For the capital city of the queen of the elves in downtown Bakkagerði, it’s a bit of a lump. Still, humans look up to it.
Meanwhile, elves look down.
This change in perspective seems to be species specific. Here’s a view of another one of the elf hills in the fjord.
Same rule applies. Humans look up. Elves look down. And yet, if you climb the Alfaborg, you’ll meet many images of elves cast by your mind and stone at the same time, so you can’t really tell the difference. Here’s one.
Not really looking down or up at the one-to-one level. I think this is called the theory of relativity, invented by Icelanders long before Einstein got to it.
It’s one of the things about the height of summer in Iceland: everything comes alive. Lichens give elvish faces to every rock, water moves more mysteriously, and the faces that peer from nearly every rock are more intense. You should have no difficulty spotting many faces in the rocks round this little waterfall on the Stapavík Trail.
Thing is, some of them are more intense than others and hit somewhere very deep inside one’s spirit.
See that yet? maybe? Maybe not? Let’s look again, then:
In 1914, local boy Johannes Kjarval was starving. Ladies in town asked him to paint an altar for the Bakkagerðiskirkja, the Bakkagerthi Church. He’d spent his childhood herding sheep on the mountain and dreaming of elves, so he painted Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount on the Alfaborg, the elf city behind the church, with all the townsfolk listening, elves and humans.
It has yet to be consecrated by any bishop! But if you go to visit it today, you can see his Iceland still. The elves have been replaced by tourists in campers, and the church remains in darkness, as all good Icelandic interiors are, with 1,000 years of turf houses in their memory.
The Icelandic subconscious lives in a darkness warmed by human presence and looks out through small windows into the light, which is the Earth and not the sun. It’s simply the way it is.
70 metres north of the old island, Petersey, one of Iceland’s main elf cities faces the old sea coast on the South Iceland shore. The elves aren’t shy. Interestingly enough, though, Highway 1 runs north of the city, and no road signs point the way. Fair enough. They are the hidden people, after all.
In elf country, off in Borgarfjörður Eystri, you can never be sure. Is it a cat? A mouse? A cat and a mouse? Elves playing at both? Or a whole elvish family, complete with cat and mouse, all sharing a long tail?
It was in these dells that the boy Johannes Kjarval herded sheep and slowly became a painter.
There is an uncanny resemblance between these images. Note the object of the photo watching from within it.
Note how she looks off to the side, leaving the balancing point as white ice.
Note the reaching out and goofy eagerness, set against nature as if it were a part of it.
Note the cool self-assurance by which the non-human actors make the real statement in the scene.
Note the fragile sense of vulnerability of modernity and the troubled gaze out of class, strengthened by class achievement yet never certain.
Note the deliberate dissemination of confusion. You are being led around by people who have been herdsmen and fishermen for 1100 years, after all. As Margret told me last summer, you never know who is the elf and who is the human. You never know,.
Note how Icelanders dress as the visitors do to make everybody comfortable with these arrangements.
It’s one of the prettiest waterfalls in Iceland, twisting like hair, and blessed with elves.
Perhaps you can see their queen bathing below the pool? She will meet you on the banks of the Selfljót, under Ósfjall, if she wishes. Before there was sculpture made to delight the eye, which sorts information before it reaches the brain …
… there was the delight of the eye in landscape. The thinking self comes later. First, one is a body.