This Is Iceland, In The Dark

*I’ll be adding to this post throughout the winter so bookmark this post and check back for updates.

The thoughts I have in the dark and perpetually overcast days of winter.

 

Not sure what this is but it’s dark.

January 10, 2018

It is January 10th and the last bits of Yuletide cheer are quickly fading into the seemingly never ending darkness. Yes, the solstice has passed but there are still only five hours of daylight and yesterday morning I was awakened well before my alarm went off by howling winds. More darkness than light and howling winds. This is it. This is Fucking January. Back in New York, I muttered Fucking January into my scarf as I trudged through snow and subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures but here, in Iceland, it’s the darkness I curse.

If I don’t have to go into work, I wait until the sun is up to go outside. On the days I do, it is a bit unsettling. It just feels very…wrong. Once I am inside and under the fluorescent lights, the traditional sunlight of office spaces, I feel right again. It’s as if in that fifteen minute walk across the stretch of space between home and office I was briefly in a Twilight Zone of never-ending night. For native Icelanders and those that have lived here longer, I imagine this isn’t doesn’t feel strange at all but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m going against nature by being up hours before the sun. “It ain’t natural, I tell ya,” my Texan soul whispers, afraid of being overheard by the darkness.

 

December 21, 2017

Origami box made with paper from one of the Yule Lads.

Sunrise at 11:22. Sunset at 3:29 or 15:29 for my 24 hr clock peeps. The shortest day of the year. With the help of vitamin D, good family, good friends, origami and many a good cup of tea, the increasingly shorter days of winter have passed without much gloom. As I have mentioned, Icelanders go hard when it comes to Christmas decorations. Not so much in the crazy light displays and lawn decorations sort of way but in the tiny Scandinavian Santas popping up everywhere and half Christmas tress attached to the fronts of buildings sort of way.

This year we’re planning an Icelandic-style Christmas. We’ll have dinner at 6 pm, the traditional Icelandic start of Christmas Day, and open presents afterward. The husband assures me he knows how to make an Icelandic Christmas dinner sans the meat– a nut loaf of some kind, glazed potatoes, pickled red cabbage and apple cake for dessert. We haven’t yet decided if we’re doing the Christmas morning Santa gifts too. We shall see.

Of course, January, or what I like to call F*cking January, is still to come but the promise of longer and longer days ahead will be my light at the end of winter’s tunnel.

Happy Solstice and Gelðileg jól!

First Year’s Snow

November 17, 2017

 

Here’s something about Reykjavik you may not know: some of the sidewalks are heated. Hot water is piped beneath the slabs of concrete thus preventing snow and ice from accumulating. It’s great! Here’s another fun fact: There appears to be no sidewalk shoveling policy in Reykjavik. If the sidewalks are not heated the snow accumulates, melts a little bit, freezes overnight and then tries its damnedest to trip up this small black woman, walking down the street, muttering to herself about the madness of it all. I have noticed that some people put down sand in front of their houses, which is at least something, but even businesses allow their patch of sidewalk to turn into bumpy sheets of ice. One would think they’d want their patrons not to go careening past their establishments, unable to stop or worse, fall and break something. You would think, but that’s not what’s happening here. Just the other day I saw a tourist slip, fly up into the air and land on his ass—hard. This isn’t to say they don’t shovel at all. If the snow is really deep, say a meter, then they’ll break out the shovels, or so I’ve heard. If you’re pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, on crutches or unsteady on your feet in any way, well, you’re S-O-L.

I have also yet to see a snow plow on the streets or in any parking lots. Yes, the snowfall hasn’t been all that significant but, again, wouldn’t it behoove the city and business owners to not have cars slippin’ and slidin’ all willy-nilly? And yes, people put snow tires on their cars but they also leave the snow tires on well into spring, because winter and spring are unpredictable, and as a result, the tires grind up the asphalt creating a foul dust that settles on everything including people’s lungs. I’m thinking plowing the roads is a better idea than asphalt dust but that’s just me. Maybe there are some other factors at play to which I, as a non-Icelander, am not privy. Whatever the reason, I’m bitter about it. But you know what? People will probably need snow tires if they’re driving outside of town and so would put on snow tires even if the city streets were plowed….

I’ve mentioned it to a few Icelanders. Some are clearly uncomfortable with me even broaching the subject while others are also miffed about the no shoveling thing. They blame it on the car culture in Iceland—the so called car-coat—no need to shovel a sidewalk if you’re always driving door-to-door. Back in the day, people would regularly die from walking one place to another. Women would take their washing to the hot spring, get caught in bad weather on the way back and freeze to death. There’s a saying in Icelandic,  að verða úti which basically means to die from exposure. It literally means “to become outside,” that is, to go from “being” to “was” outside. With this bit of history in mind, I can understand why Icelanders use their cars so much but in this particular case we’re in a city where it’s easy enough to walk from one place to another without running the risk of freezing to death…at least I think it is….

