laugardagur, febrúar 11, 2006

one year later in ísafjörður

Almost a year after my first trip to chilly Ísafjörður, and through a near-miraculous chain of events, I was a newly-minted resident of the Land, typing away furiously at work and then going home to cram as much Icelandic language and skyr into my head as I could. Around this time, the now-famous E visited Iceland (and me) for the first time. So where did I decide to take her? How about an 8-hour drive, half of it over dirt roads, sweetie?

Yep, Ísafjörður. It was a long way up there, and not the kind of driving I had done in a long time, maybe since crossing desolate stretches of Wyoming with my brother. The kind of driving where gasoline stops are so far-between that gas-purchasing becomes a scheduled activity. The kind of driving where seeing an actual car coming the other way is cause for cheer, interest, and a little steering-wheel wave. The kind of driving where a friend from Reykjavík calls to check on your progress every few hours. Unlike Wyoming, though, Iceland has nothing the size and heft of an Interstate highway. Often, especially in the West Fjords, numbered roads that look major on a map end up being gravel and chock-full of potholes. (What looks like a town on the same map turns out to be a farm, often abandoned. And what looks like an airport turns out to be a larger, plowed flat of gravel with a windsock.)

But the drive was spectacular: azure ocean, black-and-white mountain passes, faded-green hillsides, and a clear and chilly blue sky. Driving in the fjords takes a long time to get anywhere, because every fjord we came to required driving from the mouth all the way to the tail of the fjord, and then back out. And these things can be miles from front-to-back. So one fjord could eat up a half-hour or more of driving, and when we got to the end, we could see where we had been a half-hour before, seemingly a just few feet away across the water at the fjord's mouth.

The next day, walking around the little town of Ísafjörður, I decided to stop in at the church and look for my friend Jón. We walked up to the same door, and there was the same window next to it, and there he was inside, reading the paper. I knocked, and he looked up with the same initial puzzlement. But then, he remembered me and leaped up to come around and open the door for us.

It was like a homecoming. The first thing he did was to take us into his newspaper-reading room (which doubled as an office) and show me that there, above the newspaper-reading desk, among a few church-related postings and protected in a plastic sleeve, was the thank you post card I had sent him from Boston. From this tiny, chilly place huddled so deep in a fjord that the mountains block the sun two months a year, the pictures of Boston seemed distant and surreal.

Jón carefully replaced the postcard in its sleeve and took us into the kitchen, where we shared another excellent pot of coffee, and E got to listen to me struggle through my handful of newly learned Icelandic words. But Jón was patient with me, speaking very slowly and deliberately himself, and we had a good talk there in the corner kitchen, lit by the fading October light from the fjord.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Good post!

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

i'm so moved by this post!


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