Iceland, the Vikings, the Cosmos, and me
24 Mars 2004
I almost always fly with Icelandair. Here are the main reasons. It's cheap. The stewardesses are pretty and have this beautiful scandinavian look. I was always fascinated by northern and icy countries. I love the small Reykjavik airport, called Keflavik. Almost silent like Arlanda in Stockholm. A lot of wood and glass. You can smoke there during your short stop, more or less half-way to Europe, inside a very cool bar with an enormous glass bay showing in front of you the lava field on which the airport was built, and the sofas are all leather. The shops in this airport have the wonderful smell of scandinavian culture, for example, incredibly beautiful sweaters made with natural wool, and enormous pieces of excellent smoked salmon.
If I sum up all my stays, I spent more than three months in Scandinavia. I visited Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark. I needed to see the last country: Iceland. After going through this lovely airport maybe ten times, I thought it was probably time. Or at least a first quick look around Reykjavik. Because of the not so funny reason for which I was going to France this time, I needed to think about something else and decompress a bit. Well, that's a bad excuse, because I'm very resistant to stress. Anyway. So I stopped there for a few days. And for the first time, I stepped out of Keflavik airport and walked on this beautiful land that the ancient greeks called Ultima Thule.
There was another first on this trip. I bought a small disposable camera. I never take pictures when I travel. I always bad-mouthed people who, in front of some beautiful landscape or historical artifact, spend more time looking at their camera than at the beautiful things they have in front of their eyes. They see, but they don't look. I record the images in my memory, and I think it's better. You can still share these images by using words. This time, I probably thought about my parents. They are getting old, and they love to see funny pictures of their four grown kids in new places around the world. So this time, I took pictures to send to them. Here are a few.
The first one is when I was having fun in the Blue Lagoon. Like everywhere in Iceland, they use the high geothermic activity as a clean energy source. In this case, they pump salted water at a depth of two kilometers. This water is at a temperature way above the ebullition point, around 200 degrees C. They use it in a heat exchange system to warm fresh water, and then dump the remaining salted water on the ground, which is a big lava field, close to the airport. So it forms a sort of artificial lagoon. But the heat and the salt are very natural. This water is at the body temperature, 37 degrees C. It's very funny, all blue because of some algae who love this temperature, almost devoid of bacteria, and full of silica mud. You cannot see through. Because of the difference of temperature (it was freezing when I was there), there is smoke everywhere. It's very strange. I went there on the evening, after a whole day around Reykjavik. At the end, I was almost alone, it was dark, and I had a sort of mystical orgasm, a zen satori, a flamenco duende. A sudden flash of revelation. I was floating, almost totally immerged in the water, all warmed up by the Earth internal activity, looking at the sky, and I saw a star, and I thought that around this star, maybe, there was a planet, and on it, there was another living organism, like me, protected by his own planet warmth, who was looking at my star, the Sun, and was thinking the same. I'm sure we were looking at each other during a minute, through the darkness and deepness of space. It was a strange experience that happened just once to me before, on top of the Pic St-Loup near the city where I was born, another place connected with the cosmos. To add to this magical atmosphere, there was a beautiful Aurora Borealis later this night, a fine ribbon of green light across the sky. My second one.
Okay, enough with this mystical crap. Here is the picture. Me and my feet bathing.
The next one is an image of the original Geysir, the one that gave the name of this phenomenon. It currently does not work, because it is very dependant on seismic activity and what is happening underground. But it is situated in a hot springs field, lot of smoke and sulfur smell around, and fortunately there is the Strokkur geyser nearby, which erupts every ten minutes. It's fascinating to see that. It's like if the Earth is breathing. It's basically a smoking hole, with a lot of hot water around. From close, you can see the level of water inside the hole going up and down. Then up again, reaching a higher level. And at one point, it goes up, up, up, and then there is an enormous bubble of blue water that emerges from the hole, and it explodes violently and send water and steam around 40 meters in the air. I couldn't help but stay until the next explosion. I saw four of them in a row, completely fascinated, until I realized it was extremely cold and windy there. It reminded me the lava explosions and fountains on top of the Etna and Stromboli. Amazing. You can see it on TV as much as you want, there is nothing like the feeling of seeing it in front of your eyes.
No, I don't have a picture of the thing exploding, first because there are better ones around, second because my finger were frozen, and third because I laughed at the dozen of people around the Geyser, their eyes glued to their camera, waiting for the explosion. So here is just an ugly picture of the sleeping giant, Geysir itself.
Next picture is taken at the historical site where the first parliament in the world was held a thousand years ago. It has a geological interest as well, because it's exactly on top of the Atlantic ridge, which crosses Iceland. So it is the place where two tectonic plates are moving apart, the American one and the Eurasian one, and new land is created in between. On this stupid picture I have one foot in Europe and one in America. Very symbolic of what my life currently looks like, actually. To complete the symbol, I have to admit that I almost fell down the (very deep) crack.
A last bad picture in Reykjavik downtown, on top of the central hill where the cathedral is. What you see is a statue of Leif Ericsson, son of Eirik the Red. He discovered the american continent, called Vinland, five centuries before Columbus, after a friend told him that he sighted some new land on the west after a storm messed up with their ships. These vikings could not stay in one place. They first went from Norway to Iceland after a small resting stop in England, where they killed some people, devastated a few monasteries and probably burned some early irish illuminated manuscripts (that's BAD - the Book of Kells and the Book of Lindisfarne are the most beautiful pieces of art in the world), and took some slaves and women. Then from Iceland to Greenland. Then from Greenland to Vinland. The settlement in America was not a success, they got kicked out quickly by natives (the "Skraelings" as they called them - I don't know what it means, but it sounds bad). The settlement in Greenland was a little bit more successful, lasted longer, but they were kicked too after a while. So they finally stayed in Iceland. The discovery of Vinland is related in two of the famous Icelandic Sagas, written in a very old language that modern Icelandic people can still read, because unlike other scandinavian languages, and because of their relative isolation, Icelandic stayed very close to the Old Norse. Some hard archeological proof for the discovery of the american continent by vikings has been dug out in the sixties: a small viking settlement in Canada.
Okay, I will stop here the cultural lecture, but you understand probably now why I love Scandinavia. By the way, do you know that there is a runic graffiti carved into one column of the Cathedral of Istanbul, saying "Halvdan was here"? These damn vikings travelled everywhere. Okay, I stop. Here the picture of a southern mediterranean loser close to the statue of a northern viking hero.
[Note: this text was mentioned here]