FØROYAR (Faroe Islands) Chapter 2

I received several disgusted looks from my hostel roommates in the morning. At first I wasn’t sure what I’d done exactly but they gave me the impression it was an unforgivable offence. I had hazy recollections of trying to remember whether mine was the top or bottom bunk, and whilst pondering this I sat down with some force on what I thought was an empty mattress. A pained “ooofff” followed and then a rough shove that confirmed that I had indeed come into contact with another man’s testicles. While this poor wretch writhed and bemoaned the likely destruction of his line in a foreign wail, a shadowy figure in boxer shorts angrily ushered me towards the only unoccupied bed. As bad as I felt for my late night stumbles I think those guys should have seen something like this coming. After all, that is the Law of the Hostel. When you step through that dorm door you are knowingly taking the risk of sharing a room with complete strangers/snorers/perverts, at least one of whom will irk you considerably in one or many different ways. This oaf will try his damndest best to give you one of the most sleepless and terrifying nights of your life, resulting in good old travel yarn to be recounted for many years to come. That night I was that oaf, chosen by Fate itself to put a bit of tension in a few fellow humans’ lives and be the subject of their hostel horror stories. I was merely the fulfilling the dorm weirdo role that all hostellers experience and perform at some point.

Despite the heavy night of drinking I felt surprisingly healthy and active. After a quick wash I headed down to the kitchen to find Charlotte. In the mayhem of Germans organising huge sausages in frying pans I found her leaning against the sideboard eyeing the sizzling meat. She said little over breakfast and I began to have the feeling that this would be a difficult day. Over porridge I tried my hardest to get her excited about the next 2 weeks. She explained that as this was her first time in the Faroes, and that I was clearly more experienced in the country’s delights, that I should decide everything that we did while we were there. This seemed fair enough, but I was a little scared by the prospect of being in charge. I am fine deciding for and looking after myself, but when it comes to doing the same for others things usually go horribly wrong. An orienteering expedition under my command on a school trip had once ended in disaster, with the whole group falling out dramatically when I managed to get us lost on a remote hillside in North Yorkshire. Best friends came to blows, couples split up and to cap it all we were chased by a herd irate of Highland cattle. After that nightmare I decided that such responsibilities should lie in other people’s hands, but now I was presented with them once more and I feared for our lives.

While gazing over a map we remembered that we had actually booked a place in a hostel on Suðuroy, the southernmost of the islands, so of course that’s where we had to go. Packing up our things we made our way down the hill to the harbour. We reached the harbour and the huge Suðuroy-bound vessel loomed over us. The whole area was empty and eerily silent in the early morning mist, which had taken up residence across the whole town, snaking through the narrow passageways of Tinganes and hovering over the still harbour waters. We made our way up the stomach-lurchingly wobbly gangplank, which seemed to have once been part of a dangerous fairground ride.

Like the town, the boat seemed to be totally deserted. We dumped our bags on some benches and began a search for some other human beings. Our search was in vain though, with us finding only a radio turned up to full blast in an abandoned office. From the radio came the crackling tones of a man’s voice, and from the sound of him he probably had a huge beard. I understood little of what he spouted, save for few passion filled “Jesus Christis!”  Today, of course, was the day of Ólavsøka. The previous night of revelry and testicular destruction had merely been a warm-up for today’s events. First though, it seemed that they had to get the religious side of things out of the way before they could resume the partying.

We began to think that by leaving Tórshavn we’d be missing out on the fun and I secretly hoped that we cold stay another night. In addition, we both began to feel uneasy on that boat and got the horrible feeling that we were being watched. Shapes seemed to appear out of the corner of the eye, something walking past a doorway or rounding a corner, but upon inspection there always proved to be nothing there.

After a good hour of waiting for the boat to spring into life we came to the conclusion that 1. the boat was going nowhere that day, and 2. If we didn’t leave soon we would surely become members of the crew of the damned. We took our bags back down to the harbourside and wondered what our next move should be.

