Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Iceland Fire: A Week With No Night: Part One

Roland and I met at a party five years ago, and that encounter changed my life.

Reenactment of Luna meeting Roland.
(Photo by Audrey Harwick.)
To celebrate our fifth anniversary, Roland took us to Iceland. When I suggested it to him, I had prepared persuasive arguments, but it turns out he was thinking the same thing. We'd both heard good things about it from regular world-travelers, as the kind of place worth going back to. I've been to Belize, which also falls into this category, and that's exactly the kind of place we wanted to go.

Now remember from grade school that Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice. This is a very important fact. There are lots of important facts about Iceland, which have been exhaustively recorded on Wikipedia. The primary fact I hope to convey is that Iceland is awesome.

This is me in a bar at JFK seriously explaining something very silly.
And Roland of course. He didn't get silly till the last day.
We left the house at about 9am PDT and with two long flights, a layover, and the time change to GMT, we got there at around 9am the next day. And they say time travel is impossible. (Why do time travel stories never talk about the jet lag??)

Our plane flew over a blurry world map in a wide arc.
Look, there's Greenland, being not very green.

I wisely chose a window seat on the flight between New York and Iceland. I watched the dense New York lights fade to New England towns, which thinned further for eastern Canada, until we reached the wastelands of Newfoundland and Labrador. I don't know much about these places, other than that Labrador seems famous for inventing dog breeds, and judging from the lights on the ground, almost no one lives there. Seriously. The towns had, at most, a dozen houses in them.

I watched the coast approach with eagerness, and saw one lone light on the northern shore... and then nothing.

Optical illusions through an airplane window are so fun and frustrating to figure out. What's that thing down there? It was just dark enough to not be able to tell sea from cloud or fog. Whatever it was a sea of, it went on forever, at least until about 2:30am local time, when I saw the sun begin to rise in the north.


It was a long sunrise, as the sun lingered there just below the edge of what were now clearly clouds, very far below. At 38000ft, we were as much in space as we were in the air. Eventually, the sun came up in a serious way, over the curve of the earth. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Greenland from my window, but saw nothing but clouds for thousands of miles.

And then we landed and as soon as I could, I started taking pictures of signs. There were tons of very exciting signs everywhere!

Standard "Exit" sign, with the voice of GLADOS
as a constant reminder of the stakes of failure.
Some of the first Icelandic I got to read.
In a different elevator, I saw this written as "Menns".

The language of coffee is spoken the world over. It is the one true word.
Art at the Keflavik airport. Notice there's more art in the far distance.

A retro ice cream ad on the back of a gas station.
As soon as we got settled into the hotel room we went for a walk through Reykjavik's downtown. Over the four days we had there, we took many walks through Reykjavik and quickly became familiar with Iceland's biggest town, which had this odd feel of a big city and a small town all at once. All roads in Reykjavik lead to all other roads in Reykjavik, and this is exactly true. (And all roads in Iceland lead similarly to Reykjavik.) Whether driving or walking, we quickly learned how to get around. Make a wrong tern? Keep driving and you'll get there eventually. (I highly recommend renting a vehicle. Totally worth it.)

Everyone spoke English, so we could get around comfortably. But I quickly became obsessed with Icelandic. All the signs were printed in Icelandic, and I found myself trying to pronounce each one. I'm a huge word-nerd, and now that I'm diagnosed Asperger's (with a focus on verbal) my obsession makes total sense. I wanted to live there just so I could learn the language. Though I was still struggling with some of the vowels, I think I had the hang of it by the time we left. I particularly loved seeing Thorn (þ) and Eth (ð) in so many words, and knowing immediately to make the "th" or the other "th" sound.

The alphabet is for þorn.
* NOT the Icelandic alphabet (anymore).
I began to figure out what words meant just by context (especially kaffi and te, aka coffe and tea), and I learned a few phrases (which I was too shy to say to anyone) from this great series on YouTube. Takk fyrir!

Anyway, downtown Reykjavik. Lots of shops and bars lining narrow cobblestone streets. And lots of street art. Roland and I captured these images over our many walks.

The giraffe says, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass."
It doesn't look like he's out of bubblegum. 

Just... amazing.
Why... hello kitty.
Translation: Dust settles in the lungs; Studded tires unnecessarily in Reykjavik
Money destroying art and culture.
(And dangling participles destroying grammar and clarity.)
Roland taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.

Me taking a picture of Roland taking a picture of me.
(Oh, and giant books.)
This alley is full of wonders...
A brick portal...
Wet paint Tetris...
The northern lights over Reykjavik...
Ravens... they're really big on ravens there...
...and my favorite kind of graffiti!
The cute kind.
In the courtyard of a bar called Faktorý.
On the wall of our favorite bar, Boston.
A metaphor of how America is destroying
the world's shrinking supply of triangles.
But wait, there's more. As we wandered up the street, a gap in the buildings opened up into a park...

Every square inch of wall in this park is painted. I painstakingly tried to capture it all.

One recurring theme in the street art were these poems. I didn't take the time to notice if they were the same author. This one says:
Just look at how the mountains so very mighty be
sharp as razors at the top they span the land and sea
but don't forget that though
majestic spires capped with snow..

Please stay tuned for Part Two, in which I talk about food, bars, the countryside, ancient churches, and socialized medicine...

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