Some Journeys Are Not About Arriving

The Dutch have a word “niksen”, which refers to the act of purposefully doing nothing. It has been used as a way of reducing stress and burnout. The Norwegians have a penchant for “slow television”, where people spend hours watching a broadcast of relatively ordinary scenes such as a view from a moving train. Residents of Iceland, too, have something similar. They call it “Ísbíltúr” which roughly translates as an “Ice cream road trip”. It might sound a bit strange for a country that has more than its fair share of ice, but in fact, isbitúr is a very well-defined tradition. The idea goes like this: The driver (usually family in tow) heads in the direction a favourite ice cream shop. There is no hurry to reach the destination, so the trip purposefully includes a generous amount of detours. On arriving at the ice-cream shop, everybody is rewarded for their patience and everybody gets to choose their ice cream and toppings. Then the road trip continues, with the driver once again aimlessly navigating the streets of Reykjavík while trying to eat ice cream at the same time. The road trip usually leads to nowhere but home, so it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Related to this cool idea of taking life in its stride, I present a poem by the famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney titled “The Peninsula” for reflection. Following that, you can watch a short video clip where we hit the road with journalist Egill Bjarnason, on an “isbitltur road trip”.

‘The Peninsula’ by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
for a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
the land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
the ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
and you’re in the dark again. Now recall

the glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
that rock where breakers shredded into rags,
the leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
islands riding themselves out into the fog,

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
except that now you will uncode all landscapes.
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
water and ground in their extremity.

In this pensive poem, Heaney begins with a moment of being stuck, when there is nothing more to say. He might be referring to writer’s block, or perhaps a difficult period one goes through when all is spent and there is a sense that everything is unravelling. As if to offer a remedy, the writer steps outside, into the landscape, driving to places “without marks” and with no arrival, absorbed only in the act of passing through. He drives into the night when “the ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable.” Heaney’s specific landscape here is to the Ards Peninsula near Belfast where he used to visit and whose rugged outline and rocks ‘where breakers shredded into rags’ remained in his mind’s eye as he drove back home. The poem ends with no resolution but with a deeper appreciation of basic forms and elements and ‘things founded clean on their own shapes.’

The lovely undulating landscape of the Ards Peninsula, Northern Ireland.

Watch: Ísbíltúr: An Icelandic ice-cream Road Trip

Video clip source: Monocle.

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