Posted by: jeanne | June 12, 2017

just go straight

in venice, directions include the phrase ‘just go straight’.  this derives from the invasion of pepin in 800-something, when the invaders tried to conquer the city in ships.  the locals pulled up all the channel markers and told the invaders to go straight in order to get to venice; they all ran aground in short order, and the venetians threw burning brands into the ships and scampered away in their flat-bottomed boats.  now, when they give directions, there’s a twinkle in their eyes as they tell the unwary to go straight this way or that, failing to mention that there are no straight lines in venice.

it’s similar in iceland.  nothing is as close as it seems, but they don’t tell you that.  nothing is straight ahead, because the land doesn’t do straight.  mountains get in the way, and rushing rivers.  and when the roads are straight, there is construction and detours that nobody thinks to mention.  there’s a line from laurie anderson:  “turn right where they’re thinking of building that drive-in bank”.  it’s like that here.

so when one of the residents fell sick and asked to be driven to the clinic, we drove to the clinic in olafsjordur, only to be told that we’d missed clinic hours by a few minutes, and now needed to go to siglufjordur.  and that was going to be the end of it until i asked precisely where in siglufjordur the clinic was.  the lady smiled at me, said she would print me out a map so i would know – immensely comforting to be told that – then produced a thumbnail map from google maps, and marked the furthest point shown on the map as the location of the clinic.  to be even more helpful, she wrote down the phone number of the clinic.  and off we went.

thru the tunnel to hedinsfjordur, then thru the tunnel to siglufjordur, parading slowly thru the town at 35 km per hour, then out of town, then up to 50 km/hr, then around the curve of the mountain toward the skills-testing one-lane tunnel.  at this point we found a wide spot in the road and turned around, trying to call the clinic and ask where they were.  but the phone number was wrong, and the nice recorded message repeated something in icelandic a few times before switching to english – the number you are calling does not exist.

and i just had to laugh.  go straight.  so we went back into the town and found a universal hospital sign (“H”), and found the clinic.  they were more than happy to treat our artist, and we had the usual waiting room experience, before being seen quite promptly.  the fee for a visit was a low low $90, with a further $80 for testing.  the last time anybody i know went to an urgent care facility in the states, the bill was 4 times that, and the last emergency room visit bill i know about was 10 times that.  the bill in siglufjordur was not including any insurance reduction at all; that’s just the price they charge for healthcare here.  to foreigners.  locals don’t pay anything.  and here we are with the congress ready to repeal the puny healthcare benefits we get and calling it fair, and the best healthcare in the world.  i think i’m going to throw up.  oh wait, let me remember what country i’m in before i do that.  oh yeah, i’m not in america, so i can go ahead and get sick.

when i was here last time, i fell off my bike and hurt my shoulder quite badly.  but i refused the many offers to take me to the clinic to see a doctor, because i can’t afford to see a doctor in the states.  they all shook their heads and told me that only an american would refuse medical care because of the cost.

moving backwards thru the day now:

while we were in siglufjordur, i got the notice on facebook that the city was going to turn off the cold water in the town from 2-5pm, so when i got home we filled a bunch of containers, and then they never got around to turning off the water, so now i have loads of fresh water to use on the garden.  it actually has not been very rainy at all, so it will be useful to water my seeds.

after the clinic, we stopped at the grocery in siglufjordur, which is twice the size of the same store in olafsfjordur, so i got peppermint tea, and earl grey, and hotdog buns, and sidewalk chalk.  that made the whole trip worthwhile.  that plus our nice conversation during the trip.

this morning the boys had their first swimming lesson.  there’s a woman in town who teaches the kids, and ida gave me her name and information, so i signed them up, and this morning i went down at 10:30 with connor.

connor in the foreground

the lap pool was covered, but the baby pool was filled for the first time since we arrived, and the little kids got into that with the teacher, and swam up and down, learning to blow bubbles and wave their arms around under the water.  i sat in the lobby with the laptop and worked on an interview with one of the artists; part of my duties as guest-host of the residency.  i went and got avery in the middle of connor’s lesson, and when he got there it was his turn to get in the little pool and practice blowing.  this was good, because until now avery has been holding his nose.  but if you hold your nose while waving your arms around, you will go in a circle, so it’s something he needed to know.

