Last year when I visited the excellent Iceland Airwaves music festival in Reykjavik, which wrapped up last night after five raucous, drizzly days of bands, Brennavin and cured shark, I wrote a post for BlackBook about how the Icelandic people — though some of the coolest, fun-lovingest and downright looniest on the planet — had just one joke. Soon afterwards, an Icelander named Jón Gnarr, who among other things used to play in Bjork’s band the Sugarcubes, stood up for Iceland (and Icelandic humor) and told one of the best jokes the world has ever heard. It was so good that the joke got him elected as Reykjavik’s mayor.
The set-up for the joke, if you will, was the upheaval in Iceland following the country’s recent and infamous financial meltdown. But Gnarr’s delivery was so spot on, so attuned with the collective Icelandic
Weltanschauung Elfenschauung, that he and his satirical Best Party won a landslide victory in June 2010. Some of his campaign promises were downright ludicrous, like free towels in the country’s popular public swimming pools. Others were more realistic, like building a Disneyland near the airport.
This is akin to, say, Al Franken being elected to the Senate with the fundamental difference that Gnarr’s so-called Best Party has maintained the elaborate joke to this day with a straight face, whereas Franken soberly strove to make people take him seriously as a politician. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious side to Gnarr. To wit, the Best Party only forms coalitions with other political parties whose members have seen all five seasons of The Wire. And as fashion designer Bergthora Gudnadottir of wool-chic Icelandic label Farmers Market told me the other day, “Some people expected the city to fall apart when the Best Party came to power, but everything is functioning as always.” So even the Icelandic fashion crowd seems to approve. Anyways, that’s a little background on Jón Gnarr. To properly do the man, the feat, and the festival justice, read the Mayor’s “Welcome to Reykjavík” address for Airwaves festival visitors in the Grapevine, the English-language Village Voice equivalent of Reykjavík. Click on the link above for the full piece, or read it minus scientific equations here:
Welcome to Reykjavík 3.8.2010 by Jón Gnarr The odds of you being in Reykjavík are not great. The greatest part of mankind is elsewhere. It is scientifically proven. When I was little, I would often ask myself why I had been born in Reykjavík. Is it a coincidence where one is born? Is it subject to some universal law? Did I exist in any form before I was born? Did I have anything to do with where I was born? Why did Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler not bear any children? Did they not try to? Can it be that no child wanted them as parents? I don’t know, but I do not believe in coincidence. I do not believe that God plays dice, especially not when human lives are concerned. These thoughts inevitably lead one to consider Schrödinger’s cat. He is probably one of the most famous cats in the world (maybe after Ninja Cat). Still no one knows what it was called? What was Schrödinger’s cat called? Abracadabra? I don’t remember. Let’s call it Phoenix. That is a common name for cats. Phoenix was of the nature that it both existed and not. Therefore, it always existed, and even if Schrödinger killed his cat in a rather tasteless manner, it is still alive at Schrödinger’s house, while Schrödinger himself has been dead for a long time:
Does this mean that I always existed, or that I never existed and do therefore not exist now? That can’t be! It would mean that all our existence was unreal and only existed in our own imagination. If I do not exist, then neither do you. I have a hard time believing that. The facts speak for themselves. If I am not real, then how could I fly to Finland, send myself a post card with a picture of Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland, fly back home and welcome the mailman that brought me the card? I don’t know. I am one of many Icelanders that believe in elves and trolls. I mainly believe in Moomin elves. It is more of a certainty than a belief. I have seen them and touched them. I know they exist. I have been to Moominworld in Naantali, Finland. I have evidence; photographs, video recordings and witnesses. I had a good talk with Moomin Papa. He told me that life in Moominvalley was much better after Finland joined the EU. He encouraged us Icelanders to join the EU. He also said that the Moomins had always existed, long before Tove Jansson “invented” them. The Moomins are eternal, at least in books.
I hope these thoughts shed some light on the history of Reykjavík and its culture. I hope you enjoy your time in Reykjavík, that you go swimming a lot and tell all your friends how fun Reykjavík is, and how everyone is always happy there and that you will never forget your hotel, Suðurlandsbraut and the eternally young cat Phoenix.
Photo: Leonard DiNardo