1772: how lang afi and amma lived

turfhouseturfhouse-Iceland_Glaumbaer

According to Uno von Troil, the houses in different parts of the country are different. On the north side of the island, he says, the houses are very bad. The only decent places are those of the governor at Bessestedr, the physician’s house at Seltiarnarnes, and the sheriffs at Wido. (his spellings)These houses have been built of stone and paid for by the Danish king.

In other parts of Iceland, the buildings are made of drift-wood and in other places of lava with moss stuffed between the lava. In some houses, the walls are lined with wood. The rafters are covered with sod. In places where people can’t get wooden rafters, the ribs of whales are used. However, the whale ribs aren’t free. They are more expensive than wood. The walls are about nine feet high and the door is not high.

If you come into one of these houses, you’ll find yourself in a hallway that leads to a first room with some holes in the roof. These will be covered with a skin stretched over it to let in light. At the far end of the hallway there will be a room where the women do their work and the farm owner and his wife sleep.

The walls of this room, being the room of the owner, are panelled. There will be a ceiling and a floor and, if you are fortunate, and stumbled on a better sort of house, there might be some small glass windows but there won’t be a fireplace.
On both sides of the hallway there will be rooms. You’ll find one of them to be a kitchen, a room to eat in, the dairy, and the servant’s room. If you are looking for lang lang lang lang lang lang amma and avi, you’ll probably find them here if they aren’t cutting hay or milking sheep. These rooms won’t have any ceilings or floor. There won’t be any wood panelling.

If there are windows they’ll be made from a hoop of wood with the intestines of a sheep stretched over it.

There will be no chimney and no fireplace. So, if you woke up on a dreary, wet day, and hiked to the closest house, there’d be no place at which to warm yourself. There might be some stones on the floor making an enclosure and in that there’ll be some dried manure burning—that is, if food is being cooked or heated.

Hopefully, you don’t have asthma, because with no chimney, the smoke spreads throughout the house before it escapes through a hole in the roof.
In the more prosperous farms, there may be a shed for storing fish, and another for people’s clothes, and a stable for the sheep and cows.

However, if you come across a poorer sort of farm, everything will be in one building, dried fish hanging from the ceiling (watch your head), very low beams (watch your head), there will be no furniture except the beds people sit on along the walls to eat their meals and which they share, sleeping head to foot. There won’t be any privacy but you probably won’t care because there are no stoves, no fireplaces and hardly any fuel so people sleep together for body heat. Fleas may be a problem but you’ll need to get used to it. They’re a problem everywhere and there are no convenient insecticides.

The people, unless it is a time of famine, are hospitable. They are known for being kind and generous. They’ll almost certainly provide you with shelter and food and expect no payment, although a gift would be appreciated when you leave to try to find your way back home. If you’ve stumbled into a better off farm, you may even get a mug of cheap Danish brandy to send you back the way the brennevin has propelled you.