As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, researching a book is a state of bliss. Jon Gertner’s The Ice at the End of the World is no exception, detailing a history of European exploration on Greenland’s ice sheet over the past couple of hundred years.
The details of various expeditions including Fridtjof Nansen’s intial crossing in 1888 and Knud Rasmussen’s establishment of Thule at the northern-most tip are fascinating as the description of scientists Georgi and Lowe spending an entire winter dug into the middle of the ice sheet.
However most interesting to me personally is the description of the Jakobshavn Glacier calving several icebergs in two days, cutting five miles from the glacier’s front, in 2015.
Dee lay in the dark, watching Apollo chase a vole, giant and puffed, at the edge of the bed, batting it hard and then biting, the cracking squish of the skull like broken glass. She watched him sitting straight up in the corner, chewing his vole, breathing out the bottom part of his jaw. She tried to get off the bed and couldn’t and fought against the muffled paralysis. She was going backward. She couldn’t see properly. The lights were off. There was something turned the wrong way. She hated being stuck, unable to move, to even see, and grunted and spat and pulled herself out of the dream. “Jesus fuck.”
She moved her arm up and twisted onto her back, raising her other arm, both of them now straight above her. She wanted her kid-self back, exposed, naked against the rocks, in the long cold light, and so stripped and edged to the shore, putting her hand in as she planned her brief plunge off the slippery green ledge, reaching out with her foot to shove the smaller ice out and dive in. And so that was what she did, into the cold and dark, panicked and frozen, and stood there dripping, like the icebergs, ready to drop off shards, almost happy with herself for a moment. She was awake now. She was almost sure of that.
Luis Bunuel’s memoir My Last Sigh offers reflections on art, politics and idle dreams:
One day on New York, in the 1940’s, my good friend Juan Negrin, the son of a former Republican Prime Minister, and his wife, the actress Rosia Diaz, and I came up with the notion of opening a bar called the Cannonball.It was to be the most expensive bar in the world, and would stock only the most expensive beverages imported from the four corners of the earth. We planned an intimate bar, ten tables maximum, very comfortable and decorated with impeccable taste. An antique cannon at the door, complete with powder and wick, would be fired, night or day, each time a client spent a thousand dollars.Of course, we never managed to realize this seductive and thoroughly undemocratic enterprise, but we thought it amusing to imagine your ordinary wage earner in the neighboring apartment building, awakened at four in the morning by the boom of the cannon, turning to his wife next to him in bed and saying: “Another bastard coughing up a thousand bucks!”
Thorbergur Thordarson’s vivid memoir The Stones Speak recalls his childhood days spent in a remote Icelandic hamlet:
Large boulders stood here and there on the slopes. They appeared to be lifeless rocks if you just gave them a momentary glance. But if you stared at them for a little while, it was if they gained life and a soul of their own and quite personal features that reminded you of people. Some of them had looked out over the communities below in these peaceful poses for decades, others for long centuries, and it seemed to me that they knew everything that had befallen the folks below. I had great respect for these children of the Creator and I never peed on them or pooped behind them. I didn’t dare to, anyway, because of the hidden people
Alfred in Visitors summarizes Alice Munro’s narrative style best: “It’s not a story. It’s something that happened.”Munro’s strength is in her characterization: “She was disgusted with her mother’s callousness, her self-absorption, her feebleness, her survival, her wretched little legs and arms on which the skin hung like wrinkled sleeves.” (Accident)
Munro is also a virtuoso at description:”The trees came down to the shore on both sides of the building. The leaves weren’t quite out here, even though it was May. You could see all the branches with just an impression of green, as if that was the color of the air.” (Hard-Luck Stories) Moments drift in Munro’s prose, echoing a disillusionment with existence; there is a lack of a story arc, a climax, any kind of ending and comes across like the humming of a song, a tune, but nothing concrete.
On first glance, Ilulissat, Greenland and New York City seem worlds apart.I have come to learn, upon further examination, that the assumption is inaccurate.
One commonality is that both places offer non-stop action. New York has 24 hours of lights and hype.Ilulissat has 24-hours light and calving ice. Taxis dominate each locale.As do throngs of tourists. One thing I will have to admit is that the graffiti in Ilulissat can be more direct.
It is all very well while there are those who remember and mourn the dead, but soon they too pass away; the descendants only know of him by hearsay, so they are hardly likely to grieve over his death. Finally, all ceremonies for him cease; no one any longer knows who he was or even his name, and only the grasses of each passing spring grow there to move the sensitive to pity; at length even the graveyard pine that sobbed in stormy winds is cut for firewood before its thousand years are up, the ancient mound is leveled by the plough, and the place becomes a field. The last trace of the grave itself has finally disappeared. It is sad to think of.
(From Kenko’s A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Tree)
I spent much of July writing in a room overlooking Disko Bay, in Ilulissat, Greenland. There was an iceberg that looked a little like a church parked just fifty feet off my deck. It wasn’t like the other icebergs, breaking and rolling and drifting past, but a magical constant, no doubt beached out.
It sat as I wrote, reflecting back, through the morning and afternoon light and into the reddish glow of the night. And there again the next day, stoic. And then it wasn’t. It had collapsed, been divided, exposing its underbelly, as it turned itself inside out and drifted away back to the depths, leaving me with an emptiness of blue.