The low and sad sky is filled with a dense moisture that sticks on me and creeps under the skin. The first impact of this lost island between America and Europe, is the bitter cold, even in the summer, and the immense secular lava horizons. It is not precisely the scenario of a welcoming land and the road that connects the airport to the capital is just a mere but clear taste of it. This paved artery, while I am travelling by coach considering that Iceland does not have any trains, divides an expanse of solidified lava on which tundra is growing. This bright, green and soft peach fuzz covers a desert of large lava which flows and that looks like an ocean of petrified waves. I can imagine this dense glowing lava, millions of years ago, slowly springing out from the earth and settling tired on Icelandic land. It gradually gave rise to this huge crusty carpet that blankets Reykjanes peninsula as far as the eye can reach.
In the capital city I have an appointment with the owner of the house where I am to stay for the next three days, but I cannot find anyone. I look around in search of a young girl with some northern features who could be my Audur I-don’t-know-what (Icelandic surnames are so difficult to pronounce even for experienced traveller like me). Blonde and pale skin girls can be met anywhere and everywhere and there are so numerous. I don’t know what to do; I am stuck there with my suitcase looking around me. After a while a slim nice-looking lady comes along and with a jovial voice speaks to me in a nonchalant English and drives me to her house. We set foot in front of a charming cottage with a sloping roof, made of spikes and sharp angles, with large windows that let the light of the short Icelandic summer in. Audur shows me the bright apartment she owns on the floor and I was quite puzzled about it. It is austere and cosy at the same time: there is something in Nordic minimalism that, despite the clean lines and pure colours, makes Scandinavian homes incredibly cosy.
I’m excited by my trip and, besides being tired, I decide to take a long and pleasant walk to the city centre using the Saebraut coastal road. Dressed up with my padded jacket and hiking boots, as if I had to climb an arduous mountain, I go westwards, along the promenade bordered by clumps of long green grass that some workers are laying on the brownish ground. The rigid Icelandic weather is not so harsh on me and an unexpected sun makes the sea glistening, as if the water was dotted with myriads of tiny diamonds. What I can see goes far beyond the silvery extension of the bay. Along the Saebraut, I reach Solfar, the sculpture created by artist Jon Gunnar Arnason for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of Reykjavik as a capital city. He was inspired by ancient Viking boats. It is made of shiny steel and stylized arching oars and they reach the ground making the sculpture look like a strange insect leaning forward in the act of plunging into the dark waters. The circular platform on which it is settled is a mirror reflecting the sculpture. It gives the impression that the boat is effectively floating onto the ocean. Arnason, with his idea of sun travellers, which corresponds to the translation of the word “Solfar”, wanted to represent the ships that sailed west towards the sunset. The sculpture symbolizes the promise of a new territory to be discovered: the history of the birth of Icelandic people.
A land that was uninhabited and empty, Iceland was discovered in the true sense of the word, not the way America was, which was actually already inhabited before the arrival of Europeans. The island was colonized by brave men who arrived on a ship blowing through the cold stormy waters of what was called oceanus innavigabilis. The era of colonization of Iceland begins relatively late, in A.D. 870 after Vikings from Norway and Denmark landed there. As early as A.D. 865, Norwegian Floki Vilgerdarson, fleeing from his native country because of bloody political disputes, tried to settle down on this unknown island, but he was rejected by its harsh, untamed and indomitable land. For two years, he tried to start a permanent settlement, but he was pretty soon discouraged by terrible weather conditions and impressive icebergs floating adrift, and thus had to give up. Eventually, he withdrew, defeated, down, blue and with regret decided to rename this unwelcoming island with the basic name of “Island”, (Iceland), the land of ice. The Norwegians, in A.D. 871, tried again with Ingolfur Arnarson who managed to hold on and went down in history as the first colonizer of Iceland. The colonization era thus began with a score of farmers coming from Scandinavian peninsula, fleeing the despotic Norwegian king(s), flocked in droves on the island with the hope of finding freedom and independence. It is a story, in some ways, similar to the colonization of Northern America: people in quest for a better life, dreaming of a new country where they can start from square one again, away from the constraints of the old continent. If the new continent for Europeans represented the American Dream, for the Norwegians the distant island in the Atlantic was their Icelandic Dream. Finally, in A.D. 930, the settlers proclaimed the Free State of Iceland, and founded the first parliament in Europe, in Thingvellir, 50 kms away from Reykjavik.
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