avery in the corner

before swimming, jim and i had time to go to the store for more milk (they sell it in quarts; we have to buy 4 at a time because we have kids).  we stopped at ida’s kaffi klara and showed her jim’s first design for the troll mural she has commissioned us to do.  she told us she wanted a troll woman stirring a big pot.  so jim went home and drew it up, and when she saw it she was pleased.  that’s only the beginning, of course.  in talking to her, we found out that kaffi klara is becoming known as a family restaurant, in part because ida’s whole family works there.  so she asked us to put in some kids helping.  i asked if she wanted a pile or bag of bad children waiting to be cooked, because that’s the tradition here (trolls are used like monsters under the bed to scare kids into good behavior).  she didn’t mind, but that wasn’t the point.  we were given 3 adjoining walls to make our designs on, so jim went back and started drawing the rest of the family, carrying wood, setting tables, cleaning dishes, etc.  i’m going to need ladders, lifts, or scaffolding to do some of the mural, but we should be able to start very shortly, as soon as ida has approved our design and made any changes she thinks of.  i’m hoping to get ida’s daughter to help execute the mural, as she is a budding artist herself, and would find the work interesting as well as challenging.

did i speak about our hike up the mountain yesterday?  probably not, so going backwards again…

on sunday, it was day two of the seamen’s festival, and i could see them dragging out the bouncy houses for the kids just before noon.  so i made peanut butter and honey sandwiches, gathered the waterproof pants and gloves, and hustled the boys into the car so i could spirit them away before they realized what all that colorful plastic was.  success.  we got to kleifar, about 4km away and a good hour’s hike.  i parked the car at the bottom of the hill into the valley; there’s a gravel road that goes straight up, and i already knew the car wasn’t going to like it.  as we got out of the car, a guy came out of the house with the standing stones all around it, carrying a plate of ex food – the bones of a lamb roast, and some old potatos it looked like.  he dumped this on a large rock and went back inside, pointing above us to where birds were already circling.  by the time we got to the top of the gravel road, the birds were thick on the rock, squabbling as ever over their lunch.


the trail goes up the hanging valley of the gunnoflsa river, called ytrardalur.  it’s well marked (even tho avery kept pulling up the markers and waving them around like swords), and the trail is up and down, trending up several hundred feet along several miles of valley.


the last time i was up there, the snow line was just beyond the bridge into the base of the upper valleys.  this time it was much farther, and since that was our goal, we had to keep going.

that’s a peanut butter cracker in avery’s mouth, not an orange tongue.  in case you wondered

just as we got in sight of the abandoned farm cart, avery decided to cross a mucky part instead of finding a route around, and got his boot stuck in the mud.  this caused a major meltdown, and he for a while refused to go on.  but defeat is never a good reason to quit, so we changed into his snow pants, and i argued and insisted until he reluctantly squished along as far as the river and its bridge, which tho new three years ago is already beginning to fall into the river.


by the time we got to the bridge, he decided that if we could rinse off all the mud, the maybe it would be okay.  so we went down to the gravel shoreline and washed his boot and sock, and after that he was fine.


disaster averted.  then we climbed a nasty steep little ridge that i was fearful of for the trip back, and after that it was up up up until we found a patch of snow that was level, and didn’t have a rushing stream undermining it.


there was a troll rock nearby, so we sat there and ate our peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and the boys played in the snow while jim walked up to the beginning of the upper valley and took a look around – it’s all snow up there.



but the boys didn’t care.  they were busy getting wet to the skin, despite down jackets, snow pants, and ski gloves.


so connor was absolutely miserable for about ten minutes as we started our descent – bawling, sobbing, tripping along beside me as i held his hand.


and then he got over it, and the rest of the way down was smooth and without event, even the nasty ridge bit, where i had to shepherd each of them down, and took especial care of grandpa, whose fall would ruin everything.  i can carry the boys down the mountain, but grandpa is immovable when he’s not well.


when we got back to the car, the boys’ heads were filled with visions of hot chocolate, so we did that when we got home, and had dinner (leftover hamburger made into stirfry), and put them to bed.  and lo and behold, tho it was only 10pm, they went to sleep.  and so did we.  blissful, aching soreness dissolving into sleep.

the blueberries aren’t quite ripe yet


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