Alcoholic Faith Mission

The Iceland Airwaves music festival was the week that we were in Iceland but when we checked online, it was completely sold out.


Well, we reasoned, there are plenty of free off-venue performances. We'll still catch some shows and save some money, nice since Iceland is so expensive you practically have to take out a loan to buy a hot dog.

Our hotel was an hour and a half outside of the city and midway through our trip we drove back in to Reykjavik. It was windy and overcast, threatening to rain. We puttered around bookstores and shops and got jacked up on excellent coffee made by the black-haired barista at C is for Cookie.

From reading the article about C is for Cookie in The Grapevine, I now know that our barista and her husband own the coffeeshop and are both Polish librarians. LOVE THAT.

We sat in the coffeeshop reading and Matthew came across an interview with the band Go-Go Darkness. Asked what they recommend in Iceland, they said that they're anti-social and don't listen to what people tell them to see and do but Icelandic Fish & Chips is a good place to eat. Sold!

After halibut, salad, potatoes, and skyronnes - dipping sauces made from the criminally tasty Skyr yogurt - we almost cried of happiness. We were so fat and satisfied that we decided to forgo music that night and return Friday instead.

See, it was maybe 9 pm and the streets were still quiet. By all accounts the city gets going at midnight and from then until sunrise you can expect to witness and partake, if you're so inclined, in excessive drinking, public puking, and random sex AKA the Icelandic way of life.

I'd also read in the descriptions of clubs and bars that one of them is popular with "the older set (35+)". "Agh!" I shrieked, "I'm in the older set!" Apparently I'm harboring issues with aging. It's taking me a bit by surprise. But as part of the older set, I was perfectly happy to leave early and drive home that night, something I should mention is easier said than done.

The main road, Route 1, is lit leaving Reykjavik. Fairly soon, however, the lights disappear for just reflectors on the side of the road. And this is fine, I'm sure, when you are used to negotiating mountain passes in the pitch black rain and fog. It gave me a severe case of the creeps. Matthew gripped the wheel and I got real quiet. Intermittently I'd whisper, "You're doing a really good job," and then shut up again. Later, when we were out of the hills and down in flat valley ground, we felt safe enough to emote as poetically as we could.

"Fuck, that was fucked up!"

Twice, actually, we drove the death-grip home and after the second time reconsidered Friday night. We wouldn't enjoy the music or a drink if there were any clouds or rain, we'd just worry about plunging off cliffs. With a lump in my throat, I canceled our last night at the peaceful ranch hotel out in the middle of nowhere and booked a room in the city.

On Friday we went to a bar where the Danish band Alcoholic Faith Mission was playing a free show and we ordered beers and shots of Brennivín, Icelandic schnapps also referred to as black death.

Black death. So smooth. So friendly.

We didn't know anything about Alcoholic Faith Mission and I expected something hard-edged, rough around the edges. They were, in fact, melodic and I fell for them hard. They had fun on stage, we had fun, and except for when I wanted to punch the smart-ass American kid in the audience who wouldn't shut up for the love of god, all was good.

I would have bought their CD after the show but I was too busy getting another shot of Brennivin which was secretly kicking my butt. It was such a big secret, I had no idea until Matthew - who was also secretly getting hammered - and I were basically skipping down the sidewalk, flashing photos and shoving pizza and hot dogs in our mouths.

I bought their music online when I got home and it sounds nowhere near as raw as live but I'd much prefer a band that I know is truest when they're playing for people and not just the result of studio production.

The man in this video is the lead singer.



Hi, I'm going on a Jöklagöngur*

*Jöklagöngur = glacier walk

The name of the glacier we walked on is Solheimajökull. It is the glacial tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap which covers one hell of a volcano, Katla.

Matthew and I admitted to each other early in the trip that, while we are kind of afraid of volcanoes, we wouldn't totally mind if one erupted during our visit. I know that's selfish.

It would have been very bad timing, however, if Katla blew while we were innocently stomping around in our crampons and having an "experience". If you remember the volcano Eyjafjallajökull that erupted in April and whose ash shut down airports across Europe, well, Katla is nearby and makes Eyjafjallajökull look like the nerd who gets his ass kicked during gym. Katla is the big bully.

Katla erupts once or twice a century and the last eruption was in 1918 which means it's go-time.

This map shows why there are many more volcanoes in Iceland than in the rest of Europe. Behold the seam of the tectonic plates Iceland sits on, those which are slowly pulling apart.

A few days before glacier walking, we were driving our rental Hyundai down THE ROAD. Route 1, the Ring Road, is the only road that you can pretty much count on being paved outside of the city and larger towns and when I say pretty much I mean that in some places it's still gravel. There are plenty of other paved roads but many more that aren't.

When we picked up the car from the airport Budget rental at 6 am and asked if it's 4-wheel drive, we were told no. When the woman said it would be $1,000 for an upgrade, we quickly warmed up to 2-wheel drive. Anyway, she said, most places we'd want to go would be Hyundai-friendly.


Luckily, lies that save us a thousand bucks don't make me that angry. The flip side of having that money is that all roads on the map marked with an F were off limits. Driving on bumpy, chunky F-roads is totally normal, as is fording rivers in your vehicle. So if you want to get off the main road and don't know how to drive through a river, you might want to figure that out.

Matthew and I took a spontaneous right off Route 1 towards a sign for Mýrdalsjökull.

Within a few hundred yards I was weaving between large rocks and trenches and called a time out. "We need to look at a map and see if this is an F-road," I said. "It's fine," said Matthew, "I'm okay with getting out and pushing if we need to."

