Monthly Archives: May 2014

My Life in Norðragøta

The stream going past my house in Norðagøta...

The stream going past my house in Norðragøta.

I have now been in the Faroe Islands for just over a week. It feels like much longer (in the best possible way). Though I am just getting started with my journalism work and research, it’s been a very busy week as I’ve adapted to my new lifestyle.

My situation could not be any better. I am staying with an incredibly friendly family who include me in all of their activities and love helping me to learn the Faroese language and the culture. A lot of my time this week has been spent doing things with them, from making a late mother’s day breakfast to going to the extended family knitting club. I have been settling in to the routines of the house, and just like anyone else, I wash dishes, cook meals and take out the dog, Lolli. Even during the day, when most of the others are working, I am never lonely. Eight people live in this house, and other relatives and friends drop by regularly as well, coming and going at all hours.

My room here in Norðagøta

My bedroom and puppy for the summer!

My village, Norðragøta, is a beautiful and very old village with a central location on the main bus route and road between the two biggest Faroese towns, Tórshavn and Klaksvík. Though I ended up here by chance, I couldn’t have picked a better place to live.

A Faroese Stamp featuring Húsini hjá Peri, the old part of Norðragøta with its lovely turf roofs.

A Faroese Stamp featuring Húsini hjá Peri, the old part of Norðragøta with its lovely turf roofs.

Norðragøta has a population of 550, and the larger “Gøta” area, which comprises Norðragøta as well as Gøtueiði, Gøtugjógv and Syðrugøta, is home to just over 1,000. By Faroese terms, that’s right in the middle — not a booming metropolis like the capital (population 12,500), nor one of the many tiny, remote villages. I can walk to a small grocery store, a gas station, a soccer stadium, a fairly large and modern church and several other commodities, but the village still has a friendly and relaxed bucolic feeling.

Horses and mountains from my window in Norðagøta.

Horses and mountains from my window in Norðragøta.

Wherever you are, you can hear the crying of the gulls and the bleating of the sheep. From my window, I can almost always see children playing in the stream, dogs walking around freely on the roads and even a few horses, who are allowed to graze in alternating yards and fields and confined only by portable rope fences that are moved every few days.

The Faroe Islands in Vertical: Here you can quickly see the difference between the Bøur, or infield, and the Hagi, or outfield, where sheep are kept in different seasons.

The Faroe Islands in Vertical: Here you can quickly see the difference between the Bøur, or infield, and the Hagi, or outfield, where sheep are kept in different seasons.

Norðragøta is quite a typical Faroese village situated, like everything in the Faroes, on narrow bits of almost-flat land between the mountains and the sea. Things are arranged almost vertically here — the sea; the beach and the harbour; the fish factory; the houses and businesses; the infield; the outfield; the cliffs; the mountain-top fog; the sky — are all stacked like layers of coloured sand in a jar.

Gøta also has a few special distinctions. It is the home of Eivør Pálsdóttir, one of the most famous Faroese singers, and the annual G! Music Festival. Gøtuvík is one of the largest bays in the Faroes, and the Stóragjógv cleft that empties into it is the largest such canyon on the islands.

Traditional Faroese church in Norðagøta

Traditional Faroese church in Norðragøta, complete with turf roof.

Gøta also features prominently in the Faroe Islander’s Saga, or Færeyingasaga, as one of the main characters, the heathen Viking chief, Tróndur í Gøtu, had his farm right here! In the oldest part of Norðragøta, there are several turf-roofed houses, a 200-year-old traditional Faroese church, and a living-history museum at the old house Blásastova, where my host family’s ancestors lived.  This is one of the best places in the islands for visitors to experience what Faroese village life was like not so long ago.

Norðragøta already feels like home to me. I’m very excited to spend the summer here!

Through Bergen, with Love

Bergen as seen from the top of Mt. Fløyen.

Bergen as seen from the top of Mt. Fløyen.

En route to the Faroe Islands, I spent several days in the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen. One does not simply fly into the Faroe Islands, after all. Although Atlantic Airways (the Faroese national airline) is expanding its services pretty quickly, coming from America you still need to connect in one of a handful of European cities. You’ll have to book the flights separately, and, with flights in and out of the Faroes frequently delayed (sometimes for days) its good to have some buffer time in between. That gave me the perfect opportunity for a short stay in Bergen, where I studied abroad in 2012. The plan was perfect — I could stay with friends and even attend the 200th Jubilee celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai.

Bergen's historic wooden wharf (Bryggen), the tallship Statsraad Lehmkuhl and a Ferris Wheel for the Bicentennial celebrations.

From right to left: The famous tall-ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a Ferris Wheel for the Bicentennial celebrations, the Haakonshalle and Rosenkrantz Torn medieval buildings, and Bergen’s historic wooden wharf (Bryggen).

Aside from convenience and pleasure, there was also something romantic about the idea of entering the Faroe Islands through Bergen. Norway, and especially Bergen, have long had a tight connection to the islands, which they controlled during Viking and Hanseatic times. When the Danes took over Norway, they took the Faroes as well — and kept them when Norway was handed over first to the Swedes and then, finally, to the Norwegians themselves. Copenhagen long ago replaced Bergen as the “capital across the water” where Faroese goods were traded and religious and political authorities reported. But Norway and the Faroe Islands continue to resemble and remember each other in many ways.

