Saturday, September 24, 2011

Horse Latitudes

A brief digression from my endless procrastination on the Road to Vestmanna.

Here follows a short story from a distant, clouded past life. I've written it for submission and consideration by member of #FridayFictioneers and any others that stumble upon it.



The indifferent sea extends unbroken to the horizon and melts into a white hot sky. After nine weeks of hellish sun and no wind our barrels of drinking water are consumed, as are we. The Captain orders that our cargo of forty horses be driven overboard, a questionable but necessary mercy to all as talk has turned to drinking their blood for sustenance.

As Horse Master I helped round them up on the rolling hills of Andalusia and herd them aboard at Cadiz and care for them on our journey to outposts in the colony of Florida. Blinking at the light, nostrils flared, each seems to know their fate after two months in the stifling hold. It takes but minutes for them to stamp and hesitate and then leap into the water. They pump their legs and hold their proud, confused heads high and swim to nowhere.

The screams cut deeper than any blade.

My work finished, I join my charges. A cruel wind stirs my hair and cools my face as the sea rushes up to greet me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Road to Vestmanna

Past Leynar and the entrance to the Vagar tunnel the road climbs to several hundred feet above sea level and passes above the picturesque village of Kvivik. Tucked into a valley on either side of the river Stora, Kvivik sits like a dream against the breathtaking backdrop of Vagarfjordur, the body of water that framed our view of Vagar from the house in Leynar. In the distance Koltur rode at anchor and somewhere in the mist beyond lay Sandoy. Kvivik was one of the oldest villages in the Faroes and was the site of an early Viking settlement. Something about it called to me, inviting me to explore there and possibly find a home among the hundred or so houses that nestled against the hillsides on either side of the river. A small sheltered harbor had been built snug and high walled where the land met the sea and I could just make out a few boats moored there before we swept around a curve and the Kvivik disappeared behind us. Little did I know that a year later I would finally enter the village proper as we observed the end stage of a grindadrap. Nothing would change in my mind because of what we observed. The town would remain beautiful despite the immediacy of the kill and the bloody asphalt and the hundred or so dead Pilot Whales neatly lined up near the harbor. In fact, I would come away from that day feeling a link with the past more profound than that instilled by ancient mounds and relics.

But that day lay far in the future and was not our destination on this day.

The road led up onto a grassy plateau and swept northeast along the shoulder of the land. In the middle of this empty landscape a pair of black dots appeared and then resolved into two geodesic dome homes, each roofed with bright green turf. They were a mix of modern and traditional architecture where one least expected it and seemed both in place and out of place. We passed them long before I thought to take a picture. Another mental note. Another strange sight. My mind was wide open to the newness.

To our left and many hundreds of feet down, Vagarfjordur had narrowed between the steep side walls of Stremoy and Vagar to become Vestmannasund. Here and there along the shore we spotted arrangements of circles in the water and realized that these were fish farms where Salmon were raised for commercial markets abroad. Closer examination revealed many of these fish farms as we continued toward Vestmanna. The road turned right and gradually descended into the small village of Valar which sits opposite Vestmanna on one side of a small arm of Vestmannasund. A huge swath of glistening rock and tumbling white water appeared on the right. Children clung to handholds in the midst of the cascade and watched us as we passed, then resumed their play in a vertical swimming hole on a Summer's day in the Faroe Islands.

We swung to the left and passed a series of huge pipes that climbed up into the hills above Vestmanna's outskirts and disappeared into some low clouds a thousand feet upslope. They dove under the road and into a hydroelectric plant near the shore to our left. I checked the map and saw a huge lake with a dam indicated on a plateau several miles inland. Oil might be hard to come by in the future but with a setup like this on every island the Faroes would be energy independent as long as the rains didn't let up.

Bonnie turned down a side road and found her way to a small boat harbor a few hundred feet from the power station. She was looking for Gunnar Skuvadal, a gentleman who owned and operated the excursion boat Barbara that took passengers to the Vestmanna bird cliffs. Gunnar, like Pall, had answered the ad Bonnie had placed in Sosialurin requesting help for our expedition. Bonnie wanted to connect with him right away to thank him and to talk about her filming schedule.

Gunnar's office was a sturdy metal trailer that sat on a concrete foundation next to a moveable boat ramp that led down to calm water in an empty berth. The trailer was wide open. A note on the door invited anyone to come in and have coffee and said the boat would be back in about an hour. We must have just missed Gunnar. Bonnie took out her notebook and wrote a brief message for him while I looked around. At each corner of the trailer sturdy 3/4 inch steel cables angled down from the roof to large eyebolts that were driven to their necks in the hard packed earth of the parking lot. The cables went over the top of each end of the trailer and were equipped with large turnbuckles at all four corners. I tested the tension on the cable closest to me. It was as taut as a bow string. I pointed out the arrangement to Bonnie.

"You suppose they get some high winds around here?" I asked.

Bonnie took it all in and grabbed her video camera from the car. She filmed the trailer and the surrounding area and then we got in the car and left the same way we came. Our navigation skills now included how to get to Vestmanna. Not the town proper but the boat harbor. We knew we'd be returning. The bird cliffs were high on the list of things to do on Stremoy.

As we turned on to the main road for Leynar we saw a Texaco station across the street and pulled in to gas up. Inside there was a convenience store with all that hungry travelers could wish for in the way of victuals. We stocked up and when I went to pay I noticed that behind the wide counter there was a big grill of hot rollers turning an assortment of hot dogs. Cheese filled, chili filled or regular. Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and relish for inside the bun. The choices were endless.

I got one of each.

On the way back home we stopped on a bluff high above Vastmannasund and Bonnie filmed Larina with the smooth blue surface of the water far below as a backdrop. Shaggy black sheep grazed on the fenced in hillside above the road. The sun was still high in the sky but it was almost dinner time. When Bonnie was finished filming we beat feet for Leynar all the while drinking in the views that changed with every curve and filled my heart with a contentment I'd known only in the Hawaiian Islands.

Another link? Subliminal island panoramas? Or was it more...?

(To be continued.)

