Wednesday, October 5, 2011
I cannot understand the disinclination of most air travelers to gaze down at remarkable sights. Once I flew right over Niagara Falls, having been alerted by the captain to the prospect of this awe-inspiring view out to starboard. Afterwards I looked around and every single portly window-seat traveler was impassively glued instead to the television mounted on the back of the seat in front. Yesterday’s transatlantic journey was far more amazing. The flight to New York from Stockholm took an especially northern route—I’m not sure why. At first we headed north-west and out over the Norwegian Sea, across the Arctic Circle, eventually leaving Iceland far to the south. After some hours we then hugged the coast of Greenland for quite a long time, then crossed the southern end of it, heading in due course right across the Labrador Sea, onwards over the vastnesses of mainland Newfoundland and Labrador, not all that far south of Nunavut, into darkest Québec, then more or less due south over the mighty St. Lawrence and essentially down the Hudson Valley into Newark, N.J.: only seven and a half hours. The view of Greenland was wholly unimpeded, and there is something mind-boggling about flying for an hour or so over seemingly endless glaciers of incomparable scale and power, enormous territories without the merest hint of human habitation. Having just spent some days sampling the material culture of the Vikings, I was struck by the contrast between what they managed to do with longboats and broadswords and hemp and runes and the effortlessness of modern travel by jet. It could not be starker. The least one can do is to be amazed and humbled by it, to harness imagination to the eye, be in thrall, and not watch television. Unfortunately at length an elderly Swedish flight attendant with glossy scarlet fingernails ordered me to close my blind, so that was that. In a way I suppose the Vikings are still with us—certainly I was not inclined to resist, for fear of being brained with a Champagne-bottle (business) as with a cudgel at, say, the Battle of Hjörungavágr.