Thursday, August 3, 2017

Another Yo-Yo Summer

I said last year that I wouldn’t do it again, but I think I may have actually done more bouncing back and forth this summer than last!  Home, D.C., Charlottesville, Reykjavik, Marysville (OH), Pierre (SD), Philadelphia…and back.  All this to say, I need another vacation to recover from my vacation!

I'll spare everyone the blow-by-blow, but here are a few of the summer's highlights:

My first trip was to Reykjavik.  Mostly I was there for research, so that fact that it was in the 40s and rained every day of my first week there didn’t actually affect me that much: I was in the basement of the library poring over an 18th-century manuscript.  However, we did have a couple of nice days, one of which gave me the chance to walk out to the Grotta lighthouse/bird sanctuary:

Grotta Lighthouse (with Snaefellsjokull glacier in the background on the right!)
The other nice-ish day happened to coincide with a day trip I took to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), which I’ve always wanted to visit, having seen them from the mainland many times.  

The Westman Islands viewed from the ferry.
The islands have a dramatic history: they supposedly got their name when Irish (“Westman”) slaves who had murdered their owner were captured and killed there, and then Heimaey lost more than 200 people from its scant population to a Barbary pirate raid in the 17th Century.  But they also happen to be ruggedly, Icelandically beautiful.

One of the smaller islands, taken from the deck of a tour boat
A basalt archway
The remarkable colors inside a sea cave.  Our skipper was amazing at steering the boat into these caves.
But they are probably now most famous for the volcanic eruption of 1973 that gave the Westman Islands the nickname “Pompei of the North.”

This may look like an idyllic scene now, but the photo was taken from the top of a lava field that swallowed 400 houses and changed the shape of the harbor!
You can read about the details of the eruption itself from more authoritative sources than me, and if you’re ever in Heimaey yourself, the Eldheimar museum has a great display of photographs and recordings; it’s actually built around the ruins of a house only half dug out of the black ash.

You can see why they call it Pompei of the North.
Photo from 1973.  Source: Eldheimar Museum website.
But here are a few of my own pictures of things that I thought were particularly striking:

A half-buried house just outside the museum

The lava wall that stopped just short of this street.  The owner of this car parks at its base every day!

Signs on top of the lupine-covered lava field mark where streets used to be
The graveyard, which was buried under ash as deep as the black pole (on the right) is high.  The archway says, "I live, and you shall live."
What was perhaps most amazing about touring Heimaey, though, was that the memory of the eruption is still so fresh in the minds of the locals.  All our tour guides could casually point up a street that now ends in a wall of lava and say, “My mother-in-law used to live up there,” or “The lava stopped one house up from my father’s.”  No one was killed in the eruption, but everyone knows someone who didn’t come back after they were evacuated.  Who can blame them?  

Eldfell, seen from the water
But for those who do still live in the shadow of Eldfell, the volcanic mountain newly created by the eruption, the determined love of their home was evident in everybody I spoke to.  I think I’ve noticed this love more in Icelanders than I have in any other group of people I’ve met, and with a country this beautiful, this volatile, and yet this fragile, you can see why.  Tread lightly, fellow travelers: remember the land doesn't belong to the tourists!

The coastal flats between Eyjafjallajokull and the sea
Literally the day after I got back to the U.S., I left for a road trip with my dad; we stopped first in Marysville, Ohio, to visit my aunt and uncle on their farm.

¿Cómo se llama, llama?

The farmhouse with Theo the shih tzu posing in the foreground
The goats will climb the fence for an animal cracker.  That's not cannibalism, is it?
The donkeys and Cody the pinto share a pasture with the llamas and alpaca.  All's well as long as Cody gets first dibs at the hay!
And then we continued on to Pierre, South Dakota, for a family reunion.  Here I played my first round of golf.  
Grandpa and I in the golf cart (this was actually taken last year, but we haven't changed much)

I had a lot of fun, but we won’t talk about my score; instead let’s talk about the kind of directions the GPS will only give you when you're driving through the fly-over states!

"Drive 357 miles on I-90."
Back to Charlottesville after that (Charlottesville being my home base for work in the summer), and finally, this past week, I went to Philadelphia for a course on medieval manuscripts and digital tools for scholarship.  If that sounds interesting to you, check out the Rare Book School—you won’t regret it!

A historiated initial from the medical miscellany I studied in my class.  Image courtesy of OPenn!
Aside from being interested in the subject matter, I was delighted that this class gave me an excuse to return to Philadelphia for the first time since I lived there for a year as a Jesuit Volunteer.  A decade ago, the Liberty Towers were the only glass skyscrapers in the city; now they seem to be shooting up everywhere!  

The Philly skyline from the Kislak Center at UPenn
I was amazed at how upper-middle-class life was creeping north from Center City into areas where we JVs used to work with the poor and the homeless.   

All sorts of ominous explanations exist for why you see shoes flung over telephone wires in the inner city.  I can only say I saw a lot more in North Philly a decade ago than I did this time.
A lot changes in ten years, for better or for worse.  But I did love revisiting my old haunts in Center City.
Reading Terminal Market, which felt half deserted because I went on a Sunday when the Amish-run stalls were closed
City Hall seen from the Ben Franklin Parkway at dusk

I had also never really spent any time at UPenn when I lived in Philly, but that’s where my course was, so I got to enjoy the odd hodge-podge that results when an eminent university happens to be right in the middle of an urban area.  The dorm where I stayed was a 24-floor high-rise that could have housed the entirety of my home institution two or three times over!

August-looking College Hall
Slightly less august-looking "Covenant."  I called it "The Lipsticks."
View of rainy Spruce Street from my dorm: higher than I could ever get without an airplane at my home institution, and I was only on the ninth floor!

My travels for the summer are pretty much over now, but even though they’ve fairly tuckered me out, I’m so grateful to have had all these wonderful experiences crammed into a few months.  Maybe next summer I’ll be more moderate in my scheduling, but looking at my track record now, I shouldn’t make any promises!

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