Category Archives: Art

The Two Icelands (Well, Really Three)

 

There’s the pretty one.


Borgarfjörður Eystri

And across the street, the rusty one. All the fish are gone. Beautiful, though.

 

With ruins in the foreground.


And weird driftwood art.

Neither is Iceland, though. That’s something the Icelanders keep to themselves. What they present to you in its place are charms and gestures.

You know, stuff you remember from the world.

Splitting the Earth Wide Open

In his novel Sworn Brothers, Gunnar writes engagingly of opening the green skin of the earth, forming it into an arch, and swearing an oath beneath it, before the sod is closed again, taking the oath into deep memory and deep time. So was the voyage that led to the founding of Iceland undertaken, with a few nudges from Oðin, that clever wanderer. One can see signs of this story throughout Iceland today. Have a look. The cairns will guide you to the opening.

Here we are at Geirstaðakirkja. Romantic, huh. Sturdy Viking stuff, machine-planed and the works. Note how the earth is split around the church, in traditional Icelandic turf house style. It’s a thing.

Note as well, that it’s not as romantic as it looks. Whew.

Even a Viking-Christian God needs some water for his sheep and a spare battery for his truck, and where to put that stuff, why, in behind the altar. Naturally. Power is power. But I jest. Look more closely at the surroundings. Here is Gunnar’s split Earth again. This time, a boulder broken by frost, and frost in Iceland is a force from beyond the world and deadly to humans.

Ironically, it also opens the Earth for them, and who steps forth but Lazarus drawn forth by the hand of Christ. You can go into their shared grave in the Earth…

… and you can step out again as a different person, into a different world, one cleansed by the journey…

… and then you can feast.

And then? Why, cross the sea.


With grass breaking across your prow and the wind for a sail.

The University of North Iceland Graduation Exam for Everyone

In Iceland, so the story goes, you knew you were old enough to go fishing in a small boat on the big grey sea by how heavy of a stone you could lift. A pile of stones was much like a university examination is today. Here is the examination set at Skriðuklaustur, more for fun than anything.

Today no one goes to sea for cod in little wooden ships, but there are still lots of rocks to lift and measure yourself by, and, what’s harder, you can lift the with your mind…


The University of North Iceland

… to learn the language of the rain, now that gravity has torn them from their original story. Much fun can still be had.

The Purpose of Trees in Iceland

In Iceland, trees wash up on the beach after swimming over from Siberia, which is fun.

Borgarnes

Their purpose is much like that of moose antlers in Canada or Alaska: nail them to the front door to honour wilderness… or a viking ship mast. Or a viking curse.

This is why Icelanders are such fine film makers. They are good at staging dramas in real time.

Every Kid Needs a Sea Monster Today

I love this kindergarten playground. Rocks that Icelandic kids have coloured, that they can cart around, roll around, or trip over as they make the monster any way they wish. How splendid!

In many countries such a dangerous thing would be banned. And people wonder why Icelanders are collectively so creative. Sea monsters. That’s the trick.

The Strength of the Icelandic North

There is a richness in the North that the lush green of the South can’t touch.

Somewhere North of Dettifoss

(Even the Icelandic map doesn’t name this place.)

It’s stark, and “stark”, we know, is “strong.” You feel your strength here. And clambering over all this broken stone let’s you feel your tendons too!