Since there are only about five minutes left of Honor Loki Month, I decided it was finally time to share a silly, sorta shallow, little story about an experience my husband and I had with The Trickster during an 8-hour layover in Iceland last month. If you are looking for something profound and nuanced, a meaningful spiritual reflection on this great divine figure, then I strongly suggest you look elsewhere. In fact, here are some suggestions:
- Galina Krasskova’s amazing series of Loki Project posts (as most of you probably already know, Galina instigated Honor Loki Month and her fabulous idea was subsequently the catalyst for all the great posts listed here)
- An exquisitely powerful series of poems by Sarenth Odinsson in honor of Loki
- Elizabeth Vongvisith’s wonderful posts: A Month for Loki
- P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has written a fascinating set of posts (with great images!): In Praise of Loki (and kin/friends)
- Valiel wrote four beautiful poems for A Month with Loki
- And one of my favorite contemporary pagan poets, the always-brilliant Sannion, wrote two excellent poems, “Bravo Loki” and “I’m sure you know him better than I do” (that second title could be the subtitle to my story below)
So go read those posts if you want to learn something new about Loki from the perspective of some of his most eloquent modern devotees. But if you want to hear a light-hearted, admittedly shallow, tongue-in-cheek, and mildly homoerotic true story about one (predominantly) Hellenic pagan’s experience with Loki, which involves about two dozen ridiculously hot and shirtless Icelandic guys (no photos unfortunately), then by all means keep reading.
8 Hours in Iceland
(or, I’m sure you know him better than I do)
Eight hours. We get eight hours in Iceland! What will we do? Where will we go? How much can we see in eight hours? I want to see something beautiful! Reykjavík is supposed to be the most charming city, with beautiful architecture and art museums, surrounded by natural hot springs. For years I’ve heard that Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world . . . with possibly the highest quality of life in the world . . . a magical land with universal health care, full marriage equality, and a lesbian Prime Minister! This is the country that recognized Ásatrú as a legal religion back in 1973 and where over 60% of the population still believes in elves! The country that gave us Sigur Rós! And the sheer beauty of the natural landscape . . . have you seen that Björk video? (No, not the one where she turns into a polar bear. And not the one where she gets eaten by a teddy bear. You know the one . . . it’s the “Iceland has the most beautiful natural landscape in the world, don’t you wish you lived here?” one.) Anyway, the point is that Iceland is beautiful and gay-friendly and pagan-friendly and we only have eight hours to spend there! What will we do? Where will we go?
My husband, Wildstar, is completely exhausted from our month-long business trip in France. And the fact that our friends in Paris decided to throw us a party on the night before our incredibly long and grueling flight home, which left us with only about an hour’s sleep, did not help the matter. “You’re in charge,” he says. “I can barely keep my eyes open.” I had hoped to have time to plan this trip in advance, but for a host of reasons that wasn’t in the cards. And it’s a fairly short flight from Paris to Reykjavík . . . time to Google.
First things first. We’re both going to be cranky if we don’t eat. I need to find somewhere reasonably priced for lunch, preferably in a central area near the one museum I’m dying to see, The Culture House, which has the oldest known manuscripts of the Eddas and the Sagas on display. And I’d prefer to eat some actual, traditional Icelandic food, especially since I’ve never actually tried it before. (I can never understand those American tourists who go to McDonalds and Starbucks when they’re visiting other countries. I don’t want to patronize those places here if I have a choice in the matter . . . let alone when I’m visiting someplace new. I’ll try the local cuisine, thank you very much.) Google, google. Aha! Found a Reykjavík restaurant site where I can put in my preferred search parameters . . . reasonably priced, check . . . central location, check . . . traditional Icelandic cuisine, check . . . search . . . only one result! And it’s called none other than (*drum roll*) . . . Café Loki! Perfect! That morning I had literally *just* read Galina Krasskova’s blog post announcing Honor Loki Month for July. There are no coincidences, right? Café Loki it is.
So a couple hours later, our plane lands. It took us quite awhile to go through customs. We got lost in the airport (which is nearly impossible to do, since the airport is rather tiny, but we were really, really tired and groggy from the night before). We just missed the shuttle to Reykjavík and had to wait nearly an hour for the next one. And the shuttle itself would take about an hour each way . . . our eight hours in Iceland was rapidly evaporating!
