Faroe Islans by Cartography
Text by Paola Corini
Photographs by Luca De Santis
The Faroe Islands, green desert for a Nordic summer experience reminiscent of a carefree and dishevelled adolescence. Autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, tiny archipelago often likened to Scotland, Norway, the Shetlands, the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides and Greenland. “Island of sheep”. And puffins, grass, moss, basalt, Arctic light, running water, sagas, grass-covered roofs. Island of miniature villages – Gjógv, Tjørnuvík, Saksun, Mykines, Syðrugøta, Klaksvík, Svínoy, Fugloy, Kirkjubøur, Gásadalur, Bøur – all fringed by the northern Atlantic Ocean.
That year Atlantic Airways started a direct flight connecting Italy to the Faroe islands. One spring ago I began to shyly repeat “Faroe islands” to myself, in that same elementary way I increasingly frequently realized was how I ended up choosing my next destination. Eighteen remote islands in a cold sea, a small archipelago to the north of Scotland and the south of Iceland. Then I understood I didn’t need to beat around the bush to tell people where I’d got it into my head to go, because the Faroes were absolutely present in the heads of whomever I met. What to me appeared an archipelago of my imagination, even though I could point to it quickly on a map of the great northern Atlantic, was known to the most ordinary people. In some way or other, I mean. “They’ve got a national football team,” my taxi driver told me, waving me off and closing the boot of his car with a routine gesture.
“They’d tried a direct flight from Milan and one from Barcelona, and Barcelona won in the end, so you’re coming in from Copenhagen, right?” asked Xavier, a young Dutch man with a lined jotter, tent on shoulder and ten-month-old baby at home with his girlfriend. “He’s called Oscar. He’s shown me what’s best about life. But I have to get off by myself for a few days, you know?” In this vintage, dark teak boat with cobalt blue leather sofas and portholes as thick as bottle bottoms, I only had three distractions, none of which actually belonged to me: turning the sprung knob of a glass chocolate drop vending machine whose contents had become marbled by the cold; sneaking up the steep stairs to the boat deck and seeing the next landing stage with my own eyes, the passengers lost and the new ones being welcomed; finding how to ask that slim boy who looked like a film star whose name I couldn’t remember if he did the same job as me. “Are you a travel writer?” We had the same guidebook.
“It’s the only one of the Faroe islands.” “Yup, you’re right.” I thought that it had been that guidebook that had brought us both to while away that afternoon in the westernmost isles of the archipelago. It seemed Xavier had had a better time of it in the village of Fugloy, while I had landed (literally, after a five-minute, one-way helicopter journey in the thick mist) in Svínoy and the few inhabitants I met couldn’t work out what there was for me to do in the hours-long wait for the next boat, which would arrive at the opposite side of the island, at an unknown time, between four and five in the afternoon, depending on the sea.
“It’s the aim of every Faroese to spend a few days on these distant isles,” wrote our guidebook. Harsh is the most diplomatic word that I can find for a totally austere place, which is anything but pretty or welcoming. Anyway, I would quickly forget Svínoy. Rather what I couldn’t explain, and still can’t, is how some second- and third-generation Faroe islanders could say to me: “Never been to Mykines”, seeing as for me, for two days now, Mykines had become the jewel in the Faroese crown. But those times that my plans had taken me off track I had learnt to say to myself now I know what’s there, across that water, behind that peninsula, now I know what goes on down here. Or what doesn’t go on at all, in the case of Svínoy.
One after another, all of us tourists and travellers would arrive at every extreme of the archipelago, we would go to the end of a road, to the north, south, east and west to see what was there with our own eyes. Mykines, at the easternmost point, stole the show. Sea permitting, we would also reach this small island and then leave it behind. I had read that extract from the guide millions of time, as if I had to learn it by heart: the sea decides when to take you to the island and when to put you back on dry land. They repeated that for a trip to Mykines we had to calculate a few days more to make way for any unforeseen circumstances and they repeated that we may have had to spend the night there, if that’s what was in store for us. “It’s a very hospitable village, they’re used to welcoming visitors.” For me that threat was turning into a hope. I didn’t want to leave Mykines.
Had it been a stormy day, with fog thick as cotton wool, mad northern wind, I would have been the first to go down to the quay to board the only return boat, the 5 o’clock. But I want to think that that day will be remembered by the inhabitants of Mykines as the most beautiful day of their summer 2015. The granddads were cutting the grass on the roofs, the youngest children were drawing squares and flowers with coloured chalk on the rare stretches of tarmac, the slightly older ones were playing hide-and-seek in the potato patches, girls in Olympic swimming costumes and rubber clogs were chatting in the fresh-water pool at the top of the village, the young Swedish girl employed for the summer in the only bar in the village was peeling apples and baking tray after tray of apple pies before the island’s guests returned from their much-plugged trip to the lighthouse...
(Continue on Cartography Magazine N.2)