Monthly Archives: April 2019

Haunting Iceland

This image from North Iceland haunts me. This was once a prosperous farm, as the driftwood fence shows. In a country without wood, to have rights to pick up Siberian wood from the beach was enough to make a farm pay. Now they’re inexpensive  replacements  for more expensive metal posts, and not a cash item.

Speaking of economy, look at the tun, or house field in the centre of the image. It would have been manured with the manure from the winter sheep barn… just as far as a man could carry it with his strength. The point is, that was economy: this concentration of the energy of the land in such a way that it gave forth more richness in the year to come. This principle was applied after the Second World War, when the country embraced foreign modernity to maintain the old economy. In this case, the fuel tank, and a tractor that went with it, looked like a path to a bright future. Maybe it was for Reykjavik, but after 1,000 years no one lives here anymore. It’s still farmed, as a hayfield. The main field, the tun so to speak, is up against the ridge on the upper right of the image, bright green and fertilized with nitrogen fertilizer: an industrial product, that must be paid for with cash the land can barely spare. That’s where the edge of maintaining Iceland by bringing in foreign technology has lead now. Without it, there’d be no economy, yet if it had always been this way, there’d be no Iceland. This has always been Iceland’s bind. Gunnar Gunnarsons’s attempt to solve it by bringing modern German farming to the Fljótsdalur in 1939 lasted only a couple years, before he had to give it up. In fact, this might just be a universal human bind: one looks for permanency and must accept transience, yet the dream of permanency continues to exert its pull.

What it says is that we are haunted by the world as much as we haunt it.

Tracking Elves in the Icelandic North

While searching for elves in North Iceland, I found this farm. It has a church and a manure spreader and a human house, so pretty well-equipped. Plus an elf house, of course.

Cold Rainy Day!

Here’s the elfin view of the, um, colonial improvements. A tractor and mower, too, as you can see, just south of the Arctic Circle. Brr.

It’s always this way. It’s not that there were elves here before humans. They came along in human heads, but they needed a place, and so houses (and churches) were allotted for them too, which means that the humans had to choose well. Here’s the view out over the human camp to the sea.

And look at the tumble of elves crowding up agains the road, unable to cross! Tut tut.

Humans are sweet. When you build a new house down by the water, in the wind, you put a graveyard in the old one, where your ancestors lived while alive. They can live on there, with their elf neighbours.

So, all in all, a good social relationship!

The True Inspiration for Icelandic Architecture, Promise

Here’s a turf house window in Iceland. You’ll still find a few here and there. Wonder where the idea came from?

Wonder no longer.

Of course, that’s old architecture. The new stuff is, like, modern and all. Or maybe not. Here are some apartments in Reykjavik, and the elf stone in front of them, where no developer was allowed to build, because it was already occupied, and you don’t want to mess with magical rocks. Where did that idea come from?

From Snæfellsnes, that’s what. All that’s happened is that people finally got the upper hand and build houses taller than the magical rocks.

That’s simple enough, but what about finer architectural features, such as the red windows below on Laugavegur in Reykjavik. Tough one, eh?

Not at all. We just need to go to the Fljotsdalur in the East and all is revealed.

See, two red panels. Nice. Fine, but what about the really tough ones, like the Harpa concert hall?

Pshaw, nothing to it. I guess you didn’t go quite far enough out on Snæfellsnes. Here you go.

And the Harpa:

See? You can be in and out at the same time. That’s the ticket. Now, about the modern brutalism that graces the city…

… well, not modern at all. You can see its model at Ásbyrgi, in the far North.

Oh, one more time. This time, note the air conditioner…

Nice, eh. Where, oh where, does that come from? Again, the far North.

Well, just imagine the building as a flat rather than a height and you’ll see it. It is a crazy island, but if you hang around it long enough it will come into focus.

Book Laundry in Reykjavik

(Other countries launder money, but Icelanders have learned their lessons about messing with crazy stuff like that.)

 

 

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!