28 April 2006

House sharing

When J, my parents, and I went to Akureyri, J and I stayed in a bare-bones guesthouse downtown, and my parents stayed in an apartment that was lent to us for the long weekend. I came upon the apartment in a way that's never happened to me, and in some ways I still don't quite believe it happened.

When I went to Amsterdam in February, I shared a row with an Icelandic woman who spent the whole trip sleeping. When we got to Schipol, the luggage took insanely long to arrive, so we ended up talking together. We discovered that her brother works for a branch of my company, that we both live in the same neighborhood, and that we were sharing the same flight back to Iceland in a few days. I invited her to J's birthday party, and we parted ways in the midst of the vast indoor shopping complex outside the airport.

We talked again briefly as we waited to board the plane on our way back, but didn't sit in the same row, so that was it. She couldn't come to the party so I figured that was probably the end of it- we'd each burrow back into our own lives and forget about the airplane meeting.

Then, a few weeks later, I got a call from her. She needed editing help, so I met her in a café downtown and hashed out a few economics paper abstracts with her. Over dinner I told her that I was going to Akureyri over Easter, and when she discovered I didn't yet have a place to stay, she said she was from the north and could probably get an apartment. After dinner she called up a nephew of hers who was going to be out of town, and there, after three brief meetings, I was given her relative's house.

The keys arrived in the mail soon after, in an envelope without return address, and containing nothing but the keys. A few days before our planned trip, the owner of the place called me, just to tell me that the key to the apartment is a bit sticky, and I have to be sure and open it with a smooth style (his words). This guy had NEVER met me, and his aunt has only now seen me a total of four times, yet my parents stayed in his house for three days.

This whole experience reminded me of how interwoven this society is. While it sounds like it's sometimes frustrating for people that grew up here, this net of people that spreads through all the tiny towns does create a different travel experience. There's always someone to stop by and have coffee with, a personal story about some farm we've driven by a few times, people you run into elsewhere in the country, out of context as they visit their extended families. For example, J ran into the customer service woman we always use at the bank here in Kópavogur in the stairwell of the building where my parents stayed, and just now as I came back from lunch, one of the book-keeping women at my company told me that she had been sitting one table away from us at a cafe one evening in Akureyri as we all ate biscuits. Yep, small country.

Ship sighting: There's a foreign fishing ship called the Cidade de Amarente that's supposed to arrive this afternoon. I can't give you a picture because all that came up with a search were Portugese and Brazilian websites, none of which had fishing boat photos. This is the first foreign ship I recall seeing on the list since the Japanese tuna boats in the fall. Exciting!

This tanker is also coming and going today, with a 12-hour turnaround. I need to learn more about tanker construction though, because there were lots of photos of this one, and in some it had what looked like cranes (as in first link) and in others it didn't, like this one.


tsduff said...

Very cool that you were able to stay in the apartment... I think the small town aspect of Iceland is awesome.

BTW, your new profile picture is stunning.

SB said...

Wow! Amazing story. I think sometimes I wish things were like that in Boston, but they aren't. People aren't as giving or sharing here. It's just a different society.
What an excellent story though.

ECS said...

Terry- thanks!
Sirrý- One of the funny things about this story is that I told one of my co-workers about it and he said it was because I was foreign that this had happened, and that Icelanders are curious about foreigners in a way that make them more open to people that aren't Icelandic. I'm not sure if it's true, but it was an interesting comment.

sb said...

ECS - You know, I was thinking about that. Icelanders tend to love foreigners. That may be why they went out of their way. Although, people from the countryside tend to more open to those things, than the city.
I wonder how it'll be when/if I move back after 15 years away. Will I be a foreigner or maybe somewhere in between.

Liz said...

People, on occasion, can be surprising in their kindness.

One wishes that this were the way of things rather than being an exception to the norm.