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View Diary: Icelandic Exceptionalism (211 comments)

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  •  A book I enjoyed (26+ / 0-)

    Is "A Good Horse Has No Color" by Nancy Brown. It's about the author's search for a pair of Icelandic horses to export. But I think non-horse people would enjoy it too.

    There's lots of history - for example, our author walks up to a farmhouse and asks in broken Icelandic if Snorri Godi had lived there: "Já, já, já, já " -- and the farmer regales her with the stories of Snorri Godi's lifetime, a thousand years earlier.

    Haukur had grown up riding the Longufjorur, and often he hired out now as a guide to tour groups. He had several trips scheduled for the summer, he told us.
    "I'm used to horses," I said. "Can you rent me one? To keep at Litla Hraun?"

    Haukur frowned.

    "What did you ask him?" my husband whispered, alarmed at the abrupt stop in the conversation.

    I shrugged at him, smiled ingenously at Haukur. On earlier trips to Iceland I had taken two six-day treks by horseback into the rugged highlands, riding between glaciers to valley of hot springs -- although I'd had very little previous riding experience (I began taking lessons only after surviving the second trek). Are you used to horses? the horse trekkers would ask, and I had always answered yes. There was no one to rebut me. The same technique made up for my poor language skills. I would nod and smile and snatch at every word I'd understood, hoping that my pat answer, I'd like to try it, wouldn't be too out of place. (Only once did my method seriously fail, landing me in a two-hour demonstration of an institutional-strength vacuum-cleaner system when my hosts invited me to go see the ryksuga. I thought it was some kind of bird.)

    Much later I would learn that the Icelandic phrase "used to horses" meant a proficiency that could take a lifetime to perfect. Haukur considered himself only ninety percent "used to horses," and he had been riding all his life. But Haukur was a gentleman. He did not call my bluff. He pulled the map toward him and, with the stem of his unlit pipe, traced a long, wavy line down the coast. "It's dangerous path," he warned, wagging his pipe, "if you don't know the tides."

    The Longufjorur cuts the mouths of several rivers, some of them deep-channeled salmon streams, others edged with quicksand. The safe paths shift from storm to storm, while the force of the wind and its direction, and the fullness of the moon, decide how fast a rider must cross. Ebenezer Henderson, a Scottish churchman who travelled throughout Iceland in 1814, described the crossing well: "We advanced at a noble rate, it being necessary to keep our horses every now and then at the gallop, in order to escape being overtaken by the tide before we reached the land. At one time we were nearly two miles from the shore; and I must confess I felt rather uneasy , while my companion was relating the number of travellers who had lost their lives in consequence of having been unexpectedly surrounded by the sea."

    "I'd like to try it," I perservered. "May I ride with you some day?"

    Now Haukur looked pleased. He leaned over, and with a devilish twinkle in his eye, took my hand between both of his. "You will take a horse across the Longufjorur with me some day," he declared.

    I thanked him and slipped my hand out, with the excuse of folding up the map. Suddenly a hot blush crept up my neck. Had I used the verb ríða instead of the standard phrase að fara á hestbaki, "to go by horseback"? Ríða, which sounded so much like our verb "to ride", but which colloquially meant "to have sexual intercourse"? I glanced up to see Haukur trying to subdue his bright smile. He winked. I ducked my head.

    But from then on, as I watched the horses and riders cross the sands, I was hoping to see Haukur leading a horse with an empty saddle.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:33:12 AM PST

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    •  Excellent, thanks. . . s/t (11+ / 0-)

      What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.? -- Nicholas Kristof, NYT --

      by Land of Enchantment on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:47:51 AM PST

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    •  ok. now, I want to read it! -nt (0+ / 0-)
      •  I've reread it a few times (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bluedust

        I quite like it. I've always had an affinity for Icelandic Horses, which are unique and interesting. They're very practical animals, and typically live out even in winter. They come in nearly every equine color, including some odd ones, except for Appaloosa. They are five-gaited. They are pony sized, but they are ridden by tall Icelandic men, even for racing.

        Iceland is too cold for cattle to be as practical as horses. The horses are both transportation and food animals.

        The Icelandic horses in Iceland are completely isolated as a population and have been for hundreds of years. You cannot import horses to Iceland; you cannot even bring an Icelandic back. Thus, if a horse goes to Germany for a competition, say, it stays there.

        This is a link to the Icelandic Horse magazine from Iceland:
        http://en.eidfaxi.is

        There is an English version, even an English print version, which is pretty fun to get. It comes with lots of ads from Icelandair. :-)

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 08:35:23 AM PST

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