One of the pleasant side effects of travel is a continued interest in the places you’ve visited. I’m not going ape over French politics, but I started following an English-language website called the Reykjavik Grapevine after our trip there and will check in from time to time. This week’s top story: Tragedy at Reynisfjara.
No, I don’t know how to pronounce it. But we went there. It’s a magnificent place. Here’s 19-year-old Kate, looking like just another crag among many:
The crags are part of the attraction there, and the caves, but mostly it’s the beach, which is comprised of millions of the smoothest black pebbles you ever saw:
This is the southern tip of Iceland, and the sea is ferocious and unpredictable there. There are signs — so many signs — in multiple languages — so many languages — warning of “sneaker” waves, which live up to their name, and can sweep those who come too close off their feet and, quickly, out to sea.
And yet, YouTube is full of videos of tourists walking right up to the edge of the foam, ha ha, then getting hit by a sneaker wave and, within seconds, in dire peril. Someone usually is able to get them out. This week, it didn’t work. Someone died.
The Reykjavik Grapevine interviewed a tourist guide who often takes groups there:
“Once people are off the bus, as a guide, I always go down there,” David told the Grapevine. “I’m there the whole time. I go down ahead. My standard thing is I tell them how dangerous it is, and I tell people that where the waves are finishing on the beach, you give it at least 10 metres. You don’t go any closer and you always, always keep an eye on the ocean. I tell them that I will be there, and I don’t expect them to go any further than I say. I’ll tell them that they will see people doing really crazy stuff; playing chicken with the ocean, thinking it’s fun. You are not sheep. Use your brain, use your instinct, and listen to my words. To this day, I’ve had a few people get wet feet and that’s it, and I’ve been taking people there for over 15 years.”
While he says that this is common practice for experienced guides, there are limitations to just how much power they have over their groups.
“The problem with being a guide is, I have no authority,” he said. “After the last big incident, we’d be down there, screaming at people to get away from the ocean. Some people listen to us, but then there’s some people who will confront us and say ‘What are you, police?’ They’ll be swearing at us, telling us to f*ck off and all this.”
Who among us hasn’t done something stupid? But I look at this and think: Man, swept out to sea in the far north Atlantic while on vacation is a pretty stupid — but undeniably dramatic! — way to go.
Speaking of decidedly less dramatic passings, I’m remiss in not mentioning the loss of Ann Hilton Fisher’s mother, Miriam. Ann comments here, but not often, and is far more active on social media, particularly Facebook. Over the years, I’ve been charmed by her stories about Miriam, who is — was — something of a love dervish, serving her community (Marquette, Mich.), her church (First Presbyterian) and her friends and family. She was a firecracker to the end of her life; one of my favorite pictures is of her and Ann swimming in Lake Superior not many years ago, as the last of the winter’s ice bobs around them. She was one of those women who took in boarders at her house, students at Northern Michigan University, and some of their stories about her abundant kindness will move you to tears. Anyway, Miriam finally went to her (surely abundant) reward at 96 while we were in France, and her memorial was this week. There’s a site called Padlet that compiles all the ephemera of these events, and Miriam’s is worth poking around in. I wish it allowed hyperlinking to individual bits of it, but you can’t have everything. If you control-F to “Carrier,” you’ll find one of her boarder’s testimonies, which I think gives you a sense of what Miriam was all about. I also loved her story called “The Gift of Water,” about her life as the child of a missionary working in Iran.
OK, then. We’re enjoying a warm day that will end in rain, and then Indian summer will be over for good, they promise us. Had to happen eventually. Good weekend, all.