Once we were finally on the shuttle, though, two things were immediately clear. 1) The people we encountered in Iceland were possibly the most gracious, hospitable, helpful, and just plain kind people I’ve ever encountered. 2) One day we would have to return for an extended stay, because there was absolutely no way we would have time to see much of the beautiful, and I daresay mythical landscape of this incredible place. The view from the shuttle bus window was eerie and fascinating, but it certainly wasn’t like that Björk video. (No, not the one where she turns into a polar bear). We would need to stay longer and travel further if we wanted to see a volcano or a glacier or natural hot springs. I wanted to see something beautiful!
We made it to Reykjavík proper, and yes, the city was indeed quite charming. Almost quaint. The buildings were tiny and modern, and to my pleasant surprise I saw almost no signs of globalization! Not a single McDonalds or Starbucks to be seen! How delightfully refreshing. Lots of cute local shops and bistros . . . tons of record stores (are there any of those left in the U.S.?) . . . and a real sense of community. It felt more like a village than a city.
It wasn’t difficult to find our way to Café Loki, which is ironically located *directly across* from the huge Lutheran church. I love the fact that the first thing Reykjavík Lutherans inevitably see every time they exit their church each Sunday is a big sign emblazoned with the name “LOKI”!
I’m so glad we went to Café Loki. Traditional Icelandic food is an unusual experience. Personally, I loved it, but I can imagine that many Americans would be freaked out by a menu that includes raw herring, sheep-head jelly and fermented shark. To me, it was like the Nordic equivalent of sushi, but with rye bread instead of rice. I ordered the Loki tea (made from Icelandic birch, arctic thyme and Iceland moss), while Wildstar had a Freyja beer. The rye bread ice cream was delicious. But there’s one thing about Café Loki that you wouldn’t know from their website . . . their male waiters/servers are drop-dead gorgeous. Absolutely stunning specimens of male beauty. They could be professional models. And the two young men working that day were both wearing tight black t-shirts with “LOKI” written on the chest. Now, I am a happily married gay man in a committed monogamous relationship of nearly 13 years. But that doesn’t mean Wildstar and I don’t appreciate looking at an attractive male form. (As a former colleague once said to me about herself and her husband: “When we put on our rings they didn’t rip out our eyes!”) So my husband and I both enjoyed the lovely spectacle of Loki #1 and Loki #2 as they served us our meal. We raised a toast to The Trickster.
But we were so wiped out from our month in France and so weary from a night without sleep that we really didn’t have much energy to fully enjoy the precious little time we had in Iceland. And time was running out. After lunch we went to The Culture House, where I was in awe of the Eddas manuscripts, but it was actually a very small exhibit and there wasn’t really that much to see. There was a lackluster (post)modern art exhibit, but not much else. And soon we really needed to return to the bus terminal if we didn’t want to miss our flight.
I was rather disappointed. Yes, it was cool to be able to say I saw the manuscripts of the Eddas. And I tried Icelandic food for the first time in a lovely setting. But Iceland was supposed to be so beautiful, and it was obvious that if we’d had time to leave the city we would soon be surrounded by a gorgeous natural landscape, filled with gods and elves and spirits. But it wasn’t meant to be. And unlike almost everywhere else on this recent journey to Europe, I was just too tapped out to go in search of a profound spiritual experience, even though there were prominent signs of the Heathen gods everywhere (quite literally in the case of the street signs, since almost every street was named after one Northern deity or another). Wildstar could barely keep his eyes open, and I knew we had a long flight yet to come. But maybe there’s time to stop in a museum, or find a quiet little park, or perhaps an outdoor statue where I can make an offering? Our time in France was filled with many such aesthetic and spiritual experiences. So as we were walking back, I uttered a quick prayer to Loki that ended with, “Loki, I have one thing to ask before we leave Iceland . . . please show us something beautiful!”
We walked and walked in search of a museum or something, but one of the galleries was closing and the other was on the opposite side of town. Didn’t see a grove of elves. Nor could I find a monumental statue of a local poet-hero. By the time we reached the shuttle bus terminal, I was kicking myself for not planning this layover more carefully.
