In a fit of decadence, I bought myself a ticket to Iceland from November 1-11. This was perhaps too long (as a Minnesotan I feel deeply guilty about having any kind of vacation at all, much less a week-and-a-half-long one), but in my defense I suffer horribly from jet lag, and also I had a friend who was willing to not only host me, but to cook pretty much every meal. Really, I was saving money by going, and so I did.
Meg and I have been friends since we were both students in the Junior Year in Munich program, which she found after painstaking consideration of her many junior year language study options (she’s a polyglot), and which I found by googling “junior year germany study abroad.” Not much has changed in the subsequent nine years; Meg is still an exacting taskmaster who regularly publishes translations in respected journals, a self-taught scholar of multiple languages, and I am still, well, me – a pleasant person, but one a little too apt to be swept by the winds of fate.
A lot happened in Iceland, and I don’t want to exhaust my store of anecdotes here, since I’ll be dining out on them for months. (Partying with the parliamentarian! Shouting at the businessmen! The underground museum! Wheelchair John getting pushed up cobblestoned hills! These, and more, you will likely hear if you hang out with me.)
However, I do want to write briefly about what it’s like to live in a friend’s life. I hadn’t been in Meg’s living space since college, when we both lived in grim shoebox-sized German apartments, haphazardly decorated – she put plastic wrap on the walls and asked people to write on it, while I smeared stew everywhere and draped scarves over every available surface. How surprising to fly across an ocean and find her, all at once, such an adult.
- A true poet, she lives across the street from a murder house, where a man beat his wife to death, did a short stint in cozy Icelandic prison for the crime, then came back and was, in a fugue of poetic justice, himself beaten to death in the same apartment. I’m unclear on specifics but agree that the building is certainly creepy.
- Her street rolls with the sound of suitcases. Tourists clatter past in the rain, languages babbling – it’s a parade of delighted people every day, and appropriate for a translator’s apartment.
- She lives with two hairless cats who like to lick armpits and hide under my blankets. They aren’t truly hairless – they grow down in the winter, and feel like what I think baby lambs feel like.
- Every square foot of her two-room apartment has been meticulously considered, and yet she has never Instagrammed any of it. It seems just not to have occurred to her. I keep telling her that she’s living the dream of some 20-year-old misfit in Arkansas – she’s a translator! Who lives in Reyjkavik! With hairless cats! – and that if that misfit only knew it, they’d be wracked with jealousy and certainty that her life is unattainable.
- On the wall above my couch, there’s a rack of perfumes that Meg has made herself, each named after a different poet. Sharon Olds is chamomile in oil. One has a peppery tang. I can’t remember which is which, because the jars are fragile in my big dumb non-crafty hands, and because Meg has, in a pique of fancy, turned the labels to face the wall.
- Half of her bedroom is a wall of dresses in neutral tones, shading from opalescent gold into glittery black. To sleep on the bed is to be watched by a fleet of depressed socialites. Colored clothes, of which there are not many, hide in the closet.
- Because the cats will steal and hide my engagement ring, Meg has concealed it in a glass candle-holder for safekeeping. My job is to remember to tuck it there at night.
- Another one of my jobs is to turn the sofa back into a sofa each day, swaddling it in its blanket of fur to conceal the egg-carton bedding, folding the pastel sheets. I have so little to do in Iceland that even this feels like a grand undertaking.
- Every day, the fiance and cats send videos of themselves cuddling – where are you, is the subtext, and why aren’t you here? It’s a good question. The apartment – I think that’s what I’m getting at – feels like an answer, like it knows something I do not. To be here is to capitalize on that certainty, because it’s been too long since I’ve put into the world any of my own art.