Homecoming in Iceland

This year I will be going to Iceland for my fifth time. People are already making fun. “Why don’t you go somewhere new?” they ask. “It’s a big world.”

Yes, but the bay above called to me. Without seeing it, I suddenly drove off the road, parked in a meadow and started walking into the wind. Soon, I crested a headland and was here. Soon after that, I discovered that the beach was watching me as closely as I was watching it.

Seeing new things often means going home.  The land welcomes one with speech, when one is patient and listens.

When You’re on the Road to Nowhere, Get Off

Then you’ll be somewhere.

Most visitors to Iceland land at Keflavik Airport, just north of this beautiful landscape, and then race northwest to Reykjavik, missing out on the opportunity to hear the land speak.


The Icelanders have arranged it this way. Have you ever wondered why?

Reykjanes is calling!

Welcome to the 21st Century, Gunnar

 

Gunnar argued for the independence of Iceland during Germany’s military struggles of the 1940s, on the principle that the land is written in the chain-linked patterns of the Icelandic sagas, with the suggestion that the Icelanders wrote the sagas in response to the chain-link rhymes of the land.

Grundarfjördur

His observation is obvious. Equally obvious is how poor a tool such observations are for deflecting a military conqueror. Less obvious is the point that when you are from the land and have nothing and yet have to do something, you use what you have. Still, the approach has its dangers. It might stress one form of pattern, for instance, but it obscures another. So, let’s look at Gunnar’s saga again. This time, note the story of trolls and ogres written in the rock.

Gunnar was a humanist, a twentieth century man. This tale of ogres and epic battles is one he could have told as well, including how it generates the water of life as cold passes into warmth. That he didn’t is an example of how writers adapt to their audience. It is also an example of how we can re-read them, and free them… and us.

 

Icelandic Counter-Migration Techniques

 

Tired of barbed wire on the rooftops?

Reykjavik.

Beats  nose  level,  I  guess.

 

Hofstaðir

 

But  I wouldn’t get too worried about it.

Kirkjubær

 

Where you going to go, anyway?


Skagaströnd

It’s just jewelry.

Otherwise the land would wander off into the Atlantic.

It happens. What can I say.

 

 

 

Living Among the Ruins: Italy and Iceland

This is the kind of thing that annoyed the Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson in 1928. This is Hadrian’s Villa, built in the year 134 near Tivoli, in what is now Italy. He thought it was too bright.He meant that this man and his politics were wrong for Scandinavia (which, to him, included Baltic Germany):

Mussolini Rejects Democratic Rule in 1928

He also meant that this version of Hadrian’s Tivoli villa was the wrong approach to art:

The Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park in Copenhagen

Gunnar didn’t see art as a populist entertainment. He was after something else. This is the architecture he liked:

Landhus Farm, Fljótsðalur

You could consider it a part of the landscape, he said. Almost all the houses of this type are ruins now, but not like Hadrian’s ruins:

Like this:

In the 1950s onward, the Icelandic government gave away trees, as part of a nationalist program of rebuilding the eroded landscapes of the country. Out of the same impulse as Gunnar, people planted them on the sites of their former turf houses, leaving the hills, the intended recipients of the trees, bare.  The government keeps a few turf houses as museums:

Farmhouse Window,  Bustarfell

It is the same impulse that drove Gunnar from the Tivoli Gardens. He considered that mixing northern culture, an expression of northern land and climate, with a southern one would destroy it, such as the German Reich’s turn from a people’s culture, based on farm life, to an Imperial one, as documented in the image below.

For Gunnar, independence meant to have no masters at all, and the point of modernity was to refine old folk ways. He shared that with the Italians and Germans of his day. He was more clear than they were, however, on the price of Imperialism and power exercised as force. It’s too bad he didn’t speak more clearly about this, but at least we have the ruins…

Buðahraun

… to speak…

… for him …

… now:

Sandgerði

Reykjavik is Hadrian’s Villa.