Monday, 26 May 2014


Fish heads out to dry on the Reykjanes peninsula

On our drive south to Krýsuvík and Grindavík last week we passed by a forest of fish-drying stocks, and decided to stop for a closer look. Planted there in the middle of a lava field, the sight of all those low-tech A-frames hung with thousands of cod carcasses is somehow primitive and reminiscent of a simpler time.

I’ve seen these racks before, so I initially stopped to show eight year-old Óðinn but ended up mesmerized by the bright green grass and the thin layer of chartreuse moss covering the wooden poles, and how the sunlight danced over the whole scene. Out of curiosity I googled ‘dried fish heads iceland’ and discovered that we export most of the stuff to Nigeria as one of their major sources of protein. We're not the only country to do so, as you can read about in this interesting interview with a Scottish exporter, but we seem to be at the top of the field.

While I was researching, I ran across a heartwarming story of an Icelandic exporter, Salka - Norfish Ltd, that donates money to an eye center in Nigeria to fund cataract surgery for locals. But then I also discovered a more sinister angle to the business, as detailed in a harch 2011 article in the Nigerian Ships & Ports media outlet about foul dealings on the part of Icelandic exporters, including: "Mixing of orders or types of stockfish unilaterally without refund...Non-performance of agreed contract terms...Non-delivery of consignment after payment/shipment (evidenced by bill of lading) ...Fraud... Use of unseaworthy containers, allowing rain and sea water to soak consignments...Average 50-kilogramme, fish head bag less 26 30 kilogrammes sent on many occasions..." and more.

My first thought on reading this was, of course. My second thought was, maybe it's fair karma for all the Nigerian phone and email scams we've been inundated with here in Iceland. If you've been reading my blog for a while, though, you'll know that I'm under no delusion that my countrymen and women are above a common swindle or two. As a matter of fact, I believe that duplicitousness is part of our opportunistic national character, nurtured by the need to survive in historically harsh conditions. You do what you have to do to make it through the winter, right? And especially on an arctic island that seems to be one big very active volcano.

A little more research gave me this article on a British man who was arrested by Interpol for having defrauded tons of money from Nigerian importers of Icelandic stockfish. In the end greed truly is an international state of mind...

Thursday, 22 May 2014


The gorgeous view at the hot spot by Kleifarvatn on the Reykjanes peninsla

We took a drive out to Krýsuvík today, only about 25 kilometers from the western end of Hafnarfjörður. The day was gorgeous, and aside from a few tourists poking around, we had the place to ourselves. Follow the links to read more about this dramatic patch of Iceland, so close to the capital.

This hotspot is just south of Kleifarvatn, a lake which is not only mysteriously disappearing, but is said to be the home of a huge serpent-like creature that surfaces regularly. So far, though, none of the available dive excursions have reported running into the beast, but from what I can see in the video on this site, it looks like a pretty awesome underwater adventure anyway.

(I just want to add that when signs ask us to stay on the walking paths, we really should. There are ugly footprints tramped into the sulfur muds at Krýsuvík - as I posted on the Fb page - and who knows if they'll just wash away with the next rains. I suspect, though, that it's locals who've dissed the  request to respect, only because I've seen it often with my own eyes...)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Samba Brazillian Buffet @ Avenue K

My cravings for good beef, lamb and seafood was satisfied with a trip to Samba in Avenue K. Samba is a new Brazillian buffet restaurant recently open at the 3rd Floor in Avenue K.

The 3rd floor is like a hidden treasure for food because you cannot see this floor from the Ground level. *thats why level 3 toilets are the best to use because its so clean!*

My usual haunts in Avenue K are the gym, Sushi Zanmai, MBG and the food court, Taste Enclave. Would you believe I have been having Sushi Zanmai on a weekly basis since it opened few months back.

Samba - quite expensive. Dinner cost rm100 and it does not include drinks. A glass of water cost rm15! For that buffet pricetag, it would be a once a tear occasion or once in a blue moon. 

