I would like to express my thanks to the pharmacy company Kerecis in Ísafjörður. My friend, Dr. Roget in France and myself took part in the in-vivo test of the Viruxal nasal spray for 2 years, the production of which was discontinued at the end of 2022. All our family members fell ill with Covid-19 despite multiple vaccinations; only Dr. Roget and I were spared
Category Archives: On the road
A little round trip
For interested friends, I have compiled the data from August 2021 to April 16, 2022 in a table and made a comparison of France, Germany, Tunisia, Portugal, Austria and Iceland. The data is based on the Johns Hopkins University statistics.
The data was taken from here. The notes on the data source (translated into English):
“Note: All key figures depend on the number of tests carried out and the recording and can only be compared to a limited extent. No guarantee for the correctness and topicality of the data.
Statistics from Johns Hopkins University are used for corona infections in over 200 countries worldwide. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is a private university in Baltimore, Maryland. Data from the JHU’s “COVID-19 Data Repository” is used by health authorities and the media worldwide as a source for spreading COVID-19. Worldwide corona statistics from the JHU are accessed via the freely accessible Our World in Data dataset.
What data does the JHU collect?
The JHU’s COVID-19 data set is maintained by a team at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE). Since January 22, 2020, the JHU has been publishing updates on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths for all countries worldwide.
How up-to-date is the data?
The JHU updates the data set several times a day. Individual data is obtained from governments, national and sub-national authorities around the world. There may be a delay between the update of the nationally available data and the data from the JHU.
How are the incidence values calculated?
To calculate the 7-day incidence, the new infections from the last 7 days are added up and converted to 100,000 inhabitants (divided by the official number of inhabitants, multiplied by 100,000).
Why the change from ECDC to JHU?
The ECDC announced in November that it would switch from a daily to a weekly update cycle. In order to continue to provide daily updated figures for worldwide COVID-19 infections and deaths, the figures will come from the JHU from December onwards. For a few countries for which the JHU does not have any data, the figures are still obtained weekly from the ECDC.”
A child of society
The man with the tattered coat opens his briefcase, taking out a few sheets of paper and walks round the room to offer them to some of the customers seated at the tables. Probably an insurance salesman looking for new customers he can hoodwink into buying his very latest special offer. 30 years ago, Hresso café was far from busy in high season. The tourists had yet to arrive, while most Icelanders spent their holidays in the far-flung corners of the earth, giving young people a chance to earn a bit of pocket money during their holidays. At that time, Hresso café was therefore mainly popular with scribblers, who spent hours there filling sheets of paper with their words, leaning on one side next to their white iron coffee pot. At this time, you could only buy alcohol in State shops, and coffee was still served in large half-litre pots which kept the scribblers from dehydrating over the next four hours. What’s more, it was not recommended to drink too many pots of this powerful beverage, and those of you who have survived the nightmare of caffeine poisoning, know what I am talking about.
Ragnar struck up a lively conversation with the man. As it turned out, he was not an insurance salesman, but a poet trying to sell his latest poems. The man wanted to know if his poems were not good enough, since Ragnar had not bought a single sheet, to which Ragnar replied that he already had these poems, before closing with these words: ‘He is a child of society’
Haldor Laxness, had already developed philosophical considerations on the term society. In his book ‘Í túninu heima’, he looked into what might really be meant by this word:
‘Society didn’t even exist when I grew up. Today, we would like to believe that it exists, in order to improve it, despite the fact that its address is unknown and it’s impossible to summon it to a court. A while ago, I asked an intelligent acquaintance, if they knew what type of association society was: the people, the Government, the parliament, or perhaps the sum of these? My friend frowned, then finally answered: “Doesn’t this word rather refer to the police?”
Today, subsequent generations know that while society does indeed exist, it cannot be improved. Because what Albert Einstein said holds true: “To be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself”. To which Niklas Luhmann added:
“ … What is really misleading about the mental state of members of society is the convergence of their ideas and concepts. We naively think that if most men share the same ideas or feelings, these must be fair. Nothing is further from the truth. Convergence on its own is no guarantee of intelligence or mental health.”
Society can be described by the fact that its members have activities that are successful enough to attract attention. As for attention, it can be measured by the mental state as recorded by the daily TV ratings. Over time, we have simply forgotten that communities originally formed in order to find sufficient food, protect themselves from the threat of other species and learn from one another. With the disappearance of these needs, these healthy tissues have become cancerous tumours which we refer to as a society. For example, if we were to compare the relationship between the number of people killed in the name of good, and those killed in the name of evil, we would find this difficult, because of those whom we don’t consider as criminals.
The white iron coffee pots of yesteryear have long since disappeared, along with the scribblers. Café Hresso is now always busy and full of young people and tourists who prefer coca-cola or a yellow liquid that has a certain resemblance to beer.
And the man? He is still there. However, now he stands in front of the door, against the wall, next to the ’Austurstræti stand. The poet and painter Bjarni Bernharður still sells his self-published poems (Egóútgáfan), now available in the form of bound collections, together with a bar code and a ISBN number.
