The Naked Truth About Iceland

A friend of mine just returned from Iceland. She knew I’d been there last year and asked me if I had any advice for her before she left. I plucked some tips from the following essay. I wrote it when Jeff and I returned to Noth Carolina and thawed out. Mind you, we went in April; her trip might have been warmer. Anyway, I’m hoping my (mis)adventures helped her. Particularly my experience at one of the public baths . . .

I never planned on visiting Iceland. I’d been accustomed to saying no when my husband, Jeff, asked me to take any trip with him. It didn’t matter if it was a full-on vacation, or a two-day junket. “Shell, do you want to go to Vegas with me for a meeting?” Um, no. “Do you want to join me in Colorado for–” No. “Do you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with me next summer? Double no.
I don’t dislike my husband, it’s just my fear of flying is intense, and so is my anxiety over leaving my son. I have to admit though, that as the months went by last year I regretted passing up a “trip of a lifetime” to Africa. I knew I couldn’t let this trip to Iceland go. Which is ironic because after lining up help for my child I proceeded to dismiss it completely.
I didn’t think about what to pack, where to tour, or how to manage the cold. I didn’t have a coat because my daughter had taken them all, and I ignored Jeff’s warnings about dressing in layers. (Please, I’m a middle-aged woman. The mere thought of layers makes me sweat.) All I thought about was getting enough Xanax for each leg of the journey.
After a knuckle-biting flight we landed in Reykjavik. I could tell from glancing out the window that I was an idiot for only bringing a sweater. It didn’t matter that it was April—springtime to me—it was called Ice-Land for a reason. Jeff said it would be chilly, but he forgot the part about the wind. There are no trees in Iceland. None. The Vikings cut them all down, (bastards) and they didn’t even plant any conifers on the way out. It didn’t look like Sweden with its perky pine trees, it looked more like Mars, but grey. “This is a God-forsaken place,” I thought to myself as the plane lurched to the ground. However, the beauty of our flight attendants compensated for the naked landscape.
My first real Icelandic experience, (other than being knocked over by 30 mph winds) was thawing out in a hotel room warmed naturally by geothermal heating. It felt like you were sitting on a volcano. Which you were because the country is still rocked by lava. This is wonderful unless you’re someone like me who can’t sleep at night even in the most ideal situation. I’m like a bat. I need my room to be cold, dark, and damp. I fixed my problem by sleeping naked with a wet towel on me every night. (The front desk just stared at me when I asked for a fan.)
My husband slept like a baby. He powered through his jet lag and got up at 6:00 am the first morning to make a dry-suited scuba dive. He’d been to Iceland twice before but never had time to experience the Silfra fissure. It’s a crack between North America and Europe that was formed by the constant pulling apart of two tectonic plates. It’s a “geological wonder” and one of the world’s most popular diving destinations because in some of the really narrow openings you can touch both continents at the same time. Big deal. I had my own underwater adventure that day. I went to a fish spa and had my feet nibbled on for twenty minutes.
Our first outing together was significant. To me anyway. Jeff and I went to a public, geothermal bath. This is the way Icelanders relax, socialize, and ground themselves. No question, when you live in Iceland you go to the pool. Naturally I didn’t bring a bathing suit. When Jeff informed me the day before we left town that we were going to bathe outdoors my mind wasn’t on fashion. I packed a grey and black ensemble made up of a pair of his old running shorts and one of my faded black sports bras. I looked like something out of an Eastern Bloc travel magazine.
Jeff chose the same pool he’d visited earlier called the Laugardalslaug. (Don’t bother.) I felt a little uneasy as we went to our separate locker rooms. He was a veteran and understood the customs. Not me. When I entered the ladies locker room, which was large and completely full, I understood what my gut had been trying to tell me. I practically had to pick up my jaw from the floor when I saw that everyone—and I mean everyone–was buck naked. Pregnant women, old women, young girls, teenagers—everyone. And they were everywhere. I could barely stifle a gasp. I just stood there gaping like a Puritan who had just landed in a nudist colony. Not that there was anything prurient about it—quite the opposite. But my prudish Southern self wasn’t used to such complete nudity. “No way,” I whispered. “No way, no way.”
I proceeded to slink on all fours to the furthest region of the room and fix my eyes on the locker in front of me. There I was able to practice every slumber party trick I’d ever learned in Junior High. I pulled my skirt up around my neck, removing and added clothing as deftly as possible. I peeked over my shoulder every now and then to see if anyone was laughing at me. No one noticed, no one cared. And then I felt self-conscious about feeling self-conscious.
When I finally untangled myself from my clothing I snuck around trying not to look at anyone or anything. What I didn’t realize until later—and this is the truth—is that you’re required to shower before entering the pools. That’s why you got naked. You are to practice good hygiene before dipping in the natural, unchlorinated water. Jeff, being a man, left out this detail. In one of those I Love Lucy moments I crept behind the showers to avoid stripping down. This is a serious no no. I can’t believe I didn’t get caught by the guard. At least I’d showered that morning.
When I tiptoed outside there were hot tubs and pools everywhere. I saw Jeff and I beamed myself over to him because it was freezing. He chose what was supposed to be the coolest tub. Of course it was way too hot for my neurotic body so I just bit my lip and bobbed at the waist and pretended to enjoy the water. “Wow, it really is miraculously hot in here!” Jeff kept popping out of the tub to try different pools, so I was alone for a while. Finally, I started chatting with people. There were two Vikings to my right, a small group of Kiwis in front of me, and a consistent flow of natives bubbling about at all times. I heard some great Danish jokes and learned how to order beer in Icelandic. Not easy. Our Garmin couldn’t even pronounce the words. I left the tub only when my heart started doing flip flops.
Our final outing was designated for a different type of outdoor adventure. Geysers and waterfalls. I don’t really care much for scenery, but even I couldn’t help filming the barren, volcanic wasteland on our way to the country’s most famous and powerful waterfall, Gullfloss. I was practically blown away by its force, and I cursed myself for the 100th time for not bringing the right clothing. By the end of the day I was wearing Jeff’s orange Men-At-Work windbreaker, my black nylon sweater, a shtetl scarf over my head, (I definitely did not look like Grace Kelly in a convertible) some Icelandic wool mittens, leggings, and boots. And I was still cold.
By the end of a trip filled with waterfalls and geysers, public baths and fishcakes I didn’t want to go home. Yes, I froze my ass off in the wind, but the country’s naked beauty was well worth the head cold I earned a few days later. And I was blown away by something else as well–Iceland’s quirkiness. I’m sure we’ll go back, and when we do I’m going to bring a coat and a small fan. And I’ll be on my best, most compliant behavior in the locker rooms. I’m working on my nudity right now. Good thing because a trip to Finland–and its saunas—is just around the corner.

