I’ve only just got it. Really, really got it. I’ve figured out that I travel for the interactions with others, the scenery really is just a set of backdrops. Iceland prompted this realisation. It’s a wet wee isle, entertaining scenery, but nothing hugely different to what I can see back home, at least in summer. And certainly not as dramatic as some of the visual splendour I travelled through in the US. But the people, the stories told by the people, the self-deprecation, the feisty humour. Smashing. A tour guide led a small group of us through Reykjavik the day we arrived. She told stories of christmas trolls, believing in elves enough to move motorways and the surprise election of the current mayor of the capital city (a stand up comedian). She lovingly took the piss out of her compatriots, and I knew I wasn’t in America anymore. This was an arts university graduate working for tips, and she was genuinely witty in her second or third language. Not even on brewery tours had anyone been this engaging in the States.
I love that Iceland is so proud of their gene sharing with the Viking hordes. They quietly, almost reluctantly admit that their own Viking heroes were largely sheep farmers and horse breeders rather than raping, murdering pillagers. They sell Norse God action figures and install huge longboat sculptures on the foreshore, and their mythologies are woven into their lives. They seem a very self-assured people, fighting International conventions to ensure whale meat remains available in restaurants. I’m from a tiny island in the middle of nowhere too, but we have a nationally tendency to be somewhat apologetic about what others might see as our short comings. Icelanders have a depth of pride that maybe kiwis can learn from.
The Maori people back home have a strong mythologised culture too. Legends provide children with strong heroes, moral guidance and a sense of belonging. I found that many Americans were ignorant of the tales of the Native American tribes, which is a great shame. I loved the myths of so many countries as a child, and I was proud that my country had our own. But lately in New Zealand general access to our mythic heritage may be under threat. The cultural icons of the Maori people are being assessed for copyrighting and trade marking. As a result I’m starting to lose confidence in my right to claim any degree of allegiance with what I see as my own cultural heritage, seemingly because I’m a whitey. Where in Iceland their stories and legends are a unifying point of cultural pride, I hope that in New Zealand they don’t end up contributing to divisions between people.
I didn’t have nearly enough days in Iceland, but at least my flight out was bound for another entertaining stop, London. Every time I accidentally on purpose end up in the shining jewel of the British empire something fun is kicking off. This time I did a search for “beer festivals” just a day or two before I flew out of Denver, and lo! The biggest beardy weirdy drinking convention in the British Isles was kicking off from the day I arrived. Yes please! London Olympia was lined with 800 beer, cider and perry (pear cider) taps, pork scratching vendors and bratwurst stands. The London Craft Beer Festival was having its debut outing the same weekend, but we decided to kick it old skool in hopes of avoiding over-hopped new world styles. We had no regrets as we sipped at creamy stouts and comfy brown ales. It was one of those events you wish you could teleport all your mates to. We shared a pint with one of the Scottish brewers, many of the smaller breweries had only one pint on tap (out of a total 800), and their alcohol architects were at hand to talk up their wares. The event was more about tasting than boozing, and there wasn’t a single screen showing football…Good on ya English beer brewing fellah’s and pickled fish vendors.
London was another briefish four-day interlude. Gatwick to Dublin is a quick hop, and then it was a skip to the bus lanes, and a jump to Castlepollard in Westmeath. I’ve been living in Castle Tullynally for a week now, helping with the gardening and tourist shepherding. I was shocked to find it only took 48 hours to get used to waking up and looking out the boudoir window to see white and grey towers and the arched gateway. I guess that’s a positive thing though, running a huge mansion looks like exhausting work, and the place probably costs even more than a two bedroom flat in Wellington. I’m enjoying being able to wander down to the vegetable gardens and harvest fresh beetroot for tonight’s chocolate cake though. And on the way back to the kitchen I pass donkeys, llamas and battlements, and I reflect on how fortunate I am to get to call another place home, even if briefly. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Republic of Ireland, again it’s a people thing. It’ll be interesting to see how some time living with the locals shifts my perspective. And of course there’s some lovely scenery.