28 July 2005

living on the porch

That's the way it's done here, and has been done for over a century. Hundreds of houses, each with a spacious street-facing porch, loaded with rockers, tables, and toys. Ours is shady in the morning, so I take my coffee out there, drinking it from the antique pink cup and saucer set that came with the house when my parents bought it almost 20 years ago.

Butterflies wind around the oak limbs as the dappled sunshine makes its way down the hill. The kids at the bottom of the hill are always out, on stilts, pogo sticks, or with their bikes whirring loudly, playing cards wound through the spokes. I used to be one of those kids, happy to live on the only big hill in the place, happier still when I could whizz down the hill into the huge puddle that developed after rainstorms. The puddle is gone, now that the drain works properly, and a speed bump ruins the perfect run from the top of the hill, but the kids still spin by the house daily. On the neighboring porches, people visit, drinking lemonade, reading the paper with their feet up on the railings. These houses have no insulation or air conditioning, so the coolest place is often out on the porch in the path of the breezes off the nearby sea.

In July, the tourist season is at its peak, with herds of baby strollers and New York City yuppies doing the required Cottage City tour. Some think that it's some kind of Disneyland setup, where the houses are part of a fabricated attraction, and more than once a homeowner has come home to discover tourists having their picture taken on the porch. Ours is unassuming enough that this doesn't happen often, and it's tucked away at the far reaches of the houses where visitors are fewer.

Come evening, people retreat into their cottages, leaving the front doors open to keep the air flowing, which allows a glimpse through to the kitchens in the back. These houses are crammed with Victorian furniture and all have the same layout- living room in the front, dining room in the middle, kitchen in the back. The discarded shoes and bikes of the kids sprinkle around the houses, and books and games lie abandoned in the middle rooms during dinner. There's always more people in the houses than seem to be able to fit, but that's how it's been since the beginning.

This place isn't much for modern technology and high-class entertainment, so sometimes when the weather at night is exciting, people appear on the porch together again to watch. Last weekend we had a fantastic lightning storm, and all the way up and down the street, I could see the silhouettes of the neighbors out, their murmered conversations floating over the thunder.

20 July 2005

Stranger in my own land

While my paperwork happens, I've been spending time on another island, Martha's Vineyard. Although I've been coming here for 20 years, I've found so many things unfamiliar after this new perspective. For example, the bugs here are insane! I talked to my hairdresser in Iceland about how bothered she was by the number of bugs here, and at the time I thought she was just squeamish. I arrive here to discover beetles as big as large dates, huge caterpillers half the size of a Bic pen, earwigs squirming in the flowerbeds, spiders staking territory in the corner of the kitchen. There's moths bumping against the windowscreens, opportunistic mosquitoes chewing on my arm as I cook in the evening, and ants trafficking crumbs across the street outside. I guess this is why Icelanders don't need screens on their windows.

also, since when did plants and trees get so crazy here? I left before the greenery really got going, so it was quite surprising to arrive in the midst of green summer. The trees and plants press up against the sides of the roads like they will soon consume it, and gardens, if left alone for a few years, will become forest. It's quite a change from barren lava-tundra where the tiniest flower is preciously hanging on in the torrential winds.

I'd also forgotten how crowded places like this can get. It's like Iceland on June 17 every single day, except without the national costume and iceflags. Actually, the clothing in general is disappointing. Maybe it's because I'm on a summer resort island, but it's a rare day that I walk down the street and see some interestingly cut skirt, or a pair of shoes I think would look splendid on J. It's all hooded sweatshirts, flip flops, and my favorite look, the bikini bathing suit with a pair of unzipped, unbuttoned cutoff jeans worn over it.

