I have very slowly begun editing and uploading my old photos from Iceland to Flickr. So.
Digging through old photos from Iceland, I found a small set of pictures of a jug with which I had a brief love affair.
Iceland’s various occupations and harboring of both American and British troops since World War 2 means there’s a number of odd army artifacts still kicking around. One of these was this jug, found in a hut in the middle of nowhere, used to pour water from the large pots left constantly warming on the stove (one hot, one warm.) It was beautiful, hard-wearing, and previously owned by the US Marine Corp. It was also god knows how old. It remains one of the most wonderful, ‘common’ objects I think I’ve ever seen.
For no reason other than I feel like I’ve been chained to this desk for years, here are photos of the place in Iceland where the lady went looking for herself, taken when I was volunteering there last year.
The Hub Of Reykjavik (by secretdark)
Autumn in Ásbyrgi (by secretdark)
Give Romance a Chance
The northern lights are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. It’s like watching someone paint the sky with watercolours.
(I’m kinda tired of these kinds of posts - lists of notes of things I’ve written down while I’ve been offline - but they’ll be ending soon, when the project ends and I leave the country. That’ll be in a few weeks.)
They broadcast a list of the people who died on the radio here, daily, after the news. Just a list of names and where they lived, announced by whoever read the news that day. I don’t know how I’d feel if I found out about someone’s death this way. I think I am going to write a story about it.
The universe is expanding but the amount of energy inside it remains the same.
The universe is slowly becoming a colder place.
“You’re so pretty it’s starting to rain.”
“kisses, lips, small and darting, like the plucking of some exquisite fruit”
“like living on a stage set that’s about to be dismantled”
One of the little things I like about this summer - about how my life has changed (albeit temporarily) - is the inventory of my pockets. Where once I’d step out of my house and out of habit double-check what was in my pockets (wallet in the front right, phone in the front left, keys in the back right), I have, for the last few months, stepped out of my tent and double-checked for a totally different set of things (penknife in the front-right, notebook/pen in the back-right). I like that. I like the simplification of it, the practicality of it, the dumb symbolism of it.
I was tasked by my last employer to build a specific software system. Another employee and I spent the majority of a year working on it. I estimate it cost in excess of £100 000 to create. It never launched and, for the most part, I have nothing to show for that year of my time.
A few weeks ago, over the period of a morning, I built a couple of stone steps that, with a bit of luck, will last 10 to 15 years.
It’s strange to hear people call what I’ve done this summer a “holiday.”
Just another day at the office.
Portraits of shepherds (by secretdark)
“There aren’t any ants in Iceland, are there,” we say to the Ranger.
“…’ants’?” he says.
“So that’s a no.”
“What is ‘ants’?”
So we explain ants.
(He eventually remembers ants.)
(He wants a panther, he says. He’d let it roam the park and ride around with him in his huge truck. It would pad over the moss, its large soup-bowl paws leaving barely an impression, and maybe over time its colouring would change until its dark fur was dappled and grey, blending into the moss-covered rock around it - a moss Panther.
He’s never seen a panther in the flesh.)
I pitch my tent between a new couple and a volunteer with cerebral palsy (“Basically, the right-hand side of my brain is fucked.”). At night I hear talking from each side, two sets of low murmuring. The couple explain their days to one another, laugh a little, are happy. I’m envious of the intimacy and privacy they have - that they can share their private thoughts with one another. They are on a time-limit, each going their own way at the end of the project, but for now they have something. So they enjoy it.
The guy with cerebral palsy talks to himself - laughs and mutters as if conducting conversations with someone. He doesn’t do this when he’s around other people, just when he’s alone in his tent or in the bathroom. I remember reading once that a long time ago the human brain used to be wired differently - the lobes fused so that the right and left hand sides would communicate as if they were two separate objects, whole and entire. Instructions and conversations with yourself, or simply another part of you, all in your head, indistinguishable from a conversation with God. That’d be something.
A couple murmuring, fresh and new, and a guy who maybe, just maybe, talks to God.
I never build up the courage to eavesdrop on either.
The Icelandic government has a set up several councils and organisations to maintain linguistic purism and to prevent Icelanders from simply using English or Danish words instead of looking for Icelandic alternatives.
One result of this is that new Icelandic words are created and put on (amongst other things) milk cartons, alongside a cartoon explaining them, their meaning, and their etymology.
For some reason all the latest words on the milk cartons have been about relationships - ‘dump’, ‘sweetheart’ etc. For a while before I knew what the little cartoons were about I kinda thought that someone had simply forgotten about a sad cartoonist somewhere.
Notes from a month spent offline:
After days spent building steps and felling trees and hiking and digging, we eat huge meals. Our bodies become terribly efficient digesting-machines. So much so that one of us paused briefly at the end of his side of a particularly fierce debate to let forth with a long and vehement fart (as if to punctuate his argument.)
It was rich. Triumphant. Melodic.
It had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It sounded like an old, old elephant that was
There is a volunteer who, instead of swearing, loudly exclaims “Monkeys!” when something bad happens to him. I like to believe he actually blames a specific group of monkeys for his problems.
“My first words were ‘bugger daddy’,” she tells me. “My family didn’t tell me until I was older. They’d always just told me it was ‘daddy.’”
While trying to get dressed in my small tent, I turn and squirm and, hulk-style, rip a pair of underwear clean in two.
The brief moment of incredible power is the highlight of my week.
There are names are Ingi and þyri, pronounced ‘Inky’ and ‘Theory.’ He is large, bald, and incredibly muscular. He teaches kindergarten. She is quiet and wears strange serapes. They treat us like their children, scolding us in thick Icelandic accents.
Inky and Theory.
I could listen to beautiful Icelandic girls tentatively pronounce ‘windows’ all day. (“We-ind-ohs.”) (I think it’s the ‘ohs’ I like the most.)
“He disappeared like birds die - no-one knew where he went.”
After months of sunshine, it finally starts to get dark at night, and I see a car with its headlights on again. It’s a jeep, and it growls and swerves over gravel, its eyes blazing like some terrible predator.
We spent time trying to prevent paths from becoming too wide or veering off where people have decided to wander off it.
I spent a lot of my summer eliminating desire lines.
I woke up this morning when a baby wagtail tried to perch on my tent. It fell, sliding down the canvas. I spent today digging holes and had lunch by a large glacial lake. I’ll play some guitar in a little while and then I might cook some dinner. Something with fish, maybe, and rice, and a thick, white sauce.
I like my life.
“I pray for soft soil,” she says in her thick Italian accent.
“Soft soil. At the camp site, for our tents. I pray for soft soil.”
That’s a nice prayer, I think.
Later she says that she says she has to go because she has places to be. She emphasises the ‘be’. I know it’s simply because the idiom’s not in her native language but I like the idea that there are places that require her to be there. Like she’s fufilling some kind of agreement with a place that requires simply her existence there.
Later that night the smaller one walked into our hut unannounced, took a long pull from a bottle of peach schnapps, and told us he was one of the ones who could see the Hidden People.
It’s been a good summer.