Location: Iceland (4)

There is no commercial pathogen to hijack and interrupt one’s attention here. No false gestalt marketing giving a sense of absence through lack of ownership of something. There’s comfort of course. There’s more than sufficient development for that. But there is no indulgence aside from chai lattes being on the menu of the coffee shop. A necessary concession perhaps.

Another reason why commerce is not as inviting a distraction is that many of the shops are indistinguishable from the houses. It’s hard to try and enter a building, scared you could intrude on someone’s private residence. The buildings are all functional, and not all shops are exposés of goods. It’s not pornographic. There are, of course, shopping centres. I visited one, and there are glass-fronted shops peddling their wares, of course. But it’s to such a modest scale that the threshold potential isn’t reached. The action potential cannot begin.

Akureyri is a small place – it’s easily smaller than Shrewsbury. It’s got a few inclines, an ‘old town’, museums. The bookshop feels like the hub. There are teenagers studying, older couples relaxing, and Mothers watching their children while drinking smooth coffee. There’s Christmas drawings on the windows made by children. They’re drawn straight on the glass using paint pens. The glass, where usually lavish goods are spread to be gazed upon and lusted after, is now a place to show the warmth of the community.

It’s the same coffee shop I’ve been in a thousand times before. Tables strewn about, a selection of sandwiches and cakes to satiate the yowling belly of the weary customers. (It is assumed they are weary: why else would they want coffee?) There are photos of fresh coffee being made. What is different is the relaxed atmosphere. I cannot hear the mad banging of milk jugs on the counter every two seconds, no soupy hum of voices, no porcelain stampede hurtling through the potwash. Instead, a swift tap of the milk jug perhaps once every ten minutes, tiptoe dialogues in the background, occasionally celebrated with a collective laugh, and a petit tintement de la piano céramique.

Tomorrow, I will remember this time fondly. Being made to wait is the reason this coffee shop feels so productive. I have no choice but to do.

*

Since Monday I have felt feverish. Not with sickness, but with an intensity of wanting to do. It is no coincidence that this fell in line with two days of unproductivity. I helped out at a local museum that is setting up for its first opening. It’s a museum about the history, ecology and exploration of the arctic circle. The museum houses about 200 taxidermy birds, along with a handful of other arctic inhabitants. The birds ranged from 20-50 years old, making most of them easily older than me.

It explains the number of bird spirits on the island. It’s not a long flight from the museum. The museum is modern, clean, but when you face the birds the smell of their death is inescapable — like old books, but less inviting. Animals do not make such successful tomes as trees.

The island’s air is crisp, like drinking fresh water. The spirits are crying to get away from the fermented air of arrested death. I got a bad headache after working there for two days. The body knows not to linger around death: it’s catching, and muscles which usually tenderly clasp the skull start gripping-pointed yellow nails dug in fast. Like any death there must be a mourning period. Once away from the birds it still took a day for the grip to release on my skull. Taxidermy is a mocking of death – an absurd human response to the inevitable, the impermanence of all things.

*

I am coming to understand today why taking time to think is important: thinking takes time. A whole month for one piece of work seems excessive but really it is a perfect amount of time. I’m learning to not rush things along, to give them the attention and care they are due.

*

 I was walking in knee high snow – which is a great way to boil yourself. It takes such effort to hurl your body through the white marsh, and if swimming through snow were possible it would certainly be the most vigorous form of exercise. The body prefers to move through less dense atmospheres where possible. I wonder though – pound for pound are fish stronger than humans? And if a being existed and made its home in a world where the air was more glutinous, would they have a higher degree of strength than us? One wonders.

I needed somewhere to kick my boots against to get rid of the thick, snowy tubers that stuck fast to my socks and calves. The closest option was the wooden stump declaring this as a mindful and positive energy spot: it seemed cruel to kick that.