The service was very good. The concept of the buffet- there were plenty of choices  on the buffet table ranging from cold seafood luke crabs, prawns, oysters and mussles, a variety of salad, fruits, desserts, soup, pasta, paella etc.

As for the meat like chicken, beef and lamb, a waiter comes around to your table to personally carve slices of meat of your choice for you. One slice may seem little and measly, but a combination of slices of meat was really filling. 

Ideally, this buffet is best to be eaten during dinner because too much meat makes us sleepy and you can spend plenty of time slowly enjoying the food. They also have an option for lunch buffet which consist of just meat, no sushi. Thats fine with me too coz the sushi did not really look good.

Overall, it was an enjoyable affair :)

Saturday, 17 May 2014


The old Reykjavik cemetery just above the west side of the town lake, Tjörnin

I love the old Reykjavik cemetery, which sits peacefully just above the western side of the town lake. Photos never do the quiet justice, though yesterday there were some serious conversations going on between a loud family of birds (starlings?) tucked into the branches above.
The buzz and whoosh of rush hour on Hringbraut was audible, but it easily turned into white noise after just a few minutes among the old moss-covered headstones and trees, which as of 1946 were barely there at all as you can see in this aerial shot of Vesturbær Reykjavik. It's amazing what seventy years and a bit of well-tended gardening can do.

Back in 2008 I was asked to write a description of a good walking tour through Reykjavik for Packed magazine, and I included this cemetery as part of it. You can read more of what I consider to be an excellent day trip through our little city, on page 35 of the online issue.

Friday, 16 May 2014


Classic Iceland Eyes, re-posted from July 2010:

"This building and its companions, nestled into the foot of a cliff on the south coast of Iceland between Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, are probably my all time favorite structures on our island. I assume they were used as livestock shelters, built as they are as extensions of the gnarled but somehow soothing rock that towers above them. 

It reminds me of the home of a girlfriend of mine in Cupertino when I was ten or eleven. We lived in an Eichler home very similar to the one in this picture , and she lived in one as well, but with a different floor plan. All Eichler designs have the common conceit of allowing the outdoors into the home by use of walls of glass, plant-filled atriums, skylights and high open-beam construction. This is fairly common in modern homes today, but in the 1950's this was all extremely cutting edge. What I found so appealing about my girlfriend's home was that there was a huge tree growing up through the enclosed courtyard in the center of her house. We had pretty shrubs and plants in ours, but she had a whole tree! 

I think I would like to wake up in the morning and be able to reach out and run my fingers along a wall of stone that was once a lava flow, now frozen in time, softened into smooth curves and ripples by the elements. I would feel protected by the immensity of the cliff above me, like a baby penguin secure at daddy's feet. It would be wonderful knowing I was sharing the rock with ravens and eagles and mosses and ferns, and that I was integrated into the natural landscape while still experiencing human architectural ingenuity. The best of both worlds. 

Some day I will live so close to the ocean that the sounds of the waves will lull me to sleep, and a tree will grow through the center of our home, and ancient rock will comprise a wall, or a floor. Glass will flow the sun and the stars into our home and every day will be a symphony of the elements enveloping our lives." 


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Eurovision Triumph

Well, it's all over for another year.  "Gay Christmas" came and went last night with 125 million viewers across the continent.  Initial estimates suggest at least 126 million of these were gay men.  Families at home, bars, and drunken Eurovision parties tuned in for the annual smörgåsbord of camp fabulousness.  It's the yearly celebration of how deliciously bonkers we Europeans truly are. 
It was a delight, for many reasons.  One of these is that show has gone way past the stage of having only cult "irony" value for the sheer car-crash value of the horrendous acts and dreadful costumes.  The Terry Wogan piss-take era is now firmly behind us, with some arguably very good chunes indeed.  Heck, I wasted £4.74 on iTunes this morning frantically downloading some of them, so they must be good.  