(As always, thanks for reading. If this half-baked blog site will let you leave a comment, please do. If it won't, I'm sorry. Might have to go blog site hunting. Call the moving van. Alert the media. Aloha, D.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Explorations in the (only) Mall

The mall was named SMS, a moniker we could make no sense out of because we were not schooled in the Faroese language. We immediately transformed it to S&M in our minds and it stuck somehow. From there on out we always referred to the mall as S&M and though there was no reason for it, we derived a great deal of amusement from saying, "I'm going to S&M" or "Let's go get something at S&M." It was not the first mental gyration we'd perform with the language, nor would it be the last. We were beginning to make the place our own. Was this how languages and places evolved over time. Probably not...... but maybe.

The SMS shopping center was about four hundred feet long and a hundred and fifty feet wide. It had two levels with a central concourse and was spacious and well lit, a perfect location for upscale establishments. There were clothing stores, a well stocked music outlet, a grocery store on the bottom floor and all manner of people strolling up and down, talking animatedly, pushing baby carriages, smoking cigarettes and enjoying themselves. We spread out and each performed our own exploratory surveys. I found an ATM and withdrew some money then contemplated a bank of pay phones that lined a wall. The phones were of the European variety, with signage in Faorese. I was unable to intuitivley grasp the dialing procedure and decided to cross that bridge when I got to it. There was nothing I needed except for groceries, which I would purchase just before leaving, so people watching became the order of the day.

Five facts became apparent after just a few minutes of observation. First was that there were very few fat people, and by very few I mean none. And by fat I mean of the corn fed American variety. Were I in an airport or a mall in middle America at least thirty percent of the people would be overweight. Here maybe one percent of the people in the mall had a BMI in the high range. Second was that there were very few tall people. Bear in mind that I'm six foot three inches tall so anyone taller than me was 'tall' and anyone shorter than me was 'short'. I saw one person taller than I. On the whole the men seemed to average about 5' 10" and the women an inch or two shorter. Third was that fifty percent of the people were smokers. A blue haze in the sunbeams let in by wide windows in the walls testified to the amount of secondhand smoke in the air. This was definitely a departure from what I was used to in Hawaii and would turn out to be a price I would have to pay for seeing the Faroe islands as if I lived there. Fourth was that a favorite hair color of brunette women was deep magenta, either in highlights or in a wide band somewhere in their hair. Fifth was that only twenty percent of the people were blonde and only five percent were what I would call the full on Scandanavian type. Blue eyes and straw blonde hair existed but were not as prominent as I expected.

Since I'm describing things with broad brush strokes let me add that I saw several people of Asian or Indo-European descent (in my opinion) and one of African descent. Safe to say that the predominant race was Caucasian. This is indicative of nothing, except perhaps that the Faroes are, indeed, a bit isolated from the rest of the world, and my mentioning it should not be interpreted by readers as anything other than a report of what I was seeing that afternoon in the mall in Torshavn.

Next stop was the grocery store where I roamed the aisles and perused the labels of all the products. They were all of mostly European origin, I assumed, but it was easy enough to select rough approximations of items I was looking for. Bread, cheese of many types, cold cuts, fish, snacks and candy were all there to be found and I stocked up and got in a checkout line. The person at the cash register spoke to me in Faroese and smiled. I smiled back, looked at the total on the register readout and handed her the amount in Faroese bills. She gave me change and I spoke my first words of Faroese. "Takk Fyri," I said, which means thank you very much. In her eyes I registered awareness that I was a foreigner and also an acknowledgement that I'd spoken to her in her home tongue. Only 558 words to go until I'd be able to have a rudimentary conversation.

Everyone collected outside and we piled into the car for the trip to Leynar. Clouds were beginning to accumulate around the peaks and the temperature was dropping. Offshore to the southwest wind whipped up whitecaps between Stremoy and the small islands of Koltur and Hestur. We had experienced beautiful weather for two days but I felt this was bound to change. I was reminded of the old saying, 'climate is what you want, but weather is what you get.' This would hold true for the Faroe islands, in spades.

(To be continued.)
(Please join my blog and comment. It's great to know you're reading. Mahalo and Aloha, D.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tabula rasa.

Just as we finished the arm wrestling match the reporter from the newspaper walked in the door and joined us. Seems his office was just a few blocks away and he'd heard we were at Cafe Natur for lunch. How this happened is anybody's guess, but in this case I think Pall called him, assuming that the tavern was comfortable environment for all parties involved. Introductions were made and Bonnie spent the next forty minutes answering questions. I think it was disconcerting to be the subject of an interview, but she soon found her sea legs and was explaining our intentions in terms of 'promoting cultural exchange' and 'global education'. When asked about why she chose the Faroe Islands she made a joke about throwing a dart at the map. Her answer mimicked a feeling widely held among Faroese that their country is often overlooked in the world. By responding in this fashion she was able to side step revealing that our trip to the Faroes was, in fact, an expedition. We wanted to learn and did not want to be fed 'party lines' because we'd been pigeon-holed in the minds of the Faroese by repeating the mistakes of others that came before us. We wanted a clean slate.

When the interview was over we walked across the street and down a winding lane between the buildings of the Tinganes until we reached a rocky peninsula upon which the ancient council originally met. Careful examination of the rocks revealed petroglyphs, runes and symbols carved long ago by inhabitants of the islands. Here was another striking similarity between the Faroes and Hawaii. I added it to the list as we posed for a series of photographs, thinking about our place in the long line of visitors to this storied place.

What had life been like here 1200 years earlier? How did people survive? What did they eat? How long was the growing season? I tried to imagine a long, wet Winter, dark as a coal sack and cold enough to crack bones. How did one grow and store enough food to last until Spring?

Families and villages must have had to work hard, day in and day out for as long as plants could grow. They would have fished and dried their catch, salted or pickled it, anything to make it last. Sheep would have been a welcome staple, both for wool and mutton. And Pilot Whales? Their appearance offshore in pods large and small would have seemed like a gift from God.

