I’d never seen so much white.
Snow stretched to the horizon, icy crystals twinkling under the bright blue Arctic sky. It was so damn cold it actually hurt to breathe, my lungs aching from the effort of inhaling, my hand over my face to stop the stench of sulphur from the underground springs slamming into my nose. It stank and shone and stung, and was without a doubt the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.
But lord, was I hungry.
I would wake each morn to a breakfast of blackberries dropped into a pot of Súrmjólk, a curdled yoghurt that I pretended made me a true Icelander, if only for a week. In reality it was about the only thing I could afford. Iceland was hideously expensive, and the fare from Australia had knocked all the kronur from my wallet. It was gloriously, stunningly worth it though, for the land of fire and ice was custom made for a solitary winter wench like myself.
I’d always longed to visit Iceland; always. I’d studied the language at university and fallen in love with its ancient alphabet and bloodthirsty sagas, knowing I would find my feet and spill my ink in this most pagan of lands…even if I shivered while I did so. And I knew that for a woman as attuned to her own company as I am, that the tiny population would present me with my blessed solitude and privacy.
I could walk for hours without speaking to anyone. Reykjavik was sprinkled with tattoo parlours and porn stores, vintage clothing stores and tourist shops filled with puffin keyrings and Viking horned hats. It was quirky and icy and just a little eerie, as though elves were hiding behind corners with one pointed boot out, ready to trip me. Steam from the underground springs poured into the sky, and if I stood still, I swear I could feel the water boiling beneath my feet, like forbidding pagan drums deep in the belly of mother earth.
I’d wrapped my red riding hood coat around me and headed down Snorrabraut to the wharves, slipping on the snow in my weathered army boots. I found Saegreifinn without hesitation, a cosy fisherman’s shack with a stunning view over Reykjavik harbour, and perched myself on a fish-packing container disguised as a stool. I’d read about the delectable humarsupa, a thick soup of sweet Atlantic lobster with cream and cinnamon, and I’d be lying if I said the prospect of devouring it hadn’t woken me up that morning.
I watched the sun fall over Iceland that night, my red notebook open on the table and my spoon dipping into the broth with blissfully slow movements. The Black Death schnapps kept me warm and the feast kept me smiling and if the man who served me was just a little bit alarmed by my deep sigh of serenity as I pushed the bowl away, I would totally understand.
As I pushed open the door and let in an icy blast of cold air, I turned and flung over my shoulder one of the few Icelandic words I knew, that of goodbye. I meant it with every fibre of my frozen, feasted being.
All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.