Category Archives: Iceland

More Leif Ericson – Statues in the USA

Leif Erikson Boston  Leif Erikson Minnesota

After recent travels to Italy I told the story of Giuseppe Garibaldi and how he is so famous that his statues appear all over the World and now I have been to Iceland and seen Leif Ericson and although not nearly as prolific in his bronze and stones appearances as Giuseppe, Leif does seem to have an impressive number of likenesses of his own, especially in the USA.

This is not entirely surprising of course because Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland, Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.

Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century. According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

In the two pictures above Leif can be seen in Boston, Massachusetts and then not surprisingly in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Below he is in Chicago, Illinois and (my personal favourite) Newport News in Virginia.

leif-eriksson-chicago  Leif Erikson Newport News Virginia

Reyjkavik, Vikings and Explorers

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Vikings in the USA, Leif Ericson and the Axe Factor

Viking Longship

Outside Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s Lutheran Cathedral, is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson who was an Icelander born about 970 and who explored the oceans and the lands west of Iceland, establishing colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and who according to legend reached America long before Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucchi.

The statue was a gift from the American Government in 1930 to mark Iceland’s 1,000th anniversary and in the United States October 9th is commemorated as Leif Ericson Day.  The date is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, it was chosen because the ship Restauration sailing from Stavanger in Norway, arrived in New York Harbour on October 9th 1825 at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States.

We found the monument and it struck me as rather strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Vikings and a possible starting off point for long ships full of heathen bullies on their way to the British Isles to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

The Vikings were Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic from the late eighth to the mid eleventh century.  These Norsemen used their famous long ships to travel as far east as Russia, as far west as Newfoundland and as far south as modern Spain in a period known (not very imaginatively) as the Viking Age.

Whilst we tend to retain the school boy image of them it actually becomes increasingly evident that Viking society was quite complex and popular conceptions of them are often in conflict with the truth that emerges from archaeology and modern research.  A romanticized picture of Vikings as noble savages began to take root in the eighteenth century and this developed and became widely embellished for over a hundred years.

The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers is part true, part fable and part exaggeration and although if these guys paid a visit it is probably true to say that you probably wouldn’t want to put a welcome mat by the front door or get the best china out, no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio of good and bad and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.

But now it seems historical revisionism has gone too far for some people  especially for Professor Simon Keynes, an Anglo-Saxon historian at Cambridge University – ‘There’s no question how nasty, unpleasant and brutish they were. They did all that the Vikings were reputed to have done.’

They stole anything they could. Churches were repositories of treasure to loot. They took cattle, money and food. It’s likely they carried off women, too, he says. ‘They’d burn down settlements and leave a trail of destruction.’ It was unprovoked aggression. And unlike most armies, they came by sea, their narrow-bottomed longships allowing them to travel up rivers and take settlements by surprise. It was maritime blitzkrieg at first.’

It is now widely believed that Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland in Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.  Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century.

According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group. In Minnesota, nearly a million claim Norwegian ancestry, 16.5% of the population of the State.

No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis was officially named the Minnesota Vikings on September 27th1960 a name that is meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a centre of Scandinavian American culture.

The association between Vikings and sport is not surprising because physical strength, speed, resilience and endurance were important qualities for a Viking. As in the USA, England has its own Vikings with the Widnes Vikings Rugby League Football Club.  Widnes was one of the original twenty-two rugby clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895, making them one of the world’s first rugby league teams.

epcot-norway-viking

It probably also explains why Norway features at World Showcase at EPCOT in Disney World in Florida.

In actual fact however there is no real evidence that Ericson actually discovered America at all  and rather curiously his statue in Reykjavik faces east as though gazing back to the Old World of Scandinavia rather than the New World of America.

Today he looked out over Viking skies full of Icelandic drama with mountainous clouds as big and as grey as a medieval cathedral that closed around the city like a soggy cloak.

Steinunn first Icelandic cSettler

Hull, UK City of Culture – Slave Trade, Fishing and (redundant) Dock Yards

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners” – William Wilberforce ( A great man of Hull)

After the short detour I considered another, to see the statue of the poet and novelist Philip Larkin, a former resident of Hull, but it was back the way that I had walked already so I ruled it out and continued to the Museum Quarter.

