Íslendingadagurinn

This week­end my wife and I went up to Gim­li with my moth­er for the 122nd annu­al Ice­landic Fes­ti­val.  I hadn’t been to the fes­ti­val in many years — it’s on a long week­end in sum­mer­time, so it tends to attract wed­dings, fam­i­ly reunions, and oth­er events — but this year Mom called us up about a week and a half before the week­end and said, “Hey, you want to go?”

We said “Sure!”


Breakwater and beach
Gim­li beach, seen from the break­wa­ter

It’s a pret­ty laid-back fes­ti­val, as such things go.  Gim­li is a small beach town about an hour north of Win­nipeg, with a good-sized har­bour on Lake Win­nipeg (which is often referred to as an inland ocean).  We got to town about 10:30 in the morn­ing, wan­dered around the har­bour and beach area for a bit, found a fes­ti­val pro­gramme, and sort of planned out our day.  We had lunch at the Europa Din­er, which serves huge por­tions of deli­cious food — we end­ed up tak­ing home a box of fries and a box of sal­ad that we just couldn’t fin­ish — then wan­dered over to the main stage at the park, where a con­cert was slat­ed to start at 1:30.

The con­cert proved to be sets by some local tal­ent.  I got to hear a six-year-old boy play­ing piano; he start­ed out at the mike, say­ing that he was going to play “Strangers in the Night” (“I wrote it myself”) and then had to be remind­ed, via a stage whis­per from the con­cert MC, to actu­al­ly go and play the tune.  He was a pret­ty decent pianist for a six-year-old. (I’m 38 and I can’t play worth beans.)

I had tak­en a sep­a­rate route to the con­cert from Mom and my wife. (I’d want­ed to check out the Fris Nok game, which turned out to be groups of three or four throw­ing Fris­bees at beer bot­tles set on poles stuck in the ground — not quite what I’d thought it might be.)  So just as the six-year-old was fin­ish­ing up his set, they wan­dered up.  They’d been in a lit­tle bazaar-style area, check­ing out the wares.  When the next per­former took the stage, I wan­dered over to check it out.  There were Eng­lish-Ice­landic dic­tio­nar­ies for sale, and all man­ner of jew­el­ry, includ­ing lots with Mjol­nir.  I found one pen­dant with Hug­inn and Muninn, Odin’s ravens, engraved on it, but while I am quite tak­en with the ravens, I’m not the type to wear such things.

A proverb

When I left the bazaar, the ladies were about ready to move on.  There was a Norse com­bat demon­stra­tion com­ing up, and I real­ly want­ed to see it, so we head­ed back towards the har­bour.  On the way we stopped in at the Reyk­javik Bak­ery, and bought some vin­ert­erte and a loaf each of Viking bread.  Mmmm.

The com­bat demo was real­ly quite intrigu­ing. It start­ed off with a brief look at a small group of vil­lagers, left behind while the able-bod­ied men went a-viking. (The nar­ra­tor alleged that the word “viking” isn’t a noun but a verb; to go viking appar­ent­ly means to trav­el in search of plun­der or trade. I’d heard that before, but accord­ing to my favourite online ety­mol­o­gy source, that may or may not be true.)  The women, the chil­dren, and the grey­beards were left behind, and per­force need­ed to devel­op and main­tain skills with weapons, both to hunt for sus­te­nance and to fend off attack­ers, since not all Viking types got along with each oth­er.

So the demo opened with a group of women, chil­dren, and old men prac­tic­ing their archery, fir­ing (blunt­ed) arrows at a shield propped on a stick.  Then a raid­ing par­ty approached, and the vil­lagers drew togeth­er, ready to defend them­selves, to the death if need be.

Then anoth­er raid­ing par­ty approached. The two par­ties squared off, trad­ed jeers, and rat­tled spears on shields.  (Dur­ing this, the vil­lagers made their qui­et escape.)

Norse combat demonstration Norse combat demonstration Norse combat demonstration

And the nar­ra­tor picked up his micro­phone, and led us through about a half-hour of Viking-style com­bat, with spears, hand-axes, sax­es (long knives, the sign of a free man), Dane axes (long axes, real­ly a hybrid between axe and spear), shields, Berserk­ers, swords, and all the oth­er tools, imple­ments, and tra­di­tions of Viking com­bat.

I felt kind of bad for the re-enac­tors; they fought — and fought hard — in long sleeves, heavy pants, heav­ier mail, with heavy weapons, under the hot, hot last-day-of-July sun.  They put on a heck of a show for us.

Then, once the com­bat end­ed, we wan­dered through the Viking vil­lage that was set up on the knoll.  Mom chat­ted with a cou­ple of the ladies, who were knit­ting Viking-style; appar­ent­ly one of them had stud­ied it in Eng­land, and the oth­er had learned it from YouTube.  O brave new world.  I snapped a bunch of pic­tures, and lis­tened in on expla­na­tions here and there — one man, stand­ing by his gold-hand-on-red-flag ban­ner, said that the pen­nant served sev­er­al pur­pos­es:  You could ral­ly your own men to it; it would let your ene­mies know where you were, so they’d come to fight you; or it might scare your ene­mies away, if your rep­u­ta­tion pre­ced­ed you.

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And after we’d toured the vil­lage, we had a bit of ice cream, and then we said à la prochaine to Gim­li, head­ed home.