october, 2008

Fri, 3 Oct 2008 21:01:34 -0700

At the risk of promoting this double accident from two-time-happenstance to a pattern, I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose, when boys disappoint in October. (Or at any time of the year, really, but that's a larger rant.) I grinned bitterly as both the Dow and hopes for my upcoming travels nose-dived off a cliff on Monday (the last time I saw a New York Times headline that tall was probably when Pelosi became Madame Speaker two years ago this November) -- there are two volatile markets, I reflected, in which I'm not (at present) heavily invested. Both are unpredictable; theories about both are pseudoscience at best and tend to be disproved by crises; a "safe" investment in either is by definition low-yield; the fruits of both are apparently pretty fundamental to our happiness with our lives.

The analogy of course partially breaks down -- my employer, for example, would be hard-pressed to match a contribution to an emotional IRA (whatever that might be). But then again, even small bouts of day-trading are apt to leave me either burned, or greedy for more.

And so (says Winterson), you play, you win. You play, you lose. You play.

But here at this yoga retreat, up on a mountain where I barely get any cellular signal (I know I shouldn't check, but my new black 3G iPhone is just too sexy to resist caressing several times daily), listening to the heavy rain fall continuously (in a way it never does in San Francisco!) on the roof of the yoga studio, on the roof of the yurt this evening, outside the door of the tiny room I'm sharing for these 4 days -- up here, much of this melts away. As I said in our postprandial circle this evening, even though I was disconnected for a long period of time at Burning Man recently -- even though I didn't dream -- there was still enough stimulation that nor did I find the quiet mental space conferred by this relative asceticism. Here, there are four elements to my day: Yoga, hot tub, food, and sleep. This spareness (along with, to be sure, the physical sequences we contort and hold our way through 6 hours a day) evokes a meditative quietude, and I can make peace with -- or run away from, or maybe just not care about -- the swings and stupidity and quest for blame: Overvalued mortgage securities? Her?

Ask me how I feel after a transatlantic flight, jetlag, a day of work, a pint or two of Guinness, and reconfronting the situation after I arrive in Dublin on Tuesday. All I can say for now is that this yoga, this escape, and this meditation couldn't have come at a better time.

Fri, 17 Oct 2008 13:58:46 +0100

Rooting around in my desk drawer to find my passport a few months ago, when I'd booked the tickets for this trip, I realized that I had no idea if it had expired -- or, for that matter, when I'd last used it. Touching down in Dublin on last bright, sunny, crisp Wednesday, I realized it had been two years -- since I went to Thailand in 2006 to eat vegan street food and ogle bolts of silk, and drink Singha on white-sandy beaches. Two years is too long! But with my relatively small allotment of vacation time eaten up by weddings, mandatory holidays, and Burning Man these last few years, there's been nothing left over -- no time, and no mental energy. You figure out where you want to go, you figure out how, you get a tourbook and learn the language and plan and organize ...

... or, work pays for you to visit another office. Sure, I booked my own plane tickets and hotel (one with a freestanding red claw-footed bathtub in the middle of the room!), but when I landed, after a shower (perhaps the best water pressure I've ever felt), there was no familiar minor anxiety to overcome about next steps: that small voice in my head that used to want to just stay on the lift with my snowboard instead of making a shaky dismount and navigating bumpily down the mountain; the inertia and reluctance to get off the tour buses full of fellow musicians in Italy or Prague back in high school or early college; the crisis of the solo traveler (not that I've done that much) waking in a new place, hungry and needing to steel one's self to navigate a new surroundings. Rather, I went straight to the office. And there (after finding myself an ergonomic keyboard) was a Linux box, huge screens, my fvwm setup, and two floors full of nerdy boys in t-shirts and jeans. My milieu.

And after work, even as Mountain View was just sleepily rolling into the office in California and starting to think about lunch (but it was pints on the Dubliners' minds), there was no dinner to be hunted for (hey, those "chips" things are vegan!), no guidebooks I had to sift through to and from whose offerings to optimize my evening: no, I merely followed these boys out for beers.

In that, it was so easy. That, and the fact that they all spoke English (and not in that lingua-franca kind of way, which makes me check foreign grammar references out of the library and feel guilty that I'm not at least quadlingual) -- and with the most adorable accent. (You, with the sky-blue eyes, black hair, and freckles: can you please say "three-thirty" again?) The fact that euros aren't all that different from dollars (well, prettier, and more intelligible to blind people). The fact that I had friends around: Dubliners who had visited Mountain View in the past; Ryan & Susan, who just moved to Dublin a few days after I got there; even the source of recent complications, while not the most straightforward or pleasant presence upon landing, was, after a few conversations and an ill-advised excursion (and then more conversations), a familiar, and, ultimately, nice person to have around. (At this point, I'd hope so -- he's right now dozing next to me on the plane to Reykjavik, after we shared a lovely vegan meal and lovelier still hotel in London last night.)

