London: Fish and Chips

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Primus – Fish On

I just finished re-reading a masterpiece of anti-agricultural thought called Against the Grain, and the sordid history of the potato? Absolutely bonkers.

Nothing is more British than fish and chips, except maybe atavistic royalty and losing control of colonies. The question is, why is fish and chips so British?

Potatoes are and always have been poor person food. That sounds classist, but it’s a fact. You can grow potatoes on a 5-foot square plot, they’re calorically dense, and you don’t even need an oven to cook them. You just throw them into a fire and then eat them after. Bone apple teeth.

England hated potatoes and loved bread. Their devotion to tradition ensured it was the mainstay of their meals for most of their history.

So Ireland would make the wheat, and the British would take the wheat, and kick Ireland in the ribs for good measure. Trendsetters as they were back in the 19th century, most of Europe considered the potato food fit only for livestock and the Irish. The French thought it was poisonous.

It got so bad that this zany reverse-correlation developed where it was popularly believed that eating potatoes made you poor, sick, and dirty. The people eating the potato were the ones who couldn’t afford anything else, so of course they were poor, sick, and dirty.

Another reason Ireland leaned so heavy on potatoes was England clear-cut all of Ireland’s forests, and they had no fuel left. To make bread, in addition to wheat, you need a place to mill it and a place to bake it. The Irish poor had neither. They didn’t even have coal; they were burning peat. That narrowed it down.

Here’s how narrow. The Irish had a saying: “The sauce of a poor man is a little potato eating with a big one.”

In the beginning of the 19th century, populations were booming everywhere and England had more poor to contend with than they ever had before. Not even just in Ireland, either! Domestic poor. There wasn’t enough bread to go around, so they gradually began adopting potatoes, though nobody was happy about it.

And now enters the colorful little edict of “enclosure”. In the early 1800s, subsistence farmers in Ireland and England were booted off of farmlands taken for the aristocracy. It bankrupted Ireland, inasmuch as Ireland could be more bankrupted, and almost certainly played a role in the potato famine.

So these peasants aren’t peasants any more, because they lost all their fields. They had become wage workers for the nobles who scooped up their farms. No place to grow your food, and not enough money to buy it… what’s a boy to do, Jean Valjean?

The English poor started growing potatoes in what was left of their backyards. The “lazy root” was back on the table.

In industrial English tenements, there were no cooking facilities whatsoever. Industrialization sucked up all the land, and a package of calories that could be speed-cooked on the literal street became very attractive.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Factories in England didn’t have anything resembling a concept of “worker’s rights”, and so paid their expendable machine fodder underclass in one lump sum. “Split it amongst yourselves. Shoo.”

The workers would take the wages down to the public house to split it up. The pubs did a decent business with drinks as it stood, and now everybody was coming in at least once a week with all of their money.

Well, all the people had was potatoes and occasional fish. So that’s what they cooked up and sold, on the spot, every payday and throughout the week.

And thus, fast food was born.

Appetizing, isn’t it?

I’m going to level with you; the fish was so greasy I barely made it through, and I am an insatiable human vortex. I didn’t eat any of the potatoes. They make you poor and dirty.

Another proud, closely held tradition.

Love,

B.

 

Reykjavik: On We Sweep With Threshing Oar

Saturday, September 21, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song

Fish and chips should fix this. We dropped into a fish and chippery and ordered the standard fare. They tried to upcharge us three American dollars for tartar sauce, so we ate them dry, with salt and vinegar.

“I am not a narcissist!” yelled a Swede at the other table to his bros. “I tell you why. You know why? 9/11. Worst day of my entire life. I still remember what I was wearing on 9/11! My blue shirt, and my white khakis pants.”

“Some would argue his believing that’s proof count as narcissism,” I whispered to Ladygirl. “But it’s not like I’m a professional.”

“We’re not saying you’re a narcissist,” said his French bro. “We’re just saying, we have things we don’t want to joke about, and you joke about them. So we joke about this.”

“2,977 people died!” the Swede yelled. “2,977! It was the worst day of my life! You tell me not to joke about it when the worst day of your life kills 2,977 people!”

He then started monologuing about the true heroism of the first responders, then stepped outside with one of the other bros for a smoke.

The remaining two were venomous.

“What a fucking asshole,” the French one said. “Absolute narcissist. Do you hear him? ‘The worst day of my life’? I can think of some people who had a worse day than you!”

“Yeah,” said the other one, whose accent I couldn’t place. “2,977 of them.”

“Idiot. He always does this. He just likes to yell.”

When the squad reconvened, they offered him 1000 krona to drink the entire bottle of vinegar.

“What is 1000 krona?” asked the Swede.

“I don’t know,” said the French guy. “I have bill that says 1000 on it. You want it or not?”

“How about half for 500?”

“Okay, yeah.”

The Swede took a sip of the vinegar and choked and sputtered all over his table, to riotous applause.

