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Monday, June 26, 2006

Midsummer Magic

Call me naïve, call me paranoid even, but I used to worry that it would be hard meeting people in Iceland.  I used to get obsessed about it, back in the planning phase of this trip, and to combat my fears I would conduct rituals, Paper Burning ceremonies in fact, in my dingy sharehouse in Tokyo. Granted, I had met plenty of nice people on my previous visit here in 2003, among them Akiko a Japanese girl who turned into a lover, and Rodolphe the freak from the Alps who ambushed me in the mossy canyons of Þingvellir, and tried to seduce me. Great folk they all were, but they weren't locals, and it was the locals that I was really yearning to make my acquaintances with. Cute Asian girls are always a pleasure to encounter, but I can encounter plenty of them in Asia. It might well be easier hooking up with Japanese women outside of Japan than it is in their homeland, but truth be told I am over Japan after all my recent conflicts, and I want to take a break from it all. I need time out from all that stress, that Bushido bullshit! And visiting Iceland is such a rare luxury for me right now, I want to make the most of it. Icelanders are the rarest of species, anyway: how often do you see them in your home town, or at your nearest airport even? You don't see any, that's the thing... they are as elusive as elves. Apart from the staff at my youth hostel and the odd waiter or bartender downtown, I don't think I interacted with any real Icelanders on my 2003 trip -- and I was in their own country no less, in their capital city! This time around, having forked out so much for airfares and ripoff hotels, flown halfway across the world, etc, this time around I wanted to do things right, and meet the people who actually live here, rather than fellow travelers like myself. That of course can be hard when you are staying in a dorm in a youth hostel on the edge of town, and you only have six days to spend on the island. To maximize my chances of adventure, I concluded, I needed to have some kind of plan, a little piece of insurance up my sleeve. Obviously, I could have resolved to go out and network hard as soon as I touched down at Keflavíkurflugvöllur and that is indeed what I have been doing these past few days, networking my ass off so to speak! But, back in the planning phases of this trip, I required something more immediate to soothe my anxieties, something a little bit magical perhaps, something vindictively voodoo even. That is where Paper Burning came in. Call it irrational, call it superstitious nonsense, but Paper Burning seems to work. It can make your wishes come true, whether you believe in it or not. It is my key to manifestation.

Gateway between the worlds: an underpass, in Reykjavik (Iceland, 2006)
The process is so simple it's silly: in essence, Paper Burning is the transformation of psychic energy into its physical equivalent, the alchemy of -E into the "E" of Einstein's famous equation. Fire and prayer serve as the interface, the gate between the two worlds. You might liken it to mining Jung's realm of indestructible energy, or sparking a cluster of coincidences, summoning them into existence, and hoping they will play out to your advantage! That's one way of looking at it. Another way is to consider it the recycling of past events: episodes which have happened to someone else, somewhere, at sometime; episodes which you seek to recreate in your own life, right here, right now. In order for the process to work something connected to that past event, something linked to it by psychic energy, needs to be destroyed so that the psychic pattern it represents can cross the threshold into the physical realm, and (re)manifest. When I Paper Burn I first hunt down some person describing, in their own words, an experience they have had, usually online on blogs and forums and the like. Anything that looks genuine and authentic is good for me, for example stories about lucky windfalls, falling in love, ecstatic epiphanies, sex with supermodels, that kind of thing. Or for this particular occasion, the experience of going to Iceland, meeting tons of nice people, making lifetime friends here! Those are the experiences I wanted to manifest this trip: longterm friends and wanton sex! Paper Burning manifested my relationship with C., and it got me a kiss out of the blue with Akiko on the lawns of Shinjuku Gyouen (新宿御苑), so surely it could mine me a few babes and buddies in Reykjavík, and guarantee me a rollicking time here. Truth be told, however, my soul has been longing for something more luminous than just babes and buddies and rollicking fun recently, and I find myself hungering for an accomplice instead of a mere acquaintance, a Twin Flame rather than just a girlfriend, a collaborator or collaborators who can allow me to attain the Divinity in the flesh that I have sometimes glimpsed in my dreams... in short, post C. I yearn for no less than a soulbuddy or coterie of soulbuddies from another dimension, Rock star friends to deliver me the Rock star lifestyle I deserve, and dearly await! Listening to Icelandic music always gives me the suspicion that I am missing out, alienated from the art and adventure which ought to be my birthright. "Born in the wrong family, the wrong town, the wrong country," as I might have complained as a kid, growing up in regional Australia. Back then I used to call this malaise the "Goonie Feeling", and I fantasized about escape through all manner of exotic means: becoming a writer or a famous artist, a child actor, a pop star, a global citizen, etc. Assuming that my misplaced birth was the root of my woes, I figured that all I needed to do was to change my abode, and my dream life would develop around me, spontaneously. Thus my life of wandering commenced, the search for belonging in farflung lands: interestingly, the Promised Land I sought was always overseas, north not south, temperate not arid, erudite and articulate, emotionally intelligent, savvy and sophisticated, youthful but wiser than its years. The quest led me to Japan but much to my dismay, Utopia was not waiting for me there, alas. Japan is cool and all, I love the trains and vending machines, the endless concrete jungles, but it is not the social Promised Land that I was expecting it to be. If my cousin Kellie had been there to join me then perhaps it might have turned out differently, we could have established our colony. But Kellie flaked out on me, she ditched me, and after several years of life in the Far East I was compelled to resume the search for my (now) private Zion, my (personal) Canaan. Almost immediately, I settled my sights on Iceland, a country I have always held a fascination for, ever since I was a wee bairn. I booked a flight here in 2003, and stayed about six days. Amazingly, the place exceeded my expectations, it was even better than I dared to hope it would be. For the first time in my life, it seemed I had finally found the place to call home. If only it wasn't so hard to get to, and to emigrate to!

