Archive of ‘travels’ category

Currently {11.21.16}

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Currently: enjoying the brief window of opportunity we have to open the house up to cool breezes and fresh air (during which time I start burning all the incense and candles, stinking up all of our newly acquired fresh air); hand-writing letters to far flung friends, drinking up all the tea in my cupboards and queuing up all the Hildegard Von Bingen and Loreena McKennit that I can find, for I am a creature of habit, and that’s what I like to listen to when the weather frosts my fingers and numbs my lungs. It was 45 degrees this morning when I woke up! In November! In Florida! Wow.

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Creepy doll jumble at Uncommon Objects

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Ramen and bride of the fox sake at Tatsu-ya

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Holly Bobisuthi creations at Blackmail Boutique

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Precious mouse friend at Uncommon Objects

Currently: recovering from our yearly trip. This time around, instead of visiting Portland, we visited Austin…which I guess is sort of like “the other Portland”. Well, that’s what everyone says, anyway, but I don’t quite get that. I like both places very much, but I will say that folks seem a lot chattier in Austin, more willing to engage (as someone who is not keen on chatting, I am not sure if that’s a plus, but I’d sound like such a grinch if I indicated a city of friendly people is somehow negative, right?)

In Austin I:

  • ate all of the tacos on Torchy’s menu (I liked the Baja shrimp taco best!)
  • waited in lines for three hours at Franklin’s for barbecue on our first day and walked right in to Terry Black’s barbecue on the last day (I found Terry Black’s to be superior)
  • visited all of the beautiful antiques and old creepy things at Uncommon Objects
  • bought new perfumes and gorgeous new baubles at Blackmail Boutique, where I also finally got to meet the fabulous Chad Merritt, whose gorgeous paper cut art I have been collecting forever
  • got invited to a secret Shaky Graves show
  • saw some art at one location of the East Austin Studio Tour
  • finally met my darling Lau and her husband; we dined on caviar and pirozhki at The Russian House and afterwards, sipped on secret speakeasy cocktails at a clandestine location nearby
  • Stopped by Austin Books and Comics, which now rivals Powells (in my opinion) for best bookstore on earth. Also stepped into The Dragon’s Lair, which was pretty groovy, too, with an amazing selection of comics and graphic novels. And games, if you are into that.
  • Enjoyed delicious ramen at Tatsu-ya; amazing pizza at Home Slice; several breakfasts at June’s, more cocktails at Gordoughs, and marveled at the TARDIS of yarnshops–Hill Country Weavers–which is totally bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside, and is stuffed wall-to-wall with fantastically beautiful yarns.

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Over the course of our week in Austin, I had a surprising amount of downtime. While the lads were adventuring (in the next room with dice and character sheets), I curled up on the sofa and read the following:

My Sweet Audrina: Prompted by last month’s Bad Books For Bad People podcast, I thought I’d re-read this gem from my childhood. At 11 years of age, I don’t think I fully appreciated the scope of how truly fucked up this book was–it is beautifully bonkers.

The Girl On The Train: For me, this is a read that falls into the “good for what it is” category… something I would probably not pick up unless I was traveling…something with a little mystery, very little depth, and a moderate to high trashy-factor. If you liked Gone Girl, you will probably also like The Girl On The Train (I actually liked it better than Gone Girl.)

The Singing Bones: The brief synopsis is, “a convicted killer’s imminent parole forces a woman to confront the nightmarish past she’s spent twenty years escaping”, but it’s a richly layered story with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and fascinating folkloric elements that elevates it to something beyond a typical thriller. Highly recommended– and thanks a million for the suggestion, Leslie.

The Ritual: This book about four friends and their nightmare hike into dark, primal Scandinavian wilderness has been on my to-read list forever, but of the books I read while away last week, it is probably my least favorite. The first half reminded me of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo”, or “The Willows”, the former which always freaks me out a little but more than the latter, but they are both hauntingly intense and give me shudders whenever I ponder them overlong. The second half of the book seems silly in comparison, but I found that after the acute anxiety caused by the first half, I was okay with some ridiculousness.

