In the interest of preserving memories and acting as a future guide, this series of posts reflects on adventures spent abroad- meaning, outside of my own community, wherever I might land. It serves not only as a record but also as an exercise in memory and language.
May 19, 2015
The beauty of a midnight sun is that the day is endless. In our case, we had piled into our Icelandic little Ford and moved from the center of the country to the farthest mainland tip south while managing to hit every major stop along the way. And yet somehow, the day wasn’t over yet.
From Skogar to Vik is a mountainous descent. Celine Dion wailed softly as Pam slept in the back. Kim gushed about how her husband had managed to not destroy their home without her in addition to mowing the lawn and generally holding the proverbial fort down. This was apparently a massive feat. Mel rolled her eyes and silently ticked up the volume on Celine. Kim didn’t notice. We wound through craggy formations of rock and moss, dipping through the landscape with glimpses of surf and ice, all the while descending into sleepy Vik.
“Be sure to ask for the local delicacy- pancakes and rhubarb jam,” the GPS interjected. I made a mental note. As we meandered into town, the sea grass poked up out of black earth. Colorful little huts seemed to pop up like jewels. The most prominent was a red-roofed Lutheran church overlooking the bay. Nearby was our Icelandair Hotel- sparse, modern, and built against the cliffside. We had opted to save a few dollars by getting the family room, a two story room facing the mossy cliff rather than two rooms facing the sea. Always pay up for the sea.
“Do you know of any restaurants in town that serve pancakes with rhubarb jam? Our GPS guide said it was kind of a big deal,” I asked the concierge behind an austere slate counter.
He scrunched his round face and rubbed a 5 o’clock shadow. “A grandmother’s house?” he scoffed. “Nobody does breakfast- you would only get that at someone’s house.” He chuckled and shook his head before muttering to a co-worker who also laughed. I offered my most disapproving teacher-stare before turning away.
Nearby, a group of 18ish year old backpackers were valley-girling their way through the lobby. “My mom gave me unlimited use of her credit card sooo I’m pretty sure I can just like, pay for the hotel tonight. I mean, I know breakfast is $30 a head but if she didn’t want me to use it, she wouldn’t have given it to me.” She brushed her dark dreads away from her pale skin. “Like, do you think he likes me?” she continued, rapid fire. “‘Cause, like, he said he’d call and he hasn’t yet and I don’t want to leave tomorrow if he’s going to call ’cause like, what if something is supposed to happen, you know? Like a universe thing. And then I’m not here and he’s like duh, American girls…What if he doesn’t really like me?”
Ladies, Rule One: If you fly across an ocean to go on an adventure, don’t spend your evening shouting into your phone about whether or not some dude is into you. Go on your adventure…that dude can get bent. Unless that dude is part of your adventure- in which case, get off the phone.
Meanwhile, a wiry local man was trying to pick up her companion. He snaked an arm around her lithe little body in the low light and said, “My grandmother used to have us over every afternoon. She was the only one in our family to have a television.”
“Awww,” she cooed, leaning in. “My grandmother used to make Apple Brown Betties.” He stared, puzzled. She whispered something along the lines of wanting to tell him all about Apple Brown Betties in private and they skulked off. She casually high-fived her friends as he shot a look of success to the concierge. They each seemed to think they had won.
Kim was Facetiming Dan, arguing about Craigslist bicycles while Mel Facetimed her labradoodle. I took notes on the passing characters. Pam read Harry Potter.
We ended up at Halldorskaffi for dinner after an intense circling of the town and a near mental breakdown. It was attached to a small museum which was lucky given that the place was packed with a wait time of well over 45 minutes. After a bout of heated negotiating, I convinced the team to meander around, do a little shopping, and just generally cool it.
But it was worth the wait. Each meal came with unlimited bread, locally made butter, and stew. We ordered brown bread toasts with smoked salmon and dill cream. I could have made an entire meal out of only this. The fish seemed to melt upon contact; the earthy rye cut through the richness of the bright, speckled cream. “I hope heaven is this,” I thought. As Pam resisted the advances of our smoke salmon, preferring instead unbuttered bread, I once again thought of Mike- always willing, always game.
“We’re too full for desserts,” my ballerinas sighed.
“I may not even eat breakfast tomorrow,” Pam added as she finished her lone bowl of soup. I ordered the pear meringue cake with homemade ice cream and whipped cream. I was all in.
The town hadn’t quite woken up yet, given that tourist season was just around the corner. While this meant there was less to do in terms of shopping, I preferred it this way. The beach was ours. The three trolls were ours. I combed the shore for perfect pebbles, scooping glossy black stones, egg shaped white chalk, porous volcanic chunks before stumbling on a half melted toy dinosaur.
The others squawked and giggled about my little friend but as I stood in the whipping wind with streaming eyes and sandy hands, I felt like he and I could go it alone. I wanted some solace and time. We were rushing. We were rushing and all I wanted was the stupifying entrancement of waves. I ran my fingers through the icy foam. I let it lap my fingertips. And I ignored the urging to snap a photo and move on already. Searching somewhere for a sense of my cold-hardy, seafaring ancestors, I let the land, and the wind, the falling mist, the gulls, the sandy rocks beneath me, and the cold water over me, seep in and remind me of where I come from, of who I am.