I have a lot of free time on my hands since today marks the first official day of my March vacation. Mark and I travelled to Florida for nine days in February and while I am planning a trip to Finland to see both Scandinavian Music Group and Värttinä in concert in April, I still have weeks of vacation time to use up. I haven’t spent vacation time at home since I was single. I usually go somewhere when I am on vacation, yet from now until March 19, I will be at home. Thus there is no excuse to delay catching up on my blog posts, and I present the third and final instalment about the books and DVD’s I bought last summer in Iceland.
In the summer of 1627, Moorish corsairs from the north coast of Africa raided Heimaey, the only inhabited island of Vestmannaeyjar, and kidnapped 242 islanders. They were sold into slavery in Algeria. There is probably Icelandic blood among the Algerian population. Some of the slaves managed to escape or were able to buy their freedom and make their way back to Iceland. The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson: Captured by Pirates in 1627 is a slave memoir. When I was at the Heimaey church I photographed an engraved panel on its door, depicting the Moorish invasion:
Mark and I plan to visit Iceland again. We would like to see the Vestfirðir peninsula (known in English as Westfjords) and more of Vatnajökull. We would also like to crisscross Iceland’s interior, which can be done by a guided tour. However if you wish to risk making the trek yourself, I recommend you read:
My Trip Through the Interior of Iceland by Anna María Sigurjónsdóttir. Incredible photos of unseen Iceland, plus plenty of hazards you will wish to avoid. Just look at the cover: you’ll have to cross rivers like this and the photos showed several occasions where Anna María got stuck in the middle of the water. There are no roads here. You see how closely Iceland resembles a lunar landscape when you explore its uninhabited interior.
For a history of Iceland from its earliest day of habitation, I got this:
Planning in Iceland: From the Settlement to Present Times by Trausti Valsson. I knew what kind of book it was just by its cover: look at those maps. This book was full of city plans throughout Reykjavík’s history, and traced the earliest settlements which do not survive (like Þingvellir) because they consisted of tents and camps. Trausti offered a wider scope of settlement in showing how the Icelandic environment affected habitation, and how the land and its many dangers influenced people and their surroundings.
While in Heimaey I heard about the heroic story of Guðlaugur Friðþórsson. When Mark and I had a boat tour around the island, the guide showed us the rocky coast where Guðlaugur arrived after swimming six hours in 5°C water. The movie “djúpið” was based on this survival story. This DVD has English subtitles and was made for European DVD players, so I am thankful that Mark got me an international DVD player a few years ago.
The largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland is in Canada, specifically in the province of Manitoba.
“Westward Bound” is a three-DVD set about the Icelandic migration to North America from 1875 to 1914, when nearly a fourth of the country left home to seek a new life.
Whenever I set foot in an Icelandic bookstore I had to prepare myself for sticker shock. Since I had scanned the covers of some of these books and DVD’s at work literally just a day or two after arriving home from vacation, some of them still had their price stickers on the cellophane wrapping. You can do your own currency conversions. I was very happy to see that in most of the time, Icelandic bookstores leave out a display copy yet seal all the others, so you can be assured of a pristine book when you buy it and it makes it easier to transport home in immaculate condition. I also have a habit of packing my suitcase with enormous bubble envelopes to pack books in, giving them the extra protection that all books rightfully need. As can be expected, many of the books about Iceland in English are imported from North America and England. There was no need for me to pay these prices for domestic imprints which I could get for one third or even one quarter of the price back home. So I took some notes of a few titles and bought them later on-line.
The works of Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness are all over Iceland. This can be expected, and I was glad to see him front and centre in every Icelandic bookstore. The Vintage paperback English translations are attractive in their artwork and colours. I read Iceland’s Bell once I got home from Iceland and decided to buy his masterpiece, Independent People, since my library system didn’t have it in its collection. Coincidentally, Mark’s sister gave us a copy of Independent People (to share) this past Christmas. My Mark is not much of a reader of books. He loves his newspapers and magazines but in the twelve years we have been together he has not read many books cover to cover. Between the two of us, Mark read Independent People before I did. I find this highly attractive of him. I like books and people who read them and show me a man as attractive as Mark with a finished book in his hand and watch me swoon. I have been nagging him for weeks that he must write a book review. We have each read a different novel by Halldór, and on our next trip to Iceland we must stop in to visit his home. Halldór’s home was donated by his widow to the state and opened as a museum in 2004. We drove past the road to Halldór’s home as we left Reykjavík.
The Manuscripts of Iceland, one of many such books on the topic available, was, ironically, printed in Iceland yet so much cheaper to buy at home. Pictures of these precious texts, the illustrations and the ancient bound books will make you salivate.
The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection is all over Iceland. This is an enormous paperback, of brick thickness at 782 pages. My library has this book in a hardcover edition yet it was extremely cheap ($17.76 CDN versus over $50 CDN in Iceland) so I decided to buy it as a “souvenir” from our trip. I would love to read the sagas, yet one such saga was not included in this collection:
Njal’s Saga was recommended while I was in Iceland, and this very Penguin edition was for sale there. I saved a bundle by buying it when I got home.
At the end of the month I fly to Helsinki (literally: my flight is on March 31). No doubt I will be buying more books and I am glad to have finally finished blogging about my Icelandic trip. Stay tuned for kirja news from Akateeminen Kirjakauppa, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa and Kirjatori.