Menningarnott: How Iceland celebrates Iceland.
After an earlier than usual rise, I step onto the patio to enjoy the cool air with my morning coffee. Looking down, the first thing I notice is a pale blue door in it’s frame standing square in the middle of the road. Further down is another, this one yellow, then another on the sidewalk whose colour I can’t make out from where I stand. Even stranger is the guy laying flat on the concrete in the park across the street. People passing by, looking at him, taking the odd picture, and he remains unmoving. Still half asleep, I’m trying to make sense of this world I’ve woken into.
Menningarnott is Iceland’s huge annual cultural celebration, taking place in August each year, when a third of the countries entire population converges into the central core of Reykjavik. The streets in and around downtown are closed, turning the entire city centre into a monstrous block party. Makeshift stages are built with bales of hay, and every other intersection has a DJ booth or musician. Buskers are everywhere, grafitti masters craft murals on walls, artists display their pieces for all to see, and everyone is drinking beer.
It’s not quite noon.
Refreshments in hand, and bellies primed with the legendary Icelandic hotdog, we join the festivities. Opening each of the many coloured doors reveals a piece of art: a painting, a sculpture, a photo; the man on the ground was another art piece it seems, though I never did investigate. Down a small alley there is a huge open air bar where a band is playing to a packed house of screaming people. Just down the road, a line of custom motorcycles with their Hells Angels (in Iceland, who knew!) owners stand by with pride as the sun reflects off the chrome. Grabbing few more drinks from one of the many people selling out of coolers on the sidewalk, we are soon dancing between the crosswalks on soft green grass that’s been laid over the pavement for the day.
Things gain momentum into the early evening, funky tribal beats can be heard echoing between houses as DJs spin up in bars and on the street; an impromptu break dancing competition pops up in a vacant parkade. People of all ages are enjoying the excitement, parents dancing with drinks in hand while their young children bounce nearby waving glow sticks. Police presence is all but non-existent, and seemingly not required. People are happy, friendly, respectful. Nearly one hundred thousand bodies are running and dancing in the streets, drinks have been flowing since this morning, and people are actually behaving! This kind of thing would never happen back home.
The evening comes to a head with a few of Icelands biggest musical acts taking the main stage down near the waterfront. Unfortunately, aside from Bjork and Of Monsters and Men, I’m clueless to the local music scene, but enjoyed whoever was playing regardless! Glassy-eyed and drunk, the crowd of thousands sways to the music as the massive fireworks display over the harbor brings the night to a climax. The majority of folks make their way home after the big show, while the real troopers head out to the bars. Belonging to the prior group, staggering home around midnight, we see the stages slowly disappearing, and see the city crews already quietly combing the streets for whatever garbage may have been left on the ground. By morning, we’ll not be able to find a shred of evidence that points to a party.
If you’re planning a visit to Iceland later in the summer months, and you’re a fan of a good festival (and who isn’t?), making sure to arrive in time for Menningarnott; You won’t experience anything like it anywhere else.