28 April 2008

Baltic direct

I have just arrived in Tallinn this evening, where the music is tinny and cheesy, and the keyboard is constructed with curious trapezoidal keys. To get here, I flew with my choir (on yet another of those famous Icelandic Choir Tours) to Helsinki this morning. Upon arrival we were deposited at the massive ferry terminal in the center of town to while away a few hours drinking Lapin Kulta and absorbing the lack of atmosphere in the low-ceilinged building.

Then to the ferry, a massive passenger ship holding nearly three thousand people, most of whom seemed to be on board for the delirious variety of activites on offer for the four hour sail. There was muzak dancing and gambling, there was a full Duty-Free style perfume shop, a vast liquor shop, and a stuff-yourself-silly buffet with chardonnay on tap like it was a keg of beer.

The ferry was so large that the effect of being on ship was almost unnoticeable until I stepped out onto the one deck on the 10 levels of ship, where the pewter sea stretched out to the unmarked horizon, and below me, the water foamed away from the huge hull in deep shades of bottle green. This will no doubt be an interesting week.

22 April 2008

beyond the groove

I'm about to come up on my third anniversary since I came to Iceland to try to find a job. At the time, the reasons I came were quite different than the reasons I'm here now. It's been nearly three years of all kinds of unexpected, and every time I'm in the airport, a place of unlimited possibilities, I think again about what it is that keeps me in Iceland versus the thousands of other places I now feel I could choose to live.

Moving here and working so much in other countries where I meet people from all over the world making their own little communities has made me feel like there's no place I can't go, can't find a job, and make a little world of my own. So why Iceland? What is it about this place that made me grin so huge as I was flying home on Friday two weeks ago from yet another week in Norway? Sure, it was partly that after a week of unrelenting rain in Norway, seeing clear sunshine and freshly-laundered mountains was food for the soul, but even the Icelandair flight attendants reminding us to fold up our tray tables in Icelandic was comforting.

At the airport the Monday after, the weekend was as refreshing as a trip to the spa, all sun, hot tubs and good company. My skin settled down, my body relaxed into the sunshine and the irresistible combination of rollerblading by the sea while surrounded by the solidity of white-shrouded mountains. I've been away from Reykjavík so much that every weekend is a mania of visiting and parties and lunches out, but it's made Iceland feel more special than ever before. It's my home that I never seem to quite get enough of. So for now, maybe that's my answer. It's not game over here just yet, and if the place feels right, do I have to question why it does?

14 April 2008

you've adapted when

Back in Oslo for yet another sojourn, I've realized that there are a few things that are marking my passage into really being an Iceland dweller, moreso than any work/residence permit status.

  • I was at the pool here the other day and couldn't figure out why my pre-swim shower n' scrub was being observed with perplexity, then I realized that there was no sign instructing you to scrub all your naughty bits with soap before donning the suit. After the swim, I then carefully carried my shoes out into the corridor where they unhelpfully did not have a bench, at which point it occurred to me that there were no signs demanding shoe removal before entering the locker room. The Icelandic pool habits are so automatic now that I apparently cannot fathom that anyone would do it any other way.
  • So here I am in Norway, land of fishing boats, gnarly fishermen, and a fish preservation technique that's almost more terrifying than hákarl, and yet still, I'm thinkin "no, best not order the fish since it's never going to be good as the fish back home in Iceland." Best í heimi it is in Iceland, and even going to another country where they're fishing from almost the same territory is not enough to convince me otherwise (although I did order fish eventually and it was quite good).
  • Then this afternoon I was walking down Main Street Oslo (Karl Johan) and I saw a Land Rover, the type Icelanders are always driving on glaciers, and I thought, "something's wrong with this car's proportions". These vehicles now don't look proper unless they've got the fat daddy Dick Cepek tires and a couplea antennas sprouting from the top. Don't forget a winch and shovel for proper Full Glacier Attire.

04 April 2008

welcome, April

Iceland has rewarded our suffering through the soggy autumn with a stretch of lovely days in the past month, so this week I have begun the search for the perfect morning swim-in-the-sun. A few mornings ago I tried the early shift at my new obsession-pool in Seltjarnarnes.

The pool staff was still cleaning the pool, sucking the black sand that had blown in during the winds the night before, so the water reverberated with the rat-a-tat of the vacuum clicking over the tiles in the bottom. At every lap, a little more of the pool bottom was swept clean, leaving behind a faintly iridescent sheen to the tiles.

This pool's the salt water one, which makes the water have a faintly sour taste on the lips, and the corrosion around the metal drains leaves fan-shaped rust trails on the blue tiles below. The smooth velvet texture of the water is as comfortable as being tucked into a warm bed with a book and a cuppa, but the extra buoyancy makes swimming feel like the only motion your body was meant to do. Shoulders rotate smoothly, and even the breathing is not a conscious hold-and-inhale. I always lose count in this pool as the sensations take over, and this morning was no exception.

Wednesday morning I tried Árbær, where again the crowd was almost all at least 40 years older than me, and the angle of the pool proved to be less than optimal for the early riser crowd. Still, the morning people are all about the swimming so the experience is far more serene than the afternoon. Same for this morning in Laugardalslaug where the frigidity combined with sun masked just how many others were swimming. Once again I was the youngest by far, and the only one doing more than a genteel breast stroke.

This crowd wants me to be an old person in Iceland so I can swim in the morning in a flowered bathing cap and then join the crowds of 3 and 5 bobbing about in the shallow end. I almost never see grouchy people in these morning crews, like this morning when I was enjoying the tiny triangle of sun that had splashed across the salt pot. A sprightly pair in their seventies came up, and one said, "nice in there, isn't it", to which I replied, "well, it'd be nice if there were just a liiitle more sun", and he answered, "well, this guy'll help brighten it, since his name's Bjartur" (which means bright). We all had a nice chat about the plans for a hotel next to the pool, the temperature of the salt pot that day (note: this is always an acceptable conversation topic at the pool once the weather's been discussed), and then it was time for showers and work.

No matter what else happens here in Iceland, from the sinking currency to the nearly daily truck driver protests that have created the first real traffic jams I've experienced here, there's always the pool. There's too much to do at the office and your hummus gets mold before you expect it to, but a swim in the peach-colored morning sun plus a nice long soak make it all not important anymore. It's the way to start the day properly.