Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where Bjork is Bjork, and the Elves Are Under the Mountain

Want to read about Iceland's fascinating economic meltdown?

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”

Speaking of Bjork:

Because Iceland is really just one big family, it’s simply annoying to go around asking Icelanders if they’ve met Björk. Of course they’ve met Björk; who hasn’t met Björk? Who, for that matter, didn’t know Björk when she was two? “Yes, I know Björk,” a professor of finance at the University of Iceland says in reply to my question, in a weary tone. “She can’t sing, and I know her mother from childhood, and they were both crazy. That she is so well known outside of Iceland tells me more about the world than it does about Björk.”

And this is all kinds of awesome:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”


Toby said...

Um, is there any way I could get a job as an Icelandic government elf-checker? That sounds pretty awesome.

As predicted, the reviews for Watchmen are in, and it isn't pretty. That said, everyone has said they liked it better than 300, and that was a commercial success, so I think Warner Bros. will still be pleased with the end result.

Laura said...

Take it up with Bjork. I'm sure she knows people.

I was reading about the Watchmen reviews, over the shoulder of some guy on the train. He moved, though, so I didn't get far.

Toby said...

Yeah, people who hate her and think she's weird. Maybe I'll have more success coming at it from the elf direction. I'll check with Orlando Bloom and/or Liv Tyler.

Laura said...

That may be your more productive angle, anyway. It takes one to find one, etc.