Icelandic Reveries
by Katie Bethune-Leaman

Reykjavik, Iceland, May 25, 2011.

French author Michel Houellebecq— an interest of Maryse Larivière’s not yet obviated in her multilayered, cross-referential practice—is giving a reading at the Nordic House (Norræna húsið) as part of the Reykjavik Arts Festival (Listahátíð í Reykjavík), co–presented by the Alliance française de Reykjavík. I arrive early at the Alvar Aalto designed Norræna húsið, opened in 1968. It’s a true fetish spot, with all furnishings and fixtures—for the most part—original, and designed by Aalto. I need to hem in my strong desire to purloin a signature Aalto vase or ashtray.

Take something. A compulsion. To have, take, claim what I cannot have. I’ve been developing a crush on a man I met in Montreal. He is francophone, and he speaks English in one of my favourite ways—with a hybrid accent that is part Quebec francophone, occasionally part London English. It melts my head. I think about him rather constantly while I am in the Norræna húsið waiting for Houellebecq’s reading to start—this is one of the indulgent luxuries I find are afforded by well considered, clean, aesthetic spaces (austerity as indulgence). Reverie. Fantasy. Except no, this does not happen the way I think it will.

In fact, at a distance, walking towards Nordic House, it seems to me there are far too few cars. Upon entering the building, far too few people. I ask a man in a rather creatively knit, brown Icelandic wool sweater if I’ve made a mistake, if the reading is tonight—a question which seems to pain him. The eruption of the volcano Grímsvötn has thwarted Houellebecq’s flight. He is remaining in Ireland. He is not rescheduling. I cannot ask him to sign a copy of the Impossibility of an Island for Maryse.