September creeps up on you like the chill of sunset sneaks under your skin after a sunny day in Iceland. All of a sudden its getting dark at 8:30 when you’ve grown accustomed to never fearing nightfall, and you start to realize how much you appreciate the warmth of the sunrays in this sub-arctic island.
Reykjavik awakens for the summer months, with a noticeable population boom from all the tourists walking downtown decked out in outdoor gear and big-lens cameras. People are out and about, drinking coffee and beers on patios, mothers walking their babies in killer heels, and the city folk flock to the countryside for hiking, bathing and summerhouse time. There’s also a surge of concerts and festivals, the biggest two days this year being Gay Pride day and Menningarnótt (Culture Night).
Gay Pride in Iceland is probably the only place in the world where its more of a family event than a sexy, nudist, liberal movement. Last year’s gay pride saw Reykjavik’s current city Mayor dress up as a drag queen in the parade, and this year the parade, open-air concerts and sunny weather forced all road-traffic to be replaced by hundreds of thousands of rainbow-decorated people wandering around town.
Menningarnótt was even more vivacious, blessed by the best weather day imaginable, and organized into a 4 page spread schedule in one of the local newspapers. There was always 20 things going on at once, and there was no way to pick what to go to, since there were always two things happening simultaneously that peaked your interest, compounded by 5 other things that you had no idea what they were and your curiosity sometimes got the best of you. I had ten friends in town, 2 from London and 8 from New York, so I spent most of the day battling through a crowd with 8 obnoxious American men in tow, so my more mellow British friends had no difficulty in finding us in the crowd. I visited the Faroese embassy for some rotten food and nordic cider, saw a choir sing Psalms at Hallgrimskirkja, shopped an outdoor market that resembled more a garage sale, and listened to the informal Kaffibarinn mens choir sing acapella, pissed drunk at Austurvollir. There was always live music, and a couple main stages where the night came to a close with a bang. A sparkling Harpa and firework show sealed the deal, unimpressive by international standards, but a big enough deal to Icelanders that a parking spot within a 5 km radius of downtown could not be found as everyone came to town to see it, all 5 minutes of it.
I went to Bræðslan, a 2 day music festival in Borgafjörður, a small sea-side village in Iceland’s easternmost fjords. Glen Hansard was the headliner, but
like a true icelandic concert, Jón Sigurðsson and some other of Icelands other most famous artists ended the concert. The final encore included everyone coming on stage and jamming together, improvising and freestyling with a
crazy light show in the abandoned fish processing plant where the amped crowd flocked. It was July 23rd, the weekend when summer finally arrived, and people spent the days lounging in the sea and icy rivers to keep cool. We tented at the base of a place called Elf hill, and the magic in the place was real, atleast to me.
One of the riding days on the Egilstaðir riding tour takes us to Sanddalur, a remote sandy valley accessible only by foot, horse or 4×4, believed by the superstitious to be rich in elf life. Their troll-like faces are cut out in the jagged rock, blaring out from the steep, sandy slope, and while we take our lunch break there, the restlessness of the horses can only be explained by one thing – elf presence.
Growing up in Iceland and Canada has given me a lot of privileges, but they say allergies are a bigger problem for the advantaged, since 30% of people develop allergies from having too much hygiene. I’m allergic to summer, all the pollens and freshly cut grass, even horses themselves and the sun-dried dust clouds a herd of them kicks up. This was the coldest summer on record in 75 years for Iceland, and even the warmer east only saw summer fully bloom in late July so I survived more comfortably than expected. Still, I frequently suffered from a runny nose, snored from congested sinuses, and breathed a little raspy from asthmatic suffocation. Ironically, the hottest days were just this last week, with temperatures reaching 20 degrees even though the confused trees have started to golden. Now the rains will start to come, but with the darker skies come northern lights, a sight that makes the arrival of fall more welcoming.