I went to Iceland for a music festival, and left with my partner for life

February 7, 2019

Growing up, the story of how my family ended up in Canada was retold, in sections, remembrances and fairy tails, as a parable for smart life planning. As twenty-somethings freshly free of the Israel’s mandatory army service, my parents spent two years traversing the world. The macro purpose of this adventure was twofold: to experience a unique romantic adventure together and to judge — especially for my mother, who had never left the Middle East — where the best country would be to raise their future offspring.

The culmination of this trip would, in repeated tales, play out thusly: on my mother’s 25th birthday my parents trekked up a South American volcano. Upon reaching a summit, my dad revealed a cake he’d lugged on his back and, empowered by nearly a decade of dating and the hardiness of travelling together, proposed to my mother. The proposal instrument, as a melting cake is want to be, was itself somewhat inconsequential, but the commitment —to preformative romance as much as a life together—remains writ large. In that moment, the story goes, their future: to marry, birth a son, then a daughter in Israel and raise them in Canada, crystallised, cementing forever more as the romantic ideal.

That story — the volcano, the wonderlust romance — repeated like a badly programmed TCM marathon in my mind some 30 years later, as I raced down a snowy Icelandic highway at afternoon sunset, a ring burning a hole in my pocket, trying desperately to find some damn horses.

That was December 30, 2017, but this story really begins 200 km inland about a year and a half earlier under Reykjavik's ceaseless summer sun. Best friends in RomComs aside, I’ve never heard of a search for one’s soulmate working out. But any great director will tell you, set the mood and magic happens. To my temperament, a 4 day summer festival in the land of perpetual magic hour and Bjork is hard to beat.

I had arrived in Iceland expecting little more than a unique musical experience. As a music journalist for the CBC, I was drawn by a friend speaking of the prospect of the Summer Solstice festival, which included Radiohead’s first performance in the country that, to quote Alex Ross in the New Yorker “Son for son, dóttir for dóttir, may be the most musical nation on earth.” A week later, I had convinced a friend to join and we were off.

It was my third time in Iceland. The first, a short haul from Halifax in October some years earlier, had made good on so many of the well-healed tropes -- the frost-lined volcanic ash vistas, elven locals, flush tourists, air crisp with electricity, the purity of cultural purpose --- that it seemed almost useless to return. Yet, during one particularly vivid daydream, I foresaw a faceless partner joining me, hiking through the black dirt, the epic angel wailing of Sigur Ros soundtracking the passing of the umpteenth breathtaking waterfall. Such is the trick of Iceland, if one is relaxed enough to let their cynicism subside, it’s flow will take you to some surreal and wonderful places.

It’s a country you can come to in search of a good time, and leave with a lifemate. As fate would have it, mine arrived with my mutual friend. Using the festival as a set off for two weeks of travel, they would be our festival buds before setting off. In typical fashion, the festival played little more than background in our courtship. Instead, we would spend our days drinking in Big Lebowski themed bars and cheering on the national soccer team in the Euro with hundreds of locals in the town square, while nights were spent on midnight sun drenched walks home, dances in the city’s prominent gay bar and, er, more drinking. On the last night of the festival, I watched her shock of golden curls bob to the funky flow of Die Antwoord in a school gym redubbed Hell for the occasion. To my blitzed out mind, she was an embodiment of the country: open your heart to the possibilities, and they could prove immaculate.

16 months on, I sat in my parents car waiting to pick her up. We were about to view the house my partner and I had bought and I confessed I’d been conceiving proposal scenarios. “Just find a volcano,” my father joked, winking at my mother.

That December, under the guise of seeing Sigur Ros’ festival, we returned to our meeting place. My plan had been simple, the morning following the band’s headlining set, we would drive the two hours to Vik, a volcanic ash beach made famous by Game of Thrones and Bon Iver, and, in the shadow of the Katla volcano, I’d propose as the sun rose (sun rising around 10:30 am and setting at 3 pm). But thanks to a touch too much Himbrimi Gin the night before we got a late start and the clock hit noon as we made our approach to Vik. As we turned the corner, a snow storm erupted. Stranding vehicles and my best laid plans.

A quick whiteout lunch later, I attempted to make lemonade with the aid of Iceland’s pony-like horses. In a literal race against the sunset clock, I found a harras munching on their dinner just as the orange orb hit the water line. Pulling over, we jumped out of the car and I dropped to my knee, said my prepared lines and she did the same. We took photos, thanked the horses for witnessing and drove in euphoric bliss and complete darkness back to Reykjavik.

Nine months later, our son was born. And a new myth forged its way to another generation.

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