Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Springtime Place - Upernavik
With snow over much of England, I'm practising for a trip to Greenland next spring. I've been selected as writer-in-residence at Upernavik Museum. Upernavik (meaning springtime place) lies so far north (at a latitude of 72 degrees north) that it is almost on top of the world; the town’s highest point is called 'Life’s Summit'.
I'll be living and working from the old cooper's shop which has been converted into a studio, and writing through the day-long darkness. It is said the townspeople, fishing by moonlight for halibut through holes cut in the ice, sometimes spot narwhals swimming below them.
Story-telling has played an important role in Greenland's culture, but writing was only introduced in the 18th century. The survival of many traditional tales is due in great measure to the efforts of a Danish couple, Hinrich and Signe Rink. In 1858 Rink secured funding and established the first printing press in Greenland, the South Greenland Press. WIth the help of the Greenlanders Rasmus Berthelsen and Lars Möller the press began by publishing small tracts and histories in 1857, moving on to more ambitious and iconic works. These histories and ideas about disseminating and preserving words will inform my work at Upernavik.
The tiny image above shows the cemetery, its wooden crosses slung with wreathes of plastic flowers. Similar gaudy garlands are sold in my local discount store - I'm planning to transport some to Greenland, leaving a trail of neon petals in my wake.