The Other Side, An Anthology Of Queer Paranormal Romance“Featuring 19 comics by 23 different creators, THE OTHER SIDE is a celebration of queer romance and the paranormal… featuring a wide variety of queer and trans protagonists – as well as poltergeists, shadow monsters, guitar-playing hypnotists, lost angels, genderfluid vampires, trickster ghosts, and many more!” There were definitely hits and misses here; a few left me wanting much more, one or two left me scratching my head, and a handful of them were just perfect. On the whole though, I thought it was a wonderful collection and a highly satisfying reading/visual experience.

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And lastly, what have I been watching? Here are some one(ish) word reviews for you…

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House*-Yes (but slow & not much plot)
Lights Out– Yes (but problematic)
31-Maybe (if Rob Zombie is a guilty pleasure)
The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein-ummyes
Doctor Strange (in the theatre)-Absolutely
The House Next Door– Yes (but read book first context)(also this is cheesy & mostly awful)

*can be found on netflix

Our favorite city: Portland (Part II)

Now it’s a week that I have been back from Portland and these experiences are not nearly as fresh in my mind …so I think this will be a massive photo dump along with some recommendations. Sound good? OK, let’s go!

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As with our stay in 2012, we paid Voodoo Doughnuts a visit.  I think a lot of the locals will tell you this place is over-hyped, and maybe waiting in line for a half an hour with a bunch of derpy tourists will certainly color your experiences a bit – but we were in and out of there in 5 minutes, so I still think it is a pretty okay spot for morning (or whenevertime) pastries. Pictured are the Maple Bacon bar, The Loop, and the Cock-n-Balls.  Which we group shared. Of course!

Other doughnut places visited:

Blue Star – these doughnuts seemed… little more high-brow? If you can even say that about doughnuts, I guess. We shared the blueberry bourbon basil, which was understated and lovely.

Pips – these guys are tiny fried bits of deliciousness. A member of our group took it upon himself and hunted them down at 6 in the morning to take advantage of a birthday special that they offer. I had the honey and sea salt, which was a sweet, salty, greasy revelation.

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After stuffing ourselves full of cheese samples and wine at The Wedge fest (watch the video at the top of that site and you’ll see two of my favorite beardos!) we wandered around the city looking for a proper meal. I am not sure how we ended up at the Bit House Saloon, but I am glad that circumstances led us there, for we had several rounds of wonderful cocktails between games of Fluxx. I used to feel sort of weird about showing up at a bar and playing card games, but now I find that I really enjoy it – how about you? My favorite cocktail of the afternoon was The Grandmaster Flowers: bourbon, nectarine, chamomile, grapefruit, lime, and dandelion & burdock bitters. Also, that punch bowl. Gimme!

Still not having put food in our bellies, we attempted to get seated at Katchka right across the street for “Russian food in a space that looks like your communist grandmother’s basement”, but once we heard about the 3-4 hour wait, we decided to hoof it down to Noraneko for some ramen. And who should we accidentally run into but our friend’s husband, with whom we had just shared drinks at Hale Pele the previous night! We all cozied up for noodles, but to be honest, it was the few light bites we enjoyed beforehand that really made me happy.  Who knew that dried squid could be so sweet and chewy and delicious? Paired with an oolong highball, I felt like Murasaki Wakkako in Wakakozake! Pshuuu….!

Powells

Kanye

I think we all can agree that no trip to Portland is complete without a trip to Powells, but what trip to Powells is complete without purchasing a copy of Kanye West – Reanimator? Ponder that, if you will.

AltarPDX

Tyler Thrasher

Early on I knew that I would want to make a sojourn to ALTAR which boasts a magical collection of “Northwest Alternative Handmade” objects and apparel, home goods and body care items. When she rung up my purchases, the lovely owner (whose name I sadly did not catch. Or even ask for. Whoops!) assured me that I had picked out one of all of the best things in the store. Among my favorites: dark, wild scents from lvnea, dreamy tees from Wolf Child, jewels from Morgaine Faye, and the gorgeously illustrated wooden tarot deck from Skullgarden. What I did not bring home with me, though I wish I could have, was one of Tyler Thrasher‘s beautiful crystal encrusted creatures. So exquisite! So delicate! So not going to make it home in one piece!  It was a treat though, to be able to see them in person and up close.

