Holidays for shy people

Entrance to Seyðisfjörður.

Entrance to S—. (Photo credit: Cornell University Library)

Three nights at sea in the cheap bunks in the bottom of the ferry. No carpet on the staircases, but that’s ok, the boat rises and rocks smoothly, you can hear the water break against the hull.

The last morning in Iceland I went to the swimming pool for 45 minutes or so. It was an overcast day and light vapour came off the warm lap pool, old men talked shop in the hot pool, a lady in a cap was doing laps, and some young teenagers were throwing balls around.

I walked through the back streets. Windows are homely but neat, with knick knacks on the window ledges.

At the bus stop, I had a moment where looking back, I couldn’t say what happened for sure. I thought the bus driver looked at me, and I looked at him and his van and wondered if it was him, and he didn’t stop so I kept waiting. But maybe he did stop, and that’s when we looked at each other, but I didn’t go over and he didn’t get out. Anyway, I missed the only bus to the ferry and luckily hitched a ride with some old Islanders whose tour guide ‘welcomed R— from Australia, we’re happy to help you out!’, which I thought was a diplomatic way to tell the paying customer ‘like it or lump it’.

I had a dowdy night reading in my hiking pants and pink thermal, and talking to an artistic German bunkmate, listening to Icelandic folk sing-alongs in the bar, watching the fjord pass from the decks.

In the morning the next day, a grey landshape loomed up, and we started to pass through the Faroe Islands.

I watched the back hatch lower, and walked around for an hour or so. It was misty and drizzly, but the grass was green—i.e. not snow bitten—and daffodils were blooming. An Islander lady told me she thought Iceland was cold. I looked in the window of the Red Cross, prowled around a historic headland with cobblestone streets and turf roofs, and then came back to boat. I finished a book They shall inherit the earth, and liked the sweet naturalness of the couple in love.

In the morning I sat on the top deck and tried to reread Ripples from Iceland (out of novels). I like in that book how she says Icelanders are shy and take a while to get going. It reminds me that outgoing, public personalities are not the given, and that reserved or shy personalities may just as well be the norm in some cultures. The book was written from the perspective of a housewife of a time over fifty years ago, but the German says she thinks they are still shy.

Anyway, I didn’t get much into the book, but spent the morning daydreaming about the pleasant future and looking at the waves. I had my lunch and did a budget on Excel, and had a rest for a few hours. Up on the top deck we had run into mist. I looked through my book of Galway Kinnell’s poems and thought about something I read about telling the truth and writing about your passions and sadnesses etc, so tried for something plain of my own. Ran into the German girl, chatted for a while, read.


Two feet pinched

Volcanic rocks and snow in Iceland

Volcanic rocks and snow (Photo credit: kfcatles)

Tonight I have a room of my own and the man who took my krónur said I can check out late. I said goodbye to my friends at the hostel. I think we were being polite, but they are men with fine aspects. One of them had a nice smile when he smiled, which wasn’t too often. I cooked and ate alone here, and came to my room. I sat at my computer and when I looked up the sky was pink and the sun was setting, which means that it’s late.

The other guy last night said this idea of right and wrong is pretentious and self-obsessed. I’m not sure what specifically he meant, but it reminds me, the right thing and the wrong thing are the same thing, and then there’s everything else—which is life.

I walked by the fjord when I left them in the morning, mild sunlit day, and sat down on the far side on tufts of grass to eat hazelnuts and read a few chapters of Ripples from Iceland. But I felt tied somehow to them at the hostel and little kernels of conscious about how we will part. I wondered if my new hiking boots were, in fact, a size too small.

On the bus the landscape is the colour of an orca, black and white in daubs. I looked around the bus and an old man was sitting in the seat across the aisle, with white eyebrows and stubble, and pale rosey cheeks, and he seemed ok with whatever he’d done in his life.

Last night the S— guy was telling me places to go, and then he bought beers for us, and later a C— guy sat down and talked nice. As my friend says, with travel is loss.

Rilke writes only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.

And on writing poetry, he writes Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.


Sunday Roast

2103 - Akureyri

Iceland (Photo credit: luispabon)

It’s Sunday in a small town in northern I—. I went to the information centre and then to church. Last night I went out with some guys from the hostel for beers, but I came back early. I wrote with my sister on facebook chat and she said Don’t be too hard on yourself. One of the guys was out smoking when I came back from church. He said, Nothing to do here, anyway it’s Sunday. I walked to the grocery store thinking, Yes, Sunday is a day of rest. I read in an interview that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban named their eldest daughter Sunday because Sundays were the hardest days when they were single and lonely, before they found one another. That seemed quite poetic to me.

I had planned to go to the thermal pool but the guys invited me to bowling so I went. One confided that he gets bored here. I can see friendly relationships stretch out like this, like unmoored sandbanks in all directions in the sea, untamed and unbound, but soon enough I get toady like the lady in Tirra Lirra by the River. Anyway, it’s nice to see that it might be possible. We had our bowling and a game of pool, and I cooked up my vegetables and fish cakes. Not everything can depend on the thought that someone likes you.

Yesterday was clear and mild and I walked along the fjord, and half across the causeway. The fjord was snow-covered along the top sides.

It’s raining now, though a few snowflakes were falling whilst we played pool.


All kinds of weather

Steaming river, Hveragerdi

Steaming river (Photo credit: GillyWalker)

I’m sitting in a service station in Iceland. The lines of water drops on the window look like small scratches. The attendant is watching television. A customer was playing pokies as I came in.

I took a public bus to this town after a guy at the hostel told me he’d been talking to a girl who came here and then walked to a hot spring ‘about a thirty-minute walk’ away. From where I do not know, because the trail head was about forty-five minutes from the town, and the hot river was another hour from there, a cafe owner who seemed very interested in her painting told me. Fine, although I’d left late, it’s light until 11pm.

Sulpherous steam comes up from fissures in the ground, small wisps, or off bubbling holes. No trees. At the top of the first hill a European couple told me they had turned back because it was too windy. You can hear it, the man said. Around the next corner I could feel it. The day seemed very grey and the mountain bare and rocky and I was alone. It’s not like I can’t walk, but I decided to turn back. Soon after, it started to hail small pellets that stung me on the wind. The weather cleared but my jeans were wet. So passed an hour in the service station with my wet jeans.

The landscape is very spare: beside the road was a lava field: lava, moss, snow in endless permutations.


We went to R—, where our host took us on a nightwalk.

In New York we saw Avenue Q.

In Montreal we walked in the woods and sang karaoke. I met a guy who said don’t be fragile.

In Toronto my sister fell into thrall of her own affairs. I went for a long walk. I changed my plans. My sister spent half a day watching me try on hiking gear. We had dinner together. She says the thing that cured her was work.

I walked along the foreshore in two directions. One day I’d just set off and it started to snow on the wind. I was warm enough so I kept going. I thought life is many seasons to be walked through. The tour guide said that the Icelandic spirit is just to keep going and not think about the volatile earth that they live on. It started snowing by a lake.