Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Pilgrimage - Part 2, the Bookshop and the Chair

On the corner of Klapparstigur and Hverfisgata in downtown Reykjavik, is Bokin, a second hand bookstore.

Anyone speak Icelandic?
When I visited, it was a Sunday, so not surprisingly it was closed, but no matter. Because its not so much what is inside the shop that is important, but what used to be there. And anyway, most of the books are in Icelandic which would have made browsing rather pointless. (Did you know that there are more books published in Icelandic per capita native speaker than any other language in the world? Well, on those long, dark winter days there's not a lot else to do, is there? Which might also explain why Iceland has more Grandmasters per capita than any other country in the world.)

Spot the difference!
And it's also not so much the front door that matters here, either, since the significance, at least for us Fischer pilgrims, is around the corner behind the glass frontage along Hverfisgata. Bobby Fischer was a frequent visitor to Bokin after his return to Iceland in 2005, spending many hours sitting in a quiet area at the back of the shop, where he could both watch the world go by and keep an eye out for any journalist (or pilgrim?) who might threaten his privacy.  It is even said, though I cannot vouch for its truth, that he used Bokin as a kind of PO Box, having his mail delivered here.

A chess set now sits poignantly on a table where Fischer whiled away the hours - but he wasn't sitting on that chair!
But something vital is missing, and for the final piece of this part of the jigsaw, we need to travel about 35 miles away to the small town of Selfoss. I say small, as the population is only around 7,000, but even so it is the fourth largest town/city in Iceland outside the Reykjavik area (behind Akureyri, Keflavik and Akranes). (And its chess club has a Grandmaster, six times Icelandic Champion Helgi Olafsson.) But what it lacks in size, Selfoss makes up for in other ways, as there is nowhere else on earth where you can get closer to Bobby Fischer. And at the Bobby Fischer Center one of the museum exhibits is the very chair in which Bobby used to sit at Bokin!

Bobby sat here!
Eagle-eyed observers can see the chair in its original location at Bokin in the photograph on the wall behind. Where its also noticeable that there was no table and no chess set in evidence.

And so did the Club Organiser! Although he seems to have made the chair disappear!!
Is it sad and pathetic to invest so much emotional significance in a chair? Probably, but I'm a sentimental old codger at heart, so I'm not going to apologise. And as artefacts go, this one certainly brought a lump to the throat, despite its simplicity, even banality. To be this close to Bobby, though, is no everyday experience.

The next instalment of my pilgrimage will present a fuller appreciation of the Bobby Fischer Center (not my spelling - and he was American after all!), but it must first be time for another of Bobby's lesser known masterpieces.

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