Yes, there was a little morning inertia -- particularly Saturday, the morning after a Friday evening a bit too shattered for even Al's proffered glass of Middleton (wow, so many flavors in one glass of whiskey!) to fully pick up the pieces of the night. I ordered room service (eh, vegan enough) and thumbed through several pages of local history and city maps, then picked myself up and found books ranging from absurdly- to just normally ancient at the bibliophile's dream library at Trinity College. But the mandatory self-directed tourism ended there: I allowed myself a pair of shiny new shoes as retail therapy; noodles further elevated levels of serotonin in my brain; even the few pints of delicious red Kilkenny would have done it, but the house party north of the Liffey that Ryan & Susan led me to (a totally-burner fur shrug I stole and sported the whole night; boys who said "three-thirty" that great way; young software and kernel-developer types with dreadlocks) completed my about-face, and made me actively happy to be in Dublin.

Because -- did I mention? -- I love to travel. Cities, really. I've forgotten this, with all the domestic schlepping I'm accustomed to. But ogling the bright, solid-color doors of Dublin (and taking barely-sufficient photos of same with my iPhone -- unlike my SLR, it fits flat into my pocket); drinking the local brews and concoctions (a "hot whiskey," the locals averred, would cure the small cold that came on early this week); just hopping on a plane to London with no distinct memory of where our booked hotel was, iPhone in hand; dashing off to Iceland for a music festival ("do you have the tickets?" he just asked; "eh, they're in my email somewhere," I responded) to find glaciers and hot springs and music until dawn -- this all makes me feel very jet-setter and cosmopolitan, and reminds me that I must do this kind of thing much, much more while I still can.

Thu, 23 Oct 2008 19:43:38 +0000

It snowed yesterday morning in Reykjavík. Bjarni and I woke up in what was, for the week, our apartment in the Þingholt neighborhood just a few blocks from downtown, just above a bakery on Bergstaðastræti (I bent my veganism and ate pains au chocolats for breakfast, on those days we woke up early enough to dignify the term), under double duvets, to a soft, falling whiteness over the small city's colorful rooftops. The native Icelander and native Wisconsinite ate this up, drawing on, no doubt, our different associations and memories. Much later that night, we walked home from Unnur's place where we'd left her and her four cats curled up asleep, back through an ever-accumulating layer of snow -- his boots made large footprints; my new shiny heels from Dublin left the pointed toe and dot of a heel of a feminine tread -- telling each other our respective Christmas stories, my hand holding his through the knitting and fleece of my new fingerless gloves.

He so clearly relished all this: the snow, hanging out and partying with his cousin and ex-wife, bumping into old friends and former bandmates at bars, speaking his language that made me alternately think I was hearing Old English or German (not progressing much further than the monosyllables for "thank you" (takk) and the ever-useful "cheers" (skól), I eventually gave up and started responding in the latter reflexively), showing off and appreciating the glaciers and geysers and volcanic rock formations of his country -- so clearly that, had we been dating, it would have brought home the painful point that this is home for him -- is at heart; and was and will be physically -- and that there's just no competing with that. His Icelandicness was apparent as he drove the two of us all over the southern stretch of the country's ring road, pulling over to ogle waterfalls which iced out of cliffs, and gleefully making me try licorice-and-chocolate candy and orange soda mixed with a malty, root-beer-ish drink; it was evident in the relatively few layers he wore against the bracing wind off the glacial lake Jökullsárlón -- no hat, scarf, or gloves, he just grinned and ate a sandwich as my face turned to ice in a matter of seconds, which I (wearing all of the above, plus silk long underwear) tried to ignore as I ran around shooting photos of huge blue ice floes and translucent frozen pebbles of it on the strangest shore I've ever seen; it was obvious as I mostly huddled beneath the surface of the hot tub right outside our hotel room in Southern Iceland, only my face and the bowl of my glass of Sancerre we picked up for too cheap in duty-free on the way in still above water, and he sat halfway up, letting the frigid gusts whip off the tundra and straight onto him, as we tried to catch a glimpse of the northern lights but instead only saw a dark, brilliantly-stellated sky.

But, both very much for better and very much for worse, we weren't dating -- not even tacitly and on a small scale, as we did in California this July. No, in addition to reminding me of Wisconsin and its weather, this trip put me strongly in mind of my time in Paris with Martin more than five years ago: This was our break-up trip. Even more complicatingly, it took most of the week for us to realize that that's what it was. Once framed as such, I at least could grapple with it in terms I was familiar with. Still, though: Not the trip I'd planned or wanted, much as I knew, and needed to move beyond, the obvious obstacles. Whole afternoons went casualty to the circumstance of it. I think, though, as we discussed while wandering through the old parliament at Þingvellír Tuesday afternoon, I'll have a better friend out of him, once all this Icelandic volcanic ash settles.

