Iceland: How Do You Explain What Is Magical?

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There is no more appropriate word, dear Iceland, to describe what you are than one. This one word has been over-used, overwrought... a cliche, even. But, Iceland, you are magic.

We landed in your desolate beauty in the seemingly tiniest little airport, windows open we saw glimpses of far off, bare mountains. The drive to our car was a feast for the eyes. Eerie, soft laden fog covering the ground, misty bypasses and a faint, faint shadow of larger, more ominous looking mountains in the distance. 

From the passenger seat of our red four-wheel drive hunk of metal, Route One, our circular path, felt like a taste of all of America's national parks rolled up into one without ever unbuckling my seat belt. You are perhaps my most challenging subject to write about, dear Iceland, because I cannot find the words to summarize all the allure, the mystery, the oddities, the challenges, the natural wonder you encompass. How can I describe what is magical? After a few hours, I was spell-bound by the great amount of beauty I had swallowed in such a short amount of time. My heart puttering like a toddler's experiment with a bass drum, questions and curiosities filling up every corner of my imagination, Stendhal Syndrome seemed more and more like a reality than a laughable diagnosis. Are humans supposed to take in this amount of striking nature?

Ice caps. Mars-esque landscapes. Stacked rocks to commemorate those who died in explosive lava's path. Circling, weaving paths, straddling two harsh landscapes, the harsh, Northern Atlantic on the right, a foreboding active volcano on the left. The dripping of vein-like streams stemming from your tallest tundras, emptying out in sporadic rushes into the wild, roaring ocean. Black sand beaches with foamy white wave caps kissing the top of your shoreline. Pebbled little rocks in grey, navy, sooty dark colors stuck in my boots. Barren, open segments of land, sprawling outward and outward until a minute shadow of far off mountain peaks dusted with the white, effervescent glow of what must be snow.

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Was I in Mordor? Or was I in heaven? Were the foggy highways leading me to the doomsday emptiness I imagined after the wake of a earthly catastrophe? Soot-covered, ashy, residual leftovers of an explosive accident? Or were they the gateways to the celestial skies overlooking the bluest ocean waters? Where are all the humans? Where are we? The contrasting beauty of all that you are, Iceland, is that you straddle echoes of death and destruction with the hope of renewal. Your most destructive volcanoes, wielding death and loss and power, settle into magical, frolicking, purple Lupine covered fields years later. Your towering mountains, active with the frightening idea of an oncoming explosion exist within the same league of wild horses, posing with windswept hair on the edge of the valley. How can a place balance fear and hope, death and renewal all at once? 

For once, Iceland, I was feeling my own tiny existence on the surface of a great, big earth. A small human, walking along the crust of a planet.

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Of course fairies are real in your lush, green valleys... why wouldn't they be? Why wouldn't they make their home here, in between babbling brooks of distant, fallen waterfalls and the mossy coverings underneath a rainbow's arch? For hours I would scan the surrounding land off of our path, looking for a white unicorn to appear out of the dense, low covering purple Lupine fields... because if there were a place for any folklore to inhabit, it must be here. To exist here must mean that the magical must be closer to reality. 

Iceland, I cannot summarize all that your magic is. I will not even try. I will not even attempt. But I will speak of your beauty. I will speak of the wonder you instilled upon me. I will insist that my friends explore your lands with a sense of appreciation, curiosity and childlike wonder. But most importantly, when I am in the midst of the harsh realities of life, when deadlines are impending, when bills are due and all the mysterious wonderings of my imagination seem thwarted by soul-crushing adult existence... I will scroll through my memory bank of our time together when I begin to doubt if magic is real. For you, Iceland, are nothing but that.

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I fall in love with places, do you?

China: Delirium, Contrasts & Soft Memories

It was a hot-hot teenage romance you and I had together, dear China. You made me sweat (dear god, the amount of sweat I collected that summer), you kept me awake at night, you catapulted unending amounts of attention my way, you enticed me with late nights out past curfew trying new foods in tiny hole in the wall entrances. And yet all the while getting to know you, I realized how much of a stranger I was in your lands. There was no denying, China and I were not made for a persisting, longwinded romance. Oh no. But my summer in China burned so heavily, I still have longwinded stories to tell that I have yet to find the audience for.

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The frenzy. Smells pungent, sweet, savory, spice. Smells that could knock you down with one whiff. Flavors that could send your eyes into a fizzy, frothy tear-stricken hysteria. Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings, fish head soups, peking duck, stinky tofu. Flavors that send me reeling (and undeniably drooling) as I type their names onto page. People kind, yet bold and insistent. Lines upon lines upon unending lines of people. Working people, business men, grandmothers fanning themselves in the midday heat, young students flashing selfies and the younger holding hands of their fast-paced parents decking the streets. The noise of millions. The loudspeaker salesmen, the alarm ridden streets, the running of the subway, the horns of thousands. Sights older than time, more densely historical than I could wrap my head around. Tracing steps of those from dynasties and centuries of family lines and histories. Limitless lights and billboards and seven storied shopping complexes. 

