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!”
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.
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.)
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.
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.