It may not rival the stories of Grettir the Strong or Erik the Red, but our own Icelandic saga continues in the geologic wilds of North Iceland. This is the realm of charred lava fields, desolate peaks, and waterfalls named for the gods—not to mention a memorable stretch of the Ring Road that traverses remnants of ice and fire.
Back in 2004, as I was finishing my final months at the University of Virginia, I had a once-in-a-lifetime moment of Halloween costume inspiration. Having already spent 22 years with black hair and bangs (and the last several being told that I resembled a certain Icelandic singer), I set off for the local Michaels craft store. A few feather boas, stuffed-and-stitched tube socks, and scraps of felt later—I was Björk herself, in all of her swan dress glory at the 2001 Oscars.
There’s a great old episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine—a writer for the J. Peterman catalog—is saddled with a debilitating case of “catalog writer’s block.” The culprit? The troublesome Himalayan walking shoe. Beset with frustration, an exhausted Elaine takes to the streets of New York (to search for a houseguest who has gone missing)—only to find unexpected inspiration in the warmth and comfort around her feet.
“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes In variegated maze of mount and glen. Ah me! What hand can pencil guide, or pen, To follow half on which the eye dilates Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken Than those whereof such things the bard relates, Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium’s gates?”
Perhaps it was what Lisbon had in common with San Francisco that first had me hooked. A majestic suspension bridge painted a familiar shade of international orange? Check. Antique cable cars that rattle and shudder their way up steep city streets? Check. A treacherous position on a fault line, a long and storied seismic history, and one devastating earthquake that nearly burned the city to the ground? Check, check, and check.