REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- The flags, all nine of them, flapped in the blustry wind. The protesters, all 10 of them, stood a silent vigil far away. The second superpower summit in 11 months was under way: in a plain white frame house reputed to be haunted by a ghost.
After 10 days of frenzied preparations, which thrust this isolated capital into the international limelight, the business of superpower summity began without fanfare.
The lack of pomp and ceremony belied what was at stake as President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, formidable, self-confident adversaries with firm convictions, sat down to lay the foundation for a full-scale summit in the United States.
The site of their talks was the Hofdi, a city reception house on the banks of Reykjavik Bay. A pair of Icelandic naval vessels kept watch on the sea, backed on land by sharpshooters perched on rooftops, who scanned the area through field glasses.
Surprisingly, however, the security was neither excessive nor obtrusive. Local residents moved with relative ease through the streets near the U.S. Embassy, where Reagan was headquartered, and around the perimeter of the meeting site, which was ringed by unarmed police.
Buildings in the area were sealed shut. The pastoral setting that existed days earlier at the 77-year-old Hofdi was spoiled by the appearance of tall camera stands that served a dual purpose: accommodating photographers eager to capture the only public appearance of the two summiteers and blocking the views of potential assassins.
For all the excitement generated by the summit, relative calm prevailed. The only sign of dissent were protesters across the street, whose appeal-by-banner asked Reagan and Gorbachev to 'give this planet a chance.'
The serious demonstrators, however, had been kept far away. Many were denied entry into the country by the Icelandic government. And the few who showed up to state their views did so with an unusual expession of gratitude.
'Protect Iceland's neutrality,' read one banner. 'Thanks.'
Reagan arrived first, consistent with a plan worked out by U.S. and Soviet advance men in accordance with protocol.
The presidential motorcade pulled up at 10:22 a.m. after a quick three-minute drive through near-empty streets. Light drizzle fell as Reagan brushed aside shouted questions from reporters with vague answers and entered the house to wait for Gorbachev.
Seven minutes later, the Soviet motorcade arrived. Gorbachev, emerged from his Zil limousine, walked up the front steps and appeared surprised as Reagan -- maybe a beat behind the script -- stepped out to greet him with a handshake and a smile.
The two posed for photographers. After all, their meeting would be judged -- at least at first -- as much on appearances as on substance. Inside, in a room that looked out to the bay and fog-shrouded mountains beyond, they sat for more pictures and more questions before adjourning to an adjacent sitting room -- accompanied only by interpreters -- to begin their pre-summit summit.
The fickle Icelandic weather served up all it had to offer: 40-degree temperatures, bone-chilling winds and intermittent sunshine between periods of drizzle, rain and even occasional snow.
The legendary Reagan luck -- rain seldom falls when the president is outdoors -- appeared to hold.
A steady rain had been falling as Reagan prepared to leave the U.S. Embassy for his first session with Gorbachev. Minutes later, the clouds broke and a bright rainbow, one end of its arc appearing to dip into a scenic city lake near the embassy, came into view.
'Now that's some omen,' one reporter exclaimed.
Omen, coincidence or more of Reagan's luck of the Irish? The world will have to wait at least until Sunday to find out.