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Travel diary: A literary sojourn through Iceland

Travel diary: A literary sojourn through Iceland

Space Encounters’ Thor Balanon recently made his first trip to Iceland. After this experience, he confides to Garage, “I [used to] snicker at ‘take me back’ hashtags. Now I know what it means.”

A prodigious reader, Balanon shares his Iceland experience through the books he read (and found) during the trip. “Aside from the usual Lonely Planet guide, I like reading essays and fiction that were inspired by the country that I would be visiting. It creates excitement and expectation while giving you a sense of place,” he says. “Travelling always brings with it a feeling of alienation. I feel that somehow, even if a street or a monument were familiar, reading about it would lessen that feeling of quiet panic that stems from being displaced.”

Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park sits on a rift valley that was caused by the separation of two tectonic plates.

“While on the 22-hour flight to Iceland, I was reading The Beguiled, and the isolated location of the novel perfectly fit Álftanes’ sprawling reclusiveness. I tend to choose books that reflect the environment of the country that I will visit, so the novel becomes the screenplay and the scenery becomes the soundtrack; all I had to do was look up and around to feel as if I were inside the book (minus the suspicious women of The Beguiled, of course).”


“Questions of Travel: William Morris in Iceland reads like a collection of letters by Victorian designer William Morris. The emotional resonance of the book as he describes the “most romantic of all deserts” still rings true, even if it was written in the 17th century. Poet Lavinia Greenlaw processes Morris’ thoughts with her own questions and observations on travel, making it a more encompassing book on travelling. She deconstructs both the fear and the delight of travel, and the lingering, life-changing effects of a landscape to our being.”


“Burial Rites by Hannah Kent describes the last few days of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Like with most stories about the country, the landscape plays a significant role in the spiritual salvation of the characters.”


“Reykjavik is a very expensive place. A bottle of beer costs around Php500, and trade paperbacks around Php1,000. So I was very happy when I discovered Bókin in downtown Reykjavik, near Laugavegur street where I was staying. There are a lot of vintage books in English here, which go for roughly Php200 each. I got an Agatha Christie title and a Dylan Thomas poetry collection.”


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All photos courtesy of Thor Balanon.

See and read more of his Iceland travel vignettes in Garage’s upcoming August/September 2017 issue.


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