Corner of Frakkastigur and Njalsgata, in Reykjavik (Iceland, 2006)
Sometime last year I had a dream in which I was in an interior space, a long room of some kind, which was supposedly in Iceland. I can't really remember what was going on; while I often dream of being in huge parties, the atmosphere here felt sedate, more like a library than a nightclub. I was chilling on a couch, and presently I became aware that I was sitting next to this yellowhaired guy. We started talking about life and the universe, philosophy and politics and poetry, and I soon I realized that this man was going to change my life, or at least encourage me to become the real me, whatever that might mean. When I woke up, I knew it was an important dream, it was a dream with meaning. It was an inspirational dream, no less, and I used to think about it a lot during my relationship with C., when I should have been infatuated with her. I didn't know whether it would actually come true or if it was just symbolic of my Icelandic hopes: Freudian or Jungian, wish fulfillment or astral traveling, who knows. But I did remember it, and it did stay with me. That was one dream which crossed the threshold, always so foreboding and forbidding, from the unconscious, to the conscious mind... 

Memories of this dream played through my mind as I readied the Paper Burning apparatus for action, a few months before my recent flight. I had found a choice snippet to burn, which was now printed out on a pristine leaf of white paper, and which read beguilingly: "Though I can say that if you are doing the pub crawl around Reykjavik after 1 am on a Friday or Saturday, you will end up with lots of new friends who are very talkative and outgoing." This read, in fact, like the perfect fodder for a Paper Burning spell: disposable, just an anonymous quote from the Internet, but the way it had been appropriated gave it an edge of sorcery, of the sort you might encounter in Bronisław Malinowski, or vintage Harry Potter. I installed the sheet of paper atop a vessel crusted from the detritus of previous fires, and ignited a cigarette lighter. The vessel was actually a mini altar bell given to me by Soka Gakkai (創価学会), that mad Buddhist order to which I belong (and doubtless they would accuse me of sacrilege if they knew how I was about to treat it!) I settled on to the floor in front of the bell in my bedroom, crouched seiza style, and lit the edge of the page. Flame crept around the perimeter of the page, browning it, bending it, and lifting it with a draft of warm air. For a moment I was worried the blazing leaf might lift itself out of the bell and drop on to the wooden floor of my room. As previously related, my sharehouse is made of tatami mats and paper walls and wood, and it would burn down in a flash if it was set alight. I have to be careful with this shit, so I poked the page back into the center of the bell with a pen, ready to extinguish the flame if things got out of hand. Peak flamage subsided shortly enough, however, and the sheet curled up onto itself, disintegrating into flakes of ash and puffs of gray smoke. I bowed towards my Soka Gakkai gohonzon (sacred scroll) hanging on the wall, and chanted through the smoke three times: "Nam myou hou ren ge kyou" ("南無妙法蓮華経"). I'm not really sure why I do this, since I don't really believe in Nichiren, the Lotus Sutra, and all that jazz associated with the gohonzon. Maybe you could call this "hedging your bets": if Paper Burning didn't work, then at least Nichiren might do the trick, and grant me my wishes. That was probably my motivation. My Soka Gakkai friends would probably be appalled, but this is the system I employ, and it works for me. Freestyling forever... that is the way I play! You can't pin me down to any one style... no way.