Reykjavik Weather

November 13, 2017

Last night we went to the pool. To set the scene, here’s last night weather forecast:

Sleet or rain at close to sealevel in the southwest [the southwest includes Reykjavik] but snow in the Westfjords….Temperature 0 to 5 deg. C

So yeah, I’ve become that person that I never thought I would. I am the person who walks barefoot, in a bathing suit, through snow and sleet, to sit in a hot tub. While my body is submerged in the hot water, the howling winds pelt my face with rain, sleet and snow in the gloom of night. I’m pretty sure this makes me fully qualified to work for the United States Postal Service. I also sweat it out in the steam room and then sit outside on benches covered in icy slush and then maybe hit the sauna before cooling off again in the snow and then hitting the hot tub once more. Sounds like madness but it’s really quite refreshing.

If you read my post about my first month here, you know about The Viking but, if not, I’ll recap. The Viking is the name the husband and I gave to a man we often saw at our local pool. He was tall, wiry, had a long beard, wore a man-bun and often sat stoically with his hands on his knees, in the big hot tub. The husband proposed that he was attempting to attract the attention of tourists looking for a real live Viking in Iceland. Well, since darkness has fallen, we’ve seen hide nor man-bunned hair of The Viking. We once heard him speaking Danish to someone so I suspect he goes a viking to Iceland in the summer and returns to Denmark for the winter. Perhaps we’ll see him once again when the darkness lifts.

November 8, 2017

Good morning, Kettle Talkers. It is 9:09 am and the sky is just beginning to lighten a bit. The dawn is less than half an hour away. In these dark mornings, I find myself waking up in stages. I get up to wake the boys and get them moving. I pack the youngest’s lunch, make sure they eat, brush their teeth and get dressed and in between I retreat to the soft, cozy embrace of my bed which has never before felt so fluffy and divine. I feel myself falling into the haze of half sleep but catch myself in time to get up and check on the boys’ progress and keep them on task. Once they’re out the door I retreat to be bed for a few more minutes, closing my eyes and, if I can manage it, roping the husband into a snuggle. He claims he doesn’t need the extra snuggle time but takes it all the same. Surprisingly, my boys aren’t any harder to wake up than usual in the mornings and aren’t any easier to get into bed at night. Eventually I feel the need to eat and get to work by which time the sky is lighter and it feels more like morning. I eat, I Facebook, I drink my tea and prepare for a day of writing, laundry (there is always laundry) errands interspersed with YouTube videos (mostly vlogs and drag queens).

Since Icelanders don’t have a Thanksgiving, November is pretty much the beginning of the Christmas season. Lights are going up in storefronts along with holiday displays and the grocery stores are already rolling out their “Gleðileg jól” (Merry Christmas) shopping bags. Because I am of a certain age, I find Christmas decorations going up before Thanksgiving distasteful. I’m pretty sure the shift to putting up holiday decorations just after Halloween has been a thing in the States at least since the 90s, but it had already become a habit of mine to feel annoyed by it by then. But you know what? I think I’m a changed woman. Here, in the darkness, I’m thankful for the premature fairy lights, giant glittering snowflakes and red yarn stacked up in the shape of Christmas trees. It’s difficult to work oneself into a funk in the face of sparkling things, shiny red and gold tins decorated with Christmas goats, and tiny Yule Lads with long white beards and wearing little pointy red hats. Be grateful for the light, wherever you may find it.

October 18, 2017

Njalsgata at 7:30 am.

Every morning is darker than the last and it is taking longer and longer for the sun to rise. At 7:30 there is barely a lavender haze on the horizon. Game of Thrones has made it impossible to utter the words, winter is coming, without it sounding ominous but it’s true, winter is coming and it will be dark and its winds sharp and unforgiving. With the crap weather settling in, Icelanders point outside and jokingly ask, so how do you like Iceland? I wish they wouldn’t, it makes me ill. Why does anyone live here?

My left eyelid has developed a twitch. It’s very subtle but it’s there, twitching. I am not sure what the twitching means or if it means anything at all. A combination of things, I imagine. I may just need to get out of the house more. I came out to a cafe today and managed to lock myself out so I have to wait here in the cafe for my oldest son to come home and let me in. I was going to say that getting out actually made the twitch go away but it returned just now to put me in my place. “You think you know me? You don’t know me.” My twitch has an attitude problem. I’ll have to make sure and hunker down somewhere else the next time I lock myself out. I just paid 8 bucks for hummus on toast but they do have free wifi….

When I first moved to New York City I lived in uptown Manhattan’s west side, on Riverside Drive, said river being the Hudson. In the winter, the Hudson Hawk is killer. It is a bitterly cold, biting wind and it nearly literally swept me off my feet on more than one occasion. I would come off the 1 or 9 train (this was back when there still was a 9 train) at 137th and Broadway, walk down to 135th street, take a deep breath and brace myself before turning right. At first, I would sigh in relief, thinking there was no wind and then halfway down the block I would be pushed back and forced to walk Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” music video style down to the corner and then pray to the baby Jesus that I wouldn’t get blown away as I fought my way to the front doors of my building. At this point, my face would be almost completely numb but I could feel hot tears streaming into my hair from the corners of my eyes. Once I got to the front door, I had to gather what little strength I had left to pull open the door and not be slammed into it as I made my way inside. So that’s the Hudson Hawk. Now, imagine the Hudson Hawk is just…everywhere and it’s always raining, not always heavily, but always—that’s Iceland.

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