In the afternoon of August 3rd, 2010 my wife and I were standing under the rain, waving as our friends left the driveway of a big house in Mosfellsbær. I remember the moment clearly and the feelings of anxiety and excitement.
After 5 years we are moving back to the Basque Country, our homeland, and I thought it would be good idea to share some insights and revelations gained during this period. So during in the following weeks I’ll be sharing a series of articles about Iceland and its society, with this first one serving as small intro.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that what is collected in these pieces is nothing more –or less– that our particular view of what happened in Iceland in the period 2010-2015, and that as it happens with most human storytelling, our story will be unintentionally biased in a thousand different ways. This happens of course in all media, from the New York Times to your local TV channel… at least the source of our bias is not politically or economically driven.
Additionally, another small disclaimer for the Logic aficionados in the audience: Yes, all the presented opinions are based in anecdotal evidence, our anecdotal evidence, and therefore they may be non-representative samples. Again we don’t claim to be presenting any universal truths. Go to a church for that. Or, if you want empirical experience, I suggest start reading in another place.
To say that the best thing about is Iceland is the people would be accurate… and pointless. Do you know what is the best part of visiting Vietnam? Yes, the people. The greatest feature of Istanbul? The people. Most important reason to live in Buenos Aires? Well, I guess you see where this is going… Of course the best thing is the people! Unfortunately, the worst thing in these places? Exactly the same.
The same species that created global warming, fascism, rape culture and Soylent, is responsible for the printing press, thousands of languages, space exploration, and wine. In our delightful complexity, we humans contain the potential to be bright, kind creatures. In fact, that is probably the only reason why we should not go extinct. But, I digress.
The Icelandic people are the direct descendants of a bunch of stubborn, hard-working people that a thousand years ago made the surprising decision of clinging to a bleak, beautiful, cold rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. One can’t help but admire that level of determination and insanity.
One of the most recurrent thoughts during our trips across the island has always been how, a big, resounding how. How is even possible to survive a winter in this killer wilderness without electricity? How could the farmers endure these terrible conditions? How could a nation lose a quarter of its members to a single eruption and choose to stay in the same place? Each and every Icelander is living testimony of the indomitable, unbreakable will of their forefathers.
A nice collateral of this environmental exceptionalism is a well -resolved identity and a delicious tendency to weirdness and aesthetic bizarrism.
In 2010 the country was still in a state of semi-shock. The banks’ collapse had a direct influence in companies and businesses global operations and the trick of foreign currency mortgages put many people in a terrible situation. In November 2008, foreign exchange capital controls were enforced, bringing the isolated geography of the island to the economic landscape.
During these years many things have changed and, as usually happens with History, nothing has changed at all. Political support going back to the same old gangsters, development policies returning to heavy industry and natural resources capitalization, new constitutions never signed because of technicalities… You know the drill. In the next articles, I’ll try to tell you our experience living in this national time-machine, focusing in some key aspects like economy, politics, society, food… Brace yourself, it’s a bumpy road.