Thanks to my adventures in Vágar, Ove invited me to a drinks thing at the Harley dealership at 5pm that Friday night, which was as I learned, just the warm up for his 60th birthday party the following night. I turned up late, a little over an hour late, but I didn't realise at the time, that my clock was not Faroese time. I thought I was only a few minutes late, and found it odd that he was so surprised at my tardiness. He is a military man so I put it down to that. See my ferry departure three days later. Made it, just. Last one on. :/
Danish born, Ovve came to the Faroes decades ago. He married a Faroese woman, had two sons, one of whom went on to become an authorised Harley Davidson mechanic who has worked all over the world in places like Los Angeles. Dave Grohl is listed among his former clients and is proudly displayed on the family garage wall of fame. Then there was the time Bill Clinton signed a bike. The buyer knew he was in town and told Ove if he could get the President to sign it, he would buy it. "We don't sell a lot of bikes", Ove joked, "but we have a lot of fun!" These might be the least interesting fact about this family.
Ove has served as a sergeant in the Danish Air Force for over 40 years on the bomb squad. He told me as he tried to ply me with Schnapps, that he will find out tomorrow night at his party if he retires, or if he is given a promotion to a higher rank. Schnapps in the Faroes by the way, are a tradition, and if you come to a local party you will be chased with it until you give in. Even if you are on penicillin. Which by the way the doctor told me I could drink a little bit on. I would later learn from a guest that this doctor, is not only one of if not the best doctor on the islands, but also one who loves his drink. Then again, I have heard that could have been said of most of the island not so long ago.
The table was laid out with a lot of food I didn't recognise but I figured I had to try some. I wanted to. I went up to what I thought was herring or something and popped a piece in my mouth. Whale blubber. It was like an avalanche of butter. Oil oozed with every chew. There was a lot of later learning on this part of my journey and so I later learned that I was supposed to eat this with the potatoes and whale meat next to the blubber. Ég skil.
Speaking of whales, you know about the Faroese tradition, the Grind? Its where pilot whales are driven into the sandy beaches by boats, and killed with expert skill. You have to have a permit to take part and be trained in how to sever the spinal cord instantly. Sound horrific? Then perhaps you know of the activist group of alleged vegans out of D.C., the Sea Shepherds? Well I didn't. I get my news from people, rarely newspapers these days. I need signal, not noise and I am highly sensitive. I found myself going insane reading the news on a daily basis to no effect but that. So I quit twelve years ago. Besides, as Krisitian Blak put it wonderfully, I do not think it is that essential that I am up to speed on absolutely everything.
The Sea Shepherds are listed as terrorists in Iceland and liked less by the Faroese. From their perspective, the Faroese people have fought tooth, nail and chin to be on these islands, to individuate from Denmark, for their language and culture to exist and be taught in schools. The whales are not endangered, the do not hunt commercially, and whale meat use to make up most of their diet. It is along standing tradition, great care is taken to kill the animals humanely (I know, I struggle with this sentence too), and the meat is eaten. The whales are not slaughtered for sport as some propaganda casually infers. World bias is thanks to irresponsible headlines and parachute journalism bringing you articles such as this and even this. For a more educated and unbiased view, read this.
Of course one may still think the whaling is wrong, I understand and respect that point of view, so long as it is an educated one. There is of course a long standing tradition of people from other cultures going to lands and telling people what to do with their culture. Perhaps it is good that the Faroese are given pause for thought, but one thing is for certain. The Media seems to have lost its mind and its place in the world. It could definitely benefit from the power associated with the symbol embossed on my jacket. Allow me digress for a moment.
I love my Ride Regiment jackets. There is an outer and inner jacket with interchangeable armour depending on the temperature out. I wore both for my entire trip except when I was driving locally and it was above 12c which was not often. I have ridden in motorcycle suits, long distance, which I paid hundreds of pounds for, that claimed to be waterproof. Only to arrive in places like Edinburgh with a loch in my crotch, soaked to the bone and shivering blue. My current jacket? Bone dry. Warm. I wear the inner shell everywhere when I'm off the bike, like a second skin. It is stark black and has the white Ride Regiment logo on the left breast, and in reflective silver, Vegvísir on the right and the logo of my first book, based on Mount Keilir on the back.
The Faroes are not exactly dark, but there is a gravity here I felt from the moment I set wheels off the ship. It confounded me and I could not tell if it was me making it up or if it was the atmosphere. I learned it was not me. The very first night walking around Tórshavn, I felt the passers by were a little colder than I expected, even for a Danish colony. But I put it down to tourism and the very palpable feeling that they are being invaded. There is a bar named Sirkus (after the original in Reykjavik) in the harbour, and I swear, most tourists seem to think this tiny archipelago of 18 islands is there for their own amusement. With only 50,000 inhabitants, the Faroes are highly vulnerable and could easily become a circus, some would say it has already happened. I was however, assured by several people in tourism that they are learning from Iceland's mistakes and trying to control numbers. When I told them about the people who oppose tourism one said "You are speaking to the wrong people. They have no idea how many young people can get jobs in the industry." To which I replied, "Perhaps I am speaking to the very people you should also be speaking to."
Lo and behold, here I am two nights later, sat in the Harley garage, chatting away with folks, and one of the guys says to me "You know, at a distance, your jacket looks a bit like a Sea Shepherd´s jacket." "A what?" I innocently asked. He smirked "Are you serious? You don't know? A Sea Shepherd, out of the USA? Vegans against whaling? A Sea Shepherd. Your jacket looks like what they wear." He then produced a photograph of a young girl being hauled off the whaling beach by a police officer by the scruff of her black and white jacket. I leaned in and took a good look. The resemblance was clear. The jacket looked almost identical to mine, except of course for the logo. Mine is Vegvísr, the compass, a symbol of direction. “If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.” Theirs is a skull, a trident, and a shepherd's staff.
This is what was going through my mind during this conversation, and finally I said "OH! So that's why people are giving me the stink-eye on the street!" He laughed and said "Yeah probably. We are usually very friendly and look each other in the eye and say good evening and good day." I was also told that when the head of Sea Shepherds was docked in the port, his volunteers caught him eating meat. I do not have proof, but I want to believe it. Given the way the leader of that group looks, I am skeptical that he got to be as portly as he is, by eating hummus and vegan cake.
I returned to the hotel not long after to find Tómas the concierge and Anne, another hotel employee, chatting at the front desk. I decided to test my theory, walked up to them and told them the story. Anne turned to me and said "You know what? That was my first thought when I saw you." I decided then and there to wear my lopapeysa to the party the next night. And you know what? It worked. Everyone was much friendlier. This oddity does not completely account for the darkness I felt in the Faroe Islands, it persists. Their history is filled with struggle, tragedy and loss, and this can be felt more keenly than in Iceland, which has a similar history. I think the difference felt in each country may come largely down to the Americanisation of Iceland. That is another story.