Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Cup: Decision Time

Once every four years I get sporty. While I do enjoy hockey, watching games when I can and happily cheering on the Chicago Blackhawks, I still wouldn't call myself a "sporty girl". However, when World Cup comes around, I get a fire in my belly for football (also the only time in life when I don't call it "soccer") that just can't be quenched. I do research, bookmark the FIFA website on my computer, print out match schedules and the official photos of my chosen team, actually watch the games and care about the outcomes, the whole nine yards. But first things first... Choosing which team to root for.

If neither of the nations of my bloodlines (Iceland and Austria) are playing, I am free to choose a team at my own discretion. No, I do not automatically choose America, although I'm not exactly sure why. I guess I just assume they won't win, so why waste my time? (Sorry, USA. Stars and stripes forever and all, but... yeah.) I only root for "Team USA" when they play against England, because it's my duty as a Yankee to do so. And speaking of England, even though they have an amazing team and look so handsome in their collared jerseys and speak with those adorable accents, I especially can't root for them this year, because now Iceland has beef with them too, so... Sorry guys. I may love your music, literature, radio, television, and most of your movies, but suffice it to say that lately, every time the ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull shuts down London-Heathrow airport for days on end, well... I kinda smile. Moving on!

So  I've read through all of the analyses of all of the Groups and which teams are pegged as favorites and such, but I still haven't been able to single out the one team to which I will give my heart for the duration of the Cup. I thought I might base my decision on whose bus slogan I liked best, but that didn't work out so well either. So here's who I've got my eye on so far.

Italy. Last year I chose Italy from the beginning (and Alberto Gilardino in particular, meow!), pinned their pictures all over my cubicle at work, made their famous underwear photo my computer's screensaver, followed the games I couldn't watch at home via the FIFA live feed on the internet, and then caught the final game where they laid claim to the Cup screaming and jumping up and down with my mother and sister in my parents' living room. Also, I adore Italian opera. Every time I hear any recording of Pavarotti singing "Nessun Dorma" I cry like a baby. Should I go with them again? I'm not sure. The team I choose has to have the right combination of technical skill and emotional pull. So Italy is still definitely in the running, but....

Brazil. I have a dearly beloved Brazilian friend, Claudia. I like Brazilian people, cachaça (and of course capirinhas), Carnaval, etc. I mean what's not to love about Brazil (besides soaring crime and poverty rates)? The whole world loves them! (Except for maybe Argentina.) They have the talent and the emotional pull for me. Plus if they win I can call Claudia and sceam into the phone with her. And their bus slogan is awesome: "Lotado! O Brasil inteiro está aqui dentro!/ The whole of Brazil is in here!" So they're definite contenders.

Chile. They have a really strong team this year, their bus slogan is great ("Roja la sangre de mi corazón, Chile campeón/ Red is the blood of my heart, Chile will be champion"), and my favorite poet of all time, Pablo Neruda, was Chilean. Plus, I just saw this thing on tv about the Colo Colo football club in Chile, from which I think many of their players were chosen, they've got this whole indigenous history that is amazing, and I've always wanted to go to Tierra del Fuego, so again. Skill + Emotion.

It's a tough call all around. Mexico is looking good this year too. I could go with Germany since it's close to Austria, but despite my love of Bavaria I just can't do it. Definitely not rooting for Denmark, the former oppressors of Iceland, and needless to say, the Netherlands are out. It's really down to Italy, Brazil, or Chile. The former flame, the amicable crowd-pleaser, or the edgy wild card with one of my literary gods behind them in spirit. WHAT SHOULD I DO? I'm actually a little stressed out about it. I'm running out of time! Perhaps the answer will come to me in a dream. I should get some sleep. World Cup team of choice! It might have to be a game-time decision. Oy!  

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Gleymdu Ameríku og vertu bara hér" / "Forget America and Just Stay Here"

Forget America? But it's so big. Hard to forget, but when I do think about it, I just see a map in my mind, and then on different points on the map I see little cut-out pictures of my favorite people pop up and smile and wave at me. It's a map of relationships rather than of geographical features. I like my scattered and crazy American tribe. But when I think that my time here is almost halfway done, and picture myself getting on the plane and flying away it seems like... Well, like I don't want to think about it, so let's talk about something more fun instead. There's plenty to choose from.

Over the last 48 hours the Universe has decided to give me the gift of the Ultimate Playlist of Life. It all started the night before last at dinner with several of my cousins. The food was delicious, the wine was delightful, the company was stellar and there was ever so much laughter, etc. etc. etc. Eventually dinner was done but the wine was not and we started talking about music. Don't click away from this page yet, this is the part where my life changes forever:

"Do you like Páll Óskar?"
"Páll Óskar. His music is playing right now. Do you like it?"
(I listen for a second, it's very danceable techno-disco style music.)
"Sure, it's ok."
"He's a super famous Icelandic singer, he's gay, he changed Eurovision forever back in the '90s. Páll Óskar."
"Yeah, sure I like it I guess."