There is a Philip Larkin walking tour of the City but I skipped that as well and left it for another day and another blog post!

I had been to the Museum Quarter before, to the Street Life Museum and the History Museum so I bypassed these and went first to the small independent Fishing and Trawler Visitor Centre in an old ramshackle dockside warehouse.  A  wonderfully eclectic place, the sort of museum that rejects no exhibits, finds a place for everything and piles them up in random order all over the place, a sort of alternative to the minimalist National Gallery of London or the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

It was an entertaining visit, run by volunteer ex-fishermen oozing with enthusiasm, one of those places where, if you show the slightest dull glimmer of interest, the volunteers will latch on and beat you into submission with stories of the fishing industry and life at sea.

I liked this place, I liked the bric-a-brac exhibits, the scrapbook newspaper cuttings and the detailed models of the old Hull fishing docks (now sadly a shopping mall).

I told them that I was a visitor from Grimsby which claims to have once been the biggest fishing port in the World and this immediately presented a challenge to their bragging rights.  They were keen to point out that Grimsby may have been a big port but Hull had much bigger trawlers on account of the larger capacity of its docks.  Not being a genuine Grimbarian I was careful not to take sides in this potentially dangerous debate.

The Visitor Centre is close to the banks of the River Hull and close by is the trawler Arctic Corsair one of the last side-winder fishing boats to operate out of Hull before the Cod Wars with Iceland and the ignominious collapse of the UK fishing industry.

It is a big ship, about twice the size of the Ross Tiger museum ship in Grimsby but I didn’t go on the guided tour today and thought that I might leave that for a future visit as well.

Instead I went to the William Wilberforce Museum which I had missed previously when I was with the grandchildren because I wasn’t certain that they would care that much for a museum about slavery or that it would hold their attention for very long.

William Wilberforce is probably the most famous son of Hull.  He began his political career in 1780 and dedicated almost all of his life to the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Most countries have something ‘not to be proud of’ (USA and the bullying of the Native Americans, most of Central Europe and the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis, Australia and the indigenous Aborigines and so on and so on) and in the case of Great Britain the African slave trade is right there at the top.

Thousands of Africans were transported to the colonies in the West Indies (Caribbean if you prefer) and to the emerging southern states of the USA.  In a way it might be argued that Great Britain was responsible for the American Civil War.

For Wilberforce, abolition became his obsession and life’s work.  In 1833 the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and three days later the exhausted Wilberforce passed away.

It is a good museum housed in Wilberforce’s actual birthplace and other adjacent Georgian buildings which by pure chance survived the German bombing raids of World-War-Two whilst everything around them was destroyed.

I had a few minutes to spare now so I walked around the Mandela gardens where I came across an unlikely statue of Mahatma Ghandi dedicated to achieving solutions to difficult World problems through peace and then I spent a final thirty minutes in the Museum of Street Life.

I had missed quite a lot here on my first visit as my grandchildren charged about like a Barbarian Army entering Rome.  My most noticeable ‘miss’ was a bust of the aviator Amy Johnson who in 1930 was the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.

I knew that already but what I didn’t know is that she was born in Hull in 1903.

I should do more travelling in England and the UK and I am sure that I will when I grow tired of flying to Europe and visiting the Continent.  I have visited the obvious places like Oxford and Cambridge, York, Stratford-upon-Avon (I even lived there for a while) and Chester, Edinburgh and Belfast but I have never been to Bristol or Bath and never previously to Hull but if anyone asks me for a recommendation right now I point out directions to the River Humber and the A63.

I finished my visit by strolling along the banks of the River Hull, a dirty muddy estuary the colour of milk chocolate with decaying dockside buildings and wharfs which was once a busy fishing port but which now is gradually breaking down into an open-air museum of crumbling brickwork, twisted metal and sagging piers with a thousand untold stories to tell.

I like Hull and look forward already to my next visit.

