Tuesday, July 17, 2012


                  I’ve been trying to keep busy to avoid the alternative. (An alternative that would consist of staying in my Reykjavik apartment, twiddling my thumbs and convincing myself it would be reasonable to start packing ten days too early). Morag, a wonderful teacher from Scotland who recently stayed at the apartment, has been a welcome distraction. We spent a few days swapping traveling stories and being tourists in Reykjavik, trying to sneak into overpriced events and soaking up the surreal 10pm sunlight.  One night we went to the movies and saw Heima, the documentary that follows Sigur Ros on a series of free, unannounced concerts they gave in Iceland in 2006. The Icelandic concerts were all given after the band got back from touring around the world as a thank you to the people who had got them started. I learned that in Icelandic, “Heima” can mean “at home” and “homecoming.” 

                You could definitely read into the fact that Icelanders use an interchangeable word for being at home and homecoming. Though today they are an incredibly well-traveled and worldly bunch, the island is so isolated that for quite a long time, I imagine most people couldn’t imagine being “at home” anywhere else in the world.  There never was very far to go for a homecoming.
                I’ve been in Reykjavik long enough now that it’s begun to feel a little bit like home, at least a temporary one. It’s tied with Rabat and Ubud for the places I’ve spent the most time in this year.  It means that I’ve been here long enough to have Reykjavik favorites—cafes and people watching spots and jogging routes.  Someone once said to me that it’s a good sign you’re feeling at home in a place when you’re cooking for yourself, and I heartily agree. I go grocery shopping and visit the City Library (a beautiful building where, I recently learned, you can check out books as well as paintings to keep in your house for a couple of weeks). Tomorrow I’m going to the countryside (near Thingvellir) for a night on invitation from my landlady and her family, and this weekend going to an Icelandic college party.  I’m trying, quite desperately, to be as fully present as possible, so at the very least so I can leave without regrets.
Above: Paintings at the City Library
Below: Children's books.  
And I do adore this place. There have been a lot of wonderful moments recently. Two Saturdays ago I spent an evening an evening in the midst of a crowd of Icelanders watching a free outdoor Of Monsters and Men concert. (Following in Sigur Ros footsteps, they decided to do this show right after getting back to Iceland from an American/European tour). There was 10pm sunshine and a sea of blond hair and such wonderful, happy music. 

 Icelandic baby, ready to rock.
 I really adore these guys.
They played "Sloom" for the encore (see my video above). The whole scene may or may not have made me cry. 

                This past weekend, Morag and I took a trip to Videy Island (about a five-minute ferry ride from Reykjavik). We walked on the paths and had an incredible lunch and visited Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower which is lit up every winter. 

                 Thanks to the help of some new Icelandic-American friends, I’ve also been able to meet quite a few people for interviews. I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with people who are (relative) newcomers to Iceland.  Though the focus is on names, I can’t help but feel that these talks of place and identity are almost too directly tied to my year and its unfolding right now. These conversations become more meaningful as I try to make sense of it all; figuring out my own place in Reykjavik and reflecting on my other homes throughout this year in the strange time of living at the end.   

    Yesterday I met with Maria, a Columbian woman who has lived in Iceland for twenty-two years. She talked to me about how much the city has changed since her arrival in terms of the number of foreigners and the opportunities for them. We talked about the organization she started for newcomer families, her three teenage children who are fluent in Icelandic and Spanish, her parents and sister who came to Iceland from Columbia to join her here two years ago. We ate her delicious pumpkin-sweet potato soup in the garden behind her apartment, sopping up leftovers with thick rye bread on the brightest and warmest afternoon I've had since I arrived. 
                 I asked her how her parents liked Iceland, and how it was for them to move here from Columbia. She told me that parts were hard, but she added, “All you can do is take some parts of home with you. No place will ever be the same as any other place.  But my parents made the decision they were going to be happy here, and they are.”
    As if the true meaning of heima was a kind of happiness.  
    I think she might be right. 

                 I have, inevitably, entered the process of homecoming. It’s a bit impossible not to, though as it approaches it also feels oddly anticlimactic. The only ceremony I will have will be the packing of my big blue bag. Laundry. Getting my tax refund. Cleaning out the fridge.  Tasks turned into rituals so mundane they are almost anti-ceremonies.  The planes I take on July 27th will be full of people making their own journeys, who have no idea that I’ve been waiting for this moment for the last twelve months. Unlike many other markers of time in my life up to this point, this is an ending that will not be visibly marked.  
Maybe it is this feeling of anticlimax that I'm fighting against by investing everything with meaning. Heima.  The yogurt expiration date. Music.  Getting teary taking photos of colorful Reykjavik houses before it’s too late. I’ve been here long enough now to see the lupines dry out, soft pods of seeds replacing their purple and blue blossoms. The sun has begun to set around midnight.
 I’m trying to soak it all up though my brain can’t really think of anything else besides what will happen in ten days. I’m still going through the motions, taking long walks through the city (really a small town in disguise) on white nights (really afternoons in disguise). I’m still setting up interviews and meeting friends of friends and talking to people about how we’ve all found ourselves in this place, how we’ve all found a home.  
I’m reading too much into the word “heima”. Trying to disentangle and then rejoin those phrases, “at home” and “homeland” in a linguistic kind of dance. If nothing else, I want to remember that I found ways to be at home here, even when I wasn’t. I want to remember that even in this strange time, there was the decision to be happy—to hear music at outdoor concerts and take a boat ride to an island and eat Icelandic pastries at cafes. Thankful to be at home, excited for a homecoming. 


  1. hi nell--great concept, "heima"...

    one could say that under any and all circumstances, it is impossible for anyone to understand fully what one has known--yet, it is more true in some specific circumstances than in other, generally shared experiences.

    travel as you have undertaken is unique. the places you saw,the people you met, the memories that will soon become faint impressions, the quickly catalogued impressions that will turn into ideas for life, and the particular way in which your perspective has tilted are all huge.

    be prepared for odd moments of longing for the uncetainty of the days of travel, when your feet are firmly planted once again at home. be prepared to find familair things completely changed. i often found myself discovering things about home that bewildered me.

    on a lighter note--you are going to be sought out as an expert on every country you visited. you are likely to be quizzed on everything from politics to fashion trends of those far off lands.

    i have loved reading your blog posts.

    good luck with your packing.

    happy heima.

    love you--

    1. thank you, papu. just reading this made me tear up.(everything seems to these days). i feel so very lucky our paths crossed and they will again and again for years to come! thanks for sharing your own traveling words of wisdom here--i'll be holding on tight to them when i get home!


  2. had to wipe away a little tear.
    I hope this blog doesn't end when you entered HEIMA.
    (funny thing: German word for home is Heimat and heimkommen means coming home)