We landed at 11:45pm and the sun was setting, and by the time we got through security with our bags, got driven to the rental car company’s Garage Hut on The Plain that reminded Neal of any number of workman buildings he’d spent time in in South Dakota, and drove our Hyundai i30 the 40 minutes to Reyjavik, it was well past first light and on the way to sunrise. At night here, it doesn’t get dark. Dusk happens at midnight and ends at 3am. To the west, the sky all night is a line of orange beaming in through every window.
The temptation not to sleep, because the sun is still up, is strong. I haven’t gone to bed at dusk since I was maybe 7. We saw as we got into town whole families walking the sidewalks around 1am. It felt like being in Scarfolk.
I felt a flickish, itchy thing in the back of my throat the moment we got to Gatwick and now, 24 hours after landing, I’m sipping a ginger tea that Neal made for me from our room’s electric kettle and chasing it with Guaifenesin I’m sipping straight from the bottle ($15). The small rocks glass I’d hoped to sip Duty Free Jameson from is slowly filling with what the Icelandic pharmacist called “slime”. Whole oysters of it. I think I’m past the worst, but my mood for conferencing about the intricacies of writing nonfiction?which is what I’m here to do?is very low. When I speak, I sound like the squeak your butt makes on the bottom of the tub.
In Reyjkavik, the disorientation of daylight is countered by the comfort of knowing that not only does everyone speak English, but nearly every sign at stores and in public buildings is written in it. It’s an imperialist privilege to be able to speak your native language at people who know it only through working hard at it late(r) in life. (A shame we pay the world’s favors back by telling them we’re going to continue destroying their climates.) It’s, I got told over beers with my gradschool friend Daryl, who flew out here from the distant Eastern end of the island amid a weekslong bike trip he’s just about midway through, the case throughout Iceland. Everyone speaks English. Many of them?the night hotel desk-attendant/bartender, the guy who worked at the outdoor-gear shop we stopped in, last night’s gas station attendant?are native English speakers working here for unknown reasons.
What would bring a person to Iceland on their own? Quite possibly the same things that take people to San Francisco. Meals here average around $40 a person, and AirBnB is an increasing nightmare in a city with a housing shortage. But everywhere you turn, suddenly there’s a sea or the ocean and beyond it tall mountains dusted with green patches and slips of white snow. The skies have been so far full of clouds, and outside the city there are no trees, and so while it feels like life on The Great Plains I’ve found the skies here to be more gorgeous. The rugged terrain helps, the hills and swells that frame the clouds in shapes other than a perfect overhead dome.
Today, Neal drove me in the i30, which is a stick-shift, to register for the conference, and on the way we were both pleased to see that Reykjavik has a company that drives you around the city in a big double-decker bus and tells you through prerecorded audio what what you’re looking at is. We may do it tomorrow. I have a lot of people I want to see and spend time with, and I hope these people want to see and spend time with me, but during the introductory wine reception it felt strange seeing these U.S. faces in this faraway country I thought I’d never get a chance to see, and I kept wondering if they felt the same. Are we all with our business getting in the way of each other’s waking dream of this place?
Make writers travel and they all become travel writers, and nothing dumps on a travel writer’s sense of specialness more than another writer travelwriting within eyeshot. I know I’m both here with the conference and I’m here with Neal. Tonight, I’m here with Neal.