Then we had the sets: Ukraine deserves a special mention inventing a whole new sexual fetish.  This involves putting a totally fit guy dressed in a shirt and tie in a giant hamster wheel and asking him to run round and round for you.  If you haven't yet tried it, I recommend you do.  When gay Twitter discovered Hamster Man's amazingly sexy name was <ROMAN> it frankly imploded for several hours.  Well, I had to lie down for a bit anyway.


Eurovision 2014 will go down in history, though, for its result.  Unless you're in some distant village in Outer Mongolia with yak mail being the only connection with the rest of the world, you'll know that a bearded drag queen from Austria, Conchita Wurst, took first prize.  She didn't just win - she romped home with a massive 290 votes. 
Conchita is exquisitely beautiful.  She has a figure to die for.  In her own words, she's a "singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair, and a beard."  The new Queen of Europe is a bearded lady.  Let's pause for a moment to consider her name: yes, it actually means "Pussy Sausage" in a combination of Spanish and German if you were wondering.

The person behind Conchita isn't transgender, unlike Sharon Cohen (Dana International) who took the Eurovision prize for Israel in 1998.  Conchita is the stage persona of a 25 year old guy called Tom Neuwirth, who's from grew up in a provincial town of 3000 people in Styria.  He's a gay man in drag.  With a beard.  
Russian politician Vitaly Milonov, one of the architects of the country's "gay propaganda" law last month called Eurovision a hotbed of sodomy and called for a Russian boycott of the show.  He further called for the "pervert" Conchita to be excluded, and labelled her an "obvious transvestite".  Regarding the latter claim, Vitaly, in other news bear shit was this morning discovered in the woods outside St Petersburg. 
The Votes
Ten million people dialed in across the continent last night to vote in, to add their voice to the professional jury (since 2009 voting is 50/50 jury and popular vote).  What they did was to confirm that this, our continent, is a far more liberal and tolerant place that many ever thought it was.  Let's be honest: Conchita's song was fair to good.  It wasn't a stand out winner if simply heard on the radio.  It was the act that made this phenomenal: last night she looked a million Euro.  
I watched a fascinating voting pattern: one after the other the ten countries with same sex marriage joined #TeamWurst, giving her full or nearly full marks.  Belgium, Netherlands, UK, Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Portugal: not one didn't do so.  Countries where same sex is very much on the cards (Ireland and Finland) also joined them, as did some other countries you might not have expected to hand over the douze points: Hungary, Greece and Israel.  

Moreover, if you strip out the jury votes and simply look at the popular votes, Conchita's popularity amongst the people of Europe was even more resounding.  Her score goes up from 290 votes (a margin of 52 over the runner up, Netherlands) to 306 votes (86 votes clear).  The juries are there for very good reason and the official score is all that matters - but what's clear from this is a reinforcement of the fact that people across Europe loved her.

It just really struck me: is there anywhere else that would fall over itself to vote for a bearded drag queen if they had such a contest?  I can't imagine this happening in a million years in the USA for example.  
No Politics
The Eurovision Song Contest is older than the EU.  It was created just 11 years after the Second World War.  The armies of Hitler (that other Austrian whose facial hair is really rather famous) and Stalin had decimated Europe.  It was set up to bring the people of Europe together: quite the tall order and amazingly idealistic given the time.  Political statements are expressly forbidden. 
2014 is the year of anniversaries.  It's 100 years since the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated at Sarajevo, plunging Europe into the hell of WW1. It's 75 years since Reichskristallnacht, when synagogues were burnt across Germany (and Austria): the precursor to both WW2 and the holocaust.  It's 70 years since the D-Day landings and hope spread out over the continent like a slow-burning flame from the beaches of Normandy.  It's also 70 years since the failed assassination attempt on Hitler by aristocratic German officers who paid with their lives.  They had proposed a union of democratic European nations, with its capital in Vienna, the seat of the old Holy Roman Empire.  It's 25 years since the Berlin Wall, the physical symbol of division across the continent, came crashing down, and Austria resumed its natural place at the cross-roads of a Europe that has been healing ever since.

