Hola from Spain! I’m here for a little over a week, spending a few days in Salamanca, where I studied for a semester in 2007, before flying on to Barcelona and then to Madrid to finish out the trip. If you want to follow along, I’ve been posting to Instagram like a fiend at @_lisli. I’ll be sure to share more from our trip in the coming days, but for now here are some links to get you through the post-holiday slump.
I believe in writing. Writing for yourself, writing for an audience, it doesn’t really matter. Also, Allie Vesterfelt is a doll. “Writing is incredibly healing. It is beautifully calming. It can help us find our way home.” If you write, you’re a writer.
I also solidly believe that people with humanities backgrounds can thrive in tech careers, despite whatever the toolbag bigwig venture capitalists may say. Top tech CEOs apparently agree with me.
Last but not least, if you’re at all bilingual, love Spanish food, or at least love really beautiful food photography, check out El invitado de invierno, a Spanish food blog. I don’t think Miriam & I will get to meet up on this trip, but her recipes look amazing!
Do you remember the Amtrak Writers’ Residency craze that was happening several months ago? It felt like everyone I knew was talking about it some capacity, most of them longingly. What could be done with weeks on a train to write one’s heart out? Artists wanted in on it too, calling for an artists’ residency.
I have a trip coming up myself, and in the midst of a busy 9 to 5, a booked-solid freelance schedule, and a recent move, I can’t wait for the mental break. I recently stumbled across a printable form to be filled out with self-imposed travel arts residency information. You fill out where you’re going, what you’ve created, who you’ve talked told about it, and a bunch of other information. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but just enough that if I filled it out, I’d feel committed to creating something while traveling. It’s a really great idea and something I would totally do if I ever find the link again. (Have you seen it? Please tell me if you know what I’m talking about and where to find it!)
But perhaps the most interesting and powerful thing about the concept is that it gives you permission. It’s a promise you make to yourself (and maybe to your seatmate on your flight?) to be playfully productive during your explorations, but without the pressure of doing actual “work.”
So now I’m wondering what would happen if, even if I can’t find this form, I give myself permission to create my own traveling artist’s/writer’s residency. No excuses, no self-consciousness, no feeling like I have no business with creativity or that I’m not good enough. Just a pressure-free assignment to be where I am and document the journey.
It’s been over seven years since I left Spain, where I spent six months studying during undergrad. While I was there, it felt so much like a second home that I naively thought I’d return often — it would never be a stranger to me.
Well, seven years later I’m planning my grand (albeit short) return. We’re headed to Spain at the end of the month and I’d forgotten that I miss it so much it hurts. The past couple nights when falling asleep, I start blabbering about Spanish fast food joints that I’d totally forgotten about. Pans and Company. Telepizza. El Gran Shanghai, a Chinese place ironically located in the middle of Salamanca where I could get arroz con pollo and a jasmine tea for four euros. Slowly but steadily, memories of cities that have just become names to me are sneaking in and I want to go to all of them. How do you revisit six months in a week?
I can’t but I want to. Do we try to cram in three cities in a week? Or do we park ourselves squarely in Salamanca for the week and take leisurely day trips to places like Segovia and Zamora or, if we get really bored, Madrid?
Do we subsist on La Vaca que Rie (Laughing Cow cheese), crusty baguettes, Nutella, and a box of table wine like we did when I had $70 to last until the end of the semester and a long-haired college boyfriend with a part-time computer lab gig to fund our travels? Just for old times’ sake? Really. These are the silly questions that have been consuming me of late.
On our last night in Reykjavik, we decided to make friends with a really sweet bartender at the famous Kaffibarinn after ordering the cursory shot of Brennivin. He told us that everyone in Iceland is a bartender, because everyone is also either a photographer, musician, or artist and tends bar to pay rent. We asked which of these he was, and he answered, “I’m all three!”
I think one of the things that draws me back to the country and stokes my fascination is the total saturation in literature, narrative, visual art, and music I felt while we were there. Our wanderings in downtown Reykjavik were punctuated by stopping to read the poetry that was painted on the sidewalks.
Before we even left the city, I decided that someday I would try to partner with an organization that would send me back to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, to write about and photograph it. Airwaves is a huge music festival that happens every fall. Even if you don’t score tickets to the shows, there are street performers and free gallery shows all over the city. It’s a little scary to admit it, but I’m still secretly harboring the dream of being sent there to cover it for a music or travel publication someday. It was while we were there that I really solidified my decision to quit my really terrible job and take my creative sabbatical, and having a dream that huge and beautiful made the idea of quitting my job seem easier. I’m still grateful for that.
To close out the Iceland series, I’ve put together an Icelandic Love playlist so you can get a taste of the music and art that’s so prevalent there. Fun fact: I walked down the aisle to part of the first track — Sigur Ros’ Untitled 3! I’ll likely be adding to it, so feel free to follow along on Spotify.
We got to the car rental place as soon as it opened. After signing so many papers and making so many copies and getting so many very stern warnings about not taking our rental car off-roading or over any bodies of water, we started driving out of Reykjavik. It didn’t take us too long to realize that we were headed in the opposite direction of our intended destination: Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon in the south of Iceland. It was recommended to us by multiple Icelanders as something we had to see while we were there. There are bus tours, but we wanted to be able to stop and explore at will, and I’m really glad we did.
We drove for hours and hours. Through black sand deserts and over so many shallow rivers. Through lava rock and mossy hills. Past more waterfalls than you can count. There are so many waterfalls that many of them don’t even have names. The landscape changes are sudden and startling and otherworldly. We saw no one for most of those hours. There were a few hamlets of sheep farmers along the way, set at least a couple miles off the main road at the bases of mountains, but that was it.
After a few hours, we hit the tiny town of Vík along the southern coast, where we stopped for lunch. Vík is the southernmost town in the country, and is surrounded by a black sand beach and lava rock meadows that are covered in moss and huge stones.
As we started heading north up the coast again, the black sand faded into snow and ice. If you’ve ever wondered what a glacier looks like, it’s as if a river is rushing toward you flooding through a valley and is frozen mid-flow. It’s kind of terrifying.
Jökulsárlón itself hardly looks real. The icebergs are bright blue and white and range wildly in size and shape.
After staring into the abyss (literally) for awhile, it was time to turn around and drive back through the glaciers and the sand and the rocks and the rivers. The sunset was hours long, and at its height, there was a split second when I seriously began to wonder if we’d wrecked the car and died. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. We drove around a bend, and I instinctively whipped the car to the side of the road so we could get out and take so many pictures. These were minimally edited. This is how it really looked on all sides.