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.
You could say that Tim Severin is a historical re-enactor, but that would conjure all the wrong images, of renaissance fairs and Colonial Williamsburg. At nearly 80 years old, his accomplishments are better described as experiential archaeology, recreating legendary journeys to prove they could have happened. His historical adventures are based on years of upfront study, working with scholars to decipher ancient texts and find period-appropriate technology and materials. I only recently learned about Severin’s work, through his 1978 book that documents a fascinating early project called The Brendan Voyage.
Competition between streaming video services has become intense, with each company struggling to define its unique value as movie studios pull their content and create their own platforms. I primarily watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and while I prefer the original content on Netflix I love how Amazon has embraced the long tail. You may not find your favorite blockbuster steaming on Prime, but you will find deep cuts including foreign language shorts and incredibly niche British television. As someone with a taste for the unusual and oddly specific, I love mining this obscure archive.
My latest obsession is the prolific genre of motorcycle adventure videos, and there are countless to choose from. Their abundance no doubt stems from their ease of funding: sending a few guys off with bikes and cameras won’t guarantee a huge success, but it won’t set you back much either. I’ve watched a group trek from London to Beijing, a pair of riders circumnavigate India, and most recently enjoyed GlobeRiders: Iceland Expedition a month-long motorcycle trip across Iceland.
This blog comes from a fascination I have with people and places of the North: isolated islands, extreme landscapes, remote villages, and people that have found a way to live and even thrive in those environments. I find inspiration in travel, but also in the stories that other people document and share about these places. I recently discovered a book that could not be more perfectly aligned with these interests: Faces of the North by Ragnar Axelsson. Through stunning black and white photographs, and richly concise essays, this book documents the lives of people in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.
The Fair Folk podcast, hosted by Danica Boyce, is “devoted to bringing folk tradition to life” and features numerous episodes on the traditional music of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and other places of interest to this blog. It’s not her first, nor her latest, but as an introduction to her work I would suggest The Wailing Of The Old Timers – Tvísöngur and Iceland’s Hidden Folk Music Past as an example of the deep research Danica shares with her listeners.
The concept behind Lawrence Millman’s book Last Places: A Journey to the North is such a perfect fit to my interests, and this blog, that I knew I had to read it. Millman endeavors to follow the trail of the Vikings, traveling from Norway to Newfoundland via Shetland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, mostly via sea and foot, camping along the way. It’s a personal travelog, from an opinionated and seasoned traveler with lots of stories to tell. It’s not his first time in any of these locations, which is perhaps what frees him up to seek the most remote, difficult, or forgotten corners of these already far flung islands.