The kiss of the bat
I was living
in a dark cavern
in my childhood
When the bat
That warm kiss
sealed my destiny
I took the path
of cold nights
on the boundary
between light and darkness
Bjarni Bernhardur sells his latest collection ‘Koss Leðurblökunnar’, with his own illustrations for 2,000 crowns, but he also has English versions of his poems, for tourists. There is no greater proof that in his sixty-fifth year of life, Bjarni Bernharður is still a hopeless optimist.
Translation: Jackie Dobble
Does Bielefeld exist?
‘Listen carefully and repeat” was to be the phrase he remembered most when he began to learn German. Critics suggest that with these words, he would have already learnt the basics of what characterises and distinguishes German schools. Of course it’s not really true, as the example of a city such as Bielefeld proves. But there are other German cities, such as Bonn, or any other city that has around 320,000 inhabitants. So let us take one of these cities, let us take Bielefeld as representative of all German cities with an approximate population of 320,000 people.
The city of poets and bookworms
Bielefeld has 129 publishers, which in 2010 published a total of 1,505 books, including 350 works of poetry and literature alone, then 286 translations of foreign literature and poetry and in the field of philosophy, 16 works written by the city’s own philosophers, as well as 15 translations of foreign philosophers.
These works by Bielefeld’s authors were printed by printers and bound by bookbinders, then all 1,505 works were delivered to the city’s 26 bookshops in order to feed the reading habits of the good folk of Bielefeld who were impatient to devote their long winter nights to their hobby: reading books. Of course, in Bielefeld a book is only a book if it combines the work of poets, graphic artists and bookbinders with the knowledge of the booksellers. From this it should be clear that the burghers of Bielefeld consider ‘reading’ to be anything but looking at sentences and devouring words. And so, year after year they wait for the stream of books to return before engrossing themselves and are always surprised by any novelty, by anything that didn’t exist beforehand.
In Bielefeld, this situation has led to the rise of a community of all those connected with the publishing industry: the Authors association of Bielefeld, a union of authors whose role is to protect freedom of expression in literature. This association handles agreements with the publishers, theatres, press, institutions and other bodies that wish to publish or use the works.
This is how, in Bielefeld, 70 writers manage to make a living just by writing; the city pays commissions to a special fund that covers the books loaned by public libraries and their use as educational tools in the city’s schools.
Such is the status of Poetry and literature in Bielefeld that the local dairy organised a poetry competition for the city’s schoolchildren and then published the children’s poems on their milk cartons. Familes in Bielefeld could therefore enrich their days by reading the poems at breakfast, such as the one below:
In the past
I was so happy
To torment him
And no-one dared reproach me
I saw him,
Now he is famous,
I am jealous of him.
Who am I?
Welcome to the city
We should not therefore be surprised that the city’s mayor writes to those who visit it, the tourists, and explains to them that is very unlikely they are in this city, since most of humanity can be found elsewhere, a scientifically proven fact:
“Is our place of our birth an accident? Is it subject to a general rule? Did I already exist in another form before I was born? Did I have anything to do with where I was born? Why did Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun not have children? Surely they tried to have them? Is it possible that no child would have wanted them as parents? I don’t know, but I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe that God rolls the dice, especially where human lives are concerned. These thoughts inevitably lead us to consider Schrödinger’s cat. Here we have probably one of the world’s most famous cats (maybe a close second after Ninja cat?). How is it that we still don’t know its name? So what was the name of Schrödinger’s cat? Abracadabra? I can’t remember any more. Let’s call it Phoenix. It’s a common name for cats. Phoenix was a type of cat that was alive and dead at the same time. It has therefore always existed, and even if Schrödinger killed his cat with undeniably bad taste, the cat is still alive in Schrödinger’s house, while Schrödinger himself died long ago:
Δx Δp ≥ h/2
Does this means that I have always existed, or perhaps I have never existed and what’s more, I don’t exist now either? Impossible! This would mean that our entire existence was unreal and only existed in our imaginations. So if I don’t exist, neither do you. I find that difficult to believe. The facts speak for themselves. If I don’t really exist, then how can I take a plane for Finland, send myself a postcard of Tarja Halonen, the president, go back home and greet the postman as he delivers my postcard? Who knows?“
“The father was an alcoholic and the mother always tired”
“We could compare the nation with a family, that has an alcoholic father who had been drunk for years … He had wonderful ideas, but only when he had them. This loud mouth had no compunction in sending his family packing. His catch phrase was ‘Stop talking bullshit!’, yet his family trusted him. Partly because his family loved him in spite of his drunkenness and his mistakes, but also because they were quite simply afraid to stand up to him. The family began to wonder if he were not some kind of genius rather than an alcoholic with psychological disorders, a brilliant man able to see things that your average loser was too stupid to see … In the end, he was indeed obliged to acknowledge his mental, physical and financial ruin. He went off to rehab. But the family were bereft, bewildered, confused and angry.”
