Djúpavík // La Mecca

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When κ, α & I arrived at the car renting agency in Reykjavik to pick up our 4×4, the 2 guys working there looked for a moment at how tiny we were.

They asked where we were heading with a doubtful question mark in their voice. We said that our ultimate goal was Djúpavík, a lost hamlet in the north west peninsula of Iceland. They gave us a bunch of instructions on how to drive on ice, on snow, on pebbles, on mountain roads. Feels like they were worried not to see the 4×4 again.

Off we were to northern adventures in OUR car. We stopped for a couple of nights on the way, visited an ice cream factory supported by volcano energy and adored the poetry of it.

On the last day of Winter (end of April for the Vikings), we stopped in Borgarnes where we were strongly recommended by a lady who was a huge fan of Paul Oscar (the Icelandic equivalent of… Peter Andre?) not to drive further up north. She showed us the official website of Icelandic roads, and most of them were closed due to weather conditions. She called Djúpavík hotel on our behalf to cancel our night.

But the trip wouldn’t feel complete without seeing Djúpavík because we had been fantasising it since day 1. In only a few days, it had become our Mecca, the one place to see before you die.

So on the first day of Summer, we hit the road anyway.

It was the most intense journey we all ever lived. The more north we were getting, the more lost in white.

Nothingness and white. Sometimes after a curve, the insolent green of a far away fjord would blind us as if we had already forgotten about colour.

As the hours were passing, the road was getting narrower and whiter. The snow hadn’t been cleared. We were directly overlooking the cliffs – no security barrier whatsoever. I can’t remember how long this lasted, but it felt like a lifetime, another time/space dimension. We were several hours without speaking at all, just all gathering our meditations not to die, to make it to the next bend, to the next bump on the road. To the safe.

Everytime we were seeing a hut ahead, we were all secretly hoping: Djúpavík? But Djúpavík wasn’t in sight.

There was a point that we lost hope to ever reach it. We thought of going backwards, we thought we got lost. We decided to carry on just a bit more.

And there it was. No possible mistake.

We had reached our Mecca, our El Dorado, our enchanted land. It wouldn’t have surprised us much to see unicorns drinking the water of the bay.

We cartwheeled on the snow and knocked the door of the hotel. A beautiful lady welcomed us: “Your rooms are not ready, I wasn’t expecting you.” We were the only customers in the hotel, and the only living souls in Djúpavík along with the couple of owners and their dog Freya.

That’s the happiest I’ve ever been to arrive somewhere. That’s the most desired destination I’ve ever wanted to see with my own eyes.

It is not until months later that I talked about that journey again with α, and we both agreed that it was the closest to death we ever felt.

But God was it worth the risk.

Soaking With The Vikings

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Out of the blue, I brought my ass to Reykjavik last November for the Air Waves Festival to catch up with H, but as her fiancé cat fell sick, she cancelled and I had to improvise making friends every day.

It was my third visit to Mother Iceland in a year. I knew She would give me the hug I needed, and as usual it went far beyond my expectations.

Air Waves is gigs night and day in every single building of the Capital, bumping into the same people all the time although the population of Iceland probably triples over the week of the festival. Listening to awesome music, listening to awful music. Reading in the newspapers that Björk was in the crowd of that gig where you were too. Finding yourself in hot tub with the band that you saw playing the day before and not knowing how to tell them that you really thought they suck.

After a couple of days in town, I got the call for the wild.

I woke up super early to confront the natural elements with a bunch of Vikings I didn’t know: 3 Icelandic guides, 1 Icelandic singer, 9 Norwegian dudes and 1 Swedish girl.

We drove out of town and were thrown in the middle of the snow. White as far as you can see, but the colours of Iceland are way more vivid than on any other continent. The sky is more blue and the sun is brighter. Even the snow is more white. It is overwhelming for the senses and forces you to focus on the here & now. The sense of survival gets triggered every moment because you feel that Nature can take over you when She wants.

After an extreme walk (very well equipped of course, I was dressed like Jennifer Beals in Flash Dance and did the “What a Feeling” joke all along the way), we arrived at the ideal hot river spot. Getting in your bikini on the snow is not the easiest thing but I was excited like a kid and gave it a couple of snow cartwheels.

There I was, soaking in a circle of Vikings in burning water with flowing shots of vodka and beer and a private guitar player singing for us under an insolent sun.

For the first time of my life, I was feeling dark-skinned (or kinda orange). Vikings have a skin that you can almost see through and their blondeness is something else. It was cracking me up that the guys were finding me so exotic. I really was feeling like Marilyn in the cult scene of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, although I was the least blonde of the gang.

I walked all the way back tipsy, which made the landscape look even more breathtaking and I was focusing on the beating of my heart not to fall. Heartbeat & nature in sync. We stopped to look at weird natural phenomenons, like muddy holes in the earth with bubbles and weird gases. Typical Iceland wonders.