We parted company with the reporter and Pall, who lived close by and said he would walk, and gathered at the car to decide what to do. We had most of the afternoon remaining and lots of light. I broke out my map and opened it up on the hood of the car. After a few minutes discussion we decided to find the shopping mall in town, then return to Leynar to drop off Gabe, Louis and Cristof. Then Bonnie, Larina and I would drive out to Vestmanna, a town far up one of the islands fjords.

All around us life in Torshavn proceeded apace. We were part of the landscape now and as long as we didn't open our mouths we fit right in. Kind of. We piled in to the car. Bonnie drove and I navigated and we drove off in search of the largest shopping mall in the Faroe islands.

(to be continued.)

(Thank you for reading. It means more than you know. Aloha, D.)


Before we walked to our appointment with the reporter for Socialurin I was challenged to an arm wrestling match by one of Cafe Natur's patrons. He was a fisherman fresh off of a two week stretch at sea and was friendly and curious about us. We probably stood out like sore thumbs and even if we didn't, all one had to do was listen to us talk and we were pegged as foreigners.

When told that we were a film crew from Hawaii we were asked a question we would hear many times.

"Hawaii? Why would you come here from Hawaii?"

Somewhere in the middle of our explanation the gauntlet was thrown down and I found myself the representative of our table in an arm wrestling match. When they could not beat me right handed we switched to our off arms and went at it again. More beers were consumed by the participants. We were learning that the people of the Faroes were friendly to fault and good natured as a rule.

I didn't want to leave.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I woke warm and cozy in my sleeping bag and listened to the watercourse that had sung me to sleep. The house was quiet and there was a stillness in the air as I rose and dressed. The waters of the fjord between Vagar and Stremoy were smooth as glass and reflected Vagar's bulk perfectly. To the west, framed by the mouth of the fjord a small island rose from the cobalt sea beneath the blue morning sky. I realized then that the first thing I was going to have to find was a good map. I wanted to know where I stood in the landscape, to learn the names of every village, peak and promontory, and to be able to find myself by looking at the topography. The land and the sea were speaking to me and I wanted to be able to return the favor.

I am, as a hard and fast rule, a night person. I've always said that the best way to see a dawn was to stay up for it. The quiet house made me realize that something strange was afoot. 5:45AM and I was wide awake and by all appearances the first one up in our little household. The Faroe Islands are eleven hours ahead of Hawaii Standard Time. 6AM in the Faroes was 7PM at home. Perhaps my body clock was simply still running on Hawaiian time. I would have to keep track of when I woke see if the time changed in the weeks to come.

The kitchen had a small table and two chairs and I set up shop there with my computer and notebook. Hot chocolate and toast with melted butter and cheese was my breakfast while I recalled and documented as much as I could of the previous day and of the feeling I had right then, in the early morning stillness as the sleepers began to wake.

First to rise was Bonnie. She walked into the kitchen with a big smile on her face and began to make coffee. We sat and talked and drank in the view and shook our heads in amazement. We were in the Faroes! I still get chills up my spine when I remember that morning. Three long weeks to do exactly as we wished and an infinity of possibilities open before us.

"What are you writing?" Bonnie asked.

"Everything." I replied. Bonnie smiled.

That was how most mornings would start for the duration of our stay. Up in the stillness to write about the previous days adventures and occurences and then a hearty breakfast as we planned the new day's activities.

Pall arrived shortly thereafter and we roused the gang, fed them breakfast, then crammed into the car for the ride to Torshavn, a city of about 20,000 inhabitants located on the northern side of the south-western tip of the Island of Stremoy. Larina sat on someones lap in the back and Bonnie crowded in between Pall and I in the front. The trip lasted about half an hour and took us along a route close to the coast. On one side several bodies of water were visible and on the other the land rose to an ever changing view of mountain tops wreathed in clouds. The weather was marvellous. Blue sky and bright sunshine combined to show us the islands in all their green clad splendor. Waterfalls appeared regularly as white cascades that wound up into the hills and disappeared among the crags. We passed through two small towns and gradually turned west until we crested a small hill and saw the capitol of the Faroes laid out before us. As we approached the outskirts of town Pall pointed out a dense thicket of tree surrounding a few buildings.

"That is our forest," he deadpanned with a ghost of a smile that would come to characterize him.

It would have been funny if it were not true. These were the first trees of any note that we had seen besides a few in the river valley that led to Leynar.

"Why are there so few trees?" I asked.

"Sheep," Pall replied. "And cold winters." The answer made perfect sense.

One translation of Faroe Islands is Sheep Islands, supposedly bestowed upon them by Irish monks who used the islands as a hermitage in the 8th century. Whatever the case, the name was fitting. On every hill and Hamrar edge on the way to Torshavn, sheep could be seen in abundance, each wearing a numbered tag to identify them prior to shearing or in the unfortunate event that a motorist hit one.

We made our way along the seaward side of the town, past a ferry terminal and into a parking lot next to a small boat harbor that abutted a much larger harbor that serviced cargo ships. The town came right down to the water, buildings neat and tidy and painted in bright colors. Pall pointed out the Tinganes, a group of older red buildings situated on a rocky peninsula, site of the oldest functioning parliament in Europe. We strolled past the innermost boats, small fishing craft very reminiscent of the classic Viking ships of old. They looked well maintained and seaworthy, lines properly stowed, bumpers positioned carefully and all hatches battened down. Here and there large jellyfish undulated slowly through the shallow water.

One of the first buildings that caught our eye was a two story tavern, black sided with a brilliant green turf roof. Painted in bold letters across the seaward end were the words, 'Cafe Natur'. This establishment was to become one of the unofficial headquarters of our expedition. It was closed, but I knew we'd be seeing its interior later in the day.

Pall led us inland and uphill through narrow streets toward the city center. No building I could see was over six stories high and the majority were mostly one and two story edifices. Old and new mingled without clashing in a spacious yet Old-Worldly arrangement around plazas and squares. Pall pointed out a kiosk, gaily painted in red with white trim.

"My grandmother works there," he said. "She sells newspapers and magazines and has owned and operated it for almost thirty years."

