It was Saturday night in busy Reykjaviík, Iceland. It was well into Iceland Airwaves, so there were people everywhere, crowding venues and dancing. Local post-rock elemental favorite Mammút had just finished their electrifying set at Gambla Bió. I went to get my jacket from the (free) coat check and could not find it. Because of all the people, when I arrived earlier there was no room to hang it up so I tucked it underneath on the floor. When I could not find it after the show, I assumed the worst: That someone had taken it, as would likely happen in Chicago.
But then I took a closer look. It was hanging on the edge with all the other coats. Someone had picked it up from its hiding spot and found a place to hang it on the rack! Gratitude and generosity spilled over me like the Iceland waterfall Gullfoss—strong and beautiful—further bolstering the genuine community of Reykjavík I felt when I had arrived seven days ago.
It wouldn’t have been this way in Chicago. It wouldn’t have been like this in any other place. The experience of Airwaves and Reykjaviík was such an arduous yet astonishingly utopian experience—utopian because it felt as if we just plopped into this quaint Northern city when it was at its best. Encompassed by an excited, open community of locals and tourists who treated us as their own, writing about one of my biggest loves and connecting with Iceland’s nature has me teetering in disbelief on the idyllic experience. It wasn’t just a vacation or all business; it wasn’t reality, either, and that’s the beauty of it. Everyone there experienced something different but we shared the music connection and made lasting relationships with locals and musicians that prompt me to say the most cliché phrase ever: It’s not the end, Iceland; I will be back.
Covering shows, hearing amazing talent, dancing and drinking with old and new friends became the “norm” in the last week; now the party is over. But still in my head and on my body, I feel the music, see the nature landscapes and feel the icy wind on my cheeks. Covering Iceland Airwaves brought me closer to numerous musicians that will be playing on my music feed for days and years now. As exhausting as every day was and packed to the brim with work and touristic excursions, we truly got the best of both parts: We experienced tourist attractions during the day and learned the history of the island; the evening—with the food, the festival and the nightlife—gave us the local vibe and the endurance to do our jobs strongly. Meeting other media pros and seeing artist talent, representing them from our blog lens was the most important combo. Covering the shows gave me a real-life look into my future career! I must admit, having a press wristband to the fest helped with that bit.
As someone with a European background, stepping foot back onto a European soil—even if it’s vastly different compared to my motherland of Italy—reignites a part of me that becomes dormant living in America. I automatically feel more free to be myself, comfortable with the community and more empowered from some “American” values I carry. And visiting Europe is also an emotional experience for me. It’s a grip to my relatives and a lifestyle and culture that I am much more connected to than typical American lifestyles. The depression slump of leaving a country that was so blessed to us and feeling the love from all corners of the small capital city is one I am too familiar with: Every time I come back, it’s heavily bittersweet to leave the culture and people, and place myself back into my two cultural houses that I live in here.
“I don’t know what I’m afraid of / But I’m afraid / One day it all will fall away,” ~ “Size of the Moon” by Pinegrove, one of the most solid and personable bands that played the fest and that I got the excitement of meeting in person.
One day it will all fade away, and that is indeed a scary thought that comes with everything good. But just because the festival is over, does not mean it will fade away—these experiences last a lifetime, even if they feel the opposite. Leaving something magical and unusual in such a short amount of time helps people grow. The experience would not be special if it was an everyday thing; it was not meant to last, but the perspectives and values dropped from it were. That’s a big empty feeling to swallow, and people always try to categorize the feeling of coming home after feeling alive in another country. There isn’t a way to do this, but just to accept the adventure as a beautiful experience and know that it has made you (me) a deeper person. And if anything, it reinvigorates my love for travelling and for the opportunities I’ve been given and reminds me to me more myself and keep lights on the person I was there, and keep her afloat here.
This trip would not have been the amazing experience it was without those who helped us along the way. I need to thank Columbia’s radio program, our fearless professor Althea, the Airwaves venues and organizers, the musicians, Icelanders, lasting friends I met along the way and the plentiful free breakfast at our hotel, Fossbaron hotel. I also want to thank Fríða Rós Valdimarsdóttir from the Icelandic Women’s Association, Ragna Björg Guðbrandsdóttir from the crisis center Bjarkarhlíð, Sigþrúður Guðmundsdóttir from the Women’s Shelter and professors at the University of Iceland Helgi Gunnlaugsson and Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson for taking the time out of their busy day to speak with me about Iceland politics, the naming committee and domestic abuse resources for women.
We got the best treatment when in Iceland; we visited the National Museum (thank you Heidi!), the Secret Lagoon, the Geysirs and Golden Circle. It was freezing on our tour to the Golden Circle and the Geysirs, but the view (as you can see from the above photo) was absolutely worth the frozen feet. Thank you also to the temporary friend Stéfan I met when watching the Gullfoss Waterfall—he was the only person not rushing to snap a dozen photos of the natural phenomena. Instead, he stood peacefully and stared at the waterfall, unmoved by the biting cold or the distracting tourists. I took only two photos and then watched the water go by. Enamored by Stéfan’s endurance and calm posture, I struck up a conversation with him about how he was doing it. We ended up walking higher up to see the waterfall. He told me he is a photographer and director from Prague, visiting a friend in Northern Iceland. It was refreshing to learn that he does not take many (if any) photos when he is travelling given his profession; he said this makes him appreciate the experience more. At the top of the path, he offered to take my photo with the waterfalls behind me. It was a lovely conversation and he was a genuine, quiet but funny character that I am glad to have met on the trip. Thank you, Stéfan!
From the security guards at Airwaves venues kicking us out (with humor, mostly) when the last show ended, to the eclectic flea market downtown where we tried fermented shark (first and last time) to the delicious vegan menu at Kaffi Vinyl—the first and only vegan restaurant in Reykjavík—the generosity I feel for the trip spans across people, places and musicians. It lies in the air and in the spoken words through music, which is what brings us all together to be our best selves more than anything else.
Until next time, Iceland! I will be back without a doubt; for now it will be in my dreams and my vaults of memory filed under, Magic Endings, Beginnings, Iceland.