My Vinarterta Heritage


Heritage is a funny sort of thing. It turns up in strange places and in strange ways.

Yesterday, I took cousin Dilla and JO for supper to Amma’s Tea Room and Gift Shop.

During the summer Amma’s is crowded and getting a seat is often a problem. All the summer visitors are in Gimli. In March there aren’t many visitors. There are locals about in puffy parkas and fleece lined boots and toques. They’re usually on an errand of some kind. There’s no hanging around on street corners to gossip when it’s 22 below and there’s a 20 mph wind.

Some of the restaurants close down in the fall and don’t open again until Gimli quits looking like Siberia. The Beach Boy, one of my favorite hangouts in high summer because of the pickerel fillets and Mediterranean salad, is closed, but when I phoned, the owner said March 18 we’re open. I return to Victoria on March 17. Bad timing. However, I’ll be back shortly. I want to be here during the spring.

Amma’s Tea Room has a different strategy. It opens for supper 5-6:30. There’s just one meal prepared. No menu choices. Last night it was veal cutlet with gravy and pasta with a cheese sauce. I couldn’t eat any of it—gluten in the pasta, gluten in the gravy and the coating on the veal. However, Cousin Dilla, knowing the way of all things Gimli, phoned ahead and asked the chef to make something gluten free for me. It turned out to be chicken salad on a bed of mixed greens.

The ladies had wine. I had cranberry juice and tea. The ladies had cheesecake. I was saved from serious calorie intake because the desserts all had gluten. My virtue, what there is left of it, wasn’t voluntary.  The bill was $36.00.

One of the Gimli heritage delights is meeting people unexpectedly. We were just finishing up when Valdine Bjornsson (Geirholm) appeared and we had a short chat. Valdine and I started grade one together and went through all the triumphs and tragedies of the next twelve years in the same class.

Although it’s called Amma’s restaurant there were no Icelandic dishes. Once the summer trade begins, there will be.

However, tea room and Icelandic don’t quite rhyme. Icelanders are addicted to coffee, kaffi, not tea and Amma’s looks and feels very English. I’m not sure what an Icelandic café should look or feel  like. Maybe wickedly strong coffee, 17 Icelandic desserts, rotten shark, dried codfish, a few sheep’s heads, and, for the less adventurous, lamb and whale meat. With chess sets at every table and couches for people to lie down on after knocking back glasses of Black Death.

There is the local KaffiHus. In spite of its name, it’s food, which is quite good, is standard coffee shop fare. Sandwiches and melts and wraps and muffins.  It’s coffee is excellent.

Maybe that is what is left of my heritage.  An occasional name. Some occasional food. However, it’s hard to separate Gimli heritage and Icelandic heritage. They are wound tightly together. The Beach Boy is owned and run by a Greek. However, the restaurant’s forte is pickerel fillets and pickerel fillets are as Gimli as you can get.

It helps that a short distance away from Amma’s is Tergesen’s general store and book store. We dropped by the book store since it is one of the few places you can always get Icelandic books in Icelandic and in translation. They also have books by writers of Icelandic descent—there’s Arnason, Gunnars, Holm, Valgardson—and Icelandic authors such as Indridason and Yrsa, two wonderful Icelandic authors. And the clerk in the bookstore who chatted with us is from Iceland.

Gimli used to be Icelandic. Now, it’s a bit like archeology finding that heritage. There’s the Viking statue, thank goodness. There’s Islendingadagurinn. Thank goodness. There are the visiting Icelandic groups, often excellent choirs, who come and entertain. Thank goodness. There are the charters back and forth. Thank goodness. There are usually some Icelandic flags fluttering in the breeze. If you know where to look, you can buy vinarterta. No local skyr though. A local person who used to make it for sale says that the health rules and the costs imposed make it unprofitable to make locally.

In the spring the Reykjavik Bakery will open. Thank goodness. Birgir will return from his wanderings in Europe. He will make us cookies in the shape of Viking helmets and Icelandic brown bread.

We wished Iceland well during the kreppa but, at the same time, hoped that it might lead to an influx of Icelanders seeking refuge in New Iceland. That hasn’t happened. It’s easier for Icelanders to go to Europe. They can get a job without a lot of paperwork. It’s closer.

I’m not complaining. I take what I can get. At Lans Aux Meadows, all they found was a pin but it was a very precious pin. It proved the Icelanders had come to the New World. Maybe our Gimli pin is vinarterta. It proves that we do have an Icelandic heritage.