Monthly Archives: April 2019

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.

Water at Land & Land at Sea

It’s a tricky Island, Iceland. Sometimes water finds itself at land…

Breiðafjörður

… but at other times land find itself at sea.

Húnafjörður

And then there’s Reykjavik.It’s a port city. You can’t tell the two apart there! Even  the  opera  house  has portholes!


If you just stay in Reykjavik, you might mistake it for a city. That would be a shame.

 

Iceland Travel Tip #2: Instead of Reykjavik 101

The  101 district of Reykjavik is famous for being trendy. It is, admittedly, a great place to stare at the architecture that replaces a view, in generic spaces full of cars, dumpsters and starlings, all most familiar and comforting…

…but  you could go to Frambuðír and have a view deep into the Atlantic and Iceland’s heart.

Easy to get to. Just fight your way out of the city, north on Highway 1, turn left at Borgarnes, and before dinner time, with the Snaefell glacier looming over you, turn left to the little church at Buðir. Park, and walk west on the path closest to the sea. Within an hour, you will be staring out of this old farmhouse.  Because you won’t want to leave, there is, conveniently, a hotel right beside the church. You can shelter there.

When you come back to Reykjavik, if you come back, you might see it more directly.

Just saying.

Icelandic Travel Trip 1: Instead of Gulfoss

Well, you can go to Gullfoss …

…with the crowds.

Or you can go to Gilsáfoss. It’s not so large, but it has spirit, and an ice troll, if you go in April.

Gilsáfoss

Easy to get to, too. Drive east from the airport for 8 hours, turn left at Egilstadir, follow the lake through Hallomrstadir, and then, 30 minutes later, if you don’t stop to let the reindeer pass along the way, which is a fine reason to stop, for sure …

 

 

 

You’ll find it at the end of the lake, just upstream from the old bridge in the middle of this image. It’s the last stream before you cross the lake to the north side.  Have a nice trip! The ice troll is waiting. Gulfoss will thank you.

Sitting Down With the Mountain

The glacier…

Snæfellsjökull

… makes its own weather…

Stapafell

… in its own shape, just faster.

Snæfell

And then wraps itself in it. So does the land give voice to the sea.

So many travellers spend a week, or less, driving around Iceland to see everything, in the pattern of a modern “grand tour.” A more-authentic Icelandic experience would be to sit down with a mountain and learn …

… it’s not just sitting there.