11 May 2006


Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the day I arrived here to find a job. From today on, it's overlap, and already I am remembering things about how it was last year. I didn't know what the pungent smell in the air was then, but one whiff of those black cottonwood leaves now is enough to remind me of that first day I walked downtown. I had to buy shampoo, and I remember doing my very best to not trip on the uneven paving stones on Aðalstræti, thinking it would for sure draw attention to me and my other-worldliness.

A year later, I'm much more settled here, and not worrying about whether I remember if the steam room door at Vesturbæjarlaug opens inward or outward as I go in. I still forget daily, but so does everyone else. However, I do think that when living in an unfamiliar place, it's easier to blame problems or a crappy day on the environment, rather than on fatigue or something personal. If ONLY I were in a place where I understood people, and I had some familiarity, life would be fun.

Yesterday evening was kind of like that. I was at my choir practice, and I love all the songs we're singing. Even though everyone around me knows the words to the songs by heart, and I'm firing all my foreign-singing skills at top speed, there are moments when the voices sound so shiveringly good I forget where I am or who I am and I just want to keep singing forever. Still, the instant the music stops, and the logistics of when our spring concert is, or the cost of the trip to Italy begin, I am lost in a roaring river of fizzing Icelandic. Jokes are flying across the tenor section, and I don't get any of it. At times like that I wonder why I'm there. They've got more people of my voice than any other, and I never say anything. What's the point?

Of course, I know that being somewhere different is keeping dullness at bay, since even those moments that feel humdrum are still humdrum in Iceland. My brother, who lived in Italy for a few years, once said, "Whenever I was having a crappy day, and the weather was gross, I remembered that it's still gross weather in ITALY!!" There's always someone who wishes to be where I am now. When I do fall into routine, there's still a touch of delight that this place that some people elsewhere in the world fall asleep thinking of, is my place, my routine.

I've read some websites for people seeking the expat life, and there are always quizzes with names like, "are you cut out for the expat life?" They always point to a need to be extroverted, ready and willing for new experiences at all times, and thrilled to meet new people. I'm not sure that's me entirely, although when I confess this, people are always surprised. I'm not one to break into conversations when I can only bumble along with the most basic of phrases. I like talking to people, but when all I can say is "I like it in the north" without really expanding on why, it's absolutely maddening. I love new experiences, but sometimes all I want is a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts. Even when I'm feeling gloomiest though, I still don't want to move back. If I were back in Boston, I'd miss the pools, the silly little round shape of potatoes here, the smell of cottonwood trees, and the wild lava landscape. I knew this would happen- that by leaving I would perpetually be in the middle, loving both places,and always missing unexpected elements of somewhere else.

Whether I'm cut out for the expat life or not, I am here now, and it's definitely been a year I'll not forget. I'd rather have a memorable experience, both wonderfully and terribly memorable, than something that is just vaguely satisfying or dissatisfying. Iceland never just IS. Even on gray days, there will be moments like last night when the sun appeared blazing orange in a little tear in the clouds just before sunset. It hovered over Snæfellsnes briefly, outlining the mountains and sending sunset-glow into the furthest corner of the bedroom, before slipping below the horizon. I like that- you can't discount even the crappy days here entirely, because somehow The Land always exposes some impossibly beautiful moment just when you're ready to give up.

Ship sighting: There's a fishing ship called Atlantic Peace due to depart today. I like that photo because it shows the callsign prominently, and with that information I found its recent locations along the coast of Greenland.


Sarah said...

This is a fantastically well written post! And, just as confirmation, I'm at least one person who wishes I was having even hum-drum experiences where you are!

-Sarah in California :O)

tsduff said...

You give me hope that some day I will move with my Icelander to that rock in the middle of the ocean too. The thought of job hunting terrifies me - the lack of any of understanding the language is a real barrier. Your adventures in job hunting give me hope. Thanks for writing all about it :-)

Mo'a said...

I agree with Sarah this is so very well written and hits home with me. Your statement of being perpetually in the middle and loving both places is right on....I have that experience not only between Iceland and the US but also between the various cities and states I have lived in here in the US and Europe.....I would, however, never have wanted a different life....my world is large.

myohmy said...

Nice blog and posts... it's been really interesting.

carmen said...

Wonderful post! You are speaking for so many of us. It has been years since I lived in Berlin, and the city has changed so much since then, but I still think of it as mine and I am forever part German/Berliner (even though my language skills are super rusty by now), as you will always be part Icelander no matter what.