Suddenly it dawned on me that I actually knew someone in Tórshavn, Anna. Of course! I do not know why I had not considered this before. So, filled with a great happiness at the prospect of seeing my friend again after 3 years we made our way up the blasted hill once more. I could still remember the route to Anna’s house, all we had to do was head towards the huge pointy church that stuck out like a spaceship from the multi-coloured roofs of the capital. We passed through a small wooded park, crossed a gushing stream in which small fish fought against the current and finally traversed a huge slag heap on which sat a small boy admiring the view of Nólsoy across the waves.

I had heard very little from Anna over the previous few months. I had let her know that I’d be in the Faroes at some point in the summer but had got no response. All kinds of fears ran through my head as I found her street- did she still live in the same house? Would she be happy to see me?

I found the house and congratulated myself. On the garden wall sat a fat black and white cat, Findus. Anna’s grand plan of putting it on a diet had clearly failed quite dramatically. I went to stroke it and it lifted a double chin up to me and hissed, before hobbling its way into the cabbage patch. I knocked on the front door of the house and it was quickly answered by Anna’s brother, Snorri. I was very glad to see him, though I doubt he remembered me, and he looked as if I had just disturbed him in middle of something deeply embarrassing. The last time I’d seen him he had been sporting a fine blonde rat-tail which I found to be quite mesmerizing and could not take my eyes off. Now it was gone, much to my disappointment. I also remembered with fondness the wonderful way he pronounced his name, rolling the Rs with a rich resonance which proved almost impossible for an English speaker like myself to imitate. Now in his presence once more I felt strangely shy and stumbled over my words and asked simply if Anna was home. In a similarly bashful way he told that she was in the basement room. A knock at the basement door produced a messy-haired and bleary-eyed Anna. If I had seen her out last night I would not have recognised her. Gone was her blonde bob haircut to be replaced by thick, long locks of beautiful chocolate-brown hair. Gone too were her glasses. She looked at me blankly for a moment and my heart sank.

“It’s Larry” I explained.

I used “Larry”, even though I hate being called that, as the Faroese have real trouble pronouncing my proper name and really get quite upset by it.

“Larry? Is that really you?” Anna asked, mouth falling wide open.

I nodded, feeling like a long-lost grandson. Much hugging and cheek kissing followed and at one point a surprising feat of strength as Anna lifted me off my feet in a rib-cracking embrace.

While Charlotte and I sat at the kitchen table Anna busied herself around the kitchen, cutting bread, slicing cheeses and producing all kinds of delicacies from the shelves for us to eat. She was full of questions, when did we arrive, how long were we staying, would we like some dried fish? I answered them all, chewing on that delicious style of fishy cardboard for the first time since Trondheim. She was looking remarkably well, despite the fact she had been up all night drinking. As it turned out she had been in Café Natúr at the same time as us. She had been in national dress, like so many others that night. Her clothing was hung up on the kitchen door and looked beautiful, with a long scarlet skirt, royal blue bodice and shawl. Silver clasps completed it and put the price up by several thousand Króner. Apparently it was hanging up to dry as someone had dropped beer down it the previous night, and Anna hoped it would dry before her mum got home.

I was so glad to be in her company once again. It was the first time I’d seen her since Clem had so cruelly walked all over her feelings and I could sense a deep sadness within her, but she smiled still and seemed happy to receive such unexpected visitors. We drank our tea and got to know each other once more. Charlotte too was introduced to the pleasure of Anna’s company and they talked girl talk for some time, which didn’t bother me in the slightest and sat happily with warm tea sat in the pit of my belly whlist tickling the chin of fat Findus. The kitchen was warm and secure and I was beginning to settle back into the relaxed atmosphere of Tórshavn. The walls of the room were adorned with maps, maps everywhere. The Faroese islands we were currently proudly displayed on the largest wall, along with a small flag attached at one corner. Old maritime maps were also on view, full of lines of longitude and latitude and countless figures and calculations criss-crossing, which all but obscured the peninsulas and archipelagos the maps were supposed to chart.

A little while afterwards Anna’s parents returned home. Her mother greeted me with surprise but with a friendly smile of recognition. She spoke little English but from the Faroese she spoke she seemed happy to see me. Either this or she was saying,

“Get the hell out of my house” in an extremely polite way.

