With a posse of new mates I concluded my first week in Iceland spinning FYRE. It was around 6 am, we had danced to Icelandic bands all night long, a large yearly festival in the small town of Akranes, and had swung by the gas station for some fuel - Gril VÓkvi - wasn’t sure what I was buying, but like a bottle of wine, I chose the snazziest label. The fire was a bright deep orange, different than any fire I had spun. Akranites stopped to watch with confused smiles. Jónas (my host and a new friend for life) snapped away with about 300 pictures. His mates, Freyr, Óðinn and Robert watched too, with Freyr taking the chains long enough to sizzle some hair and get a pretty little ash kiss on his cheek. It was fabulous. I was spinning fire in Iceland with some new mates.
Fire craft in artic Niceland. It begins. But let me begin where it began, well, closer to a beginning (if I may sidestep some philosophical inquiry into where/when it all starts).
I arrived early morning in a Icelandair plane named after a fiery volcano (the Icelandic word for fyre, "elder", greeting me on my passage, the start of my huge journey, a blessing, a good omen). I hadn’t slept much, the girl next to me was brilliant, a Norwegian heading home, who studied American politics and patriotism, I couldn’t get enough of her words. As we approached the solitary landmass, still being born, I gazed out the window. Before I could see the large island, I saw a tiny one, a huge rock in the middle of sea, no land in sight otherwise. It had sheer cliffs and was covered in grass and birds. Then I spotted it – ICELAND – the southern peninsula, a Martian landscape (with water, still), the steamy blue waters of the Blue Lagoon twinkling among craggy barren rocks. My first host, a wonderful beautiful family, as I would soon find out, lived on the old NATO base in Keflavík, not far from the international airport. The "old base" is large, most homes in the blocks go empty. Keflavík is a small fishing village, but a large town compared to others on this island. It is set upon rocky cliffs and hugs a lovely wetland. The “downtown” is beautiful – a mix between old wooden fishing homes and Nuevo-Scan-design chic. I found some firecraft at the glassblowing studio, they made art with fire and volcano ash. But it was the fish skin bracelet cuffs sold at the community art collective that I was really eyeing. Oh the lovelies, perfect for a mermaid.
Ko-leen, a Canadian, her husband Davíð, an Icelander, and their three boys, shared their home with me for three days. I connected quickly with Ko-leen. She is warm, clever, funny, and strong. And a great cook. It’s hard not to love her. Davíð is also very kind and smart, sharing fun stories over dinner. Her kids are so amazing too. Kasper, age 10, took me on a tour of the base, teaching me about schoolyard politics and games while showing me the tasty wild weeds we could nosh on. The little one, Leópold, age 2, and I got along quite well. He thought I was pretty funny. I would do something goofy, and he would reach his head back and chuckle like an old man. Stefán (age 8) (often playing with his mates till late, I would learn that all kids had such freedom, even the very young ones, four year olds popping out to find a friend or popping over to ask to play, particularly in the summer) was kind enough to lend me his cell phone for the month! He passed it over and moments later, with his sweet blue eyes sparkling, he meekly asked, “will you buy me a toy?” I winked, and said maybe. :-) The family was so lovely – loving, welcoming, kind, warm, awesome, it was really hard to leave. But, Ko-leen helped me with my hitchhiking sign – “Reykjavík” – and I was off.
It was my first hitchhiking adventure, well, aside from that pastor and his wife at the Costa Rican border a few years back, but this was my first with-thumb hitchhicking adventure. A short (but psychologically long) 15min wait and I was off to the big city thanks to a ride from a nice Polish man and his sweet little one year old. It seems everyone in Iceland has children. It is fabulous. Maybe it’s my small sample size. Maybe it’s sort of true. Perhaps having plentiful families is supported by cultural perspective or needs. For example, the culture is quite open about sex, in terms of talking about it and having it. Also, the government (so civil in many ways, with support for childrearing offering a good example) provide assistance to parents (a monthly check) (and if need be, and it often is, child support from fathers is set up with a great system too: a standard fee for all, and if you don’t have it, you can borrow it from the government). Furthermore, there is a refreshing openness to unwed and single parent families. As a kid I felt different for being a child born out of wedlock, even at times I was told I was different, even wrong, and once I was called a bastard with a spitting tongue. It’s got a nicer feel here than in the states, like it’s OK (and it is).
