By Ann Sofia
As an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute/Great Books participant, I joined the Worldwide Quest tour group affiliated with Classical Pursuits of Toronto for a late-summer visit to Iceland. This small island nation is home to some of the toughest, most self-reliant Norse descendants who are also among the most literate and literary people in the world. Literacy is 98 percent, and one in 10 citizens has published a book.
The nine-day tour started and ended in Reykjavik (smoke or fog harbor), capital of a nation of unexpected dichotomies—it’s situated only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, yet it is reliant on geothermal activity for hot water and heat in buildings and homes while living with the threat of volcanic eruptions under icy glaciers! The south of the country is green and home to horses, sheep, and even trees as well as most of the population.
Readings for the trip included two Icelandic sagas; The Fish Can Sing, a novel by Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness; Jar City, a modern crime mystery by Arnaldur Indridason. Participants started the day with literary discussion led by Great Books leader Mark Cwik, followed by a variety of related cultural (and tourist) experiences.
The five-day visit to the countryside centred on a working horse and sheep farm situated in “saga-land,” home to one of the major battles in Njal’s Saga, as well as a visit to Thingvellir, where key sequences in Game of Thrones are filmed. The Icelandic guide had a masters degree in comparative literature and contributed greatly to the group’s understanding of Icelandic culture.