 

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The first place – and one of the last places -that I visited in Portland was my beloved Paxton Gate. A treasure trove of taxidermy, oddities, curiosities and natural wonders, I could spend hours upon hours in there taking in all of the delights and grotesqueries! I would then of course become bankrupt and have to live in a cardboard box…but these are just minor inconveniences, you see. Just look at those fancy mice! I would love to have them cavorting with me forever! And that raccoon – his face!  Ah, I love this place.  On my first visit, a silver tentacled ring wrapped its way around my finger, and upon my last, my heart was stolen by a wee mummified bat. Too many good things!

Oh, Portland. I already miss your weirdness and your fantastic happy hours and your wonderfully friendly folks.  We will be back again, mark my words!

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Our favorite city: Portland (part one)

Back in 2012, my fella and I visited Portland, OR and had a lovely time -delicious foods were devoured, delightful cocktails were quaffed, old friends met for the first time. It was a marvelous trip and we have been talking about it ever since.

It only made sense then, to make a return visit -this time with several friends in tow! And since I have a dreadful habit of glossing over the human aspects of my adventures, let me say that I could not hope for finer traveling companions. Everyone’s personality is so different in our group – boisterous and exuberant; clever and droll; taciturn and brilliantly observant -but they all add up to the most wonderful circle of friends! And it feels strange to say that, “friends”. These gentlemen were originally comrades of my beau* but over time, as I’ve gotten to know them, I feel like they might actually be friends of mine, as well.

*(I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I hate the term “boyfriend”, so I’ll use just about every other descriptor I can wrangle.)

t break

We found a fantastic place to stay via Air BnB, a spacious and welcoming spot to call home base whilst exploring the city. A renovated 1920’s bungalow, it offered four bedrooms and two bathrooms, a large kitchen, and plenty of community space for boardgames and D&D and Dark Adventure Radio Theatre (we’re a nerdy group, you know). Again, we stayed in the Mississippi neighborhood and reveled in the chance to revisit some previous loves while staking out some new favorites with my fellow travelers.

If you’ve a hankering to visit the City of Roses, perhaps you will consider the following suggestions? Portland friends, commence the eye-rolling now.

At Mac! you’ll find all sorts of macaroni and cheese related shenanigans.  We shared enormous plates of their Truffle Mac, Cheeseburger Mac, Artichoke & Spinach Mac, and Cordon Bleu Mac. Somehow we lived through it.

 

We had a few breakfasts at Sweedeedee, a small corner cafe which is an excellent place for people watching and listening to records and eating pie – if you get there early enough, before the place starts to fill up. Recommended: the egg sandwich with shredded lettuce and avocado on the most delicious thick-cut, molasses bread. Also, salted honey pie. Skip: the breakfast burrito (too much mealy, undercooked potato).

tiki

At Hale Pele, in the lurid glow of torchlight and under the baleful glare of the gods, we sacrificed our dignity with friends and fellow fire drinkers.  I am fairly certain I had just about one of everything on the menu, and I will admit, near the end I am not even sure what I ordered.  I have to recommend, however, the Corn ‘n’ Oil, which as the menu would suggest, is indeed a strange name for an amazing drink. If you are looking for a nosh, they have several things to munch on; my favorites were the fried taro chips and the tuna poke. I love tiki bars for their kitschy escapism and potent cocktails, and Hale Pele now sits at the top of my list.

Elsewhere in the city, I met these two magical humans for art and cocktails; at Antler Gallery for the Unnatural Histories show – where I finally got to see one of Jessica Joslin’s exquisitely crafted bone and brass menagerie in person – and at Victoria Bar, where the drinks were Princess Bride inspired!

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Normally I am not keen on photos that other people take of me, because I have only like, 1/8 of a good side and no one knows how to capture it properly. That’s not their fault, of course.  I just don’t photograph well.  I shudder to think that I might actually look like a poor photo all of the time… but I suppose that’s a possibility that I can’t rule out, no matter how much it bruises the ego.  I do love this picture, however, taken at Tidbit Food and Farm food truck pod thingy whatever you call it. I don’t recall what we were discussing, but the look on my face is ridiculous and I love Minna for meeting up with us to visit, and for making me make that face.  I also do not recall what was eaten, but there was rice and noodles and karaage and takoyaki and I felt like the heroine of an action packed food anime trying to stuff it all in. Afterward, Minna marched us over to Fifty Licks for boozy adult ice cream super fun times. Pictured above is the Velvet Shiso made with plum wine, Riesling, and their Coconut Lemon Saffron sorbet with is spiced with saffron, star anise, and cardamom. It was amazing as it sounds. The only thing missing from this wonderful evening was our good friend Robyne, who was nursing a cold. Hopefully we will see you in January, Robyne!

