I met Greenland in august 2017, but I had heard of her in 2013 while reading the book “Dove il vento grida più forte” by Robert Peroni. At that time I thought Greenland was too far north to get in touch with her overnight.
Then it was the moment of icelandic experience that changed the meaning of geographical coordinates. In december 2016 I was almost booking my fourth trip to Iceland, when I ended up in a presentation night of the last tale/ reportage by Giorgio Fornoni: wintertime in Tasiilaq, East Greenland, hosted in the Utiili Aapalartoq (the Red House) of Robert Peroni. Both of them were in the room, willing to answer all the questions. I didn’t open my mouth, but I decided the time to leave for Greenland had arrived.
In a 14- day travel I figured out you don’t go to Greenland, but you live with Greenland and greenlandic people. You can be a curious visitor just if you want to feel like a foreign body or a zoologist. Of course it is not easy to find the words to relate with a place in the same way you are used to do it with people, but the effort in trying makes you undestand how little account we are used to give to what is aroud us, as it just lays here and doesn’t make us feeling anything. And you can be surprise of how people who has been living with that place for years don’t fade at all when you recognize more power to the environment. At the opposite they stand out for the familiarity in their relationship with that place, for how they have been able to understand it.
Who is Greenland?
She has a name that everybody knows, but to which a few people are able to put a face on. You know is north of here, but maybe we are so used to look at the globe starting from our latitude (Italy is between 37 and 47 degreees north latitude), when our finger get to Greenland, we feel like attempting the impossible. Maybe, if we were born with her, it’d seem normal to live between 59 and 83 degrees noth latitude and the rest of the world would seem like a negligible emanation of our land.
I make it easier: Greenland looks like a dog head with his neck tied to the Arctic Ocean (to be clear the one that has the North Pole in the middle), looking South. At least if you have the same results as me in the Rorschach test…
She’s the biggest island of the world (more or less 7 Italies), but she lives with about 57,000 inhabitants (less then 1/1,000 of italians). Let’s say that the main reason of this “shortage of people” is the fact that 80% of the greenlandic surface is covered by the Arctic ice cap that reaches 3 km of thickness and, beyond thinning issues related to climate change, it doesn’t disappear neither in summertime. And here we are at the no.2 point of the causes of low population density: even if she is in the same hemisphere as we are, so the seasonality isn’t inverted as we were talking about Australia, in practice she knows a summer season in july- august and then she lives 10 months of winter (with gradual variation of hours of daylight and darkness, from 24-hour night at the end of the year and 24-hours daylight in the middle of the year). Lastly a reason no.3 exists: her surface is rocky or permafrost (freezed sediment or soil layers), so it is impossible to farm. But she likes who she is.
Then who lives with her? The inuit, the native people of Greenland (but they are not the Eskimos, because Eskimos include some other indigenous populations). And there is also a minority of continental Europeans, mostly Danes and Norwegians.
4 distinctive features
- You can’t get to Mrs. Greenland by car, I mean it doesn’t make any sense, because she has routes only in built- up areas, so you move by helicopter, boat, kayak or dog-sled;
- Greenland is a constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark. The official language is greenlandic, but the currency is the Danish krone. People actually speak four different dialects, West and East greenlandic, South greenlandic and the Thule dialect, and they can’t understand each other so they speak danish to be able to communicate. The official greenlandic is the western one;
- Mrs. Greenland is big, so within her territory changes in natural pheomena are observed and you can’t give univocal information about climate and hours of daylight and darkness. Generally you can say there is an opposition between eastern and western side, not only linguistic, but also climatic (temperatures are lower on the east coast because of the influence of a cold current coming from the North Pole). A difference in human presence and facilities correspond to this climatic difference, so the west coast is more populated (Nuuk, the capital city, and its 24,0000 inhabitants are here with 14 out of 18 municipalities of the island);
- inuit people do not live only with Greenland, but also with Canada and Alaska. The igloos, the famous houses made of ice, were built only in the Canadian area and were a living arrangement for wintertime (during the summer they lived in tent). The winter houses of greenlandic inuit instead were small structures made of stone and wood and they remind the icelandic turf houses.
I went on the eastern side of Greenland, where Tasiilaq is. And in the next weeks I’ll try to tell our encouter.