Interview writer Hallgrimur Helgason is an article by Jordi Pujolà, Spanish writer in Iceland
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Interview writer Hallgrimur Helgason
«Living in Reykjavik in the 90´s was boring»
February 2018, Mr. Hallgrimur Helgason
Why after the crisis and the Viking revolution did Icelanders vote again the same politic party (right wing)?
It’s a difficult question. Somehow people seem to have respect for money and rich people, even though they have let them down so many times in the past. This is probably one of the mysteries of human behaviour. In the USA poor people thought a millionaire would save them, and here they always end up voting for Bjarni Ben, this most handsome and rich man in our politics, chairman of the ruling party. Even though he has by now a string of scandals around his neck, he always survives, people always vote for him. And now even the politicians of the left have a thing for him, for now they have formed a government with him. So I guess it will take a hundred more years to get some changes done here in Iceland, for example for us to get a new constitution.
You always say Björk changed Iceland. How a single singer from an unknown country in the remote Atlantic Ocean managed to do it? When and how did you meet her?
She put Iceland on the map, it was a big change, suddenly we were in the spotlight. We were not an isolated island anymore. So she did it by becoming very famous, this happened after she split with the Sugercubes and went solo. Her first album, “Debut, was a smash. She appeared as a fully mature artist. I had known her a bit from the eighties, it’s a small scene in Reykjavik, and you sort of knew all the people in the arts. One sensed that she had greatness in her, but when she came out with those albums it was just so much bigger than we had imagined.
You also met the painter Erró in Paris. What can you say about him? What are your favorite painters?
Favorite painters are maybe Goya, Velasquez and Munch, and then Otto Dix and Philip Guston from the 20th century. Yes, I met Erró a couple of times when I lived in Paris, where he has lived since the sixties. He’s a classical pop-painter, if you can say so. He’s a very charming, generous and grand man, he took us out to some fancy dinners a couple of times.
In general, tourists think Reykjavik is an idyllic city with cosy restaurants and coloured houses. 101 Reykjavik (1996) is an amazing novel and movie (also in Spanish) that shows up the dark side of the city. Is that real?
At least it shows the darkness and the coldness of Reykjavik, also it explores the boredom of living here, at least how it was back in the nineties. Hlynur Björn, the hero of the novel, complains a lot about his home city. And he makes fun of almost everything about it and all the people living there. I guess it was my outlet for a certain kind of frustration.
What is the most shocking thing for an Icelander when visiting Spain? What is your favorite place in Spain?
Favorite place has to be the Prado in Madrid, I could spend days in there. The most surprising thing about Spain was the landscape that was exotic and foreign even to me, and I who come from the country of crazy landscapes. For example the desert like the surroundings around Mojacar in Almería, with all its sand hills, was for me like being on the moon. In Madrid I was also very surprised to see how long people could party out in the streets in the weekends, they just never went home to sleep! There was noise outside my window until lunchtime, Sunday morning!
What is the best of Iceland? What is your favorite area/place in Iceland? What is the worst?
The best thing about Iceland is the good society, the family-like feeling of it, the energy and originality of the people, the many creative scenes in culture, but also the clean air, the heating in the houses, all the warm water, the pools, not forgetting the beauty of the land. I’m also very proud of our culture, our sagas, the literary heritage and the enormous respect for poetry we have had throughout the ages. It’s really the saga island. The worst? How too many people get ahead in life by having the right connections, by knowing the right people, and not because of merit or talent. We have a lot of corruption that people don’t see as corruption, only a common sense behaviour and being “a good friend”. The weather can also be really bad, for long periods of time.
Do you prefer summer or winter (in Iceland)?
Summer of course. The light is on 24/7 and the weather is (usually) nicer. You feel the power of the sunlight that fills you with energy and faith. There is nothing like a summer night in July up north, walking home from a joyful dinner party, around midnight, with your small kids on your shoulders and the sun shining from the ocean ridge.
What are your 3 favorite authors, movies and bands?
Shakespeare has to be no. 1. I have translated two of his plays, and been very much influenced by him throughout my career. Then Tolstoy and Laxness maybe. Kim Leine is also good. Bands… well, I am not really in to rock, more of a hip hop guy, more into black than white music. Favorites in that field were maybe the old eighties masters Prince and Michael Jackson. Later came Eminem, and now I’m open to all the latest that my kids are listening to in the car, Beyoncé, Drake, Lamar. Movies… No.1 is Amadeus by Milos Forman. There is just something about it, it manages to capture genius, and that is no small feat. All Fellini was a real university for me. I also used to love Jim Carey and his movies, not least “Man on the Moon”, also by Milos Forman. I then still remember a rather unknown movie I saw in Paris back in the day, “Assia and the Hen with the Golden Eggs” (1994) by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky. This was a truly great film about the chaos of life in Russia.
What is your favorite restaurant and bar or coffee shop in Iceland?
Sel Guesthouse in the south part of Iceland.
What is your favorite cocktail or drink?
A gran reserva Rioja red and white from the Douro valley in Portugal
Interview writer Hallgrimur Helgason is an article by Jordi Pujola, buy my books in Bóksala Studenta and Penninn (link)