Close to Iceland's Keflavík International Airport lies a special bridge. It connects two continents, America to the west and Europe to the east, as it lies across the point where two tectonic plates are diverging. A few minutes southwards from the bridge is Gunnuhver, a hot spring area named after a ghost.
14.10.2013 | 11:00
Purpose of Life in the North (JB)
Iceland. A small nation at the outskirts of Europe surrounded by a vast ocean and a wall of blue mountains graced with a white cloth in winter. As fall creeps its way into the city, the tall yellow grass on the shore of my small borough blows torrentially in the wind that never sleeps.
When fall drapes Iceland in pale yellow, pouring rain and misty blue mountains the ocean seems to put on a gray nightgown as it grieves the death of summer. The wind whispers an age-old tale of life and death in its rawest form.
The dying leaves fall to earth, pulled by gravity as the spirit within surrenders to an inevitable death, a seasonal death we’ve come to understand as the cycle of life.
Death strikes and the tree branches are stripped naked, undressed and seemingly vulnerable after the final explosion of autumnal festivities. Skinny but sturdy tree branches strike back and instead of surrendering to death, they persevere throughout the violent winter storms and when spring returns, flourish once more in shades of lush green.
Life in Iceland is always in conflict with a surrounding so raw and extreme.
I am in awe when I think of previous generations that have lived on this isolated soil for decades. The generation that is retired and long grown old leaving their families and friends with memories but also questions of lost heritage.
Life in Iceland hasn’t always been easy. I can scarcely imagine the darkness settling in the horizon without a getaway to the bright cityscape. Throughout the ages, the night has always been dark and people turned invisible in its midst like the hidden people or huldufólk lost somewhere in the adversary of seasons.
Travels on gravel roads were simply a fact of life for the longest of time, the only form of transport available on an island left to her own means so far away from the mainland of Europe.
Nowadays, the road system is effective enough and much fewer gravel roads to be found. We can get around with relative ease from one corner of the country to the next and winter no longer burdens us. We are no longer isolated. We are as connected to the world same as a large city in North America. The internet is reducing the world to a small metaphysical reality that is the online universe.
Thanks to the internet and the global online community, Iceland has become a destination, not just for a one-off visit but repetitive visits, over and over. One friend of mine has been to Iceland 11 or 12 times already in just five years. Her passion for the country and all its quirks and wonders is beyond belief and she has seen more of the country than I have.
All of a sudden, be it winter, spring, summer or autumn, Iceland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Annually, hundreds of thousands of travelers come to explore Iceland and discover some of its secrets.
No one comes here for the weather. It’s the nature. The isolation. The strangeness that lingers in the air. The fresh air and clean water. The never-ending lava fields from extinct volcanoes that burnt out a long time ago.
The Icelandic people are interested specimens too. On the surface we are raging alcoholics (at least if you judge the nightlife scene in Reykjavík) but really we’re not. The strange approach to drinking is like that of the starved child that devours a liquid nutrition when it is available. It’s weekend-appropriate.
Then when sober, we turn so timid it borders on being impolite. We forget to introduce our foreign friends and family members to our local friends. They wonder why we’re being so rude as not to introduce a person to another upon first encounter. It seems, after all, to be the most logical move. But we don’t. And not because we are purposely being rude. We’re just not in the habit of formal introduction.
Then it’s our work ethics. We are eager to please and work hard, very hard. We are competitive, ambitious and take pride in our appropriate profession. Women and men are firm believers in hard work and earning your place in the workplace through dedication and long hours.
But in the middle of this crazy pursuit is the fact that we push too hard, that we forget the simple French philosophy of joie-de-vivre. The purpose of life is after all to have a life with fellow humans, some blood-related to us and others by affilitiation of companionship and friendship. To enjoy the good things in life without hesitation.
The one good thing that has come out of the financial crisis, is a growing realization that work is one part in our daily life, a part no less important but neither more important.
Icelanders as a nation are still striking for a balance. Yet in a dawn of a new age, we have come to realize that we need to go with the flow. We live on a soil that is ready to explode and shake at a whim, so it’s better to adjust than reform.
We are slowly shedding the layers and emerging ourselves in the chaos of this new world and embrace all that is good and quirky as we shed the burdens of the past.
We no longer need to grind from dawn to dusk in order to survive. We no longer live in turf farms in the middle of nowhere and we are no longer isolated. We are a multicultural society bursting with energy that is native to the extraordinary powers within our powerful soil.
The fantastical extremes of Iceland are a playground for new ideas and an exciting future. We just need to learn to navigate our way a little better. It’s not just tree branches that can dance rhythmically to the wind. So can we.
We have the whole world in our grasp and little Iceland is finding its place in a beautiful world with new values and greater appreciation for the quest of happiness, even if it means a glass of red on a Monday night...
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