The hotel is a tiny concrete slab. Stalin with seasonal affective disorder. The lobby is all Danish surgical ward sterility. The obligatory Icelandic wool sweaters, Viking postcards and tourist twaddle are stacked amidst an expanse of blond wood and chrome.
And the place is utterly deserted. No wandering guests. No one at reception. No one anywhere at all. It’s like a TV news set after hours.
Feeling homesick, I pick up the lobby pay phone and dial home. Just as I start talking, from behind one of the pine slab of a door erupts laughter. Cackling, raucous gales of mirth. Not a soul is stirring anywhere. It’s a little hard to concentrate, standing as I am in the middle of such a perfect metaphor for my experience here in Iceland.
Somewhere close by everyone is have a grand old time, drinking and laughing and screwing on their blustery little island paradise. And I’m standing just outside, staring at my feet and wondering if I said something wrong.
The door swings open and a lone man walks out. Cheeks flushed, he’s wiping away a single tear of laughter. Seeing me he is transformed; assuming what I have taken to be the national expression, that of a Lutheran pastor with fallen arches and a nagging conscience.
He walks through the lobby in funereal silence, and only when he rounds the corner do I hear a single snort of suppressed laughter.