Friday, 24 July 2009

Still on my mind

It's funny how I cannot recall what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can, with the tiniest prompting, expound at length, with staggering levels of detail, on my trip to Greenland last summer. About how people get by, with the high prices, by visiting amongst the often large extended family without ever paying for a hotel, but filling every spare inch of floor space with sleeping bags at Christmas. About people taking advantage of the lottery in Kangerlussuaq to hunt the quota of musk oxen, and sharing the carcass, storing it in their immense freezers (yes, freezers are ubiquitous in Greenland). How everyone lives by the coast, and knows someone with a boat, who goes fishing. How the magazines feature awards given to loyal workers at TelePost, for ten, fifteen or twenty years' service by quite young people, and how people tend to hang onto jobs, often for life (not surprising considering many of them come with accommodation). How a small supermarket bag of cheap pasta, tinned fish, yogurt, three 'Viking steaks', milk, a bit of fruit and something green will easily top £20 (US $35). How the banks don't take UK debit cards because of Danish banking regulations, but the people working there are very friendly and helpful, and outside the capital, all dressed very casually. How the fog comes down in Qaqortoq and erases the top half of the hill with its staircased streets of primary coloured houses. How the rain comes down and it is never really very cold in August and early September (except on the top deck of the ferry at 5am) and I am a fool to be carrying around thermal trousers (most of the time!). How the spines of the books in the public library where I shelter from the rain are all rebound in jewel colours, pink and yellow and lime green, paperbacks to be treasured forever. How the fish market is selling whale but I am too late to see it and instead photograph the remains of giant ribs, chest high, sticking out of the rubbish bin. How the tables are cold steel and spread with fish and seal sliced red, gold mother of pearl eyes unseeing as the camera lens. A man, grey haired with a flowerpot shaped hat and glasses, wanting to shake my hand, talk, tell me he is sixty today. A museum, in an old hotel that looks like a red school house from pioneer America, where I steam around, drying out and looking at amazing tupilak carvings in creamy bone by father and daughter Aaron and Cecile Kleist. Where upstairs I photograph the room where Charles Lindburgh and his wife stayed, photographs of them and the seaplane floating on its pods in the harbour. Where the national costume is displayed, yoked neckwear that looks like Shetland knitwear in photographs but up close is composed of intricate beadwork in reds, yellows, white, indigo, purple and blue. Where a series of medium format square photos are displayed of life in the early 1960's, faces that tell of childhood, festive dancing and proud truck ownership but also of locals sat round the table with colonial bureaucrats who built the new concrete housing blocks that today are so run down. A woman, smoking a pipe, toothy and wrinkled grin challenging me to understand.