*fast forward about fifteen minutes* The Páll Óskar album is still playing in the background. I've stood up from the table for some reason and we're all still chatting. Suddenly, I felt my body start to move in time to the beat of the music, but I didn't remember making the conscious decision to do so. I think first my head was just bobbing a little bit, and I turned to the nearest person and said something like, "You know... This music really is pretty good." Then like, my hips started moving to the beat as well. The next thing I knew, I was fully dancing in the living room, tormenting my cousin's daughter trying to get her to start dancing too, which she wisely chose not to do, and shouting over the now much louder song, "This music is amazing!!! What's this guy's name again???"

Páll Óskar. That's his name. One of my cousins (I really need to remember to start asking permission to use their names in my blog so it's less confusing) said that there is something in the genetics of Icelanders, you can't NOT love this man's music. I really think it's true. How can I describe it? It's like, at first you think you're just listening to regular old pop music that would probably be fun to dance to if you were in a club with your friends and were already getting wild. But then, after a few minutes of letting it marinate your brain... You suddenly feel that... You MUST dance. It's more than just a good idea, or something that sounds like fun. No no no, it's so much more than that. It's a command. His voice, the beat, the melody, it DEMANDS that you dance. Like, my little cousin I was trying to get to dance? She was just feeling shy and I understand, but she actually had to hug her knees to her chest to resist moving, and even then her toes were wiggling. Because she's Icelandic! It went against her very nature to disobey the music and hold still!

Put it to you this way... I've already downloaded one of his albums onto my ipod, and from now on, for the rest of my life, no matter where in the world I am, every single time I have a party, a get together, a simple evening meal with friends at home, any time I'm getting dressed to go out, any time I'm driving some place fun, or some place miserable, every time I'm alone and bored with nothing much to do and nothing good on television... Every time I clean my apartment, every road trip I go on, every time I need some help getting excited about life... I will be playing Páll Óskar. I now borrow the words of my friend Shay who once said about Billy Ocean (best known for his 1984 hit "Caribbean Queen") "Billy Ocean. It's like a pulse, it moves through you." Well Shay, if you're reading this pay attention: Páll Óskar makes Billy Ocean sound like medieval Bulgarian folk music. Yes. He's that good.

So, once again, my Icelandicism was reinforced. I love Páll Óskar, therefore I am. But the night was not yet over...


The "Grandmother of Rock," as she's called, sits in her perch on the large shelf in a corner of Dillon which doubles as a "dj booth." If you want to request a song you have to stand on a chair in order to ask her. She's got long blonde hair and there is a picture of her with Robert Plant on the wall next to the door to the ladies' room. *squeal* Anyway, this was my first experience with a playlist of hers, and it was, may I say... Legendary. She was dealing down the hits like an ageless Rock muse who somehow knew all of our woes and exactly what we needed to hear at each moment before we ourselves even did. I tried to remember some of the songs the next day, but I was so lost in the moment at the time that much of it is a blur. I'll make a little youtube playlist of the ones I remember in a moment and will include it at the end of this post, but for now let me just say...

You know how there are those nights where you dance and it seems like every song you dance to brings up some memories of a time or place that you're ready to let go of and suddenly the expression, "I just want to dance it out," makes sense? And as you dance you're reliving little bits and pieces of places you've lived in or driven through, broken hearts, incredibly amazing fun times, adolescent angst, long and pensive car rides, disappointments, elation, even religious programming you need to shake out of your mind? This was one of those nights.

My favorite thing about it was that so many of the songs were the kinds of songs that in America, they would never think someone would dance to. For example, "All Along the Watchtower" as played by Jimi Hendrix, or Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," or Metallica's "Enter Sandman." Never ever have I been in a bar where anyone other than me wants to keep on dancing once those songs come on. They're not really considered "danceable." So you can imagine my shock and delight when I looked around, expecting to be one of maybe three people still dancing to Led Zeppelin, and finding that the whole floor was packed with people. By the time we got to Rage Against the Machine's "Killin' In the Name Of" I realized that - man alive!- I FIT IN! You heard me. Even though there's a bit of a language barrier, I can't shower in front of my friends, and I don't like Opal liqueur, I actually kind of sort of belong here! No one said, "Hey calm down there little lady, we all like 'Rage' but you can't thrash around like that in this bar." Au contraire! As soon as the song was over one of the many dancing long-haired rocker dudes stopped, we looked each other in the eye, nodded in approval of our mutual ability to rock out and gave each other high-fives.

