First the beam, then the body, then the man. First the birch, and then the bone.
Like these birches in Hvalfjörður, we are not metaphors. We are all the original Huldufolk, the people of the earth. The lovely stories of elves are memories startling us awake out of sleep.
Most Icelanders live in Greater Reykjavik, and most live in beautiful subdivisions and new apartment neighbourhoods between the mountains and the sea. Everything is practical, tidy, and simple, in keeping with a people having to pay for maintaining a country in the face of large currencies and their power. Things get a little harder out in small towns and in the countryside, as they do in downtown Reykjavik. That’s the old part of town, the one with the greatest need for being rebuilt to better standards, and the only one that lower-earning Icelanders can afford to live in. It’s also the place where the (estimated 2.5 million this year) tourists settle. The significance? Tourists (like me, blush) with the power of foreign currencies behind them are displacing a vital part of Iceland. In touring the indigenous parts of Reykjavik, I have failed to run into other tourists, not in the suburbs and not here, right downtown. The separation is, sadly, complete. How could this be good for the soul?
Isn’t this a better tour than another visit to geysir in the orange muck?
Here’s one of the Trolls of Harnarfjall, on its annual pilgrimage to feed on the sea.
Slathering at the mouth in a field of old bones, as trolls will. There’s a whole herd of then where the foot of this fell turns into the flat of the sea. You can find them on cold days this time of year. In the summer they’ve gone to ground in the hills.
Here is a social space in Reykjavik that’s not a park, a street, a building or a yard full of old rowan trees and mystery. It’s more mysterious yet. This is what the people of the north of the world call The Sea Room.
Note that the Sea Room has few boundaries. It has a sense of being open, with a free flow out to the open ocean, which it is nonetheless separated from by a sense of space. Compare that to a lagoon in the East.
Nope, a Sea Room is special. You can live there, in a world within the world. So, let’s try it again… Sea Room?
Nope. River mouth. And below, what of it? Sea Room?
Nope, a river flow through a lagoon, with the open Atlantic trying to get in. Now, that’s fun. Ok, what about the view below at Dritvik?
Nope, that’s just the sea. You enter it when you leave the sea room. And below?
Nope, sad to say. That’s a field in Breiðafjörður. This is Iceland. it’s tricky. And below, in Skagafjörður?Yes! You got it! And below, at Buðir?
Atlantic again? Yup. And here’s Dritvik? Is that a Sea Room? No, it’s an ogre and her ogre whale pet in a bay at dusk, in the rain, looking out to sea. But here’s the thing, in Iceland men rowed way out there in little wooden boats and hauled in cod, far from land in storm. They made a room of the sea, a portable one, centred on their boat, just as their island is centred in the sea. That flexibility remains in the country.