Sunday night, my last night in Iceland, my wife (and I) decided that while we had seen the Aurora Borealis--the Northern Lights--three days earlier, you should never pass up the chance to see them again.
It's kind of like seeing whales in the wild, or a good fireworks display, or Ray Charles when he was alive. You grab whatever chance you have, you roll the dice, and you go for it.
However, in Icelandic, there's an ancient saying:
"ekajonfjoll drotollodottir kfjanhollarson."
It means, roughly translated that "Iceland is one cold mother-fucker." So as we headed out on a 41-foot ship to get away from the light pollution of Reykjavik, my wife and I had on layers, then layers on top of the layers.
My hat wore a hat.
The ship cut slowly through the frigid water as the other passengers scrambled for seats on the top-most deck. My wife and I had arrived early and had already found our perch.
People were fussing. Fussing with their cell-phone-cameras, fussing with snacks, fussing with their clothing for warmth. One man lost his cell-phone at the bottom of a cavernous pocket. He was fairly apoplectic cursing and fretting over his ill-fortune. Nevertheless, my wife and I settled in and looked at the stars.
I don't know much about astronomy--but I quickly recognized the Big Dipper, vivid like in an astronomical atlas. Further along and low to the horizon, I spotted Orion's Belt. After two hours or so we saw a shooting star. Breathtaking, literally, not in the way a really good tuna-salad sandwich is described by the be-whiskered set.
For whatever reason, the people who ran the excursion decided that they'd interrupt the still of a Sunday night on the water in late November with bad 1960s rock and roll from America.
Hang on, Sloopy, they urged. Sugar, Sugar, they saccarhined.
I pulled my hats down over my ears, to no advantage. I wanted nothing but quiet--the quiet of the waves and the luster of the silent stars. But popular taste--even at 66-degrees North prevailed.
We saw no Northern Lights that night. Conditions were good on Earth--but solar flares--emanating from our Sun, 93 million miles away refused to cooperate. Some people cursed the Sun--the innocent Sun--and wanted their money back.
I thought a lot in Iceland about the quality of alone-ness. Of being out of the mainstream--away from New York, even away from a tiny Yonkers-sized city like Reykjavik.
I thought about hopping a flight to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, or Grimsey Island, 40-miles out to sea off the north coast of Iceland. I thought, if only, if only, I were there, with the stars and the quiet, and maybe a good book and Whiskey, a warm sweater and a bit of love, well, how bad could that be.
Now, it is 14 hours later and I am in a shopping-mall-cum-airport about to fly back to New York. A frenzy has gripped so many. The mania to shop, to buy, to consume, to get a bargain, to do the next thing.
Maybe the next thing should be to spend some time doing nothing at all, but looking at the stars and wondering if they are looking at us.