Once upon a time the Hallgrímskirkja clock struck 03:00 and, on her way to the bus that would take her to the airport, a South African girl lost her hiking boot in the streets of Reykjavik. She did not mean to, and it happened swiftly, the shoe slipping off much easier than it had been to put on. As if it had a will of its own, forcing her to leave a piece of her behind so that she might have to return one day.
In the airplane, on the final stretch of the trip towards Iceland from Munich to Keflavik, I watch an Icelandic crime series and listen to the language. The words I hear and see at once seem so familiar to the tongue, yet so foreign:
“neyðarútgangur” (Icelandic), “nooduitgang” (Afrikaans) – emergency exit
“kirkja” (Icelandic), “kerk” (Afrikaans) – church
“Mánudagur” (Icelandic), “Maandag” (Afrikaans) – Monday
Upon arrival at Keflavik International Airport I meet with one of the other retreat attendees and we are met by a glacial wind unlike any I had ever experienced before. We stare through the window of the bus at a foreign landscape.
I had never seen snow before.
Iceland is unyielding, stark, cold, sublime.
The sublime: an aesthetic value judgment – that which is linked with both pleasure and pain. With danger, extremity. The experience gives a type of pleasure that is riddled with anxiety, with an awareness of something that transcends the ordinary sense of beauty. The sublime is the experience of the limits of understanding and reason.
The sublime threatens one’s existence and is a delightful horror.
Iceland is a mythical mistress, forcing one to face beauty, tragedy, and catharsis.
Oddities reveal the truth. Staircases and landings. The senses are the strings of an instrument. Rubbish. Dogs and cats and old people and children.
Just past midnight I stand on the bow of a boat and I try to focus my camera in the dark, the North Atlantic wind blowing against my jacket. The cold had taken hold of my hands. It is nearly impossible.
I await her. The Aurora Borealis.
She is mischievous and I sometimes wonder if I ever truly saw her shimmering green satin dress for a brief few minutes that final night in Reykjavik.
Carien Smith will be a JIAS Writing Fellow in 2020 after which she will pursue her PhD studies in Climate Change Ethics and Epistemology (Philosophy). For more information, visit her website: https://www.cariensmith.com and https://www.facebook.com/Carien-Smith-166234987540871/ .