Unlike in the rest of the world — and even in the rest of Europe — the Faroes are well known in Norway. Some Norwegians have even been there. The blank stares mentions of the Faroes elicited for me in the United States were replaced with a wide variety of reactions —  “Wow, you’ll love it!” “How intriguing.” “What a crazy place…” “I had a Faroese friend once.” “I love Faroese music.” “I’m applying for a job there.” “I’ve always wanted to go there!” “Their language is so strange, it’s like you can almost understand it, but not quite…”

High above the sea on Damsgårdsfjell!

Rising high over the sea on Damsgårdsfjell!

Hiking on Mt. Ulriken, high above the city.

Hiking on Mt. Ulriken, high above the city.

In many ways, Bergen was a good halfway point between where I was coming from and where I was going. A good place to acclimatise. The mountains and the sea, the rain and cool summer weather, the wool sweaters and smell of fish — these I would find in the Faroes as well. The size of the bustling city, the birch and oak and pine — these I would still have to leave behind. Norwegian was harder on my brain and tongue than my native English, but much easier and more familiar than the more-inflected and less-phonetic Faroese.

Fishing and picnicking on Mt. Sandviken.

Fishing and picnicking on Mt. Sandviken.

I drank deeply of the pure mountain water I had missed so much. I walked so far that blisters broke through my tender flatland feet. I saw friends I had missed for many months, meeting them in bars and cafes, by lakes up on the fells, in cozy homes where the familiar smell of wet wood and the warmth of heated floors nearly brought me to nostalgic tears.

Syttende Mai 1

The Syttende Mai Parade

Syttende Mai was a day to remember. We gathered for the traditional holiday breakfast, with puddings and fenelår sausage and champagne, and walked down to the city along with thousands of Norwegians who had gathered in their Sunday best or beautiful Bunads, the Norwegian national dress that varies spectacularly and colorfully from region to region.

Spectators at the Syttende Mai Parade

Spectators at the Syttende Mai Parade

We wandered blissfully from the parade to a cozy cafe packed tight with the festive air, to the statue of Ivar Aasen to celebrate the linguistic diversity of Norway, to the city’s oldest student bar up on the cliff, down to the wharf for ice cream, back to Årstad, on the other side of the harbor, to grill as the afternoon light shifted into a long, light Nordic evening. And we sang about Norway, in Nynorsk and in Bokmål, sometimes stomping the deck so hard that I was afraid the old boards would break.

After a short break when the French girls sang their anthem and I sang an Ozark ballad (I decided on Matty Groves), my friend Kurt turned to me and sang,

“Vilja tær hoyra kvæði mítt?”

The first words to Ormurin Langi — one of the most famous Faroese kvæði. “Do you want to hear my ballad?”

I answered,

Vilja tær orðum trúgva,
um hann Ólav Trygvason,
hagar skal ríman snúgva.

Glymur dansur í høll,
dans sláið í ring:
Glaðir ríða Noregsmenn
til Hildar ting.

Now that was good fun! Here were cultural roots that ran deeper than the sundering sea. I pulled up the lyrics on my phone so we could all sing along, some tripping over the orthography here and there or interrupting to say, “That’s just like an old word from my region! Like something my grandfather would say!”

In English, the lyrics mean something like this:

Will you believe the words,
About Olav Tryggvasson,
Here’s how the rhyme revolves.

Raucous dance in the Hall,
Dance, form a ring,
Gladly ride Norway’s men,
To Hild’s War Gathering.

Singing Anthems, Ballads, and Kvæði

Singing Anthems, Ballads, and Kvæði

At some point, an exchange student came by to ask Kurt what was going on.

“This is a song that they sing on the Faroe Islands,” he told him. “That’s a little group of islands way out in the sea between here and Iceland. We like the way they sing. And this song is about a Norwegian king; they celebrate him on their national day. This makes us very happy.”

What am I doing in the Faroe Islands?

My name is Miranda Metheny, I’m a little American girl from the Missouri School of Journalism, and I’ll be spending this summer in the Faroe Islands to do my master’s project.

The Old Town of Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

The Old Town of Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

I first visited the Faroe Islands for a short visit in 2012. I was overwhelmed by their unique beauty and culture — simply put, it was the most remarkable and fascinating place I had ever been.

When I went home, I read everything I could get my hands on about the Faroe Islands. Unfortunately, I found that most foreign articles about the islands were based on short stays, were structured along stereotypical lines and exotified the place by focusing more on the extremes (such as the more remote islands) and on the past than on the complex and modern society most Faroe Islanders now live in. In short, they framed the Faroe Islands in certain limited ways that left out a lot of the reality I had experienced, even briefly.

When it came time to finish my master’s degree at the University of Missouri with one final journalism project, I saw my chance to come back to this amazing place. I’ll be here until August, learning the Faroese language and experiencing the culture from as many angles as possible.

For my project, I will be taking photographs and writing articles about travel and cultural topics such as Faroese music and food, as well as the lives of young women here. That last topic is especially interesting to me as I fall within the demographic (except for the “Faroese” part, of course), the Faroe Islands are currently experiencing a disproportionate shortage of women, and the coverage I have seen of this issue has been especially prone to framing and stereotyping. I’ll also interview Faroese people about stereotypes, cultural identity, and the representation of the Faroes in foreign media.

I hope you will enjoy following my adventures in the amazing “Land of Maybe” (so called because little is certain in a place with such changeable weather). Feel free to contact me by commenting, sending me an email or looking me up on LinkedIn or Facebook. I can’t wait to get started!

Múli was the last village in the Faroe Islands to get electricity. Now it is all but abandoned, but many sheep live there and walk among it's houses.

Múli was the last village in the Faroe Islands to get electricity. Now it is all but abandoned, but many sheep live there and walk among its houses.