Which direction are you heading? In a world of hyper-specific GPS coordinates and turn-by-turn directions, we take it for granted that the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west are fixed, scientific, and universal. But language, and place, have a way of making words their own. In Iceland, these terms can convey both their common meaning and a place-based understanding that can result in “north” pointing you south.
I first learned about glíma, a unique form of Icelandic folk wrestling, from the the short film by Grímur Hákonarson called Bræðrabylta. The story focuses on two gay men in rural Iceland, whose primary way of acknowledging their affection for each other is through glíma. I was immediately struck by how different it looked from other forms of wrestling; opponents grasp each other’s waists in a pose that invokes dancing more than fighting. It was perfect for the plot of the film, and made me want to learn more about this variant of the sport.
I watch a lot of Nordic television; my wife and I joke that we can spot Danish actors more easily than American ones. So of course I was excited that someone finally filmed a crime drama set in the Faroe Islands. Trom is a police procedural, adapted from novels by Jógvan Isaksen. Most of the action is set in Tórshavn, although there are scenes from many of the islands and it’s fun to identify locations throughout the 6-episode season.
Despite the difficult terrain and challenges of traversing the rough seas, people in the Faroe Islands have made their homes on all but one of their eighteen islands. Not included in that count are the numerous islets, sea stacks, and separated cliffs; landforms distinct enough to garner their own names and identities but treacherous enough to resist inhabitation — by people anyway. Because of their isolation these remote areas can be perfect grazing grounds for the plentiful population of sheep.
Although it came out in February I’ve only just now seen the documentary Together in Isolation: The lockdown of the Faroe Islands by polish filmmaker Kuba Witek. This half-hour film draws upon diverse interviews with politicians, artists, musicians, doctors, and clergy to tell the story of how the Faroe Islands dealt with the threat of COVID-19 and the unique challenges of lockdown within an isolated island nation.
The film 1700 Meters from the Future, by Ulla Rasmussen, is a feature length documentary from 1990 set in the village of Gásadalur in the Faroe Islands. Tucked into a remote valley in the northwest corner of Vágar island, Gásadalur is surrounded by steep fells on three sides and a treacherous ocean cliff on the fourth. For centuries, the population of the village held steady at 60 people, but by the time of the film it had declined to only 16 adults and a 9-year-old boy. The title refers to the plan to build a tunnel through the Knúkarnir mountain, connecting Gásadalur to the village of Bøur. Interviews with townspeople, all of them multi-generational residents, convey their hopes for this connection to the outside world, while highlighting concerns about change, long-standing economic struggles, and challenges caused by Faroese land use policies.
No animal is more synonymous with the Faroe Islands than sheep. The name Føroyar comes from an old Norse translation that literally means “sheep islands,” so they’ve probably always outnumbered humans. It certainly seems like they own the place, roaming the archipelago with abandon, their fleece often allowed to grow long and wild. Sheep have always been a vital part of the Faroese culture: their wool a source of warmth, their fermented meat a staple of Faroese cuisine.
Last night I watched a 1992 episode of Land & Sea, the long-running CBC documentary series about Newfound and Labrador. The CBC YouTube account has a playlist with over 120 episodes, digitized in all of their low-resolution glory. These videos provide us a glimpse into rural Newfoundland, acting as a fascinating time capsule of coastal outport life.
As a collector of Faroese stamps, I look forward to receiving the Posta Stamps magazine. It always teaches me something new about the Faroe Islands, and the latest issue has introduced me to the American-Faroese artist Joel Cole. One of the first stamp releases in 2021 showcases his work, a six-stamp minisheet featuring sculptures that explore the immigrant experience. On his Instagram account Cole notes that these selected pieces are just a subset of some 80 pieces he created for this series addressing “ideas surrounding human immigration and integration.”
Stuck at home during the global pandemic, one of the things I miss the most is live music. It’s always been an important part of my life, and while I love my favorite venues, I always jump at the opportunity to hear live music in unconventional places. Living room concerts, street festivals, in-store performances, warehouses, boats, coal mines. Today I added a new experience to my live music wishlist: the Concerto Grotto, a series of sea cave concerts in the Faroe Islands.