Passport Photo of Þórbergur Þórðarson, 1888 – 1974
A humble, dignified beginning
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.”
Above: a project of mine that is almost finished. It may just come in handy…
Ever want to just get away from it all? Things just south of where I live seem to be getting a little dodgy. I’m not following it closely – bad for my health – but I get the impression that we (the entire Planet) are in for a frightening amusement park ride, kind of like being on a rickety contraption that has needed maintenance – no, out-and-out modification – for waaayyy too long. Circumstances beyond our control, such as locked iron bars across our laps, forbid escape, yet we might have avoided the crisis by Continue reading “A Voyage… Of Sorts”
The ancient capital of Viet Nam is a fascinating place. The citadel is actually three nested citadels: imposing grey walls protected by a moat, a second citadel whose entrance is shown above, and a third “citadel” called the Forbidden Purple City, territory that excluded all except the emperor, his family and inner coterie. The top photo is the Ngo Mon, or Noontime, gate to the second citadel, the central door being reserved for the emperor himself.
Inside the To Mieu Temple complex honouring the Nguyen Dynasty there are nine urns dedicated to the nine Nguyen emperors, the largest being dedicated to Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long), founder of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802 A.D.
The nine dynastic urns; and below the gorgeous gate to To Mieu complex, its detail and, last, the long, low To Mieu Temple:
Gate to To Mieu Complex
To Mieu Temple
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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Thanks to B52 bombing during the Vietnam War (Vietnamese call it the American War) there was nothing much left of the Forbidden Purple City, but some sort of restoration had begun back in 2008 when we were there. We were instructed by signs not to venture off the approved path for our own safety. Below, the Forbidden Purple City ruin:
Gate to Forbidden Purple City
Forbidden Purple City ruin
And a few more photos of the Citadel:
Citadel’s exterior with huge Viet Nam flag and pole
More citadel water
Entrance to the citadel
We arrived in Hue in the dark on April 17, after taking an afternoon flight from Saigon to Da Nang and driving a short distance north to Hue. We ate by Hue’s Perfume River in a floating restaurant and Anita was disappointed to learn, on our fourth night in Viet Nam, that “rice fried chicken” is not the same as “chicken fried rice.”
Our April 18 Hunger Games:
Hue is not a large city, but it is complicated enough to be no fun navigating in the dark if you are dropped off by a cyclo driver somewhere other than where you instructed him to take you. Here’s that story:
Anytime we left our hotel (the Thai Binh II on Hung Vuong Street) there were cyclo drivers waiting to take people where they wanted to go in the city. After a very busy April 18 we wanted to try supper at a Japanese Restaurant famous in Lonely Planet for its owner’s wonderful work with hundreds of Vietnamese street children and well-liked for its food and its service. Though it was a fairly short walk away (260 metres) I thought it might be generous to use one of these sad-looking, solicitous fellows to take us there. I wrote down the address in modern Vietnamese characters and showed it to him. We got in the cyclo and off we went. He took ages to find the street (it seemed like 45 minutes) and when he did we got off as soon as we could and started to walk toward the address. Every junction we came to seemed to have 4 or 5 options to continue on the street. So we would pick the most likely one and cross the square to it and then I would brave the motorbikes to cross the street to make sure we had guessed right. Most of the time we hadn’t. Often I had forgotten the name on the street sign by the time I re-crossed the river of motorbikes.
Someone borrowed my pen to draw a map for us and I left it accidentally with her.
Then my flashlight packed it in.
I didn’t have a travel cell phone or a wifi device in 2008, so we were dependent on our Lonely Planet guidebook, instinct, intuition and local maps when not with a local English-speaking driver. Google maps now shows me the walk would have been really short from our hotel. We were getting hungry and Anita feels ill if she goes too long without eating protein. When we eventually found the address (our driver had dropped us off much farther from the restaurant than we would have had to walk) the restaurant had closed!
So now, without flashlight or pen or protein, we tried to figure out how to get back to our hotel and the place where we ate the night before. We didn’t agree and, hungry and tired, we began to argue about which way to go. And, once a minute since we had left our useless cyclo driver, we were were solicited by other cyclo drivers. At this point I was feeling quite murderous…
Finally Anita announced, righteously, that she was going back to the hotel by herself. I know in my bones that she could have done it. So I said:
Fine! You go back to the hotel. I’ll kill something and bring it for you to eat.
