Today is Icelandic National Day (Þjóðhátíðardagurinn), also known as the 75th anniversary of Iceland becoming a republic independent from Denmark. As it happens, two years ago we were in Iceland on that day. We missed everything.

When I first came to Amsterdam, the Pride canal parade was taking place. I spent the entire day record hunting. In Iceland, at least, we went into the country… okay, the Golden Circle… then, when we returned, we discovered something strange. There were Icelandic flags everywhere. Every single store was closed, streets – empty, every restaurant open and filled with people. We finally sat in a pizzeria (very traditional…), where I pulled out my phone and found out what was going on.

 

Independent people

Halldór Laxness’s Independent People, which made Iceland the nation with the most Nobel prize winners (i.e. one) per capita, was the second book I read as research for Storytellers. I did not understand a lot of metaphors back then, missing on all the political allusions, my confused eyebrows wandering higher and higher until all of my hair transported itself to the back of my neck. Once I did more research I ended up with a three-page treatise on Jón Sigurðsson, Iceland’s most famous politician of all time, the leader of Icelandic independence movement. I had to cut that out from the book for obvious reasons – its title wasn’t Icelandic History for Beginners – and it wasn’t until our visit to Iceland’s National Museum a year later that I understood exactly how important Jón was.

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Today is sumardagurinn fyrsti – the first day of summer in Iceland. Since 1971 the first day of summer is a national holiday, complete with celebrations, parades, sporting events. At +13 Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit) it’s a really warm summer day as well. I am not joking.

When we first came to Iceland in June 2017, the temperature on the day of our arrival was +14 Celsius. We saw boys on skateboards, having fun on the street, wearing tiny tank tops. I was dressed in full leather from head to toe and wouldn’t say that I was in danger of overheating. We asked our landlady whether it was normal for kids to dress like this in sub-Arctic temperatures. She explained that +14 in June was, in fact, a heatwave. She wasn’t lying. On the day of our departure it was +7 at the Keflavík airport and +29 when we arrived in Amsterdam (40 degrees Fahrenheit difference). This was how I discovered that I was now old enough not to cope with heat well and realised with a startle that I preferred the cold.

 

First day of summer in April? Sounds legit

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll probably guess: I’m going to go a thousand (and a bit) years ago, then talk about the Norsemen.

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Icelandic model horseshoe, decorated. If you bought one of the (sold out) super deluxe boxed set editions of Storytellersthis is what you’re going to get.

 

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This time, to Gunnar’s relief, Karl was away only for two days. Mother always got upset when father left, but this time she seemed to be upset with Gunnar for some reason. He didn’t like his mother very much and it seemed that she felt the same towards him, even though both maintained the facade of politeness that came with clenched teeth and white knuckles. It was her own fault, decided Gunnar. If she didn’t start fights with father, he wouldn’t have to go away to get some peace and quiet.

When Karl came back home, all smiles, he handed her a book. Sóley threw it on the table without even looking. Gunnar knew what would happen next. He’d be sent upstairs, to bed, and his parents would fight again. Why did mother have to be like this? Father brought her a present. At least they were quiet enough for their voices to become background noise and Gunnar fell asleep, the unfinished nail under his pillow.

*

“How are your hands? Still hurting?”

“Nay. They’re perfect,” said Gunnar and immediately began sweating at the thought he’d be forbidden from working at the forge ever again. “Never better. Excellent,” he said, avoiding his father’s doubtful gaze, hiding his shaky hands behind his back.

“Good! We can make your first horseshoe then.”

The boy relaxed at first before grasping the full sentence. “A gleaming horseshoe,” he mumbled, trying to sound happy.

Karl looked at him oddly. “Gleaming? Where did you get that from?”

“Eh… a story?”

“What story?”

“The one with the gleaming horseshoes, clearly,” snapped Sóley. Karl winced, but kept smiling. Gunnar turned his eyes away, staring at the forge door. It was locked, like always, but maybe he could somehow get his hands on the key, then work at night… no, they would hear that, maybe when father was away… but then, mother hardly ever left the house…

“Good,” said Karl. “We’ll make a gleaming horseshoe.” He chuckled and Gunnar blushed, although he didn’t know why.

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