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful spot to gaze quietly upon art, architecture, design and nature, and I was just enamored this time around by the mosaic courtyards with their poetic names – “Plum Blossom On Cracked Ice” being the best-loved by my ear and my favorite to speak aloud.  I have heard that the guides sometimes suggest walking barefoot on the stones to feel the different patterns  and such, and I think that sounds like a lovely idea and a pleasant exercise in mindfulness (…or something?  At least it sounds like a nice massage for the feet!)

Also, if you ever wonder if I actually wear the things that I have purchased from Stitch Fix, I present to you Exhibit A: the Everly Peter dress from Fix #10. I wore it with leggings and an asymmetric black Helmut Lang jacket and it was super cute. This photo, by the way, was taken in a startlingly clean nerdy game shop bathroom.

Next up: roses! more cocktails! doughnuts All of the shopping!

Hairy goat peen & other delights

Hairy goat weiners at the phallological museum

I cannot believe it was a year ago that I was in Iceland, land of trolls and Yule Lads, and kleina, donut-like pastries, twisted and fried, and so subtly sweet that one must devour two in rapid succession to properly suss out what one is tasting. Oh, and also: a penis museum.

Why, one might be inclined to ask, would you Sarah, of all people, wish to visit this particular establishment, this veritable shrine to the dingle-dongle?  Aren’t you the woman who has been insisting that “men are pigs from hell” ever since she was 17 years old? Why then, would you feel compelled to spend your time in a museum dedicated to the preservation and display of the infernal porcine (& other species) members?

That is an excellent question for which, I am afraid, I have no good answer.  I have a deep appreciation for the weird and the bizarre, though, so I suspect that a chance to see something kind of strange trumps any sort of misandry I may harbor.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum located in Reykjavík,  houses the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts. Founded in 1997 by retired teacher Sigurður Hjartarson and now run by his son Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson,the museum contains a collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals, allegedly including Huldufólk (Icelandic elves) and trolls. Of course, as Icelandic folklore portrays such creatures as being invisible, these cannot be seen! According to its mission statement, the museum aims to enable “individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.”

In July 2011, the museum obtained its first human penis, one of four promised by would-be donors. Its detachment from the donor’s body did not go according to plan and it was reduced to a greyish-brown shrivelled mass pickled in a jar of formalin. The museum continues to search for “a younger and a bigger and better one.” There is even a Canadian documentary film called The Final Member, which covers the museum’s quest to obtain a human penis.

 

As I recall, it seemed a rather small place, on a street corner that I almost walked straight past.  This could also be due to the fact that I don’t read Icelandic (yet) and I couldn’t read the sign.  Despite its tiny appearance, however, the place was packed with displays and wall mounts and shelves upon shelves of all the junk you could ever hope to see.  There was even functional art based on that pokey portion of the male anatomy – penis and scrotum lamps, door handles, and a telephone! And of course, a gift shop when you can purchase coffee cups, key chains, and all manner of willy-related tschotchkes to commemorate your visitation to the pecker palace.

We  probably toured the entire place in a half an hour’s time, but this is one of the occasions where upon the memory of the experience is better than the actual experience  – not that it wasn’t a bit of fun, mind you, but it was just sort of an in-out visit (pun intended because I can’t help myself) and there wasn’t very much exploring to do. And I suppose it was sort of a consolation prize, as I had actually been hoping to go to the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery…but I couldn’t interest anyone in the 3 hour trip to Hólmavík for that. I would, however, definitely recommend a stop by this weird little museum, as part of your Icelandic experience.

 

2008 Icelandic handball team at the phallological museum.

Penis lamp. Move over Leg Lamp. This is electric sex.