This was the mayor’s speech during the second debate on the council’s annual budget and the citizens, who called his apparent flights of fancy ‘frighteningly accurate’, praised this speech. Nevertheless, the mayor warned them against the rage that ‘burns’ energy and leads to exhaustion, since grief and despair breed inactivity. “Anger is human and may be necessary, but if left to build-up, it becomes a deadly substance that poisons the mind.” These were the mayor’s words and he had already announced in his speech on the city’s budget:
“We don’t share a set common ideology. We are neither on the left or on the right. We are both. We are not even certain that this issue is important …. How many times can you cut a cake? Who will have a small slice? And who needs a really big slice? What is luxury and what is important? Is it better to steel from children than from old people? ’
The most honest politician in the country
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that this is not a city we are talking about here, but a whole nation, which has no more citizens than a city like Bielefeld. And this speech was given by a mayor who adopted the name of Jón Gnarr, and his term of office which put him in charge of the 8,000 employees of the city of Reykjavik is now over. He may no longer be in power, but that’s not to say he would not have been re-elected. Quite the reverse. After just one year of office, the nation gave him the title of the country’s most honourable politician. According to a ranking of political figures in Iceland published in the daily newspaper Morgunblaðið on 11/03/2001, Jón Gnarr came first in terms of sincerity (28.8%), working with local government (23.7%), personality (29.5%), while he was at the bottom of the class for determination (5.0%), power (5.6%), the firmness of his convictions (17.9%) and the ability to work under pressure (3.5%), which made him the most honest and the most honourable person in Iceland.
This ranking irritated more than a few: Is it not those very qualities of ‘determination’, ‘power’, firmness of his convictions’ and ‘ability to work under pressure’ that sets politicians apart and makes them who they are, whether in a dictatorship or a democracy – which in this respect is the same – and irrespective of whether the regime is secular or religious? And does that mean that politicians are only politicians if they are sincere, work with local government and are endowed with a strong personality?
Well here are the last words from Jón Gnarr’s annual budget speech for the city.
“Miss Reykjavik has a future ahead of her. Perhaps she had an alcoholic father and a mother who was always tired. But that won’t stop her. She forgives everyone, and turns to face the light. Reykjavik has the potential to the cleanest, most beautiful, most peaceful and most exciting city in the world, with a global reputation for sympathy, culture, nature and peace; it’s a diamond that we must polish if it is to shine.”
What is a comedian? Let us give the floor to Jón Gnarr himself:
“A year ago, I found myself on the island of Puerto Rico. I had just finished a film, which I had both written and produced with a few friends. I found myself unemployed and wondered what my next project might be.
Until then, I had worked in an advertising agency, before being laid off following the recession and the economic downturn. I kept up-to-date with the situation in Iceland by news sites on the internet, I got into the habit after the collapse. After the collapse, I was barely interested in politics and even had to make quite an effort to avoid having to follow the events in this corner of society. This is what I did until everything collapsed in a huge crash and our Prime Minister appeared on television to ask God to bless us. It felt as though I had been hit with a wet cloth. What had happened? After that, I began to follow the news closely. Wherever I went, all discussions revolved around this: in parties, business meetings and with friends I met in the street.
In an instant, I became addicted to news. And the more I followed the news, the angrier I became. Angry against the capitalist bankers. Angry against the system that had failed. But I kept my fiercest anger for the politicians. All, without exception, were incompetent, egotistical idiots, or so I thought.
I was mad at myself and mad with the people who had elected these politicians. I wanted to do something. I went down to Austurvollur several times to participate in the demonstrations. But I couldn’t make up my mind to join them, heart and soul. I didn’t want to throw faeces into Alþing, nor put up with the police. I didn’t want to vent my rage by launching a blog.
All this anger in me and around me began to make me afraid. I was afraid that it would grow and strengthen until something awful happened. I felt everyone’s suffering. I empathised with those who, as a sign of protest, remained silent while banging on pots and pans; but also with the worried politicians who hurried to their cars, or who stood in front of the cameras, with fear in the eyes. I empathised with the policemen who stood facing the angry crowd. At the time, my father lay dying in hospital. He had been a policeman in Reykjavik for more than forty years. During all those years, he had never been promoted to a higher rank, because he was a communist. I was sad that he was dying without ever having known that the socialist-green party had taken power at Alþing. That would have made him very happy. I love this city and I love this country. I love the people who live here.”
This makes one wonder whether it is fair to measure the greatness of a nation by the size of its population.
The Frankfurter Rundschau ran the headline: “A clown moves to serious matters” and Henryk M. Broder reported live from Reykjavik: “Reykjavik is on standby for a coup d’Etat’.
Jón, the ‘clown’ handed over the town council to his successor. The coup d’État was over. Yet, was he a clown? Was it a coup d’État?
Translation: Jackie Dobble
They were back. It was impossible to ignore them. The cooking pot lids.
With every topic discussed, the owner of the hair salon struck a mannered pose: “Politicians are like pigeons.” From behind he examined the expression of the culprit in the mirror and seeing that his phrase had not missed its mark, he answered the questioning, silent gaze: “When they are below you, they eat out of your hand, when they are above you, they shit on you.”
Clearly, this man knows his pigeons. In front of Alþing, the Icelandic Parliament, you could hear people banging pot lids, spatulas, or anything you might carry in your pocket were your path to lead to the Parliament building. People we beating and hitting any surface capable of making sure that the people’s voice penetrated through the closed windows. Indeed, what’s the point of standing outside in the wind and rain for hours on end, if you can’t get your message through closed windows and make it so loud that any normal conversation becomes impossible, except by shouting at each other?