WHAT symbolism then, that Conchita won this year, and next year Eurovision will take place in Vienna.  Rainbow flags were flying everywhere in the audience last night.  Conchita could not say what she wanted to because of the no-politics rule, but everyone knew exactly what she meant when she said:
"This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom.  You know who you are.  We are unity and we are unstoppable."
Yes, Conchita, we are.  We are LGBT Europeans and the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of straight friends and supporters right across the continent. 
So Proud to be European 
What a different place this continent of ours has become.  It's so easy to forget when you hear constantly the repugnant views of xenophobic, homophobic politicians reported across Europe and on our own doorstep (yes, UKIP, I'm looking at you).  
The vote was a huge f*ck you of liberal values over the dying voice of social conservatism.  It was an affirmation of anyone who has been different and been stigmatised because of it.  It was the personal triumph of a schoolboy from Gmunden who grew up fancying other boys and wanting to wear frocks. 
It was a peaceful, democratic, liberal Europe slowly but surely taking the lead dragging the world into a new century, exactly 100 years after it had plunged it into militaristic chaos and destruction.  It's a new Europe that has voted for marriage equality in an increasing number of countries.  It's by no means without its problems, but in so many respects, it's just such a great place to be. 
I was so, so proud to be European last night.  What a great side of people this brought out, and what an amazing, symbolically significant thing a camp song contest can be, particularly when a bearded lady wins it.  Who'd ever have imagined it :-)

Monday, 5 May 2014

UKIP: Our Last Hope

What more can be said about the apparent phenomenal rise of UKIP in the polls?

2004: something new

10 years ago I was on holiday in Poland and remember the shocked German news reports stating that UKIP had obtained 16% of the vote.  They had returned 12 MEPs.  "These aren't just Eurosceptics" they informed the audience: "They've decided they're not sceptical: they want to leave the EU."  The rest of the EU were well used to decades of Tory Eurosceptics attempting to scupper anything that came out of Europe, but this was something new.

The thought of leaving the EU seemed ridiculous, just at the point where most of the continent was celebrating the accession of 10 new countries.  Yet here we are in 2014 with poll predictions of upwards of 30% of the vote for UKIP, and our PM pledging an in/out referendum on the EU if the Tories win the general election in 2015.

Since 2004 UKIP has gone from a single issue anti-EU protest party to a catch-all repository for the disaffected right wing vote.  The droning on about EU issues seem to have been replaced to a large extent by a much broader anti-immigration platform.  Anti-islam feeling runs high and a dislike of anything not "English" (its appeal is specifically strong in England, not in the rest of the UK). 

The language of UKIP supporters

I'm very interested by the language that UKIP supporters use on social media, and the psyche of fear that appears to motivate them.  Much of it is incredibly dramatic, particularly when discussing immigration.  The country is "overrun".  Schools and hospitals are "full".  The "indigenous people" are being "pushed out".  England is "smouldering beneath ready to explode".  Wow, is it really?

When you fly over this green and pleasant land of ours, it's hard to tally the rhetoric with the reality.  Most of the country isn't built on.  No, actually that's wrong.  Almost ALL the country is not built on.  Any guesses as to the exact figure? 60%? 30%? 15%? Actually only 2.27% of England's land is built on.  "Britain's mental picture of its landscape is far removed from reality".  It's actually a remarkably peaceful, green, spacious, still comparably well-off country.

It doesn't matter though: you can reason about how immigration is a necessary thing for an economy, and an incredibly positive thing for a society.  You can talk about the financial contribution that immigrants make in fiscal terms.  You can point out that we have huge amounts of space and we're not about to sink into the North Sea under the weight of millions of newly arrived Romanians.

You simply hit a brick wall of willful, entrenched ignorance, fear and always an underlying belief that the English are somehow superior.  It's as if decades of scare-mongering in the right wing tabloid press has finally soaked in and nothing will dissipate it.  It's pure emotional reaction and the language reflects it.  Let's not doubt it, though: there's real anger, and there's real fear amongst many of these people.  A peril has been identified that goes way beyond the original target of the EU.

