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.

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