same path as me.
In my favourite restaurant, Glo, which specialises in vegetarian and raw food, I had to bite my tongue repeatedly but did not refrain from giving death stares to two American women who picked apart the menu asking, “What’s this in English?” when the waitress pointed out that there was in fact an English menu right beside the Icelandic one. After answering their stream of ridiculous questions, the Americans smiled sweetly and told the waitress: “Oh I’m sorry, we’re not ready to order yet.”
I spoke with an English man about the same age as me, who moved here three years ago. He agreed with my concerns.
The trouble, he said, was that people got so sick of unemployment after the famous GFC that they voted out the left, bringing the right to power. Since their entrance, the right, he believes, wasted no time in building pretty much everything they can.
“Hopefully, we can change it,” he said.
Later I was comforted by stumbling on graffiti amongst the building work which read: RIP 101 RVK.
But three years later, I’ve lost all my confidence in you. I’ve seen Reykjavik harbour, and the staggering number of slick apartments wasn’t a pretty sight. Recent reports claim that the number of foreign tourists has quadrupled. I never thought I’d hear Reykjavik being compared to Disneyland, but it’s a comparison I have to agree with.
Those I talk to tell me that, despite all the signs of progress, they fear you are stepping backwards to the darkness of 2007.
“There are too many signs of it being like [that] again,” said Icelandic economist, Thorvaldur Gylfason. “We have utterly failed to learn a lesson.”
I know of two people, one Icelander, and one Pole, who both abandoned the country because of what it had become: greedy, and tourist-infested.
Of course it’s not entirely a country’s fault that millions want to visit it: in a way, it’s a compliment, albeit given with heavy hands. I shudder when I hear about tourists leaving rubbish and building cairns wherever they feel like it. I hate that you have to select a day and time in advance to visit the Blue Lagoon and that accomodation in Reykjavik gets all booked out on New Year’s Eve.
I’ll always be grateful to you, Iceland, for the staggering sights you unveiled to me: midnight suns, sunrises over the cracked ice, and a hair-raising flight to the west. But I cannot live in the past so, for now, I’m moving on and parting in the hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll surprise me all over again one day.