An Interview with Myself
I was late for the interview. So I was nervous. This was the first interview that Burman was giving to a travel blogger and I didn’t want to blow it. He had a reputation as being a bit of a stickler for punctuality and I feared bearing the brunt of one of his renowned verbal assaults. But there had been a lot of injury time in the game and I couldn’t leave before the end. As a football fan, I hoped he would understand.
I entered the room and mumbled my apologies. He looked like a friendly middle-aged Buddha with a shirt on. His few remaining tufts of hair were greying which, coupled with his smudged spectacles, lent him the air of a man with scholarly pretensions. I couldn’t help but think about the times that I’d suffered similar disparaging descriptions about my appearance or dress sense. He smiled at my apology and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it. I worked for a big corporate for many years. They love meetings there. They have many of them. They’re all meant to be very important and you aren’t supposed to miss them. Still, they very seldom started on time. I could never understand that – something which was apparently so vital and they couldn’t even get the time right.”
I relaxed. Clearly, he had also taken the time to watch the end of the game. Wanting to leave this particular topic behind, I plunged in with my first question.
“So, you’ve just spent 5 weeks in Iceland, what was the highlight for you?”
He smiled. If he were a rock star, the dimpled smile might be called seductive and he would likely be dodging underwear thrown at him. However, despite a slight resemblance to Meatloaf, he was the furthest thing from a rock star and he had doubtless never been the target of lustful underwear tossers. I could relate. On him, at that time, the smile simply made him look demented.
“I was expecting something a little bit less banal from someone of your supposed intellect,” he said. I shuddered. “But I’ll play your game. Landscapes and seascapes. That was the highlight. I had anticipated remarkable landscapes and I was not disappointed. There are very few places where I’ve experienced the sheer range of jaw-dropping vistas. Mountains, glaciers, black beaches, waterfalls, volcanic remnants. And all of this wrapped up in a slightly rough, untouched feeling which you don’t get in more populated countries.”
“And the people? You’ve written a little bit about them, but what are they really like, do you like them?” Again, he smiled. It was almost as if he could read my mind, anticipating my question and how I would phrase it.
“Yes. I liked them. They have a rugged independence and just the right amount of quirkiness. Take their police. It is well known that crime is virtually non-existent there, so the Reykjavik Police seem to spend more time on social media than catching baddies. They have a legendary instagram account, with a cult-like following of over 160,000 people (which is half their population), showing some of their normal daily activities, which include feeding the birds, doing handstands in the snow and dressing up like Darth Vader. Who wouldn’t warm to that?”
“So you never, ever felt unsafe there?”
“No. Not for fear of crime, anyway. Driving a van that is a couple of meters high in a near-hurricane wind, when my normal car barely reaches above my belly-button was a bit disconcerting. Also, I had to help a woman change a tyre – that was positively terrifying, for both of us. On one of our scenic drives, we pulled into one of the small viewsites on the side of the road to see if we could get a good angle on a photo. There was a woman standing there, a little bit despairingly, next to her car. I asked if everything was okay and if she needed any help, all the while hoping that some rufous-bearded, muscle-bound local would emerge from the black volcanic rock to save the day. The woman appeared relieved and to my consternation accepted my offer, pointing sadly at a heavily deflated tyre. I suspect her relief also turned to consternation when after about two minutes of me trying to open the jack, she suggested I turn it in the opposite direction. After this small glitch, the wheel-changing was actually pretty successful. Of course, I was helped by the 60-year old woman herself, who despite claiming never to have changed a tyre before, insisted on doing most of the heavy lifting, and with Iceland being the most “gender equal” society in the world, I was too afraid to argue.”
Burman was hitting his stride now, chuckling at his own jokes, which fortunately I also found funny. We were both drinking Diet Cokes whilst his wife cooked dinner. Like me, he did not like beer. I asked him to tell me more about the people. He elaborated:
“San-Marié wrote about their seeming obsession with museums. Sea Monster Museums, Sheep Museums, Saga Museums, Folk Museums. I’m not sure if these have cropped up because of the tourist boom as they think this is what tourists want or if they’re simply a nation of curator-like people with librarian tendencies and a passion for show-and-tell. Our guidebook mentioned a Phallalogical Museum in Reykjavik which I was going to visit because I was fairly confident that most people I knew wouldn’t know what it was. It seems neither did most tourists so when we saw a less subtle sign advertising the new “Penis Museum”, we decided to give it a skip.”
He seemed slightly abashed at this particular reference and I felt his discomfort. I moved the conversation into safer territory.
“What was your biggest disappointment? Was it missing out on millions of Atlantic Puffins?” He shook his head at my naivety.
“We did see puffins, lots of them. One evening, whilst I was doing my impersonation of a serious photographer on a rainy, windswept beach, I was so focussed that I failed to notice the little blighters nesting and whizzing around a nearby cliff-face. We had long ago given up hope of seeing these guys. Of course, the intensity of my concentration meant that I didn’t hear my wife’s banshee shriek of delight above the howling wind and thundering waves and it was only when she started jumping up and down in front of me like a leprechaun on speed that I knew something was up. Although they were still clearly identifiable, the light was poor and they were a bit far for good photographs. Besides, I’ve always found it difficult taking photos in conditions when I wish my glasses had windscreen wipers. Fortunately, we saw them again in the Westman Islands and managed to get a few good pictures.”
I noted this man’s cunning and how he had avoided the question. I felt a strange empathy for him and decided to let it slide. “The Westman Islands. What can you tell us about them?”
“They’re a small set of volcanic islands off the south coast of Iceland. They have a fascinating history of odd occurrences – like new islands emerging from the sea or the entire population being evacuated because of a volcanic eruption. They have, unsurprisingly, a volcano museum which documents the 1973 evacuation – there is a ton of live footage of what must have been a bit like a modern day Vesuvius. This is made all that more real by being able to climb the newly formed volcanic crater, warming one’s hands on the smouldering ground (my careless wife managed to burn her fingers looking for a hot spot) and then surveying the extent of the damage wreaked by its lava flow. More notably, the Westman Islands is also now famous as the site of San-Marié’s first stay in a youth hostel. You can’t say I don’t do everything possible to keep her young.”
I heard a snarl from the kitchen and we both tittered.
“What can your blog readers expect next?”
“Well, since we left Iceland we spent a week staying with friends in London and visiting other good friends we have there. Although it was a wonderful week, I’m unlikely to write a post on this because nobody really wants to hear a story of how a wrathful nation reacts when its rugby side loses. Besides, the friends we stayed with are very conscious of their privacy and I fear that even this slight reference to them might mean that they will cease plying me with fine wine and good food when we visit again. Steven and Tracy are unlikely to read this far though, so I should be safe. We still have a few waterfall photos to share as well as some more landscapes and seascapes. So, look out for the galleries linked to this post. My wife, no doubt, also has some other oddity up her sleeve. But beyond that, future correspondence is likely to feature pictures of me frolicking in the gloriously coloured autumnal leaves of New England, where we find ourselves now.”
“And finally, a few blog readers asked me to ask you about that picture of you in a towel, wearing hiking boots, surrounded by leather saddles and carved nameplates of horses. How on earth did that happen?”
He smiled. And I had to smile back. Some things are better left unsaid.
To view the South Iceland Gallery I, click here.
To view the South Iceland Gallery II, click here.