Want to know more about HULL, UK City of Culture 2017? Then visit…

https://www.hull2017.co.uk/

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

Fishing For a Post Idea

Bari Fisherman and Net Puglia ItalyFishing Port EssaouiraKlima Fishing VillageRoss Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage MuseumFishing for Supper in WalesIos Greece Last Night's CatchCorfu Boat Building ProjectSpain Fisherman with NetHaugesand Norway Fishermen

Iceland, National Beer Day – 1st March

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

“Drink is a sort of anaesthetic, it diminishes the pain…and I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica.” – Peter O’Toole

In Iceland March 1st is National Beer Day and my blogging pal Richard (https://abitofculture.net/) explains why…

“Before I talk about beers and bars, here’s a bit of history that might surprise you. Prohibition was introduced in Iceland in 1915, and although spirits and wine were later allowed, beer was still outlawed until 1989. The beer ban was finally lifted on 1st March that year, a day celebrated annually by the nation as Beer Day. Beer festivals, pub-crawls and drunken debauchery allegedly ensue. I’d loved to have experienced Beer Day in the bars of Reykjavik, but unfortunately got there four days too late!”

I imagine Richard found Reykjavik a little quiet as it recovered from a collective hangover!

Like Richard I have visited Iceland but never on National Beer Day.  I would like to but here is a word of caution, if like me,  you are tempted to join Icelanders to celebrate 1st March then be sure to take a lot of cash because beer (and everything else as it happens) is very expensive.  Here is a top tip – if you are travelling to Iceland and you want some spirits, beer or wine then be sure to visit the airport duty free shop after you land because here alcohol can be bought for almost sensible prices.

keflavik-duty-free

But Iceland isn’t the only place to celebrate a National Beer Day.

National Beer Day is celebrated in the United States every year on 7th April, marking the day that the Cullen–Harrison Act which repealed prohibition became law.  After being signed off by President Franklin D. Roosevelt it is alleged that he said “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” 

Everyone seemed to agree with him because it is said that on the day that the Act was passed into law people across the country consumed one and a half million barrels of beer to celebrate.  This raises a question mark for me – during prohibition who brewed one and a half million barrels of beer and why?

Not satisfied with National Beer Day, the USA has a second day of celebration on 27th October which is celebrated as National American Beer Day.  There are more than two thousand breweries that manufacture beer in the United States and I suspect that they all taste the same.

rose-and-crown-epcot

In 1990 I first visited World Disney World in Florida and spent an hour or so at EPCOT World Showcase.  After a whirlwind tour of the World we came eventually to the United Kingdom, designed to look like a typical British village with shops, thatched cottages and gardens. The shops sold British goods, such as tea, toys, clothing, and Beatles merchandise. I was fed up with it all by now and bypassed Hampton Court and the Cotswold village and aimed for The Rose & Crown Pub which at least served English beer.

I ordered a pint and so did an American guest but he took one sip and his face distorted in agony at the taste (English beer has flavour whereas American beers do not), he said ‘What the hell is that?” and slammed it down on the bar and left.  I was tempted to take it but the bar staff, obviously used to this reaction, swiftly took it away and poured it down the sink.

EPCOT UK Barmaid

And another day to mark in the diary in the USA is 24th January which is Beer Can Appreciation Day which celebrates the day in 1935 when beer was first sold in cans.

National Beer Day in the United Kingdom is celebrated on 15th June which is a happy coincidence for me because that also happens to be the day of my birth.  15th June was chosen as the day of celebration not in recognition of my birthday however but rather because it happens to be the day in 1215 when Magna Carta was signed by King John and the Barons at Runneymede and article 35 of the Charter stated “Let there be throughout our Kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale…”

magna-carta-beer

During research I have been surprised to find no mention of a National Beer Day in Australia but someone suggested to me that is probably because every day is Beer Day in Australia.

If they ever did have a National Beer Day I would suggest April 30th to celebrate a gargantuan beer drinking achievement.  The Australian cricketer David Boon (who had a moustache so huge it had to be taken out twice a day for a walk) famously drank fifty-two cans of beer on a flight from Sydney to London before the 1989 Ashes tour, breaking a record of forty-four set by Doug Walters and Rod Marsh on an earlier flight.  Boon himself played down the achievement by pointing out that they were only small airline sized cans.

David Boon Australia Beer

National Pizza Day in the USA

53 Naples Pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’

If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

Centro Storico Naples

It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.  Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.

A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…

Pizza Stop in Rome

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  He said…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.  For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!

Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.  If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.

poutine-pizza

Happy National Pizza Day USA  and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).

pineapple-pizza