The Sirkus, the "only bar in Reykjavik!" (Iceland, 2006)
I used to worry about meeting people in Iceland, but it turns out that this was a misguided fear. The reality of the social scene in Reykjavík is, the city is so small, it is really easy to get to know people. After just a few nights downtown doing the Runtur, I have started to notice and recognize the same old faces -- the Reykjavík gang. And because the city is so isolated, people are interested in you as a newcomer. This is the kind of place where you don't need to exchange phone numbers or business cards -- if you meet someone cool, chances you will bump into them again pretty soon, just walking down the street. And they will remember you. On Friday afternoon, while the wind blew, and I wandered around town checking stuff out, I popped into a corner store to buy a burger for lunch -- and who else was standing there at the counter but my old cocainehunting buddy from Thursday night! I have forgotten what his name was, and perhaps he never gave it to me, but he has become my first true friend in Iceland, my first Icelandic Goonie. Gods willing, more are on their way!

Saturday was Midsummer's Day and I was back down in the Miðbær (midtown) at the Cafe Rosenburg, nursing a hangover from the previous night, and submitting it to my usual hair of the dog therapy (ie, I was drinking another beer!) The Cafe Rosenburg was decorated with model ships, an old piano, and jazz instruments hanging from the walls. Outside was a beautiful day: brilliant blue sky, sunshine and a hearty North Atlantic breeze. I was drinking my beer, and to pass the time (which often seems to expand so enormously here in Iceland, especially when I am wandering around) I flipped through a copy of the Reykjavik Mag which I had discovered on one of the tables. I paused to read an article about a young cartoonist and playwright named Hugleikur Dagsson. According to the article and other stuff I have seen on the Web since then, Hugleikur is famous for his stage play Forðist okkur ("Avoid Us") and his comic books Elskið okkur ("Love Us"), Drepið okkur ("Kill Us") and Ríðið okkur ("Fuck Us"). And he also wrote another work called Bjargið okkur ("Save Us"). There was a photo of the guy in the magazine with short hair and slacker T-shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, looking uncannily like my old mate Dave Harris from Palm Beach in Sydney. (Dave is also an artist and an activist, although I haven't heard from him in years. I wondered what he would think of Reykjavík if he ever made it here.)

I ordered another beer, stuffed the Reykjavik Mag into my slingbag as a souvenir, and picked up a copy of the ever informative Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper, which the Rosenberg was kind enough to stock. Leafing through it, I stumbled upon an article about Midsummer's Day, which was being marked today. It stoked my interest, so I started to read the report which follows, quietly, as I sipped my beer:

In pagan times, holidays were marked by the phases of the moon and the changing of the seasons. The longest day of the year, Midsummer (actually the first day of summer), was a celebratory holiday that revolved around the goddess Freyja, whose primary areas of expertise were sexuality and fertility. You can imagine the gusto with which this holiday was celebrated -- after the long, brutal winter, summer's finally here, and celebrations are in honor of the Goddess of Love? You bet it was a good time. 
Not that things have changed very much since then. Even today, the arrival of summer is greeted with great enthusiasm, as you'll find that on the first remotely mild day of the year, Icelanders pour into the streets wearing skirts and t-shirts. But there are also a few superstitions surrounding Midsummer (due to begin on 21 June, 4:26AM) that have managed to survive. 
One of the biggest ones is, you can roll around in the dew at dawn on Midsummer and any wish you make will come true. This is risky, particularly in an urban area like Reykjavik, but people still do this... Midsummer is also a great time to gather magical rocks and plants, as they're supposedly at the height of their power on this day. I'd suggest getting out of town that day, going for a walk down by the beach, or in a patch of woods, and looking around for small stones that look magical to you. Pick up this stone, put it in your pocket, and keep it -- you've got your new magic talisman.

