Vaka folk festival fundraiser

Last year Gúðrun Ingimarsdóttir (Rúna) came to Victoria and gave one of the finest lectures/performances we‘ve had and that is saying a great deal because the Richard and Margaret Beck Trust has brought many fine lecturers over the years. Rúna didn´t just lecture about traditional singers and kvæðamenn and rimur, she (and her husband) sang rimur for us, demonstrating beautifully this old folk tradition which is so much part of our culture. Rúna´s lecture was so successful that she has been asked to return to Victoria in 2016 to join with Patricia Baer to offer a credit course during the summer.

Because of a change in funding, the festival with its traditional Icelandic music, dance and handcraft, has to raise an extra six thousand dollars. To do this, she has had to go to crowd funding.

The crowdfunding site is at

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vaka-icelandic-folk-festival

She says that the participants are passionate performers and promoters of traditional Icelandic music, dance and handcraft. They all live in North Iceland and are members of the folk dance group Vefarinn, the societies of traditional musicians, Rima and Gefjun, and a society for handcraft, Handraðinn. They are farmers, managers, store workers, hospital staff, engineers, fishermen and teachers joining hands to celebrate our cultural heritage. You can email them at info@tradition.is

Their project: Vaka
Rúna says, “We are organizing Vaka, a truly Icelandic folk festival, in the town of Akureyri, on the north coast of Iceland, 10 – 13 of June, 2015. Our mission is to show the whole world how remarkable Icelandic traditional music, dance and handcraft really is. We don’t want our deep-rooted and personal music, dance and handcraft to be thrown aside and forgotten. We’ve been surviving in isolated and small societies for far too long – it’s time we make our selves be noticed. Vaka is where we can show who we are and what it’s all about; it’s organized by us, according to our priorities and standards; Vaka is where we celebrate our heritage and have an opportunity to grow.

We have invited folk artists from our neighboring countries to join us. They’re all eager to come, share their music and dance and experience ours. We are very excited to get them here to north Iceland where we can see how they work with their traditions and to enjoy their dedication and skill.

The organizing team for Vaka is: Sigurlaug (Silla) for Vefarinn, Guðrún (Rúna) for Ríma, Anna for Gefjun and Guðrún (Hadda) for Handraðinn.

Website: www.vakafolk.is”

This a project well worth supporting. The amount needed isn’t large but it is critical. Send them a few dollars so Vaka can continue. These are exactly the kind of performers we should be bringing to our Icelandic celebrations across Canada.

Olive Murray’s Love of Iceland 1929

olivechapman_acrosslapplandwithsledgeandreindeer
I was unable to find another good picture of Olive so I took the picture from her book about her winter journey across Lapland by sledge and reindeer. However, this post is about her final days in Iceland.

It’s always difficult when you make a good friend and then she or he has to move away. That’s the way I feel about Olive Murray Chapman.

I’ve taken my time reading her travel book, Across Iceland. I have found her account of traveling in Iceland in 1929 fascinating. It is probably more fascinating for me than for my sometimes readers because I’ve read and written about many travelers who came to Iceland in the 1800s. The earlier accounts are all about horses, the lack of roads, the isolation, the wickedly bad weather, the accommodation in churches, farmhouses and tents.

By 1929 great changes have taken place. There are now the beginning of roads and, in a country where there have been no wheeled vehicles because there were no roads, there are not just vehicles but motor vehicles.

Olive mentions, time and again, specially made Buicks that can stand the battering of these primitive roads, full of rocks, mud holes, roads that degenerate into stream beds and barely discernible tracks over mountain passes. More startling to a reader of 19th C travel books on Iceland is the mention of a telephone.

“At eight o’clock we all sat down to coffee and cakes, after which I tried to get some sleep on my sofa, but this was out of the question, for the farm at Stapi, like so many of these primitive and isolated little homesteads, is the proud possessor of a telephone.”

“I started off in the public motor from Reykjavik on June 18th. It was pouring with rain and the car was tightly packed with country folk bound for different farms along the route. Their baggage was tied onto every available part of the car; two great sacks rested on the mudguards and a packing-case was strapped on the radiator. I had a front seat beside the driver.”

“We now followed the dried bed of a river, splashed through several streams and finally stuck once more in the middle of a particularly wide one, with the water well over the axle…the driver and another man tried in vain to restart the car.”

“At last a farmer came to the rescue of the driver. Together they dug away the mud from under the wheels, and finally got the car out of the river.”

