Ísland – Before I begin
Ísland. I heard about this country for the first time when it announced its bankruptcy in 2008. People joked about it, saying its people loved a lazy way of life without any economic pressure… Why is there even a country near the Arctic circle, and what kind of unusual way life those people have? Why is there even people there? So, I did research on this country when I was in middle school for geography class, and for the first time, I see why this country can exist thanks to the warm sea water from Atlantic, and its internal heat. Even barely nothing grows on its barren land.
On my most rebellious age, I started to listen to Bjork. This political and environmental activist and avant-garde musician made me imagine her homeland even more. She supports the independence of Scotland and protests against the nature development for economy in East Iceland. And until last semester I took classes about Scandinavian history, and in our final project we did research about striking of independence in Iceland and I did my individual paper about the perseverance of Icelandic national identity in the modern, globalized world. Icelandic Pagan tradition has considered nature as a crucial part of it, and such tradition distinguishes Iceland from the others. They still use a language that stopped evolving since medieval times without any loan words, an old patronym naming system.
Volcanos, hot springs, barren land, glacier. Half year of brightness, another half darkness. Extremely high latitude, but surprisingly warm in the winter. This is the nature Iceland survived on. The nature is the God, the sacred one.
Ég Mukk – 9 juni
I arrived in Iceland on my birthday.
This is the first time I come to a country where the language is not at all understandable. Listening to people speaking some language that I don’t understand, or English with strong, unique accent. Signs are all unreadable, long words with some new letters such as þ and ð. I tried to pronounce hl- and hr-, and all those signs.
This song “Ég Mukk” by Sigur Rós has very clean, wide soundscape. I walked the streets and visited every place. Here is the real version of that mysterious land I was curious about.
I’m lucky. I’m lucky to be here, walking in a city which once only appeared in my dream. A dream, just like that floating boat in this video.
Jóga – 10 juni
Got up early for seeing the Viking landscape. Outworldly landscape.
This song title means “Yoga” — which has, surprisingly, had its music video filmed with this “emotional landscape”. Where people rest their body on, take a deep breath and connect to such constant miracle. “All these accidents that happened followed the dots” — because the formation of this island is an accident, a beautiful one.
I made a new Icelandic friend today. He is our guide for the tour to Glacier Lagoon and his name is Hreindýr. We discussed how disappointing that Icelandic nature becomes merchandise & part of the popular culture, and this sacred land which is important to Icelander’s national identity loses its meaning in tourism. I told him that while people take selfies and tourist photos in front of Skógafoss, I was listening to Icelandic national anthem and watching the landscape. And he told me how Icelandic football players are singing the anthem in a game. When I told him that I study in Minnesota, he said he has been to Minnesota before and stayed for three months, and he knew there were many Scandinavians there. We handshaked and said goodbye after 15 hours since our first greeting. I will miss him.
Crystallized – 10 juni
Sailing through the crystals under the arctic sun.
Von – 11 juni
Another day in the city…
Visited National Museum today, and reviewed what I learned in my history class. This is the history of the real Vikings who settled in a place where there was no human at first, and I see how much they love and are proud of their country.
When I was in downtown, I can always see how multiculturalism has transformed this city so much. I saw a black guy performing in the city center where people surrounded him, an Asian staff in a souvenir store… the entire city is tourists-oriented.
I talked to another Icelandic guy today. He’s the owner of Punk Museum in Reykjavik(where I saw Bjork’s posters). He speaks different languages including Danish, Swedish and some German, and he also knows some Chinese. There are two German travelers who speak Swedish. We joked about the interesting differences of these languages and felt so blessed living in a lingually diverse world. He also expressed his attitude of Scandinavians referring Icelandic as Old Norse: “If they think our language is ‘Old Norse’, then why they can’t speak it?”
And I asked some question about the rising tourism and immigration trend. There are so many workers in tourist center who are apparently not Icelandic. He said that this trend is so powerful that they are in a fear of dying out, literally. There is one thing to point out: He is not xenophobic. He definitely loves to meet people from a variety of background. But each culture should exist only on its homeland, and none of them should put others in danger on their homelands.
I agree. I won’t allow beautiful traditional Chinese culture to die out on my homeland due to economic or political factors either.
In the evening, I listened to an Icelandic music recital in Harpa. One of these songs uses very straight-forward, protest-like, and somewhat funny lyrics with opera-like music to shout for feminism in Reykjavik. People laughed, but also applauded. Icelanders are humorous people, indeed, but also urging in doing important things for their homeland.
Von, in Icelandic, means “hope”. People say Iceland is a barren, icy, and desperate land. But there will be hope, if and only if we have something to hope for — and go for it.
Heima – 12 juni
No regret for anything going to Reykjanes. We saw a small, lonely church built near the seashore where I felt like I am about to fly, like those birds. A graveyard is built behind the church, and behind the graveyard is endless flower field. People born 19th century are rested here. I imagined how they looked like, and what they were doing at that time. Was it the same scenery at that time? A bird flies under the Icelandic flag and looked at the flag, like a patriotic blonde Icelandic boy. He doesn’t know why he is doing, but as a creature survived by this island and sea, he felt the strength and nostalgia his homeland provides.
Today, we are children again, listening to fairy tales and re-narrating them to ourselves in our sleep. We are at the edge of this world, where no one else’s happiness can reach.
And there is hardly anyone. Purple flowers blossoms everywhere on both side of the road.
It took some effort to get to the beach, where giant rocks stand. I walked across uneven rock field, difficult to follow the path, but eventually found out one for my own.
Giant things far away from you always look like easy to climb up. But it isn’t. So I didn’t climb. But I found the debris of a lighthouse nearby. This is the first lighthouse in Iceland which was destroyed in the storm. Now inside of the lighthouse, the nature has reclaimed itself by layering grass and tundra.
Tundra can be easily found on the barren land of Iceland.
Also some incredibly strong flowers. They are definitely unlike those turnips growing in Netherland. No one cares about them— but they made their way out and exist, drinking sunshine and raindrops.
Nattura – 12 juni
Another example to prove Icelanders living on nature: Just with the volcanos, hot springs, they enjoy comfort and heat even in winter. Hot water is used to warm the streets in downtown Reykjavik, so the snow just melt by itself and no one needs to clean it up. Some hot water is stored in Perlan, a landmark near my hostel. After water is used, it is cleaned and sent back to underground for a balance. In summer, while the sea is not warm enough, they use hot spring to warm up the sea water and import white sand, creating a beach resort.
So it is the all about my first encounter with Iceland, the real Iceland, the reality behind all those myths. And both reality and the image have touched deep inside of me.