Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 logo.
Original Grindstop Logo
The former logo, which bore the image of the Faroese flag, or Merkið, was criticized by Faroese for desecrating the image of their flag. Using Merkið in this manner is also illegal under Faroese law.
New GrindStop logo
The new logo represents a significant change. It now features bloody seas under the islet of Tindhólmur. References to the Faroese flag have been removed.
In an update to their Facebook page, Sea Shepherd writes, “The new campaign logo shows that we are not anti-Faroese, but we are opposed to and will remain present in the Faroe Islands to prevent the brutal slaughter of cetaceans.”
At a press conference in the Faroe Islands, they said that they made the decision to redesign the logo based on conversations with their supporters in the Faroe Islands. No mention was made of any legal concerns.
An article on the Faroese website aktuelt.fo quoted Sea Shepherd leader Scott West as saying, “We have listened to the Faroese people — we understand, that the flag is sacred for the Faroese, so we made a mistake using it in this year’s campaign logo.” (Vit hava lurtað eftir, hvat føroyingar siga – vit skilja, at flaggið er heilagt fyri føroyingar, tí var tað eitt mistak av okkum at brúka Merkið í búmerkinum fyri kampanjuna í ár.)
Faroese social media is exploding with commentary about Sea Shepherd’s Grindstop 2014 anti-whaling campaign.
The Faroe Islands is being invaded this summer by The Sea Shepherd Conversation Society, which is coming with more than 500 volunteers in an attempt to stop the Grindadráp, or Faroese whale hunt, by “monitoring the 23 grind bays, deterring the dolphins from shore, and taking direct action to intervene against a grind if necessary.” Operation Grindstop 2014 will be the largest land- and sea-based campaign in the organization’s history.
The Grindadráp and Sea Shepherd are both controversial in their own way.
The Grindadráp / Faroese Killing of Pilot Whales
Photo: FaroeIslandsPhoto.com / Kasper Solberg
The Faroese have hunted pilot whales for hundreds of years, and their meat and blubber formed an invaluable part of their diet in the past, when food was scarce in this remote part of the world. Even today, whale meat and blubber is the Faroese national dish, and the hunt is considered one of the cornerstones of Faroese culture. The main threat to the consumption of pilot whale, as the Faroese see it, are the health effects of the high mercury content in whale meat today.
The pilot whale is not listed as an endangered species (as some anti-whaling activists claim) and the hunt is not considered to be a threat by organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the American Cetacean Society, and the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission to pose a threat to the species. The IUCN’s Red List listing of the pilot whale says that “the Faroese catch is probably sustainable.”
While some argue that the tradition is outdated and unnecessarily cruel, especially since it involves the killing of such intelligent or otherwise special animals, many Faroese argue that killing whales for food in the grindadráp is as humane, if not more so, than the slaughter of factory-raised animals, which merely has the public relations advantage of taking place behind closed doors so the blood doesn’t disturb the grocery-shopping, meat-eating public.
Sea Shepherd is an environmental activist group whose founder, Paul Watson, split off from Greenpeace due to his confrontational tactics. Many people around the world see Sea Shepherd’s members and volunteers as heroes protecting the whales, and they have a large media presence including, in the past, a reality TV show called Whale Wars. Others, however, decry the organization’s disregard for facts and their vigilante actions (they have been called eco-terrorists and faced charges for assault and sabotage, among others).
For more on the Sea Shepherd controversy, you can find many news articles about Paul Watson and the organization, such as this one from The Telegraph.
Grindstop 2014: The Beginning
The Sea Shepherd Grindstop volunteers started arriving in the Faroes last week, provoking a wide range of reactions from Faroe Islanders. Many wish the protestors would not be allowed into the country. Others say that it is important to treat them with respect as visitors, and that, on the bright side, they will be forced to spend money in the islands. There is also a small group of Faroe Islanders who are themselves against the grindadráp, despite the inherent difficulty of going against the established culture in a small community. A Facebook group called “Faroe Islanders against the Grind” counts 104 members.
Faroe Islanders Against the Grind
In comparison, another Facebook group was created about three hours ago to call for banning Sea Shepherd from the Faroe Islands. The group currently has 712 members.
