Yesterday I heard a local interview with a woman who had seemingly purchased a spot on the radio to advertise her new enterprise, a small travel agency with one single trip on offer. Seeing that this lack of variety provided the woman the opportunity to focus all her efforts on the one trip I turned up the volume, expecting great things. This was not to be. Amazingly enough the trip arrangements were as abysmal as the woman‘s marketing prowess. For one, the length of the trip was stunning when put in conjunction with the selling point that everything was so cheap at the destination that it would be a good way to make one‘s salary last longer. She left out the bit that no one on a regular salary can leave for three months without that same salary magically disappearing. The second oddity regarded the travel arrangements – fly to London, wait eight hours, fly eleven hours to Bangkok and take a bus to the final destination, a mere 800 km to the north. This last bit was introduced as a bonus, a free tourist excursion through beautiful Thailand. I can imagine only one worse scenario, flying for hours on end in a plane installed with dentist chairs, equipped with dentists. The worst was however yet to come, the trump card that the woman excitedly blurted out, cheap Botex treatments to remove wrinkles on the forehead. Now, I do not know if „Botex“ is an actual product, some kind of generic Botox rip-off, or if this woman was simply ill informed, but I do know that I would never, ever, ever, travel on a bus for 800 km into a far away forest for cosmetic surgery, much less „Botex“ treatment.
This is not to say that I would not love to visit Thailand and hope to do so some day, using a reputable travel agent. When there I will not waste my time undergoing body/face improvement based on questionable supplies, as my time would be better spent attempting to take in the people, culture and countryside as best I could. I would also eat everything that is on a plate and not moving, not much anyway. The reason is that I find Thai cuisine so incredibly good that I am hard pressed to come up with anything that tastes better. It is however not difficult to think of things that taste worse, in particular now when the dreaded Þorrablót season is upon us here in Iceland, as of this coming Friday. This occasion derives its name from Þorri, the fourth month of winter in the old Norse calendar honouring king Þorri, and blót meaning feast. Best translated to English, Þorrablót would be: „Feast of disgusting food“, as this is what it involves, i.e. fermented and sour animal parts that are usually not eaten, and for good reason. The most popular dishes are pickled and fermented rams-balls and singed sheep’s heads from which the eyes and tongue are considered a delicacy. These yummy morsels are washed down with Brennivín, sometimes called black-death, not coincidentally.
In retrospect, the end of January and most of February would have been the most meagre period of the year food wise during Iceland’s settlement and the centuries that followed. Everything from the more bountiful summer would have been eaten or have perished, unless fermented and the people thus forced by no festive reason, to eat what we now celebrate. It is a strange event but it has one thing going for it – the bizarre dishes remind us from what grain we grew and how tough our ancestors were forced to be. This should actually be taken up elsewhere as people everywhere in the world had great difficulty sustaining their existence in the past and it helps to be grounded by remembering this, if not just for the fact that in places this is still the case. It certainly of takes the punch out of any temper tantrum brought on by being served tepid soup in a fancy resteraunt.
I realise that for those who follow this blog Iceland will not sound terribly appealing for gourmets but this is not the case at all. We have the occasional eccentricities in this respect but aside from these the food here is really good, particularly the fish. A friend of mine from France who lived here for several years mentioned that he had never realised how exquisite fish is when served as a filet and explained that in his country the fish was usually served whole, head, tail, scales, fins, gills and all. This he believed was to prove that it was fresh, not old or frozen. In Iceland this is not required as why serve old fish when there is plenty of fresh fish available? On this note I leave you with a promise not to mention food for a while and never the time when we ate the soles of our shoes in a long ago famish; which, in case you are wondering, are not served at a typical “Feast of disgusting food”.
Yrsa - Wednesday