Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: Hauganes, Iceland. Last weekend we went to see sulfuric mud bubbling out of the ground, which was dramatic and amazing and apocalyptic. Also? Smelly.
Lane is coming to visit us next month, so I’ve been ordering things for them to bring me from the US (moisturizer, Benadryl, cotton socks, my favorite black currant tea).
This morning I ordered two new wrist bands for my Apple Watch. One has pink roses; the other has purple peonies. I am an unabashed girly-girl.
Just to be clear, I’m not especially frugal, for the most part. I figure life is short, so I’m willing to spend money on experiences. But those two watch bands felt like such an indulgence; I dithered over them for a solid week, unsure how to justify something—two somethings—that I so clearly don’t need.
Since we started traveling, we’ve become increasingly conscious of what our phones represent: wealth, opportunity, excess, and the incalculable privilege that accompanies our passports. And of course, they have actual value, too—Lee’s was snatched out of his hand last September, never to be seen again.
We try to be mindful, even when safety isn’t a concern, though. It feels ostentatious to sit down to lunch in a place that doesn’t have electricity and pull out my phone to check Instagram. We’ve stayed in apartments where we knew the WiFi was a significant cost to the host, but we just really wanted to stream YouTube videos. That’s a scenario that really forces you to sit with uncomfortable thoughts.
When we were in Sri Lanka, we stayed in a tiny, four-room hotel owned by a gregarious Australian who is a keen observer of humanity. Andree is a fascinating woman who has lived a fascinating life. Anyway, when she bought the property and began renovating it, she had her team of local workers tear out the old bathroom fixtures and replace them with newer, more stylish pieces. Thinking to be both thoughtful and environmentally conscious, she offered the older pieces to one of the workers.
“Madam,” he said, “I can’t take those. I don’t have plumbing.”
Andree’ s word was confronting, as in, ‘It was a confronting conversation.’ When poverty is in your face, it’s confronting. When you can’t avoid thinking about your own undeserved good luck in life, it’s confronting.
At one point, Andree’s hotel was booked solid, so she moved us to the apartment in her house. It had a beautiful outdoor bathtub, so I went straight to the grocery store, to get some bubble bath. There wasn’t any. I realized that if people don’t have plumbing, they probably don’t need bubble bath. It was … confronting.
I often find myself having to sit with and sift through those uncomfortable, confronting thoughts, depending where we are. Here in Iceland, plenty of people wear fancy watches, and carry fancy phones and drive fancy cars. As a matter of fact, I feel a bit like a poor relation here, wearing my mismatched warm clothes from the sale rack in Bangkok, and tooling around in our crappy little rental car. But in much of the world, my watch stands out.
I hope I don’t ever take my good fortune for granted—the fact that I can afford a smart watch makes me extremely privileged. The fact that I can afford not one, but two decorative wristbands for that watch? That just feels wrong.
From my writer’s notebook:
Netflix released a four-part miniseries in March, about the 1990 theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It’s called This is a Robbery, and is absolutely worth a watch.
P.S. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share. If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it. And if someone forwarded this to you, thank them for me, and go to https://bookwoman.com/ to subscribe.