Each year on the night before we left Thingeyrar, the horse farm in northern Iceland that had welcomed me and a group of fellow women travelers, we would sit down together with our Icelandic hosts for a farewell dinner in our guesthouse. During the week, our hosts provided simple and hearty meals, and we ate apart from them. But on our last night of the stay, in celebration of our time together, our hosts would prepare an elegant dinner party for all of us to share, complete with appetizers and extravagant French-style meals – beef bourguignon, coq-au-vin, salmon en croute.
As the years went on, these dinners became larger and went on longer. Neighbors and interns from the equine college would join us. We would have to stuff two long tables into a rather small dining room that during the day also served as a living room, with couches, a TV, and even bed berths. We would set the tables with tablecloths and find wild flowers to put in vases: lupine, buttercups and dandelions from the pastures. Before dinner we would go into town to the liquor store (the vinbudin) and buy wine in bottles instead of the usual boxed Franzia that was a staple in our guesthouse. In Iceland, pre-tourist invasion, choices for wine and beer in a small town were limited. The typical vinbudin would only have a few brands of beer and only about a wall’s worth of bottled wine to choose from.
We would dress up for our dinner party, which meant putting on a nicer sweater with our jeans, or maybe wearing some makeup, and lipstick, or blowing out our hair after a long shower.
Before we sat down to dinner, we would pass around the guestbook and write our thanks to our hosts for another week in this beloved place. Over drinks, we might put on silly skits, or on occasion read a poem, or a passage from a book that we thought relevant.
Mid-dinner, when I was sure everyone had had enough to drink and was eager to laugh, I would stand up and begin reading the Saga I had written for the occasion, in full faux medieval style. It would always be a recap of our week together, our tales of adventure and misadventure— whether it was in the saddle crossing a deep river, or at the Blue Cafe eating chocolate cheesecake.
The real Icelandic Sagas are peopled with mythic stories of heroes and villains with medieval monikers: Olaf the Peacock, Aud the Deep Minded, Leif the Lucky. In the Sagas I told, we had our monikers too: Sylvie the Red, Eve the Cheerful, Viv the Unweary, Allie the Resourceful… and every year we traveled to the Golden Summerland of Thingeyrar. Our horses were brave steeds, mythical beasts in our minds, and we were a troupe of loud-talking women who, when facing uncertainty, turned reluctantly bold, though more often comically lucky.
After the dinner party would break up, we would go out to the fields and walk among the horses to say our goodbyes to the herd and to the farm. We were at a latitude only a hair’s breadth from the Arctic Circle, so late June nights were full of light. The summer sun hovered on the horizon so that time, days, life, seemed endless for a short while.