Ban Sea Shepherd
Whatever the attitude, the presence of such a large group is bound to have an impact on the islands this summer. With fewer than 50,000 people living in the Faroe Islands, 500 protestors can be considered the equivalent of 3 million foreign Muslims, Jews and vegetarians invading the United States to demand that Americans stop slaughtering pigs and consuming pork products.
One satirical Faroese website even went to far as to announce a fake grindadráp, which it said would be held at Vatnsoyrar — the only village that is not on the coastline, but rather on the shores of the largest Faroese lake! The explanation was that in order to avoid Sea Shepherd, they would shoot the whales through a waterfall. I don’t know whether any Sea Shepherd people showed up in Vatnsoyrar, but I did find the link posted to their Grindstop Facebook page by concerned readers.
Fake Grindadráp in Vatnsoyrar
Faroese people have also taken to defending themselves and asking questions back at the activists through social media. Oddur Á Lakjuni wrote, “I’m wondering here: The Faroese kill more sheep than they do whales… But there’s not a word of criticism from anywhere. Both are killed for food – although neither is absolutely necessary for survival (and to be honest: which item of food is, when you take it in isolation?)”
The volunteers have been scouting out beaches and appear to be rather bored, if social media updates consisting almost exclusively of volunteers looking out onto the empty sea and videos such as this one are anything to go by:
Mimmy Vágsheyg, a Faroese woman who opened a new cafe in Klaksvík this year, says that anti-whaling advocates have been harassing her online for months, sending her messages filled with graphic images and leaving phony bad reviews on her business listings. Vágsheyg does not serve whale meat at her cafe, but thinks that the group must be indiscriminately targeting Faroese businesses. “I’m just getting started here, I don’t need this!” she said.
Since Sea Shepherd started arriving en masse last week, Vágsheyg says they have come into her cafe to repeatedly check her menus for incriminating items. “I don’t understand why they come every day. Do they think I am hiding the whale?”
Now that I have been in the Faroe Islands for a few weeks, I have gotten started with my research interviews. I plan to talk to several Faroe Islanders of varying ages, genders, and places of residence about how the Faroe Islands are represented to foreigners through various media channels, and how they feel about those representations.
So far, I have conducted three formal interviews and more than a dozen informal conversations on this topic. One trend that has started to suggest itself is that the older interviewees have been more positive about representations of the Faroe Islands than the younger interviewees, even suggesting that the tourism imagery shows the islands in an unrealistically good light, while the younger interviewees seemed more bitter about anti-whaling sentiment and outdated representations.
A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands’ new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.
One amusing wrinkle in the interviews has been that many respondents have recognized people they know in the example media I’m presenting to them. In my very first interview, I showed part of a video, and my interviewee asked me if I would like him to introduce me to the people speaking in the video. In another interview, when I showed the above photo of the Faroese ring dance, the interviewee told me that she recognized “almost everyone” in the photograph, as they were all from Klaksvík!
When I was planning the interviews, the possible frames I felt that I had seen in representations of the Faroe Islands were exotification (through emphasis on the traditional ways of life or the remote, wild natural conditions), trivialization (due to the nation’s small size), and conflict (presenting the Faroe Islands as backwards, especially in regards to the controversial grindadráp).
So far, no one has mentioned the trivialization frame, except to say that many people are not aware of the Faroe Islands at all. One man told me an anecdote in which he was travelling and tried to explain where he was from to some people who had never heard of the Faroes. He said that it was in between Scotland and Iceland, and they insisted that no such country existed. He looked around for a map of Europe, and when he found one, the map itself was missing the Faroe Islands! He had to find a second map to prove that he was, indeed, from a real place.
Here are the main points I’ve heard so far about depictions of the Faroe Islands:
A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, “Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne,” which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.
– They focus more on old traditions, such as the ring dance, and less on growing, current trends like modern music and cuisine.
– They are antiquated, and haven’t caught up with the changes of the last 10-30 years.
– They imply that everyone in the Faroes is a sheep farmer or a fisherman.
– They play down or ignore the existence of modern institutions like hospitals, shops, and the University.
– Information about the Grindadráp is filled with inaccurate claims, such as that the pilot whales are endangered or killed for fun.
– They have beautiful photosand descriptions of the unique Faroese nature.
– However, they could be painting an unrealistic picture of good weather and endlessly clear skies, conditions which are rare in the Faroes though they do occur.
– They ignore the winter almost completely in favor of coverage of the brief tourism season (June-August).
