Saturday, September 04, 2010
Graveyards, Orchestras, and Swimming Pools
I saw three amazing things today, all very different!
Eitt. I went to the Reykjavik cemetery today and saw the graves there from the 1800's onward. One of my favorite things to do is to visit cemeteries; I know it's morbid, but every city does it differently, and it's a good way to get back to reality, or ponder things, or just take some pictures. It's a small site but there are a lot of plots packed into a small space! And TONS of trees. I think this is the most densely-packed tree area in the whole city! It was a drizzly morning and quiet, save for a funny parade happening down the street with a marching band that sounded like it was playing 'Bomboleyo'. I noticed that one half of the cemetery has trees of almost solely one type; the other side has different species. You can also tell where newer sites are planted; some old plots have giant stones for gravestones, some have iron crosses, some have what I think of as 'traditional' headstones, and some are like fences around a square of grass. The best sites have a tree growing right out of the middle of the plot, which I assume (without reading up on anything) was a tradition upon death. The description of the cemetery does say that you can see the styles and habits of burial change, and I think a lot of people today here just get cremated. It also says that the side of the cemetery with only one kind of tree will change; those trees only grow to be about 80 years old and then they die, to be ousted by longer-living trees.
But oh my goodness do some of these plots look amazing! I just think of the most amazing images- imagine planting a tree over your loved one, and in a hundred years, that tree had totally taken over the plot. Its roots have literally crushed and covered over your beloved- they've become one again with nature. Strong but silent forces, over years and years. How very Icelandic, so it seems. And for the sites with cairn-like stones on them, it looks totally haunting, as if the stone is necessary to press down on the ground preventing the thin earth in Iceland from pushing the grave back up to the topsoil.
Tvö. I went to the Symphony Orchestra's 'Open House' for families, where the symphony played a couple short 'hits' and there were activities for kids and snacks. This is the way to do orchestral music for families, y'all! A pianist played some Rachmaninoff. There was a lady in costume who came out on stage and entertained the kids with stories. There were treats. And really great music. The kids were so well-behaved! It's just a first-impression, but I think Icelandic children are better-behaved than American brats. I saw a lot of babies and kids really enjoying the music being played, which lest I remind you was NOT Peter and the Wolf. It didn't have to be dumbed-down for anyone. Speaking of babies, I cried like one at several moments during the short concert. I think it's been a stressful week (good stresses, but nonetheless tiring) and to hear such well-played music really brightened my spirits, and the tears just poured out. Luckily I was sitting in the back so no one could see my slobber.
I will be back for more concerts with the symphony; in the winter and spring they're putting on some particularly-good works, including pieces by Icelandic composers, Penderecki's Threnody, and Steve Reich's Drumming.
Þrjú. The swimming pool! This totally made my day, as if the Symphony wasn't enough. For under three dollars you can swim as much as you want in the olympic-size pool, complete with kids' area, lanes for laps, and four hot tubs ('hot pots') of differing hot temperatures. I was particularly fond of 36 degrees (celsius), 'cause I could sit in that bath water all day, but the 40 degrees pot was pretty muscle-relaxant-y and one could feel a bit internally overheated after a while. There's a sauna too.
There are some rules in Iceland about pools. The water is not really cleaned, because people clean themselves before and after entering. There is a great (funny) article about swimming here at style.com, but I will quote Joe Sugarman's article that yes, it does feel at first like high-school swimming torture/I mean CLASS, but then you realize the water is so wonderful and warm and womb-like, and that "...in America, people swim to cool off. In Iceland, people swim to warm up." After a half-hour at the pool, I dried off, put on some clothes, and I definitely felt more comfortable than I had been in the last few days! I went to the grocery store and didn't feel overwhelmed by baskets and meats and fish displays. I walked back to the apartment very relaxed. And now it's time for dinner, which I bought myself, and I'm going to attempt to cook some Icelandic ham (skinka) and pasta (conveniently, pasta) which I think I am going to conquer.
Pool photo credits: sundlaugur.is.