So tomorrow on your way

Awoken before 7 by an immense clap of thunder, my immediate thought is that there’s a building collapsing next door. I’m mostly awake after that, quiescent in bed through the pounding of huge drops on the window and frighteningly nearby lightning strikes.

It’s the first day of spring. You couldn’t have guessed from the weather that it wasn’t far later in the year. It’s felt like May for the past three weeks. The flowers are all early, and the cherry blossoms down around the Tidal Basin are no exception, peaking a full week before their annual festival. A friend and I walk over after work, me with my camera and he with his bike. By the time we arrive the light is no longer on the trees but the crowds are still thick. We dodge through photographs and around strollers.

Within the past few months it seems like my social life has spun up. Glancing back and forward through my calendar I barely see an unbooked weekend night and have to go back to January before I find a weekend free of some sort of substantial time obligation. It’s not a problem, per se–I love the things that take up my weekend days and nights, music and family and friends, but I don’t seem to have fully adjusted so my body still expects to be allowed to sleep after a week of work, and is dismayed when this fails to happen.

It’s worth it, though. Like this weekend: today we saw John Carter (“entertaining” is the best way to describe it. Lexie and I definitely giggled our way through some scenes that seemed to want to be serious) and then had dinner with friends, followed by a rousing game of Scrabble (which I won by demoralizing the other players with a first-turn bingo). Yesterday was Shamrockfest, DC’s annual post-St.-Patrick’s-Day Irish-music-and-heavy-drinking extravaganza. We go for the music (less for the drinking) and this year’s mainstage line-up was excellent: Scythian, Carbon Leaf, Gaelic Storm, Dropkick Murphys. We were up front for the first three sets and retreated to a prudent distance for the fourth. The Murphys aren’t quite my style, a little more noise and a little less melody than I usually look for in music, but they certainly did put on a lively show. My attention kept getting distracted, though, both by the constant pushing and shoving from the crowd around us and from an oddity of the set-up. The festival is held in the parking lot of RFK Stadium, and this year the mainstage was assembled directly in front of an elevated Metro line. When we were up in front against the rail I barely noticed the trains going by (and certainly didn’t hear them), but once we moved back a ways I could see their whole lengths moving rapidly behind the stage. It broke me out of my concert reverie, and actually made me realize something about how and why I experience live music. When I go to a concert, part of why I go is to be transported, transformed, moved. I don’t want to be my usual self in my usual life. The thumping of the bass drum is the impetus moving me towards some other place.

But every time I saw a train go by, aggressively mundane, I was yanked out of that, shoved back into the person that I am the rest of the time. And that person is generally pretty great, and I like to be her, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to be someone else.

Next year’s Airwaves!

This is unquestionably a pretty egregious case of my overplanning, but Icelandair has very reasonable package deals going for flight/festival deals from cities including Boston, Toronto, Denver, DC, New York, and Seattle. There’s really no excuse for not going! Anyone interested? I’m definitely going, but I haven’t decided yet whether I want to just go for the week of the festival or add some time so I can see more of the country. Let me know if you’re interested!

Lost your way?

 I slept until noon on Saturday, an extravagance of which I was not even aware until I finally roused myself and looked at a watch in my bedroom. I walked downstairs, still a little disbelieving, to find my roommate stretched between our sofa and end table. “I thought about waking you,” she said, “but figured you were sleeping off your sickness.” She is very wise, as that seems to have been exactly what happened. For the past few weeks I’ve been plagued and pestered by a cold that seems, finally, to be gone.
We spent the next few hours in companionable quiet in the living room, her with her laptop and me with a book and our sweetheart of a cat curled up on my lap. The rest of our Saturday is pleasantly relaxed: a bit of shopping, watching most of an Astaire & Rogers movie, a late-night run to the airport to pick up a friend. Driving out to Dulles at midnight, we sing along with Flood, switching off which of us is singing which John’s part.

Sunday sees us at the National Building Museum. We went to see the ‘Unbuilt Washington’ exhibit, which is quite interesting, but by far the best part of the visit is a group of model plane enthusiasts flying their tiny creations in the enormous atrium of the building, motorized vehicles on one side and rubber-band-powered ones on the other. I’m fascinated by the latter, love the way that they spiral towards the ceiling then dip slowly towards the floor, like butterflies looking for somewhere to alight. It’s a wonderful and perfect use of the museum’s amazing space.