Dick-headed goat

Various specimens at the Icelandic phallological museum

Because I am twelve and penises are hilarious.

#morningwood (Okay, that was bad and I should feel bad. I am sorry)

Hello, goodbye

crossroads

Not long after my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in December of 2012, she converted to Catholicism.  I can’t speak to how devout she was and it doesn’t matter to me – I believe the idea of faith and the trappings of belief and ritual gave her great comfort during her last year – so who cares if she never made it to church or attended a single mass.

And so what if she collected blingy rosaries alongside gorgeously rendered gilt-edged tarot decks in her final days- can’t a soul have room for more than one set of beliefs, more than one way for communicating with the divine? Or maybe she was hedging her bets, who knows.  Her relationship with her creator and her spirituality were no business of mine.

For as long as I can remember my mother cultivated a strange system of beliefs.  I recall, at the age of six or seven, sitting silently in a kitchen chair across a ouija board from my mother, my small hands on one edge of the planchette, her slim fingers on the other, and a phone cradled between her ear and shoulder as she chatted with a friend at the same time we were attempting to make contact with spirits.  At a very tender age I learned that my mother just didn’t do things the way other people did, I guess.  I imagine I grew up thinking if you weren’t carrying on conversations with both the dead and the living at the same time, you were probably doing it wrong.

Books on astrology and mediumship were always stacked precariously on our kitchen table; I can picture my mother’s face through a haze of smoke over breakfast as I picked at my Wheat Chex, while she thoughtfully read the paper and drank her coffee, a dangerously long ash from her cigarette dangling over the cover of a Linda Goodman title on Love Signs or perhaps something by Louise Huebner.

I grew up thinking that in every house there were hidden chest of tarot cards, that every stray slip of paper was a piece of an astrological chart, that candles and incense and yoga circles were every family’s Wednesday night. This was a huge part of the curiously fascinating, terrifyingly intense woman that my mother was in life, this yearning for hidden knowledge and a connection to a plane beyond our own.  So it only made sense to my sisters and I to honor that facet of her personality in death: with a visit to a medium, almost a year after her passing.

Welcome Center at Cassadaga

Despite the fact we had been bandying the idea back and forth for almost a year now, we were ill-prepared for this.  We realized we didn’t even have a code word.  As in, I suppose, some absurd word or phrase or inside joke that only we would understand, and we  would recognize immediately if the medium in question was the real deal if he or she were to utter it.  (Since then we have all come up with individual code words and phrases. If you intend to communicate with your loved ones from beyond the veil, I suggest that you take a moment or two to mull it over and do the same!)

Furthermore, we really didn’t even know how to go about finding a recommended spiritualist. We were terrified we were going to get a dud.  You know the kind: “I see a color…a number…a man! …or maybe a woman!” OKAY THAT’S $250 NOW SCRAM”.

Fortunately for us on the day of our intended sojourn, one of my sisters recalled a medium she visited a few years ago in Cassadaga.  “She wasn’t …too bad…?”, she offered doubtfully. And with that, we decided that not too bad was just good enough for us, and proceeded to make an appointment for later that afternoon.

I am really not sure how to talk about the afternoon that followed.  Much of it – two thirds of it, really – is not my story to tell, and that ventures into sharing -details-that-are-none-of-my-business-to-share territory. I can, however share some of my impressions of the reading.

Our medium/psychic, Birdie, lived in a small, unassuming house at the edge of the spiritualist camp -you’ll recognize it by the “Spiritual Garden” sign outside, beside the small dirt driveway which guests can park in.  The rickety screen door, wood-paneled walls and crocheted throws seemed to belong to any other older Florida home, and as we took our seats around a small desk at the rear of the house, I could hear Birdies’ husband mowing the lawn or doing related noisy things in the backyard. It was perfectly ordinary and absolutely surreal all at once.  As if on cue, the three of us giggled nervously.

Birdie seated herself, turned to us, and without missing a beat, asked “why do I see bananas?” This threw us for a bit of a loop.  Why WOULD she see bananas? It then dawned on me that my mother despised bananas (as do I! wretched fruits.) and I offered that piece of information.  Birdie seemed to take this as a sign that we were indeed talking with our mother.  I wish I had thought to ask how this all works.  I mean, was our mother’s spirit there, like an ectoplasmic parrot on Birdie’s shoulder, whispering things in her ear?  Or was it more like a crackly, static-y connection to the next world and maybe our mother made some sort of collect call? Even if I had the wherewithal to ask…how do you even ask that?  Is that too personal, or some sort of spiritualist faux-pas?  I am still pondering this.  Feel free to weigh in.