– They are concerned that tourists might not understand that the Faroese weather is uncertain and changeable, and that everything in the Faroes is expensive.
A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.
So far, one of the most intriguing things to come up in an interview was one woman’s suggestion that many of the problems she saw in representations of the Faroe Islands had the same problematic root — that foreigners almost never travel to the islands in the winter. Not only does that ignore more than half of the year in the Faroes, she thinks the long, dark, stormy winter has a huge effect on the Faroese culture, and that, without understanding that, it’s impossible to explain the Faroese mentality or perspective on a wide range of issues.
My Faroese skills have improved to the point where I can explain my project, however badly and haltingly. This in and of itself feels like cause for celebration! I am also actually driving around, between villages, through tunnels, on mountain roads. Haven’t gone by myself yet, but I feel like I’m improving every time and no longer feel like I’m going to die — just potentially annoy every other driver on the road and maybe stall out the engine (sorry, little white car).
I’ve made a lot of contacts in the last week and feel much more prepared to get started with all the interviews and that sort of work now. Am I totally ready? Of course not. But I never will be. Still, I think things are going pretty well. And even if every day brings new challenges, that’s half the fun — so bring it on, Føroyar!
My first taste of anything Faroese was the language itself, when a friend sent me Týr’s Ormurin Langi, a heavy-metal recording of an old Faroese ballad, almost a decade ago. Later, I would come to know the landscapes, the culture, and the people as well, but part of me fell in love with just the words themselves.
In a way, that’s very fitting. Language is a hugely important part of cultural and national identity. You’ll find it at the heart of many a nationalistic movement. The Faroese language and its use played an important role in the movement towards Faroese autonomy, and continues to be a factor in negotiating distance from Denmark and concepts of what the Faroe Islands should be today.
The Faroese language is very important to most Faroese, for whom it is their mother tongue, inextricably tied to the culture and proof of their need for independent recognition. In “Cultural Rhapsody in Shift,” Faroese Anthropologist Firouz Gaini writes that “the language, first and foremost as a semantic system and an oral tradition, has dominated the scene and been widely recognized as the jewel of the Faroese culture.”
Until the mid-20th century, Danish was used in official matters, education, literature, and religious institutions. Even today, because of the size of the community, a huge variety of imported products and media are not translated into Faroese. The Faroese TV station, when it runs out of Faroese material, switches to whatever it can get from Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and American programming, generally subtitling in Danish if at all. The cell phones are Danish, and if you want to text in Faroese you’ll have to turn off the auto-correct and switch over to the Icelandic keyboard every time you need the letter ð (edh). Despite the huge push to translate all sorts of things from all parts of life, children still have to use many Danish textbooks and sometimes even take their exams in Danish. At a minimum, the Faroese are bilingual with Faroese and a local variety of Danish called Gøtudanskt, but many also speak good Danish, are trilingual with English, and even multilingual with other foreign languages on top of that.
One could spend twenty minutes just explaining the history of Faroese in conjunction with the other Scandinavian languages, but, in an attempt to make things brief, Faroese is descended from Old Norse, just like Icelandic and Norwegian. Danish and Swedish developed in a rather different direction, but Danish then had a huge effect on Faroese and especially Norwegian when they were under Danish rule. The result is that Faroese and Norwegian can be considered the most central of all Scandinavian languages, with Faroese retaining more grammatical complexity and similarity to Icelandic and Old Norse. The Faroese are in fact the best in the region at understanding all of the others.
Faroese is a highly inflected, highly irregular language with an inconsistently phonetic writing system.
When I say Faroese is highly inflected, I mean that they love “bending” words – or conjugating their verbs and declining their nouns. Verbs take different forms depending on who does them and when, and nouns are even worse. There are three different noun “cases” – Nominative, Accusative, and Dative, depending on whether the noun is acting as the subject, object, or direct object or according to its place within a certain idiomatic expression. Nouns come in three genders, and within each gender there are several possibilities for how the words within that gender can be bent. Then, of course, you also have to think about definite vs. indefinite nouns, because the definite marker goes at the end of the word and affects the bending. If you’re keeping track, that means each noun has 12 forms – not counting four genitive ones which are now rarely used.
Emergency Exit Row instructions in Faroese on at Atlantic Airways flight.
