A Special Book

 

I have just finished The Stones Speak by the prolific, much-loved, 20th Century writer, Thórbergur Thórdarson, born in 1888, who grew up on a remote family farm named Hali in southeastern Iceland, very near to Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2119 metres.

I bought the book at the Þórbergssetur museum, where our tour group stopped on July 18th, two days into our 10 day bus tour. The centre was built in 2006 in Hali, (near Reynivellir in Southeast Iceland) and is dedicated to this unique man. He was largely self-educated, being too poor to attend high school or university.

The Stones Speak, translated in 2012 by Professor Julian Melton d’Arcy of the U. of Iceland, is Thórdarson’s only complete book that has been translated into English. Written when he was in his 60’s, this is an inspired, witty and sometimes caustic collection of his earliest memories – those of a precocious, hypersensitive visionary who lived very close to nature.

The book is, in my opinion, a must-read for folks who plan to visit Iceland and really want to work at understanding its recent (20th C.) history and its people. The introduction and notes by d’Arcy deserve to be read both before and after reading the book. They even contain the simplest, best guide to Icelandic pronunciation that I have found.

I went to Iceland because it was my wife’s choice and must confess that, uncharacteristically, my only research before the trip was to google the heck out of each place we were visiting on our Ring Road tour and look for things worth escaping from the pre-arranged options to see. And because we were arriving in Reykjavík (KEF) at 6 AM on the red-eye from Toronto on July 16th I was looking keenly for the most interesting places we might explore that day on our own. Our Grand Hotel was only a half-hour walk or a # 15 city bus from the centre of town. These were, for this dyed-in-the-wool self-directed traveler, the vital facts, since we were not due to meet our tour director at the hotel until 5:30 P.M.

Combined with the superb tour itself, reading The Stones Speak has given me wonderful, intensely personal insight/hindsight into the unique Icelandic people. It was, for me, not an easy read. It does not grab you like The DaVinci Code. I put it down and picked it up several times, as I have done with Proust, until realizing that, by making margin notes and studying maps and breaking down words in what is for the superbly gifted Daniel Tammet this oh-so-special language, I fell in love with Iceland and humanity in general, starting with the folks in 1890’s Suðursveit. 

If you have already visited Iceland, take the time to study The Stones Speak. You will, through it, reconnect with human nature and, perhaps, yourself.

P.S. If you have not gone yet, check out Guide To Iceland, a great website community to which my post travel research luckily led me. They justifiably claim to be an “unrivalled source of information.”

 

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Going By In A Bus

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Jöjullsárlon Glacial Lagoon – Iceland

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Literally “going by in a bus.”

We passed the above on our way to visit the author Thórdarson memorial site in nearby Hali. Our date with the above lagoon was later that afternoon. There were poles quickly and determinedly going by the window as I shot AVCHD video with my Sony Alpha A-6000 using Sony’s e-mount SEL18-55mm zoom lens that has internal stabilization.

This is a screenshot I took while editing the video. The stains on the baby icebergs are volcanic fallout probably from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in southern Iceland. The added colour in the ice enhances the photo.

Behind, and just below the Parasitic Jaeger in full flight, is the gloomy-faced glacier whose calving produces the ice in the lagoon. For me the image creates a very special mood. I am grateful to my A-6000 and to the photography djinns for my being on the correct side of the bus as we whisked by between posts on our way to tea and a tour at the Hali Farm.

We had paid days in advance for a large, yellow, amphibious duck boat tour of the lagoon. When we arrived from Hali it was raining and I had to leave my camera in the bus and don rain pants, etc. For someone who has seen the Rockies’ Columbia Ice Field close up, this wasn’t much ice and the hectic decision making and running around caused by the bad weather induced me to tune out. We were treated to what seemed like standard tourist jokes by the young, non-icelandic park guide on the boat.

We dutifully chomped on 1000 year old glacier ice that he used a pick to break off for us from an armful-sized chunk.  To his credit, he held it in his bare hand with long-suffering, smiling patience. The chunk must have been captured earlier and kept in a fridge because we never saw him collect it. I was relieved when it was thrown back. Maybe it was, too.

Pale blue or not, it tasted like… ice. No hint of blueberry. To my undiscerning palette, it didn’t seem to have gone bad during that thousand years. Whatever molecules, if any, it may have absorbed from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 were invisible and tasteless.

There were many similar craft chugging down into the water at regular intervals. Ours had a bullet hole in it. We learned that they were originally US Navy craft. The afternoon sailings should have been canceled and our $60 pp refunded. I would then have walked around in my rain suit shooting under an umbrella. My camera, always the third person on our holidays, sulked for a day or so. I told it it hadn’t missed much. That didn’t help.

I have only now told “A” that it helped me capture the above surprise that just may be my favourite of the whole trip. Was it my imagination, or did I hear a tiny, high pitched sob of relief?

I may just treat it to its first partial eclipse of the sun on Monday. I’ll protect its face and mine with a piece of #14 welders glass I used to shoot the Venus Transit on June 8, 2004 and the solar eclipse on December 25, 2000.

AVCHD video has been a recent possibility for me. My old movie program on my PC would not accept HD video, so I’ve only been using it for about 18 months – after upgrading to an iMac desktop. AVCHD has made producing decent images of unpredictable moving subjects so much easier.

Iceland on the whole has been wonderful. The people we met (mostly associated with the tourist industry) were generous with their attention and many spoke impeccable English.

Later on our 10 day ring road circuit we had a chance meeting and delightful conversation at breakfast in the Kia Hotel in Akureyri  with two brilliant Icelanders whose names are, I’m sure, household words there. More later on that.