Category Archives: Experiences

Parrot Time – Faroese Edition

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

This month, my love for the Faroe Islands had an exciting new platform — a special issue of a magazine!

Parrot Time is a linguistic and cultural emagazine published bimonthly by the Parleremo language learning community. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Erik Zidowecki, contacted me based on our conversations about the Faroe Islands to ask whether I would be interested in helping him put together a special issue focusing on Faroese topics. Naturally, I was very excited to work on the project. With the help of four Faroe Islanders, we published eleven articles on subjects ranging from summer festivals on the islands and the new feature film Ludo to the presence of Danish in Faroese life and the Faroese perspective on the whaling controversy. I’m very happy with the way the magazine came together with such a wide variety of pieces and beautiful photographs.

From my article "Coming Home to Faroese" in Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

From my article “Coming Home to Faroese” in Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

Coming Home to Faroese” was my main feature story for the magazine. By exploring the richness that learning Faroese has brought to my life, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of learning a language with a small number of speakers. Here’s an excerpt:

“I remember how it felt to speak Faroese down in Copenhagen, to navigate through the crowded city and yet feel as if I had never left the islands when I heard the language I had learned to love so well. The Danes and other foreigners that passed were none the wiser that something didn’t add up, that I was an imposter, that I didn’t belong. In a way I did. In that moment, I felt I could just glimpse, just taste, that feeling of being a part of something… smaller. Something more intimate. Of what it meant to know just from a language that you were home.”

The readable PDF version of the magazine can be viewed for free at the following address: http://issuu.com/abavagada/docs/parrottime_issue_011/3?e=6771516/9612833

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G! Comes to Gøta

The G! Festival, one of the biggest and most anticipated music festivals in the Faroese summer, takes place each summer in my own home village of Gøta! There’s camping in Norðragøta, a few events in Gøtugjógv and the bulk of the action will happen on the stages of Syðrugøta, just a short walk away.

Preparations for G!

Preparations for G! in Syðrugøta

The main event begins today, but the festival spirit arrived yesterday afternoon with the most eager of the campers, who line up in anticipation of the opening of the camping area, sometimes 6-7 hours early (even though there is plenty of room for everyone!). Some of the groups have camp names, like “Flower Power” (who decorate their tents with flowers) and “The G! Spot” (what a pun). This year, like last year, the first campers on the scene were “Skopunhagen” who entertained other early arrivals with beer contests and quizzes before taking their rightful position at the very front of the line.

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

When the gates open, there is a mad rush to select the best spots and pitch your tent as quickly as possible. The frantic, confused efforts made it fairly clear that most of these people had not used their tents before and had also done a fair bit of pre-gaming. But that’s just part of the fun!

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

Residents of Gøta (except for yours truly, who was out in the field getting trampled to bring you these photographs) watched from windows and streets throughout the village, taking their own photos and videos of the “Tent Village” that springs up over the course of an afternoon to join Gøta every year for G!

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta

 

The Halfway Point / By the Numbers

Time for just a quick update:

I’m about halfway through my Faroese summer, and nowhere near ready to leave. Right now, I’m wandering around in a bit of a midsummer haze. My days and nights are flipped almost completely upside down. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed before 4 am or got up before noon… I think it’s been a week. Mostly to break the cycle, I’ve planned a trip to Tórshavn and Nólsoy tomorrow, so I have to get up in time to take the 8 am bus.

I think it’s time to say I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and met the people I’ve needed to meet in order to really do the bulk of my work here. Of course I could still keep learning and practicing and preparing forever, but the halfway point is a good time to wake up and realize that I need to really get started on serious formal interviews, writing, and such.

In three weeks, things are going to start getting really crazy here. My last few weeks in the Faroe Islands are going to see the G! Festival in my home village, the Ólavsøka national day and festival in Tórshavn, and my best friend here taking off work for a few weeks so that we can travel around and see as much of the country as possible. So I’m going to try to get some of the work done now, before the summer really lights on fire…

Foggy Sunrise

Here’s what my halfway point looks like, by the numbers:

Days spent in the Faroes: 34
Days left in the Faroes: 39

Photos taken: 8,814

Faroese words I know: 2,000+ (ability to speak badly, unlocked!)
Manual gears acquainted with: 5 (ability to drive badly, unlocked!)

Faroe Islands Visited: 9
Vágar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, Borðoy, Viðoy, Kunoy, Kalsoy, Suðuroy, Koltur

Faroe Islands Unvisited: 9
Nólsoy, Hestur, Sandoy, Svínoy, Fugloy, Mykines (plan to visit)
Skúvoy, Stóra og Lítla Dímun (maybe not this time)

Blog posts published: 12
Blog drafts sitting in the edit queue: 8 (!)

Formal interviews conducted and recorded: 4
Formal interviews planned for the coming week: 4

Cups of tea consumed: 69+
Containers of garlic cheese consumed: 7
Bags of “chokoflager” cookies consumed: 4

Potatoes peeled in the correct Faroese style: < 2
Potatoes peeled in Miranda’s roughshod redneck style:  > 15
Potatoes eaten unpeeled: > 15

Hours spent watching Dagur og Vika, reading Portal.fo and listening to Útvarp Føroya: 20+
Words in the “Comprehensive Faroese Vocabulary” Memrise course I’m helping create: 1,107

Faroese (and fellow Faroe-phile) Facebook friends: 58
Times mistaken for a Sea Shepherd Spy: 3+

New Definition of “Good Weather”: 10°C/50°F (and not rainy or foggy)
New Definition of “Hot Summer Weather”: 15.5°C/60°F (and maybe some sun)
New Definition of “Grass Green”: #00FF00
New Definition of “Large”: 500-inhabitant villages
New Definition of “Busy”: 8 cars in a parking lot

CJLCQ_7DTWV

Faroese Montage

Montage Comic

Critical Skills Status Update:

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!

Learning to Drive in the Faroe Islands

The sunset from the Old Mountain Road from Gøta to Leirvik.

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.

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.

Bitstrips Driving

Silly Foreigner Miranda

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.

Bitstrips Cliff

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.

Bitstrips Fog

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! 🙂

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.”