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EPI the storyteller

So, we went to the French movie tonight that we meant to go to on Wednesday [see previous post] which turns out is called Tell No One in English and which was excellent. Excellent! It had it all – suspense, depth of feeling, humour, style, cleverness, superb acting and directing and production … one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time. If you get a chance – see it! You won’t be sorry.

Afterwards EPI and I went to the store and bought some good food [lamb filets], then went home, opened a bottle of red wine and divided the tasks in the usual manner, i.e. EPI cooked while I provided the entertainment. And then we sat down to dinner and EPI told me stories.

I love it when EPI tells me stories because he makes this history of this country and its people come alive. He has such great stories of his forefathers – whereas my stories of my people are all rather depressing and gloomy, EPI’s people have this glow of heroic deeds and aura of success and adventure about them.

Tonight he was telling me about his grandfather, who grew up on Iceland’s East Fjords. His grandfather went to sea at the age of 12, rowing in an open boat out into the open sea to catch fish. Those ocean currents can be mean and strong and it takes tough men to navigate them. They’d go out there, absolutely exposed to the elements, with no compass or anything of that sort. There was always the risk that the dreaded East Fjords fog would creep in and obliterate everything and then they wouldn’t find their way back and would be lost. So they always made double sure they got into the mouth of the fjord before the fog rolled in. But even there they couldn’t necessarily see where they were going, and it was super risky because if the wind picked up and they lost control they’d be dashed up against the rocky shores and that would be it for them. So they learned to read the sea – they got to know the tides and currents intimately, and they navigated that way.

Like so many Icelandic men, EPI’s grandfather was complately absorbed by the sea. He loved the sea. Gradually he built up a successful fishing vessel operation in the town where he lived, and his business thrived. At the end of the news hour on the radio each day he’d listen to the catch figures – details of what the ships all around the country had landed. He’d sit engrossed, and say things like, “Did you hear? The Engey hauled in 300 tons of cod – 300 tons!” Fishing was the industry. Fishing was generous, and made this country rich. In Cod We Trust, and all that.

Anyway, EPI’s grandfather bought larger and larger ships, and the time came when laws were implemented and you had to have a licence to operate a vessel over a certain size. And EPI’s grandfather had never gone to school and couldn’t understand why his son, EPI’s father, wanted to an education – why didn’t he just take to the sea? That was where the fun was, where the excitement was. The licence thing was a bit of a nuisance so EPI’s grandfather did what lots of fishing vessel operators did at the time – hired captains with licences to sail aboard their ships, but with the provision that they, the owners, were actually the ones in control. After all, they had the experience, they knew where the fish was, they knew the tides. And in the end it was win-win for them both, each learned from the other.

I love those stories, stories of the rugged people who not only survived but thrived in this country on the edge of the inhabitable world. Say what you will about the Icelanders, they are a tough race of people, with formidable strength and initiative. They’re the original Nike people – if there’s a job to be done, the Icelanders just do it. It’s a pretty excellent quality in the people here – and it makes for an incredibly energetic society. After all, it completely boggles the mind what this nation of 306,000 people has been able to accomplish. Truly.

Because the weather here makes you tough. I’ll never forget when I moved to Canada as a child, and we weren’t let out during recess because it was raining. Raining. If I’d stayed inside in Iceland when it was raining I’d have never gone out. Hell, over here we don’t even use umbrellas. Not that it would have make much difference, the wind tears them to shreds. Anyway, these days it just keeps snowing and hailing, temps right now are 2°C and sunrise later today is at 7:19 am, sunset at 19:51 pm.



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  • 20 20 news channel nightline December 19, 2010, 9:18 am

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