And that’s when we saw the first one . . . as we entered the terminal we both did a double-take at the sight of an exquisitely beautiful young man . . . he was honestly one of the most beautiful guys I’ve ever seen. In fact, he wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by another guy who was equally attractive. “Damn,” I whispered to Wildstar, “First the guys at Café Loki, and now these two! The guys in Iceland are hot!”
We had some time before the next shuttle, so we bought some bottles of water and sat down. I started ruffling through my carry-on to find the novel I was reading. But my eyes didn’t stay on the novel for long . . . because in they walked. One by one. Each one more beautiful and physically perfect than the next. Wildstar and I looked at each other. “What’s happening?” In walked another. And another. “Please pinch me . . . I think we’re dreaming.” And another. And another. Followed by – dear gods – a pair of identical twins. “What on earth is happening? Is there a hidden camera somewhere?” Suddenly we weren’t having any trouble keeping our eyes wide open. There were at least two dozen of these perfect young men. And when I say “perfect,” I want you to imagine a veritable legion of Abercrombie & Fitch models, sculpted by Praxiteles, painted by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, and photographed by Bruce Weber. And yes, I am fully aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty is only skin deep, etc. etc. I’m really not nearly as shallow as I sound right now . . . but there was something downright transcendent about these guys . . . these were the young men who Shakespeare immortalized in his sonnets, who Michelangelo released from their marble prisons, who Socrates and Plato were talking to (and about) when they founded Western philosophy while gazing into their lovely eyes.
Who were they and what were they doing here? Why were there so many excruciatingly beautiful guys in one place? It immediately became clear that they all knew each other. They must be a college sports team of some kind . . . and that’s when their coach walked in, carrying a huge cardboard box. At this point, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if another cute guy had jumped out of the box, but no, there was something else in store. This was apparently a college soccer/football team, and the cardboard box was full of new uniforms, which the coach started to pass out to the team members. What we were not expecting was for all twenty-four guys to simultaneously take off their shirts and start changing into their new uniforms! Right there. In the middle of the bus terminal. In front of everyone . . . well, actually just in front of us and one another. We were surrounded by twenty-four of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen, all of whom were taking off their clothes and changing in front of us. Like we weren’t even there. Our jaws were on the floor. “We’re definitely dreaming.”
By the time the bus arrived, we were utterly overwhelmed by what we had seen, by the request I’d made of Loki and The Trickster’s outrageous prank that followed. We were laughing uproariously the entire ride back to the airport. Neither one of us had ever had an experience like that before. It was downright surreal. And just as we were regaining our composure over coffee in the airport food court, in walked the Icelandic college football team again to enchant and dazzle us for another hour before our flight home. We’ve been smiling about it ever since.
Okay, Loki. I got it. You made your point. Loud and clear. When I was asking to see something beautiful, I was honestly imagining a beautiful natural landscape out of a Björk video or an aesthetically stimulating work of art in a museum or perhaps some ineffable spiritual experience or vision. A statue of a poet, a sacred grove, a flicker in the corner of my eye revealing the presence of the divine in the landscape. Instead, it’s now obvious that The Trickster noticed us checking out Loki #1 and Loki #2 at his eponymous café, and when I later asked him to show us a vision of beauty, he cut right through all my over-intellectualized philosophizing and abstract spiritual notions to get to the heart of the matter. Loki ripped apart my elaborate intellectual edifice (with all of its Neoplatonist pretensions) and presented us – or rather hit us over the head – with a raw, outrageous, unforgettable, over-the-top, sexy, lusty, fleshy, lewd, physically embodied experience of beauty. I tend to be a Platonist or Neoplatonist in most things, and a Platonic conception of Beauty itself (as in Truth, the Good, Harmony, Unity, etc.) is certainly a profound “Idea.” But as far as I’m concerned, it seemed to me that Loki heard this Hellenic Neoplatonist’s prayer and basically said: “Fuck that. I’ll show you beauty. Beauty that will make your head spin and your jaw drop to the floor. I’m going to show you what turned Plato on. And on top of all that, I’m going to make you smile. I’m going to make you laugh. And I’m going to make sure that you and your husband will never forget your eight hours in Iceland.”