Summer in Greenland

Finches in the Storm

Last in the series by our correspondent on holiday

*The above drawing by the author
accompanied the articles in the series
"Summer in Iceland", of which
this article was an extra sequel and
printed with the drawing below.

The outline of Iceland, when placed above the top third of the silhouette of a human head, produces a nice haircut.* If you do the same with Greenland, the result is a monstrous figure - so large is the biggest island in the world. (Actually, America is also an island, but it's probably too big to be called an "island".)

It's height of the summer in Greenland. Millions of blood-sucking mosquitoes hunt through the ice-free areas along the coast. The lady at the travel agent in Austerstræti in Reykjavik was nice enough to warn me. "Don't forget to start taking the tablets a few days in advance" was her advice.

The flight from Kaflavik to Kangerlussvag. An eskimo woman in traditional costume hands certificates to the arriving passengers: "This is to certify that you have crossed the polar circle."

The second leg of the flight to Narsaqaq keeps being postponed. In the end it is announced that, due to a storm, the passengers must return to Keflavik - and stay there overnight. From there we will be flown direct to Narsaqaq in the morning.

The attempt on the next day is a success. A ship takes the travellers from Narsaqaq to Narsaq (1,800 inhabitants) in 3 hours. Enormous icebergs in light and dark blue loom above the water surface. They look like soft ice cream, pralines with pieces of almonds covered with white chocolate, or pieces of Baumkuchen.

A sign in the toilet on the ship says "Equtigssat kisimik Anartarfimut Igineqartasaput". Our Greenlandic-Icelandic tour companion, Inga, translates it for me: "Please only throw toilet paper in the toilet."

Place of my accommodation, the Hotel "Inuili" in Narsaq, is actually a school for cooks. The rooms are fitted out for use by students from other areas, and used as accommodation for tourists during the summer holidays. A couple of students are already there. As my roommate, the artist Akiko Hada, holds her two brown soft toy bunnies outside the window, to let them breathe some fresh air, two girls stand by, intrigued. They ask our names and where we come from, and then introduce themselves. One is called Lulu, the other Anna. Lulu comes from the South, from Qaqortoq, and Anna is from Qaanaaq, the furthest north inhabited place in the world. We learn that "Asavakkit" means "I love you" and "Innuqujoq" something like "hey!".

On the following day I have a 18-Km walk on my agenda. The waylaying mosquitoes are - with the exception of a few - killed with bare hands. On the beach, arctic fireweed glows pink and red. Numerous scaber and boleti eduli mushrooms rise out of Tundra covered with berries. A little polar finch sings a soft, monotonous song. And, suddenly, I discover the arctic birch, lencorchis albida, one of the five kinds of orchides found in Greenland, creeping out of the bushes.

I conclude the evening of the last day here at the bar "Ini". "What does it mean?", I ask the owner. "Place," he answers. Techno booms out of the loudspeakers, and a couple of eskimo boys dance in the almost empty hall.

Tomorrow, on our way back to the airport, we will view the ruins of the Vikings, who lived in Greenland from 984 for several centuries and then, for still unexplained reasons, disappeared without trace at around 1500.

From die tageszeitung, 16 September, 94.

© 1994 Wolfgang Müller / die tageszeitung

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