I was stranded in St. He suggested that the photographer, meant to follow in my footsteps two days later, instead could fly up here, and that I could ride with him back down. I replied that I preferred to travel on my own, that there might not be any other option, but that I would rent a car as soon as the papers were ready.
The blizzard raged on all day. I lay down in bed and read about the Vikings while my chest filled with despair. The Times emailed to inform me that it was impossible to get hold of a rental car in St. Anthony, at least one that could leave the island, and that I would probably have to fly to the U. If there was one thing I had been looking forward to, and had intended to base my article on, it was the sound of adventure that American place names evoked.
All my life I had kept encountering them, and when I saw them in writing, vast spaces opened up within me. The names were romantic, exotic, distant, yet so close, strange, but still familiar. This is what I had wanted to write about, what this almost mythological landscape was like in reality.
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It was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now there was nothing left of any of that. When I woke up on Day 4, it had stopped snowing, and instead it was freezing cold again. I was so ashamed that I could hardly get up. Nor had I used the time to talk to anyone, or to walk around and get to know the town, so that I at least could describe something , if not the U. I grabbed the phone and dialed the Transport Agency. At least they were open for business now.
Maybe something could still be salvaged from the mess. I tried sending a text message. I use top-up cards because no Swedish phone company will let me open an account, I have too many late payments on my credit report. Nor will any bank lend me money to buy a house or a car. I have to pay everything in cash.
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I got dressed, stepped out onto the terrace and had a cigarette. When I came back in, I went to the toilet. I wiped myself thoroughly, then flushed. Instead of the water disappearing with a slurping noise before the bowl filled up again, it started to rise. I watched it for a long time. The water level showed no sign of going down. The toilet was clogged. I flushed again, thinking perhaps that would increase the pressure sufficiently.
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Instead, the water flowed over the top of the bowl and ran down on both sides, spilling onto the floor. I mopped it up with a towel, put the towel in the tub and looked around for an implement of some kind. There was simply no way I was going to call the reception desk about this. I searched every drawer and closet but found nothing I could use to try to remove the plug of feces and toilet paper that must be clogging the drain. Instead, I wrapped a plastic bag around my arm and stuck my hand into the icy water that was welling up from the bowl.
I threw the plastic bag in the trash can, washed my hands carefully, closed the door on the whole sorry mess and went out to the reception area. I smiled at the elderly woman behind the counter and asked her how to dial out from my room. She said to dial 9. She said all I had to do was wait, an operator would soon come on the line. Shortly afterward I got my credit and was texting the woman I had been in touch with at the Transport Agency. She had sent the fax on Friday, but maybe she had the wrong calling code?
I checked. I had forgotten to add the country code. She promised to send it again.
I stood there for a while wondering whether I should dare to flush one more time. Finally, I did. But nothing had changed.
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The water welled up, spilled over the edge and down on all sides. I mopped it up. I looked around the room again for a suitable instrument, stood there for a while with a clothes hanger in my hand, like an idiot; the hanger was way too big for the drain. But what if I tried breaking it?
I got another plastic bag from my suitcase, emptied it of dirty laundry, wrapped it around my arm and tried to stick my hand further down the drain this time, with no success. Instead I lay down on the bed and continued reading about the Vikings in Greenland.
A couple of hours later I checked the bathroom again, by then it had sorted itself out on its own; all the water had drained away. I flushed, and the bowl filled with fresh, clean water.
In my inbox I found the license-confirmation letter as well as my plane tickets to St. T he new plan was to fly to Cleveland, meet the photographer and drive with him to Minnesota, to see the runestone at the museum in Alexandria. Most experts on Norse culture and runic inscriptions consider it a hoax. But there are those who have fought to have it acknowledged as authentic, and who think that the experts have been influenced by considerations of prestige and academic conservatism, that they are prejudiced and have never given the inscription a fair chance.
It was nevertheless intriguing, I thought. The inscription on it, short but epic, runs as follows:. Eight Goths and twenty-two Norwegians upon. We were out fishing one day. Ave Virgo Maria, save us from evil. Have ten men by the sea to look. I love apocryphal versions of reality, and the people who obstinately dedicate their lives to vindicating them.
That Ithaca was a Danish island, and that the strait between Scylla and Charybdis was in fact Moskstraumen, a strait far to the north of Norway. But if you move the setting northward, everything fits. The explanation, according to Vinci, was that the Greeks first lived in the north, but were forced to move south for climate reasons.
There, they named the landscape using names from their previous home, just as the immigrants to America used names from home when they arrived in the new continent in the 18th century. Identity is not something we invest in the landscape, not in the lake or the forest or the mountain. Identity lies rather in our notions about the landscape and in the names we give it, names that are densely layered with meaning. Seen in that light, it was irrelevant whether the Kensington Runestone was authentic or fake, for what it testified to was the fact that some people wanted it to be seen as authentic, some people wanted the Vikings to have made it to Minnesota and these people were in all probability Scandinavians, who thus would no longer merely be destitute peasants driven to the new country by need but people with a proud past who were directly descended from the very first Europeans in America, who had not simply been content to spend a winter on a spit of land way up in the northeast, but had made their way as far as the Midwest, where almost all Scandinavians ended up, and who wanted in this way to endow themselves with a history, which is one of the many forms that a sense of belonging takes.
A t noon the next day I looked out the window of my plane from Toronto, staring down at the outskirts of Cleveland, an endless row of streets with identical houses, beneath the dirty gray light of a misty, freezing sky. At last I was in the United States. I had agreed to meet the photographer at the airport and travel with him for a day, but then I would attempt to rent a car and continue on my own. In this case, I also had a hunch that the photographer was in many respects my total opposite. We had exchanged some text messages about where to go and what to see. The first thing he had written to me, was this:.
Texting you so you have my number. Inshallah this message comes through. Safe travels.