Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pass the Cod Flavored Doritos, Please

  Both Tole and Lawdog have extolled the virtues of The Gamers, but while poking around the rental site I got one of those "We think you would like..." things, and one of the suggestions was Astropia, an RPG geek movie from Iceland.  It's standard fare: Shallow girl finds herself in tough circumstances, takes job in comic store, and finds true love and her inner nerd in the end whilst battling crime.  Wait, crime in Iceland?  Who knew?  The real treat though was watching icelandic life filmed by those who live there.  It's pretty amazing that they have managed to carve out a comfortable life on an island which looks so barren.

  It invites comparison to  Greenland and why the Norse were not able to hang on there.  One thing I've discovered is that archeology can be fad driven in a major way, and by studying archeology or history one can learn a lot about modern times.  For example, when I was young, it was held that learned men in the Middle Ages wasted a lot of time arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  This was evidence of how backwards things were back then, since people were starving and those who should be helping were arguing meaningless things.  It later morphed into a semi-serious argument, since a fixed number of angels would mean that angels were not just made of spirit.  Still not helping the starving, but a move towards rationality.  The problem is that no one in the Middle Ages really cared about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  It was a rhetorical argument, designed to help a student convince  you that he knew that 144,000 angels could dance on the head of a pin.

  The same applies to the Norse Greenlanders.  Right now, they've been hit by a one-two punch of Global Warming (Wait a second.  Heat would make life better)  Climate Change and the entity known simply as "The Church."  As time goes by, there will be other theories; I think pandemic was popular for a year or so.  Right now, no one can say for sure, but I can tell you why the Icelanders were able to hang on when the Greenlanders were not.  Me, currently baking in the Texas heat, never been to Iceland or Greenland, speaks not a lick of the language.  Here's what happened:

  In the deepest North Atlantic winter, when human life was hanging by a string, one Icelander said to his friends, "I'm going to use the last of my strength to go down to the beach and uncover that dead shark that washed ashore last spring."  And his friends replied, "To hide our shame, we'll make it our national dish."



  1. ZOMG, rotting, pickled shark. Needs must and all that, right?

    Also, the Icelanders (Icelandians?) have all that lovely geothermal heat available. Which leads to the occasional volcanic eruption, that's true.

    You really need to log onto the IRC at the Gunblogger Conspiracy and have a chat with our resident Iceland native, NinjaViking. I'm sure he could answer all of your burning questions!

  2. Have you read Collapse by Jared Diamond? It's gotten a lot of bad press from various quarters, most of the same folks who bashed Guns, Germs, and Steel and at about the same skim-level of reading.

    There's a lengthy chapter on the Greenland collapse, and you're actually pretty close to right; among a huge number of factors contributing, one important one was that the Greenland settlers were agriculturalists who in large part based their cultural identity in contrast to the natives already there, whom they regarded as savages. One of those distinctions was that fish was food for savages... never did develop much interest in seafood until it was too late.

  3. Another piece of the puzzle was the collapse of Icelandic democracy.

    After the last Gothi ( hereditary jurist/legislator office ) was bought by the king of Denmark, the allthing declared the King's word to be the law, and permanently disbanded. The king then made shipboard trade to Iceland and Greenland a monopoly.

    The Greenlanders had no wood for boats, so they could not self-rescue. The monopoly prevented small time merchants from doing marginal ports of call like Greenland ... boat owners had to turn to fishing instead of viking.