The idea that we can draw lessons from the past and that the parliament, which was accessible without the slightest security measure until 2008, needed to be protected against its people, proved to be a very stupid. That year, the people stormed the Parliament, a sort of “Defenestration of Prague” but without any defenestration, and Halldór Guðmundsson reported in his book We are all Icelanders that parliamentarians only owe their lives to the lack of an available tree on which to lynch them, since the last tree had been been burned.
To understand the Icelanders better, it’s clear that such a thing would never have happened, even if parliament had been surrounded by an entire forest. No angry individual would have dreamed of it. The Icelanders enjoy humour when it falls under the category of the ‘smart Icelander’. The act of burning the only tree in front of the Parliament, the gigantic fir tree, that Norway sends to the Icelanders each year by boat in time for Advent, must therefore be fall under the category of ‘smart Icelander’. That year then, this majestic fir tree had gone up in flames. Icelanders don’t like inflating the truth. Kiss goodbye to peace, joy and cupcakes. In the end it is a matter of pure survival.
These events clearly left a deep mark on the ladies and gentlemen of the parliament and the building has now adopted the continental fashion of a ‘security perimeter’. A kind of ‘iron curtain’ between the people and its representatives, more than a thousand years after the island was first settled.
Not that the people have become more violent over the centuries. In any way. Quite the reverse even. But it is easier to set up a security perimeter than rack your brains trying to understand how we could have got to the point of being forced to protect the people’s representatives against the ideology that they are supposed to represent, but in reality don’t, and who as a result, either through fear or ignorance, only differ from Louis 16th by the non-heredity nature of their office.
The security perimeter proved to be a stupid idea, because it used metal barriers. An invitation appreciated by all those who were forced to stand in front of the door. And this is how more than a hundred boots were battered against the barriers, not discordantly, but rhythmically, generating a pulsating beat that could be heard as far away at the church of Hallgrimur. The beating rhythm echoed through the rows of houses like invisible drums calling the warriors to the battlefield; the parliament, like a circle of wagons, was under siege and there was no John Wayne in sight to free the gentlefolk from the clutches of savages.
A few of these stoic messengers showed their ‘smart Icelandic’ spirit: they turned their back on the parliament and faced the people, without forgetting to hit back, like an Icelandic horse that punishes an inexperienced groom for getting too close.
We would therefore be within rights to enquire what provoked this confrontation.
It was the EU entry negotiations. But we would be mistaken in believing that this angry crowd was for or against Iceland joining the EU. It was purely and simply about respecting a campaign promise.
During the election campaign, the winning party had promised to put the question of whether to continue the EU membership negotiations to the vote and let the people decide. Scarcely after taking office, the government stopped negotiations with the EU, because statistics showed that in any case, most Icelanders would vote against joining. Despite the logic of the Government’s decision, the gulf separating it from the view of the people was immense: it wasn’t a question of knowing whether most Icelanders wanted to join the EU or not, it was about knowing that if a politician makes a campaign promise, however absurd, we must accept that he will break it. And this is what makes a people great: a word is like a signed agreement. If contractual fulfilment is stupid, that’s the problem of the person who was unable to remain silent. If he had said nothing, he would have stayed wise and got off scot free. That may not seem very pragmatic, but it all depends on how you define pragmatism. For Icelanders, making an electoral promise and then breaking it is not pragmatic. A pragmatic approach involves either coming good on a campaign promise, or promising nothing. And to ensure the message is heard loud and clear, there are always pan lids and spatulas in the kitchen.
Well, the parliamentarians heard the message and quickly learned the lesson. The following day, the metal barriers had disappeared, replaced by a plastic noise reduction plastic strip.
It was completely useless. Since in front of the Parliament, there are enough metallic objects that can be used as resonant bodies: lamp posts, street signs, parking posts, etc. Spatulas and pan lids therefore went on with their daily grind, since nature has taught each Icelander from their formative years that water drops falling one after the other will dissolve even the hardest of basalts.
Since it seems that the Parliamentarians didn’t dare leave the building. because the people were in front of the door, those who were standing in front of the door fulfilled their duty of assistance and brought sustenance to the representatives of the people. They couldn’t after all be accused of giving their MPs hunger pains. Only scandalmongers would say that bananas were a reference to the fact that by abandoning an electoral promise, the Parliamentarians had lowered the Republic to the level of a banana republic.
That being said, the process of cooling one’s heels in front of the Parliament building for hours, day after day, cannot necessarily be transposed to other countries. That could lead to the collapse of the nation. Because you would need to drum for 365 days. Each year. In front of parliaments, at the town, county, regional and national level. Breaking electoral promises is therefore a well established problem in these countries. What was the point of me chattering yesterday? We take offence and fall into the same trap the next time. He who believes that apples never fall far from the tree is indeed a fool.
In a democracy, the servant chooses his master, and the fish decides on the head. There is therefore not much point in poking fun at the master or the head. Better consider the fish or the servant rather than the head of the master. Those who want to become good citizens understand they must conform in time.