Farage: Our Last Hope

Having identified an apparent terrible peril the country faces, the next step is to suggest a solution.  The country has been let down by the traditional parties, but there is an alternative.  Much of the rhetoric I've observed demonstrates an almost Messianic like belief in UKIP to solve matters.

UKIP's policies seem quite ill-defined and apparently to mean many things to many different people.  Is it an anti-establishment party, a libertarian party, or a pro-City, authoritarian right wing party?  In some respects it doesn't matter.  It's just important to note that for some of those 30%+ voters it's not simply a protest party: it's the solution to all their woes.

The party is of course inexorably linked with the personality of its leader, Nigel Farage.  It's he who's on the TV endlessly.  I doubt few general members of the public could name anyone else in the party (except perhaps Roger Helmer MEP).  There's a cult like worship of the affable chap in his tweed jackets, enjoying a warm pint of English beer.  He's a man of the people.  He will lead us to a better place.  He is the "Leader" - note the capitalised L - who is the only politician who truly believes in Britain and the British people.

A Historical Comparison

I'm actually both fascinated and terrified by the mindset that chants that UKIP is "needed urgently" and that UKIP "will prevail".  For someone who's historically aware (and in my case, half-German) it's genuinely highly reminiscent of the posters the National Socialists used in the 1920s.  The country apparently faced catastrophic danger and only one party, and one man, could save it.

I'm not even going to make any Godwin's law type apologies when I post this image (which actually doesn't apply: it says that as an online argument between two or more parties grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.  I'm talking to myself here, not arguing with anyone :p).  If you don't know what it means, it's simply: "Our last hope: Hitler".  It encapsulates so much in one sentence.

Just to be clear, I do not for a moment think that UKIP heralds an overthrow of democracy and the advent of the 4th Reich.  It would be silly to suggest it does.  Thankfully, the parameters of European politics in 2014 are far more narrowly defined than those of Europe in the 1920s.  Almost every country is a fully functioning democracy.  Parties are generally grouped far closer to the centre than they were almost 100 years ago: the extreme far right and far left generally do not have the appeal they did back then. 

Yet there are valid comparisons to be made here in simple terms of the rhetoric.  When 47% of people ticked the "NSDAP" box in Weimar Germany they didn't know what was coming next: we only appreciate with horror the significance in retrospect.  They weren't voting for the holocaust.  They were voting amongst other things for "national revival" and German jobs.  Remember, the very mainstream Daily Mail in this country was praising the Nazis right up until 1938.  Their posters, their speeches and their policies attracted millions and seemed eminently reasonable to many.

According to some within UKIP,  the country is "smouldering beneath ready to explode".  Many feel that the traditional parties have failed us.  One party is the answer, one party can save us, one party is needed.  There's a dramatic desperation, an urgency, and there's a feeling that it's now or never.  There are clear and unfortunate parallels.  The Messianic belief that Nigel is our saviour, the only "Leader" who cares about his people, and can deliver his country, almost literally screams  "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer" (One People, one Nation, one Leader).   I do wonder whether the people tweeting and re-tweeting the above are so historically unaware that this doesn't even occur to them,  if is it subliminal, or if for some it is quite deliberate.  Personally, it sends shudders down my back to see a "Leader" referred to in these terms.  No wonder people are starting to refer online to the man jokingly as Nigel Führage.

It doesn't matter that the threat to Germany in the 1920s/30s from World Jewry was as imagined as the threat is to England in 2014from Islam, "Labour fascists", gays or immigrants.  As much as I hate this government, I really don't think the country is on the precipice of economic collapse and disaster caused by immigrants, the EU, Islam or anything else.  It's rather a nice place to be in general, actually.  It could be far better still, and I hope it will become so: that won't be achieved by shutting out outsiders and becoming a nation of xenophobes. What UKIP has done is in some ways not identified a fear, so much as to create one.  There was no "Jewish problem" in Germany in 1933.  There is no "immigration crisis" in the UK in 2014.

