Open to the Magic (in Whatever Form it Comes)

SAM_3568Periodically, as we traveled around Iceland in July, we’d see small houses—elf doors—built up against the side of slabs of volcanic rock. They’re built for the elves—the huldofolk or hidden people—who live in the rocks. Because in Iceland, even if you don’t believe in elves and fairies outright, you likely don’t want to take the chance that they’re hidden somewhere close by—and that you haven’t treated them with your very best manners.

I was mesmerized by these little elf doors and by the idea that the huldofolk might be hiding in plain sight, if only you had the gift to see them. We even went on an elf tour to see some of the hidden folk’s favorite hangouts while we were there. When our tour guide told us that some people could actually hear the elves at one large rock, my kiddo and I immediately put our ears to it to see if we could hear anything. Because you never know. As my husband put it, we had no idea if we could see or hear the elves yet. And who doesn’t want to be open to the possibility of magic?

As an editor and a writer, you have to be at least a little open to letting magic in. There is something, call it what you will, about reading a pile of submissions and finding one that sings to you or persistently putting words down on the page in the hopes that these might be ones that work. And as a parent there’s a certain level of magic built in, too. We play and imagine, paint and create, write and laugh.

But it’s too easy to set aside the magic and get mired down in the more mundane details of life. I’ve tried my best to embrace the hygge this winter, but it hasn’t always been easy. There are still deadlines and stress, clutter and chaos, grief and loss no matter how many candles I light at night. The feeling of coziness can slip away all too easily.

Last night, I worried that it was slipping away again. With a kid getting over a stomach bug, our New Year’s Eve plans went out the window and we were home together on the sofa as if it was just any old night—which it was, after all. Then we made some decisions. I picked up some fancy cheese to munch on. We watched a live stream of Reykjavik’s fireworks and celebrated the New Year on Iceland time before our tired kiddo went to sleep. My husband indulged my love of the X-Files by watching some of the first season with me for the first time as we drank mulled mead and ate tarts filled with apple butter I’d made myself. It was a nice night.

Magic can seep into life in so many different ways. For me, it can be a book that sets me on fire, or watching the new Star Wars movie on opening night with a couple of hundred of other crazy fans. It can be my kiddo giving me two albums she hates for Christmas (Frank Turner and One Direction) because she knows they’ll make me happy. It can be a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea on the first morning of 2016.

What matters isn’t when the magic slips away, but the decision to keep trying to let it in, in whatever form it takes. So, as my little family welcomes this new year, I’m determined to keep putting my ear to the elf rock—and to try to be open to whatever I might hear within it.

 

Time Out: Iceland (Roving Around Edition)

SAM_3061Iceland is not a huge country, though it feels vast. Part of that is the volcanic mountains everywhere. Part of it is that there aren’t that many people—we’re talking over 300,000 but not much more. And the ones who are there mostly live in cities in towns, not strewn all over the country.

Of those roughly 300,000 people (I was assured that sheep outnumbered people to the tune of 500,000 more woolly animals), it’s really hard to tell who’s related. That’s because surnames there don’t go by family names the way they do in a lot of other countries. Here my last is Platt. In Iceland, it would be my dad’s first name plus the suffix dottir. My brother, on the hand, would have my dad’s first name but son. So siblings don’t have the same last name, let alone cousins and more distant relatives. Sound confusing? Try dating in Iceland.

As with all things, there’s an app for it. I honestly didn’t believe it when and Icelander informed me that folks at the University of Iceland had created an app—using the Islendingabok, a comprehensive tracking of the lineage of almost everyone who’s lived in Iceland since 873—where you can bump phones with someone you’re interested in romantically to make sure you’re not closely related, but lo and behold—there is, in fact, an app for this.

So, if you’re one of the nearly 94% of the Icelandic population who lives in urban areas like Reykjavik, you can easily find out if you’re about to hook up with a cousin. If you’re not, you can still use the app, of course. But you also get to feast your eyes on this on a daily basis.

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Recently melted snow cascades in a lovely trickle down a lava hill.

Or, you know, this.

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And over these lava hills in a slightly more powerful way.

We were only in Iceland for ten days, but it was long enough to make lava fields seem almost normal.

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Just outside the Blue Lagoon, you get all of the beauty and none of the nearly naked people caked in silica mud.

Occasionally, it didn’t even look like we were on this planet anymore, and we were smilingly informed that astronauts have trained in Iceland for extra-planetary missions for this very reason. And Hollywood has been known to use Iceland as a backdrop for movies set somewhere other than Earth.

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Take away the snow, and you’ve a pretty otherworldly landscape. Heck, even with the snow you do.

There were even occasions when the landscape defied anything that could be described as Martian.

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Sadly, we weren’t really on Mars. But sometimes it felt like the Curiosity rover could motor its way around any corner.

And on those occasions, you could find both a bad smell—my kiddo insisted the sulfur stayed in her nose long after we visited these places—and boiling mud. And let me just tell you: boiling mud is awesome in every sense of the word.

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No one in my family was as excited about the mud pits as I was.

Mud pits aside (if you can put something like that aside), almost the moment you leave the city, you realize that Iceland is one of the single most beautiful places in the world. Whether you’re horseback riding down a fjord, hiking up lava, or exploring one of the seemingly endless waterfalls, the land is changing and vibrant and stunning.

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The view across the fjord during our exhausting trek on horses.

Plus, boiling mud.

 

Time Out: Iceland (Hanging in Reykjavik Edition)

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Leif Eriksson, looking like his bad self, towering over the city.

If you go to Reykjavik expecting to find one of the grand cities of Europe, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go expecting a city that’s young, fun, vibrant, and utterly welcoming…well, you’d be pretty much spot on.

One of the first things you notice in Reykjavik is that nothing is built from wood. This is unsurprising, really, since there aren’t a whole lot of trees in Iceland. But as New Englander, being surrounded by a sea of corrugated tin, plaster, and stucco was odd. Not bad, of course. Just odd.

Then you start to look closer. It turns out that plaster and stucco can provide a perfect canvas and the good folks of Reykjavik are clearly not ones to pass up a good canvas. So there’s art—lots of lots of it—all around the downtown area. Some of the art is the type commissioned by the city itself—statues in all shapes and forms dot the streets and parks.

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A solemn cello player outside of the prism-like Harpa concert hall with a gorgeous vista behind him.

A lot of it, though, is painted directly on the buildings or created using the fences, fountains, and other pieces of the city.

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Just a random house. A random, awesome house.
SIngle gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.
Single gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.

Did I mention that this place is a lot of fun?

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Jaunty mustache. Jaunty ties.

In the summer time, it’s also a lot of light. Like a lot of it. The sun “sets” after midnight and “rises” again at around 2:30 a.m. So while people are always saying that New York is the city that never sleeps, I’d argue that Reykjavik in summer the summer more literally is. The sun is up, people are out—eating, drinking, and generally having a really good time.

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The view from our hotel room on the gloriously hip Laugavegur at 1:30 a.m. It got darker during a midday rainstorm than it did in the middle of the night.

And you know what? We had a really good time, too. I loved walking through the streets and finding little creative surprises in nooks and crannies. I loved to see the water and the mountains at the end of a street—a glimpse of the natural world (and the volcanoes) that surround and indeed created the land we were standing on. I loved that everyone we met—tourists and Icelanders alike—were warm and friendly. I loved that waffles are a thing and that rhubarb jam is ubiquitous.

Really, I just loved Reykjavik. Sometimes trees and wood are grossly overrated.

Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Yeah, it's a smiley face for me.
Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Heck, yeah, it’s a smiley face for me.