Traveling through a Diplomatic Window of Opportunity
By C. Naseer Ahmad
A simple Google search will reveal the definition of a “window of opportunity” as “a favorable opportunity for doing something that must be seized immediately if it is not to be missed.”
In this respect, the Embassy Series concert featuring a mesmerizing pianist VíkingurÓlaffson at the Icelandic Ambassador’s elegant residence in Washington on April 9, 2017 was an excellent opportunity that had to be seized for it allowed one to enjoy wonderful music but also revisit Iceland once again through personal recollections.
Hardly four days had passed since my plane took off from Keflavik airport and I had returned home to Washington. The sun shone brightly outside of the window behind the ‘Nordic Cool’ Ólaffson and the piano.
“You are in a very safe place,” remarked Mrs Inga JonaThordardóttir, wife of Ambassador H.E. Geir H. Haarde, who had left half an hour earlier to present his credentials to Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. As a perfect hostess, she explained the elegant surroundings of the Kalorama neighborhood in Washington. On one side of this neighborhood was the house of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner and on the other side of the winding road with tall trees was the temporary residences of President Barrack and Michelle Obama as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The diplomatic area of Washington DC is usually pretty safe but with these high powered residents the Kalorama neighborhood got some additional security.
Ólaffson’s masterful performance was not just a musical treat but also a journey along the byways of history. He shared his thoughts about Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as well as his personal recollections about meeting a living legend Composer Phillip Glass. Through his stories, Ólaffson gave a personal touch in the intimidate surroundings of a diplomat’s residence.
As Ólaffson serenaded the audience with the piano, I began to reminisce about a recent travel to Iceland. I also began to put things in perspective. For instance, Nazimabad in Karachi has probably three times more population that of Iceland and perhaps Anarkali and Gowalmandi in Lahore have just as many people as in Iceland.
Doing the calculations, I figured that Sultan Qutubud-Din Aybak who is buried in Lahore came about couple of hundred years after Leif Erickson – the Viking from Iceland – who came to North America much earlier than Christopher Columbus.
By the time Ólaffson was playing Glass’ composition, my mind took me on a four-day drive on Route 1 in Ireland. I was in the passenger seat of the rented Toyota RAV4 driven by my son.
There was something magical about Iceland as well as about Ólaffson, at almost 65 years old I was feeling like a teenager again. Reykjavik was an hour away already and we had just spotted a waterfall from the melting snow peaks. “Let’s stop and discover”, we both said and checked it out. Driving down the road further, we stopped near the now sleeping volcano “eyjafjallajokull” that had everyone’s attention some years ago.
As Ólaffson continued the wonderful music, my journey through Iceland had taken me to Fosshotel, Nupar, which is practically in the middle of nowhere but lava fields down the majestic mountains.
A stroll in the lobby led to rediscovering a rare moment in history – the Reykjavik Summit, represented by the iconic photo of former Soviet ruler Mikhail Gorbachev and the late US President Ronald Reagan signing the documents – which eventually led to ending the Cold War between two super powers.
Between musical interludes, memories of the late night walks in Akureyri, Fáskrúðsfjörður and Reykjavik came alive and the realization we hardly saw any police – let alone heavily armed ones - and yet we felt very absolutely safe.
By the time the exceptional performance ended, I had travelled the entire country once again and relived every moment of the four-day drive through the mountain tops and the valleys of majestic Iceland.
A vast variety of delicious hors d'oeuvres awaited us as we all moved to the dinner table. Each bite was a reminder of the wonderful restaurants in Reykjavik and Akureyri with my son. Like the fish and chips in restaurants in all the cities visited along the Ring Road, the delicious hors d'oeuvres in the Ambassador’s residence were really something to write home about.
Location is perhaps the most important factor in real estate and from that point of view a small country like Iceland – just as the Ambassador’s residence - possesses a strategic position.
It also helps to be represented by a seasoned diplomatic couple, especially since Ambassador GeirHaarde not only served as Iceland’s Prime Minister but was also a resident at the International Students House in Washington in the 1970s.
A short walk from the Ambassador’s residence in the beautiful Islamic Center of Washington and an important reminder that all faiths can and do live in harmony in Washington.
As a country, Iceland offers beautiful experiences she can offer to world travelers – with its snow clad mountains, flowing rivers and glorious natural beauty. It won’t matter to which faith one belongs – or even if one has no faith – but one will return with renewed appreciation of the Creator and Intelligent Design. So when a window of opportunity to traveling to Iceland opens, seize it with both hands and don’t let it go.
Speaking about windows of opportunity, UstadDilshad Hussain Khan is an international violinist, composer and musicologist, and he will be performing at the Pakistan Embassy on May 20, 2017. So Carpe Diem!!