Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Here comes the sun

The Beatles song is playing in the background, which is vaguely appropriate given that we’re only 4 days shy of the longest day. In preparation for the trip, I’d read that Reykjavik, while being the world’s northerly-most capital city, is still far enough from the Arctic Circle that the sun does actually set and it starts to get dark. That is true, to the effect that the sky gets darker than it is midday, but in no way does it get dark or past a light dusk.

Following the do-as-the-locals-do mentality, we went out to celebrate Icelandic independence from Denmark, which is June 17 and celebrated beginning the night before so reliably that the front desk at the hostel was talking about the drinking droves in the matter of fact nature they talk about the long hours of daylight. A Swiss, a German, a Washington Statian and I went out after some shots of tequila. Shots might be an incorrect term, because they require a drinking vessel other than plugging straight from the bottle. And when on the road, consolidation or resources is the rule, so no frivolous items like “cups” enter the pack.

The sun had been lying to me all day. Apparently my body’s default is to mid spring in mid-east conditions. I feel most comfortable in the cool of the morning and in the warmth of the afternoon sun, spending the calm afternoon out on the bench smoking hookah and talking. It also means that when I see the sun in the sky, I by default think in timing terms of days that end around 7. Here the sun said 4, but the clock said 7. By the time the sun said 4:30, it was 10. When we headed out at midnight the sun had dipped behind buildings but still illuminated clearly.

Our first bar had two guys on guitars playing upbeat singer-songwriter style. Think Jack Johnson doing covers. Their repertoire  was impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen one bar band before cover Backstreet Boys, Britney, Skee-Lo, 4 Non-Blondes, Violent Femmes, Hanson, RHCP, Rhianna, Snoop Dogg, and the Beatles without a break. And they were spot on too. And the most important thing is that they were having fun with it. They were serious musicians, but they weren’t being serious (one played a Kazoo in place of the string section of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”). They were working a bar gig instead of partying, but they weren’t hammered or angry about it. They smiled, they smirked, and they were fun to watch.

When we left at 2, the sky was starting to get a little darker, but only as dark as it might get before a big storm. And this is as low as the sun went. By the time we actually started wandering on to the next bar, the clouds in the sky told a story part sunset part sunrise. The drink prices probably haven’t changed substantially in years, but the exchange rate has made going drinking an almost reasonable proposition if you’re used to going out around a major city: $7 beers, $8 rail drinks on a busy party night. Dropping $40 on a night out drinking might be more than ideal, but it isn’t altogether unreasonable, which is good, given that was how it ended up going.

Apparently alcohol is expensive enough here that waste is not an option. Leave your drink unattended for too long, and it will be consumed. Ask for a mixed drink and the bartender will pour your shot into a specially designed metal measuring jigger the way a baker would pour vanilla extract into a quarter-teaspoon. This is certainly not the land of the 4 second count. After checking the prices in the only state run liquor store in the capital and seeing that a bottle of Bacardi silver costs on the order of $50, I understand the reason for the stinginess. But it cuts out any remaining romance and mystery in the bartending equation. America is a largely haggle-free country outside of a couple industries. After returning from the covered bazaar in Istanbul, the straightforward pricing of a shop in the mall was a welcome old friend. But the economy of bartending – knowing the bar where the bartender is heavy handed, befriending bartenders to get stronger drinks, the art of looking like a heavy tipper who knows their drinks, and then following through to ensure you’re on the VIP (very intense pour) list for the rest of the night – that romance is dead here. Buying a drink is not going on a date, it is hiring an escort.

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This entry was posted on June 17, 2010 by in Iceland.

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