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Things becoming real

It’s amazing how a topic, subject matter, whatever, can be illuminated when you hear or read a personal, first-hand account. Over the last two days I’ve experienced this intensely on two separate occasions.

We have a film festival on at the moment – the Reykjavík International Film Festival [on account of which all the lights were turned off in Reykjavík blahblah…] which is now in its second or third year and already seems a force to be reckoned with. I haven’t seen any of the films yet but many seem very promising and are – as befits a good film festival – high quality yet fairly obscure. The kinds of films you wouldn’t normally get at the cinema or at the video store.

One of them is The Road to Guantanamo and two ex-prisoners [I wrote ‘ex-cons’ but changed my mind because they were never convicted – or charged, or treated as human beings], that the movie focuses on, are here in Iceland for the festival. They were on Kastljós this evening and related their account of the experience, which judging by their description was worse than your worst nightmare. These guys were British citizens who were picked up in Afghanistan by fluke [they were in Pakistan as one of them was getting married there, and went on a trip across the border] and before they knew it they were being kept in cages in Guantanamo 2m x 2m in size, exposed to the elements, with snakes, scorpions, rats, lice crawling all over them, having food thrown at them once a day through a hole in the chain-link fence of their cage like they were animals, with nothing but two buckets in the cage – one for drinking out of, the other for defecating. They were kept in there for months without explanation – not told why they were there or what the charges were against them. Torture was routine, beatings were routine, interrogations were routine, in which they were accused of being al-qaeda members and when they maintained their innocence were simply told they were lying and tortured some more.

We’ve all heard about Guantanamo – the conditions, the beatings, the fact that it was located in Cuba so the US could dodge the human rights issues they claimed to espouse. However, it isn’t until you hear a real live human relate the horror they experienced that the news item suddenly has a face – and becomes real. Guantanamo became real for me this evening.

Equally intense and fascinating – albeit for completely different reasons – was the mind-blowing blog I discovered yesterday: Space Blog. Man! I mean, I’ve often thought how much fun it would be to go somewhere really exotic and blogging about it, like a trip through Asia or teaching English in Africa or whatever… but never in my wildest dreams had I envisioned anyone actually blogging from space!

The details of space travel are completely fascinating. Did you know, for instance, that the cosmonauts’ ‘habitation module’ is released into the atmosphere on the shuttle’s descent, where it burns up? And that when the parachutes are released just before landing there’s violent motion with the capsule spinning around like an out of control fairground ride? And that when the G forces start building up you have to tighten all your muscles to keep the blood draining from your head? And that when you land, the impact makes you feel like you have a million needles sticking into your back?

The author of the blog – Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, an Iranian national – not only wrote blog posts but actually took pictures and posted on flickr. Just like the rest of us – only more mind-boggling. After all, how many of us have this view from our bedroom window?

So yeah. Space travel became [kinda] real for me this weekend.

And today it was kind of dreary and overcast. There was a chill on the breeze and the first unmistakable signs of SAD started creeping in. It’s a physical thing, a kind of heaviness, lack of energy. Probably time to investigate those daylight simulator lamps I keep threatening to get every year. For some reason they really have not caught on here in Niceland – I suspect stalwart Icelanders consider them too wimpy or something, as in: Real Vikings Don’t Use Simulator Lamps. Current temps 6°C; sunrise was at 07.39 and sunset 18.50.