Animal Talks with Halldora Mark at Whale Fjord


We all think we can talk to animals. I used to tell my friends that if I broke into a house with other thieves and we encountered a rabid dog, it would run right past me to bite somebody else's butt. I'm a dog, thinks any other dog about me. I've talked to seals and sea lions, angry elephants in Sri Lanka and the Serengeti, etc. And I can walk anywhere in Iceland, and easily get the horses to come and pose. But talking is one thing. Touching is another.

The farm girl sees me cooing to a pretty horse, a million-kroner animal on the shores of the Whalefjord, and then she melts through the barbed wire and approaches it with her hand at muzzle level, fingers slightly spread; she is casting her spell, and the horse sensing magic backs away a bit until curiosity gets the better of it and he pokes his nose an inch forward. Quick as a mongoose, the farm girl shoots her hand onto the loose folds of the horse's throat, between muzzle and chest, and her other hand is against the far cheek, calming, and her face is pressed against his. Not even a second goes into the lock of this embrace, which will last five minutes.

On the airplane in tears I watch a movie with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, where she has just cooked for the townspeople at a public event, and Depp asks her to dance after watching her the whole night, and as they touch on the dance floor she is still concerned about the appetites of the revelers, and she says "Do you think everyone enjoyed --" and Depp says "Sssssshh," pronounced like a snake rather than a wave, and grips a tiny bit tighter and she sets into his neck, tired little Sun, cooking for everyone, finding a horizon where it can drip into night. I think of the farm girl clutching the horse by the throat, kissing its cheek, stroking its face and nose, kissing its nostrils, while a massive rainbow flirts just outside the frame, and when the horse after five minutes of nuzzling bolts free, I am there with a chocolate biscuit. The horse accepts this in a happy gulp, and then stands next to Halldora for more preen and cuddle, and then asks me, "Where's the next fucking biscuit?" to which I have to admit, "I gave you my last cookie," and the horse breaks free and away and heads for the rainbow.

The Whalefjord has its ghastly presences: a whale cleansing operation, and an abandoned NATO spying operation, butcher and bastards sharing the same eerie shore. The farm girl is impressed by the evil spirits; this is a place of the most important memories, where she shuttled on hours of bus rides as a six-year-old, traded between parents, always hoping to be met by hugs and instead sitting alone waiting for a parent lost in their own worlds, as parents can get, never remembering the desperate fears of being alone and waiting for somebody who it seems will never show up. I was like this with my mother, when I was six, standing in Beirut's shy rains after a saxophone class, politely ignoring the adults stopping to see if I was okay. And the night before the Whalefjord, I was like the parent, filming the farm girl in a brilliant morality play in a theatre atop a hill in Reykjavik. I drove five hours from the wrong side of Myvatn to the show to film it, and was met by huge cheers from the cast and crew 15 minutes before curtain's rise, when I am introduced as the actress's friend who has come to film us all the way from Washington, where all the trouble in the world comes from, and yes it is a longer trip I have just driven than if I had flown from the Imperial City, 80mph all the way in a car outfitted with nail studs in the tires and not for amateur formula one. And the farm girl is fantastic in the play, I mean, brilliant, funny and menacing and lovely and physical, and I am in a sea of tears as I seem to be so often in this fervent Fall of my life, the lonely end looming as a storm. She was 21 when I met her, and now she is 27. She was in landscape architecture class, bored and doodling. I cast her as a mystical self in a Turkomani movie that has just played a few weeks ago at a festival in Berlin, and before you knew it she was in Iceland's acting school, graduating, and now gluing together a troupe of her own.

And a few hours before the Whalefjord, I have to add, I sit with the philosopher in the little joint at the harbor, intending to talk about my friend who is caught in all our minds between being dead and alive, who happened to be the philosopher's brother-in-law, and what could we do to put a buoy into his memory? How to keep him afloat? How to put luft into his life, just completed twelve moons ago, to get him twinkling in the night sky? Except this isn't how conversations go with me, and I must ask the philosopher not about philosophy (a mistake in any field, to inquire from a craftsman about the state of the craft rather than the birth of the designs in the craftsman's mind), and he is writing about what he is always writing:

Culture and nature, the id and the wild, the citizen and the wind, and how the Sagas of the Icelanders reveal so much about the country's dependence and exploitation of the rocks and ocean and steam and wind. This is my favorite subject. How and when do we touch Nature, and how and when are we touched by it? The wild animal wrinkles its nose at our toxic smells; we are scrubbed too clean of shit and mire and base desires, repulsed by our pheromones and the smells we emit, looking for a cheap Binoche or Depp to clutch by the throat and be made pregnant with our relief that there is still a smidgen of us left wild despite our polished schedules and smoothed routines.

I have just come from the North, I say, where I was the last person in front of the pole, marvelously alone, and yes the water in Djupavik is an elixir that tastes of forever, and yes the air at Krossnes scrubs my baked lungs clean. (And when I arrived at Dulles airport last night, waiting outside to be picked up, the thick polluted scuzz of three million people swelled my blood with civilization's numbing caffeine; I am not making this up, despite the flowers in my language!) But really the North impresses me most because of my ears, I say to the philosopher, which is the youngest sense by 500 million years, the most sensitive of all of our awarenesses, and it is the lack of sound up there which refreshes my human condition, a sort of natural factory reset button. I was for a few days, I exclaim mellifluously, just as I came originally, listening for something I could reach out and be touched by. Sound is pollution, constant, making the whales insane despite their depths as we ping senselessly for enemies we could simply call on our cellphones and say, "Yow yow you, have you heard the latest from Alt-J?" Civilization's sound is a continuous poison to our inner aural landscapes, to the ticks and taps of nerves and veins and intestines working optimally, as designed. And of course this sudden boulder about the age and sensitivity of hearing tossed into the stream of our conversation rocks the philosopher and me into the digressions that make dessert out of our words, sugar and spices out of ideas, existence from imagination.

Which naturally should deposit me under the rainbow, with the farm girl and a horse looking for chocolate biscuits on a fjord where whales come because the depth is so deep, and where the militaries set up shop in case of whatever emergency they are planning, but where Nature is welcoming, still eager for fondle, where I can press the factory reset button again and again and again, human, human, human, human, you are human, me.

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But nurture, the environment, the pollution, the twisting of my senses by the toxicity of my surroundings cannot be ignored and shouldn't be denied: Before I go outside to get picked up at the airport last night, I am in line at Starbucks: biggest size iced chai latte, seven pumps, lite ice, skim milk right to the top, $5.19 and another plastic container to heap onto the mound of evidence that I once was, and still am. At least, thinks the sliver of rebel left within my skin, I will never utter the word "vente" at Starbucks. No, my insistence on showing off my wildness would not let me stoop to such marketing dreck, never.

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With both farm girl and philosopher, Ingo hovers above the dialogues, our favorite Viking, as mysterious forces push us together into a remembrance that can only be what Ingo would want, a capital piece of entertainment, equal parts glory and guffaw. He has a birthday coming up, and he will miss the party as he will miss all his birthday parties until we are all missing, too, and then it will never be his birthday again with all the witnesses dead and gone. Although if you have stumbled across this post on Facebook in the year 2083, and are intrigued by my puny attempts at social sorcery in Ingo's name, investigate, go ahead, and see how your sense of modernity stands further scrutiny: these sophistications of ours are temporary sophomorics, and soon there will only be wildness and beauty, without a shred of our senseless chase after property and profit.