When I say Faroese is irregular, I mean that, despite all of these rules, you’ll find almost as many words that vary from the rules in at least some small way as you will words that follow them exactly. You’ll also find alternative ways to say all sorts of things – head, for example, can be høvur or høvd, or even heysur or knokkur.
Faroese also has some rare and strange vowel sounds, much as English does. This has been really hard for me to get used to, even though it’s not that different from my native language, simply because I’ve gotten so used to purer, simpler sounds in every other language I’ve learned. So you have to get used to that sort of irregularity.
The Faroese writing system is one of the biggest headaches for both native and foreign learners. I’m constantly asked here if I can also write Faroese. It would be very easy for someone learning the language by ear here to be completely illiterate. The relationship between the letters and the sounds is quite irregular, like in English or French, and takes a lot of getting used to. The reason for this is that when the written language was developed, and quite late at that (1854), the primary goal was not phonetic fidelity but rather etymological clarity. The written language is so clear about its roots that I can basically read Icelandic and Old Norse now, even though the spoken language has diverged greatly since that time. A secondary advantage of this writing system is that it avoided privileging any specific Faroese dialect (yes, that’s right – in a nation of less than 50,000 people, there are several dialects). That latter is what I’ve been told, anyway. From where I’m standing, it seems to me that that’s true only because the written language is so out of touch that it works equally poorly, and thus equally well, with every spoken dialect.
To give just one – although admittedly particularly egregious – example of the spelling nonsense, consider the letter ð (edh). Students of linguistic notation, Old English, or Icelandic will think they know this friendly character. It normally makes a voiced th sound (like in “then” or “there.”) Not in Faroese, though. In Faroese, it means whatever it feels like. Usually that’s some sort of semi-vocalic glide, like a W, V, or Y. But sometimes it’s a G. In exactly one word, it’s a D. I only wish I were joking.
“Gjógv” is the name for this village and the Faroese word for Gorge. Think it’s pronounced Jogv or Gyoegv? Think again. It’s more like Jeggv!
All of this makes Faroese quite a bit harder than the average Indo-European language to learn. But I also find it also incredibly rewarding because it has such a tight and fascinating connection with the culture here. It’s lovely to see how much people value and take an interest in their own language — that enthusiasm makes the learning process, even if slow and slightly painful at times, an adventure I’m happy to embark on.
Sheep graze beside Skúladepilin í Suðuroy, which serves as the island’s high school and a school for health professionals. The school opened in 2009 and has been a rare new construction on an island that continues to experience population loss.
I spent my first weekend in the Faroe Islands on the island of Suðuroy, the southernmost island in the Faroe Islands. Suðuroy interests me because it is on track to become the only large island not connected to the others by undersea tunnel. Getting to Suðuroy still entails, and may always entail, a helicopter or a two-hour ferry ride. Largely due to its isolation, Suðuroy has been losing population for several years and has now fallen below 5,000 inhabitants.
I went to Suðuroy for the 70th birthday party of a relative of my host family. I was also able to visit a small local festival in honor of a 130-year-old fishing boat and go out to the local pub one evening. It was great to have such an intimate look at the island’s special culture.
Vágur: A child plays on the Johanna TG 326 during the celebration of the boat’s 130th birthday.
Tug of War is serious business at a boat’s birthday party in the village of Vágur on Suðuroy.
Tvøroyri: Holding a heimalamb, a lamb raised at the farmer’s home because its mother didn’t want it. Cute, right?
People from Suðuroy have a distinctive accent and are known for being loud, friendly, and a little bit provincial. In my experience, the first two were definitely true. As for the third, well, I can only relate that when I went to a gas station and asked to use the bathroom, they answered “Yes, of course, if you don’t mind going down some stairs…” and promptly opened a trapdoor with a ladder leading to a toilet in the basement!
Suðuroy’s nature is a little different than that in the rest of the Faroe Islands. To my eyes, there are fewer mountain peaks and more sheer seaside cliffs. Suðuroy is the only one of the Faroe Islands to have had coal mines, one of which is still active. Basalt rock formations can be seen in several places, and the waters around Suðuroy wash no fewer than 262 islets and skerries. In addition to the picturesque villages, visitors often come to Suðuroy to visit its caves or the scenic point at Eggjarnar, from which there are astonishing views of sea-cliffs both north and south.
The sea-cliff view from Røðin.
