Chapter 5 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
My destination was the open-air swimming pool, Vesturbæjarlaug, my personal favorite. Its proximity to the university insures that the pool’s population always consists of a mix of backgrounds: a fair amount of academics, actors, students, tourists and the usual neighborhood old-timers. Geezers like me (67+) get in free, without a doubt the best tourist deal in the whole country. When I walked in and went to the reception desk the clerk asked “Is this your first time here?” when she heard my accent. The first time this trip, yes, but it is just one of dozens—many fond hours I’ve spent here in the hot-pots, absorbing heat and culture in equal measures. I do laps—my partaking in actual physical exercise is a rarity. The clerk handed me my ticket and, after scanning it at the gate, I went down into the locker room. I stripped naked and headed for the showers to wash with soap (special emphasis on cleaning the germy bits) and then donned my Speedo to head out to the pool complex. Four double lanes in the 25 meter lap pool, a large shallow pool with slides for children, and six soaking pools of varying temperatures and sizes. The chlorine level in the water is mercifully low which allows one to stay for hours and any traces are dissipated by the fresh sub-arctic air (bring a water container to avoid dehydration!) If you need even more heat there is also a steam bath and a sauna.
The air temp was 4°c, a balmy 39°f but the sun had retreated behind leaden clouds, giving a somber look to the surroundings. There were only about a half-dozen other bathers in the pools; I had never seen them so empty. I did my laps then went into the medium hot pot, alone. The cricks and aches from my flight quickly were forgotten. Soaking in a tepid bath of memory, my thoughts wandered in a Proustian fashion. Well, the thoughts were not exactly tepid, especially when thinking about the time I spent in the hot-pot with Ufuoma, a vivacious woman from Nigeria (via the UK.) She had married an Icelander and had embraced the country fully—including several of the pool patrons that knew her. There was a morning exercise group that morning that we joined; she was in a lot better shape than I was. Her performance suggested that she was an experienced dancer. Our conversation suggested that she was highly educated. Her name meant ‘peace of mind’, and she lived up to that moniker. The conversation flowed between us and other patrons who joined us that morning like a burbling fell stream. Life was good that day.
My stomach interrupted my reverie. It was time for breakfast, so I left the pool, dressed and went out, walking down the street to a bakery/coffee shop nearby. The place was decorated in a Halloween theme and the workers were also costumed. After a hard-boiled egg and coffee (I just couldn’t face a pastry) I left, heading back to the bus station to retrieve my luggage. I walked past a middle school where some kids, also in costume, were outside for recess. They seemed to be having a ball: chattering, laughing, socially interacting—the noise they made was akin to the sound of birds. Life was good this day as well.
I walked past Háskolábíó, the big cinema on campus. A poster featured the film adaptation of one of my favorite books, Summer Light, Then Comes the Night (Sumarljós og svo kemer nóttin.) I had seen the lead actor, Ólafur Darri, in an electrifying version of Peer Gynt (Pétur Gautur) sixteen years prior how could it have been so long ago? My companion on that evening was a hung-over twenty-something blogger, not a lot of conversation from her, it was perhaps the strangest date of my life. I later learned that another of my Icelandic blog-connections knew Darri in college. He has since established himself as an international movie star, working with the likes of Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell. I thought of going to the film, but my only free night was tonight, I’d probably fall asleep by the break—Icelandic cinemas usually have an intermission. I left the campus and returned the way I had come, past Norrena Husið, and took the foot path through the swamp. As I was still comfortably warm from my swim, the trek back across Vatnsmýri was even more pleasant than it had been earlier.
The bus station was considerably quieter; perhaps caused by a lull in the flights arriving from Europe. I retrieved my luggage and headed North, toward Tjörnin, the pond in the center of the city, and to my apartment nestled behind Fríkirkjan, the sheet-metal clad church. It would be past 1100 hours by the time I arrived, late enough to be able to drop off my things before check-in at 1500 hours.