I worship Mother Iceland. She bombards you with violent sensations of aliveness with no mercy, and you don’t even have to hunt for it.

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Pictures taken and gracefully sent to me by one of the lovely Vikings, edited by my groundbreaking Photoshop skills

The God Bless You Dunkin’Donuts

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After a long failed day and 3 and a half hours of sofa sleep, I jumped on the F train at 5am with α, direction Coney Island.

We wanted to reiterate the Sunday morning sunrise experience, but actually seeing the sunrise from the beach and not from the highway this time.

It was still dark when we arrived in Coney Island, the fun fair was deadly silent apart from an odd pop music spitting from speakers somewhere. Fun fairs are often scary and depressing but empty fun fairs are scary and exciting. We wanted to jump the fence and sneak in the Ghost House.

We first went in search for coffee to salute the sun with our caffeine intake in the blood. We miraculously found a 24 hour Dunkin’ Donuts. α pushed the door saying “God bless 24 hour!”. The man at the counter was very sweet and slow and we had to explain several times “one everything bagel with cream cheese and one with butter”. He served us and instead of saying thank you or you’re welcome, he was saying “God bless you” in each sentence: “That’s your regular coffee, God bless you”, “One cream cheese bagel, God bless you”, “Here’s your change, God bless you”, “Have a nice day, God bless you”. We named this branch the ‘God bless you Dunkin’ Donuts’.

We walked to the beach and we weren’t sure in which direction to look at to see dawn breaking. I told α : “It is so random where the sun rises”. She looked at me very politely and replied: “Well, technically, it is always east.” I pulled myself together and explained that I have some very specific kind of genius.

While we were waiting for the show with the seagulls, α told me a very good bird story from the time she was living in Delaware in a beach house. After having an argument, she ran to the beach to find some peace of mind. The ocean and the scenery calmed her down, and to enhance this moment of bliss, 2 beautiful white doves flew over and landed close to her. She took it like a sign from the gods and closed her eyes to embrace this instant of plenitude. When she opened her eyes again, the doves had vanished and were replaced, exactly at the same spot, by 2 ugly sick-looking brown seagulls. I peed myself at the anecdote because I thought it sounded like a zen allegory or some wise metaphors from a fortune cookie: ‘You may think you saw a dove but in the blink of an eye a seagull appears.’ How can I ever be depressed with friends like that?

The sun finally rose and we danced and hip-hopped at it, then we walked along the ocean and we talked about having children or not, love patterns, and the Ministry of Silly Walks by the Monty Python.

The ocean was throwing yellow carnations at us. α and I love carnations because of the dance theatre masterpiece ‘Nelken‘ by German choreographer Pina Bausch, our spiritual Mother. It is the first of her pieces that we both ever saw, even before we met each other and before we knew we’d adopt dance theatre as a life style. Pina Bausch is one of the cements of our friendship because we took a very random journey to Wuppertal together to see ‘Kontakthof‘. We were 22 and didn’t know each other very well yet.

So we sat our butt on a rock and I finally showed her the pictures of my pilgrim to Wuppertal last January, when I left a postcard on Pina’s grave signed with our two names.

When our butt was frozen, we took the F train again. α stopped in Brooklyn, I continued to Manhattan to have coffee with β² who was in town only for a day and a half. I haven’t seen him since our Air Waves experience in Reykjavik last year. We met each other in LA last September, then we met again in Iceland a few weeks later, now we have a brief coffee in NYC.

He walked me to the door of the Joffrey Ballet School for my ultimate 5 Rhythms dance class of this chunk of time, and we hugged each other saying: “So, where next?”

I love catching up with people in different places every time.

The #5 Waldo House Series – Episode#3 : The Bathtub

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That’s in the bathtub that we lost the battle.

It was in the spring of 2012, May or June.

We were soaking in hot waters. A couple of girls and a couple of candles.

It was supposed to be an enjoyable moment. But she brought up the sword-of-Damocles subject that I knew was hanging above my head since the first day of our common life.

Her parents wanted to come and visit in the fall, and it would therefore be very welcome if I was so very kind to plan myself a little 2-week holiday to evacuate the premises of my own home.

(The parents were told I was a boy).

We finally had hit the wall. We had gracefully managed to work our story around it for already 2 years. The state of grace was over.

I can’t remember any of my words. I can’t even remember what I thought.

I only remember diving underneath the water and not wanting to come back to the surface cause we’d have to finish this conversation.

But I soon got out of breath and emerged to articulate something like of course, I understand, I want you to have quality time with your parents, I am just a fucking dyke they don’t deserve to witness this, and you are a dyke too by the way, but yes that’s hard to admit, yes, only fair, yes, old generation, yes yes, let me just take a map of the world and put my finger on a random country and I’ll book tickets and it will be as if I had never existed.

