Saturday, January 19, 2008

Land of Ice - 2

It's Saturday afternoon and I have let myself sleep in. Today we are apparently hitting some art openings and some of us are going to check out the local night-life. What I am really looking forward to, though, is a car trip we plan on taking tomorrow through Sunday night which will include a trip to some extinct volcanic ground, the northern lagoons, a visit to the phallus museum (bizarre, eh?) and then a trip to a small town named Holar to visit a friend I made on the plane over here..... P., a marine biologist who just moved here to do her PhD.

I have received quite a few requests for pictures. So just to let you know, after this trip we take on Sunday I'm going to get H. to help me figure out how to upload some images..... there should be a good selection come Monday or Tues.

But in the meantime, let me fill you in on the last couple of days. One of the most spectacular events happened on Thursday night. Leaking and dancing out of the mountain summit just behind where I'm living was a cool green display of the Northern Lights. H. and J. discovered them on a walk home from a late-night snack run and called me out in my pajamas. We stood in shivering silence, moved to Oo's Ah's and Oh!'s as a faint stream projecting out in a long line, barely visible would begin to ignite and sway and spark, widening and bursting new flames, to eventually subdue again and build up for the next blaze. So simple and so enrapturing! The colder and clearer it is, the better they will get, and I think we may have a shot at more of the same and perhaps even more spectacular this weekend.

It really augments my desire to get out more into the land. As my friend N. from back home pointed out on the phone last night, Iceland has a similarity to Canada in the way that it's culture is largely in the land itself, and so while here I need to find as many ways to get out into it as possible. Prohibitive costs has made this a bit difficult, but I think the feeling is quite mutual especially between H., J. and I that somehow we need to make this happen anyway. So, I look forward to telling you about our first big excursion tomorrow.

Yesterday, we came to the end of our second week in the theatre. Fridays are a day when we "show" where we are to the rest of the group. It's not really about re-doing something worked on, more opening each of our rehearsal processes to the group. There's been a lot of swimming in the soup, and it's been curious to see how the insecurity of not really knowing where we're going or what we're each here to do hits different people at different times. The epitome of this yesterday was H.'s presentation of having nothing to show, so he brought in an onion cake that he baked based on him mother's recipe (in the spirit of "why am I here" and that at it's essence referring back to his Mom). We also showed some very silly video-footage of the three "hunch-backs of Akureyri".... something that developed out of walk up a very slippery hill a few days ago and then blossomed into late-night silliness up at the army-barracks..... J., H. and I have certainly bonded in our seclusion up here.

In general, life is much more all-the-time social here than usual for me. It is both comforting and sometimes overwhelming, being often a bit of a loner in my life at home. But it also seems like an important survival mechanism when in unknown territory, and something I'm sure to miss when I come back home. The lines of work and living seem completely blurred, which makes it hard to tell when I or even if I have shut off the work-mode. I finally returned to meditating this morning, and that feels like a good thing in terms of negotiating that line.

I don't really know what to say about my own process. As usual, it feels like many stabs in the dark. I'm glad I've got my video camera, so that I can see that something is actually happening. I am allowing myself to follow whims that I might not usually, like including as part of my research visiting a group of scientists at the Institute of Arctic Studies or taking underwater shots of swimming fully-clothed in the pool. There is apparently a character I'm moving towards creating, though the full shape of what that actually means to me, is not apparent yet. I have a lot of unanswered questions about how the arctic experience of Iceland relates at all to the experience of the Canadian arctic.... mostly on a social level. There are no indigenous people here. One could almost call Icelanders a first nation people. I realize that when I think of the Canadian north, there is the whole notion of "the other" and the ways both now and historically that we deal or don't deal with that and all the ensuing repercussions. There really aren't those kind of issues here, it seems. In a way, these scientists are still voyeurs of the Arctic. And well, it really makes me wonder how we define "Arctic". They claim to be the success story of the Arctic, but perhaps as C. (or he now wants to be referred to as Mr. X) would say, they only have Arctic-envy.

All the more reason, it seems, to go out on the land. The land, in general and especially in Canada, has always been a feeding source for my soul. I'm not sure exactly how it figures into my work, but perhaps it's something unseen but necessary. Somehow my feeling here is that it is a missing piece of information in what we do here. It doesn't interpret. It just is.

