(Re)Viewing from Afar: Sergio Leone and America (Days)

Mark has been diligently lining up all sorts of freelance writing assignments for himself these days, and not only ones about local film festivals and art exhibitions in Reykjavík. Being the well-viewed fellow he is, he’s also keeping up with the critical dialog stateside, starting with his recent piece for Fanzine that discusses Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. It’s a very good piece even if you haven’t seen the movie, which, full disclosure, I haven’t. (I was re-reading an Icelandic novel for a review in the back room while Mark re-watched the movie in the living room for his review–both activities took us about the same amount of time; it is a long movie–and he was nice enough to even watch the last hour and a half or so wearing headphones when all the second-hand sex-and-violence sound effects got to be a little too distracting for me. Because he is just a nice guy that way.)

Anyway, in an unexpected, but totally relevant moment of confluence, Mark brings up Reykjavík’s “America Days” in the course of his discussion (you remember America Days, right?), which I’ll just quote briefly here:

But still, iconography is a funny thing. A grocery store here in Reykjavik recently held its “America Days,” featuring red-white-and-blue bunting and cardboard cutouts of Elvis, John Wayne and Obama surrounding displays of Twizzlers—this sort of mockably transparent enthusiasm to participate in what you and I take for granted is everywhere in Leone. Who but a foreigner would begin a movie called Once Upon a Time in America with Kate Smith?

So if you are interested in such things as film, garbled national iconography, and “dubious depictions of the flesh,” I recommend popping over to Fanzine and checking his piece out.




Loving the Volcano, or, Rather: Loving the Frankenstorm, from Afar

It’s a bit surreal watching, from Iceland, all these reports of impeding weather doom along the U.S.’ East Coast. Strangely enough, reading about the nearing “Frankenstorm” and all the possible fallout from Sandy’s tour through the States has been the thing that has made me miss New York the most since I’ve been in Iceland. (I now have a bit of an idea, mom, what it was like for you the first few years after I moved to New York…nerve-wracking, for sure. And I’m admitting it to The Internet, so, you know–you won the long game…)

But while I’m biting my nails on behalf of all my loved ones up and down the Eastern seaboard, and while I’ve been refreshing my New York Times storm-tracker page regularly to see what, if anything, has actually happened yet, I have to commend that nothing-phases-us, laugh-in-the-face-of-danger attitude of my beloved New Yorkers. Whether stocking up on provisions (canned goods, water, and lots and lots of whiskey), cuddling up with thick historical tomes about, hypothetically, the origins of the Spanish Inquisition, or joking about the benefits of a long weekend even while stranded with no transportation for who-knows-how-long (it’s second time in 14 months the subway and bus system has been completely shut off, for those of you who don’t know–but only the second time in 108 years), you’re all wonderful, resilient people, and I’m thinking about you and miss you very much.

I will also observe that this almost (or seemingly) blasé attitude toward what-may-befall-you (storms, power outages, Godzilla) appears to be one of the most prominent characteristics that New Yorkers share with Icelanders, who, as I’ve mentioned, thrive on a sort of understated acceptance of their own weather/nature disasters, i.e. volcanic eruptions. The lesson is, we see, that after general preparedness, you just can’t spend too much time worrying about these things before they happen. Because there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, for those of you New Yorkers (and East Coasters) who are not only on the internet, but reading here: cheers and skál! I wish you all well, but have every faith that if this year’s disaster merits all of the frightening predictions (unlike last year’s hurricane), that you’ll all make it through as best as could be hoped.

The End of Days

As of August 1, 2012 I am officially unemployed. (A state of being which has also been referred to as, depending on the speaker’s mood, “fun-employed,” and “none-mployed.”) This means a whole host of things to me–like, “don’t fall down a flight of stairs because you don’t have health insurance any more,”–and it means a lot particularly in light of the fact that I have held a job of some sort–at least part time or seasonal–since I was 15 years old. (I started at the full-time job I just left five days after I graduated from college.) But mostly what being unemployed now means is that the Countdown to Iceland has officially begun. Time to get real.