The town was a delightful mixture of modern and old buildings, with sculptures throughout and an endless amount of shops to explore. I found a bookstore with a great section of maps and chose two. The first was a good road map and the other a large folding topographical map that would serve me well when I wandered far afield. We spent the morning wandering and photgraphing and drinking in the sights and sounds. Summer in the Faroes is tourist season and we fit the bill. You have to start somewhere to get to know a place and Torshavn was perfect for our first day.

Around noon we walked down to Cafe Natur and had lunch and some very fine Faroese beer. If I could have figured out a way to stop time I'd be there still. It's that nice. Our meeting with the reporter from Socialurin was scheduled for right after lunch and I felt somehow that the tables had been turned. Why on earth anyone wanted to interview us was a mystery. But, hey, when in Rome...

(To be continued.)

(If you stopped in with us at Cafe Natur, please leave a comment and I'll buy you a round.)

(Especially you, Eric!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Grindadrap, Groceries and the Midnight Sun

I'd known of the Faroe Islands through stories my father told me when I was young. He spoke of fishermen he'd known during two summers spent as a deck hand aboard a trawler that worked the waters off the coast of New Jersey. From him I got the sense that the Faroes were a proud, seafaring people whose island home was somewhere in the North Atlantic. I heard about the Faroes again in the late eighties, this time in association with the killing of Pilot Whales as depicted in lurid news releases by radical environmental groups. Of the two, the impression left by my father is closer to the truth, but how I found that out is what this story is about. Must not get ahead of myself.

I felt the killing of hundreds of Pilot Whales each Summer in the Faroes didn't have to happen, but my feelings were not the issue. My job, and the job of our group, was to be objective. We had to observe and we had to listen in order to avoid being labelled as activists or troublemakers. Our thoughts had to remain hidden, or at the very least, be carefully articulated, if we expected to walk among the Faroese without a curtain of silence being drawn around us. It was decided after much debate that we were to remain quiet on the subject of the Grindadrap unless asked point blank. At that point it was up to us to try to explain our feeling honestly and in the context of being from Hawaii, an island culture on the other side of the world.

There it was again. Island culture.

Hawaii and the Faroes were linked. Isolated in their pre-history in the middle of vast oceans, reliant on sea life for sustenance, the two archipelagos shared a common bond. The Sea and Pilot Whales.

I knew the sea, having spent many years on or beneath it on surface ships and submarines, but I knew little of Pilot Whales. Why were they used for food in the Faroes and not in Hawaii? Despite a growing list of similarities between the two island groups, here was a curious difference. Did it have anything to do with the fecundity of Hawaiian waters. Were there so many other types of marine life that the Pilot Whales there somehow missed out on being placed on the Hawaiian's menu? If this was the case then how did the Faroese come to use the Pilot Whales of the North Atlantic as a food source?

There was much to learn, this much was clear. As we talked things over hunger began to set in and the urge to get out of the house and explore a grocery store took precedence over protocol.

Pall offered to take a few of us to the nearest store and I called shotgun. Bonnie and Louie needed to buy food for the gang and thus our provisioning crew was set. As we hiked down to the road I noticed the sun in the western sky above Vagar and looked at my watch. The time was 6:30PM but the sun was still high above the horizon. So this was what the midnight sun was all about. At 4 degrees below the Arctic Circle, the Faroes would see the sun for almost 22 hours of every day of our stay. It was going to take some getting used to.

We drove out to the main highway and turned right. The road was modern and well maintained. The only difference of note was that all major intersections were roundabouts, a traffic management solution that I soon became a fan of. At a gas station near the end of a long and narrow body of water called Kollafjord we piled out and invaded a small convenience store. I purchased food from three of the four 'C's' food groups: Coke, candy, and chips. I also bought some cheese and packs of sandwich meat, some locally baked bread and four large Cadbury milk chocolate bars. Heaven. Bonnie and Louie were more restrained and tried to shop intelligently, as we had to make dinner and breakfast before we headed out the next morning. One of their purchases was from the fouth of the four "C' food groups: coffee. I think I was the only non coffeee drinker in the bunch but could not brag as caffeine from soda was my drug of choice.

Back at home base in Leynar Pall (who had taken the bus to meet us at the airport.) said goodbye took our rental car and headed to Torshavn, where he lived with his wife and parents in their traditional house in the middle of town. Louie cooked a fine meal of baked fish, vegetables and fresh warm bread with melted butter. The sky remained clear and the sun slowly pretended to set. We ate and talked and marvelled at the view from our lanai. A cold wind blew in off the fjord and up the steep sides of the hill upon which our house sat.

Careful study of the hills and mountains around us revealled a curious step sided effect to the slopes. there would be a grass covered incline that ended in a steep cliff of stone that rose for a hundred feet or more, then another grass covered slope that again met a higher cliff face and so on until the summit of the peak was reached. I learned later that these rock steps, or divisions in the hillsides were called Hamrar and were a clear sign of the Faroes volcanic origins. Another link between here and home. Another sign to pay attention to.

We talked late into the night, which never became night, until it was clear we'd better get some sleep or pay the price in the morning. I commandeered three cushions from the back of one of the sofas in the living room and arranged them along the inner wall of the lanai. My sleeping bag went on top of these and I climbed in and looked at my watch. It was two in the morning and bright as day. Tomorrow was already here.

I rolled over to face the wall, closed my eyes and fell asleep to the soft music of rushing water and the strange and beautiful calls of birds unknown.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In what world?

After a few minutes Pall hung up the phone and motioned to Bonnie who was still trying to console Larina about the loss of her purse. Bonnie raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question.

"The purse, sweater and camera were found and turned in to the airport authorities. They have given them to a police officer who is going to meet us at the toll booth on the other side of the tunnel so that we don't have to pay for another crossing. Would anyone like to go with me to pick up Larina's things."

You could have heard a pin drop.

"You've got to be kidding," I said, giving voice to what everyone in the room with the exception of Pall was thinking. I laughed out loud at the realization that we Americans were not in Kansas anymore.