I’d walked over (a healthy five-mile stroll from our apartment) but the trip home saw us vying with Metro’s inevitable weekend single-tracking and station closures. When we went underground it was still fairly light out, but by the time we finally emerged at our station it had gotten noticeably colder and the almost-full moon was high and bright in the sky, and we walked home in the reassuringly January-esque weather.

Dance me on and on

It is rare that a Friday night sees me doing something other than hanging out with cats, roommate, and a movie, so I was rather surprised to find myself double-booked this past Friday. Rather than pick one event or the other, I went to both, and I’m glad I did.

The first was my work holiday party, held at a fancy hotel in Dupont Circle. Prior to the party, some work friends and I had a Formal Chipotle Dinner, which was amusing, and once we got to the hotel it was great to meet people’s S.O.s. To say that I am not really a party person would be a vast understatement, but I was actually sorry that I had to leave after a little more than an hour, walking a mile and a half across town in my fancy holiday party clothes (and, more importantly, my fancy holiday party shoes) to the 9:30 Club, where I had a date with my sister to see Scythian. Others had expressed interest (and even bought tickets!) but they all bailed on us at the last minute, so it was just the two of us. We stood up on the U-shaped balcony level, against the railing, directly across from the stage but towards the back of the room. We had an excellent, unobstructed view of just about everything. It was the first time I’d stood up there in a long time, possibly the first time ever (I usually try to be way up front at the rail, but we were too far back in line for that). It turned out to be a great call, because after the first act (the Second String Band, good, fun old-time-y music) there was a second act while they changed around the stage set-up. The second act was a marching band. It started out at one end of the balcony level, marched over to the stairs, where they stood and played for a while before marching downstairs, still playing, and circling the ground-floor level. It was certainly the most interesting set transition I’ve seen.

Then Scythian came out, and they were as great as they were the first time we saw them. They’re a fantastic live band, full of boundless energy, effortlessly interacting with the crowd. It certainly helped that they’re from DC and that the audience was full of die-hard fans, but they could win over even an unimpressed crowd and, within a few songs, have them waving their arms in the air and doing what passes for a polka. It was a really fun show, full of liveliness and ugly Christmas sweaters. When we left the club at 1.30 in the morning, my sister dashed ahead of me and then back again, still so buzzed from the show that she seemed almost puppyish in her enthusiasm. Which was just as well, since Metro was its usual unreliable late-night self. I got home at 2.30, she even later. She said that on her drive back up to Baltimore the next morning she kept herself awake by reliving the show, reawakening the invigoration of the night before.

Let me get close to you

It is a warm, grey day, and I am in a warm, grey mood (pictured at left: a warm, grey cat). The weather is unseasonably pleasant–I find myself wishing I’d worn a T-shirt as Lexie and I walk into DC and along the Potomac. We stroll in comfortable silence, not talking much. When we sit for a while on some oddly-placed benches after a scramble down a steep hill, we both find ourselves almost nodding off in the diffuse light. It is that sort of afternoon.

It’s a good thing that this coming week is a short one: despite the lazy weekend, work last week really took it out of me, and the early darkness is not helping me to stay awake and alert. Although things on that front will, as always, get worse before they get better.

I wrote that a week ago. The weather has stayed incredibly warm. Today, walking down to Theodore Roosevelt Island (which, it turns out, is less than a mile from our apartment), I found myself wishing I’d worn sandals instead of my normal lace-up shoes. In our T-shirts, we stood on the bridge waiting for the rest of our group, enjoying the sunlight and warm breeze.

Part of me thinks that winter’s cold will be an even harder blow, now that the weather has lulled us into this false sense of security for so long. But mostly, I’m just thankful for it while it lasts.

When I remember to forget

In the corners of my day, in that twilight time between true sleep and actual consciousness, I am back in Iceland. I walk along the ocean in Reykjavík, reliving my desktop background. When I wake up I find myself touching my hair, convinced that it’s encrusted in salt from the Blue Lagoon.