This month (or roughly 25 days–22 now) of “getting real,” and getting ready to move to Iceland, was hypothetically going to be one delightful, lazy spree of sleeping in, going out, spending more time at the gym (got to up my swimming skills before I get to all those lovely geothermally heated pools), gallivanting around art galleries and favorite bars and unseen New York neighborhoods, and doing all those little home-bound crafts and hobbies (sewing!) that I’ve managed to set aside and aside and aside in the last few crazed months.

Oh, and packing.

And saying goodbye to everyone. (Which, I’ve found, is a lot like some sort of hilarious death march. Saying goodbye to someone over The Last Drink or The Last Brunch until For-ev-er–or at least nine months from now–carries this honestly awful heaviness and finality and everything you do and say in the space of that encounter has to be Totally Meaningful. I have to keep reminding myself–and my friends, and my family–that I am “not dead,” just moving to Iceland for awhile, and will be back in less time than any of us think.)

And storing all our books. All 1,200+ of them.

And selling our extra furniture, duplicate books and DVDs, and anything else we think we might be able to get a little money for and won’t miss so much when we come back.

And booking plane tickets.

And getting a replacement computer.

And letting in realtors and prospective tenants so that my landlord, who lives in Greece every summer, will not miss out on even one possible day of rent-getting when we move out.

And watching our number on the housing waitlist creep slowly, ever-so-slowly up the chain (we’re Number 30! we’re number 30!).

And figuring out what e-readers I’ll be able to use in Iceland. (Not the Nook, which I own, FYI.)

And getting an international driver’s license.

And buying a year’s supply of contacts because who-knows-how-that’s-done-in-Iceland and I’m not sure if Icelandic state health insurance (which we’ll be covered under after six months in the country–whoot!) will cover optometrist appointments.

And visiting Mark’s family. (I had my AZ farewell in July.)

And getting a cargo quote for shipping belongings to Reykjavik via Icelandair.

And figuring out which books get to go in my own personal book box. (This will take at least a week, if not more.)

And eating everything we have in the kitchen so as not to waste any food. (Use the whole buffalo!)

And etc. etc. etc.

Sudddenly, 25 22 days of free time doesn’t seem like a lot to get ourselves together and move out of the country. But it will be fine.

Because it has to be.


In a New York State of Mind

Picasso's Bust of Sylvette (NYU Campus)

Picasso’s Bust of Sylvette (NYU Campus)

When I first moved to New York, I found that I was a bit of a magnet for encounters-with-strangers. I’d be sitting in the park reading, and a teenage evangelist would sit down with me and start parsing biblical passages. Riding the subway, a young man once put his headphones on my head and asked me to listen to a song he had written. Homeless people tended to tell me their stories when I gave them change. It became a bit of an epidemic, and in certain cases, a bit of a liability. It also didn’t seem to happen much to other people I knew who had just moved to the city. Several of my friends speculated that I tended to “look available,” by which they really just meant that I made eye contact and didn’t get up and walk away when people started talking to me.

Eventually, this started happening less. I’ve lived in New York for almost ten years now, and I have to say that over that time, I’ve found myself becoming more wary of what people are going to say to me when they stop me on the street (it’s often unpleasant; frequently offensive), or what someone might do if I don’t respond the way that they think I should. I’ve also just gotten much more used to carving out my own space–mentally, as well as physically–in an otherwise cramped and crowded city. I still cultivate relationships–albeit casual ones–with people I don’t know very well: the guy who works on the deli on my corner, the lady at the check-out counter at the grocery store, the sensei who runs the karate studio down the block, the maintenance staff who work around my office at NYU. But over time, I’ve become less ‘available,’ less open to random encounters with people I don’t know.

But I’ve been thinking that lately, I’m reverting a bit–as if now that I know that I won’t be in New York soon (eight weeks and counting), I’m suddenly much more willing to engage in those encounters all over again. Just last week, I found myself stopping in at the hair salon near my office, just to say hi to the hair dresser and beautician who have worked there for years. I chatted with a man about his adorable 15-year-old Norwich terrier who was walking leash-less down the sidewalk. I talked to retired woman working the counter at a thrift store about her six years training as a Buddhist and her aspiration to become a chaplain on a cruise ship. Sitting at a bar this weekend, I helped a waitress remember the convoluted take-out order that a difficult customer had placed a few minutes before. It feels refreshing, honestly, to be “available” again, and the right state of mind for both leaving this city, and starting again in another one.