"What is the matter?" asked Pall, clearly unaware that we had pretty much written off the purse, money, tickets, camera and sweater. When we explained it Pall replied in a matter of fact voice that there was very little crime in the Faroes. Bonnie and Larina and I went with Pall down the switchback trail to the parking lot, got in his car and headed for the Vagar tunnel.

I went along because I could not get enough of the scenery and knew I'd see more of it on the road than sitting at the house. This was to become the default decision of choice for Bonnie and I throughout our stay. If there was a vehicle available, we were in it and on the prowl. True to Pall's word, a police officer was waiting at the toll booth when we arrived. Larina retrieved her items and thanked him and we zipped back through the tunnel and took the turnoff to Leynar. On the way through the tiny village I noticed a road leading down to the beach and decided to go check it out as soon as possible.

Back at the house Louie had moved his and Bonnie's things into the one bedroom and Cristof and Gabe had staked out the livingroom. Nobody wanted my spot on the porch. In short order we'd settled in and were planning the next days activities. Pall had scheduled an interview with a reporter for Socialurin for the afternoon. Turns out they wanted to write an article about us, the film crew from Hawaii. We gathered around the coffee table and began to hash out responsibilities and the do's and don'ts of our crew during our stay.

First and foremost was the question of how to answer when asked what our stance was on the Grindadrap, the Faroese practice of herding pods of Pilot Whales onto a beach and butchering them for food. I couldn't speak for the others but I was determined to keep my mouth shut one way or another until I had learned more about the citizens of the Faroe Islands. This afternoon I'd learned that my ideas about people's behavior, their actions and how they lived their lives was colored by my experience living a world apart from the land we were there to learn about. First day on the job and I had let who I was interfere with seeing who the Faroese were.

I vowed not to let it happen again.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Leynar and Home

After an hour and a half Pall Hammer returned with Bonnie and we all crammed ourselves into the car for the trip to Leynar. Bonnie's presence made the trip a kind of clown car experience, what with four of us in the back seat and three in the front of a car designed to fit five people. She realized as we piled in that she'd complicated things but was beside herself with excitement.

"I had to talk to you guys," she said. "Wait until you see where we're staying. And I'm sorry we took so long but Pall and I had to schlep the luggage up a...well, you'll see."

The road led us through Vatnsoyrar and Midvagar and Sandavagur, all pristine villages with houses painted bright colors or the traditional black. Some had grass roofs, a sight that amazed us no end yet seemed not the least bit out of place. Churches were prominent, each a different shape and size, but all well kept and very obviously an integral part of their communities. These three villages were separated by several miles open land covered with short, thick grass growing in rocky soil. The farther we drove the more it became apparent that trees were in short supply. All was vista and panorama. White clouds rode the wind like galleons through a blue sky that framed a green and mountainous land. The strange newness of the view kept my eyes roaming and my mind busy trying to sort out what I was seeing and how it related to the map I'd studied at the airport.

Before long we reached the terminus of the Vagar end of a five kilometer long tunnel beneath the sea. On the other side was Stremoy, home of Torshavn, the capitol of the Faroes and of Leynar, our destination for the day. (See photo above for view of Vagar end of tunnel with Stremoy Island in the distance.)

(ágoy )

The tunnel is one of many built to link the islands and the toll was 130 Faroese Krone. That equals about twenty dollars. (Still, it beat the alternative, which was swimming. Even in June the water at 62 degrees north latitude was very cold.)

The car zoomed into the tunnel and descended perceptibly. The roadway was well illuminated and the air smelled only slightly of exhaust fumes. Huge fans mounted in the overhead of the tunnel were designed to keep the tunnel clear of noxious gasses, but Pall told us that at times the entrances are blocked should traffic overload the ventilation system. We reached the bottom and started to climb and I thought about the weight of water above us. Again my life aboard submarines gave me a perspective that others did not have. Pressure and cold and water held at bay by technology. Bright sunshine greeted us at the Stremoy end of the tunnel and we almost immediately entered a roundabout and took a right hand turn where the road signs pointed toward Leynar.

On our right a small river ran picturesque down through a winding valley to a grey shingled beach nestled between two wide arms of the coast. Above the left hand side of the beach was the village of Leynar, a quiet community of about sixty houses. We were on the southern coast of Stremoy and headed southwest. The road began a gentle climb and the sea to the right dropped away. A half mile outside of the town proper and a few hundred feet in elevation Pall pulled the car into a stony parking area on the left hand side of the road and we piled out.

The parking area was bordered on two sides by a steep wall of rock. Steps and railings bolted to the stone face led up to a group of three houses high above us. To the right, paralleling the steps a brook splashed and trilled down the steep slope, crossed the road via a wide culvert and continued through a narrow gorge down to the sea. Sixty feet above the parking area the trail turned into a series of switchbacks that led to the lowest of the houses.

"We had to carry all the luggage up to the house," said Bonnie with a rueful grin. "That's why we took so long getting back to the airport.

"Better you than than me," I replied as I trudged upward and ascended the stairs of the house.,_Faroe_Islands.JPG,-6.27,70.0

Our home for the next three weeks was small and tidy, perched upon wooden piers sunk into the bedrock that rose precipitously for a mile or so to a high tor and connecting ridge that towered over the town and beach. The stairs led to a thirty foot long covered porch or lanai that ran the length of the house. In the center of this a door led into the house proper and the living room, the largest in the house at about twenty feet wide by fifteen feet deep. A couch and some chairs surrounded a small coffee table. Our baggage was piled in this room and seemed to fill the space. Through a small entrance at the back of this room was the only bathroom, a tiny room with a shower, toilet, wash basin and a strange contraption that turned out to be a combination clothes washer and dryer. Through the far side of the bathroom was the only bedroom and bed in the house. It was small and if the bathroom was occupied, you were trapped until whoever was in there was finished. To the left of the living room was a small kitchen that contained a refrigerator, stove, some cabinets and a small pantry. On the wall facing the sea was a sink and counter top, above which was a window that looked through the lanai, over the rail and out to one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen.