We therefore create structures in which the fundamental right of a cucumber to have a specific radius prevails over the right of every person to sell tasty cucumbers. And soon we’ll have the idea that one thing cannot be bad in Europe if it is found to be good elsewhere. In the event of an offence, the State is reminded of its duty: the explosive conclusions of a firm of lawyers has already been drafted and waiting in the drawers to be handed out the the MPs. In the form in orders, with 9 digits before the decimal point. People here, people there. And now, it is no longer the noise of pan lids which affects the MPs to the bottom of their souls. The magical phrase is therefore: ‘Hello, this is Boston Legal! My client has a pebble in his shoe. Do you want a lawsuit for damages? ’
Isn’t there a pan lid just under the sink? Could it be that we have noticed rather too late that the human right ‘All humans are created equal’ is also used for purposes for which it was definitely not intended? For example, people who hide behind the expression ‘free market’, are really interested in their bank balance and not their ‘rights’ at all. Other than the right to infinitely increase their balance? Indian rice farmers driven to bankruptcy in their villages fell into debt for something that until recently was a negligible cost: seeds. And in a democracy, is it not the fish that chooses the head rather than the head that chooses the fish? Security perimeters here and there?
Let’s cook the fish! Here’s the lid … And now who wants some butter for the fish?
Translation: Jackie Dobble
History will take care of the rest
The techno digs straight and regular holes into the heavy midday heat. Just like every noon, stoic tourists sprawl in the bar’s padded sun loungers, consuming foreign faces and bodies with curious, bored gazes like cheap commercials that glide past their eyes in the middle of a film. On the coastal road, heavy, low-loader trailers painted a beautiful, dazzling white transport their white armoured vehicles past the bronzed bodies that the sea deposited there; in soaking wet swimming costumes, a cold beer right under their noses, they don’t even notice them, as they scan the other side of the road looking for any free loungers under the enormous black speaker. A mute military convoy painted in white silently crosses the techno beats. According to an article on page three that Ònytjungur has before him, UN units are no longer allowed to go into the centre of the country. Once again this evening, they will have to wait in their low-loader trailers.
Ònytjungur’s head feels as though it has been split in two with an axe. He stares at the people, his beer, the people, his hand, the beer, the bodies, and senses his thoughts trying to stitch the two disjointed halves back together.
Far above, the valley sits in its deathly silence, with remnants of walls blackened by smoke, charred and mutilated beams. You can still smell the inhabitants, the sweat from their work, the spices from their lunch, but they were no longer there. A landscape of silent ruins, house after house, as if a deadly lava flow had come down the valley ripping, burning, burying and carrying with it everything in its path. But the green and yellow meadows, thick bushes and lush negligence was still there, the charred ruins were as fresh as if just one night had passed and changed everything. Deathly silence. The smell of fire Roofless farms, one after the other and at the next bend, the next ruin. A valley of death. And still you start at seeing through the trees a corner of a house that is intact. In fact on drawing closer, it too is charred, without a roof, some walls riddled with bullet fragments, on others no traces of fighting, simply burned, one house after the other, and again one after the other, in the middle of all that, a farmer in front of his curtained windows, in front of his intact courtyard, lovingly grows his vegetables in his garden. A Croat.
Ònytjungur would like to go up to him and shout, ‘Where is your neighbour, Croat?’ but he doesn’t approach him and he doesn’t ask. It’s because that house is intact, totally peaceful, right in the middle of all the ruins, that it was already there when they burned the farms, killed the families and sprayed the words ‘HOS’ on the remains of the charred walls, like someone proudly writing their name on the bottom of the death sentence. It was a sign of the times, as the historians are wont to say. This farmer growing his vegetables in his garden. He was his neighbour. Maybe he hid in his house, saying that it’s not his business, but it is much more likely that he was also one of those who stood outside his neighbour’s house as it burned down, and perhaps he too had a torch in his hand. This same hand that pulled the weeds from the garden soil. Because the vegetables are Croats. His neighbour? He was a Chetnik. They use Chetnik and not Serb, to talk about Serbs. They use the term from the past, used by a group of Serb butchers to enable them slaughter human beings. The neighbour is therefore Chetnik and not Serb. It makes things much easier.
The pump attendant breaks out into a broad smile when Ònytjungur asks about the Plitvice road. The signs that used to indicate the road to Plitvice had disappeared, as if Plitvice no longer existed. The pump attendant in Josipdol smiles knowingly and opens his hand as if he is holding a gun before pulling back his index finger several times. ‘Chetnik’, he says, smiling, as if they are still around today.
Bundles of cables lie on the road to Josipdol. Communication lines for the Croatian army, who hang around in the cafés and bars, laughing and relaxed. They have the eyes of victors; they laugh, relaxed in their camouflaged battle stations along the road behind the farmyards and the bars. A giant sign on the side of the road orders foreigners not to leave the villages, not to stop, only to get out of their cars in protected villages. But there are no more foreigners. They crowd together in the tourist vacuum, on the coastal road, close to the docks and port areas that have since been liberated.