The South Pole, Does She or Doesn’t She?

My husband wants to go to the South Pole. With me. And no, not just because Anthony Bourdain went there and ate God knows what. He’s been bugging me about a trip like this for years. The first thing I thought of when he mentioned it to me was Love and Death, one of DH Lawrence’s principal themes in Women in Love. The snow was “deathlike” and it represented mortality. I must say the image of numbing white expanse spooks me. Funny, because I have no reservations, (literally or otherwise) about making a trip to the deepest nether regions of the ocean to experience the Titanic. What a bittersweet wonder. In fact, the mere thought of bobbing around the rusticles in an aquatic ladybug gives me the good kind of shivers. Not the kind you get by panting through primordial slush.
That kind kept me off of Mount Kilimanjaro two years ago when I had the opportunity to take another Trip of a Lifetime with my husband and daughter. Yes, I turned it down. Not that either of them thought I was up to it, so to speak. The anxiety I felt over the number of shots I would need to get before the trip, the number of hours I would spend in the air, and the eternity it would take me to train for it, was overwhelming. But what unsealed the deal for me was leaving my special needs son behind. The adventure seemed risky and rather self-indulgent to me at the time. At the time.
I’ve been thinking about the number of years I have left on the earth, though. Experiences. When you get older it’s natural for your values to change. Love for family remains steadfast, but accumulation loses its glow. The desire to “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like” wanes, if it existed at all. I have a museum-quality collection of artifacts, oddities, and antique toys, etc., that I’ve been amassing since I was twelve. I’m done now. No need for anything else. No, really. I mean, what with am I supposed to do with my 18th century enema pump and my Victorian shock boxes at this point except dust them? I just want to share my collectibles with others. And one day, if anyone has the patience to show me how to post photos, (yes, I’m ashamed of myself) I will post them on this blog, and create a virtual museum, and hopefully stimulate conversation with like-minded people. But for now, at my age, it’s time to obsess over my thriving bucket list. Experiences over stuff.
Yet, I didn’t go to Africa, and I’m about to not go to the South Pole. I have below zero interest in that frigid, God-forsaken place. It never has and never will earn a spot on my bucket list. But is it right to dismiss another Trip of a Lifetime simply because it’s not a “Hell Yeah?” One tiny part of me would like to know why the people who research there find it irresistible. (Okay, I guess that counts as above zero interest.) I’m just a little curious about why scientists, nerds, adventurers, and other audacious individuals choose that lifestyle. Why do they prefer to expend their time and intellect inside of a titanic igloo? The whole thing reminds me of TED on ice.
I’ll always regret that I never made it to Egypt to explore the pyramids. But I’m grateful I got to explore a few tunnels in Jerusalem and some Roman/Greco playgrounds. I might not make it to the South Pole but I did live in Terre Haute, IN for six years. I did get to experience bitter cold in spectacular Midwestern fashion. There’s some equivalency, you know. Terre Haute. The South Pole. Both are at the ends of the earth.
I just need to overcome that gnawing anxiety about leaving my son. Maybe I could bring him along. And his dog. Why blow another opportunity? Why miss another Trip of a Lifetime? If I could score a swing for my child all would be well. Does she, or doesn’t she? I don’t know. I’m not getting any younger though, that’s for damn sure. Sometimes I just wish my husband’s big ideas could be less taxing and more relaxing. This one gives me goosebumps.