I walked back out to the lanai and put my sleeping bag down on the rough planking beneath the kitchen window. Here in the open air, closest to the sea and sky would be my sleeping spot. Cold nights and moist air ensured that I would have no competition for the space. I placed my pack against the wall and went to the lanai rail or parapet and looked out at the world.

In the distance the island of Vagar rose from a fjord like channel that snaked north and west between Stremoy and appeared to open on the sea far off in the mist. To the left, south and east the channel widened to frame two islands, Koltur and Hestur rising from the sea on the horizon. Leynar and the beach around which the town had sprung up in years long past was laid out before me like a picture post card.


At that moment a wail sounded from inside the house. Larina was missing her purse and with it her passport, return tickets and all of her money. Along with those items she realized that her sweater and camera were also missing. The last place she remembered seeing them was on the table where we waited at the airport.

Larina was beside herself and nothing Bonnie said could comfort her. No one mentioned that she should have been more careful. Pall got on the phone and dialed the airport, an act I thought futile in the extreme. Too much time had passed between our departure from the airport and the discovery that Larina's purse and possessions were missing. To my way of thinking they were, like the proverbial dog's dinner, long gone.

(To be continued.)
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Thursday, April 7, 2011


The Vagar Airport arrivals concourse was also the departures concourse. It was a large rectangular building with a small entrance lobby which opened onto a spacious glass walled waiting area that looked out onto the runway and contained a concession stand, souvenir store, news stand and a few displays of Faroese cultural items. About thirty square tables with metal chairs allowed passengers and their loved ones to wait in comfort for departing or arriving flights. Security was present but there were no oppressive choke point searches or endless lines of shoeless passengers filling bins with their personal items. Comfortable was the word that came to mind. It was a throwback to an earlier time and not the worse for being so.

The Faroese language was dominant throughout, as one would expect, yet careful listening revealed that many people, both workers and travelers, were speaking english when necessary. The concession stand had a large variety of food for sale but what caught my eye was a type of hot dog, thin and long, that was held in a long crispy one piece bun carried in a piece of paper or a napkin. Ketchup, mustard or mayonaise was squirted down a perfectly sized hole in the open end of the bun and then your choice of hot dogs, cheese filled, hot and spicy or regular, were slipped into the hole, wrapped in paper and handed to you. I filed this appetizing delicacy away for future research.

On one wall of the Atlantic Air ticketing booth a large map of the Faroes showed a tight group of eighteen islands that covered a space in the North Atlantic that was seventy miles from north to south and fifty mile from east to west. It was like looking at a Rorschach Blot test. The names of each island all seemed to end in 'oy' and all of the place names were composed of ninety per cent consonants with a few vowels sprinkled in for good measure. Trying to guess how to pronounce any of them gave me a headache. The knowledge that it took me three years before I felt at ease with Hawaiian place names put things in perspective. I resolved to try to learn the correct pronunciation of every word, but would not beat myself up if I got them wrong the first few times.

Closer examination of the map revealed a pattern in the layout of the islands. Each was in general, separated from the next by a fjord or narrow channel of water. The channels were oriented from northwest to southeast. I tried to imagine what forces had contributed to the shaping of the islands and the channels between them. Glaciers? Geologic uplift? Several hundred miles to the northwest was Iceland, a land mass created entirely by volcanic eruptions. Could the Faroes be volcanic in origin? It was at this point that first noticed the similarities between the Faroes and the Hawaiian Islands. The notion was vague and nebulous at first, but would later grow more substantial as I learned about the unique archipelago we had come to visit.

Bonnie's plane arrived and I was reunited with what I began to think of as 'the gang'. They walked from their plane to the terminal with the same wide eyed fascination that I must have displayed an hour earlier. As they collected their baggage Bonnie introduced me to a tall, blue eyed young man with soft brown hair and a very quiet, yet attentive demeanor. Páll Georg Hammer had responded to Bonnie's ad in Socialurin, on of the major newspapers in the Faroes, and had agreed to act as a liason and guide for her endeavor. Páll dove right in and got us organized and sitting at two tables. He then explained that he would have to take Bonnie and the majority of our luggage to Leynar, a small village on another island, where he had rented a house for us to stay. They would offload the luggage and Páll would return for the rest of us. We helped them load up in a small blue sedan Bonnie had rented and waved as they drove off, then returned to our tables to pass the time until Páll returned.

As would become my habit during our time in the Faroes, I got out my notebook and began to jot down my impressions of the place, our trip thus far and impressions of the team Bonnie had assembled. Larina, Bonnie's daughter, was a high strung young woman with brown hair and a petite frame. She was pretty and pert and had been brought along by her mother because Bonnie wanted someone to connect with the youth of the Faroes. Louie was Bonnie's brother and closest relative. They shared a tight bond from their youth and Louis' cosmopolitan nature would allow him to merge smoothly into the club scene and city life in general. Christof Putzel, Bonnie Carini's nephew, was a budding film-maker fresh off of the success of Left Behind, an award winning documentary about AIDs orphans in Kenya. Cristof had the most journalistic chops and a mindset that was focused and sharp. He had an eye for details and the quiet confidence of youth. Gabe was a tall, handsome, dark haired Hawaiian youth and friend of her family that Bonnie had recruited to mix with the locals and report. He was a direct counterpoint to the stereotypical blonde haired, blue eyed Scandanavian and as such would attract a great deal of attention from many young women throughout the following weeks. Gabe was an accomplished SCUBA diver and Ukulele player whose outlook on life was simple and to the point. Hang loose and go with the flow.

