I’m just back home after my first visit to Iceland and what I miss most is the big, wide open. After ten days split between Hotel Natura on the city airport, facing Esjan from KEX hostel and then floating in a hot tub at Hraunsnef in Borgarfjörður, I can see no horizon from my British windows. I used to appreciate a little green between the houses in my village but now it seems cluttered out there.
Yet I think I miss Iceland’s small spaces of seclusion and security even more. Yesterday, in town, I was remembering the shallow cuts that Jón Gauti Jónsson of Mountain Tours and I carefully made with our boots to climb up and down Baula on the first day of summer. After our hike, which was my first experience of snow climbing, he mentioned ravens but all I’d seen up the steep slopes were those marks in snow that kept me from noticing the mountain-face plummeting hundreds of metres away below us. For me, descending that snowy mountain was just like rollerblading, the same shift of body weight and focus on one thin edge of boot with each step. Mind-clearing magic!
Last night, at home and back to my novel writing, I pined for another bowl of lobster bisque from Sea Baron in Reykjavík Harbour and the unanticipated great company of some geothermal equipment salesmen I met while dining there. Trawling along the base of the soup bowl, I would always discover delicious chunks of lobster. Such a treat!
I had come to Iceland as an Artists International Development Fund award winner to research for my novel-in-progress, called Polishing Harpa, which has its own project Facebook page. Within ten days, I managed to attend the fabulous Iceland Writers Retreat plus seven musical performances at Harpa, including six progressive orchestral/band sessions during Tectonics Festival and a jazz night.
Aequora Performing at Harpa Tectonics Festival
As ever, it is always the details that grab me most: a starfish seen lounging on a slip of black sand by Harpa’s base, footprints on basalt, shimmers like fishscales on glass from reflection pools out front and so much more. What a place!
Quirky furniture at the headquarters of awesome Ice-SAR, bird and flower encyclopaedias at Natura, the man at his desk amidst his lifetime collection of used books and the care he took to help me find exactly the right one to buy for a present, a double bass player who I realised was blind only as he left the stage after performing, a sun halo, double rainbow, wisp of northern lights, quiver of geothermal heat in pipelines by a borehole, the fish or crustacea that are moulded onto every krona coin, a farm lamb’s daily escape and rescue and the beautiful way Icelanders laugh and listen as they converse.
Around the world I have met many people who have not yet learnt or have forgotten how to listen. But in Icelanders, I notice discernment and open-mindedness.
To all who helped me, thank you so much for a great Icelandic welcome and such generous knowledge-sharing. Thank you to those who kindly, without any prior notice, answered a knock on their door and let me see and photograph their view from home, like the view from my character’s flat!
If we stop reading, I am afraid we will lose our imagination, a speaker at Reykjavík City Hall told the writers retreat participants. Likewise, he mentioned our responsibility to write intriguing stories that will captivate readers. So this is what I now hope to achieve. I am, no doubt, as are many others, tantalised by Iceland.
A detail of Harpa Concert Hall
Here is the adorable lamb who was determined to escape from his or her enclosure every day : )