Boulders, anchor and crane, beneath a blue midsummer sky (Iceland, 2006)
Well, I am sorry to report that I didn't roll around in the dew naked on Midsummer Day 2006, but I did pick up some interesting lava stones down by the waterfront, and perhaps more importantly, I had in my credit a number of Paper Burning spells conducted in Japan which were doubtless swirling out there in the ether, biding their time, just waiting for their chance to do their thing and manifest. And manifest they did, in spectacular form! As I wrote above, June 24 had developed into a wonderfully sunny and beautiful summer's day, and it was the weekend (Saturday no less), with everybody in the mood to party. Thursday had been incredible, Friday had been sensational, and while Saturday had only just begun I could already sense that Saturday was resonating at a higher dimensional vibration altogether than all the other days... in short, Saturday was otherwordly. And who knows, perhaps it was all from the feminine Freyja energy in the air? I put the newspaper in my slingbag, drained my glass, and left the Rosenberg. After walking around for a while I landed at the Sirkus, the site of my adventures on Thursday night. As I approached the bar to buy a drink, I realized that the aforementioned Hugleikur Dagsson was standing at the other end of the counter, beer in hand. I quickly dug out the copy of the Reykjavik Mag which I had confiscated as a souvenir, just to check that I wasn't hallucinating. It was, indeed, him -- the guy standing across the room with a beer in his hand was the same comic and writer and artist I had just been reading about at the Rosenberg. He looked like he had clawed his way out of the page of the magazine, complete with horn-rimmed glasses and slacker T-shirt, and a Dave Harris smirk. Scanning the article, I noticed that Dagsson had been asked: "What is your favorite bar in Reykjavik?" And he had replied: "Sirkus. It is the only bar in Reykjavik."

I will drink to that.

I ordered myself a beer, and walked upstairs to the loft, where they were showing the soccer World Cup. When I entered the loft I thought to myself: Wow, this is the place from the dream, the dream set in the long interior room. This is where I am going to meet that guy, the guy that changes my life! I sat down, and this feeling of déjà vu intensified... the mood, lighting, dogeaten couches, carpet on the floor, and my own state of mind were all the same as they had been in the original dream. I thought: If that dream really was a premonition, I just have to sit back and let it happen! I don't have to force anything. So I reclined in my couch, and tried to concentrate on the game for a while, gripped in a rising excitement. From time to time I looked around, to see if anything truly luminous was going on. There wasn't, just guys slouched in couches all around me, some of them with trainershod feet sprawled on coffee tables, watching the World Cup. I was almost starting to lose hope, when finally this yellowhaired guy walked in from behind me and said. "Do you mind if I sit next to you?" I looked up and realized: Oh my God, that's the guy from the dream! Its really him! A yellowhaired guy in jeans and slacker T-shirt and bright trainers, flopping down into the seat next to me. He looked like he had just emerged out of my dreams, to grace real life. 

We started talking and after some formalities, he announced that he was the guitarist from Kimono, a band I have been listening to since 2003. I'm not sure he told me his name but based on stuff I have read online since, I am pretty sure he is Alex. Been touring for years, now back in Iceland. I told him that their Japanese Policeman in Scandinavia was one of my favorite songs and he remarked, "Wow, I didn't know we had that much of a following." We talked about earthquakes and life on the road, the Berlin rock scene, the Reykjavik rock scene, and so on. I asked him if there were any other musicians in the room with us right now, anyone I might know. "Yeah, there are a few," he replied, tantalizingly. 

The game ended, Alex made his leave, and not long after I bailed as well. I headed out on to the street thinking to myself: Man, this is one magical place. Everytime I come here, something extraordinary happens to me here! I wonder what will happen next?

Walking the streets of Reykjavik under a blue midsummer sky, looking for some action (Iceland, 2006)
After that epiphany at Sirkus, the rest of the day was an anti-climax. I wandered down into the eastern reaches of the city, down to the water where the wind blew hard, and the gulls wheeled low. I could have spent a lifetime there just photographing the houses, the cars, the dwarf trees. I read National Geographic magazines in Kofi Tómasar Frænda ("Uncle Tom's Cabin") in the evening, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. Finally, I got up, and commenced roaming again. Gatecrashed what seemed to be a private party at Hressó, sometime around 9pm. Plenty of people there, but it wasn't luminous. Eventually I left and moved on to Nelly's, which was rammed to the rafters. This was where the party was at: everyone was going crazy on the dancefloor upstairs, shaking their hands around like they just didn't care, etc. I got so drunk I fell down the stairs, and then decided it was time to call it a night. I returned to my youth hostel along the waterfront, watching the play of light on Esjan, and the sun orbiting the cold horizon. I could have spent the rest of the night out there, sitting on a rock, gazing into the grim hinterlands, that vast country of which Reykjavík serves as just an introduction. I remembered Alex saying that The Vines are pretty popular in Iceland, and that Nick Cave is actually a frequent visitor to the island. He apparently wrote the music for an Icelandic movie recently. Looking up at Esjan as I resumed my long trudge, I imagined I was Nick walking by himself on the lava beach in the middle of the night, striding home from a gig like a ghost in the mist. This is certainly the kind of country which would appeal to him, I thought to myself as I walked. Even more importantly, it is the kind of country which appeals to me!
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