The last guy on the list was the writer. I wanted to help wherever I could, but in reality what I most wanted to do was observe and absorb and document everything we experienced on the trip. Mine was the easiest job on the crew because it was exactly what I wanted to do. Years ago I had written one novel with a friend and was in the middle of another when I decided to drop everything to travel and work with Bonnie. My mind was geared toward the big picture and the overarching view. What, I wanted to know, was the story? Any additional help I gave to the effort would be a plus for her team, but I think Bonnie knew I would be the recorder of things. She knew also that I was a person of like mindset when it came to one of the reasons for her travel to the Faroes - The Pilot Whales and the Grindadrap.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Touchdown on Vágur

The next morning I woke to the alarm and went downstairs to check out. Four in the morning and Copenhagen was as quiet and still as a large city can be. I asked the clerk to call me a cab and walked out to the sidewalk to wait. A doorman/porter greeted me and we passed a few minutes with polite conversation. The big news of the morning, which he related to me after looking up the street in both directions, as though there might be someone besides me listening, was that Bono had just left the hotel. I didn't know how to react to this momentous news. After I left would he tell the next person that Doug had just left the hotel? Somehow I doubted it. Precious anonymity. Have to guard it.

Taxi to the airport as the world woke around me. Glimpses of huge wind turbines on pedestals in a body of water seen between passing buildings. Sights and sounds and an unending flat aspect to the land. A sea level city.

Airport check in and security. Back in the homogenized zone with a slight European flavor. Found my gate and waited for Bonnie and the gang to arrive. I was shoe-horning myself into the middle of a team of unknowns. Odd man out and acutely aware of it.

Bonnie and company showed up a few minutes later and I was introduced in short order to Bonnie's brother, Louie, her daughter Larina, nephew Christoph and a friend of Bonnie's named Gabe. They were to fly out a few minutes behind me on a different airline and after greeting me they continued on to their departure gate. Bonnie remained behind and we caught up. Though it was obvious my appearance on the scene had thrown her for a loop she took it in stride and assured me that she had meant what she'd said about joining them, but that she could not believe I actually had. I told her I would find my own accommodations if necessary and still contribute to the team effort. She told me not to worry, that it would all work out and that she'd see me at the airport in the Faroes. With that, she followed her crew toward her gate and left me to my own devices.

The national airline of the Faroes is Atlantic Airways. They operate a fleet of eight Avro BAe 146-200's, a small, quiet and efficient four engine jets. Once on board and airborne I realized quickly that many of the passengers knew each other. They were friendly and polite to a fault. I struck up a halting conversation with a schoolteacher from Suduroy, though at the time I did not know what or where Suduroy was. His name was Swen Johansen and when he heard that I was going to be participating in the filming of a documentary he offered to put me in touch with several people on his island that might be of assistance.

The flight was uneventful until we descended out of the clouds over the island of Vágur, site of the Faroes' only airport. The pilot announced on the intercom that there were substantial crosswinds and to make sure our seat belts were fastened. Looking out the window I saw a verdant green land of hills and rugged peaks wreathed in grey clouds. There no roads or houses in view. We were flying right down the middle of a valley toward the distant (I assumed) runway when the jet was buffeted severely. Everyone on board screamed and laughed as if they'd ridden this roller coaster before. If they weren't upset then I wasn't going to worry, but after several more gyrations I moved the approach right to the top of the list for turbulence I'd experienced while flying.

We touched down at Vágur Airport and taxied to a stop at a small terminal. A set of stairs was rolled out to the jet and I was reminded of the days when there were no jetways on interisland flights in the Hawaiian Islands. I felt right at home. Walking across the tarmac to the terminal I marvelled at the blue sky and beautiful green plateau that the runway was perched upon. Looking to the north-east I could see the valley we'd threaded on our approach from the sea. It was narrow and steep sided and framed the distant sea.

A feeling of amazement and anticipation filled me. Whatever was going to happen in the next few weeks had begun. After a three day journey, for better or worse, I had set foot on the Faroe Islands.

I went into the terminal, collected my pack and sleeping bag and began to explore the building while I waited for Bonnie's plane to arrive.

(To be continued.)


I could almost hear the cosmic gears spin and the tumblers click into place one by one as I scraped together what money I had, purchased a ticket and verified that my passport was still in order. Explaining to my girl friend that I was going to go live in the Faroes (where?) for twenty-three days (how long?) in an as yet undetermined location (where are you staying?) with five other people, one of whom was a dear female friend of mine was not easy. (It didn't matter that she was married.) The need to write (scripts, interview questions, a journal) did not seem to register with her and any other experience I would gain (gaffer, cameraman, roadie and roustabout) might as well not have existed. It was just as well that I had to leave quickly. One can only explain something simple in so many ways.

Kona to Honolulu is a short flight. I've done it many times. An hour to the airport, hugs and kisses goodbye, then a half an hour through security, board a Hawaiian Air jet and take off. Thirty minutes later I'm at Honolulu International late at night and after a three hour layover I'm airborne again and leaving my island home behind.

Outbound from Hawaii you fly with tourists returning to the mainland and Hawaiians of various stripes headed for Vegas or business or to military bases following a leave at home. There are enough familiar looking faces and local attire so that the flight seems like a trip with friends. It's a comfortable feeling and I was able to rest and listen to voices in the night and the powerful muted thrum of the engines as they pushed us east toward the rising sun.

Los Angeles is Los Angeles. If you know the airport there's not a lot I can tell you. If you don't there's nothing worth knowing. Homogenized is the word that comes to mind. I spent another three hour layover seated near a power outlet in the wall of the departure concourse so that I could use my laptop. Airport food from a faceless Mexican food establishment. Bud's Burritos or Tanya's Taco or something like that. People watching. The endless stream of harried travelers flowing past was mind numbing and vaguely discouraging. The colors and flavor of island attire were gone, swallowed up by the throng. I was now officially on my way to somewhere else.

Los Angeles nonstop to Copenhagen. It was my first time doing that but I'd spent months in a cramped submarine far beneath the surface of the sea. How bad could flying coach for fourteen hours be? Don't ask. I'm six feet three inches tall. My seat was the small side of one size fits all and I spent at least half of the flight back aft in the galley getting to know the flight attendants. Thank goodness they knew the drill and didn't mind me being there. I tried to stay out of the way and meditate my way East. Time and miles passed and eventually we landed at Copenhagen Airport. I collected my backpack and sleeping bag, exchanged some dollars for Danish Krone and took a taxi to the Palace Hotel in the middle of town. My room had a distinctly European feel to it, small and cramped and slightly musty. I thought I had been given a closet with a bed. The bed was six feet long and about four feet wide and the room was barely big enough for the bed. Okay, more submarine accommodations. I could deal with that.