These two changes mark the end of Iceland as it has been. All travelers in the past have explained about the tremendous isolation of the Icelandic farms, of the impossibility of travel for much of the year, of the hardship and danger crossing rivers. Olive mentions that a bridge is being built. This is a major change.

There are other changes occurring. With steamships, regular tourists can afford to come to Iceland. It is only three or four days from Leith. There can be schedules. People can make plans. No one needs to be a Lord or millionaire businessmen who can rent a yacht.

In spite of there being more visitors, Olive is still a novelty, so much so that people are fascinated by her.

“About 8:30 we reached Halldórstadir farm, perched high up on the hill above the river. I was welcomed by a charming Scotch woman, who had married an Icelander thirty-five years ago and had lived here ever since. She was quite excited at my arrival and told me that, with the exception of an English sportsman who had stayed the night four years ago, I was the first British traveller she had seen or spoken to for ten long years!

“She made me very comfortable, giving me a dear little bedroom, and a delicious supper of Scotch porridge, eggs, scones and home-made jam, to which I did full justice.”

She offers to pay the owners of the homes where she stays but many refuse any payment. Tourists are still guests, not paying clients. Hospitality comes before profit.

“Is it not possible for me to have a room to myself?” I asked him anxiously.

“No,” he replied, “they are very poor people. They have only one room,” adding cheerfully as an afterthought, “but you can have the sofa to yourself”.

The next morning the húsmódir brings Olive hot coffee and cold pancakes and a jug of hot water. At 9:30 breakfast was provided. It consisted of a wild bird cut up and mixed with a thick lukewarm paste plus lots of hot milk.

When they were ready to leave, Olive tries to pay for their room and board with five Kronur. Such a sum would have been significant to people who were so poor but they refuse the money.

There are, though, other major changes taking place. Earlier travellers have recorded that there are no hotels, no inns, that accommodation is in churches, farm houses or in their own tents. Now, Olive reports that there are hotels being built, that there are hotels already built, some farmers have enough travelers passing by that they have set prices and have built accommodation.

At Thingvellir she hears the ring of a hammer, imagines that is from fairies or trolls but discovers that on the bank of the river “some workmen were busy erecting a little wooden hotel.” At Stykkishölmur there is a little hotel where she stays. She and two Icelandic businessmen guests have their meals with Jón Gudmundsson, the proprietor.

However, when she leaves Stykkishölmur by horse, she once again enters the Iceland that is still untouched by roads and telephones. At the foot of the Haulkadalur pass, they asked if they could stay for the night at a tiny cottage. “A dear old couple welcomed me warmly. They had no food ready at hand, but their son took his rod to the lake and presently returned with some fine salmon-trout.”

Having reached Akuryeri with some days to spare before her boat will leave for Leith, she explores the surrounding countryside.

On her return from Námaskard to the parsonage of Skútustadir, she says the “ride was a dream of loveliness, in striking contrast to the bare desert of sand and lava through which we had so lately come.”

And there we will say goodbye to Olive. It is with some regret. I wish the book were longer, that she’d returned to Iceland and written another book about it but she was off to far places so she could write about her adventures in other countries.

Nineteen twenty-nine is a long time ago. I was born ten years after her visit to Iceland. Although I lived in Gimli, the centre of New Iceland, I never came across her book. I wish it had been there. I wish I could have read it when I was ten or twelve. It would have created in me a burning desire to visit Iceland. Sadly, although I was a great reader, I never came across travel books about Iceland when I was young. If the high school library had been filled with the works of Burton and Henderson, Waller and Taylor, Pfeiffer and Kneeland, and
others, many hearts would have been stirred and many thoughts would have been turned toward the country from which our ancestors came.

The Good Guest, Olive, 1929

olivehorse
Olive Murray was welcomed everywhere she went in Iceland. That is partly because of the generosity and kindness of the Icelanders but it was also because she was a good guest.

When she stays at the parsonage at Setberg with Séra Jósef Jónsson and his wife, Hólmfridur Halldórsdóttir, she doesn’t just observe but participates.

She says, “before going to bed, I strolled out to watch the pastor and his children, who with some of the farm hands were busy sorting great piles of sheep’s wool, which had been spread out to dry in the sun. This work was going on together with haymaking in all the valleys where there were farms. The wool is washed, dried and afterwards collected in piles, packed in big sacks and sent off to be sold to merchants who, in their turn, ship it to England, Spain and America, mainly to America. On my return from Iceland in August in a freight steamer round the north and west coasts, we put in at eight little ports for the purpose of collecting this wool, and arrived at Leith with 3600 loaded sacks on board!”

