Iceland: Back toward the present

June 19, Part 2

(Photos here.)

I forgot to mention, in Part 1, the arctic tern I met at a picnic area, when heading out of the West Fjords. For the entire trip ravens had been kraawking warnings at me, and none of them scared me off. But a single little black-capped arctic tern, buzzing around my head, making it clear he would dive at me any moment if I didn’t get out of there–that I listened to! And that’s what got me wondering why ravens have so much more lore around them than arctic terns. Because arctic terns are seriously scary when they set their minds to it.

And now I know why one of the signs in the Fljótsdalur hostel said that claiming the artic terns were perfectly safe was a good way to mess with tourists, too. 🙂

Anyway, as we left LaxĂĄrdal, the hillsides grew steeper again, making the area feel a bit more like the south, only with more lakes, and also something else I couldn’t quite put a name to. Some lingering touch of the West Fjords’ wildness? Maybe, or maybe I was just imposing that on the land around me, letting the places I’d been influence how I saw the places I was.

We headed on to EirĂ­ksstaĂ°ir, another reconstruction of a turf farmhouse, this one based on excavations of what may have been EĂ­rik the Red’s home–the man who first settled Greenland, and whose son, Leifur EirĂ­ksson, likely explored North America in turn.

The folks at EirĂ­ksstaĂ°ir were dressed in period (around 1000 A.D.) clothes; when we arrived, one of them was up on the roof with a hose, joking about the fact that yes, he needed to water the roof.

We were led inside a farmhouse not unlike the farmhouse at Stöng, only the space was more crowded with artifacts of the time, and a fire burned in the hearth, filling the room with smoke. The farmhouse was more cluttered than at Stöng (though still less cluttered than it would have been in reality), but much larger and more open than the Sorcerer’s Cottage.

Our guide–the guy who’d been up on the roof–apologized for the fact that the log wasn’t period, but was in fact a Duraflame log. (Imported from America, just like real wood would have been in Leifur EirĂ­ksson’s day.) At some point he explained, too, that the oil lamps in the walls were in fact operating via fiber optics.

Maybe it was the apologies for not being quite in period. Maybe it was the mention of how the folks there had been working the Viking festival the past few weekends. Maybe it was the kids outside, also in costume, practicing with bow and arrow. But slowly, we realized why this all felt, in its way, so familiar: we’d found the Icelandic equivalent of the Society for Creative Anachronism. We were on familiar ground. 🙂

The feel of the history was in some ways less deep than at Stöng, or at the Sorcerer’s Cottage–was indeed closer in feel to SCA events and Renaissance Faires in the States. And yet … there was something gained here, too, some sense of what it would feel like to actually be living in these reconstructed spaces, with the clutter and smoke and stuff of daily life all around you. What was lost in strict accuracy was gained in a sense of, well, motion.

Stöng and Eiríksstaðir were a good balance for each other, actually.

There was a loft here, above the entry way, beneath the rafters (not unlike the loft at FljĂłtsdalur in its way, actually), and our guides kindly indulged my desire to get a good look inside of same. (In NjĂĄl’s SagaGunnar of HliĂ°arendi fought of his enemies and died in the loft of his house; and there’s likely to be a scene set in a loft in the book I’m working on, too.)

And of course, being in a living history sort of place, we got to play a little. 🙂 Larry tried on a Viking helmet and shield; we both wielded the sword. The shield was surprisingly large–as I realized it would need to be; the sword was surprisingly light–also as it would need to be. One of the women there loaned me her red-fox skin scarf; I draped it around myself, only to find I no more have the knack for wearing scarves gracefully when those scarves have feet and head still attached than without them.

Since we were back in saga country, I also asked the man and woman in the farmhouse with us what they thought of HallgerĂ°ur Longlegs.

He (not hesitating): “She was a bitch.”
She (hesitating): “I think the saga women were all very strong.”

I got the feeling that being strong was not a good thing or a bad thing–it just was.

As we left EirĂ­ksstaĂ°ir, we realized that those couple hours of living history had the effect of somehow returning us to the present, after a couple days of feeling deeply immersed in the past. This was not a bad thing at all; returning to the present is always necessary, sooner or later, and this was a fun way to do it.

We drove on to Laugar, and to a campground attached to the local Edda hotel, and pitched our tent near a trickling stream, with green hillsides all around us.

Laugar was where GuĂ°rĂșn ÓsvĂ­fursdĂłttir, one of the main characters of LaxdĂŠla Saga, grew up, meaning we’d visited both GuĂ°rĂșn and HallgerĂ°ur’s childhood/young adulthood homes that day. (A note in my journal reads: saga women, the teen version.)

I tried to picture GuĂ°rĂșn, much as I’d tried to picture HallgerĂ°ur, and the word that came to mind was poised. GuĂ°rĂșn was the poised sort of young person who could impress adults, because she could talk to them well. Perhaps she needed to be poised; from a fairly early age, she was involved with helping her father run the household.

That night I swam and soaked in a pool and hot tub fed by–I think–the same pool where GuĂ°rĂșn and Kjartan used to speak to each other, when they were young and in love; as I swam I stared out at the same slopes they would have stared out at then. These weren’t the Bishop GuĂ°mundur’s blessed waters, but they were good waters nonetheless, still light, still pleasant to swim through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *