Close to Iceland's Keflavík International Airport lies a special bridge. It connects two continents, America to the west and Europe to the east, as it lies across the point where two tectonic plates are diverging. A few minutes southwards from the bridge is Gunnuhver, a hot spring area named after a ghost.
23.09.2013 | 11:00
What Tomorrow Brings... (JB)
Iceland is an isolated land. There is no denying that. It affects the mentality and the atmosphere of the nation, especially in times of instability.
At times, we are a bit like a bunch of separated tribes, spread across a wilderness that is kind and cruel, smooth and hard, gentle and outraged. Like the vastness of deserted fjords inhabited only by memories of a fertile past, and ripped glaciers uninhabitable to man, tribes are sometimes torn apart by disputes seemingly irresolvable.
The members of this little nation in the north can sometimes be as cruel and vicious in disputes as the violent rage of a January storm. In this isolation, bickering thrives and the closeness to one another can aggravate and enrage. The only way to get some distance and see the big picture is to literally leave the landmass.
Our ancestors, the Vikings, are thought to have been a violent bunch that neither got along with enemies on little Iceland or nations they invaded. They invaded foreign shores, sometimes in the vilest of manners chopping heads and violating the womenfolk, and returned with their goods, both new slaves and stolen belongings.
As bold a statement it may be, I am beginning to think the Viking in us is the character trait that gets us into a lot of trouble. Take the rash thoughtlessness of greed that took hold of us for a while. Instead of harboring benign acquaintances with the ever-shrinking world, the Viking-urge to conquer the big nations of the world, modern Vikings showed them the little nation in the north can conquer still on their soil. Old habits die hard.
In the years since the crisis collided into our lives and swept away financial security and temporarily wounded materialism, we have learned much. Our societal values changed drastically, as having less made it necessary to embrace what we have, living in the moment and taking pleasure in the little things.
Iceland re-affirmed this soil to be a vibrant home to the arts, and artistic entrepreneurs started companies in which the focus of their operations was a designated art form. The world of arts became an increasingly important industry to the economy at a time when many had lost their faith in the world of finances, and brought joy and appreciation to a heritage that was forgotten for a little while.
The thing with heritage is that it sticks to us like glue. It’s attached to the nation’s psyche despite our attempts to move away from them as society evolves. It seems evolution doesn’t replace centuries of documented history.
A neighbor of mine pointed out in a recent conversation just how prominent news was of Iceland’s great Financial Vikings’ rise to greatness in just a matter of years.
This occupation with the nation’s finances continues to be a feature headline in the evening news still today, although the news is usually on the dim side these days.
At the same time, very few news stories focused, and today focus, on the outside world. This is a particularly noticeable feature in the privatized media. The Icelandic Broadcasting company (RÚV) diligently reports on worldwide events, so perhaps it is a strategic move on the privatized media’s behalf to report mostly on Icelandic affairs.
Political parties continue to be critical of one another. For our current government, it seems environmentalism is out and industrialism is in again, at least if their policies of building more energy plants and oil platforms in the future are anything to judge from. For our previous government, the “rebound left,” if I may be so bold to put it that way, it was the opposite.
My feeling a bit like a foreigner is not entirely a bad thing. I think it helps me to see the bigger picture and perhaps allows me to take a more critical view of the strange happenings in our society.
I can’t say I affiliate myself particularly with one nation above others. I have countries of which I am very fond and feel perfectly at home. Nonetheless, I am able to be equally critical of those nations as I am of Iceland.
My general problem is perhaps that I have a very academic way of thinking. I am above everything else, an academic in the liberal arts and I am eternally curious about human nature and the world we’ve created.
What drives us to make the decisions we make? What is beneath the portrait we paint of ourselves for society’s sake? What makes a nation a nation, and how do the forces of evil cut through to the core when devastation strikes?
Humanity is the very business of humanities and thus, this curious inquisition of the academic in me is constantly rattled with questions regarding this economic crisis of ours and what it’s doing to us.
My first point of observation is of course that the crisis has made us a better nation as a whole. For the common citizen, it is possible to step away from the talks of crisis and simply celebrate the moment that is now. For our politicians, who have been wrapped up in these dreaded affairs, it is not so easy. They have been in the middle of this whirlwind of happenings and their bickering and dissolution is no doubt a consequence of that.
Like the little nation, they’ve been stuck inside the little parliament hall–and yes it is much smaller than it looks on television–and by now, so enthralled in this business of crisis resolution that they appear to have less tolerance for one another. Opposite views are reasons for public disputes.
I am not excluding myself as a non-participant. I have my views and let’s face it, some views are harder for me to tolerate than others. They’d probably prove even harder if I were in an environment where they’d be rubbed in my face on daily basis.
But something’s gotta give. If we’re not careful, we might forget what we’ve learned from all this, and heaven forbid this lesson was for nothing.
Iceland-based photographer and photo guide Iurie Belegurschi recently visited Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Southeast Iceland. Some of his photos from the trip were published by Scotland’s Daily Record yesterday.
The October-December issue of the print edition of Iceland Review is packed with interesting material, such as a travel feature on Flatey Island, interview with chair of Samtökin 78 – The National Queer Association Anna Pála Sverrisdóttir and a guide to spotting the northern lights accompanied by Páll Stefánsson’s photos. Click here to view a selection of pages from the current issue and here to subscribe.
It would be easy to get washed away in all the hype but Ásgeir’s In the Silence, the English language version of his breakthrough debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn, truly deserves all the praise it’s been getting.