Oct 14, 2010 | By Jeff Pattishall
I was not inspired by Iceland….. not directly anyway. I was inspired by an Icelander. I am a musician and I live in Orlando Florida USA with my family. We run a small Italian café and wine bar called Aroma in a small neighborhood in the downtown area. We feature home cooked Italian food, wine, beer and music. My son JJ, daughter Jacqui and I perform on the front porch of Aroma which is housed in an old Florida style house built in 1922. My wife, Gloria handles the cooking and hospitality. She is actually the creative mind behind Aroma and we are the supporting cast.
Orlando is a popular destination for many people from around the world and at Aroma we have the opportunity to meet many of them. We have never advertised in the two years we have been here but word of mouth has brought many wonderful people to our door. Aroma, as we have been told, is like being home with your family and everyone who comes feels the love and the positive energy that is the main feature.
Our story actually began on the evening of September 25th 2009. We were open and J.J. and I had just started performing on the front porch when a young woman walked up wearing yellow jeans and carrying her laptop. She sat down at a table and opened her laptop and started typing. Aroma is located in Thornton Park which is a neighborhood in the downtown area of Orlando. It is very trendy and has a mixed population of young and old from all walks of life. There is free wifi all over Thornton Park so people with laptops are a common sight. We have a patio in front of our building with tables and as I said before, live music. It’s a pretty popular place for people wanting to chill and with Aroma being in a neighborhood, we know pretty much everyone that comes in. Getting to know our customers is what we do and know most of them by name. If we don’t know your name first time you come in we will the next.
As soon as we finished performing I went down to the speak with one of our guests who was now sitting with the woman. I introduced myself and asked her name as I did with any newcomer to Aroma. She told me her name was Maria. Detecting an accent that I was not familiar with I asked where she was from. She said she was from Iceland. This fascinated me. I love meeting people from other countries and other cultures and in my lifetime have met so many people from so many places but I had never met anyone from Iceland. As it turned out, she was 19 years old from Stykkisholmer Iceland and in Orlando visiting a friend, another Icelander from Reykjavik, for a few months. She was on a break after completing school and before entering university. It was her friend that suggested that she come to Aroma because she knew Maria would like the atmosphere and the surroundings. From the beginning you could feel that there was something special about this person with the strange sounding accent. Aside from the fascination of her being from the land of fire and ice and a descendant of Vikings, there was something special about her heart.
Over the next few months we saw a lot of Maria. We would be playing music on the porch and she would come walking up the front steps with her laptop, sporting her curly blonde hair, crystal blue eyes and mischievous smile . We looked forward to seeing her three to four times a week. She would come by while we were open and stay through closing, hanging out with us after work until the wee hours of the morning talking about everything and anything. She answered my endless barrage of questions about her life in Iceland, her plans for the future, her family, her friends, sports, etc. She even began helping out at Aroma and became a fixture that even our customers began to notice. They referred to her as that pretty, blonde girl from Iceland with the laptop. Maria would sometimes bring her laptop and skype her parents from Aroma. That was the first time we met her mom.
We learned of Maria’s love for music and on one occasion she mentioned how she missed her guitar. She told us she played but had left her good guitar back in Iceland and had only brought a cheaper one with her. I think it was at that point that I handed her a guitar and asked her to play something for us. Though she was nervous about playing because she hadn’t practiced in a while, she performed for us and she played well. She told us that she comes from a family of guitar players.
On one of our days off we were having a get together at our house and invited Maria over. At our house there is always plenty of food, lots of love and music. One of our friends sat at our piano and began to play and Maria began to sing with him. She is anything but shy. It was then that we discovered that Maria had a voice. She told us that she had studied music in school and loved playing her guitar and singing.
As weeks passed and our bond grew closer, we talked about her singing a song with us and I told her to pick one and we would learn it. She could play the guitar and sing and we would accompany her. She couldn’t decide what song to sing so I told her I would find something.
Since meeting Maria I had been reading a lot about Iceland and it’s culture and music. I was aware of the artist Bjork but that was about it. I started listening to other artists from Iceland and thinking maybe we could learn a popular Icelandic song. It was during this search that I came across the song “Visur Vatsenda Rosu” on youtube. The first version I found was performed by Bjork so I thought she’s pretty popular maybe Maria would know this song. When I asked her about the song she told me that it was one of the songs that she learned while she was studying music in school. I decided this song would be a good one to learn. I loved the sound it had to it and after reading the translation, loved the feeling behind it. A few weeks later a friend of mine told me about a show that she was producing and asked me if I would like to perform in one of the spots. I told her I would love to. My idea was to perform “Visur Vatsenda Rosu” with Maria singing and I would write a second song in English that we would segue into.
When I wrote the second song I used the feeling and premise of “Visur Vatsenda Rosu” to create it. I wanted it to have a similar theme of people who love one another being separated by distance but knowing that no matter how great the distance thy are still connected by the universe. A kindof, we are all one sort of theme. I was inspired in part by the message in Visur Vatsenda Rosu and also by talking with Maria and knowing her feelings about being so far away from her family and friends. I was also thinking of her leaving and returning to Iceland and what a huge hole that would leave in our lives. We had grown quite fond of her and did not want her to leave us. Once I had a rough draft of the song I gave the words and the melody to Maria and asked her to write a verse in Icelandic and I would have her sing and play with us.