It was 5 o’clock somewhere. Brewdog had become a sort of base camp, but we were on the wrong side of town and wound up at the other resident craft brewery, Session.

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Westerbro IPA #beer #bastardtravel

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Most of their beers were named after Game of Thrones. Flaunt it if you got it.

Braxton joined the party and we did a quick lap around the city in the rental car. The previous day, we had ranged out to one of the hot springs, a place of scenic vistas and oppressive Silent Hill fogs, called Reykjadalur.

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shimmyin up #hiking #bastardtravel

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For you linguists out there, Reykja- means “smoky”. -Dalur is valley, -vik is bay.

“You know, it’s weird,” Braxton told us after this exposition as we made our way through the beers. “Almost all other languages name their places after defining characteristics. Only in English do you get things like “Scranton”. What the hell does that mean?”

“Town of Scran,” I said. “Scran is the feeling you get when you’re there.”

“What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s fitting on phonetics alone.”

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#hiking #reykjadalur #bastardtravel

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When we arrived at the trail, an American with an outlandish handlebar mustache was stretching his calves on the back of his car.

“If you guys are going up to soak, you might as well stop now,” he said, not even pausing in his calesthenics. “It’s been raining too much. It’s too cold to go in.”

We exchanged a look.

“I mean, it’s still a beautiful hike, if you like wind and rain in your face,” he said.

“We’ve been getting plenty of wind and rain in the face these past couple,” I said. “I think I’m immune now.”

“Welcome to Iceland,” he said with a shrug.

We decided we’d come too far and hiked up the hill, where it immediately began to downpour in earnest.

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Burble burble #hiking #geyser #bastardtravel

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“You know, in this past week,” Braxton said, “we’ve already hit the monthly average for rainfall in September? In five days.”

“It’s because of me,” Ladygirl said. “I’m cursed. It’s following me.”

“Global warming is a hoax,” I said with a wave of my hand. “These damn millennials should take a lil peep at a job application.”

Three miles uphill in the increasingly severe rain. The ground became quicksand, and at intervals both Ladygirl and I plummeted into the mud up to our thighs. The madness took hold and we splashed clean in the river that was, as promised, too cold to soak in.

But that had been yesterday. Today, we were wrapping up our viking adventure. We did a lap around Reykjavik, then returned the car and celebrated with more beer.

Braxton took us to a flea market where everything cost as much as it did in the shops, which means it wasn’t a flea market. It was just a market. It called itself a flea market, and outside we gathered more icelandic lamb hot dogs.

They also had this atrocity, masquerading under glass as cake.

We had nearly run the full gamut of Reykjavik. Iceland still had some volcanoes and glaciers to offer, as well as the dreaded Necropants, but none of those were accessible without buying another plane ticket, and I had places to be.

Still, there was one last stop to make.

The Lebowski Bar was conveniently located across the street from Kaffibrennslann, perhaps the finest cafe in Reykjavik. Since I’d spent nearly every morning of my stay  sucking down cappuccinos and tickatackin there, I couldn’t avoid the Lebowski bar. I could feel its pull like a neon, bowling-themed Charbydis.

I resisted until my final hours in Iceland. The burger (“the Lebowski burger”, innovatively) was decent. They seemed to really shine in the White Russian department.

“Listen!” screamed drunk white women at the waitress. “I got a question, and I need you to be honest with me.”

“Ya?”

“Is this an American bar?”

“Um-”

“Cuz we don’t wanna go to an AMERICAN bar. Like, do locals come here, or did you make this for us?”

“It is bar based on American movie,” the waitress said, “but it is not an American bar. I don’t like American bars. I like this bar. If it were an American bar, I would not like it.”

Her logic seemed somehow flawed, but the fleet of American ladies bought it.

We bade our farewells to Braxton, thanking him for all the rainy hikes and smashed fish, then headed to the bus depot to get out to the airport.

“The next bus doesn’t come until 8,” she said apologetically.

“Our flight’s at 9,” Ladygirl said. Her eyes did the thing where they get real big.

“Maybe another bus company? I will look for you.”

Across town, another bus company would take us at 7. The drive is an hour, which would give us enough time to through security and on the plane. The problem was, the other bus company was a half hour away, over a bridge and across a superhighway.

We rolled them bones. It immediately began to rain.

I won’t leave you in suspense.

Or will I?

To be continued…

Love,

B

Reykjavik: The Seltjarnarnes Shuffle

Monday, September 16, 2019. Seltjarnarnes, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Steve Winwood – Higher Love

“Is he here?”

“No.”

“Is he coming?”

“He said ‘omw’ twenty minutes ago.”

“Is he still?”

“I don’t know!”

The sudden paroxysm of rain drove us into another tourist trap corner shop trying to sell us reindeer pelts and metal puffin figurines. The owner kept telling us if we had any questions, let her know. We were waterlogged foreigners with forty pound backpacks. We obviously weren’t in the market for indigenous wool underwear, but we still smiled and nodded.

