I was interviewed recently by Nathalie Handal for Words Without Borders about The City and The Writer. In this interview you will find at least one mindblowing amazing fact if you intend to travel to Reykjavík, in your body – or mind.
Here is a part of the interview:
By Nathalie Handal
Special Series / Iceland 2014
If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Can you describe the mood of Reykjavik as you feel/see it?
Written in the first days of January—Reykjavík is a bit dark now, but if you like writing about sunrise and sunset the working hours are quite convenient, between 10 AM and 2 PM.
What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?
If I do not mention love and death, I think of the house that my great grandfather built in the suburb I grew up in. It’s a suburb with no history but the house was kind of historic as one of the oldest houses in that area. My mother was born there and I was always very proud of being one of the few with real roots in the suburb. It was big and white with a red roof and kind of the grand center of a place full of boring 70’s style apartment buildings. My great uncle was the last owner, but his toy store went bankrupt so the bank got the house and one day it was demolished to make way for a newer building. I asked my family why nobody did anything to save the house but they kind of shrugged sadly. I think that moment made me an activist later, when important issues came up.
What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?
Reykjavík is built on seven hills like Rome, and the inhabitants are as many as the citizens of Firenze at the time of Dante.
What writer(s) from here should we read?
I can recommend many but in English translation we have some recent good stuff by Sjón, Auður Ava Olafsdóttir, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Gyrðir Elíasson, and of course, Halldór Laxness, our Nobel Prize laureate.
Is there a place here you return to often?
I have an office in an empty power station by the river Elliðaá. It is a salmon river and I grew up playing around it. I met my wife there when we had a summer job in the river valley.
Is there an iconic literary place we should know?
Yes, indeed. We have the original manuscripts of the Edda from the 1200s in the Arni Magnusson Institute. They are the prime source of Nordic mythology. All we know about Thor, Valhalla, Ragnarök, Gimli, and the Midgard Serpent, one of the few places on earth that preserve a full set of mythology about creation and the end and the forces and gods that rule our world. Something that inspired Borges, Tolkien, Wagner, Marvel Comics, modern dancers, philosophers, Death Metalists, vegans and pagans, nationalists, tree-huggers, Nazis, and Japanese Manga.
Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?
Yes—we have hidden cities within cities, invisible cities, unknown worlds in the suburbian sprawl around Reykjavík. Some have grown like mushrooms over the last eight years. We have street names nobody recognizes, places never mentioned in tourist guides, places with no history, no memory—nothing, we have pioneers living on land where no human has lived before, the first person in a brand new house with a trampoline in the garden that still has no flowers or trees. If I was a tourist, I would go there and jump on the trampolines during the day when the suburb is empty and everyone’s downtown working. That would be really fun.
Where does passion live here?