Then Helga and I got our coats and went on to this Celtic place for after-hours beers, and I looked around and realized that except for my Austrian half everybody else was of the same origins as me, we all look sort of related the way people who come from any country besides the "melting pot" of America do, they were all speaking in the language I grew up using as a secret code to talk with my immediate family without being understood by others, it was a sunny morning, and I was about to go wash down a sandwich with some sweet chocolatey kókó mjólk for crying out loud! Does life get any better than that?

Moral of the story: It's fun being here, and rock and roll just might save the world. And if it doesn't, I'm fairly certain Páll Óskar's got it covered.

Here are a couple of good ones from the drive to Akureyri and back yesterday. Will write more about it later, but since I'm posting music here are a couple of good ones. That guy from "Live" really knows what he's talking about.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Amerilandic? Icelandican?

When my friend Helga found me semi-conscious in the living room this morning and asked me if I wanted to go swimming, I immediately agreed. After all, isn't it much better to be jet-lagged in a pool than in a living room? Yes. Yes it is. We called a friend of hers and headed out for a swim.

There are times here when I think to myself, "Ah, this is how life should be. I am definitely Icelandic. I'm home." Like that first bite of a delicious lamb hot dog or on a day like today when the sky is blue and the sun is out and the air is fresh and clean.

Then there are other times when I am suddenly slapped in the face with my American side. Like when I’m standing in the women's locker room of a public swimming pool in Reykjavik.

Now, I'm no stranger to nudity. I bathe naked; I'm naked when I change clothes, I even learned to walk naked in my grandpa’s front yard in Florida. I've always considered myself pretty free and easy with the whole body acceptance thing. But I can honestly say I have never been completely naked in front of any of my friends. Nor have I seen any of them completely naked.

I can sense confusion from the American readership. Allow me to clarify. When I heard, "Let's go to the pool," I jumped up, quickly shaved my legs, put on my bathing suit (for the first time in 2010, slightly scary but not as bad as I thought it would be), then threw on my clothes over said bathing suit, grabbed a towel and my camera, expecting to take lots of fun pictures poolside to show the folks at home. Right? Because we're just going to walk in, find some lounge chairs by the pool, strip down to our suits once we're at the lounge chairs, and sit around reading magazines and sunbathing, see and be seen, maybe jump in the water to cool off, bemoan the sting of chlorine as it threatens to disintegrate our retinas. Then at some point we'll stand up, get dressed there by the pool, and go home. It'll be the same thing here, right? Wrong.

Here's how it works in Iceland. You walk in, pay, then you go to the locker room assigned to your gender. You take off your shoes before you enter the locker room and carry them to the lockers. At this point you will have noticed that there are many, many naked women around, which, initially, didn't concern me. I just assumed they were free spirits. Then the girls I was with started undressing too. Again, no worries here. After all, I didn't have to worry about changing in front of anyone, because I had had the foresight to change at home. That's when I opened my locker and saw this posted inside:

Allow me to type what's written there next to the British flag: "Every guest is required to wash thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the pool. Thank you."

Wait. What? It can't be. I looked around. Yes, the girls I came with were completely naked and confidently striding toward the showers. I'm not ashamed of body by any means, but-- I know these girls! I can't see them naked! Not when I'll be expected to make eye contact with them afterward! Suddenly it's 1955 and I'm June Cleaver, wearing a dress and high heels while vacuuming. I can't be NAKED in front of people I KNOW! Wait, that doesn't sound right. What I mean is that it would have been easier if I didn't know anyone in the locker room. Then I could change and shower without worry. In front of anonymous people. People I've never seen before and whom I'll never see again. Those are the kinds of people with whom I want to share an open, curtain-free shower. Not people I know by name! Suddenly I'm wishing I was Saudi Arabian instead of Icelandic, and longed for a burkha. How I wished I was required by God and Man to be covered from head to toe while I swim! Oh god! What do I do? I peeked into the shower. My new friends were already in there, washing with soap and shampoo and everything. I had just put my makeup on in the car! No! Yes, Inga. Yes. You have to take your clothes off and go shower in front of your friends. They're going to see you naked. No! I can't! I will fight this somehow.
So I wrapped myself in my towel, left on the bikini bottoms, and carried the top in my hand. I cringed my way to the shower, mortified. The girls looked at me quizzically, but I avoided their respective gazes. Finally I relied on trusty humor-as-a-defense-mechanism to save the day. I blurted out, "I'm American, I'm way too shy for this!" They burst out laughing. I hung my towel on a hose on the wall, faced away from them, and showered at lightning speed, before wrapping back up in the towel and racing to put my suit back on before they returned. Finally properly clothed once again, I avoided looking at them while they dressed and chatted together, thinking to myself, "I can't believe this. I'm 1000% American. I'm a puritan. I'm not even remotely laid-back and groovy. I am the most uptight human being on Earth. I'm a nun, I'm actually a nun. There are women in here with breasts hanging down to their navels who are less self-conscious than I am. How could this have happened? How did I not know this about myself?"

