Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To the island of Christianso

On the last day of the conference in Bornholm, 10 of us headed on a field trip to an island 45 minutes off the coast. If we'd wanted to go either of the two previous days, we'd have been out of luck: it was too windy for the ferry to travel. But on Thursday the weather was perfect, and ironically it got WARMER as we headed out into the Baltic Sea toward this tiny island.

Christianso - also called Ertholmene (the Peapod Islands) - is basically an old fortress, built in 1684 by King Christian V. Over the years it's been used in various wars, such as with Sweden (1684) and Britain (1808). It was also used as a prison. In 1855, its use as a naval base, fortress and prison came to an end, leaving just a few inhabitants. In 1863 former soldiers and others took up residence there as fishermen.

In 1926, the Danish government to preserve Christianso as a "memorial and to tell coming generations about the greatness of the Danish navy, but at the same time to keep the islands as a living society." The islands are now maintained by the Danish Ministry of Defence and are not a part of a county or municipality, and therefore the population may not vote in county or municipal elections. An administrator, Peter Riis, runs the islands.

Interestingly, the islands are known at "the island," as opposed to Bornholm, which is "the land."

Today, there's a lovely little pub where we had lunch, an inn, a church, a couple of souvenir and ice cream shops, a museum, a doctor, and a school. About 70,000 people make the voyage in the summertime; but in the winter it's a different story. As the promotional material says, "The community takes a breather, and the islanders collect their energies for a hectic summer ahead."


Because of the timing of our tour, we hadn't been able to take the ferry from Gudhjem, but rather went to the town of Allenge by cab, and arrived on Christianso just after lunch. Our return tickets were for 4:30, back to Allenge, but then I noticed that there was a 4:15 boat back to Gudjhem, so I hopped on it. The others quickly followed, but there were a couple stragglers. We waved to them from the boat and they hurried across the little bridge to get there, but they weren't quite quick enough: the boat started to pull away. But then the captain stopped the boat and went back for them - a wonderfully island thing to do!

It was an altogether grand day. Thanks, Chris McMurray, for keeping me company on our tromp around the islands!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Bornholm

The Copenhagen airport is really one gigantic shopping mall: gates and flight information seem incidental. I find it hard to believe that all those shoppers are actually going somewhere. I had just come through the ubiquitous perfume section of yet another duty free shop, wondering whether to turn right or left or just turn around, when I practically walked into Laura Lee Howard and Erin Kielly, who were heading to Bornholm, too. Suddenly the airport didn’t seem so big. I was able to relax and take it all in – the fashions that might make their way to Prince Edward Island NEXT year, the designer kitchenwear and jewellery. the smell of hot dogs following me around with "canine loyalty"…

 We eventually got to Bornholm – an island of 43,000 people a 35-minute flight east into the Baltic Sea. The island is solid rock, with sandy beaches on the south side.  “Born” has been shortened from “Burgundy,” where the original inhabitants of Bornholm came from, and “holm,” of course, means “island”  (reminding me of Bill Holm, author of that wonderful book, Eccentric Islands). A bunch of us conference-goers – from PEI, Australia, the US, Malta, Hawaii – caught a local bus to the town of Gudhjem, the site of the Islands of the World XI conference.  And some of us PEIslanders are staying at Gudhjem Feriepark, or, as Laura Lee calls it, "Good Time Ferry Park" so we’ll remember it. We overlook the Baltic Sea, and the only place to use wi-fi is beside the pool. I know, it’s rough. But it’s not like it’s 25 degrees or anything… I’m wearing a sweater and my jean jacket, while the hordes of Danish school kids frolic in the water in front of me.

The Conference is pretty amazing: papers from islands from all over the world. I gave mine in one of the art museums – the perfect place to be talking about island culture. My topic was: “'Just isolated enough to be real': The island factor in creating culture."  Here’s a link to the abstract online.

There were 10 of us from PEI – the biggest single contingent. But my nametag identifies me as “University of Tasmania” – another sign that this is really happening. (As if lugging my bags from the bus down to the feriepark wasn’t enough of a reminder!)

On the first night we watched the movie, Pelle the Conqueror, which was filmed on Bornholm. The book was written by Martin Andersen Nexo, who grew up in Bornholm; he took the name "Nexo" to remind him of his home town just down the road from Gudhjem. The next afternoon we hopped on a bus to tour and have sessions at a fabulous art museum 15 kilometres from Gudhjem. 

The painting above by Bornholm artist Oluf Host reminded me of the farm Pelle lived on. 

Another evening we visited and had coffee and cake at the Bornholm Folk High School. We then trekked through the woods for an hour, arriving just in time for a three-course banquet – totally magical all-round. We even got everyone up dancing after supper!

On Thursday some of us went on a tour to the island of Christianso, a 45-minute ferry ride from Bornholm. I’ll write more about that next – and show you some amazing photos!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leaving home

This trip, leaving Prince Edward Island by ferry seemed like the right thing to do.

Even though I knew I’d have more time to do that last-minute packing if we took the bridge, I had to make the effort to get to the boat on time – and feel that prerequisite “ferry panic." After all, I’m going off to study islands – it would be cheating if I left any other way.