I am not too certain that I should have been concerned about any hurt feelings though, as Birdie herself was not terribly diplomatic with the messages she delivered.  Maybe it’s a “don’t shoot the messenger sort of thing”, or how you can’t be terribly upset with a translator for passing on the unintentionally rude mumblings of diplomats.  An example of this: at some point during the reading she looked at my two sisters, and then me. “You”, she said, pointing at me “you don’t seem to think as much as these other two girls do”. Well!
But the funny thing is…she isn’t wrong.

But I am jumping ahead. One of the next things that happened is that she glanced at my youngest sister, who was wearing a tee shirt that said something about Indiana and asked “why do I look at you and see California? Does that make sense?”  I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but I don’t think anyone could really look at my sister and see California; she is pale and small with shocking red hair and a penchant for historical fiction and a love for rainy afternoons. However, she has lived out in the deserts of California for the past 7 years, working as a librarian.  Birdie was spot-on. How did she know? Weird.  We had not told her anything about ourselves ahead of time, and other than showing her a picture of our mother (it was actually a 50+ year old photo of a graduation), she had nothing at all to go on.

The next 45 minutes was peppered with those sorts of instances. Birdie asked if we knew a “Sandy or a Sandra”.  Our mother, she said, was apparently spending a lot of time visiting this person. Sandy was my mother’s best friend, and they’d had a bit of a falling out in the months before she passed. Aha!  Another question: “does the name Rose or Rosemary make any sense to you?  She’s with your mother right now.”  A chill ran down my spine when I heard this, for Rosemary Denise Kelly (or Kelly Denise, I can never remember which) was my mother’s much beloved, very pampered cat, who died many years ago. It sounds silly, but whatever other nonsense or baloney we heard during the session (and there was a fair amount of it), *this* was the small thing I had been waiting to hear.  Picturing my mother with that dumb fluffy cat in the afterlife was more comforting than I could possible explain.

Another thing that she said, that gave us all a laugh, and a profound sense of relief I imagine, was when Birdie asked “did your mother ….curse a lot? I get the feeling she swore like a sailor ”  Ha! Did she ever! That was such a huge part of who she was, and if Birdie hadn’t picked up on that, I think we would have been concerned.

Our time was up before long and we silently shuffled out and drove up the road for lunch.
Over a bottle of wine at the Cassadaga hotel we discussed our thoughts.  It was nothing like any of us had expected and yet I think, each in different ways, we found a bit of peace from something we had heard.

wine

I suspect that we were all hoping for an experience that was maybe a little more…atmospheric?  Swaying curtains and lit candles and maybe a cold spot or two, knocks on the walls, something to indicate the…presence of…something?  We’ve probably seen too many movies. I know I’ve for certain read Richard Peck’s Ghosts I Have Been too often; I was really hoping for a crazy Blossom Culp-like encounter.

Although not much changes from year to year – and I do visit Cassadaga once a year now, usually every October – we did take some time to walk around the town, to sort of decompress (it was rather nerve-wracking, at least for me) and to absorb everything we had been told and our thoughts on it. This was our first time visiting the town, all three of us together, and so we bought some tee shirts to commemorate the occasion, and I picked up a pendant that sort of looked like a cross between some far-off nebula and a really girly eye of Sauron.

Though I don’t know for certain how our mother might have felt in her final days about us consulting a medium, and if she would be able to reconcile that with her newfound love of The Lord, I do know beyond the shadow of a doubt that as a lifelong shopping addict, she would have approved of a few purchases and shiny baubles to end the day with.

 

Svima; dizzy

From the terrifying, vertiginous heights of a 60 meter waterf

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

all, to the giddy delight of having scaled it afterward, to the dazed distraction of being in the midst of incomprehensible multinational conversations, and the woozy, weak-in-the-knees sensation of toppling into bed once the day is done…if asked to sum my time in Iceland up in one word, my reply would be: “dizzying”.

