Off the west coast of Scotland lay the Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands that look almost like a shield being held up by the mainland to protect itself from the rugged North Atlantic. Beyond that, a full 40 miles further west, are the lonely islands of St. Kilda, a tiny archipelago forged by volcanos and sculpted by violent winds and waves. It’s not exactly a convenient place to live, and yet these islands were occupied for nearly four thousand years, an incredible testament to subsistence living and human perseverance. The story of life there, and the eventual decision to evacuate, is the unlikely subject of an illustrated children’s book called Child of St. Kilda by the British author, illustrator, and printmaker Beth Waters.
Mummers? If you live in America, and have heard that term before, it’s likely in connection with the annual Philadelphia Mummers Parade. While they may share some distant relatives, that New Years parade in the City of Brotherly Love is a far cry from the Christmastime tradition of Mummering in Newfoundland. Dating back over 200 years, imported from Irish and English settlers, Newfoundland Mummers don’t masquerade like their American cousins, who dress up as someone else. The tradition is instead rooted in disguise, using everyday clothing in unconventional ways to conceal one’s identity. Common techniques include pillow-case face masks, lace veils, layers of bulky stuffed coats, mismatched gloves, and gender smokescreens like skirts on men and bras worn over outerwear. Once disguised, a group of mummers will travel unannounced to a house in their community, and if allowed to enter, start dancing and playing music. The host provides snacks and drinks, while trying to guess the identities of each visitor. Easier said than done, as the mummers not only disguise their bodies but distort their voices or refuse to speak. Once everyone has been named, or if the heat inside makes the layered costume untenable, the mummers are revealed and group moves on to another house.
The sale of alcohol was banned in the Faroe Islands until 1992, but today it’s home to one of the coziest tap rooms I’ve ever visited: Mikkeller in Tórshavn. The Copenhagen-based micro-brewery has locations around the world, but almost all in large cities like Berlin, Oslo, or Stockholm. By contrast, Tórshavn is Europe’s smallest capital with barely 13,000 residents. The bar is housed in a beautiful 500-year-old home with low beams and a turf roof. Just steps from the harbor, in an old part of the city, the light brown exterior stands out from the cluster of black buildings nearby. Together they make up the Heima í Havn area, a restaurant group featuring some of the best dining in the country.
When I told a colleague I was planning a trip to the Faroe Islands he had two questions for me: 1. Had I seen their insanely picturesque football fields? and 2. Did I know about The Faroe Islands Podcast? Both were news to me. By the time I learned about the podcast it was already nine years old, having begun in January 2009 after the journalist Matthew Workman noticed a visitor to his blog from a country he’d never heard of. It was all down the rabbit hole from there. The internet didn’t have that much content about the Faroe Islands back then, at least not in English, so Matthew started blogging and podcasting about it.