We made it to the Wood Islands Ferry with plenty of time to spare, and sat outside at the terminal in the Friday morning sunshine, knowing we were missing the Gold Cup and Saucer Parade… heresy to Charlottetonians, of course, so I hope I’ll be forgiven next time I’m back on Island soil… We stopped to have lunch with friends near Tatamagouche, NS (thanks, Pam and Wayne, for the wonderful curried carrot and zucchini soup, scallops and potato salad, and Icelandic lemon pudding with blueberries they’d grown themselves – well, maybe not the scallops and the lemons! – and the garden tour). We then headed to Cap Pele, to spend the evening with more friends (more fabulous fixins, including home-made cannelloni filled with seafood and veggies and a peach cobbler courtesy of Bill and Gisele; their renovations of the old general store at Baie Verte are on track to become a pub in another year’s time – and then you, too, will be able to experience Bill’s exquisite cooking!). It was fitting, I suppose, spending my last evening in North America looking across the Northumberland Strait to my beloved Island. Because of the light, the Island looked like it was floating. Gisele told us that you even can see the Bridge when the light is right. It wasn’t and we didn’t.

Saying good-bye to everyone has been emotional, as you might imagine. When I first started talking about this adventure last fall, I remember going into Claire’s bathroom and just crying, thinking about it – I was already homesick and I hadn’t even left yet! So these past few weeks I’ve had lots of partings… though it’s been easy to stay humble when many have said, “Oh, I thought you’d left already…” And “Where is it you’re going? New Zealand? Tanzania?” I thought about getting a tape recorder: Friday. Nine months. Tasmania.

Jeanette Walker’s ring, my going-away present from my colleagues at UPEI, members of the writing community and my friends who all contributed to the gift certificate, is an amazing reminder of what I’m doing. Cathy Gillan and Claire Nantes came with me to design it, and we’ve managed to capture the symbolism of my journey: the opal (my birthstone) is home for me, while the two smaller stones are the islands I’m heading off to study. There are lots of waves and ripples, a sand-like finish to the silver, and an edge that’s sculpted like the shoreline. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I know it’ll help me feel less homesick in the weeks and months ahead.

And now I write this on the leg of my journey from New York to Iceland. I had another surprise, after standing in various line-ups in the noisy, overcrowded, and highly charged JFK for two-and-a-half hours waiting to get my boarding pass and then going through security. (I am so NOT a city girl! Give me a small island anyday!) I couldn’t find any wireless service or electrical outlets to recharge my spiffy new MacBook, but had a great pint of Dos Equis (from Mexico) in a pub – which helped improve my mood. Icelandair started boarding the flight 50 (!) minutes before the scheduled departure time – the opposite of Air Canada, who MIGHT start boarding five minutes AFTER you’re supposed to leave. And when I got to the door of the plane – called Eldborg after one of Iceland’s ancient and most beautiful (and thankfully extinct) volcanic craters - I noticed that my seat – 5A – was to the LEFT of the door – Saga class! So now I sit here in a wide leather chair with champagne at my elbow, complimentary socks on my feet, my laptop being recharged as I type, and my sweetie’s voice in my earbuds, singing “Chinatown” from his Birdhouse CD which I downloaded before leaving home. I smell supper coming – tiger prawns, herbcoated salmon, and chocolate and coco dream for dessert. Sure I’ll have another glass of wine, as I raise my glass and say thanks to Melissa at The Travel Store and good-bye to the lights of North America. For now.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The countdown is on!

Only nine more sleeps before I head out on this wonderful adventure to the other side of the world - as far away from Prince Edward Island as you can get and still be on the planet! Going back to school to do a PhD with Dr. Pete Hay at University of Tasmania's School of Geography and Environmental Studies is an amazing place to be at this point in my life: I feel like I've won the lottery! And the scholarship from University of Tasmania is the real lottery: thanks to an Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarhip (EIPRS), I can follow my dreams!

My flight takes me from the top of the world to the bottom: from Halifax to JFK to Reykjavik to Copenhagen to Bornholm, where I'm presenting a paper at the Islands of the World XI Conference. Some of us islophiles then head over land and sea to the island of Ven in Sweden, to another conference called Finding our Place: Islands and Social Theory. Then back to Copenhagen Aug. 31 to fly to Frankfurt, Singapore, Sidney, then Hobart, arriving Sept. 2. So where will Sept. 1 have gone, I wonder?

Imagine my surprise when I went on the Guernsey Arts Commission website and saw a photo of me giving my paper at the Art and Islands Islomania Conference (June 23-25, 2010), sponsored by the Commission and SICRI (Small Islands Culture Research Initiative)! It was a fabulous conference that brought together over 30 scholars to talk about the importance of culture in small islands. There was lots of interaction between the presenters and the local Guernseyans, and the island of Guernsey put on a fabulous show, too: what a gorgeous island! I especially loved Herm Island, and taking the ferry to the "mainland" every morning and back "home" every evening... the paradise motif was at its best! The final afternoon of the conference featured an ephemeral art project by Andy Goldsworthy, symbolizing the transient nature of life at the edge. While the tide was out several students worked alongside Goldsworthy to sculpt rounded boulders out of sand, which were then destroyed when the tide came in. How fleeting life is!