Isák was my host in the big city. He lives on the posh peninsula of Seltjarnarnes in a beautiful condo on the water. He is a fisherman and fisherman here can make good lives for themselves, as he has, for him and his son. My hitchhikee dropped me off in god knows where and I called (Thanks Stephan!!!) Isák for directions. Instead he came to pick me up. He then took me on a walking tour of the beautiful peninsula, including the wetlands, the cove, it’s lighthouse and the fish shack where they ferment their delicacy Hákarl (sooo stinky, and as I found out at Jonas’ – disgusting – I actually spit it out, which I know is rude when someone shares their cultural traditions, but it was really really really necessary, I promise). I didn’t see much of Isák again for the several days I was there. But he did return home just before I left and we shared a cool chill session, great chat, and a smoke, fire bonding community :-)
My day touring Reykjavík involved a boat trip to puffin island with Auður. Auður runs an awesome website: www.iheartreykjavik.net and gets all sorts of free tickets for rad stuff. The boat ride and puffin encounter was so beautiful. Check out her post (and my goofy interview, I am SUCH a dork).
After that I walked the city, bought an awesome skirt at the second hand shop, Nostalgia, and met up with an amazing couple, a conversation deserving its own post. Later that day I returned to the trendy café where I had breakfast, Laudromat, to meet up with another couchsurfer, a model and yoga instructor from Brooklyn, for a beer (or in her case, coffee with soy). She wanted to travel together, hitchhike and camp, and while it was such a tempting offer, I needed to stay solo…I have only just begun.
Akranes – for three days – with Jónas and his two kids, Bilge, age 4, and Stephaniá, age 13. This family will be marked in my heart forever. While Bilge and I could only communicate through animal sounds, we had heaps of fun, and Stephaniá, a sweet soul, soft spoken, and always glowing like a fairy, shared her love in music, playing her piano and showing me youtube clips of her favorite musicians (one of my favorite moments of the week – when she turned to me after watching a video by Jadden Smith, and with deep and honest conviction said “I am a 21st century girl”). And Jónas – a red head covered with freckles and filled with love. Moments in our conversations he would bring sweet tears to my eyes, in joy, and in sorrow. He is the embodiment of Niceland. Truthful, sincere, wise.
Jónas greeted me with a (though one of many!) BBQ – horse and all the fixings (yes, it was delicious, sort of musky, earthen, and an essence of sweetness – the taste of young foal). His beautiful girlfriend, a lady I hope to stay friends with forever (especially after week 2 adventures….), Auður, and her sons, Teddi, age 6, and Arman, age 8, joined for the feast. Afterwards the “adults” chatted in the kitchen, a universal I imagine. During the chat Auður popped up, so often full of joy and energy, but with a little bit more oomph in this moment, and deeply smiled, “I have something for you.” She returned with a beautiful hand knitted sweater, made by her friend. I had been eyeing them, wishing I could have one, most tourists leave with one, but they cost $100s so I didn’t anticipate having one of my own. And I LOVE it – the colors, the fit, and the fact that it is from a new dear friend. I’ll treasure it forever. That night we ramped up for the big festival with a street party and danced to the famous Icelandic band from Eurovision (and I met the dreamy drummer, my heart all a pitter patter).
The next day, the highlight of the festival, I spent with Vikings. Sibbi, a Viking I had been in touch with before my trip, introduced me to his friends and their fire craft.
An incredible beautiful wonderful first week. Firecraft emerging in various forms, but most strikingly in the harnessing of love and acceptance. Niceland. The kindness and beauty of these folks, their huge strong hearts and minds, taught me a new sense of happy and a new understanding of love. I am forever thankful and grateful and changed……..and it is only week one……