22 November 2006

night café

Last night I met friend B downtown at one of those semi-subterranean cafes that are sprinkled at the feet of this town. The clientele of these little grottos tend to be more student-oriented, and usually decorated with a jumble of Fascinating Objects. Behind my seat was a vintage coffee grinder, and the front windowsill and ceiling-level shelves were littered with other grandma's attic finds- a vintage typewriter, miniature painted horse, toy car, wooden skis, and small still-life paintings. In one corner, a neon-illuminated cake display went through a stuttered and squeaking rotation, displaying a thickly frosted chocolate cake.

As with most cafés at this time of year, the illumination was heavy on the candlelight- each table with its own tealight, glass-sided lanterns along the waist-high ledge, and wall sconces of a similar low wattage adding glow. The tables were slightly scuffed wood with chairs to match, and although the place was a fairly no-nonense spot, the table we sat at was still covered by a pressed, freshly laundered red-checked cloth. It's always the little details at places here in Iceland that get to me. Here we were at a place where 19-year-olds were hanging out to do their homework and there are fresh linens on the tables.

B and I opted for the seasonally-appropriate jólabjór (Christmas beer), talking to the accompaniment of the easy-listening Icelandic tunes that fit perfectly for the unpretentious ordinaryness of the evening. Among other things, we discussed the speed of change in the society here, and the fast infiltration of international cultures that is changing the landscape of the city here. Last night was just the kind of moment that may succumb to these changes, with all those little factors that combine to make the evening what it was. Part of the reason I write so much on my blog is because I want to capture how it is here so I can remember this Iceland, this Reykjavík, as it feels now.

After hours of talking, our candle guttered with a puff of smoke and it was time to go. Outside, the cars swished on the wet road and the eaves everywhere dripped noisily. All the squeaky-cold still weather from the day before was gone, replaced by a blustery spring-like warmth that brought out the tangy scent of the black cottonwood bark. The snow on the ground had gone soft, its formerly crisp whiteness turned translucent from melting, and the black sidewalks glistened. Iceland is an ever-changing place, and I'm just glad to be here witnessing it.


Anonymous said...

I've never been to Iceland, but I love your writing and would love to visit someday.

ECS said...

Thanks Preya! It's definitely worth a visit, but of course I AM biased :-)

tsduff said...

We are sending G's daughter over for Christmas with her Grandmother. They will stay with their aunt/sister in Kopavogar across from the great big man-shaped mall... ha ha. Although it is dark and cold now in Iceland, the way you always pick out the amazing details to talk about makes me know it will be awesome for them too. I wish I could see all the Christmas celebrating and decorating as described by G's Mom (as she was born and raised in Hafnarfjordur). But I'll have to settle on you for my fixes. :-)