19 October 2006


I returned to Iceland on Monday morning after a weekend in Boston, and the landscape and my life re-absorbed me quickly. In the week I was away, winter came to Iceland, and the past three days have been freezing cold, with blazingly clear skies and snow on the mountains to the north. It’s energizing weather, with sunrises and sunsets that make my heart ache from all the uncontainable beauty. The nights have been equally stunning- perfect stargazing and the swirling green of the northern lights overhead. I missed that in Vermont- every time the evening was clear, I’d find myself unconsciously gazing to the sky in the north. Those kinds of habits die hard- it’s like growing up as an x-c skier and panicking when I woke to the sound of rain on the roof in January (nooo! The precious snow would be lost!).

The things that make America great are also the things that made it overwhelming after being there a week. The abundance of everything- words, food, shopping choices, are fun for a while, but made me realize why it’s so easy to end up with so many extra things you don’t really want when living there. If a pair of trousers is only $12, it’s easy to just buy them, only to discover that at home you’ve got 10 other pairs just like them. An afternoon at Filene’s Basement in Boston brings on a strange kind of desperation- I must buy these things NOW. The deal is too good, the item too unique. Of course, I did give in to a few things, all brightly colored- gold shoes, magenta corduroys, a flaming turquoise coat. The last one illustrates the difference between Iceland and Boston so very well too. I wore this coat on Newbury Street on Sunday, garnering several compliments from female shopkeepers and a street-length of flirtatious looks. In Iceland, it went virtually unnoticed a day later. Wearing brights is just what you do here to compensate for the approaching dark.

As for words, America is packed with them, and it’s not just because I can understand what’s going on. Signs and advertisements crowd around you in competition for your time and attention- the faded old painted ones on the brick facades in Boston, the billboards that line the highway in Massachusetts, even the traffic signs. Iceland’s got the multi-lingual friendly European signs, all brightly colored and for the most part wordless (STOP seems to have made it internationally though, with the exception of stubborn Francophone Canada). Of course, I did also experience the aural overload I’d been warned about. For example, on Saturday evening I dined with my friend M, a music producer with a finely-tuned set of ears. Still, I was hearing three times the conversational input from the crowded restaurant than he did- the guy three tables away talking about the raisins in his trail mix and his love of white baseball caps, the cozy couple behind us discussing their favorite New England country retreat, and the people on the other side of the room ordering from the waitress. Is it just because I understand it all or is it the volume of the voices?

One abundance I did love tremendously was being in New England at one of the best times for produce. The weather was still warm enough for fresh tomatoes, herbs, salad greens, and other vegetables arriving at the table hours after being in the soil, and late enough that the glorious crop of apples was available. People here in Iceland simply do not know what a proper apple tastes like- crisp, brightly white flesh, and a perfect balance of sweet & snap to the flavor.

Coming back here is home now though, regardless of apple status. The humm of Icelandic across the office is comforting, and my activities here have enveloped me so quickly that my half-unpacked suitcases are still strewn across my room. As we came in on Monday morning, I woke from my uncomfortable plane-doze and feared that this windswept land would have lost its inexplicable intrigue but it’s still there, although no longer as a foreign country though, but just where I live. Home.

Ship sighting: am debating pausing this portion of the blog since the winter brings pretty much the same rotation of boats constantly. The same cargo ships and a little activity on the Icelandic fishing fleet. Of course, the news that Iceland is going to resume commercial whaling might change things slightly. I’ll never stop looking to the harbor- it just may not be so reportable in the next few months.


tsduff said...

Welcome back to your home. I'm secretly glad you still feel the way about Iceland that you do, even though you love your homeland. You mentioned the inexplicable intrigue of the land... I know what you mean. I love your writing - bringing back the few memories I have of the swirling green northern lights, the "uncontainable" beauty... even though I have only a scant few of those viewings under my belt, they are intense.

cK said...

We are spoiled with apples and corn, I have to say. In Minnesota we have the additional advantage of some lovely varieties sold only here (because they were developed by the U of M's ag department). Also, we have corn...though that was more an August and early September thing. Still, I recall my Irish friends going berzerk for the stuff during the months they were over and the rest of us were like, "It's corn." To us in the Midwest, we can't walk ten feet without getting swatted in the face by the stuff.

But you have to see life outside all this to really appreciate it. And the same applies to the places we make our new homes in.

dtw said...

I find myself often refraining from buying any apple juice from stores since they are just so inferior compared to freshly homemade stuff I'm often treated with on autumn.

The trip descriptions were again as vibrant as ever. I may need to visit Vermont eventually myself, just saw NYC and a glimpse of the midwest during my adventures.

And as personal Iceland related news, my exchange application was OK'd by HÍ's office of international education. I have hard time waiting for the spring term already!

ECS said...

Hi Terry- I was afraid the magic would be gone, and when I touched down on that gray Monday morning, I was really apprehensive. Happily, after a sleep and re-entry to work and friends, life here has wrapped around me like a puffy duvet. Well, not always quite that warm, but definitely cozy!

CK- stop telling me about these tasty things! I was actually trying to explain this corn thing on Saturday to a group that was part Icelandic, part Americans. The Icelanders were predictably mystified (having never had proper sweetcorn) but the one guy from Massachusetts knew exactly what I meant- Deerfield Valley sweetcorn in August. As for where home is, the more you see of the world, the more places you visit and live, the more you have to miss, but the more you appreciate where you are, it seems.

DTW-I of course think EVERYONE shoudl visit Vermont, but I'm biased. And congratulations on your acceptance! Spring will be here before you know it.