A week later after arriving home and having settled back in, the dizziness is just now subsiding and yet I am still feeling rather unsteady and out-of-place.  A new friend summed it up rather eloquently, I think: “Repatriation can be a lot more shocking than expatriation, because we expect to feel comfortable, we expect things to be familiar, but everything is different. Not because everything has changed, but because *we* changed. Our frame of reference for the familiar has changed. “

All of this sounds like a complaint, doesn’t it?  I don’t mean it to be.  I’ve never fancied myself much of a traveler and I am finding that it rather takes some getting used to.  I think when one travels one must learn to let go of schedules and learn to embrace the unexpected and these are usually both difficult lessons for me. This journey proved to be no different in that regard and yet I think, at some point I , just…let go.  Gave up.  Due to the fact I did not speak the language (I know maybe four words of Icelandic) I didn’t know what was going on around me 99% of the time anyway, so why not just let someone else make the plans and I’d just end up where ever I ended up.  And it would be fine. “þetta reddast”, I heard repeated several times during the trip.  “It will be ok. It will work itself out.”  Þetta reddast.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Though I was in Reykjavík primarily for the wedding of my gentleman’s brother – which was a splendid affair at Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland – we did have time, in between visits with family (and there was a lot of family), to explore our own agenda.  Which were chiefly pastries, penis museums, haunted houses, and more waterfalls.

kleina (fried doughnut) and hjónabandssæla ("happy marriage cake")

kleina (fried doughnut) and hjónabandssæla (“happy marriage cake”)

Höfði house. Haunted by a lady ghost, according to local legend.

Höfði house. Haunted by a lady ghost, according to local legend.

2008 Icelandic handball team at the phallological museum

2008 Icelandic handball team at the phallological museum

random waterfall in Þingvellir

Because my guy and his family are originally from Iceland, there were many aunties and cousins still living there who had not seen them in a long time and who wanted to spend time catching up.  There were long coffee hours with trays of hangikjöt (smoked lamb) or salmon sandwiches and delicate pancakes either rolled thin and sprinkled with sugar or stuffed fat and full of cream and jam. There was an evening of at least 40 relatives packed into an apartment for bowls of traditional kjötsúpa – a humble but fragrant and nourishing meat soup, usually made with lamb and earthy winter vegetables.  I’ll scarcely mention the grilled minke whale, for those readers who may face ethical or philosophical dilemmas regarding this…very…delicious issue. And then, there was an afternoon in the town of Akranes where I was invited for a meal of the most delicious fish and chips that I have ever had in my life.

Boat graveyard at Akranes

Boat graveyard at Akranes

Akranes is a charming little fishing town, but there is a wee dodgy strip which could be mistaken for Innsmouth on a gloomy, grey afternoon. Though apparently the ninth most populous town in Iceland, Akranes seemed small and rather isolated to me.  We were taken on a little tour of the town, which included the boat and town history museum, as well as, the lighthouse – which was an unexpected and wonderful surprise for me, as Amiina, a lovely, unique group of musicians whose works I stumbled across recently and who sound like the dreamiest, tinkling music box, had recorded at this lighthouse in the past few years.   I was delighted to see that the lighthouse, though small,  also hosted exhibits of the poetic or artistic variety from time to time. Before leaving I was gifted with a knit version of a traditional hat, hand made by a very generous auntie.

Old Man Houlihan at the Akranes boat museum. He would have gotten away with it – if not for those meddling kids.

Little lighthouse at Akranes (viewed from top of big lighthouse)

Little lighthouse at Akranes (viewed from top of big lighthouse)

By Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir. Exhibit at the Akranes lighthouse.

By Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir. Exhibit at the Akranes lighthouse.

Lovely knit hat based on a traditional costume

Lovely knit hat based on a traditional costume

In addition to the town of Akranes, another one of my favorite places was Árbæjarsafn, which is the historical museum of the city of Reykjavík as well as an open air museum and a regional museum. Unfortunately, we put this visit off until the last minute, on the weekend – during which time it is not open.  Technically.  We were still able to walk around and look at the houses, but we were not able to go into them or explore them.  Nonetheless, we still spent about two hours walking around and marveling at the simple beauty of the structures.

