Greenland. Day 10: Disappearance.

When you go away from the people you love, they worry you may not come back - and you worry about them worrying. When you go away, you worry they might forget you, go off you, finally realise all your flaws and eccentricities and doubts are too much to take - and you worry your worries are worrying them. We sit forever on that wobbly, pointy fence that separates desire from denial, craving from avoidance, here from not-here, seeing from not seeing. Being on two different fences on different continents makes keeping our balance so much harder.

The Norsemen left Scandinavia, spent four hundred years in Greenland and then, towards the end of the 14th century, vanished. The general view, apparently, is this was the result of a combination of a sort of globalisation (the shift in trade to Africa deprived the Norse of a European market for walrus ivory) and of climate change (the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia increased sea ice and storms). One of those things would have been a huge challenge: both together were, ultimately, disastrous.

What human beings started, nature finished. The last known evidence of Norse people in Greenland is in the records of the wedding of Sigrid Bjornsdottir and Thorstein Olafsson in Hvalsey (just down the road from here) in September, 1408. After that, Europeans no longer saw the Norsemen of Greenland: they just disappeared. People at 'home' in Scandinavia essentially forgot about them and finally set out to convert them to Christianity a couple of hundred years later. When the missionaries got to Greenland, they had to make do with converting the Inuit instead.

This afternoon I went to Kalaallit Nunaanni Katersugaasiviit, the Qaqortoq museum. I found myself a bit disquieted by the beautiful carvings, the strange dolls, the sadness and pride of what remains of the Inuit community, the kindness and openness of the guide. From nowhere, the King Creosote song came to mind. I realised I'd never bothered looking at, hearing, tasting, feeling fully before this kind of place, these kinds of histories and cultures, this magic, these shamans, I'd never met the gaze of the hunters of seals or of the prices we all paid and continue to pay for survival.

And whenever I did look before, I'd quickly turn away from what it all said about our evanescence, our inevitable disappearance. I'll turn away again, of course - how else can any of us get through? - but in the meantime, it makes me happy to report that Sigrid and Thorstein made it to Iceland from Greenland and stayed together. And it makes me happy that, as I walked into the shop across the road from the museum, the old, weather-worn, shopkeeper looked up, smiled and offered me a silver ring 'for your woman'.

What human beings started, nature finished. The last known evidence of Norse people in Greenland is in the records of the wedding of Sigrid Bjornsdottir and Thorstein Olafsson in Hvalsey (just down the road from here) in September, 1408. After that, Europeans no longer saw the Norsemen of Greenland: they just disappeared. People at 'home' in Scandinavia essentially forgot about them and finally set out to convert them to Christianity a couple of hundred years later. When the missionaries got to Greenland, they had to make do with converting the Inuit instead. 

This afternoon I went to Kalaallit Nunaanni Katersugaasiviitthe Qaqortoq museum. I found myself a bit disquieted by the beautiful carvings, the strange dolls, the sadness and pride of what remains of the Inuit community, the kindness and openness of the guide. From nowhere, the King Creosote song came to mind. I realised I'd never bothered looking at, hearing, tasting, feeling fully before this kind of place, these kinds of histories and cultures, this magic, these shamans, I'd never met the gaze of the hunters of seals or of the prices we all paid and continue to pay for survival.

When I had looked, I'd quickly turned away, I realised, from what it all said about our evanescence, my inevitable disappearance. I'll turn away again, of course - how else do we get through? - but in the meantime, it makes me happy that Sigrid and Thorstein made it to Iceland from Greenland and stayed together. And it makes me happy that, as I walked into the shop across the road, the old, weather-worn, shopkeeper looked up, smiled and offered me a silver ring 'for your woman'.


 

Kalaallit Nunaanni Katersugaasiviit, Qaqortoq Museum.

Kalaallit Nunaanni Katersugaasiviit, Qaqortoq Museum.