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Trip 36 — Eysturoy Walk

Friday, 16 June 2023

"The person you love is 72.8 percent water and there's been no rain for weeks."

A succinct promise of science, turmoil, calculations, yearning, wit, contradictions: the opening of Johan Harstad's novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? The next sentence introduces Mattias, a 30-year-old gardener who is most at ease when unnoticed and unheralded. The third sentence comprises 92 words, the fourth 93. Then the book chugs along, like a rogue express train with indeterminate destination, blowing through all the commas and gasping only for short breaths at the full stops. Some sentences carry on for more than a page.

When the first chapter finally hurtles to a halt on page 96, Mattias is literally and mentally asea. Life has come crashing down and his friends have brought him out of Norway on a ferry to be their band's sound technician. It's a rough and violent night, and something makes me reread the passage every few days, knowing I'll tear up each time, as one might listen to a favorite song to push through the angst. "It's the end of the world as we know it," and suddenly I hear that familiar lyric everywhere.

After some unaccounted-for hours, Mattias is alone and wet and lying on a road in the darkness. He gathers himself up and walks until he slinks into a bus shelter, where he is picked up by Havstein, the operator of a government-funded kind of house of psychiatric rehabilitation.

The building is a converted factory in Gjógv, a village at the northern end of Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands. Mountainous Eysturoy, the second-largest of the Faroes' 18 main islands, is shaped like a hand with eight or nine fingers, most of them bending downward toward the right. The Faroe (pronounced sort of like "pharaoh") Islands are an autonomous territory of Denmark and are situated north of Scotland and southeast of Iceland.

Eysturoy ("East Island," pronounced "est-roy") is the next island to the east from Streymoy, which contains the Faroese capital of Tórshavn. Streymoy is in turn one island east of Vágar, which contains the archipelago's only airport. Eysturoy has been connected to Streymoy by a bridge since 1973. At the end of 2020, a massive tunnel complex, including an underwater roundabout, opened, connecting two of Eysturoy's "fingers" with Hvitanes, just above Tórshavn.

The Faroes' main airline is Atlantic Airways, with which one can book flights to Vágar that depart from New York Stewart International Airport, somewhere near the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge up the Hudson River. Alas, those flights don't start until late August and will operate only once a week, so I'll be on my way via a more traditional route: a plane change in Iceland. It'll be a long day — two flights, two buses, and a 27-kilometer walk — but with June sunsets after 11 p.m., quiet roads, and a fish-and-chips truck that happens to set up in the northern town of Eiði on Mondays, the island promises to have me content and nourished when I arrive in Gjógv.

Go on to day 1