More soon with pictures!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In the land of Ice - 1

I have been in Akureyri, Iceland for one week and a day now, working on the development of a new piece of theatre.... not my own project, but we are all creative collaborators. I just want to say a couple of words about a rule of etiquette that I've decided to employ in the keeping of this blog during my time here, which is that I am going to refer to all people by the initial of their first name only, for the sake of privacy. I have had so many back and forths in my head about even keeping a blog, it being so public for any personal thoughts. And even if I don't say everything here, there will of course be something personal to it, especially in the kind of close quarters I'm in here. So this is my compromise.
As always seems to be the case, so very much can transpire in just a few days (let alone a day) when immersed in a new place and a new experience, so I'm sure there are many things I'm going to miss, and of course, as I always do, I can say that I'm going to try to keep this up closer to daily.... but well, as you can see by my previous entries, that's not likely to be likely....

Ok. Enough apologies, let's get on with it (or as H. would say in his German loving-mocking of Americans "Let's do this!) shall we?

Now contrary to what I told many people before leaving, and contrary to what I had been preparing myself for, Iceland is NOT in 24hr. darkness, though it IS quite dark for large portion of any day. Just around 10am the sky begins to change noticeably and become a rich dark blue, and by 11am on a clear day (like this morning as I lay in one of the hot pots at the local pool, staring at the sky) it's quite clear crystal. That can last till somewhere around 3pm, although it can begin to get a bit grey, and, on a day like today when the snow is falling in thick juicy flakes the sun is barely visible in the whited out distance between me and the snow-covered mountains across the fjord. By 5:30pm, which is what it is as I write this, it's dark.... well, probably was pretty close by 4:30 and it will stay like this till tomorrow morning at 10am when the shift begins again.

This situation makes the daylight hours precious, especially as it is stunningly beautiful when you can see it. Standing at any height I can catch glimpses of the open sea at the end of the fjord and everything is blue and white and grey and when the sun really hits, it sometimes cuts the tops of some of the cliffs with cutting brilliant slashes. Scrub is considered forest here, as there are so few trees, so much of what I see is open white with the occasional squiggle of black. I find myself fascinated with the horizon line, or more precisely the line where the mountains' summit edge meets the sky. The story of this line changes from moment to moment as the light changes especially as we move into the later hours of day-light. I have managed to catch a couple of especially magical moments, like when leaving the library a few evenings ago right at 5pm and the summit line across the fjord was glowing purple into the darkening blue in such a way as to blur the precision of the meeting line altogether, giving the impression that the mountain's summit was melting into electric purple light.

We have mountains on both sides of us and water in the middle. J., H. and I are all living about a 20min walk up a slope from the theatre where we're working downtown by the water. To be honest, much of Akureyri itself is not that picturesque. Quite sterile feeling (even by Scandinavian standards - in that IKEA everything new and streamlined kind of way - man that sounds really arrogant, eh? anyway....) and the part of town we are living is the closest to what I imagine an army-barracks to look like. This is accentuated by the fact that my rehearsals are generally first thing in the morning and, since I've found that one of my necessary anchors in being here is to go to the gym prior to that, I leave the house at around 7:30am shlepping everything I'll need for the day: computer - only wireless is downtown; lunch - did I mention how #%#%&&%# expensive it is here?! like $7 for a cup of coffee!!; my rehearsal/gym clothes/shoes/books, etc.... Everything is quite a walk in general. There are free buses here, though they never seem to come by when I'm walking. I feel some comradship (at least imagined) with the local working folk and school kids as we walk down the dark streets in the early morning. I get the sense, though that it's not something that is really an issue here. I guess if you always experience the morning as darkness, you're not missing anything. As I walk through the dark, I'm greeted by the giant billboard of a smiling boy eating a hot dog. C. pointed this out as a casual joke to me on my first night, and at the time I didn't realize how much this image is now imprinted in my brain.

The working process itself is elusive to talk about. At this point we are still all working separately, and to be honest I had some insecurity to get over at the beginning (now I think I've come closer to just accepting it and riding with the enigmatic punches) being the only "dancer" in the lot in the creation of a piece of theatre where I'm needing to generate my own material.... well we all are. We came here around the theme of "Night" and this can be pretty wide and variable. Added to that, the nature of being in a strange place, in close quarters with new people really begins to blur the lines between work and just living. And the open questions about what we're making can lead to many complex discussions that are undoubtably infused with just who we are as people and how we cope with a certain kind of insecurity that's inherent in this kind of situation. What it does, in a way, is create this little hybrid community for this particular time, and the other day I realized that I have actually created anchors out of the very strangers whose newness underlined my insecurities in the first few jet-lagged days.