I stashed my gear and went down to the lobby to try to find Bonnie. Inquiring at the front desk yielded nothing. All I knew was that she was supposed to be staying at the Palace Hotel. I didn't know whether she'd checked in under her name or that of her brother, Louie's, or of her nephew, Christoph Putzel. I was kind of nervous about connecting with her because though she had invited me to come along, Bonnie did not know I had taken her invitation to heart. As such I really wanted to talk to her prior to boarding our separate flights to the Faroes in the morning. Details.

The hotel sits on one side of the main square in town and has a great little bar that looks out onto the street next to the entrance. I introduced myself to Peter, the bartender, and ordered a Carlsberg. I don't know whether it was the location or the fact that I'd finally come to rest after over twenty-four hours of travel, but that beer was, and still is, the best I've ever tasted in my life. As I drank I talked to Peter about Copenhagen and Denmark and found myself doing double takes every few seconds as one after another, an endless parade of blondes walked by the windows that opened out onto the sidewalk. Bonnie Carini is blonde and in Hawaii her hair color stands out. She's easy to find. But not in Copenhagen. I laughed to myself and explained to Pete that I was looking for a friend whom I thought was staying at the hotel. I ordered a dinner of grilled sausages and had another beer. Across the town square the entrance of Tivoli Gardens began to glow as the sun set. On all sides of the square huge electric billboards lit up the night and people strolled in the warm evening air.

I was thrashed and could feel a food coma coming on so I decided to call it a day. My flight in the morning required that I get up at four to beat traffic on the drive to the airport. Back in my room I called Bonnie's cell phone, not knowing whether it would work. After a few rings she answered. I could hear a lot of voices in the background and had a hard time making myself heard.

"Hi, Bonnie," I said. "Guess where I am right now."

She said she didn't know, but I had the feeling she thought I was still in Hawaii.

"I'm in room 142 of the Palace Hotel in Copenhagen."

"You're what?" Bonnie exclaimed incredulously. "What are you doing here?"

My heart sank. Had I made a huge mistake? Flown halfway round the world only to be told I would not be able to join the group?

It was one of those moments that seem to go on forever and before I spoke again I remember thinking that I was going to go to the Faroes with or without them. The tickets were all paid for and there was no turning back. Whatever happened in the next few seconds was important, but it didn't matter. I was on a fixed trajectory, headed for Toshavn, Faroe Islands at eight-thirty the following morning. Stranger in strange land, but I would survive. And I'd had a really good beer in the bar of the Palace Hotel.

It was an omen.

Had to be.....

To be continued. Thanks for reading. D.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Origin of Pilot Whale Fog (The Movie)

This is a story about a story.

A tale, as J.R.R. Tolkien said, "that has grown in the telling." It is the recounting of the origin of a screenplay that will become the movie Pilot Whale Fog that I have had the pleasure of co-authoring with Bonnie Carini. It is a story of perseverance, love, and beauty in a land that has to be seen to be believed. A story of a people and the great pods of Pilot Whales that have sustained them through long Winters down through the centuries. And most of all it is a story about change and how it will occur, one person at a time, one whale at a time.

In the Spring of 2003 I was working construction on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii after having left my position as Operations and Maintenance Manager of Atlantis Submarines in Kailua-Kona. While taking a friend to the airport I met Bonnie Carini, a woman I'd known for years since she worked as a diver for Atlantis in the late 80's. Bonnie was headed to the east coast for a week to visit relatives and then was flying to the Faroe Islands. I'd known of her plans to film a documentary on those rugged and isolated islands for some time and now she'd finally gotten the grant from Boston Sea Rovers that she'd been waiting for. All the pieces were in place, bags packed, crew ready and travel arrangements made. We had talked at length about her desire to learn firsthand about the inhabitants of the remote North Atlantic archipelago and I'd always been amazed by her zeal for adventure and her love for all creatures of the sea. The trip and the film she envisioned sounded amazing and ever since her first mention of it I wished I could participate in some capacity.

Imagine my surprise when she said to me in the ticket line, "Douglas, why don't you come along?"

"So", as Mick Jagger sang in The Girl with the Faraway Eyes, "I did." "And all my dreams came true..."

This is the story of how.

(To be continued.)(This week and many more for as long as it takes.)

(Mahalo to Madison Woods for the kick in the ass and Bonnie Carini for being a true friend for the ages.
Please pass this around once it gets rolling and comment if you like. Thanks for reading. Aloha, D.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Up From the Ashes

I just received a rejection letter from an agent I had been recommended to by a good friend and published writer. The news came in the form of a two sentence e-mail that set me back to square forty-three in my journey to publication for The Bones of the King. I can't say square one because I would not be in a position to be rejected if I had not checked off a lot of squares prior to now. Having a completed novel counts for something. Still, it has not been read by nearly enough people and I would love to be paid while I write the sequel.

Like the legion of writers who walked this road before me I'm going to continue seeking representation buoyed by the conviction that my stories will resonate with readers, that all hurdles will be cleared and that I will prevail. Is it possible to be a writer without your glass being half full? I'm not sure, but I do know that when I'm writing, my glass is overflowing. Must be a sign.

A good friend of mine from the Faroe Islands, a man who has seen his share of reversals and successes in life would look at me right now with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face and say. "It's a hard life!" He's right, but if you don't ask, the answer's always no. So the journey continues. I'm up from the ashes and flying once more. For entertainment and motivation I'm going to track my progress here. If nothing else, perhaps some other fellow traveler will learn from my mistakes and be able to negotiate his or her own agent search minefield successfully.

If you're a writer and you know of an agent that specializes in action-adventure with a literary bent please let me know. If you're that agent, well, you made it this far. Drop me a line. The story is original and well written and you won't be kicking yourself later because you didn't ask to see it.

The next week will be spent making a list of prospective agents and honing my query letter. Then I'll begin 'asking'. Stay tuned and keep writing.