HON195 Student Post By: Emma Quinn, History Major (w/ an education 7-12 pathway), Archaeology and Honors Minors
The Roads of Reykjavik
“In regard to the horizon, it is nothing that is in between and it is this nothing that you look at when you forget that you are looking out the window. You are not just looking, you are just thinking. But you don’t see anything. This is where you as the observer, create your own image, according to your own knowledge and experiences.” – George Gundi, Horizons.
The day began as it ended; looking through the window of Geocamp, watching the seemingly endless horizon. Largely devoid of trees, the eye stretches for hundreds of miles before it is met with mountain and shoreline.
When breakfast (skyr and cheerios) was over, and our backpacks were slung onto our shoulders, we boarded the bus ready for a day of adventures. Traveling through the roads of Keflavik, I gained a greater understanding of Jon Kallmann’s Stephenson’s novel, Fish have no Feet. Keflavik, truly does seem like a land god had lost and then forgotten. In order to get to the Settlement museum (our first of many stops) we traveled through a sea of endless rotaries. If we had only closed our eyes, it would seem as if we were back in Gorham. As we waded through the narrow streets filled with bus after bus of tourists, we finally were greeted with the city of Reykjavik. Unable to park near the museum, Einar (an employee of Geocamp and our tour guide for the day) led us through Reykjavik’s Hijómskálagarður Park, which lies just a few steps away from the city center. Hljómskálagarður, Einar described, surrounds the south part of Tjörnin (the Lake), and holds several statues and works of art, many of whom were created by female Icelandic sculptors. Although not created by a female sculptor, one of my favorite pieces of art located in Hljómskálagarður Park was the large statue of Tómas Guðmundsson, an Icelandic poet, who permanently sits on a bench reflecting as he looks upon the lake. Another fascinating sculpture, is the peace stone for Hiroshima. Donated by a Hiroshima-based citizen group, the stone (which was hit by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima) is engraved with the image of a goddess, and the words “From Hiroshima” serving as both a witness of the tragedy, and as a messenger of peace. These peace stones can be found in ninety-seven other countries, serving as a reminder for everlasting peace. Looking at the stone from Hiroshima, whilst in Iceland, about the United States bombing on Hiroshima, was extremely poignant, illustrating the interconnectedness of the world, and the far-reaching consequences of our actions. In addition, to the many beautiful sculptures, the park was filled with many common flaura to Maine, such as lupines, bachelor buttons, queen anne’s lace, and the ever constant buttercup.
After the walk through Hljómskálagarður Park, we finally arrived at the Settlement Exhibition. Upon arrival we were greeted by Jón Páll Björnsson , a historian who gave us a fascinating tour of the museum. As we learned, the Settlement Exhibition centers around the remains of a tenth century longhouse which has been preserved in situ. Discovered during the excavation of the oldest district in Reykjavik, the longhouse and part of a wall (found just north of the longhouse), remain the earliest relic of human habitation in Iceland (radiocarbon dated to approximately 871 AD). Unlike other preserved viking longhouses, the ruins include a front room, indicating the large wealth of its inhabitants. The long houses walls and roof were made of turf (a practice still utilized today). Held by two rows of posts, a large hearth sat in the middle of the house (one of the largest hearths in all of Iceland). Furthermore unique, was the discovery of the spine of a horse or cow and other bones along the western wall, indicating the presence of an indoor stall which would have been created to display the power and prestige of its owner. A 3D computer can allow museum goers to delve into the longhouse, exploring every nook and cranny.
Along the outside of the exhibit, the walls were lined with a reconstruction of the vegetation and landscape of the tenth century. Within the photographs, videos had been inserted, displaying the settlers ever changing life. Starting with the earliest settlements and ending with the Christianization of Iceland in AD 1000, the museum illustrates the constant evolution in early Icelanders lives. When the hall was inhabited, the seashore was much closer than it is today. A global issue among archaeologists, land erosion is causing the sea to forever claim precious artifacts. Thus, the discovery of fish-hooks and sinkers within the hall site was extremely important. Archaeology is the researching of artifacts from human habitation in the past, as well as the tracing of people of the past and their actions. By carefully examining, preserving, and studying these artifacts, Archaeologists help piece together the puzzle of the past, drawing conclusions about the environment, society, and everyday life of previous cultures. While it is tempting to only study Viking swords, Jón Páll Björnsson points out, it is more important to examine the fish hammer. It is not the golden idol that will hold the key to unlock the past, but the temple. Overall, the Settlement Museum, was a wonderful exhibit, that allowed us to examine the society, landscape, and culture of tenth century Reykjavik. In the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
After the Settlement Museum, we once again boarded the bus to travel to a different section of Reykjavik, where we explored the Hofdi House, which was built in 1909. Initially serving as the house for the French consul, more famously the Hofdi House was the location of the 1986 summit meeting of President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which marked the end of the Cold War, furthermore illustrating the deep connection between Iceland and the United States of America. Across the green space, a small piece of the Berlin Wall stands, further memorializing the end of the Cold War and adding poignancy to Iceland’s connection with the world. After the Hofdi House, Einar led us on a beautiful shoreline walk, where we saw many sculptures, including the famous Sun Voyager.
Hungry, we made our way to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, an Icelandic hot dog stand made famous by former president Bill Clinton. If anyone is heading to Reykjavik, I highly recommend making a pit stop!
Back on the bus, with our bellies full, we watched the shoreline dissipate as we trudged over to Reykjavik University (a partnering institution with the University of Southern Maine) There we met with Ari Kristinn Jónsson, the president of the Reykjavik University, as well as other faculty, and students. As we explored the university, we were told about the various exciting new developments, such as adapting their bachelor program into English, introducing a fisheries management program on the Westman Islands, and creating a tourism and hospitality program with the help of the University of Southern Maine
After hearing about the exciting happenings at Reykjavik University, we went to the Saga Museum where we listened to narration about various sagas in Icelandic culture. After touring the wax figurines, we came to everyone’s favorite part of the museum, the costume room. Once there, my classmates and I dressed up as the characters from the Saga, such as Lief Erickson, Freydis, and even Thor! After the wonderful tour of the Saga Museum, we returned to Keflavik where we truly immersed ourselves in Icelandic culture. Rather than returning to Geocamp,fifteen students and three of the faculty traveled to the public pool in Keflavik. Having learned all about pool culture from Libby, it was thrilling to experience a unique aspect of Icelandic society. Unlike in the United States where we step out of our street clothes and immediately enter into the pool, Icelandic society requires you to fully shower in the nude. With no private stalls, you must shower communally. While a daunting task to many of us who are used to our privacy, we all successfully rose to the challenge. Fully equipped with an outdoor swimming pool, three hot tubs, and a sauna, my classmates and I quickly and fully embraced Icelandic pool life.
After the pool, we returned to Geocamp, where we had a delicious home-cooked meal consisting of chicken, salad, and of course french fries. Although already stuffed, we all readily dug into delicious chocolate and raspberry cake, in honor of my nineteenth birthday. Full to the brim, we waddled back to our apartments, where I now sit. Sipping black currant tea, I look out the window, momentarily taking a break from writing this post, I can’t help but smile about quite possibly the best birthday of my life. Although it is nearly midnight, the sky is as bright as it would be if it was seven in the morning. Before I return to my laptop, I look out once more. Although we should all be in bed, the sounds of laughter can be heard throughout the apartments. The air, containing a palpable excitement for adventures yet to come. As we look across the Land of the Midnight Sun, purples, pinks and oranges begin to dance across the sky, a momentary break in the horizon.