Speaking of jet-lag and sleep disruption, I am sorry to report to my friends that being in a night environment has not turned me into a reformed insomniac. Sleep, in general, is a strange experience for all of us. It seems a common experience for all of us new to this time-zone is to wake up several times in the night or not to be able to sleep until late (or early) into the night.... even H. who's only an hour different.

Another luxurious staple to my day is the pool. Now, to say "the pool" really doesn't begin to describe the breadth of this experience. Iceland, as you may know is volcanic ground. You gotta love that ice and fire can live in such close proximity! So there are geothermal pools galor. Some in a more "natural" setting like the blue lagoon outside of Reykjavik, but pretty much every town has a local outdoor pool which is made up several different temperatures and depths of pools and a steam-room. The coolest water (which is still warm enough to be in in below-zero weather) is the laps pool and it has been cooled rather than warmed in order to make it swimmable. The hottest "hot pot" is 43 degrees celsius. I was brought to the pool on my very first jet-lagged night and was treated to a magical site. Swimming on my back (and later floating in the kiddie pool) looking up at the black sky, steam rising off the water, my body warm, my face and arms touching the cool air and snow falling, swirling and landing in gentle cold kisses on my exposed skin. I don't think I will ever forget this. This is my daily pleasure and seems to be so for much of the towns-people.

It has been hard to meet many people here at any depth, what with the language (although many people speak english, at least a bit), the fact that though friendly there is a bit of a reserved quality to folks, and the fact that the expense of everything makes going "out" prohibitive, even for the locals. I think tonight, though, that we are planning to go to some quiz-competition night at one of the local cafes. My third night was my closest experience to Icelandic social culture thus far. We were invited by one of the local set designers for a meal of traditional Icelandic delicacies: seared sheep's head and sheep head meat in various other forms from pate to pickled, pickled sheep testicles, sheep blood sausage and various types of breads (including one that is cooked through a process of boiling). And I tried everything, I'm proud to say.... even the eye-ball! I figure I'm here, right. And really the sheep's head, though it looks daunting is quite tasty... especially the cheek and the tounge.... much like a good lamb shank in quality and taste.

We have had one quite sad experience since coming here which has impacted us all as well as the project, even from the point of view of direction. The team was to be comprised of the director C., myself and J. all from southern Canada, two Icelandic actors who are D. and A (though she has just joined us), filmmaker H. from Berlin, and two Inuit actors (one who couldn't be here) and L. It was quite a complicated feat to get L. here, and sadly he has had to go back home as of Monday. It was an issue of alcohol and addiction and the demons that those things unearth. I have not quite processed all this. It's hard to, when you realize that there is a core place in this that I can try to understand but which I really can't even begin to know. It's impossible for these events not to send a rippling wave through our work. After all, we are here (and next year in the Canadian north) to explore and experience something about what it is to live in the darkness and the cultures that do so. I feel woken up to how little I know of the reality of a part of life in my own country. Even saying it like that seems so trite. I don't know how much I feel able to express here, but to say that it has woven a thread to almost any conversation I've had with my colleagues and it certainly infuses our work in the studio. And I think now that, completely regardless of where this project ends up going as a piece of performance, that I want to be able to follow it into the Canadian North next year.

I guess in general I am facing my own ignorance in so many things in my meetings with my compatriots here. And I want to underline here that I am not seeing that as a condemnation to myself. I've played that song over and over in my head for far too much of my life. And certainly in the jostling of the first days of adjustment I started striking up the tune again. But in the last few days I realize that I am somehow finding a way to let myself sit in the discomfort of it and actually get the briefest glimpse of the possibility that this could actually be a good place to be. But/And it makes me have to begin thinking "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"

I think that's a longer view question/exploration. But in the meantime, I give into the unpredictable nature of working/being here.... come up against various degrees of needing or being able to control, and go on.

I am in my Iceland reality, which is specific to this time, these people, this landscape and my meeting with them all in this time. And there are some incredibly joyful parts of it, like finding H. to sing cheesy songs both existing and becoming at every occasion, sharing meals nightly, and having some intimate breath-sharing moments with the very hairy, small horses that litter the landscape.

More soon.
My love to all my friends and greetings to whoever else is reading this.

Bles Bles!