I am currently on a retreat, spending a week at a cabin in Germany. The place is owned by friends of mine who are generous enough to allow me to stay here when I truly can’t take the big city life anymore. As mentioned in the previous post about a nature boy with terms and conditions applied, I am not quite as good at this living in the wild thing as I would like to be, which makes this cabin perfect. The only Internet I have is through my mobile’s rapidly shrinking data plan. There are no bars, no restaurants, no loud music or yelling people. When I want to get warm, I have to light a fire in the wood burner. When I want to eat, I have to go to a superm–
Oh. Yes. I said terms and conditions apply, right?
The king of the jungle that I am, I felt awfully worried before leaving Amsterdam. All the electronic devices I use require different chargers. I pack each of them, muttering to myself, crossing items off the list I made. Once all is packed I still have extra 30 minutes to kill, so I sit on the sofa with my laptop still connected to the charger so that I would have as much juice as possible for the duration of the trip. You can probably guess where this is heading…
The last time I visited it was so cold I found myself accidentally doing research on the life of Gunnar, my Icelandic blacksmith. Every morning Gunnar would wake up half-frozen, his body stiff, needing a fire and some special medication before he could stretch his muscles again. All of a sudden Gunnar and me were almost the same, with the exception of me not using moonshine. And my ability to make coffee using an electric kettle, then proceed to drink the coffee in a hot bath. Still, I found myself wearing a thick sweater to go to sleep despite a small electric heater and a wonderfully thick fluffy duvet in the bedroom. In the morning I’d wake up because I’d be too cold to sleep any longer, I’d put on a few more sweaters, pull my thick leather pants on, then light a fire very fast. This was how I made the decision that my own future cabin in the woods would need to have underfloor heating.
There are many things that I take for granted in the city. For instance, wildlife. Our apartment in Amsterdam is mostly free of it, with the exception of mice and flies. As we drive from the train station, my friend regales me with stories about how many spiders he had to remove from the cabin before my arrival. I try to pretend that every time he says “spider” he means “a kitten”, but he eventually makes me cry when he describes a spider with very long legs covered in teeny weeny baby spiders. The vision of teeny weeny baby spiders making themselves comfortable inside my mouth and ear canals is only dispersed when I realise I forgot the laptop charger. I arrive at my writing retreat to discover I forgot the laptop charger. Fortunately, my friend lends me his own charger, which saves me from turning the writing retreat into a reading retreat. Oh, nature boy me, buy some parchment and sharpen some feathers…
Lights! Camera! Action! Ouch!
The light pollution in Amsterdam is brutal. It never gets dark in Iceland during the summer. It never gets dark in Amsterdam ever, because I live five minutes away from the city centre and three minutes away from a giant building that is essentially one huge entertainment centre, complete with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, Gods know what else. Here you can see every single star. It’s the moon that steals the show, though. The last time I came over I missed a great opportunity to take pictures when the moon was so bright I was actually casting a shadow and turned around, bewildered, trying to figure out where the hell that huge lamp is.
When I discover it’s full moon again I grab my phone and a little tripod, then run outside. It is only when I almost fall into a little stream that I realise the moon is full, but it’s also hiding behind the trees. I refuse to be discouraged by that and take some long exposure photos, then decide to move to a different spot. Armed with my photographic memory (I don’t have a photographic memory), I see a flower bed in front of me, sigh in recognition, then take a playful leap over it. It isn’t a flower bed. What I land on isn’t the other side of a flower bed. Fortunately, I only hurt my dignity, and the only thing that breaks is the tripod. At least that’s what I am going to tell you until forensic evidence proves otherwise.
In Amsterdam it takes six strong men, a box of earplugs, a sledgehammer, and a truck full of benzodiazepines to put me to sleep. Jokes aside, if it’s not pitch black and completely quiet, I won’t sleep. Once safe in the little cabin I unpack, gasp at the lack of charger, then discover I have a bigger problem. I am missing both the earplugs and the blackout mask I sleep with. But here it doesn’t matter. Around 11 I begin to yawn. I retreat to bed with Delaney Green’s “Jem: A Fugitive From London”, manage ten pages before the letters begin to get somewhat blurry, then drift away within five minutes. I wake up refreshed… LOL NOPE.
Still not a morning person
I wake up and discover it’s cold, which doesn’t surprise me. I put on my cargo leather pants, a sweater, put the kettle on, then start the fire. Or rather I try to. The ashes from the night before are still glowing in the wood burner, making me think it’s going to be very easy to get warm. Unfortunately, this proves to be incorrect. Twenty minutes later I am somewhat dirtier and the air inside the cabin somewhat smokier. But I’m still somewhat asleep and still have no fire. I decide to keep the sweaters on and start the day with breakfast and coffee.
It transpires it’s possible to be too dizzy from lack of coffee to remember how to make coffee. I find myself staring at a coffee can intensely craving caffeine and wondering how does one lay their hands on some without Espresso Magic 4000 Plus which requires one press of a button. What? I have to do it with my actual hands like some sort of barbarian? Do you know how hard it is to put two spoons of instant coffee in a mug and then add hot water all by myself?
It is only through my superhuman perseverance (and intense craving for caffeine) that I manage to complete this difficult task. But my woozy brain informs me sternly that drinking coffee before breakfast is bad for me. I bump into the countertop, forget which side of the bread is the one that gets cream cheese on (ooh…either? Like it doesn’t MATTER? What kind of genius?!), finally complete the difficult coffee drinking process and get the fire going.
A Sorta Fairytale
My friends’ garden looks like a set for Enya’s new video. In fact – if she spent a few months here she could film multiple videos, because the garden is alive. Sometimes my friends send me photos every week and I gasp at how quickly things change. Some of the flowers are in bloom, but a week later they’re done showing off and another flowerbed takes over. There are apple trees, other trees, er…more other trees… Yes, I love nature, but that doesn’t mean I know much about it. Which is why my friends spent twenty years turning what looked like a building site into the Fairytale Garden, and I just visit.
This time the flowers have already packed for winter. The grass is still green, the leaves intact, sun colouring the early autumn with gentle golden licks. The nights are cold, but the days are still warm. The water in the pipes doesn’t freeze yet. The small wood burner is more than sufficient to keep warm without layering five sweaters on top of each other. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and I am happy.
I’m sure this blog post could be written better, but I’m going for a walk. More to come in a few days unless I decide to take a few more playful jumps over flower beds or accidentally poison myself by making myself instant washing powder instead of instant coffee.