Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Renown for their literacy, this print of an early etching
shows a family in a turf home being read to around a fire.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our family is flying to Iceland next Sunday, June 7th, an approximately 6-hour direct flight from Minneapolis to the Keflavik airport.

Our plans were laid over a year ago, with details and pre-payment for airfares and accommodations made in advance.  We worked with one of the staff of the Icelandic Farm Holidays cooperative, which arranges for stays in rural Icelandic locations where farms have B & B's, or hotels, ranging from more rustic to very modern.   In Iceland, once away from Reykjavik, the modern day capital, there are miles of countryside between farms, with a few villages scattered here and there, but mostly farms.  These farm settings, many of them, go back to very early times, and they define the life of Icelanders from nearly the time of settlement (approx. 930 onward) through the early part of the 20th century.   Today these farms are modern, raising sheep, and sometimes cows with dairy, but the land as a rule does not support large herds of cattle, which require a great amount of cropland to support them.  Only in certain areas, in river valleys and along glacial outflows, or in the bottomlands near inlets, is there sufficient level land fertile enough to raise crops.  Cultivation farming, as we know it here, is for the most part nonexistent.

But it is precisely these differences in culture and appearances that makes Iceland intriguing and inviting to visitors, the contrasts with volcanoes, several of them active, glaciers, geysers and vast lava fields, in addition to the green valleys with streams and coastal lands.  It is impossible to visit this island nation and see the land without forming a great appreciation for their hardships, cleverness in adaptation, and their respect for their genealogy and forbears.

Having Icelandic family connections will heighten our interest and appreciation, too, as well as knowing several other people with whom we hope to visit during our brief stay.

Make no mistake about it, as a nation Icelanders are kind and intelligent people who have, by and large, made the most of their independent roots.  To more fully appreciate this, we've been reading a number of books, trying to absorb the Icelandic mindset as best we can, to further understand those with whom we'll visit and encounter in our one week of travels.   The famous sagas written centuries ago, of course, speak to this independence, and the Haldor Laxness book Independent People ought to be required reading for all visitors, but modern day books about Iceland and its people - I even include the popular Detective Erlandur fiction series by author Arnauldur Indridason among our reading - are means of learning more about the people, their habits, interests and aspirations.

It is the Icelandic culture that is really interesting, that brings an otherwise beautiful but barren landscape to life.  Theirs is a very modern culture, a reflection of a nation that relies on fishing and farming (sheep raising especially), but also a people who are well-educated, well-read, who can also boast of modern, technology-driven enterprises related to geothermal energy and genetics.

Tourism is very important to the Icelandic economy, and we've been watching closely the labor strikes that were scheduled for late May and the first week in June.   Work groups that could have counted among them nearly 70,000 workers (almost 1/4 of the population) had each announced two days of planned strikes, and if negotiations didn't measure up, then a full blown strike would imminently follow.

Fortunately for us, included in the work groups most heavily relied upon by the tourism industry, such as trucking, freight handling at airports, food inspections, and the service industry as a whole, were settled late last week, according to news we read online in the Iceland Monitor.

There's much to see and do in the countryside, more than
we can begin to take in during our week.  But the Icelandic Farm
Holidays organization was extremely helpful in planning
our vacation, including our overnight stays in country lodging
outside Reykjavik.  (Booklet has maps, places to stay, etc.)
The Monitor's headline read:   Strike called off:  waffles time!   Deputy State negotiator Magnus Jonsson was shown with a brimming bowl of waffle batter.  "Making waffles," the article read, "is a traditional way of marking and celebrating the successful conclusion of negotiations of this type."

Details of the settlement have yet to come out, but increases metered over a several year period were hinted at.

Wages have been at a standstill and the economy was more or less stagnant until this past year, ever since the bottom dropped out in 2008.  Workers were seeking to make up lost ground in wages.

With our trip already planned and most of it already paid for, we were greatly relieved, not wanting to cancel or to land in an island nation virtually stopped due to worker strikes.

Not a bad way to bring both sides closer together in a small nation with small cities, where grudges and bitterness can linger and fester.  Waffles for everyone, we thought, if that will help make our trip go more smoothly.

-  Dick Purinton

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