This week marks my one-year anniversary of being back in the country, and it feels both as though it’s been far longer than that and as though it’s been no time at all. Heading to my parents’ house for dinner and a cat visit, it occurs to me that my life since I returned has been speeding up: twelve months ago I got back from Africa; six months ago I got a job; three months ago I moved into my own apartment; a month and a half ago I entered into a relationship; three weeks ago I was in Iceland. It’s as though I’ve been rolling down a hill, constantly accelerating, gaining momentum.

But this week, despite piercingly clear fall weather, I’ve been tired. Downright weary, really. Maybe it’s the weekend I spent in New York, maybe it’s Daylight Savings, maybe it’s that I finally hit a tree on my way down the hill. No matter what it is, I’m glad that my destination this weekend is a place I always think of as restful. And I’m glad, and sorry, that now that I’m back from Iceland I have no travel plans, no deep desire for a particular destination.

Maybe America will be enough, for a while.

But I sort of doubt it.

I can feel it

“One day”, sings Björk, “it will happen. One day, it will all come true.” And I, too used to seeing myself in songs, reflexively think “this is for me,” then turn around and look at that statement and do a double-take.

Because I realize, watching this tiny, dynamic woman in an enormous red wig, that maybe those lyrics were for me, for the person I was a few years ago, but they are not for me now. I don’t need them, because I no longer need to look forward to one day. I am so used to thinking “if only…” that to realize that I can’t complete the statement leaves me feeling a little blank, slightly shocked.

I never believed, really, that I would actually be in Iceland, no matter how much I thought or talked about it. Standing in that concert hall, it is as though I’ve broken through a barrier that I never even sensed was there. The inconceivable thought comes to me that I am only what I want to be; that I do only what I decide to do. It’s something I had known, but never fully realized.

The rest of the week is tinged with this, this strange combination of jubilance and peace. The time trip passes quickly: exploring Reykjavík by day, concerts all afternoon and well into the evening (highlights, aside from Björk, are Active Child, Tune-Yards, Ólafur Arnalds, and Of Monsters and Men). And then, walking back to the hostel on my last night, I turn my head and there are the Northern Lights, greenish white in the sky over the harbor. I hadn’t expected to see them–had, in fact, made an explicit decision not to go out of my way to do so. They look a bit like cursive, if someone were writing with water on a too-absorbent surface that quickly wicked the water away. So I sit, in the crystal-clear northern night, and watch the sky write its goodbye.

The next day, I fly out. But I’ll be back.

For a second my mind started drifting

The festival starts today, and the first concert I want to see is in a little more than an hour and a half. Right now I’m in the hostel kitchen making what I suppose is either a very early dinner or a very late lunch, it being 4.22 PM. On my first day here I bought a bag of pasta, a jar of sauce, and a block of cheese, and it’s served me well thus far, making up the bulk of the dinners I’ve had here. (I figure I’ll be eating out a lot more now that the festival’s started, so wanted to save money while I could.)

Today has been rather action-packed, despite my dozing until 10 in anticipation of concert proceedings stretching to midnight or beyond. It’s the first day that hasn’t had wonderful weather, and I now fully understand all the comments made on previous days about how lucky we were in that regard. It’s overcast, extremely windy, with blowing rain. Without the windchill, the temperature is 7 C; with the windchill, I can only imagine. Suffice it to say that it’s quite chilly.

So it makes perfect sense that, after picking up my Bjork ticket and concert wristband and buying a Welcome Pass (three days of unlimited buses, pools, and museums!), I decided to make my second museum stop one that was not only quite far out of the city (and more than half a kilometer from the bus stop I got off at) but also largely outdoors.

This decision is not quite as stupid as it sounds. The museum sounded cool (buildings rescued from Reykjavik city center which would otherwise have been demolished in the name of Progress) and, in the off season, is only open for tours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 PM. Since I have no idea what my Friday plans look like, this seemed like as good a time as any (and better than most) to check this particular museum off my list.

I don’t know about you, but I always forget how quickly meters add up: to me, for some reason, 500 m is not the same as 0.5 km. So when the woman at the first museum (sensibly located both inside and in the city center) said it would be a 600 meter walk from the bus stop, I thought “Fine! No problem! That’s not far!”

It was far.

Either the rain and wind had gotten worse, or the buildings in the city center were buffering me more than I’d realized, because I got totally soaked. I couldn’t see a thing, head down to avoid being blinded by raindrops that stung like hailstones. The wind was so strong that I had to lean far, far forward just to avoid falling over.

