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Iceland, exotic if you relish lava, ice, black-sand beaches



My son in Queens reported lately that the sink was stopped up. He called the landlord. Couldn’t do a thing for him at the moment, said the landlord’s wife — vacationing in Iceland.

Of course. Where else would the resourceful traveler head these days?

In recent weeks, we’ve heard of three other people who traveled to the land of glaciers, waterfalls, black-sand beaches and towns with names — Stykkishólmur, Neskaupstaður, Hafnarfjörður — that threaten to exhaust the alphabet’s supply of letters.

Our friends, Walter and Kathy Orthwein, have a moviemaking son, Geoff, who co-wrote and directed a sci-fi film, called “Bokeh,” about a young American couple who choose Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, as the destination for their first trip abroad.

Upon waking one morning, the lovers find streets suspiciously empty even for a place where local revelers sometimes sleep off bacchanals of boiled lamb’s head and putrefied shark washed down by potato-caraway schnapps. Turns out, the Americans are the only people left on Earth. For this, they came to Iceland?

Suddenly, Iceland-o-mania is everywhere.

My wife, Wink, and I were catching up with the second season of “Billions” on Showtime the other night. The amoral investment whiz Bobby Axelrod — “Axe” — was in frequent touch with the evil operative “Hall” who will do anything to keep Axe on top. What code name appears on Axe’s phone when “Hall” gets in touch? You guessed it: “Iceland.”

The travel website,, reports that a record 1.76 million visitors poured into Iceland last year, impressive for a country with a population of 334,000. Americans are the biggest contingent with Europeans right behind. Tourist spots are jammed, prices are soaring, people worry about environmental impact. Welcome to the big time.

As a person who would just as soon walk around the block as pack for a trip past Albany or the East End, I am amazed by the lure of a country that gets five hours of daylight for half the year and where 60 degrees is a sultry summer day. Nothing against Iceland, you understand. People are supposed to be swell and the scenery spectacular. But, still.

More remarkable to me are the travelers who insist on exotic vacations.

We knew a woman who wasn’t happy unless she left each year for places where unseen animals represented a mortal threat, and you had to carry your own toilet paper. Another bungee jumped from a bridge in Kenya. Somebody else skis from mountaintops reachable only by helicopter.

Here’s to them all, but I wonder: What ever happened to Cleveland?

When I was 15 or so, my father, who hated to drive more than five miles in any direction, one day announced:“Pack up, we’re taking a ride.”

We were in Brooklyn, 69th Street, so I figured, we must be going out to 86th to pick up Chinese takeout or, could be, down to the ferry pier and look across to Staten Island.

“Where to, Pop?” I asked.


If he had said Ketchikan, Alaska, I couldn’t have been more surprised.


“Nice place, I hear,” said Dad, and Mom, nearby, added, “Ohio,” as if to make sure I knew the precise “Cleveland” my father had in mind.

It was a terrific trip, really. We slept in “tourist courts” and found roadside stands for hamburgers and ice cream. We sang “Merrily, We Roll Along.”

In Cleveland, Dad was beat. Mom and I took a bus downtown from our cheapo motel. We saw Lake Erie, went to the stores, bought postcards.

At one point, I asked Mom what had gotten into Dad — what explained the trip for a guy who disliked driving so much he didn’t, once, motor from Brooklyn to Manhattan?

“Oh,” she said. “Just to see the world.”

It was a one-and-only experience. Home again, Dad returned to his stay-put ways. Most likely, he’d seen enough.

I’m not as bad but have some of my father’s instincts. When I watch those beautiful ads for Viking River Cruises on television, I think: “Oh, good, now I’ve been to Amsterdam and Budapest, and don’t have to bother.”

A few Saturdays ago, Wink and I were at our favorite Tex-Mex joint in Brooklyn. On the specials board were fish tacos — Icelandic cod! At a Mexican restaurant? “It’s everywhere,” I said to Wink.

I don’t know how Iceland became the center of the universe all of a sudden but, honestly, I won’t be shipping out any time soon for Stykkishólmur, Neskaupstaður, Hafnarfjörður or, even, Reykjavik.

Like father, like son, I suppose. Been to Cleveland. Nice place.

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