Friday, February 29, 2008

How Far Can You Go?

I had the strangest day yesterday, both in its length and emotions. For starter I arranged a talk with one of the artists I am kin to write about. Her drawings and movies are filled with symbols, so I was very excited about opportunity to speak with her. Her studio is located almost on the shore of the bay, and the view there was simply magnificen. Endless water, the leaden waves, the grey sky created an illusion of being one on one with nature at the end of the world.

It started snowing from early morning; snow gradually became thicker and thicker, the wind picked up and by the time I was in front of the artist’s studio, the weather turned into full scale blizzard. I had to be very cautious crossing the street because there was no way of seeing what was coming at you.

An email from the artist said: “See you at 10:00 in the garage behind the house”. Ok, then, knee deep in the snow I went around the house. Knocked at the garage door – nobody answer; knocked again – the same effect. I took out my cell phone and dialed her number, which I wrote down just in case - no answer. I went towards the house, climbed up the stairs and rang a bell – no answer. Went down again, noticed a small door leading to the basement –rang it too. Finally, some movement behind the door! It swung opened and a young man in a tomato red robe appeared in the doorway, all groggy from sleep. He was so cozy and I was so cold, the contrast of his bright robe and the whiteness of the snow was so striking, I could not help but felt a tingle of laughter rising inside me. I am in Iceland, in the middle of the blizzard, in the part of a city I have never been before, hunting for an elusive artist, and waking up strangers.

My mood went up but our conversation didn’t lead to the whereabouts of the artist. And thus, after 30 minutes of calling and trying to figure out what to do next, I left. (*I got a note from the artist today; there were some special circumstances that prevented her from being at her studio)

I went to my refugee place in Reykjavik, a cafĂ© inside the Municipal Museum. The cafe isn’t popular with Icelanders, but this works to my advantage – I can always find a place to sit there, they have an internet and most importantly the bartender is always cheerful, helpful, and by now even knows how I take my coffee. I sat there for a while, warming up with generous helping of coffee and savoring a warm kleina (Icelandic pastry). That was the first time I realized that kleina supposed to be eaten warm because it gets all soft and yummy. Einar, the bartender, is truly excellent. After coffee and friendly chat I felt reenergized and where did I go? Why, to the gallery, of course. A nice surprise was waiting for me there - my two Icelandic acquaintances happened to tour the same exhibition. It was interesting to compare our notes and impressions.

Instead of calling it a day and stop on the pleasant note, I got myself into one more adventure or misadventure, depending on the point of view. The Reykjavik Art Museum started a series of talks with various artists and yesterday there was one of those talks there. I knew that it would be in Icelandic, and was hesitant to go, but the artists with whom I exchanged emails were so accommodating, so sweet in reminding me about the upcoming talk that I felt obliged to come. At eight o’clock in the evening I found myself in the conference room of the museum, surrounded by a small crowd of Icelanders. It was comforting to see some familiar faces – one of the speakers came to me and mentioned that he could speak in English if I would like. I would have loved it, but it would have been ultimately rude to other people. Touched, I had to decline.

Two hours of foreign language is like watching a muted TV – you register every gesture, every ripple of emotions going across the faces, small changes in voices, but details escape you. If for the first part I was able to follow the discussion, picking up on familiar words and knowing the topic, the second part with two guest speakers was completely lost on me. Technically I could have asked some questions during the talk but in reality it didn’t work. How can you form a question if you are lost in the sea of foreign words?

One has to try something at least once, they said. That was my try.

Today is the 29th of February, which comes only once in four years. You suppose to try something new, take a leap. I think I did all my leaps yesterday and just stay quiet for a day.

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