And then I got there, and the front office was locked, dark, and empty. Luckily, thankfully, I ran into someone who worked there–not anyone affiliated with the tours, but someone who knew where to take me to find out what the story was. And so I dragged the poor tour guide, a very pleasant Icelandic fellow who had clearly been looking forward to an afternoon of relaxation in the dry indoors, out into the wind and wet on a one-on-one tour. He was very nice about it, and the museum was quite interesting. I enjoyed it despite having been completely soaked on my walk over. The tour lasted a bit more than an hour, and then the kind guide helped me figure out which bus to take to get back to my hostel. Again, it was a bit of a walk from the bus stop, this time to the percussive sound of my teeth actually chattering (soaking wet jeans and cold wind are not the best combination). But then, wonderfully, I was back at the hostel, where I changed into dry clothes before heading around the corner to the huge pool complex the hotel is next to.

Given the choice between an indoor and an outdoor pool I opted for outdoor, figuring I’d see what all the fuss was about, and I am a total convert. The water was lovely, not too hot but warm enough that the cold air felt refreshing rather than startling. The pool is huge, too, probably 30 meters long. My eight-lap swim quite tired me out, although part of that is definitely that I’m more out of shape than I should be. I left the pool feeling refreshed, relaxed, and (finally!) warm.

So now I’ve eaten (while writing this) and I’m going to go put on a million layers of clothes and venture back outside, into what has become a calmer and less wet (although still very overcast) afternoon.

I was born on a train

Travel never seems real to me until it’s already happening. I become more and more wound up about impending trips while not actually believing they will ever arrive. So today I toss things into my “bring to Iceland” pre-packing pile and listen to artists who I’ll be seeing at Airwaves without any sort of understanding that I’ll be there in two days, arriving at Keflavík at 6 AM local time, alone in a new country.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this. I have a list of twenty artists I plan to see, venue capacities permitting, and a carefully-planned-out schedule. I’ve booked some tours to get a sense of the countryside before the musical festival starts (it turned out to make as much sense as trying to travel on my own, and will be much easier to just show up rather than worrying about bus schedules). I have cold-weather gear to pack, even though Reykjavik, according to the forecast, won’t even be getting below freezing. I’ll be staying at the same hostel in town the whole time, and taking day trips. As trips go, I think it will be low-stress and high-fun.

Since clearly I won’t have seen enough music in October, anyone want to go see CSS at the 9:30 Club on October 24? I am basically obsessed with their latest album. And it’s hard to go wrong with Brazilian electropop.

You are nothing like your photo

And then, suddenly, it’s autumn. One day it’s eighty degrees; the next, I wear boots, corduroys, and a jacket as I walk to work, and still feel chilly. Building management apparently had advance warning about the seasonal switch, though: our lobby has abruptly switched from freezer-cold to oven-hot.

Life has been so full, so suddenly. It’s as though it all came together, like I was caught in a cat’s cradle and someone pulled the strings tight and I found myself borne up, contained but not confined.

— My friend Lexie and I found an apartment, and moved in in mid-August. It’s not perfect, but I love it, and the process of making a place home is one I become easily invested in. Pictures to follow at some point, once we finally unpack the last of the boxes. (It turns out that my thrift store habit has resulted in dozens of adorable tiny bowls but not that many practical things like cookie sheets or oven mitts.)
— I went up to Rosemont again, took my voice out of its box and sang for a weekend. When Mair asked me if I had a song I took a risk and chose one that I’d just learned but never really sung out loud. I knew it would be perfect for my voice, and it was. She asked me to sing it several times, that weekend, and then had me record it before I left; I need to record a better version, that isn’t mysteriously truncated.
— A lovely, lovely trip to New York that went just as I’d hoped it would. A beautiful weekend, twenty-five miles of walking, delicious food. I should be up there again at the beginning of November.
— Work has been good, and fun: my first client is almost launched, most of the way past QA, and we spent all of today laughing about a coworker’s excuse for working from home. Most days at lunch, I do the NYT crossword with a coworker. It’s like the best parts of college, but without homework.
— And I keep forgetting it, but need to remember so I can finish planning: I leave for Iceland in three weeks. Good lord.

And this is how I feel, about everything.