Where Have All the Yard Signs Gone?

Battle lines were drawn immediately in my suburban neighborhood during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. My neighbors proudly displayed their political yard signs and defied anyone to disagree with their alliances. Truly annoying people added cheap cardboard rants to inform and bully non-believers into drinking their Kool-Aid.

You knew who your enemies were, (for at least six months, anyway) and you appreciated your allies as you zig-zagged down the street making loyalty checks and sizing up the state of the campaign.

When my young daughter expressed interest in damaging, capturing, or knocking down one of my neighbor’s signs I turned a blind eye. (Bad Mommy. And no, she didn’t vandalize.) My daughter’s in college now and Berned out of the election. Her candidate didn’t make it into the general. He was robbed, so she’s done.

Today you don’t see any signs in my sub-division. Not one. I’m sure this will change as we slide into the final stretch of this tedious but enthralling train wreck. It’s a shame, (shame being the operative word) that my neighbors, and the electorate in general, aren’t proud enough to display their allegiances. The ones who do are either judged and juried immediately, or forced to run and take cover in their homes after making a trip to the grocery store.

I wonder if my neighborly situation will improve in the next few weeks and the American spirit will prevail. I wonder if my neighbors will proudly plant their yard signs based on conviction and faith in their candidate—not just on mutual hatred for the other one. I haven’t put my sign out yet. And that’s not a good sign.

The Black Therapist and the Autistic Man

After I read this article, and watched the video, and blew my nose, I thought to myself, “If this ever happened to my autistic son’s African American therapist–if he were ever popped by a, ‘I don’t know why I shot him’ law officer, I wouldn’t be able to forgive him. I still feel that way. Especially because these officers added insult to injury by flipping Kinsey over and cuffing him–while he was bleeding. If they’d hit an artery and he had bled out and died, they would have to stand trial for what, second degree murder? Negligent homicide? Hopefully, but probably, not anything. He had his hands up in the air for God’s sake. The lack of understanding and respect in this country–on every level–has me thinking that society’s gone f___ing crazy. I wrote My Son almost TEN years ago. It was prescient, and now it’s dated. Life matters. Whether you’re black, white, disabled, LGBT, a veteran, a senior, a cop, or a child. A little Kumbaya would be nice, I just hope we don’t wipe each other out.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/07/21/south-florida-police-shoot-autistic-mans-caretaker-as-lies-in-street.html

South Florida Police Shoot Autistic Man’s Caretaker as He Lies in Street

Police in South Florida Thursday said they were investigating an officer who shot and wounded an autistic man’s caretaker, as video emerged apparently showing the caretaker lying down with his arms raised before being shot.

Police were responding to reports of a man threatening to shoot himself on Monday, North Miami Assistant Police Chief Neal Cuevas told The Miami Herald.

Officers arrived to find 47-year-old Charles Kinsey, a therapist who works with people with disabilities, according to WSVN-TV. His 27-year-old patient reportedly ran away from a group home. The therapist claimed he was trying to return his patient to the facility.

Police ordered Kinsey and the patient, who was sitting in the street playing with a toy truck, to lie on the ground. The video shows Kinsey lying down and putting his hands up while trying to get his patient to comply.

An officer then fired three times, striking Kinsey in the leg, Cuevas said. No weapon was found.

The latest shooting comes amid weeks of violence involving police. Three law enforcement officers were fatally shot and three others wounded Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by a shooter whom police also gunned down. Two weeks earlier, two white officers in Baton Rouge killed a black man, Alton Sterling, 37, on July 5 during a scuffle at a convenience store. That shooting, captured on cellphone video, provoked widespread protests about police treatment of the black community.

On July 6, another black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, was killed in Minnesota when a police officer pulled him over. The next day, a sniper killed five Dallas police officers as they guarded a peaceful protest.

In Florida, Kinsey’s attorney, Hilton Napoleon, provided a cellphone video to the Herald on Wednesday taken moments before the shooting. It shows Kinsey lying in the middle of the street with his hands up, asking the officers not to shoot him, while the autistic man sits next to him, yelling at him to “shut up.”

“Sir, there’s no need for firearms,” Kinsey said he told police before he was shot, according to WSVN. “It was so surprising. It was like a mosquito bite.”

Kinsey is black. Police haven’t released the name or race of the officer who shot him but said he’s been placed on administrative leave, which is standard.

The investigation has been turned over to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Cuevas said.

In an interview with the TV station, Kinsey said he was more worried about his patient than himself during the incident.

“As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me. This is what I’m thinking. They’re not going to shoot me,” he said. “Wow, was I wrong.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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