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On a cold and wet evening in Reykjavik, I've come, glossy brochure in hand, to the Red Rock Cinema to see the Volcano Show. I'm expecting a big bang, IMAX-type experience. But I find myself alone in what looks like someone's living room.
Arranged on the walls like photos of the grandkids are framed maps, diagrams and images of eruptions. A cat runs through the open door, a brown puffball with eyes like gold foil and a purr like a Harley. After a minute or two, a tall, grey-bearded man in an ash-coloured cardigan emerges from a doorway across the room and introduces himself as Villi Knudsen, producer, director and photographer. Also ticket-taker, he says, as he inspects me over the rims of lint-specked bifocals.
Villi wants to know my name, where I'm from and why I've come to Iceland. I tell him I'm here to see the land of my ancestors. And to learn a bit about its geology.
Is there in fact a show this evening? "Absolutely," Villi says, though his tone isn't all that convincing. I start backing toward the door.
"I think you should see the show" - he says as he thumps his left palm with his right fist - "now." He points at a red door. "In there. That's what that cat is waiting for. She loves the show."
"Uh huh," I say.
"Do you like cats?"
"I think they're okay," I lie. Eventually, more soggy tourists straggle in and I end up handing over my money with everyone else and following Villi into the "theatre." It's like the double garage of someone who got a deal on red paint. Kicking a length of old pipe out of his way, Villi steps to the front of the room, gives us a folksy synopsis of what we'll be seeing, pulls down a screen and leaves.
There are about a dozen of us and we sit quietly, as if we all know we've been suckered but no one wants to admit it. The cat meows and two women on opposite sides of the room compete with "here kitty, kitty." But it's me the beast chooses, leaping onto the seat behind me, purring like a chainsaw. Muted noises drift in from somewhere at the back of the room; presumably Villi has returned and is fiddling with a projector. If he has one.
But there is a show: A younger, celluloid Villi delivers a geology lesson and soon, under his soothing voiceovers, steam billows from the earth, geysers spout, volcanoes erupt, there is much fire and ice.
And just when everything seems to be going spectacularly well on-screen, Villi accidentally turns off the helicopter's motor amid the excitement of flying over a live volcano. "The pilot, he asks me never to do that again," Villi says.
But he does it again on the very next trip on the film. One can only imagine the pilot's annoyance at having another dead engine while suspended over exploding magma.
But how exciting can a trip - or a Volcano Show - be if everything turns out the way you expected?
Special to The Globe and Mail