What UKIP has achieved

By way of further historical comparison, UKIP has come from nowhere in a very short time and promises a political earthquake.  UKIP's  aim in the European elections is to send political representatives to a forum it despises and aims to destroy.  Other far right, yet more overtly racist parties in Europe promise similar.  In May 1928 the Nazis were polling just 2.8%.  By March 1933 they had used the democratic process to take power in the Reichstag, an institution that they hated, which they then destroyed from within, by passing the Enabling Act.  A 4th Reich isn't staring us in the eyes, but this should give pause for thought.

The effects of the UK leaving the EU would be enormous not just for us, but for the whole of the continent.  It would be one of the great events of early 21st century history, with no certainty whatsoever of the outcome.  UKIP has already succeeded where a generation of Tory Eurosceptics have failed, in getting the Prime Minister to put this on the political agenda.  They have done this by driving home fears about immigration and the danger it is doing, without even a single MP.  Dismiss them as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", Mr Cameron, but they've managed this quite impressive and worrying achievement.

What's more, instead of the Tories and Labour standing up to counter UKIP's rhetoric, they're leaving it virtually unchallenged.  Instead, they're falling over themselves trying to find ways of accommodating concerns about immigration out of fear of losing votes.  Again, quite impressive achievement there, UKIP.

What's the Solution?

It clearly isn't enough to mock Farage, UKIP and its supporters and hope they will go away*.  They won't.  It seems impossible to get through a positive message on immigration and the EU (yet we must keep trying).  Highlighting yet another story about a virulently anti-gay, anti-Islam or overtly racist UKIP supporter isn't working.  They appear daily now, Farage dismisses them as "I don't even know who this person is", they're suspended, and we move on.  It seems that it would require a UKIP supporter to suggest genocide to grab some genuine attention.  We all know the party is full of freaks, extremists, racists and idiots.  That doesn't make them go away.

Both the press and we have created this situation.  The Green Party actually has an MP, yet it never seems to secure any airtime.  Switch on the TV and Farage's grinning mug is everywhere to be seen.  He is given a disproportionate amount of airtime.  UKIP is given a disproportionate amount of attention on Twitter, by me and by plenty of others.

Our "last hope" is to get out and vote in the EU elections.  If you hate everything that UKIP stands for, and think that it reflects the basest and ugliest side of this country, these are very important elections to show that.  Analysts predict that many UKIP votes will revert to the main parties in the general elections.  However, UKIP will have a huge added claim to airtime and attention if it achieves the largest share of the vote on 22 May.  Whether you're a Tory, LibDem, Green or Labour supporter please get out there - one thing we know is that the UKIP voters will be out in force.  They're the ones who have more interest than anyone in voting in these elections.


Look at this exchange. 

If you're not aware of the details, 40,000 political prisoners were held in the Santiago national stadium during the far-right Pinochet military coup of 1973.  Prisoners were given yellow, black or red discs.  Those with red had no chance of survival.  A total of 3000 "leftists" were murdered under the General's rule and a further 1000 disappeared without trace.

As my friend Matt Leys pointed out, it's really rather a leap to go from remarking that UKIP is homophobic, sexist and xenophobic, to thinking that Dave Jones is considering gunning them all down.

I mentioned the dramatic, emotional language of many UKIP supporters earlier.  The woman is not some random UKIP supporter.  She's a UKIP's London region MEP candidate and Southwark UKIP chair.  Do you really want her to be elected as an MEP on a package of around £115,000?  I don't.

* As fun as it clearly is


It's always very difficult to write a post that makes any comparison to the Third Reich, no matter how defined and limited the comparison (i.e here, to the rhetoric of some of his supporters).  The magnitude of the horrors that regime represented leave you thinking "no I'm just being a bit silly and I'm imagining all this" ...  Then you catch up on a story from Channel 4 News that reveal a letter showing concerns about Farage's fascism and racism at school and his marching through a quiet Sussex village late at night shouting Hitler Youth songs.  And you just shake your head.