To my wonderful, supportive and very much missed husband – if I do not show up at our door in a couple weeks as originally planned, a hint as to where you may find me. Sitting in a Torshavn cafe on the harbor, gazing out as the turbulent, expressive fog and clouds roll through, content to stroll through rain-slicked streets, narrow, twisting medieval streets to my little wood house painted bright red, my grassy turf roof dancing in the wind. All of this after an afternoon of watching practically every kid in town playing intense soccer. And wearing my Icelandic sweater and Faroese football scarf. I love you, but the Faroese have taken hold of my soul since literally the minute I stepped off the plane onto the foggy runway and breathed in the fresh sea air.
Just a hint.
And truly, I am in love with Torshavn, the tiny capital of this tiny nation of almost 50,000 people. Of Viking and Celtic, fishing and sheep farming stock. Soft-spoken poets and musicans, every one, but made of hardy wood that weathers every storm, a hardiness and tenacity that was on full display my very first night in Torshavn.
On the plane over, it slowly dawned on me that I was surrounded by Italians. That’s odd, I thought. Why so many Italians going to an island nation most people outside the Danish-speaking world have never heard of? But I’ve run into these quirky tourist patterns before, such as the abnormal number of Spaniards in Greenland. So put it out of my head.
Until my opening conversation with my hostel roommate Ruut, a sweet happy-go-lucky wisp of a girl from Finland who mentioned she might go to the football match that night with the entirety of Torshavn. I have being yearning to see a professional soccer/football match since landing in Iceland, as both Iceland and the Faroes are unusually soccer-mad for such tiny populations. And not only was this a professional match, it was a match between the Faroes and Italy. Yes, ITALY. One of the best teams with some of the best players in the world. Playing against a team of ordinary Faroese men who have day jobs as teachers, carpenters, and plumbers. On Faroese turf. In an intimate stadium that holds maybe a couple thousand people. Oh, yes, did I want to go?
So we decided to go buy some tickets. Only to discover upon our trek (I use this term generously. A 15 minute walk) that the match was sold out. However, our journey in the incessant, but gentle rain that lends this country its mellow mood, was completely worth it. The stadium complex was host to several kids teams practicing on its multiple fields, little toddlers kicking the soccer ball with their fathers, more serious athletes running around in their warm-ups, press setting up for the big match, and the two security guards that are apparently all they need for their international matches. We could have walked right into the main stadium and onto the field, three hours before the match.
This is a perfect illustration of what I adore about the Faroes. It’s an easy-going, friendly, and small society where everyone knows everybody. Unassuming, yet proud of their nation. A country where the Parliament meets in a small, gray timber building that looks like a warehouse, so open that I could walk right up to the windows and look into the chamber where the politicians debate and write the laws. Where you stumble upon the Prime Minister’s office while wandering the tiny, zig-zagged roads of the oldest section of the city. A historic red-painted timber building, just steps from the harbor, with a birch bark and grass turf roof. I could walk right in and say hi if it wasn’t the weekend. Complete accessibility.
Ticketless, we headed instead to a local bar/pub to watch the game on the big screen with the 6 other people in the entire city not at the game. And WHAT A GAME! David and Goliath, where Goliath technically wins, but in reality it’s David who has reason to celebrate. Some perspective here. The Faroese team are not professional footballers. The Italians are some of the highest paid professional footballers in the world. So no surprise when Italy scored 10 minutes into the game. But then the Faroese dug in with their grit, stubborness, and sheer heart and nearly scored three different times (one time the ball glanced the wrong way off the goalpost) while the Faroese goal keeper made up for his early error (it was an odd goal the Italians got, the keeper really should have saved it) with save after save after save. And as we went into the half still 1-0, we all looked at each other in amazement. This was turning into something special!
The second half was equally exciting. The Faroese in the pub yelling at the screen, groaning at missed opportunities, throwing hands into the air and leaping out of their seats at the suspense. It was magic. The Italians more and more frustrated, and according to hostelmate Jeff, who had scored a ticket and was sitting directly behind the goal, the Italian goalkeeper was screaming at his team. At 88 minutes in I took a photo of the score. And when the ref sounded the three short blasts on his whistle, the Faroese commenced celebrating. David had not slain the giant physically, but in their hearts, the Italians knew they had lost and the Faroese knew they had won something truly remarkable by never giving up. You could see as they played that they knew they could actually win.
Next day, as I dodged broken glass to explore the city, I ran into the Faroese team. All in their blue warm-ups, eating lunch in a pub while watching highlights of their game on TV. In a store, I bumped into one of the players picking out knitted gloves for a souvenir. He was followed around by his own personal fan club of four old Faroese men, chatting gayly and slapping him on the back while he smiled quietly and occassionally nodded his head. I told him, “Fantastic match last night!” and his smile was priceless. He headed out onto the street, an ordinary man who happened to be part of something amazing.
The Faroese are extremely creative – seems like everyone is a writer or musician. I found a little music shop called Tutl, an eclectic little place with one wall of CDs and another wall of chairs and headphones to listen to the music. All the music was of Faroese musicians and bands, and by my count, at least 100+ unique musicians. Tutl is also the recording label for the Faroe Islands, extremely prolific in recording and producing local music of all varieties – haunting folk musicians singing of the sea and fog, alternative and indie rock with a mystical edge, grunge rock, country music, even Irish music. The only genre I didn’t discover was rap. And their music is pure poetry. I was happy to while away the afternoon listening to CD after CD and ended up paying a small fortune to bring some of my discoveries back home.
The rain stopped and started, all day. Fresh, clean air. Green roofs everywhere, mown only on national holidays. (Imagine mowing your roof. I love it. And it’s so environmentally sound, especially as insulation for your house. The roofs are lined with tree bark from Norway and then the turf planted on top, only needs to be replaced every 50 years. Watered almost daily by the constant rain and fog. And the turf roofs with solar panels to catch the occassional appearances of the surprisingly hot sun – truly brilliant.
Local beer served in little pubs, often filled with live folk music on weekends. A medieval street plan and old city center that is the only European capital to never experience a devastating fire. Old boats bobbing in the harbor. Public artwork everywhere. Horses grazing in the middle of the city, right next to the football stadium.
And that was my first 24 hours. Can you see why I may just buy a little cozy turf roof house of my own?