01 December 2011

midnight memories

It's past midnight and in my little corner of Reykjavik, I just spent 10 minutes with my chin leaning on the edge of my bedroom skylight, propped slightly ajar. It's quiet below, the sidewalks glazed with a crust of ice, and above me curves a smudge of northern lights. Christmas decorations have gone up, so although the inhabitants are mostly asleep, the houses along my street glow with fairy lights. The mysteriously mild November has now descended into deep negative numbers, so I'm wrapped in wool from the neck down.

Propping one's chin on a windowsill is rather akin to leaning on a pasture gate- it's the right place for a good ponder. After reading through a few years of my blog archives, I thought about all the things I once marveled at that have become so ordinary I don't even think about them anymore. I've learned to rip open milk boxes and how to fold them securely closed, I learned to stab juice boxes with a knife to allow smooth pouring, I'm no longer lost when it comes to figuring out what frozen goods to buy, even if the labels are all in Danish, and the plugs and switches I thought were so fascinating are forgotten in the midst of everything else on my mind.

When I go to the same gym I once visited with my friend T, it's the classes in English that feel wrong, not the Icelandic ones. I've learned all the body part words I need to know, and adjust my hands, my hips, my shoulders without a second thought to the language. This happened again earlier this week when I once again met H (still editing after all these years!). Our conversation began in Icelandic, shifted to English, flowed through Icelandic again, and continued this pattern as we worked through texts in both languages. As the wine bottle emptied we tried a few moments in German as well but abandoned that as the Icelandic crept in again.

My body's adjusted to the place too- recently as I exited the bakery on a particularly windy day, my grip automatically adjusted on the cake box so it wouldn't go sailing across the parking lot. Not so when I first arrived and an enthusiastic gust of wind ripped friend K's car door from my hand and bent it so badly that the door never shut properly after that. I think about the wind still, of course, but more as a practical concern. Which windows need closing, which direction is best for the run today, or should I just do inside-yoga instead?

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be integrated somewhere, and I've realized how differently I think about this place compared to those first months. I remember being so aware of how isolated this little island is, imagining the vast black oceans beyond, the empty frigid mountains that ringed the city. Now, when I think about Iceland this night, I think of H across the street in her green-wallpapered bedroom, J nested amid her handmade felt-crafts a few streets away, M still in the apartment where I first met her in 2007, only now with tiny S sleeping at her side, K's family in their rambling home smelling of delicious cooking. Further afield, there's M in his cozy house with the crazily hand-tiled bathroom, V in his neat village on the edge of Eyjafjörður. In between lies a string of familiar places that I've visited and stopped at during the dozens of trips I've taken. This island is no longer a remote, forgotten piece of lava, it's a place crisscrossed with memories and people and experiences.


Jono said...

Very awesome. It sounds like you have adapted well and feel quite at home.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like someone having found home...

ECS said...

jono: I wrote this partly because I didn't realize how much I'd adapted until I read through my early posts. It's amazing what can happen over a period of time when you're not paying attention!

maria: As you well know, there's something about this country that speaks to some people and is very hard to shake. Whenever I'm somewhere else in the world, I still have something of Iceland with me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it screams at me from afar but... I can only wish.

Amazing blog. You never cease to put a smile on my face, melancholic, but a smile.