Sadly, I was not okay with this. There would be several kilometers of mystery road before we got to the ice cap and though we had extra travel car insurance for the trip I foresaw glacial rivers washing the Hyundai away, possibly with us inside. Maybe towards a waterfall, I don't know. This sort of mishap might take years to get funny and I wasn't in the mood to wait around for that kind of hindsight to kick in.

We backed the car up, did in fact see a 4x4 only sign, went back to the hotel and signed up for a tour with Mountain Guides.


day jammies

No, Reykjavik, I don't want to buy day jammies but thank you for offering.


fun fact: Iceland

They don't care about your stupid parking space.

I meant to make a whole photo portfolio of grievous Icelandic parking jobs but kept forgetting so am left with this ho-hum example:

Not great but not so shocking either.

Lonely Planet told me that Icelanders stop their cars and jump out when and where they feel like it. Matthew and I quickly complied to this national habit and made a point of parking crooked as much as possible.

The last time I parked like an a-hole was when Neil Rinden, Neil Wilson, Monica and I rented a van and drove to the Jelly Belly factory in Wisconsin.

What a rush, look how happy it made me!

I must be a real tight ass.



I'd seen plenty of sheep before: farms, Christmas manger scenes, England etc. And felt nothing. Zip.
So I was a little surprised last week when I lost it every time we passed sheep by the road in Iceland.

"Sheep!" I'd yell like a sugar-high kindergartner.

Their faces had become, overnight, charming. And then there are their butts.

You like? Here's five more.

I missed my dog and I think the sheep reminded me of her. I believe Freud would call this transference. Patsy, or Pants as I like to call her, is very funny and I imagined the sheep equally goofy. The ones that climbed high up the steepest rockiest hillsides were the renegades, the explorers who talked smack about the ones far below. They ate the best grass that the others were too afraid to reach.

When leaving Þingvellir, the outdoor site of Iceland's parliament for 900 years where they also held duels, executions by drowning, a festival, and marriages since it was a giant Viking mixer - the Rainbow Gathering of 950 AD - we saw sheep close up. We were walking to the car when Matthew went "Oh!" He fumbled with his jacket pocket which made me think we'd thought we'd locked the keys in the car and he was searching for them frantically. I briefly wondered where we were going to get a coat hanger out in the middle of nowhere when I turned my head and saw three sheep in our way. He was looking for his camera.

I could have stood there laughing long enough for us to actually miss our flight later that afternoon but the sheep were having none of it. They glanced at us and headed straight for the rocks to our left. They gave us a wide berth by climbing up the embankment until they were past us then hopped down, ran a good ten feet to put some distance between us and resumed walking, real calm and determined-like. 

"They snuck away from a farm," we decided, "They are in so much trouble right now."

Maybe they read, like us, that Þingvellir is also where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart, creating a narrow canyon, and wanted to check it out for themselves. Speaking of sneaking, I know, or strongly suspect, that this ladder is for humans, not sheep. How much would I give, however, to see the field emptied out by one sheep after another climbing up and down, out and away to explore like the ones we met on the path?

Waking up in Iceland






I would like to wake up in Iceland all the time.


Thumbs up Skógafoss

We were walking around the top of Skógafoss waterfall and I decided I needed a thumbs up shot for Renee. "Here," I said, handing my camera to Matthew.

Um, no. Why am I sticking my thumbs out like that?

We took another one which you are not going to see as I immediately deleted it.

"Okay, let's try this again. More expressive, less ugly."

I look like I'm driving a bus. What is my deal? Seriously.

Aw, yeah.



Holy shit, I'm in Iceland!

And it's tripping me out.

1. Reykjavik is a less than five hour flight from Boston

2. There are only 320,000 people in the whole country

3. That's about how many people live in Cincinnati

4. Hæstaréttarmálaflutningsmaður

5. Half of the country is a desert

6. It has the largest ice cap outside of the poles

7. The N1 gas stations. There was a sexy ad on our Icelandair flight featuring a million feet tall girl in skinny jeans who said, "Meet me at the N1..." and made it look really fun.

8. Sheep fatality car insurance

9. Reykjavik's mayor, Jon Gnarr, a stand-up comedian, formed the satirical Best Party in 2009 to parody Icelandic politics and won. In August he opened the gay pride festival in drag.

10. Elves

That's just the first ten things I thought of, there are many, many more.


laughing quietly to myself

About how I came home from Texas wearing an uber-90s outfit. Army pants, Vans, a tank top, a VEST. Later M and I saw a girl with a sweat band on her head. "Does that girl have a sweat band on her head?" he asked. "Kids these days," I said, "They think it's the 80s. When it's really the 90s."


Dripping Springs

I met Kelly in Berlin. I was renting a room from Simone, a former East German I found on the internet, and Kelly was a couchsurfer who crashed on Simone's floor. One day Kelly said she was going to Prague and invited me along. I hemmed and hawed and finally said cool.

In Prague we got lost, got found, reflected on communism, and witnessed dandelions growing on the side of a hill.

I didn't see Kelly again in person until she showed up at the American Idol show in Houston with a friend this past summer. This was extra funny because neither of them have ever watched Idol.

She told me at the end of the night, when we were saying goodbye outside of the amphitheater, that she was planning a writer's retreat and invited me. I said I'd love to, that that's exactly what I need.

Last weekend I went to Dripping Springs, Texas, outside of Austin, for Kelly's retreat and it was phenomenal.

I got a massage. I MEDITATED.

This is what I saw when I opened my eyes:

I've never meditated before and I liked it.

I slept here:

The morning after a bonfire:

It was the perfect mix of writing, talking, good food, and wandering around admiring the stuff hanging from the trees on Ricky and Joy's property. Oh, and there were chickens.


The office:

The instigator:

Thanks to Kelly, Matt, Ricky, Joy, Zack.