Amazing the books I run across. This was a delightful find, extremely well written with evocative images and pithy, humor-laden sentences: "My Icelandic was too rudimentary for that. It's a difficult language with an excess of grammar." and "The weather was classic Icelandic: forty degrees and raining sideways." There's also an amusing scene where dual meanings of the Icelandic word for ride can be endowed with sexual connotations. Shades of me growing up and confusing scatology with eschatology.
The author, who at the time was teaching at Penn State, and her husband rented a small summer home (really more of a shack) with no electricity or plumbing on the assumption it would be a good place to escape distractions and to write. Not your customary summer home. It was separated from their car, parked at the end of a cow lane, by some kind of estuary. If the tide was in, an hour was required to walk around to get to their car. If not, and a prominent rock was visible, and, to quote their son, they avoided the "sucking mud", they might reach the car in twenty minutes.
Brown had studied medieval literature (Beowulf in the original Old English drove me crazy in college) and had a professor who communicated his love of Icelandic myths. That pushed her in the direction of studying Icelandic sagas and the book is filled with links to an old Icelandic tale to illustrate a point she is making. Iceland has an interesting history and given its long winter nights and plenty of lambskin to write on, evolved a strong story telling/writing culture, proud of its independent, kingless, society, especially before the Norwegians took over in 1262. They wrote their sagas in the vernacular prose, unlike Europe where verse dominated.
Brown is also somewhat of a horsewoman and was intrigued by the Icelandic horse, a breed carefully isolated from any possibility of being sullied from outside influence. The breed has an interesting mutation that permits five gaits (tolt and pace being the extra two) as opposed to the "normal" three gaits. (Her website has an interesting explanation for the chromosomal differences and whether three or five should be considered normal. (http://nancymariebrown.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-pace-gene.html?showComment=1351467939599#c7564118958242638698) Most of the book describes her quest to bring home a couple of these unusual horses. The differences in riding style and requirements between what we consider to be "normal" American riding and Icelandic traditions and training were fascinating.
It's a difficult book to classify, part travelogue, part essay, part history, part memoir; but who cares. My only complaint is that you'll want to climb on the next Icelandic Air to check out Iceland and its horses. A great read, especially if you love horses. Except maybe for the part where she discusses why Icelanders eat their horses and why we don't. As with so many things, it has to do with religion (Pope Gregory III) and Norse sagas.x;">'via Blog this'