Jul 23, 2006

We meet Bill Holm

Sunday: Part 2

Hosfos is small. We wander along the historic area, thinking to find our lodging. Crossing a bridge, we see a woman walking towards us, waving excitedly. "Hi!", I say, "are you looking for your little lost lambs?" [Gabe, Peter and John groan inwardly...but I'm thinking that this is the woman who is renting us lodging, that she was expecting us, and that she has found us!] The woman looks at me quizzically, and gently explains that she is greeting her friend--who is walking right behind us. Augggh.

Not having happened on our lodging, we decide to take a more scientific approach. We call the phone number, and are directed to a small shop where Solveig, the daughter of Gudrun and Valgeir (owners of the guesthouse), awaits us. She takes us to our lodging, which is an entire house, about 30 years old. It has a somewhat cheesy, '80's decor, and is very clean and comfortable, with 4 bedrooms, a bath, a large kitchen, and a sitting room. It is huge, by our recent standards, and less than what we paid for last night's tiny, bathroom-less cabin! It is about 9 pm so the market has closed--we'll get groceries tomorrow. In the meantime, laundry is a priority. Solveig shows us where we can do some laundry, at one of their other houses, and after we get our laundry underway I decide to go in search of Bill Holm.

[Special laundry update: a number of times during this trip we asked where a laundromat might be. This was the wrong question. The question should have been, "why are there no laundromats in Iceland?" Entrepreneurs, this is your hot tip.]

Holm, you may remember, is the author of Eccentric Islands, Coming Home Crazy, and a number of other books I have enjoyed. It was Bill who sparked my interest in Iceland. He is a Minnesotan of Icelandic ancestry. As I read his essays that mentioned Iceland I thought I should familiarize myself with some Icelandic literature, never having read any. I started with the sagas and with Halldor Laxness, and was immediately hooked. Bill teaches two, one-week writers' workshops in Hofsos each year (along with other authors). He bought an old fisherman's cottage in Hofsos, and stays here most of the summer to write.

Solveig had pointed out Bill's cottage to me, so I head right up to the door and knock. No answer. It doesn't take much thinking to come to the conclusion that there is only one place that anyone could be in Hofsos at night, if they are not at home. I make an about face and walk a few yards to the Solvik Cafe...a lovely old building with a broad porch. I look in the door and sure enough, Bill is there dining with friends. How do I know it is him? Well, no one looks like Bill Holm but Bill Holm.

I don't want to interrupt his dinner, so I walk back to his cottage, and leave a note in the book I have brought him as a gift (Brighten the Corner Where You Are, by Fred Chappell). In the note I remind him of my phone call some 5 months before, tell him where we are staying, and say I'd love to meet him if he has time.

John and I go back to tend to the laundry, and by the time we return to our house guess who is standing in the driveway with Gabe, Peter, and an unfamiliar woman? Meanwhile a lot of confusion ensues regarding two women staying in a renovated garage on our property, a lack of hot water, and Bill trying to help them with his cell phone. It all gets straightened out, the woman returns to her cold shower, and we invite Bill into our kitchen.

It is fun talking to Bill, for I feel as if I know him already, having read so many of his thoughtful, funny, autobiographical essays. Gabe, Peter, John and I all sit around the kitchen table with Bill Holm as we chat about politics (the Alcoa plant, among other things), literature, and places to see in Iceland. Peter keeps Bill's water glass filled, in a most host-like fashion, that being all we have to offer. Only after Bill leaves does it occur to me that we could have offered him coffee! We find out that Bill is currently at work on two books, one of which will be called "Windows of Brimnes," the windows being those of his fisherman's cottage, Brimnes, here in Hofsos. I am really eager to read this book when it is published! Here is his "window":

Bill complains that the weather hasn't been good this summer, and that Hofsos has been foggy for weeks. Tonight, for example, you can't see across the fjord (Skagafjordur), and you can't even see Drangey Island. You can't see at all.

This comment, however, plants an idea in my mind...

I was really scared when we climbed Mt. Eldfell in Heimaey, and I have been worrying, increasingly, about climbing Drangey. The island consists of sheer cliffs that are nearly 700 feet high. I have seen pictures of the trail up the cliff, and it is daunting...terrifying, even. On the other hand, Wincie has climbed Drangey, Judith has climbed Drangey, Bill himself has climbed Drangey. When we asked our youthful hostess, Solveig, if she had climbed Drangey (remember, she has lived in Hofsos all her life), she replied that no, she is scared of heights...

As my worrying has increased, and as I have verbalized it more, John has started to worry as well. So the idea Bill plants is that possibly it will be too foggy to go out to Drangey Island. Granted, this is one of the top three things I longed to do while in Iceland. And I have already phoned "Farmer Jon" (who is the boat captain and honorary "Earl of Drangey") to place our reservation for the trip tomorrow. But, if it is too foggy for the boat to go out, then it is out of my hands...

After Bill Holm leaves, and a perfectly wonderful day comes to a close, I go to sleep asking myself, "do I feel lucky?"

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