Monday, October 10, 2016

iceland 1986-2016

The world of yesterday is constantly shifting in my mind. Sometimes it feels light years away, and sometimes I have a feeling I am still living in it. Everything is even more complicated when it comes to my relationship with Iceland. I can pinpoint the exact moment in the past when it began, but despite that it seems to have been timeless. Here is how it all began. 

Thirty years ago, when I was fifteen, I came back home from a long day at school, so hungry that I asked my mother to bring me dinner on a tray to the living room. I was leaned back on the couch, with my feet on the coffee table, and while I was eating I causally glanced at the 7.30 news on TV. At the time I had no interest in such things at all. However, at a certain point I was intrigued by the mention of Iceland, a country I had only vaguely heard about in a geography class, a country I knew nothing else about. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev were meeting there, by a white fireplace (as I remember it), but then the camera switched to show some streets of Reykjavik, its colourful roofs, a mountain in the background that I would later learn is called Esja. That footage pressed a mysterious button somewhere deep down in my mind and soul, for all of a sudden I was struck by what I saw, and I wanted to see and learn more. But in a provincial town in Yugoslavia back in 1986, before the Internet, where was I to learn more about Iceland? And how was I to get in touch with somebody from there? The urge was enormous, I could not help my desire to get in touch with Iceland, I dreamed about it incessantly, and tried to come up with a few strategies of how to get closer to it. 

I did not know a single name of an Icelander, I did not know any street address, and there was nowhere to find such information. No Icelandic embassy in the country. So I decided to make a random telephone call to Iceland, try to explain who I was and why I was calling, and ask for their address so that I could write to them. The man who answered the phone was very kind, and he actually did spell out his full name and address for me. I put it down like this: "Halljajaur Inn, Kringland, some numbers, Reykjavik". Full of elation and hope, I wrote a letter in school English asking them to put me in touch with interested Icelandic pen-friends. Two or three weeks later the letter returned, of course, because neither the name nor the address resembled anything or anyone recognizable in Reykjavik. My disappointment was huge, not just because the letter returned, but also because I had to cross out telephone as a way to stick out with my plan. 

I think a whole year passed without any news about Iceland. I would find an odd, brief article in newspapers about Miss World from Iceland, or some geographical facts in my uncle’s maritime encyclopedias. I treasured it all in my scrap book, but it wasn’t enough. Then my father went to a business trip to Germany and brought back a small Braun electric shaver. I was keen on inspecting the razor, as well as the booklet that came with it. And in that booklet I discovered something that would turn my life around: it included a list of all the services worldwide where the shaver could be taken to be fixed while under warranty. Among them was an address in Reykjavik! The company’s name was Pfaff. As impatiently as ever, I immediately wrote them a letter. The days that ensued were too long. Still, several weeks later I did get a response. That moment was one of the most exciting in my life by that time. The company kindly sent me their badge, and informed me that they had forwarded my letter to one of the popular Icelandic teenage magazines. I felt the world was opening up for me, and I thought I could expect some news very soon. That could have been '87 or '88. I waited, and waited, but nothing was happening for months. I felt I was doomed to failure, and started thinking that what I wanted was impossible to achieve. No new opportunities came into view. I celebrated my 18th birthday in 1989, and went from Montenegro, where I was living, to my native Croatia (at that time both countries still belonged to Yugoslavia), to spend the summer, as I always did. Iceland was a gem hidden from my eyes, but incessantly scintillating within me. Then one day in August my mother telephoned from Montenegro to say that several letters from abroad had arrived for me. I think she mentioned they were from Iceland. Not knowing what they were, but ablaze with the rekindled euphoria, I could not wait for my mum to come to Croatia and bring the letters. When she finally arrived, there were six of them. All were from different young people from Iceland, introducing themselves, some with photographs. ‘Vikan’ had run my add for pen-friends, though with a huge delay. The feelings that those letters evoked were magical. Still, it did take three years for it to happen. I responded to all of the letters, and when I returned home in September more were waiting for me. After a while, I established permanent pen-friendship with four people: Kristin, Katrin, Unnar, and Frida. With some of them I am in contact to this day, and one of them, Kristin, I met several times during my visits to Iceland, and she has become a dear, personal friend. 

The adventures that my love for Iceland has brought to my path are too numerous to cover in one short text. I just wanted to look back at the beginnings and say that Iceland is one of the most constant loves of my life, one that can hardly be described. Thirty years have passed, the world has changed enormously, but some things remain as permanent stars in the sky.