We told Braxton to rendezvous at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was not a street food stand but a whole-ass restaurant, specializing in soup. Strangers in a strange land. I ordered fish and chips.

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Oh hell yes #fish #chips #fishandchips #bastardtravel

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They were breathtaking.

We were getting by on stolen wifi, so each time we wanted to send a smoke signal to Braxton we had to brave the tempest and hover around outside a Danish bar, hunching to protect our phones from the wind.

This afforded us the opportunity to explore some of the local souvenir stores.

I don’t buy things at souvenir stores for many reasons. One, they’re obviously cheap garbage. Two, they’re impractical; I have everything I need already, like Diogenes except well-groomed and handsome. Three, research suggests clutter makes you insane. Four, I travel out of a backpack. Where the hell am I going to store a drinking horn for the next two weeks?

That said, it was a force of will at the Thor Store. The viking appropriation was strong. They had entire Norse pantheon chess sets, Mjollnir bottle openers, and runic man-jewelry of carved bone for every occasion. Not to mention Thor himself, rendered in wood.

After a half hour of scrambling in the rain and snatching handfuls of Wi-Fi like NeoTokyo techno-urchins, Braxton said, “I’m parked outside street food.”

We reconnoitered. He was not. No cars were on the street. However, in the reconnoiter, I discovered the Gay Road to Church.

“Tell him to meet us at the church. It’s like a block away.”

“That’s where you are?” he texted back. “Okay omw.”

It was not a block away. I miscalculated in equal parts to my crippling directional insanity and the absurd size of the Hallgrimskirkja. It wound up being a half mile away.

“I thought you said street food!” Braxton said.

“Reykjavik street food!” Ladygirl said.

“Oh. I was at Iceland Street Food. It’s two blocks away.”

The rain cleared because we were in a car now. Braxton took us to his place, a secret safehouse buried deep in the sprawling, idyllic backyards of an upper-class suburb. It was spartan, but cozy. The variety of dried fish snacks spread on the coffee table suggested he had acclimated to his new adopted home, but the panoply of liquor decorating the kitchenette windowsill suggested that though you could take the boy out of the skook, getting the skook out of the boy was another matter entirely.

“I’ve got two hours of work left,” he said. “You guys can rest up here, shower, help yourself to the fish jerky. I’ll be back and then we can check out some nature.”

We agreed, and off he went to keep the greens. I took a shower, laid down on the couch, and “rested my eyes” in a Dad-ly fashion, immediately losing consciousness until he came home.

Braxton took us through a sequence of winding back alleys that gave a punctuated tour of the neighborhood and led out to a scenic peninsula peppered with lighthouses.

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Secretive homunculi #homunculus #bastardtravel

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“What the hell are those?” I asked.

“This is Europe,” Braxton said. “They love weird nude modern art statues. Can’t get enough of them. They’re everywhere.”

“What are they doing?”

He shrugged.

Whatever it was, it seemed suspicious. We fled the homunculi and made our way out to the coastline.

Braxton couldn’t stop singing “Higher Love” during this excursion, but he didn’t know any words except “bring me a higher love” and a vocal rendition of the trumpet fill. I tried to displace it with a sea shanty, but it didn’t take.

The tide was rising and we weren’t technically allowed to approach the lighthouse, according to many signs that I couldn’t read. Fortunately, there are no cops in Iceland, and nothing to stop us except our own looming mortality.

We hurried down the peninsula across a hundred yards of rotten seaweed and fish guts, kicking up grotesque clouds of hardy sea flies that didn’t seem to mind the fact it was 40 degrees.

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Just this lighthouse #lighthouse #bastardtravel

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The lighthouse was locked, but it was still scenic enough, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Oh nice,” I said. “Leprechauns. Or maybe elves, here? Huldufólk! I remember, they said they got elf dicks at the weiner museum. Braxton, you coming to the weiner museum with us?”

“That sounds… really great, but I’m gonna have to pass.”

“They have 230 different mammal phalluses,” I said. “Phallusees. Phalli? Dongs. 230, my dude, and they allege that some of them are from elves, and others from trolls. You don’t wanna look at a troll dong? How do you live here and you’ve never checked it out?”

“It costs money,” Braxton said.

I shook my head. “Unbelievable.”

Ladygirl took a creepshot of me while I was friggin’ around with my own camera up on the rocks.

“All this skipping through rancid fish guts has got my appetite worked up,” I said. “Where can we get food?”

“No more fish,” Ladygirl pleaded. “I haven’t built up a tolerance to this much fish yet. Give me like, one day.”

“Most of it’s fish,” Braxton said thoughtfully. “There’s a thai place that’s good. Or do you guys want burgers?”

“Burgers,” Ladygirl said.

“I always want burgers,” I told him. “Braxton, please. My people, they’re starving.”

And so, we returned to base, caught a bus to Reykjavik proper, and sought out borgar.

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bls #burger #borgar #bastardtravel

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Love,

The Bastard