Last summer, I attended the country wedding of my niece and her French, then, financé in the valley of Svarfaðardalur, North Iceland.
This would be my first time driving north all by myself. Although I had pictured myself taking a wrong turn somewhere along the way, getting lost in the West Fjords, and in utter despair resorting to opening the bottle of red wine I had in the trunk to drown my worries, I miraculously made it all the way to Skagafjörður without incident. There, I spent the night at my uncle’s farm and left the bottle of red with him, trusting I could easily find my way to Svarfaðardalur, which is less than two hours to the east.
I arrived at my destination timely enough to check in at the hotel, which used to be a boarding school back in the days when I spent every summer in the valley.
I enjoyed getting ready, having spent the last week frantically looking for a dress for the occasion in the stores of Reykjavík, only to find the chosen one on a hanger in my closet—a forgotten treasure, still with the tag on.
I got to the church in time on a cold and windy August afternoon, where many of my relatives were already gathered. Perhaps I arrived a little too early because by the time they let us into the church, my teeth were chattering at an uncontrollable beat.
Luckily, the church, from which I remembered vacuum cleaning flies before every service when I was little, quickly filled up with so many people that the temperature all around me rapidly rose, gradually silencing my teeth. The atmosphere was exceptionally warm. I could hear people chatting mostly in French and Icelandic, but there were also several who spoke English and German.
Finally, the young couple arrived, beautifully dressed in pastel colors and adorned with flowers. Both of them are professional musicians, and soon the music began, performed by highly accomplished artists. Right away, it became apparent that another trait the young couple shared would characterize the ceremony, and that was their sense of humor. There was no minister, but they each read their prepared words, loaded with humor, she in French and he in Icelandic, each with their foreign accent, explaining their intentions and finally asking the congregation whether we thought she was good enough for him, to which we shouted “Já” and “Oui” and he good enough for her, getting the same response. Then we were kindly asked to follow a French custom and honk our horns while driving to the reception at a nearby farm. That arrangement was popular among all but the horses in the valley, which came close to losing their wits, but, luckily, all survived.
Once at the party, a band began playing while lamb was being roasted and soup heated. Never having had the ability to sit still while listening to good music, I joined an elderly woman who was already dancing in the huge garage where tables had been set for a hundred people. She was one of the French guests, a farmer’s wife with a wonderful glint of humor in her eyes. And so we danced, independently, all by ourselves to the tune of one melody after another, until, to our great disappointment, the band members packed their things and left, since dinner would now be served. I’m sure we both discovered that the inability to stand still to good music is an international problem, unaffected by age or occupation.
I would do the hosts disservice by trying to describe the wedding reception in any detail. Let me just say that it was a wonderful feast of food, music and cheer—proof that nationality doesn’t matter where there is kind-heartedness and humor, broad-mindedness and humanity.
I left the party around one in the morning after participating in an Irish round dance, orchestrated by some Irishmen. The drive to the old boarding school was not long and I quickly fell asleep in what used to be a dorm room.
I awoke to the sound of a boy’s voice, shouting in my ear: “Daddy, get up, it’s late already.” For a moment, I was in shock. Was there a man in my room—and his son as well? I knew I had only consumed one beer the previous night and had entered the room perfectly sober. Was I hallucinating? Our prime minister was perhaps right when he said that eating foreign meat could affect your brain. Was that delicious lamb perhaps French? For a brief moment I contemplated voting for the Progressive Party.
“Dad, I’m so hungry, please get up.” Then I heard the father mumble, “Sure, in a minute, I’m coming.” Finally, I had the courage to open my eyes. The sun was shining bright, illuminating every corner of the room. I was definitely alone. “Dad, hurry up,” the boy begged. Suddenly, I realized that the walls were paper-thin. I could hear every word spoken in the next room as if it were mine.
This reminded me of a story my father used to tell. His friend spent the night one summer at Hótel Valhöll, Thingvellir—a hotel that long ago turned to ashes. But as the friend was about to fall a sleep, he heard a man cheerfully ask, “Who does the pretty butt belong to?” to which a woman laughed hysterically. Again, the lover asked, “Who does the pretty butt belong to?” and the answer was the same, shrill laughter. Once this had occurred the third time, my father’s friend lost his patience. He knocked on the wall as hard as he could and shouted, “If the two of you can’t agree on who that bloody a..hole belongs to, then I’m calling the hotel director.”
Although I had often been told when I was little that “walls have ears,” I imagined their hearing had worsened considerably in the twenty-first century with all the improved building materials. But, as I had just discovered, some walls never change.
It was time for me to head back south, but not without saying goodbye to my aunt at whose farm I had spent so many summers, learned to work hard and speak with a northern accent so strong that it makes you spit the saliva far into the air when pronouncing the k’s, p’s and t’s, learned to sing political songs—albeit out of tune, because I’ve never had an ear for music, and where my admiration for the makers of humorous verse began—her husband having had the ability to make priceless poetry at every occasion.
Later that day, I drove back south and turned up the music, which was reminiscent of the wedding party. It kept me dancing at the wheel the whole way south, thereby putting the lives of other travelers in grave danger. Still, I have no intention of seeking help for my inability to sit still while listening to good music. Nor will I ever blame it on the French if it turns out I’ve lost my wits: Reliable sources have told me the lamb was Icelandic.
Vala Hafstad - vala(at)icelandreview.com