As it turned out my friends show was to open 2 days after Maria was to return to Iceland so we didn’t get to perform the two songs together live. My goal then became to get her to record it with us at a friends studio however, owning and operating a wine bar/cafe doesn’t leave you with a lot of spare time and we had a bit of difficulty coordinating our schedules so we could record. So, a few days before she left for Iceland Maria came to spend a couple of days with us in our home. I had recorded a scratch guitar part for the songs on my digital recorder earlier and figured as long as I had her at the house I would record Maria’s part and add the rest at a later date.
Maria returned to Iceland on May 22, 2010 and for us it was an extremely emotional time. We had come to love Maria and felt as if she were a part of our extended family. Our meeting was not random or coincidence. It just felt like there was something much deeper about the bond that had developed between all of us. We didn’t want to see her go.
We’ve never been to Iceland or even thought of traveling there before we met Maria. We’re Floridians, we live in the tropics, we’re beach people. Our preferred mode of dress is t-shirt, baggies and flip flops. Before she came here Maria didn’t even own a pair of flip flops. The thought of experiencing Icelandic weather and terrain never crossed our minds. That all changed after getting to know Maria. Her passion and love for her homeland is an inspiring thing. It is so refreshing to see a young person today with so much national pride. Her description of home and her love for her family is something we could relate to. It was her love of home that inspired me to write a second song from her perspective about returning there. On the night we recorded her singing we were looking at pictures of her town of Stykkisholmer on her computer. On one of the satellite photos showing her street there was a little box pointing to a house and in this box Maria had written the word heima. I asked her what heima meant and she told me it means home. I don’t know if it was the emotion of the day or the thought of her going back to Iceland or the look in her eye and the sound of her voice when she said it but for some reason it brought tears to my eyes. Two days later she was home. We were left with an empty feeling. It was as if a piece of us was missing. She had become a part of who we all are.
A few days after Maria left I was sitting with my guitar, working out a melody in my head when the word heima came to me. It was a fit perfectly with the melody with what I was feeling. I wrote the lyrics based on my conversations with Maria about her feelings of home and some of the things she experienced while she was here. The lyrics on the second half of the chorus are from a short poem that she wrote in her good-bye note to us. The chords and melody were inspired by pictures and videos of Iceland that I found online while getting to know more about where Maria was from. I guess I was trying to understand what it was about a place that could inspire such passion in a person her age. I think I have a much better understanding of what it is now.
In closing I would like to say that if Maria is representative of the youth of Iceland then they are truly your national treasure and show great promise for your country. Her charm, wit and intelligence are infectious and she wins the hearts of people she meets wherever she goes. Her heartlight burns bright and represents her love for her family and the strong bond she shares with them. It also represents her love for her homeland. Having met her parents it’s easy to understand how this came to be.
I would also like to say a few words about your Inspired By Iceland website. It’s actually interesting how I came to discover it. I was talking with one of our friends on a Sunday at Aroma a couple of weeks after Maria had left. We were discussing fate and interesting things that happen in life that seem to have a connection. I was relating the story of how we had met Maria and the events that had happened since. I think I mentioned that before Maria we had never met anyone from Iceland. After meeting her there seemed to be an endless flow of them into Aroma. I told the friend about how Maria had opened my eyes to the music and culture of Iceland and about the song we had recorded before she left. I told her about a dream I had had a few nights before of performing it with Maria in Iceland and about my desire to travel there. The following day my friend posted something on my wall on Facebook. Her words were, “Ironically, just saw this posting:”. The posting was for Inspired By Iceland and she posted it on my page on June 28th. I went to the website and started watching all of the interviews and looking up all of the bands that would be participating. It showed me a side of Iceland that I had never seen or would have ever seen without the site. This, I believe, was the intention. I was working the night of the concerts but was able to watch the next day via the internet. What a great idea. The website was beautifully done and I’m hoping that this is going to be a yearly event. I see it as an event similar to the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. There they have local, national and international acts blending for two weekends of food, fun music and culture. People from all over the world(even Iceland) attend each year. To me, Iceland is on the verge of becoming the next ‘IN’ place for artists to travel. It used to be Paris, Rome, England, Spain etc. There is a new generation of artists that is evolving and Iceland would be the perfect location for inspiration. The music is already unique and the landscape and the people a treasure. This plus the health and spa tourism would combine for the ultimate soul cleansing vacation experience. You have it all, Natural beauty to reconnect with the earth(doesn’t get more green than geothermal), spas to rejuvenate the body and mind and music to inspire the soul. Set the package up now we’re on our way. I loved the live streaming video from the different locations, great idea.
Well, that’s my story. Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell it. Everyone here is probably tired of it by now and believe me, I’ve told it a million times to anyone at Aroma who will listen.
Jeff, Gloria, Jacqui, J.J.