Vestry

Vestry at Árbæjarsfni

Old House

Old houses at Árbæjarsfni

I was very lucky to experience Iceland from a unique perspective – though I did many of the tourist-y things (I ate hotdogs from every stand in the city for pete’s sake; I took a photo of this guy), I also spent a great deal of time with the people who actually live there and got to see things from a native’s perspective, as well.  Which included many home-made meals, I might add, and in a city as expensive as Reykjavík, that’s really a lovely blessing.

A few tips, if you are thinking of traveling to Iceland:

  • Bring layers!  I traveled during the end of August (which is like a relentless hellscape in Florida) but the weather I encountered in Iceland was in the 40s and 50s and drizzly.  Cold and rainy. Tee shirts and light sweaters and light jackets are best for hopping between coffee houses on a chilly day downtown, I think.
  • A sturdy pair of water proof boots is essential if you are going to be visiting the waterfalls or doing a bit of hiking. I purchased a pair from LL Bean and they are marvelous.  I highly recommend them.
  • Try to check out the happy hours for restaurants.  They are all so very expensive, so take advantage of deals where you can find them.
  • Go to Café Babalú, have a cappucino and check out their Star Wars themed bathroom, visit the The Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden, stop by the Reykjavík Botanical Gardens, people watch at Kringlan, eat Skyr with blueberry jam every morning, marvel at how everywhere, even at the grocery store, you can find yarn.

And be reminded of why we go away.  (says Terry Pratchett) “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 

I am glad I am no longer the same person who would have never left.  Though now I feel I am not actually the same person who did leave, either. It’s all so confusing! Perhaps I’d better start planning another trip and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

the places you go

I have been away and come back and somehow I don’t quite feel myself anymore. Whether I left a piece of myself on another continent or I returned with an added bit of something or other, I couldn’t tell you. It’s an unsettling feeling and I haven’t sorted it out yet.

Until such time as I jot down my thoughts, impressions and various ramblings on the experience, please have some music.

the places you go from ghoulnextdoor on 8tracks Radio.

Track list: The Bridge, Halla Norðfjörð | Krómantík, Sóley | The backbone, Rökkurró | Trøllabundin, Eivør Pálsdóttir | Near Light, Ólafur Arnalds | Hail thy Mary, myrra ros | Út, Ylja | Yaoi, Ballet School | Until Mourning, Útidúr | There Are More Things, Mikael Lind | Perth, amiina | Fall, Bloodgroup | Burnt, Kiasmos | Toothwheels, Múm | Stofnar Falla (Subminimal Remix), Samaris

escaping from summer

As the sun maintains its tyrannical zenith and the buzzing cicadas drown out the sound of one’s own heart, when the concrete scorches tender, bare feet, when the sky is so dazzlingly bright and hot that the electric blueness of it is burned into your retinas, well, that’s when I start to feel a little depressed.

My knitting lies in tangles and frizzes, untouched. The pages of books wilt underneath my fingertips. Gardens are unattended and parched, and little messes in the home accumulate under an uncaring eye. Under the weight of this mid-to-late summer malaise, ennui, whatever you want to call it – I just can’t be bothered to care.

I think one of the symptoms of depression is “…loss of interest in daily activities”; activities, which, I might add, I am normally rather enthusiastic about.  So I have come to the conclusion that this is a kind seasonally affective disorder, though not the sort that most folks experience.  It is the distinct lack of sun which I crave.

There’s really not much to be done for it save drawing the curtains, cranking down the AC, pouring oneself an icy drink, and contemplating all of the dark, quiet, cool places to which one can escape during these wretched summer months.

Mossy castles…

Blarney Castle in Ireland on flickr

 

Hushed cathedrals…

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague on flickr

Blue lagoons…

The Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) in Iceland on flickr

I suppose mentioning Iceland is a bit of a cheat, since I do have plans to be there at the end of August, ostensibly the hottest, most miserable time of year here in swamplandia.  And if I find any quiet cathedrals or mossy castles there – all the better!

What is your escape plan during these brain-boiling summer months?  What deliciously chilled places do your daydreams take you when the sun is melting your face off?  Let’s just all run away and come back when the leaves begin to turn this autumn.