Mediterranean (Verbal) Polaroids by Diana Khoi Nguyen

I could say that it's been a whirlwind past couple of weeks, but as infrequently as I update this, one would have no reliable or valid way in which to comprehend that statement.

Due to a cancelled flight from the first leg of my travels, things were a bit hectic/rife with last-minute decisions while waiting for hours at the Harrisburg Airport. While I did make it to Fes, Morocco, the trip was cut in half, and I ended up with only about 30 hours--needless to say, all last week I barely slept, but it was worth it:

Harrisburg > Chicago > Munich > Marseille > Casablanca > Fes > Aix-en-Provence > Arles > Cassis

Am here to capture my memorable/favorite moments thus far:


Befriended local shopkeeper Sidi inside the medina (who had impeccable taste and curatorial style). Spent hours--had homemade tagine lunch with his friends, witnessed/helped him procure shop items from one of his sellers (who travels from the Sahara). He introduced me to an American, Summer Coish, who's been living in Fes for the past 2.5 months--and in Kabul for the past 5 years.

Ran across young local who guided a skeptical me to a local hammam. Turned out to be an incredible, incredible experience in which I was not scammed or harassed. For the equivalent of 5 USD, I gained admission into the hammam (no tourists in sight, only naked women and their children, bathing), where an elder-lady bathed me (as if I were a child, wonderful), scrubbed every inch of my body with Moroccan soap (blended with local spices, etc.), the massaged my entire body. When I returned to the young local to tip him for his kindness, he refused and only wanted to know if I enjoyed my experience. Yesyesyes. I wish I never had to bathe myself again.


Woke up early to run outside of a friend's AirBnB at Place Richelme, to where what is considered the best open market (in all of Provence) takes place. There was a large area devoted entirely to a flower market--and then a rich, lush produce market and seafood market. Bought mussels and fish to make a 4 course dinner for the new friends with whom I was staying. If only I could acquire food materials like this for every meal of my life. What bounty this land yields.


My Camargo apartment is literally situated above the sea, overlooking both the Cassis port/lighthouse and Mediterranean expanse. After putting down my bags, while standing on the balcony, I spied a snorkeling-fishing-man, in a wetsuit, spear in one hand, and row of hooked fish silver and gleaming around his waist like a skirt. I watched him dive and surface, unable to turn my eyes from the fish.

The next day was non-stop pouring rain and I ran around town (breakfast, groceries) with a coated yellow tablecloth over my head--like some sunny ghost up and down the limestone slopes. From the balcony: a woman doing squats at the base of the lighthouse, facing the sea, with no one around (everyone safely dry indoors, of course!).

Yesterday, I thought I saw a drowning person in the sea, but then it must've been a rock against which the sea foamed against. As the minutes slowly passed, this thing came closer, and I saw two arms, alternating in stroke--a swimmer--but never once did I see a head turn up for air. Where did the swimmer originate from? Where would s/he finish?

Every morning (except in rain), I see a man on a paddle board, paddling away from the shore.

Cloudy today, with a bit of tumult in the sea. Waves crashing against the pier--and along one lone dock, a man with red string from his hands to the sea--the dock violently bobbing in various directions (with the surf), the man, steady, his line steadier still.

Swimming in Iceland by Diana Khoi Nguyen

For those who are unaware, I am an amateur swimming fanatic. If JB is a mountain man / outdoors enthusiast, then I am a water nymph. Only food gets me more excited than swimming, pools, oceans, other bodies of water, and I'm not sure food > (bodies of) water.

Part of the pleasure and intimate experience of Iceland is the ability to swim. Every day, any day, anywhere. And nearly all are outdoors (maybe the only indoor one is in Reykjavik--but Reykjavik has several pools). For a place associated with "ice," there are so many swimmable hot springs, "hot pots" all over the country, in addition to places like Blue Lagoon (artificial), Myvatn Nature Baths (curated natural hot spring, but a lot artificial as well). And nearly every town (big or small) has its own village pool!

And of course Blönduós has its own pool. And it's gorgeous. There's a 25m lap swimming beauty (with whom I am most intimate), a shallow kiddie pond with weird mushroom thing that sprays out water--and mostly it's fully-grown humans sitting in the wading pool, sometimes with children, sometimes without. And there's 2 different hot hot tubs (different degrees of hot) AND there are 2 slides. A tubular windy one (the best!) and a steep scary one that looked innocuous, but one I won't go down it again.

And of course there's a steam room. I try to go to the pool as often as possible (exercise, excuse to leave the building, something I rarely do)--and because to shower at the pool is much more comfortable than to shower in the skinny box we have here at the residency.

Earlier this week I learned that not only are there cameras everywhere at the pool/gym facility and around the pools, but there are also cameras underwater! I only know this because one employee, Magnus, told me "You swim very straight." "Thanks," I replied and then he took me to the office where there are two large monitors displaying all the camera screens--several of the lap pool underwater! He pointed out that he can tell I swim straight because my body would shoot past the camera as a straight line. Wow! I wish I could see the camera screen as I'm swimming. Impossible, of course.

Usually, I find the pool to be too warm for my workouts, but since it's been around freezing and very very windy (20+mph winds), the pool has been a lot cooler. Magnus told me that they don't adjust the temperature (all geothermally heated) of the pool--and that the windiness brings the pool temp way down.

Oh! The studio overlooks the ocean (where the river meets the ocean) and aside from being majestic and gorgeous (daily sunsets! birds! whales!)--whenever it's very sunny (and cold), I usually grab my swimming gear and bolt to the pool. It's my way of not only maintaining ideal body weight, but a way to tan as well. I still wear sunscreen (50-70 spf) even though it's 32 degrees out, but it's nice to be a gentle golden color--my native Vietnamese skin.

Today there's been a snowstorm all day--well, sometimes half snow half frozen rain. And mega windy. Of course I went to the pool. The employee (I can never remember exactly how to say her name since I can't visualize it) warned me that the pool was too cold today and to "Be careful!"--but the pool wasn't that cold--cold for Icelanders, but warm still, for the native Californian in me (California doesn't often heat their pools too much--so they are chilly!).

It was an incredible experience to swim with the hail, frozen rain, and snow--to watch the steam rise and get ripped away by the strong gales--and it was harder to swim--I could only feel my pinkies when my hands were underwater. There is something so crisp and precise about a cold swim that I love. As if I can not only see clearer/better, but that my body can perform in some more aqua-dynamic way. As if I become more aquanaimal. It was of course, beautiful to see all the states of water. To feel the heat, the cold, the needles.

After each vigorous swim, I change to a more casual swimsuit (aka less expensive as training/exercise/competitive swimsuits are $$$ and I like to preserve their lifespan) and I sweat it out in the steam room. Today I met two new people from Blönduós, and none of them are Icelandic! One guy works are the only restaurant in town (now he's catering to the workers at the slaughterhouse)--he's from Lithuania. We lamented over pork--the lack of pork in Iceland, and talked about our love of eating pork ears.

The other man is from Germany! He's been living here for 33.5 years and had 4 cows and a farm, but one cow got slaughtered today (he got to keep the heart and something else I didn't quite hear over the steam and his accent). He talked about how there's a lot of fish these days in the lakes--and I started drooling because I'm dying to go fishing with anyone here. Someone take me!

So many things contribute to my Iceland happiness, but swimming is certainly a large part of that happiness-pie. Bring a swimsuit when you come. More than one. And goggles.