Sunday, March 21, 2010

Afterthoughts, Icelandic and Wintery

Spring has sprung here, with warmer than usual temperatures the last several days, in the Fahrenheit 70s as opposed to the high 50s normal for this time of year. I shall not complain. A few days ago, on March 17, there was no snow to be seen in our yard (I could see a bit on the neighbor's lot). The last time this was true was December 17, meaning that we spent three months, or the duration of the winter season, with snow. While I remember this happening more than once while I was growing up in Montana, I can't remember its ever happening here in Central Virginia. This morning, the daffodils around the mailbox burst into bloom all at once, celebrating spring in all its finery.

Still, I can't help but feel wistful for the winter solitude of Iceland, a feeling perhaps strengthened by the news this weekend of a volcano's erupting on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier southeast of Reykjavik. We did not actually visit Eyjafjallajokull. Reykjavik was the closest we got, but after hearing our guide talk about the volcano that had erupted near Lake Myvatn, this eruption seems a bit more real than it might have two months ago.

Since I'm feeling wistful for Iceland, it seemed appropriate to offer a few more observations from our time there and perhaps even a photo or two. I am always interested in learning about the local educational system, in particular when students start learning another language. In Iceland, the magic age is around 10, at the end of the fourth of the ten years of compulsory school. This first language learned used to be Danish; now, though, it is English, with Danish coming later. Around the age of 16, or after the 10 years analogous to what we call K-12 education here in the US, students can move on to four years of "college," during which they study their choice of French or German. Depending on the chosen career path, college might be followed by "university," the length of which depends on the chosen career. In other words, by the time most students here start studying their first foreign language, an Icelandic student is working on a third and about to start a fourth. Is it any wonder US students are falling behind their peers abroad?

Completely unrelated to education, Iceland’s climate is not conducive to thunderstorms, and when one does occur it’s probably analogous to genuine snow falling at DisneyWorld. Living in a part of the country very susceptible to thunderstorms (I heard thunder this morning, as a matter of fact), I found it amazing to ponder a country without them. It certainly rains a lot there but without the lightning and thunder we so often have here.

I mentioned in the last post I put up while in Iceland that we had ridden Icelandic horses through a lava field before soaking in the Blue Lagoon as the snow fell. The day after that we went shopping as the snow continued to fall. The next day, the snow was still falling as we went to the airport to head for home. Here’s those three days in photos, starting with the ride through the lava field. That's the husband on the horse right in front of me. And here I am with my horse when we took a break to let the horses graze a bit.
The shots of the Blue Lagoon were less than impressive given that they were taken at night and in the snow. That's me a ways out in the water. They had signs in the locker room advising covering one's hair in a swim cap or hair conditioner, so I opted for the cap, though it's slightly less than fetching when it comes right down to it.
Travel always seems to drive home how attitudes differ in different countries. You'd never see this image advertising a cafe here. I loved the color of the corrugated metal siding on this house. From the central shopping area, you can pretty much orient yourself in respect to this church. I have always loved cemeteries, so walking through this one in the snow was something we just had to do. I loved the color of these flowers on the white snow. If you've read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, who knows who you might expect to meet walking out of this scene. This scene just seemed so very peaceful. I can only presume that this was planted right atop the grave for a reason, perhaps to make sure the dead person stayed there? Remember the chair built for the world's tallest man? It was big even for the two of us. And the bed designed for him was just as relatively big if you compare the end to where my feet are sticking up.
Note the position of the satellite dish. It really is almost pointed down.
This sign went up in the elevator on the second day of the snow. Finally, a few shots from the airport and on the plane. Here's a sign from a shop at the airport, a blurb for the latest by the Icelandic author I mentioned in an earlier post. There were moments when it stopped snowing and the sun came out. This was one of those. Farewell! Somehow, the name "Iceland" fit the land we left a bit better than it fit the land to which we had arrived a week earlier. Remember the Icelandic language lessons on the seat backs of Icelandair jets? Here are a few more for your education and entertainment.

And on that note, I will file Iceland away with Vietnam, Cambodia, Norway, Italy, and Spain as countries to which I would really like to return. Now to balance those with all the ones I haven't yet been to that I still want to visit. Anyone up for Peru or Egypt?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And This AffectsYou How?

Not at all, actually, but the master bathroom mentioned in the previous post is now clean. Shiny, spanking clean and ready for another year. I would hope I might give it another deep cleaning before then. And it's actually not finished yet. The rugs are still down in or atop the dryer. The window curtains (vinyl and ancient) are still in the sons' bathtub awaiting the scrubbing the husband promised to give them. The shower curtain (heavier vinyl) has been machine-washed but still needs scrubbing; the new hooks are ready when it is. With the counters cleared and cleaned, it's so bright in there. Perhaps I'll even bore you with a photo once the rugs and curtains reclaim their proper spots.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes

I've been fighting the blues today, probably because I'm less than a week back from the Iceland Adventure one year to the day from when we left for last year's trip to Hue and beyond. I am reminded of the French Canadian doctor in Ho Chi Minh City who administered the immune globulin shot I needed after my Cambodian dog bite. He said he had decided to work abroad when he realized that he enjoyed getting home more than he did being at home. Interestingly enough, he was going to leave Vietnam in December for a new expatriate gig ... in Haiti. I hope he made it through the earthquake safely because they certainly need his skills in the aftermath.

It is not that I actively dislike being home so much as I dislike all the little day-to-day responsibilities that being home entails. I have always been somewhat cleaning-impaired, so inhabiting a hotel room with maid service has a lot to say for itself. And while I come by my attraction to "stuff" naturally (if you think I'm a pack rat, I'll introduce you to my mother), I can actually function really well without most of it. The little things here eat at me. The dog or cat needs more pills? I'm the one who calls the vet to order them then either picks them up or negotiates with the husband for pickup. The things that need to be dealt with while away seem to be bigger things that one just deals with, no worries, boom, they've been done.

I would try to do a lot more traveling if it didn't cost so darn much. I've always been one to see a plane high in the sky, condensation trail streaming behind it, and stop to wonder where is it going? Will the people on it wake up tomorrow in another country? Across an ocean? What will they see there? What will they hear? Smell? Taste? Experience? The routines of home can be a safety net but they can also seem like bars on a window, that we can look but not get past.

I could go on, but I should probably work my way up to doing something useful instead. The master bathroom, for example, needs more than a surface wipe-down and fluffing, something beyond a quick toilet cleaning. I won't say when the last time I did the deep cleaning thing was. Let's just say we came home from Hue and beyond to a shiny, squeaky clean bathroom, and leave it at that.