Another Dose of Humility, Please

Sitting in the lobby of the City Centre Hotel in Reykjavik. It’s midnight on a Friday and the scene up and down the street outside is, to put it bluntly, rockin’. Alas, I have an 8am flight to catch so I’m behaving: a couple of pints of Guinness and now I’m getting ready to turn in.

This town really is incredible: small enough to be digested in short order; interesting enough to keep someone busy for a very long time. I did the culture/history thing today: museums. Under an overcast sky that occasionally spit a few raindrops, I hit the Culture House and the National Museum. In the latter, I got a detailed rundown on the history of this island, this nation, this people. It was fascinating and very well presented, and I quite enjoyed myself. To be honest, I don’t think I gave myself enough time for the National Museum — there was just so much to digest.

The Culture House, on the other hand, was spectacular in an understated manner…especially if you’re into the written word. The emphasis at the Culture House is just that: the written word. So the focus is on the published versions of the Icelandic Sagas and Eddas and other national treasures that set this small island’s culture apart from more mainstream European history/culture.

Upon entering the main display at the Culture House, I got a little upset: everything was just a reproduction of the books that contain these amazing stories dating back more than a thousand years. BUT…in the back corner of the main room there was a little sign saying: “This way.” And for those who followed…wow. Real, live, actual books that were almost a thousand years old (from the 1200s in some cases), under glass, protected from ultraviolet light and humidity and other degrading impacts. Stories that were written down so they’d survive from generation to generation — and all gloriously crafted, with beautiful calligraphy and gorgeous illustrations. It was truly awe-inspiring, especially to one who bitches about how writing with pen-and-paper is just sooooo trying…how he writes more easily on a keyboard. Boy, did I feel like a big wuss. It was a truly humbling experience.

It was a fitting send-off. Tomorrow morning I’ll jump a flight to the northwest part of Iceland, to Isafjördur, where I’ll rejoin Polar Bear and we’ll head to Greenland. Maybe. Yesterday, on the flight over the southern cape of that mystical land, I saw quite a bit of ice so we’ll see what happens (last week, Polar Bear was turned back by the ice). I’m hopeful of reaching Greenland via boat but again: it’s not up to me. Either way, we’ll give it a shot. And assuming we get through, I’ll be incommunicado for the three week-long trips on the schedule. My next connection to the modern world will come upon our return to Iceland in late August.

So enjoy the rest of your summer. I lived in Alaska, but even I’ve been shocked in the change in the light at this latitude in just two weeks: it’s pitch dark out now whereas when I was here last, it was a pleasant surprise to see the moon in an otherwise daylight sky. The lesson is clear: light and summer (and a few other things…) are fleeting. They are to be savored, made the most of. Because it’s a long time till they come ’round again…

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