For all that, though -- or, woven in with it, since really the two were inseparable -- I had fun: Within hours of meeting her in the locker room of the pool down the road, Unnur, Ingimunder & I were crammed into a bathroom stall gossiping; we all stayed out so late during our nights in town I rationalized I was just getting a head-start on the inevitable jetlag from my flights back; we tried to talk our way past queues for known bands and instead heard other random ones with peacock go-go dancers; we drank Japanese whiskey in our apartment and Víking beer at bars. I saw little enough of the actual music of Airwaves, my initial excuse for the Reykjavík part of the trip, that I almost felt guilty telling the girl selling me a festival-related hoodie this afternoon that I'd liked the event. Bjarni affirms, though, that this was a typical Airwaves experience: Tripping up and down Laugavegur between venues and parties and clubs (and the pizza joint -- ohhh, the cheese! This drunk vegan's tiny gastronomic mind reeled, as it did in reaction to a too-cream-rich fancy dinner at Rangá's restaurant: truffin and puffle?, wondered my spoonerizing brain about the flavors and sensations bending it), Airwaves was at least as much about the people and the party than the music. A reason to come back next year!

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 19:26:42 -0700

In Reykjavik last week, I think I began to unconsciously forget the semantic edges of the word "home." Dublin was not a problem -- for all its colorfully-painted doors and boys with adorable accents, I felt no tug from the city, no creative energy, no rapacity -- more like potatoes, grey cobblestoned streets, and a survivor's grit. By contrast, Reykjavik had the intense charm of a cultural zealot, doing both a brisk business in traditionally-patterned woolen sweaters and hand-silkscreened shirts. Wireless hotspots pervaded the downtown area (with the expensive data roaming on my iPhone turned off, I was all the more glad of this), the better to communicate with the world. Soy lattes, delicious dark chocolate, the CDs of the 10 latest hip local bands, girls in funky boots and belted, scarved ensembles that came off no one's rack but their own were none of them hard to find. Unnur's octopus tattoo (to say nothing of the others) and asymmetrical haircut. One can hardly chalk the contrast up to the natural surroundings -- both the Icelanders and the Irish have eked out a hardscrabble existence for centuries, as the former's celebrated author Laxness will be the first to tell you in unedited, Tolstoyesque verbosity, and as the latter's Joyce will paint for you more tersely but far more densely. But whatever the reason, if you forced me to choose between either city right now, Reykjavik would win in a heartbeat.

And so, partially in contrast to my week in Dublin and partially (no doubt) due to other irrational, insidious fantasies of the hard-to-shake variety, I unconsciously started to picture myself there last week, something I'm only now aware of having done now that I'm back real-home. I think I started mentally checking things off my list: this cute bar; that café with soy milk, wireless, and live music; the conscious but unobsessive, bottom-up fashion aesthetic; these fun friends who share my head-first emotional style, taste for whiskey, and penchant for rock. The climate too was perhaps confusing -- "home," the first 18 years of my life (and partially so for at least the next 4) meant that same snow and cold: winter hot tubs (when I was lucky); scraping frost off the windshield after a night at the cute hotel. Reykjavik, in many ways, was like Madison -- just in a Wisconsin in which neither Milwaukee nor Green Bay existed, and the state was an island unto itself. Was it, then, any wonder that my brain began to, without telling me, secretly reëvaluate? (Okay -- brain, and also my much-less-rational heart.)

And so what a shock and contrast to, some 24 hours after peeling off my fingerless gloves and untying my scarf, buying CDs and little bottles of brennevín for friends in the Keflavík airport, blasting briefly through New York for a vegan dinner (oh!! Vegan food again! My stomach nearly cried with happiness) and gossip with Emilie, and then following the coming dawn to San Francisco, where there was sunshine! I goggled on the BART, realizing I hadn't seen that much sun in probably three weeks. Web 2.0 serendipitousness led me straight to Emily at Ritual, who bought me my vegan donut and masterfully-rosettaed soy latte and listened to my wide-eyed, half-coherent stories. We walked out into the sunlight and I shed the layers that had been keeping me warm a scant few hours before in Iceland. Sun, and warmth! And (as the weekend wore on), NPR, vegan brunch, Andrea & Karina's lovely wedding in Stern Grove under huge eucalyptus trees (outdoors in a new thin sleeveless dress, I again marveled at the temperature), my cafés, my friends, my New York Times. Yes, this is all mine; this is "home." It was as if I, like a philodendron, in Reykjavik had started to feel out roots in a deceptively-familiar place, finding some welcoming grooves and nooks, finding the soil to my liking -- but back here, my root system settles gratefully into every niche and unfurls again.

And still I've woken, a few days now in a row, with strong dreams and a sense of loss. I stared blankly out my kitchen window as I drank tea and ate my first bagel of the month, Saturday morning, feeling relief to be home and yet blank, and, as he put it during a trying moment last week, battered. Even as my choir sang resonant chords into the rafters of St. Mark's that afternoon, I barely held it together on some of the simpler moments of Leaves Are Falling (but it's hard to cry while singing, so I made myself stop). The birds circling above the bay this morning had metaphysical weight, which let me know I'm still not fully back. But, sitting on the futon-couch I dragged into the living room to make room for my new bed, bedecked with new roommate Cynthia's colorful pillows, a fire in the [gas] grate and Goldfrapp and Wynton Marsalis ("so battered, but so ready for battle") streaming to my speakers, I know there's no place I'd rather be.

all this Šnori heikkinen, October 2008

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