He had been there too, thought Ònytjungur, as he watched the farmer carefully plant a row of perennials along the side of his vegetable patch. He had also been there, for sure, and he had not hidden behind his curtains, since they were all part of a conspiracy, winking at each other and calling to one another. They exchange smiles and talk in the streets of the town close to Otocac, a town of victors, ‘We got rid of them, those Chetniks’. There where they lived, the smart estate of family houses is decorated with a blackened ruin, a clearing in the middle of flowered gardens. They know each other, they talk to each other. Far from the sterility and isolation of German Europe, they keep busy and go proudly about their conquests, here the clocks run much slower, and we talk above the street level from one balcony to the next, people know each other, even by name, faces still have names, especially once you go outside, in the farmyards, in the valley. And over and above all these acquaintances, you can feel and see what goes deeper, the connection that links everyone: he’s a Croat, a Catholic, he belongs to the family. Now more than ever, because we cleansed the Serbs together, we no longer have any Orthodox Christians as neighbours. Croatian flags decorate house after house, and everywhere soldiers in uniform carry out road checks. Between the military vehicles, the green fatigue jackets and private cars without number plates, two or three men in black vests heading towards the enemy, nameless vehicles, nameless men. But for the first time, we are all the same, soldier, civilian and black vest. We are all the same, a circumstance that has never been possible over the last decades, when we did business together. Serb, Croatian, Catholic and Orthodox, we would all meet in a café for a bit of conversation. Now the Serb shops are empty, closed. There are no more Serbs, not here, not any more. Now there are cars without number plates and people in black vests.
Ònytjungur observes the profile of the female Croatian soldier amidst the tourists. Her face in the shade, hidden by matt black sunglasses, her short haircut, the coarse fatigue jacket, her combat trousers, the wide belt on her thin waist, the beer can, a thin, silver cross hanging from her earlobe like a body hanging from a branch. The tourists glance at her amid the relaxed atmosphere. Not her, she is staring at a concrete pole. A motionless monument, until her superior whistles and gathers his troop together. In half an hour, she has not seen a single person in this illustrious gathering, nothing but this concrete post under the speakers. ‘This solider is a fighter’, thinks Ònytjungur, ‘she doesn’t need to see anything else but this concrete surface and her face is relaxed. She doesn’t even need her comrades, on the other side who are spying on the bikinis and sniggering over their beer cans, until the whistle sounds. Get up, pick up your things, on we go. People with a purpose. At the end, another nation cleansed and purified. One member of the community of nations cleansed, one partner cleansed and ready for business. Tomorrow we will clear away the charred houses, and with them will go the last revealing traces. It should never have existed; it hasn’t been there for a long time. The papers are already saying on full-page spreads that the beaches are clean, cleaner than they have been for a long time, because it’s a while since they have been used. Important news in Croatia. Onytjungur walks through the town riddled with bullets. Man dies first, then the truth, history will take care of the rest.
A block of flats, one floor after another, one balcony after another, the last balcony, on the fifth floor is destroyed. A black curtain covers the walls above the burnt out casings, the flat is riddled with bullet holes behind the balcony on the fifth floor, war over ten square metres of partition, everything else is intact. Here people were driven away by weapons and smoke, killed in the fire, the flats below have been able to remain flats, the one at the top was in enemy territory, now once again it is lived in, washing dries on the balcony railing. It’s Croatian washing now. Did the previous tenant barricade himself in? Perhaps he even fired back at the shots? Is this why, out of the twenty others under the same roof, this flat was singled out, separated and subjected to such a concentration of fire? What could have been going through this man’s mind? Or perhaps it was a woman? A family? What could have been going through their heads for them to turn their lounge into a fortress? How far ahead could they see? Until the next shot? The next minute? A tiny flat on the fifth floor of a block of flats, surrounded by enemies who just yesterday were their neighbours, and who now carry arms. Why didn’t he or his family go downstairs? What could have pushed him, pushed her to turn their comfortable little flat, with family photos on the chests of drawers, into a military position, a battle station, with enemies above, below, next door, outside and inside, gunfire bursting on the sitting room wall, setting the room alight under their impact. Around the world, warlords have always turned their towns into strongholds, but a living room on the fifth floor? Or perhaps, no one wanted them to go downstairs? Maybe the same fate was awaiting them in front of their house as in their lounge under a hail of bullets?
Not far away, men greet each other with a tap on the shoulder, ordering a coffee, a beer, hanging out, talking, time passes slowly and thoughtfully, the day turns peacefully and informally into the freshness of the evening. Some chap sticks a Croatian flag as tall as a man through the sunroof of his little car and heads off somewhere, wherever this flag has to go. Old boys are sitting on the park benches in front of the shattered façades of the market place. This town is cleansed of its Serbs and the anti-tank obstacles at the gates of the town mark the end of the Plitvice road. Behind the anti-tank barriers, you can see the next ruins in the middle of intact farms; the rest of the valley has been cleansed of its Croats. Overall the valley appears identical. It’s an image, a reality; these two parts separated by anti-tank obstacles could not be more alike. Only the head, the birthplace of ideas, knows that there is a Croat side that is not for Serbs, and the other side is Orthodox and not for Catholics. Each side is now cleansed of its Serbs, its Croats and casts envious glances at the other side. A man in a blue beret keeps close to his white Jeep, as if it was a border post. It marks the cease-fire line, a nail planted in the flesh of heads. In front of him, in the town, the Croatian army regroups, vehicles pass the post in front of the headquarters one after the other, the Croatian army takes up its positions facing Plitvice.
The man laughs from the open hood of his Munich registered BMW. ‘It’s just a ceasefire’, he laughs, it can kick off again at any time, my house is just in front of the anti-tank barrier, and here I am back home’ He has a pretty maisonette, the garden is beautifully manicured, the neighbours plot is a blackened ruin, an ex-maisonette, an ex-neighbour, a solitary ruin in the middle of the gardens of manicured flowers. ‘Where’s your neighbour Croat?’ Ònytjungur wanted to shout at him. But the man laughs in his open convertible and his BMW shines with very German trifles.