Where is the line between compromise and self-bashing? When do we know what’s acceptable and what’s excruciating?  Should I have grabbed her hair and maintain her head under the water for a minute or two so she knew how I was feeling? Should I have walked out of the bathtub without even rinsing the foam off my body to pack my things and never come back?

It would have exploded if I had said no, so I said yes and it exploded anyway. Only difference is that we agonised for a year.

I’ve paid for my lack of courage. But I’ve never found what I could have done or said that day to prevent the explosion. It wasn’t in my power anyway. This was never my story.

On the map, my finger had landed on Iceland, so off I went alone to Reykjavik, which has since then become my spiritual retreat.

The purity of the Icelandic air burnt my lungs the first time I ever breathed it. I wandered Iceland alone under these disturbing circumstances. One day, I sat on a bench near the duck lake in the town centre. I wanted to enjoy the last rays of sun. I started thinking of what was happening in my London home at this instant.

I thought of the naked walls from which all my pictures and personal traces had been washed away – too feminine, too queer, too me. I thought of my clothes and shoes stuffed in bin bags and hidden behind a trapdoor above the same bathtub where it had all begun. I cried on all the ducks of Reykjavik that day, and she was calling me to help her cook a béchamel for her parents over the phone.

It is the most wounding feeling in the world to know that your existence has been clinically wiped out.

Picture borrowed from the wonderful I’m a Fucking Unicorn page. 

The #5 Waldo House Series – Episode#5 : The Centimetres

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We were home one night. Or one day.

She was on our bed, setting up to skype with her parents. She was always skyping with her parents and I never was. This is how we were respectively brought up. I respect both schemes.

She was always briefing me before her parental interactions, even after 3 years together, when the rules were so ingrained in me that I wouldn’t even have the distance to judge them right or wrong. This is how things were. She always had to mention: “I am calling my parents. Don’t speak.” Just in case I would all of a sudden decide to squeeze next to her and wave at the webcam to introduce myself: “What’s up in-laws! Nice to meet you! I am the one screwing your daughter!” 

I regret not doing it. I would have freed them all from a huge weight, and at least I would have given them a good reason to hate me, cause for all I know they had none. It would have been a cult coming out scene. I can be such a docile girl when it comes to affection.

In these recurrent occasions, I was like an elephant in my own house, because they subconsciously knew about me. Of course they knew. It takes tremendous organisation and concentration (and hypocrisy) from all parties to ignore something that big over so many years. They had an implicit agreement not to look at the elephant too closely to keep their wonderful family unity. If someone had to be beheaded for the unity to keep up, it had to be me.

The voice of her parents grew familiar to me as years went by. I was hearing it all the time. But I only ever saw their face in picture. I could catch fragments of their hellenic conversations. I could tell when they were talking about me, all declined in the masculine version. Her mum was nicknaming me “Parlez-vous”, most likely because she knew it was fucking nonsense to refer to me with my made-up male name.

This whole theatre piece was sickening. Over the years, not only was I exponentially suffering from my nothingness status, but I gradually lost respect for her. I even ended up despising her intellectually.

I have never met any other couple – gay or not – in a similar situation. I don’t know any closeted gays who live with their partner. It just can’t work out between 2 people who are at different stages or their coming out process. It is mathematical.

That particular day, she was getting ready for the family performance. She checked the background behind her to make sure there was no queerish hint. She stopped, looked at the poster of the sublime blonde woman on the wall. I had brought it back to her from my solitary Icelandic journey. It was the poster of an exhibition that I had seen at the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, a series of portraits of contemporary Icelandic women taken by Berglind Björnsdóttir.

She must have judged the sublime blonde too tendencious. She moved the poster up on the wall – literally 3 centimetres up. I was observing her in silence, fascinated in a bad way. I was trying to be in her head at that precise moment. What were her criteria to evaluate what was suspicious or not? How had she developed so many strategies in 15 years of her gay life to know what could betray her secret? Did she really believe that the 3 centimetres up or down the wall had the power to change the course of her life?

This is where my lost love was spending her plan making energy. Evaluating the centimetres to organise her cover and mine. Whilst she was measuring and micro-managing the practical details of her double life, how could she ever have time to think of happier questions such as:  What do I really want to achieve? Do I love my life? What is meaningful to me? Do I want to be with her, or do I want to be like her? If we ever decide to have the family we’ve been talking about, how are we going to proceed? Stuff like that. The regular legitimate late 20s stuff. Not moving a fucking poster an inch up the wall cause there’s a woman on it.

This entire chapter of my life was so fucked up. I am grateful that I stepped out of it with no serious damage but a bruised soul and a devastated heart. I really would have had reasons to hit my head against the wall.

I will never grant to anyone the power to make me sink.

Picture by Berglind Björnsdóttir