The plane banks to the right, the engines rev, just a little. The thick layer of marshmallowy clouds remain above and the plane descends. Through the grubby plastic oblong window the view clarifies. I can see planes, cars, roadways, houses and people milling about. All planted into the black and green land like alien toys. Toys that have been erected and laid out with immense precision to better enjoy the game?
Iceland – inviting the plane load to disembark, explore and . . .
I have landed into various countries over the years but, Iceland is the one that I have most eagerly sat crouched, giving myself a crick, to observe our landing from start to finish.
I grew up with images of Iceland being barren, frozen bluey-white, volcanic black and perhaps ingeniously spectral. The reality doesn’t disappoint, the land is so surprising, that while not white I am taken aback, slightly, at the presence of such greenness.
Only when we have landed do I notice that all the passengers also became still. All windows were crammed with heads trying to obtain a view. Everyone held their breath, not for a safe landing, but to be given leave to enter this mystical place.The sudden clatter of shuffling, belt clicks, phones beeping into life and the stillness disintegrates. People clamber for their belongings from the overhead bins, but in the most gracious and orderly fashion I have ever witnessed. We disembark.
It is windy; a gentle breeze I am informed by cabin staff. It blew us all sideways. Gripping the hand rail I walk down the steps and away. The oppressive plane air is blown forcefully from my lungs. I inhale deeply, tasting salt with a high note of metallic scrapings. I had prepared myself for the cold, for the snow and for the darkness. I had forgotten the wind.
The wind scours your face, hands and under the cuff of your trousers – anything that can be reached easily and not so easily. I am scrubbed clean standing on that runway. I am purified and then waved through Customs. I have passed the test of entry.
On the bus to Reykjavik I study all around hungrily. On the ground the rigidity of order isn’t so obvious, the aliens are not so pedantic to have laid everything out in grids. There are some soft corners to the gardens of houses. The people are a little plump and move with ease over discarded bicycles and in through shop doors. The intersections are sometimes veering to the left rather than as a rigid cross. Order is present in the street names and the lamp posts but there is the mundane living of life in-between these spaces.
Perhaps the aliens became bored of their game, and allowed people to carry on with their lives and the shortcuts that we all partake in.
The cars move, they drive on the wrong side of the road. They have simple registration plates, two letters, a small square with a number, and then some inconsistencies: some have a letter and two numbers others have three numbers only. It is a very clean, square registration plate with only the Icelandic flag on the left to inform you where you are.
The road appears to have been swept out of the landscape in a winding ribbon-like fashion. The blackness isn’t the blackness of the deep dark skies, but instead of dirty, dusty black, almost what a coal pit should look like to my inexperienced eyes. I eat up the passing landscape through the very clean bus windows.
It is flat.
I hadn’t expected, flatness. I had daydreams of soaring mountains with snow caps. Instead it is utterly flat. Even the stones and rocks of the fields have laid down and gone to sleep.
Flat ’till the edge. It’s sharp, cutting and terminal. This is the echelon of the sea – you would not mistake it.
There are no cliffs. There are no obscuring dune reeds or waving branches of buffeted trees. There is no softening sand or littorial zones. There is only the edge. Rip up a picture and the tattered splits scar the image so completely as to destroy it: this is that edge. Did some alien rip this country apart? Was there, once, a softer pass into the water? Or have people always taken one step too many and departed?
It is like no big sea I know. It is gentle. The waves roll, building and growing, then suddenly lose interest in crashing. From the horizon hugging sea body the waves only mosey up to the land’s edge and tickle it hello. No crashing soundtrack to lull you to sleep. At the edge a small wall of stones and pebbles, perfectly positioned. But they have not been placed by human hand. The walls and its stones are untouched by the exfoliating effects of the sea. The sea has no impact; the wall is a garden fence rather than a defensive line.
Welcome to Iceland.