Ònytjungur has to bellow to break through the techno sound and talk to the questioning face of the stylish waitress: “Do you have Cevapcici?” The girl wearily shakes her head. Then she smiles like a mother whose child has once again asked a silly question, and tells him with an air of amusement: “Serbian dish!”
Just like every noon, stoic tourists sprawl in the bar’s padded sun loungers, consuming foreign faces and bodies with curious, bored gazes like cheap commercials that glide past their eyes in the middle of a film. The techno beat reduces brains to that indifference on which nations flourish. Until the first bullet explodes next to you. But then it’s too late. The CD will survive, somewhere, in an archive, for future generations, as a digital witness of an era. Because the truth changes from the very first bullet.
(A recollection to mark the 20th anniversary of Operation ‘Oluja’.)
Translation: Jackie Dobble
The exhibited object has been irreversibly consumed
In Iceland, the forests are too few to camouflage the rubbish, which is why farm machinery, cars and other old junk generally lie rusting at the back of houses.
Sometimes you can find real museum pieces, such as an only Rafha range with beautiful spirals that used to be a glowing red. There are certainly plenty of people who hold onto things, like the employees of the Seyðisfjörður Technical museum. But many Icelanders have no real rapport with old objects and are sceptical about upcycling objects that have become ‘worthless’.
Nevertheless, the practice of recycling is progressively catching on in Iceland and a few towns are very seriously looking at recycling and converting household waste. For decades, Ásgeir Jón Emilsson (1931-1999), nicknamed Geiri, a fisherman and artist in Seyðisfjörður, had his own system of recycling. He produced picture frames with cigarette packets and his tools transformed tin cans into diaphanous chairs.
It is highly unlikely that Geiri followed statutory regulations for recycling waste. This obstinate artist had little respect for civil servants or police officers whom he treated like beings from another solar system. Geiri didn’t have an easy life. The youngest of 12 siblings, he was born blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. The catalogue published to coincide with an exhibition of his works, by the Skaftfell arts centre in Seyðisfjörður described him as charismatic and serious and always championed the disadvantaged. The Gerahuis, this self-taught artist’s brightly coloured house, can be visited on a visit to Seyðisfjörður.
Unlike Geiri, Sverrir Hermannsson (1928-2008), originally from Akureyri, was unable to destroy even the lowliest of everyday objects. This carpenter by trade kept each nail and each hammer that ever came into his hands. For example, despite the nail being rusty and bent after pulling out of the wood when renovating the Nonni house, Sverrir was incapable of throwing it away. And Sverrir was involved in renovating many a historic building.
When his house in Akureyri was on the point overflowing, Sverrir transformed his passion into a public collection. To the south of the Eyjafjord, in the Smámunasafn Sverris Hermannssonar or “Museum of small things,” his passion for collecting is documented with great aesthetic sensitivity. While the keys, door handles and drill bits all look somewhat similar, their placement obeys a carefully considered, hidden order that has been lovingly explained.
‘People think that I must be mad … I haven’t thrown away a single pencil since my apprenticeship in 1946 … They see me as eccentric … Isn’t that strange!’ The visitor, who at the beginning can only see grotesque, oppressive clutter of an impulsive hoarder, is gradually won over by the cheerful serenity with which Sverrir presents his hobby. You then find yourself marvelling at an old pen holder, which a mouse has dragged into its nest and gnawed a bit, before changing its mind.
So what can we do with an empty can, that supposedly technically outdated Rafha range, and what should we do with last century’s fishing tackle? Over the long-term, museums and art centre won’t solve the problem of recycling alone. Visitors also have to make an effort.
In Grenivík, right at the end of Eyjafjord, in a little fishing village, there is a wooden hut that was previously used to hang up the bait on longlines and salt the catch. Tools, fishing lines, working clothes and containers are exhibited. Dried fish hang from the ceiling on green straps. It’s a public holiday and at the entrance they are giving away dried fish with butter. These are those fibrous strips commonly sold in preprepared packs.
Dull cries ring out in front of the cabin. A few Icelanders are trying to shred a large fish. It requires a certain amount of strength to grind down and wear away this dry, brittle mass. So much so that the hammer head flies off and just misses the head of an bystander. Finally, broken up and reduced to fibres, the fish yields and the distribution begins.
While I am still chewing, I discover a green strap close to a rock that was used as an anvil. A suspicion flies through my head, which is confirmed in the hut: the hammer was a museum piece, but so was the fish. I swallow – the exhibited object has been irreversibly consumed. I glance at the circle of eaters and wonder to myself if the Icelanders are taking the issue of recycling just a little too seriously?
Translation: Jackie Dobble
Das Exponat ist unwiederbringlich verzehrt
Every morning, the men but also a few women used to philosophise on the bench, while people arriving at the East train station hurried to catch their bus and get to work or school on time. The workplace of the men and women on the bench outside the East station was this bench. This was a good thing because they therefore saved the money for the fare to take a transport mode which in this country passes as public.