Then the gods smiled on us. They sent us two saviours who had witnessed our embarrassing interchange. They were Kim and Sandra from Sydney, Aus. Kim told us exactly how to get back to our hotel and where to eat right near it. It was 5 or 10 minutes walk. We exchanged addresses and agreed to meet in Hoi An – the city we would all be in on the 19th and 20th. We are still good friends and hope to see them in our town in Ontario again this summer.
Other Places We Went on April 18:
Now, here is a summary of where we went in Hue on that fateful April with Sang, our wonderful driver:
Tu Duc’s tomb
Minh Mang’s tomb
Nam Giao Temple
Lunch at Y Thao Garden – Imperial Cuisine
Thien Mu Pagoda
Tomb of Tu Duc, the longest reigning Nguyen Dynasty Emperor:
Model of Tu Duc’s tomb
This tomb was built and enjoyed by Tu Duc before he died. He was buried in a secret place in 1883. The 200 who buried him were beheaded lest his real place be revealed.
Restaurant on water
Mandarins, both military and civil, line the honour courtyard. Made shorter than tiny Tu Duc.
20 tonne stele. Largest stele in Viet Nam. Took 4 years to transport 500 km to this site
Once a watery place
Field and mansion near Tu Duc’s tomb
Tomb of Minh Mang:
Honour Courtyard at tomb of Minh Mang
This horse, petrified, was consoled by Anita
Beautiful and scary at Minh Mang
Beautiful stele in its “Dinh Vuong”
Sacred walkway – Minh Mang’s Tomb
Nam Giao Temple was once the most sacred in the country. Here the Emperor would offer elaborate, sacrificial homage to Thuong De. Now it is neglected but very peaceful:
Imperial cuisine at the Y Thao Garden:
Large table setting
This meal’s lighter than it looks
Thien Mu Pagoda – the most sacred place, 3 km from Hue – honours 7 buddhas:
Thien Mu Pagoda – 1844
7 Levels for 7 buddhas
Tallest religious building in VN
Stele and tortoise
Big bell, audible 10 km away
Thich Quang Duc immolates himself in 1963 in Saigon
Guide interprets his sacrifice
The Austin in which Thich was driven to Saigon
Small wonder we were tired that evening. Poor decision I made. We had only 260 m to walk. We would have learned quickly that the Jass Man’s Japanese restaurant had closed down and gone to the river for more “rice fried chicken.” But then we would never have met Sandra and Kim from Sydney…
My uncle Eric was my closest uncle and a wonderful mentor.
He gave me my first watch at 7, my first ukelele at 9 and introduced me to photography when he gave me my first camera at 13 or 14, showing me how to use it – the intricacies of combining shutter speed, f stop and film sensitivity to create a properly exposed photo. He did his own darkroom work and had an incredible ear for finding the right, very sophisticated chord on a guitar.
Eric and my mother’s younger sister, Rita, were wonderful to my sister Anne and me. Eric could pull an original bedtime story out of his head and we loved his stories. He was devoted to Rita and welcomed Stella, his mother-in-law, into their home, where she lived for many, many years.
His sense of humour was really original, as one of the macabre photos below and in this short, YouTube tribute I put together from old photos demonstrates.
It’s easy to become cynical these days.
Agree with the post (link below) that states the obvious: all H. sapiens will be losers in a nuclear war.
Made me wonder: Can there be a bright side for other forms of life?
My comment on the petition appeal below:
Can nuke war have a winner?…. Maybe some new life form that metabolizes Strontium 90. A chance to “start over?” I know. Not funny, but it keeps my blood, albeit temporarily, from vapourizing…
“The days of the moneylender have arrived, and the days of the swaggering privateer; banker sits down with banker, and kings are their waiting boys.”
The above insight from the reflection of Thomas Cromwell on the new type of power in 16th C. Europe. Another surprise from the Booker Prize winning Hilary Mantel. I laughed out loud when I saw this on page 142 of Bring Up The Bodies. Cromwell is thinking that, despite his low birth and the repeated, jealous insults of the nobility in Henry’s court, he is the second most powerful man in England next to the king, and, perhaps, the most influential.
That from December, 1536.
Has the dominion of the banks over all types of planetary power, at its apex in this scary 21st Century, been growing ever since then?
Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, Volume I of her planned trilogy on the life and times of the powerful Cromwell. She won a second Booker for this one, Volume II, in 2012. Will her last in this series, due in 2015, win an incredible hat trick?
A long-time writer of immense taste, imagination and skill, her sprinkling of erudite LOL moments of pithy surprise throughout these works only compounds this reader’s delight.