Anna’s father was a seafaring Dane (this explained the maps) who had settled in the Faroes and seemed the happiest of men. On our first meeting he had entertained me with tales of his life on the waves. He was a captain of a huge fishing boat which regularly haunted the coasts of Greenland and Iceland, an occupation which seemed to throw up all kinds of dangerously intriguing situations. He spoke English perfectly and with a soft and delicate accent that seemed out of place with his hardened, wrinkled sailor’s face. Once he had got me, a timid 16-year-old at the time, roaringly drunk on Southern Comfort and had fed me tiny balls of liquorice dipped in menthol (known locally as “Mouse shits”) which had a peculiar hallucinogenic affect on me, people’s heads turning into the shape of pineapples and other such fruits. While intoxicated he sat me down to watch videos of him and his friends shooting seals in Greenland, a well-intentioned attempt to introduce me to his work but a catastrophic choice of footage to show to a young man still with deep mental scars from the film version of “Watership Down”.

Like Anna, I was really happy to be in his company once more and shook his hand heartily. His hands were strong but somehow reassuring, with thick sausage fingers and skin hardened by salt and rope. His first words threw me off a little however:

“Larry, what happened?”

How do you respond to a question like that? I laughed uncomfortably and an awkward silence followed, but soon we were back drinking whiskey and scanning maps of northern places on the kitchen table. He showed me beautifully hand-drawn maps of the Greenlandic coast and all of its secret fjords and perilous waters. He pointed out the best fishing grounds, spots where he had seen great barnacled whales and places the seas had been the cruellest. He also told me tales of the drinking holes in Nuuk and the fierce fist-fights that occur within them every night. The Greenlanders have a serious problem with alcohol, I learned, but an even greater problem with foreigners.

All of this (punch ups aside) made me want to jump aboard the next boat leaving port and Anna’s dad soon picked up on this. He asked me how long I was around for and to my great surprise offered to take me on a voyage. My heart leaped with excitement. I strongly considered it, though it would mean changing mine and Charlotte’s plans quite dramatically. We still had to visit Iceland of course. Somehow I don’t think she would have been as keen as I was to spend a month aboard a ship with burly, bearded sailors taking snuff and laughing at eachother’s farts. I told him that I would have to talk to Charlotte first and he seemed to understand, but I think he could see in my face how much the idea excited me.

While I was having aspirations of becoming a salty dog, Anna was kind enough to call the hotel in Suðuroy we were supposed to be staying at that night to tell them we would arrive a day late. An angry man’s voice came from the receiver, but with the ferry going nowhere, what were we supposed to do? Anna proved her kindness once more by offering us a place for the night.

Ólavsøka was still in full swing and Anna suggested we head out again for another night of merriment. Tórshavn was once again alive with activity. Anna took us on a tour of the bars and I took great delight in discovering several we had missed the previous night. There was a surprising amount for such a small town. Anna was especially keen on one such bar, informing us that she had lustful thoughts about one of the barmen and she had grand plans for the night. So we followed and somehow managed to thread our way through the crowds, across  sticky floors and up to the empty attic saloon where said lucky barman was. We found him standing alone at the smallest bar in history trying to amuse himself by making bizarre cocktails of Föroya Bjór (Faroese Beer) and Vermouth.

I forget his name, but I remember that he was a foreigner there, a Dane. Being a foreigner in Tórshavn had not been easy in the few months he had being living there. Although everybody in the Faroes speaks Danish, and the country is technically part of Denmark, he told us that had never felt like such an outsider in his whole life.

“They don’t like me here” he said with a sad smile. “Anna has been the only one to help me.” You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, even more so because he turned out to be perhaps the most amusing individual I have ever met, being a fountain of wild tales and urban myths, which from my experience is a great character trait of the Danes. He told me about his well-travelled brother, who once, in Cambodia, was offered the chance by a farmer to kill an aged cow with a bazooka for a small fee.