In this country, we don’t let a passenger board just because he promises the bus driver that a lady is waiting for him at his destination and she will pay his fare, even though he knows very well that no such lady is waiting. This was how a passenger, who was anything but blind travelled across the whole country, visiting Heimaey in the islands and Vestmann and was very surprised when he was refused access on finally opting to take a plane to explore his next destination. The prospect of a lady waiting for him to pay his fare was insufficient.
Tryggvi wanted to know what I thought of this and was surprised to hear me say that it made no difference if a bus crossed the country with ten seats free instead of eleven. In return, I was also surprised as I didn’t know Tryggvi was like that. I only understood better when he explained that the boy in question was only nine at the time. I hadn’t guessed that this fraudster whom the bus driver had allowed to climb on board was only nine years old, because at nine, most children would say ‘mother’, ‘my aunt’, ‘my grandmother’ or ‘my sister’ but never ‘Kona’: ‘a lady’. Nine-year old Icelanders don’t therefore say mother, aunt, grandmother or sister, they say ‘a lady’. And occasionally at this age some of them are already Landshornaflakkari , vagrants.
The country where alcoholic men and women provide sustenance for the needy on a bench in front of the East station, is another country. In this country, children would say mother, aunt, grandmother, sister or something similar, if in panic they have forgotten their ticket or simply the truth. However, this won’t help them to get to class to write the terrifying test which represents their last chance to move up to the next class. No, it won’t help them at all. Whether the boy had been terrified by this important test to the point of forgetting his season ticket, or even if he played by the rules and preferred asking the driver if he could travel this time without his season ticket rather than risk being called a cheat; none of that would help him. And if the bus driver waited, less than 50 cm from the stop, while the traffic lights changed from red to amber, then to green, this would not help him either: for him the door would stay closed. His imploring bangs on the windows could have been heard, but his plea would have remained without response. Bus drivers also have the right to exercise their authority. Just like in this country.
Fortunately, not far from the East train station, is a ‘Good Bakery’ run by a lady baker. Customers love this place, since the proprietor makes her pastries herself and sells Russian cakes or Apfelstrudel in the Turkish style along with the standard industrial pastries like the poppy seed spirals, etc. For workers, there are the homemade soliankas, at prices they can afford. On the window of the bakery, the proprietor used to write phases visible from afar. For example, I noticed the following sentence, when I was already sitting on the bus.
We can build beautiful things, even with with stones that lie in our path.
The following morning, I asked the proprietor, who already spoke German well, who it was that wrote this phase. She gave me an astonished look and told me that it came from Goethe. Each weekend she wrote a phrase on the shop window and rubbed it out on Monday, as she was cleaning the panes. But the day before, she had arrived too late to clean the panes.
After this, she always wrote the name of the author under the phrase, since she had registered that in this country, we are interested in the who and not in the what. And so we saw one phrase after another appear:
Be the change that you wish to see in the world
Week after week, always a different sentence. And the author’s name was always under the phrase. Until one day, the bakery window was decorated with a phrase bereft of its author:
Any sacrifice is a burden
Any music is but noise
And any dance tiring
She waited for my question for four days, then she couldn’t hold back. As she placed my Russian cakes in their bag, she asked me as if to pass time, whether I was interested in the name of the author of this phrase. The lack of a name was intentional then. But what she didn’t know was that she had chosen the wrong phrase for her ruse, which I thwarted by answering: ‘Yes, but I have known his name for a long time.’
Since then, no names are provided under the phrases. As the philosopher Daniel-Pascal Zorn rightly said:
If you believe in philosophers, you have learnt nothing from them.
And since any gift should be followed by a return gift, I gave the baker a phrase which she noted and which took its place in the bakery window for an entire week. Without giving a name. Since what should we think of a what that needs a who to be a what? If a what owes his survival not to himself, but first of all to a who, what is the point of his survival?
The sting in the tail: The Good Bakery is just opposite a school. Children gladly shop at the bakery, or they read the phrases from the bus stop opposite, while waiting for the bus that will take them to their tests. The schools in this country don’t teach philosophy. Philosophy comes up to the school, but has no wish to enter. It is happy to be in front of the door, and also, so to speak, in the street.
At the East train station in Munich, the needy appreciate being close to charitable men and women who use a bench as their workplace The needy always drag a little trolley on wheels behind them and rummage through the rubbish bin next to the bench with long sticks to see if they can perhaps still find a little gem waiting to be saved, such as an empty beer bottle that some machines will exchange for a few coins. Since the government introduced a social programme, which it named after the HRD of a large company, because he fulfilled the required qualities of disloyalty and favouritism, well after that time, the needy collect the returnable bottles in the rubbish bins. And they always find what they are looking for, this is way they willingly come back, to the alcoholics. The charitable men and women sitting on the bench see none of this. They have more important things to do. They have to philosophise.
And the nine-year old boy with his ladies? All I know is that he must already be close to forty, if he is still alive and perhaps he can still read tales about his journeys. In the archives of the Reykjavik newspapers. Under the title: Landshornaflakkari.
As the fisherman Stefán Hörður Grimsson said so well in his poem Orsök:
‘As absurd as it might sound, we should let any man assert that he knows himself, but to say the he knows another man is either impolite or polite as any civilised man who eats his food wisely knows. ’
He was a fisherman poet.
Translation: Jackie Dobble