Thursday, March 14, 2013

March, 2013, Pam Returns to Iceland

MARCH 2013 
Pam Returns To Iceland

March 11th, Arrival

After a 12 hour flight and 4 hour drive, I arrive in Skagastrond, north Iceland.

The drive was beautiful.

 It feels oddly familiar to be back in Iceland, like putting on a pair of boots you haven’t worn in a year. Having lived for many years in Vermont, I automatically remember how to read the slipperiness of the snow, how to listen to the sound of the crunch, and to step accordingly.
Nes Artists Residency, Skagastrond, Iceland.

A Pecha Kucha event was planned for the evening of my arrival. Devised in Japan, Pecha Kucha is the art of concise presentations. It is a 20 x 20 format, 20 images are shown for 20 seconds each. It is a wonderful system that requires finely honing ideas and images down to the essentials. At its best it is spare and elegant. Each of the 11 artists here gave an introduction to her/his work and the entire event, including food and socializing, lasted no more than an hour and a half. Held in the town library, it was a great evening, concise and practical, which seems to be the Icelandic way. 

There is a great group of artists here.  Three Australians, two Canadians, three Americans, two French, one Brazilian and one, my housemate, from Estonia. There are painters and sculptors and photographers and mixed media artists and a musician who plays the harpsichord and a small bellow instrument from the 15th century that sounds like a cross between a whale and the wind.

A word about the weather. Apparently I missed a storm last week that caused everyone to stay inside for 48 hours because of the wind and snow and zero visibility. You would get lost immediately if you went outside.

Here is the view out the kitchen window, a reminder of the storm.

Last summer I took many pictures of the façade of the abandoned house that faces a small bay. I liked the way it reflected the light at different times of the day. I was not prepared to see it in its current state - a reminder never to underestimate the power of nature here.

So far the days have been relatively clear and on the warm side – around 32 to 36 degrees. It has been almost without wind, a condition to relish because I know it won’t last. 

View of town and the bay.

View of the Mountains

March 12, Coffee with Vikings

Today Melody, who runs Nes, invited me to join her for afternoon coffee with the town electrician and his buddies. Every day at 3:30 the mechanic, internet guy, and any fisherman not at sea meet in his shop. We huddled around the table in his kitchen, which was the size of a ship’s galley. On the table sat a 200 year old boat compass. I was completely taken by its beauty and the men took great pleasure in showing me how it worked. The dial floats in alcohol (lots of jokes about drinking at sea) and is encased in glass, top and bottom, and framed in brass. It is the size of a hatbox. It was often hung high above the sailors’ heads, my guess is to get the best reading, with a mirror below. Since the bottom of the compass was also glass, it could be read either by the mirror below, or from above. Next to the compass was a large hourglass.  Between the two instruments, time and place is completely independent from technology.

The men at the table were strong, stout, and attired in various work jumpsuits. They had removed their boots but not their tool belts. To accommodate me and Melody, conversations flowed between Icelandic and English. We talked about navigational devices and the use of Icelandic spar, a special type of crystal rock used for navigation during the age of the Vikings. They talked about the Chinese ships breaking through the ice to create a passage through the Arctic Circle, something now feasible because of global warming, and mentioned the huge ship that docked in Akureyri last August. I had been there and actually saw it. 

The two fisherman then told a harrowing story. They had just returned from six weeks on a huge commercial fishing boat in the waters off the coast of South Africa. A group of Chinese sailors worked on board. They would drink and brawl in the evenings and as the weeks at sea wore on the fights became more violent until one night a man had his thumb chopped off. “Barbaric” they all commented, nodding, sipping their coffee. Abruptly the talk switched to local gossip about roof leaks, then everyone got back to work, having spent their half hour together in the electrician’s shed.

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