bellmusker

Melbourne, Australia

I love the words that fall between the cracks. / I write with black coffee, and bare feet. / Both seem to help.

Iceland

Það er skammgóður vermir að pissa í skóra sina
Pissing in your shoes won’t keep your feet warm for long
Icelandic proverb

I´ve never seen a land like this.

In the Middle Ages it was believed that Iceland was the mouth of hell. I understand why. Pure snow gathers on black lava fields, and the boiling springs in the belly of the earth sound like ominous pagan drums under my feet. Scalding water shoots high into the deep blue sky, and the stench of sulphur has me reeling. All I can see is black earth, blue sky and white ice, like I´ve stepped into a snowglobe of a bruise.

And it is so, so cold.

Never in my life have I known cold like this, where my fingers are too numb to work a camera, my ears feel like they could snap off, and it actually hurts to inhale. It’s fucking wonderful, winter child that I am!

I landed at midnight and on the bus to Reykjavik could only see an empty, almost lunar landscape. I woke before dawn and heard myself say, three times like a spell, “I’m in Iceland!” And when I walked outside my hotel on Snorrabraut, I turned to the right and had all my words knocked out of me.

At the end of the street lay the harbour, with a massive wall of opalescent ice curling over the water. I tramped down, boots crunching on snow, and sat next to the Sólfarið sculpture to watch dawn break over Reykjavik. With the gold and amber of the rising sun tinting the ice with a rosy glow, my breath clouding in front of me and not a soul in sight, it’s truly one of the most peaceful moments of my life.

Iceland is exotic, funky, expensive and utterly unique. I wish I could tell you about Icelanders, but in truth I haven´t met many. The hotel receptionist is Polish, my local barista Thai, the bartender Nigerian. For such an inhospitable land, it sure attracts a lot of people. It’s awash with vintage clothing stores and tattooists, brightly coloured houses next to Viking statues and all coated in a light dusting of snow.

They’re quite a literary lot. Iceland has 100% literacy – quite a feat – and most are multilingual, with a poet’s reverence for the written word. They used to write on calfskin, with boiled bearberry juice for ink, and today I spent so long in an exhibition of medieval writing that they came to check I was all right.

Blindur er bóklaus maður
Blind is a man without books

I studied Icelandic as part of my Germanic Linguistics degree, which taught me it’s the most conservative of the Germanic languages, and that the Icelandic word for ‘goodbye’ is bless. How beautiful! The language has changed so little that ostensibly, the average Icelander can still read the medieval Viking sagas without difficulty. OK, linguistic section over (come on, you knew I had to do it!).

Today I floated in the Blue Lagoon, a thermal pool heated by the earth that was so amazing I can’t describe it.

Yesterday I saw the hot springs of Strokkur, the Gulfoss waterfall, and then stood where the Icelandic parliament met in 930, an eerie landscape rent by a deep black crevice leading down to the belly of the earth.

The country straddles the Eurasian and the American tectonic plates, and as such has an extraordinary amount of earthquakes and volcanoes that have left ragged open scars on the land, said to be home to trolls and elves. Our guide warned us under no circumstances to leave the path as one wrong footstep could lead us into a crevice and “straight to hell.”

I wish she hadn’t said that. I was immediately tempted to hurl myself into one, arms outstretched to catch the falling snow. I can’t listen to safety demonstrations on planes because as soon as they mention not to touch the emergency doors, the perverse wench in me thinks “well I wasn’t going to, but now that you’ve mentioned it…..”. So if this turns out to be my last post, just know that I’m standing around bubbling cauldrons, chatting to the trolls deep in the belly of Iceland. I bet they’ve got something special planned for Hallowe’en tomorrow.

For now, it’s minus seven degrees and I have a spectacular view of the harbour, snow twinkling in the twilight.

I have a delectable dinner of lobster soup and chunks of black bread, washed down with Icelandic schnapps the locals refer to as “black death.” There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now….I’m on top of the world.

Literally.

Bless!

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