A lamb sleeps on Suðuroy, in view of seacliffs and the island of Lítla Dímun.
Tvørgjógv and Ásmundarstakkur in the north of Suðuroy.
Hálsgjógv and tidal pools near Tvøroyri.
Sandvík, the northernmost village on Suðuroy and the spot where saga hero Sigmundur washed up from the sea to meet his death.
I hope to return to Suðuroy during the course of my project. The island is of great touristic interest for its lovely, unique nature and the way it represents a throwback to life in the Faroes before undersea tunnels connected “the Faroese mainland.” In addition, Suðuroy is still home to about a tenth of the Faroese population, and, as I know some people there now, I think it will be a good place to get to understand the lives and perspectives of the women living in more remote parts of the Faroe Islands. This weekend was a good first visit and I look forward to returning.
Passengers doze off on Smyril, the two-hour ferry that connects Suðuroy to Tórshavn.
The sunset from the Old Mountain Road from Gøta to Leirvik.
We parked on the old mountain road, where sheep and lambs frolicked beneath us as the sun set on the sea between the islands. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to enjoy the view. I was there to learn to drive.
As I processed that information, the scene seemed to shift from idyllic to terrifying before my eyes. The narrow road angled down, steeply to my eyes, and with a slight but definite curve on top of that. To the left of the road was mountain, to the right, a little guardrail all that stood between us and the sea. I felt dizzy just thinking about getting behind the wheel — and that wasn’t even factoring in the obstacle course: a couple walking on the side of the road, the lambs crossing here and there at will, the trawling lines laid out for reorganization just a bit farther ahead.
Trawling lines laid out for reorganization on the Old Mountain Road between Gøta and Leirvik.
“I can’t do this,” I said. “Isn’t there some place flatter?”
“What?” said my friend Uni. “This is flat!”
“This is where I learned to drive!” he continued.
“Great, you are a superior human being,” I said, swallowing my pride for once in my life. “I can’t drive here. Not the first time.”
The harbor, then. Late at night. The closest thing the Faroes had to the huge, flat, empty church parking lot where I’d first learned to drive automatic almost a decade ago. Here, there was just barely enough room to get up to third gear before having to turn before we went into the ocean. Perfect.
Being a foreigner is a lot like being a child. Everything is fresh, new, exciting, fun… and humbling. Here in the Faroe Islands, all I do is learn; sometimes at the level of a preteen, sometimes a toddler. I don’t know how to speak their language, drive their cars (especially on their mountains and through their rough-hewn, one-lane tunnels), or knit a scarf (much less a beautiful Faroese sweater).
Everyone here is incredibly kind and patient. They’re willing to speak to me slowly, switch to Danish or English at my slightest hesitation (btw, guys, I know you’re doing that with good intentions, but it doesn’t always help), spend hours explaining everything to me and even let me practice stalling their car in the harbor.
They worry about me, this stranger in their strange, treeless world. Sometimes their concerns are well founded. Sometimes, like when I’ve been told for the thousandth time that if I take one vertical step up a mountain in bad weather, I will fall off a massive cliff and die, I feel a little bit patronized. Then I hear that that happened to a Faroese girl, just last week. So I shut up.
I’m still getting used to the weather here. The wind sometimes sounds like it’s trying its hardest to take down the house, late May is still not summer, 55 degrees is considered a heat wave, and there are a hundred kinds of fog — with different words for all of them. There’s dark, gloomy fog and fog as white and bright as snow. There’s fog mixed with rain and fog that parts to let the sun shine through in patches. There’s fog so thick I can barely see up the road, fog that seals in the top of our valley like a tupperware lid, fog that decorates just the peaks of the mountains like cupcake frosting.
Though most of the time I feel a bit like a child, I do have my moments of triumph. I’m an exciting travelling hillbilly, after all, redneck accent in the ready for entertaining at parties. I can cook exotic and delicious dishes. My time in Norway made me into a reasonably experienced and fit hiker. Despite my feelings of inadequacy, most people here are happy that I can say anything at all in Faroese.
And last week, although I was a little late to the pier-jumping party, I’d like to think I did America proud with my sjóvarlop into the Faroese sea! 🙂
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 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.
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 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.
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 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!
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.
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…”
Rising high over the sea on Damsgårdsfjell!
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.
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.
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
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?”
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
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.”