“I stayed out till nearly 10 p.m. at Setberg, enjoying the warm evening sunshine, helping to sort the soft, clean wool and taking some photographs and sketches.”

Later, at Miklibær she spends most of the afternoon helping with the hay. “Haymaking time is very important in Iceland, for the number of ponies and sheep which a farmer is able to keep during the winter depends largely upon his stock of hay which he uses for their fodder.”

Her willingness to help pays off for this kindness is repaid in kind. She does not want to continue her trip in a car for the previous experience of the roads was not good. However, she has not been able to find available horses at haymaking time, nor a guide.

“The pastor’s wife and her brother-in-law had ridden off to a farm some miles away to take coffee with some friends. On their return we all had supper together and then, while the sun s hone upon a golden evening, bathing the lovely valley in glory, I energetically did some more haymaking. To my joy, a farmer, who was helping with the others, offered to supply three ponies for the rest of my journey, which he said would take a couple of days. A young man whose name I think was Magnússon, a native of Akureyri, and who had been at the farm at Miklibær on a visit, offered to be my guide.‘

“My spirits rose in leaps and bounds, for it looked as if I should be able to ride into Akureyri after all, and if my luck held I ought to reach it on July 17th, a day sooner than the date on which I had roughly calculated”

“We sat in a circle among the sweet smelling hay while the price of the ponies and the wages of the guide were discussed. Magnússon wished to know if I would be afraid of fording a rather difficult and swift river, to which question the pastor´s brother replied:
“Oh, no, she is not afraid: The farmer from Bólatadahlid told me that she rides the ponies not at all like a foreigner, she rides like an Icelander!”

The next day when they reach the river, they “then plunged into the swirling water. My pony was splendid: stones were whirling past his sturdy little legs, but he bravely battled on and I found the best plan was to keep my eyes fixed steadily in front on the tails of the others and not to look down at the foaming torrent of icy water which was splashing over my legs. Had I slipped in, I should probably have been swept away by the current into the deep part of the river where rescue would not have been easy. However, we all got safely across and another little adventure was over.”

They travel all day and don’t arrive at a farmhouse until nine o’clock. “Haymaking was still in busy progress, but the farmer left it and came to greet us, asking what we wanted. To our anxious inquiries as to whether we could stay the night, he replied:

“Já!”

“Have you eggs?”

“Nay.”

“Fresh fish?”

“Nay.”

“Porridge and milk””

“Já Já!”

“I was so faint and tired, Magnússon had to lift me from my pony.”

The farmer’s wife feeds them the porridge and milk. Olive finally sleeps. At eight o’clock the next morning, the farmer’s wife brings “coffee and thick bread and butter…and at 10:30 she had ready a substantial meal of sandwiches, salted fish and a delicious Icelandic pudding, a sort of custard eaten with sugar, cream and nutmeg.”

After breakfast, they are on their way and eventually, Olive sees a sign “20 kils. to Akureyri.”, her destination.

Shortly, she “rode up to the little Godafoss hotel and was shown to the luxury of a real bedroom once more, with a comfortable bed, a hanging cupboard and—joy of joys!—I learned there was a bathroom!”

She has made a difficult journey, one that few foreigners had ever attempted and which even Icelanders seldom made. Instead, travelers usually traveled by boat. She’d made her way from farm to farm, her phrase book and her growing notes about how to say words and phrases in Icelandic allowing her to communicate enough to get by. From time to time she has been fortunate to meet Icelanders who speak English.

She is always greeted with courtesy. People cannot always do as she wishes, there is hay to make, wool to sort, animals to take care of but if they can’t help, they find someone who can.

Relationships are never one sided. If Olive had been arrogant, difficult, demanding, critical, all those things that make travelers ugly and unwelcome, she would not have found Icelanders so helpful. She may have had kronur in her purse but, as she says time and again, her offer to pay for her lodging and meals, is turned down. Icelanders, in 1929, are often poor but they are proud. She took nothing of that pride away from anyone. Respect gathers respect. It is obvious that her willingness to put up with hardship, to make the best of things, to not be afraid, to participate, earned her the respect that was evident when the pastor’s son says she doesn’t ride like a foreigner, she rides like an Icelander.

Olive understands and appreciates that she has just had a great compliment.