Shippensburg, Pennsylvania to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I often find myself unexpectedly in Washington DC – my best from from college days Ursula lives there and there’s always an excuse to visit her. There are direct flights from Keflavik daily to Dulles and Baltimore, Maryland, and I had never realised how close Pennsylvania, New York, Virgina and Delaware all are to eachother in that corner of the states. The east coast is a confusing place geographically.

Shippensburg University Main Building

This time around, I was making a pilgrimage to Shippensburg – the university town my father studied for many years and met my mother back in the seventies. I was taking parts of him and his memories back to the few remaining friends I found there, retracing some of his footsteps and rediscovering a history I had never known.

the last of dad’s ashes left in Shippensburg

I stayed with Charles, a retired, 81-year old professor who met Einar through friends. He never taught him, but they became close and Einar lived in his house for a year and spent some time helping fix up the 19th century home in exchange for Charles’ help in buying his first car – a Ford Pinto. Charles still lives in the same street on North Earl Street, and I stayed in the same room my dad lived in nearly forty years ago. He described dad as a womanizer. A glutton that always wanted immediate gratification.

my gentlemen hosts

Charles is a historian plagued with short term memory loss, and I don’t think theres anything more ironic or confusing than being obsessed with history while losing your memory. He walked with a cane made from a ski pole, and always wore a hat outside after recently removing some cancer cells from his nose. He has catalogued every belonging in his home, with binders of inventory that describe the origin, worth and inheritance of each item. I inherited Dads inheritance – a beautiful clay pot from Mexico.

my father in the same house I stayed

We visited the Franklin science Center where my father took all of his biology and chemistry classes on campus. We drove to the address where he first lived in a trailer with my mother. The trailer is gone, but the address still existed on google maps. We went to the pubs he frequented. I visited the home where my parents were married in 1978. We went to dinner with his college buddies who shared stories of my father and mother, and lunch with the best man from their wedding John, whose wife is also suffering from short term memory loss and rediscovered the date of her own mothers death thru a letter I returned to John from 2006 that I found in dads office. They described dad as a charmer, never free of a cigarette or a beer in his hand.

a common sight in Shippensburg

After a whirlwind visit and a roller coaster of emotions, I dried the tears from laughter and sadness with a solo roadtrip thru Amish country. The peaceful scene of passing farms and horse drawn carriages made it feel like time travel, and Rehoboth Beach was worlds away from small town Shippensburg. I spent three days there, a stones throw from the sea, in Ursula’s beachhouse that her grandmother frequented back in the 1940’s.

oysters for happy hour

We were three ladies, the mandatory cute gay guy and two purse-dogs to accessorise the beach by day, and danced every night away back to the beach where skinny dipping was no big deal in the warmth of the darkness. Our diet was mostly a combination of beverages, and a gaggle of men was never far away at one of the bars, nightclubs or drag queen shows we spent the evenings.

old time selfie

It was nearly 30°c every day, I got a beach tan, verging on a burn, and took an old time photo of our group as an inter-racial group of bandits from the 1920´s. I cant imagine a better way to have ended the week, a perfect, mindless holiday to distract me from the realities of yesterday and tomorrow.

Icelandic Studies

When I didn’t get funding granted for doing my Phd in forest ecotourism, I pulled a 360`turn and decided to enroll at the University of Iceland to study Icelandic History and Literature. It’s a program officially called “Medieval Icelandic Studies” and focuses on the sagas and manuscripts orally transmitted and eventually written in the 10th-13th centuries, but we spend almost all our time reading the secondary literature written on it by Medieval Icelandic specialists from all over the world. Some of the most highly regarded academics in this field come from the UK, the US, and even Australia, and have no connection to Iceland except their obsessive fascination, so it seems an honour to be able to study these topics in the homeland, as a native Icelander.

the codex regius

The classes are held at the Árni Magnússon Institute, a building on campus that holds manuscripts dating as far back as the 12th century. They have, what some consider to be the single most important man-made item in Icelandic history and culture (see, the Codex Regius, a book that tells of Kings Sagas, Nordic Mythology and epic poetry. We got to meet the book, a small, wooden-bound book of thin, fragile pages, and I remember wondering if or when I would ever get to touch something so hold ever again. The text was still legible, in beautiful script, and many words still comprehensible to the speaker of modern Icelandic. Some letters and words were strange, but familiar names like Loki and Freya had their names written their some 900 years ago for me to read today.

The courses we take are based on the Icelandic Medieval manuscripts, discussing all the stories therein and wondering how fact or fictional some of these records can be to represent the daily life and culture of Icelanders in those times. We dissect the poetry and kennings, all the foreign words and heitis used to rhyme, and compare different transcriptions of the same story. We read  secondary literature on how the laws were used, first in oral tradition, and then how written law changed the administration and legistlation of courts. We discuss the Christianization of Iceland, and how the Christianized scribes may have altered manuscripts they copied. We look at archeological evidence of Paganism and Christianity, and the influence of latin on our written culture and diction.

We take a mandatory course in Old Icelandic, which feels somehow like a course in Proto-Old-Norse, and may be what Italian or Spanish speakers feel like learning Latin… I dunno. I worry I´ll be better at reading, writing and even speaking Old Icelandic by the time I finish this program, since its an extremely strict, regimented and dense way of teaching students to be able to read and translate the sagas from the original sources.

Then you can take courses on Modern Icelandic literature, divulge in some Laxness and Sjón, modern Icelandic language, Icelandic Culture, and the history of Medieval Scandinavia. Whenever I´m sitting in class, I look around at the other students – males and females, age 20-50, from Hungary, Poland, Germany, England, Colombia, the States, and very few from Iceland or other Scandinavian countries – and wonder what the initial appeal is to start such a program. Is it the glorified viking? Is it the Old-Norse-Icelandic literary corpus that rivals all other historical literary works in Europe? Is it the sagas and Nordic mythology of Thor’s hammer and Sif’s golden hair? I’m not sure, but I somehow felt obligated to take the program and learn this for the sake of being Icelandic, but now I’m realizing that this may be one of the most interesting fields of academic study any linguist or historian could ever take, and I’m glad I fell into it without knowing what a pleasant surprise it could be.

Now, if only I’d stop blogging and be able to keep up with my readings, papers and exams… I had no idea it could be this much work to become a Master in Icelandic studies, especially since I thought I somehow had an advantage by being Icelandic (which isn’t the case, since I know much less than the Danish guy sitting beside me describing why Odin is depicted with 2 dragons in a 14th century manuscript I’d never heard of til now).