Iceland: Lingering day

June 24

(June 24 photos here.)

(Earlier photos here.)

(Earlier Iceland trip reports here.)

Our last day full day in Iceland, we found ourselves lingering and moving slowly, perhaps because we’d be in the country another full week and needed another do-nothing day. I swam in the city pool near the hostel, which was crowded with teens from around the world, participants in an international sports festival taking place in the city that week.

Every town in Iceland, however small, has a pool. The best thing about those pools is that they’re all geothermally heated–feeling the cool air on your skin while swimming through warm water feels lovely, and outdoor swimming takes place year-round. Most of the pools also have at least one hot pot for soaking in. The city pool, being pretty large, had four, and they were great places for striking up conversations with strangers, both locals and folks in town for the festival. (I remember the Kenyan coaches going on and on about the high cost of Icelandic beer. Apparently they were particularly struck by this. :-))

One other thing I like about Iceland’s pools is the lack of self-consciousness in the changing rooms. Americans (and apparently many others, judging from the sports festival participants) tend to be awkward changing clothes around one another–we carefully avoid eye contact, often keep our faces to the lockers and our towels wrapped tightly around us. But while it’s possible I was missing things simply because I don’t have the language, both trips to Iceland I’ve gotten no sense of that embarrassment–no sense of shame in one’s own body, whatever shape it happens to be–something that (once I got over my own American self-consciousness) I very much liked.

Maybe it’s just self-defense–I’m told the Icelandic pool ladies get very angry with you if you don’t shower down sans suit before getting into the pool, as required. 🙂

I wandered to the Reykjavík zoo near our campground as well. I was particularly interested in seeing the arctic foxes, but the refir declined to put in an appearance that day, reminding me of a little of a certain sorcerer’s mountain. Still, the seals and sheep and horses were pleasant enough, as were the ducks and gulls outside the park.

Come early afternoon, we packed up our tent and moved our gear into the hostel room we’d reserved for our final night, then headed into town to continue lingering there. We wandered through the local bookstores one more time, took a walk through the University of Iceland campus (pretty quiet on a summer Sunday), then found a coffeeshop–filled comfy chairs and folks writing in journals and reading books and working on laptops–and holed up there. (And wrote in our journals and read our books.)

A note in my journal from one of those books reads “það reddast” = “it’ll work out.” A useful phrase to remember.

Looking at my other journal notes now, I see I was still trying to remember small details, as if, if I noted enough of them, I could hang on to them all once I left:

– The quick change from cold to warm to cold again with a cloud and a bit of wind
– Stone walls topped with turf in a park
– Flowers growing through the gray brick sidewalks
– A nod, rather than a smile, as the typical greeting when walking past strangers
– The sound of birds at 22:00. At midnight
– The low soaring of gulls overhead
– The difference between gray and blue, and how fast it can shift, within an hour
– All the different shapes of clouds against the sky
– My breath coming out in puffs, sometimes even on warm days
– The way the cold can slip beneath the skin, causing shivers
– The wind changes everything

Another note says: “I’m slowly accepting that tomorrow it is time to go home, to let the vacation end, to return to my own place, whether I’ve done all I need to here or not.”

And another: “This time I’ve enjoyed the midnight sun, the long evenings. I will miss them.”

For dinner we moved on to a restaurant where folks smoked and nursed coffees and played cards. I went with the seafood this time–specifically, the lobster pizza. 🙂 Apparently I’ve been away from New York and in Arizona long enough that while I may be dogmatic about my Mexican food, I’m no longer dogmatic about my pizza–I liked this one just fine. Heavy on the cheese, light on the sauce (as a cheese addict I approve), served unsliced with a knife and fork.

While there, I stumbled upon an Scrabble game, got up my nerve and said hello to the players. (I was sometimes shy of saying hello to strangers, because I felt awkward about having to ask people I don’t know to use my language instead of theirs, though I was always glad when I overcame that shyness.) I admitted to being a fellow Scrabble addict. As always, that shared addiction was good for creating an instant bond, and we chatted for a few moments. For the record, B and Þ are worth only a point apiece because they’re so easy to play, Æ is worth 5 points, and X is worth ten points because “in Icelandic, playing X is like a joke.”

“When you’re hung over, the only thing to do is drink coffee and play Scrabble,” one of the players also said. Makes sense to me.

When we got back to the hostel there was rain, filling the air with a rich grass-and dirt scent. A note in my journal from that evening says:

My camera battery has died.
It has begun to rain.
I’m listening to music brought from home and finding it feels right.
It just might be time.

I sat shivering in my fleece out behind the hostel for a long time after the rain stopped, soaking in the feel of my ears and nose and fingers and feet all getting cold, storing up the cold against the Tucson summer back home.

Eventually I headed back inside, made sure our spot on the airport shuttle was reserved, and headed into our room to sleep one last night beneath the midnight sun.

One more note from my journal: “I need to see winter, the other side of this strange equation. And autumn too.”

When we decided to return to Iceland, I sort of thought I’d visit again, get the yearning I’d felt to return the past five years out of my system, and somehow be done. How I thought this when I was planning to write a book set there I don’t know, but looking at that last note, I think I must have already realized what I know now–that I’ll be back again, though I don’t yet know when. Probably I’ll be back more than once.

And probably I have one more day of entries here, maybe two at most.

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