“The farmer was in need of cash” he explained “and couldn’t sell the cow because it was too old. So he saw my brother walking by, gave him a bazooka, pointed at the cow and BOOM!”

Once again a Dane had left me speechless.

“So yeah,” he continued “a whole trade started and my brother was the first customer. Apparently it’s in guidebooks now.”

As the night progressed the attic bar filled up and the Dane had to leave us to serve the drinkers. Anna was very generous with her drinks, pushing our money away and telling us to spend it on food instead. I tried my best to explain the concept of buying a round, but she didn’t catch on. So hardly had we finished one Föroya Bjór when another was thrust at us.

With the protecting figure of the Dane gone, and seeing me as either gay or a pushover, the young and beautiful men of Tórshavn quickly descended upon my two female friends. One particularly smooth hopeful in suit and tie attempted to woo Anna by singing in her ear. She responded with a slap and he was gone.

The men were taking great interest in Charlotte too, maybe a little too much for her liking. At one point we were joined by a couple of scallywags who had clearly partaken of one too many “lemonades” during the course of the evening. They informed us that they were southerners from Suðuroy and in Tórshavn because spending Ólavsøka in Suðuroy, as they claimed, “is like being dead, but alive at the same time.”

Whilst one of them (who looked as if he’d just come off the set of “Labyrinth”) tried his best to lick Charlotte’s face, the other gave me an extremely loud and violent insight into their lives.

“Do you know what I am?” he asked, delivering a surprisingly painful and unnecessary punch to my chest. He didn’t wait for an answer.

“A fisherman! And do you know why I fish?” he asked, hitting me again, harder this time. I shook my head.

“Because I hate my girlfriend. She wants everything from me.” He now abandoned his violent tendencies and put a thick arm around me and drew me close.

“First she wanted a baby,” he continued “so I told her I had an infection, a real bad infection. My friend is a doctor, and I got him to write a letter to give to her to say that having a baby with me is not healthy for her. So then she said we should get married, and I got on the next boat out of there!”

“And you’ve been a fisherman ever since?” I asked after an uncomfortable pause.

“Oh ja, ja, ja…” he confirmed with slow nods and a smile.

I didn’t really know what to say to this. I think he was looking for me to give him a high-five or something, so as to stay on his good side I shook his hand and said “well done.” I tried asking him why he didn’t just end it with this girl if he hated her so much, but he was off again, shouting, drinking and generally making it his mission in life to make himself the most unpopular man in town.

Meanwhile Charlotte was doing her best to fend off the Gollum-like southerner. He seemed to like her Scandinavian appearance.

“You are sure you’re not Faroese?” he kept asking as he tried to stroke her dreaded hair. Charlotte slapped his hand away and assured him she was as English as…

“But you are so beautiful! In the Faroe Islands we have the most beautiful women. You sure you’re not Faroese?” At that point Anna leapt in and delivered a frightening torrent of words at him, which although I did not understand, I knew were far from complementary. Whatever she told him it was enough to send this creature back into the shadows from whence he came.

And so the night passed. Drinks were drunk, tales were told, looks of love passed from Anna’s eyes to the Dane, who occasionally would send back a painfully handsome smile from the busy bar, reducing my friend to deep sighs. There was such longing in her face that we began to wonder if we were a burden and all Anna wanted in the world was to wrap her arms around him in privacy. I thought about bringing up the subject of Clem, but knew that this would be painful for her, so I kept quiet. Quite to my surprise though she snapped out of her trance and began talking to me on this very subject.

“Larry,” she said tiredly “guess who is coming to Tórshavn in September.”

She didn’t need an answer.

“He says he wants to get back with me, ‘a really great opportunity to see you again’ he said. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that Føroyar are playing France at football here the same week, does it?” I could see tears behind these words, but instead she put her head on one side and smiled at me sweetly and sucked on her cigarette.

“What a bastard” she said exhaling.

I nodded, and added a few other adjectives that clearly spelled out that Clem was indeed, a bastard.

“I’m going to give you one piece of advice Larry, and you must remember this if you don’t want to end up the same way I did.” She finished her cigarette and continued, “Don’t-trust-Latinos.”

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