We left all our things in our lockers (so much for the photos) and walked out to the pool. Or pools, to be more accurate. One for splashing around and playing, one for swimming laps, many, many hot tubs, all heated geothermally. We sank into a shallow hot tub where you can stretch out on your back as you soak. There, cooking in the hot water, gazing up at the intense blue sky drinking in the sunlight, not the palest person present (a friend of mine once famously referred to me as "Crayola white" on the beach one summer and the label stuck), I thought to myself, "Oh no. I'm definitely Icelandic. Just not in public showers."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Adventures In Sleeplessness

My first few days in Iceland have been punctuated with reunion hugs, glasses of beer, shots of liquor that taste like cough medicine, and the occasional bout of insomnia-induced despair. I'm sure that Reykjavík, as an odd little tourist destination, is peppered with fellow travelers gnashing their teeth, clawing at their hair, rending their garments, and wailing unto the heavens such eternal questions as, "Will I ever sleep again?!?!?!" (The answer to which seems to be, "Yes, but never when it makes sense to do so.") For example, today I went to sleep at around 7:00 (a.m.? p.m.? Those markers, once a source of comfort, have lost their meanings completely), after I gave up on attempting to sleep last night and headed downtown to the bar where my cousin Rut works. I unexpectedly ran into her roommate, who had been drinking for nearly twelve hours by the time I met her, and was subsequently swept along in a pub crawl that she has mostly forgotten since. One sunrise and a ham sandwich later, I slept, miraculously, until mid-to-late-afternoon, got up, eventually showered and dressed and went for a little walk before coming back and eating pizza for dinner. Now It's 8:00 p.m. and I'm supposed to be getting ready to go out again since yet another cousin is coming to pick me up soon, but all I want to do is go to sleep. The good thing about that is, even if I did manage to take a quick disco nap, by the time I got out the door it would still be considered early in this town, and I wouldn't have missed any of the action.

As I walked to the bar last night, I looked around the crowded streets and instantly forgave myself for every embarrassing thing I've ever done while under the influence of alcohol. I may be tired and out of sorts with my feet not yet on the ground, but one stroll down Laugavegur in the wee hours of the morning, my boots crunching over broken glass, dodging one bleary-eyed, stumbling reveler after another, assured me that these are, indeed, my people. One of these nights, I promise you this, I'm going to have enough energy to give myself a proper Whiskey Night, and will carouse to the full extent of my abilities. And the best part is that I'll be indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd! Maybe Reykjavík is Scandinavia's answer to New Orleans in that way.

One thing that's really fun about being here is that I have extended family all over the place! On my first day in town Rut and I went walking around, and as we sat in a cafe I spotted one of my great-uncles and his wife window shopping across the street. I grew up apart from most of my extended family, so this was a sighting as rare as running into the Pope at your local Rite-Aid. I ran outside to say hello, and they of course knew my exact arrival date and where I was staying, all that stuff. It was so fun! I love that. Growing up I was always so jealous of people who could just pop by their grandparents' house whenever they wanted to, or even went to the same school as their cousins! When I lived in San Francisco one of my cousins (second or once-removed or something) lived there as well, and it was the first time since I was three months old that I had ever lived in the same town as an extended family member. A native to Iceland, she had also been raised abroad, and we were thrilled to be able to go out together, telling everyone who crossed our path that we were cousins. We once even bought matching underpants at a bar on Polk Street. I can't remember the name of it, but I still have mine, they're pirate-themed. Anyway. Family everywhere. It's fun.

Uuuuugggghhhh... Definitely need to lie down. What's maddening is that this sleep thing doesn't even seem to be jet lag! Time zones have nothing to do with it, since it's early afternoon U.S. Eastern time! So why am I tired now? Huh? Answer me! I just woke up five hours ago! I didn't even get out of bed until three hours ago! Or is it jet lag? Is there even a name for this? Maybe it's like those super viruses that are created from using too much hand sanitizer. An offshoot of the jet lag genus that has no name of its own but torments its host with hallucinations, disorientation, crying jags. Then watch, I'll lie down to take a nap and won't be able to because of the sun. Even if I draw the curtains. Just knowing it's out there, burning, shining, making things grow, is apparently enough for my brain to keep me awake against my will. But I have to try. Here goes.