21 November 2006

silent city

Last night I walked home late in the evening, after the traffic had stopped, in a Reykjavík I'd never quite experienced before. Under a clear, still sky, the city was almost as silent as the glacier had been, interrupted only by a single car on the opposite side of Tjörnin. Orion blazed above Þingholt, and although I spent most of the walk scanning overhead, not a smidgen of northern-lights green disturbed the velvet night.

Underfoot the still-fresh snow squeaked gently, and my breath puffed white like steam swirling from a hotspring in the cold. This is my kind of winter weather- just chilly enough that you appreciate mittens but still and crisply clear. The streets were so silent and undisturbed, I noticed things I'd never observed before- the pipe stubs at the corner of the cemetery wall that issued forth gentle steam through the prickly bare rosebushes, the sound of water surging beneath manhole covers in the street.

Hringbraut at that hour was completely barrren, making it hard to believe it could ever be bumper-to-bumper with cars. I'm always surprised at how definitely this city Goes To Bed. Even in Boston, a town known for the Puritain values, there still seemed to be some kind of motion or just the feeling that somewhere else, someone else might be walking or driving. Here I could stand in the center of this busiest of roads in the places where the nail-tires had created dips in the road without any contest.

For some people, being carless and having to walk all the time might seem like a drag. Sometimes it is a little bit, when it's bitingly cold and windy and you are carrying lots of things, but it also means I have the chance at these moments, alone with the city sparkling silently, frigidly around me. I also know that for some people this kind of quiet can either feel frightening or boring, but it never seems that way to me. There's something in the combination of the vast sky arcing overhead, the short scale of the buildings here, and the snowmen still standing proud in the yards and on the pond that gives me a comforting feeling that things are as they should be.


Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with what you said about being carless. Living in a compact town of about 60k people, biking or walking gets me everywhere in here. Maybe soaked at times, but I'm not complaining too much.

Driving might be convenient, but you'll miss out on so much. Most walking routes I've taken have been at their best either in the middle of silent nights or early when the morning glow is starting to kick in. Can't wait to experience Iceland like that!

Anonymous said...

There's magic (again) in this post, and it made me think: have you never thought of cycling in Reykjavik? Is it a bike-friendly city (like most scandinavian cities) or do icelanders definitely prefer driving big cars?

ECS said...

dtw- I hope Iceland doesn't disappoint you after you've spent all this time getting excited about it!

steffán- people do bike but it's not really designed for biking like Amsterdam is (can't compare to other Scandinavian cities because I haven't seen any other ones). The streets are narrow, the sidewalks icy at this time of year, and the cars are large. Not to mention the weather can be rather bike-unfriendly. But, I'm ok with walking :-)

Anonymous said...

Heh, true. But I believe that in all my optimism I've managed to stay relatively realistic. As I recently wrote in my own blog, I know that in some occasions Iceland will be like I imagined it to be, in some it will surprise me and in some it will disappoint me. That's no more than I can ask.