December 22, 2010
Sorry for my recent silence. My life for the late fall can be described as the following cycle:
This leaves very little time for extraneous activities such as blogging, anachronistic hobbies, the reading of Shakespeare histories (hey, I did read Henry IV, Part II).
For Thanksgiving we went to Hawai’i. This was my first time in the state, which requires boarding an aircraft to visit (well, within reason). As such, you can see why it took me so long to cross state #49 off the list (#49 on my list, that is. I’ve been to all of the continental states).
When we left, it was icy in Portland. The trip fulfilled all of the requisite travel brochure steps of leaving the wintry mid latitudes behind for a balmy blast of Mai Tais, overpriced appetizers and a whole lot of other people doing same.
The best part was most certainly the Jeep. We were able to rock our Barbie/Ken lifestyle and be at one with the fresh air. One time it rained real hard with no warning, which was exciting. We had to learn how to put the Jeep back together with great haste.
O’ahu is, for the most part, overcrowded. There are over a million people and I kept seeing them all over the place. What a perfect, coconut-palm-shaded beach, with crystalline water and several hundred people. What a magical rainy jungle kingdom with ferns taller than people and vivid-hued flowers and several hundred people. What a wonderful drive around the North Shore and the windward edge of the island with the other several thousand people.
The fish were pretty neat, and colorful.
Following Hawaii was a shocking stint of about 10 days during which I never left the office. Typing and freaking out, mostly.
You know, like you do, for a long weekend.
Iceland in mid-December is, as you might imagine, primarily dark. We landed at Keflavík around 7 in the morning, and by the time we’d rented a car, shuffled our bits and belongings, made the 50-km. drive into Reykjavík, checked into our apartment and had breakfast, I was sort of expecting to see some sort of hint of dawn. It was 9:30. Not at all. The crack of dawn is around 10:30 and the sun doesn’t come up until 11. Compared to that, the darkness at 4:30 didn’t seem that odd.
Iceland is on GMT; a considerable skew when one recalls how far west the island is. 21ºW at Reykjavík. That’s like us sharing a time zone with Dallas, Texas. This late morning pitch darkness was the element I could not feel natural about. Even on our last morning there, I went a for a long walk in downtown Reykjavík at about 9AM. The city always has a hushed feel, and in the winter even more, and in pitch-dark winter morning even more. Every window has a softly-glowing light of some sort: stair-stepped candles are traditional (electric now, of course), but also stars and fairy lights and other creative options.
Likely because the electricity is cheap and green—geothermal and hydro—fluorescent lighting seems to be shunned in homes. I like that a lot. Also of negligible cost: heating. Geothermally heated water is piped in from a couple of plants outside of town and is used for steam heat and hot water. It smells terrible, intensely sulfuric, but makes for a gentle and ubiquitous heat source. The temperature of dwellings is as often as not controlled by opening windows as adjusting the radiators.
A few other observations. Icelanders use studded tires. The only beer you can buy in regular stores is 2.25% ABV, but anyone can buy it. People in Reykjavík drink very hard, and it seems even harder in the winter. People don’t tend to get up or get on the streets before it’s light; the schedule is very shifted. Icelanders take Christmas Very Seriously, but it has a different appearance than here: very white, delicate, a celebration of light. There is a flavor of Doritos called “Cool American” because apparently “Cool Ranch” doesn’t translate. For whatever reason, the mid-range American corporate restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday’s has a foothold. Booze is expensive overall, but wine is cripplingly so, and almost entirely plonk. There are a baffling number of street cleaning vehicles in Reykjavík and they will drive past your apartment window over and over and over and over again around 3AM. There is a canvas-walled semi-truck that drives around on weekends with a full band (one night) or DJs (another night) in the back. They have a lot of Internet in Iceland. Some of this is not news.
David and I bought a painting, but that is subject for another post.
Oh and we saw the Northern Lights. This is not an aside: it’s central. I jumped up and down in the harbor upon sighting them. I was beside myself. Sadly, we were right in the middle of the city, so the best photo I was able to get was:
It wasn’t until we were on our way back to the airport on Monday that Kes and Aileen and Kea got a real glimpse of the utter wonderful weird that is the Icelandic landscape; we drove the long way around the Reykjanes Peninsula, over moon-like lavascapes carpeted by plump lime-colored moss, past a wind-whipped lake in a stark bowl of dark sand, no vegetation. The North Atlantic flung itself ragged in gale-force winds. In a strange small town, a baby in a covered pram wailed unattended in a gas station.
Iceland is becoming my favorite place.