The Icelandic people are fed up with me leaving things behind in buses. This time it was a hat and a turtle (a kind of circular neck warmer, very good in high winds), but thanks to a generous tip for the lady who had told the story of Iceland's Hidden People and its first ecofeminist a thousand times, the items were in the lost-and-found bin at the bus terminal, even though the person behind the counter didn't know what a turtle was either.
Same story at the Lava Restaurant - only 45 km and 60 minutes later did I realize that I couldn't pay for my hotel with a Visa card because it had been placed ecstatically beside a very fine dish of lamb and roasted carrot, after a late night swim at a geothermal spa, which come to think of it included 3 separate alcoholic drinks - complimentary prosecco from the pool bar ("dry or extra dry," the bartender asked - no one has ever asked me that before), a superb mojito to celebrate not freaking out while stripping naked in front of bearded Icelandic people who look like they play for FC Barcelona (full discomfiture apparently a requirement for said spa experience), and a good glass of red - no wonder the card was left behind.
I am very good at recovering from my mistakes. An early breakfast, a taxi to the bus terminal, another bus to the Blue Lagoon, and a mere two hours later there it was, in a small credit card envelope that looked like it had been retained by management for exactly this purpose (can there be other people like me, / who leave things in restaurants? / You mean there's two of us?). The young staff member who went off to the restaurant area to see if the card was still there carried it back to me triumphantly, like a chalice through a throng of foes.
If I ever write a TV series, it will be called "Left Behind," and describe all the items that have been restored to me by the kindness of strangers. (This is a much more sensible subject than the Day of Judgement, which has apparently beaten me to it.) I will not leave anything behind in the excellent chip shop I am currently eating in: a shout out to the person at the Reykjavik Fish and Chips shop who saw that I was writing the two preceding paragraphs on restaurant napkins, and asked if maybe I wanted a piece of paper? Yes. Yes I did.
The Icelandic people are like that: kind, thoughtful, always ready to improve your life. And they have a sense of humor - at the Icelandic Phallological Museum next door, I failed to find anything appropriate for my son to wear, and walked out of the gift shop empty-handed, saying "I was looking for something more subtle." They laughed (the shop, and presumably the museum, is full of penises), and I walked back to the hotel happy that finally somewhere a joke of mine had landed.
The kindness of the Icelandic people has nothing to do with tipping - it has everything to do with a collective economy that depends on a communal society. OK, it may also have something to do with being the home of the world's oldest parliament (the Althing, established in 932 AD), held in a rift valley of such natural beauty that no one seems to have noticed back then that it was ALSO THE PLACE WHERE THE TWO TECTONIC PLATES MEET:
Though Iceland is the most capitalist of countries (and nearly went bankrupt in 2008 because of it), its capitalism has a safety net. As the recent article in the NYT said of Finland, Scandinavian businesses are happy to farm over half of their costs to the government ("Finland Is a Capitalist Paradise"). And government - people, in most democracies - is happy to do it. It's what makes the world go around, as much today as in Weimar Germany. And make no mistake, Britain and America in 2016-2020 is Weimar Germany in 1929-1933. Tomorrow belongs to the despoilers, the ones who were going to put a hydroelectric plant here in 1929:
Or they would have done, until a woman called Sigridur Brattholti, the second daughter of a farmer who had sold the land to an English electric company, took the property back. The company went bankrupt in 1929 and failed to make its payments on the waterfall - the only good thing that came out of the global market crash. Sigridur bequeathed it (the tour guide said "inherited it," but I didn't like to correct her for fear she would announce the new word to the rest of the bus) to the Icelandic goverment in perpetuity. She is rightly hailed as Iceland's foremost environmentalist. There's a memorial to her by the falls, but you can't find a postcard of it in the gift shop.
It's a pity that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company survived the Great Depression. They wouldn't have bought 16% of Iran's oil fields before the Second World War, arranged for the CIA to overthrow its democratically elected leader in the 1950s (see "Operation Ajax"), installed a puppet Shah, and led us down a path to a war in 2020 that not even the generals want. When the apocalypse comes, I want to be up here, watching the Northern Lights and eating fish and chips.