April 23, 2010
When I heard about the volcano in Iceland my first thought was that I hoped no one was hurt. My second thought was that all those stranded travelers were really lucky to be able to extend their vacations or business trips or whatever their reason was for being in a foreign country, which, I realize, is a pretty boneheaded thing to think. Especially since the people stranded in Iceland, no matter how much they may enjoy the stark beauty of the landscape, the indie rock scene, and the local cuisine which includes sheep’s blood pudding and boiled terns, won’t be able to learn how to pronounce the name of the volcano that’s stranded them no matter how long they stay there. I’m pretty sure not even Icelanders know how to pronounce the name of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull–secretly they probably call it "Jim". Learning Icelandic is made a little easier if you know some of the mnemonics like "I before C except after G, when it sounds like Q if it’s followed by H and…" This goes on for about twenty minutes, but that’s another story. I know it’s boneheaded of me to think people are lucky to be stranded because when I’ve been on a trip somewhere and trying to get home no matter how much I enjoyed the place I was visiting there still comes a point that I want to get home, especially since I was two hundred miles away when I realized I went off and left some milk sitting on the counter.
At least the people stranded in Iceland can take comfort in not being stranded in Greenland, which was only named Greenland as a clever marketing ploy to try and lure away Iceland’s indie rock scene. Greenland, I’ve been told, has more ice than Iceland, and is even more inhospitable, but Erik The Red, who founded Greenland, thought no one in their right mind would want to live in a place called Iceland. And yet Greenland today has fewer people than Iceland–or any other country, maybe because it’s one gigantic sheet of ice, which is not only difficult to live on but means your neighbors a hundred and fifty miles away can see everything you do.
Anyway, my thinking people were lucky to be stranded is like the reaction I used to have to natural disasters when I was a kid. I’d hear about some horrible event like a flood or volcanic eruption or tornado, and I’d think "Cool!" I’d think the people who were affected by those events were really lucky to be able to witness them. The TV footage certainly looked spectacular, but then just about anything, no matter how horrible, can look fun and exciting if filmed the right way. I realize now that was a terrible attitude, and that for the people in the middle of those events there wasn’t anything fun about it. In fifth grade a girl came to my school because her school had burned down. At the time I thought she was really lucky, but then up to that point I’d always assumed a school burning down meant the students would get a really long vacation. Looking back my first thought should have been that hopefully no one was hurt in the fire, and that for this girl it wasn’t a lot of fun to take a bus across town to a completely different school. Anyway, just the other night I was watching a program about the geologic history of Iceland. The whole island is sitting on top of one gigantic volcano that could blow at any timr. Even though the video footage of it looked really cool I thought it would be terrible if that were actually to happen. I think if I were stranded in Iceland and heard about that I’d grab a boat and head for Greenland.