I've also hit the very peak of the horrible weather I was so happy to leave behind. The days are torrid and soggy, often threatening to rain without actually producing, and my only relief has been the ocean, which is still mercifully cool. I have enjoyed some of the other elements of the place though- the wild roses are blooming along the bike path, so every day I rollerblade along it, bordered by ocean and lagoon, awash with the scent of honeysuckle and rose and the smell of seaweed, beach, and baking grass. I've seen baby ducks and yesterday spotted a white heron flying across the marsh. Even the rhythm of things in the neighborhood are comforting and familiar- the sounds of the gardening neighbors talking and mowing, the clank of rope against flagpole in the breeze, the cawing of crows and the rattle of grasshoppers in the heat. It's been the sound of summer for me for 20 years, so it's nice to come back to in this time of waiting.

15 July 2005

Icelandic gastronomic delights

now that I'm out of the skyr zone, I'm finding that I miss certain treats I'd gotten used to having non-stop access to

such as:

Icetiramisu: it's got the soaked cookies in it, foamy mascarpone, and is made by the Icelandic cheese-board. Plus, it comes in handy individual sizes, so you don't eat too much. What's not to love?

those strange not-a-potato-chips: They're like cheetos crossed with squashed packing peanuts, so they kind of dissolve in the mouth, but the flavor is great. Nothing better on a road trip.

Toasted onions: put 'em on a hotdog, put 'em on a sandwich, or (don't tell J I was doing this!) eat them straight from the carton. They're crunchtastic.

pourable aloe-flavored yogurt: nothing's fresher-tasting for breakfast! Those chunks of aloe go so well with granola (especially that toasted coconut kind!)

fishballs: Good by themselves with pylsusinnnep, or chopped and mixed with pasta, rice, salad...

fjallasurmjolk: that "mountain" buttermilk is excellent on cereal, or straight from the carton, or in pancakes, or for making French toast (served with Vermont maple syrup, even in Iceland, of course!)

rabarbara sulta: I brought a jar of this rhubarb jam back to the States as a gift to my parents, then ended up eating most of it myself. I can't get enough of that thick spready jamflavor, all tangy and sugary.

Icepizza: not so much a food as a concept. I love that ground pepper is as common as pepperoni as a pizza topping.

and now, a confession: I don't really like skyr all that much. That much-discussed chalky texture is not appealing when coating the throat. I wish I could like it- it's cool to like it, it comes in all those exciting flavors (what IS ástaraldin? Our dictionary is too crappy to have it) it has those cute little spoons in the lid, it's low fat, and it's ubiquitous. Maybe there's a skyr gene that I'm missing.

Anyway, in spite of all the things I'm missing, it's great to be in the land of produce plenty. I've enjoyed freshly picked corn on the cob (first of the season!) blueberries, peaches, succulent tomatoes, zippy radishes, and mesclun mix peppered with nasturtium flowers. It's a nice change from being in a place where a tiny box of raspberries costs $8, and had to be flown in from the Netherlands.

06 July 2005

they're keeping me

Just before I left to return to the US, I got a job which will allow me to stay in rvk for the next year, so I had to go get all the papers that still stand between me and the all-important kennitala (the Icelandic social security number)

I had to brave the eternal construction on Hringbraut (betri hringbraut) that blocks off normal pathways, and sends pedestrians on scavenger hunts for the "gönguleið" that is marked to go straight into a hillside. On the other side of this hike is the immigration office, rigged out with the usual 2-year old magazines, the "please take a number" stand and a whole lot of confused immigrants.

The paperwork is all the bright yellow color of cheap athletic socks, and requires a barrage of supplementary elements and repeating yourself in 3 different ways, but in some ways seems remarkably simple. There's no application fee, and the main 2 forms are only a total of 5 pages.

I'm excited about the job, and can't wait for this part to be worked through so I can finally get started. I've been in between things since March now, with a new phase every month, and I'm about ready for some regularity in my life.

Anyway, now that it's down to the paperwork, I'm feeling like getting the job was nothing short of miraculous. I also wanted to say thanks to all the people who helped make it happen, and to all the people who never stopped believing in this crazy plan.