A summer of contrasts. A summer of sweat, and learning, and writing (lots of writing), and dumplings, and creating, and trains, and planes, and lines, and moments of such dizzying bliss/frustration all at once. A summer of split images and five second scenes playing out in my head. One second we were specks beside towering skyscrapers so high that we could barely see their endings, and another we were squatting into toilet holes. One second we would be exploring world wonders so ancient we can barely understand the context of just how old the relics they are, and another we'd be in one of the most slick, streamlined building of the future. 

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The delirium of China sits right in the forefront of my mind.

But the soft moments lining my imagination remain stronger.

Lily pads dancing lightly with the dense, thick summer breeze. The sight of the humpbacked mountains of the south, jetting out of the Li River like the back of a dragon about to take off. The ceramic lined shops where tea was poured and reading was done. The warmth of handmade dinners made with locals in their living rooms. The hours we spent learning about the making and tasting of tea, reaching a "high" of caffeine only questionable if you haven't experienced it yourself. The interactions of inn owners, jokes made over breakfast in the morning and then over drinks in the evening. Late walks around sunset drenched lakes. The joy of a cool breeze that would sneak in from the north. Watermelon for dessert. Showing travelers the absolute JOY of breaking open and slurping up their first soup dumpling (a small bite, savor the broth, pour sauce, sprinkle with ginger, devour). Discovering sugary splendor in the form of a dipped peking duck. Climbing ancient towers, learning stories of dynasties of yore, hearing folk stories of love and revenge and strength. The sound of a lone wooden whistle, playing melodies of centuries old. The pure acknowledgement of gratitude to be able to savor such a place as this. 

These memories persist. They meld into a stirring mixture in my mind. And yet, the ones that rise to the top are those moments, those blips in time, I find myself lost in China. Lost in its age. Lost in its culture. Lost in its food. Lost, discovering, coping, creating, yearning. An amalgamation of fleeting memories. China. I will never know you. But I will have many, many moments to sift through and learn from, from afar. 

I fall in love with places. What about you?

Dear Rome, A Love Letter

If you've been following me on Instagram, you know that I recently made a bold declaration to the universe.

I want to travel the world and write love letters, poems and short stories about the places that captivate my heart.

You see, I fall in love with places. Maybe you do too.

Welcome to my first exploration of this new series. Who knows what will it will turn out to be... a blog series, a new website all together, a community-based hashtag (I've already started #ifallinlovewithplaces on Instagram... feel free to add your own stories and photos to the fun), a book, or maybe just a momentary exercise in gratitude and sentimentality. Let the fun begin!

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Dear Rome,

We met in what seems like a whirlwind of a sweltering, simmering mid-June. Upon landing in your arms, in the cab from Fiumicino Airport, I found myself in a swirl of misty-eyed dreamscapes. There I was. It was all steam. It was all a blurry, smeary dream. 

Between wood-fired pizzas made by bantering men in overheated kitchens, to the most delicious pasta handmade by nonnas, passing by old gentlemen, hands held behind their backs, deep in conversation, stomachs out, heads down towards the cobblestoned streets... I found myself enamored by your age, your brash, bold people, your creamsicle hued colors. But it wasn't until I saw the Vatican for my very own eyes that first night, illuminating the dusty, twilight sky like a candle in a dark room, arms outstretched like a welcoming, when I realized how ancient and how deeply rooted, truly connected I was to you.

I imagined being my grandfather in youth that evening walk home. I daydreamed that I walked into quiet nunneries and chapels with bold confidence and revere, a typical Sunday evening. I imagined myself going to the same market vendors, hearing my Nonno bargaining with the local fisherman, learning from the best so that one day I could do the same. I concocted notions that I lived in a small, third floor apartment with the laundry line taut, fresh basil picked from the roof deck.

Some still, quiet minutes of pure, pure imagination.

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I've learned your street names (Vicolo Del Cinque, you gem of an alleyway). I've memorized how to walk in heels through the tumultuous hills of uneven cobblestone. I've learned a few phrases. I've even been mistaken for one of your own. I've returned again to relive the splendor of your foods, your smells, your ancient history, your liveliness. And yet, I haven't expressed my gratitude for showing me so much more than Roman art or philosophy or history. Our time together, albeit short (and hot, so hot), has opened a curiosity for life within me. A longing to find myself in far off places. A desire to feel that buzzy, cooing thrill of seeing your streets for the first time once again. 

My dear Rome, I love you. Send my regards to Osteria Der Belli and that tiny apartment on the second floor off of the Ponte Sisto. I will return soon.

Yours,

Laura

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