Saturday, 29 May 2010

Greenland blog 12: experiencing Ultima Thule via the telephone directory

Complete listing for Siorapaluk, Greenland telephone directory. Image copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2008.

In a place where there aren’t a huge number of entertainments, everything available becomes interesting. The most extreme example of this phenomenon I have yet encountered was not in Greenland but in Shetland, where some years ago I stayed for several days on the remote island of Foula, where there were no public buildings aside from the shed that is the airport, and a brand new school-cum-community centre, which served two pupils and some thirty other year-round residents as well as a trickle of bird watchers and archaeologists. Each field, farmhouse, raggedly unshorn sheep, horse, child, angry bonxie (great skua) defending its oversized teenage young, puffin, waterfall and rainbow became precious, as did my domestic arrangements (an unrennovated summer hut where I spent most of my time drying my clothes, and eating the food I’d brought on the gut-wrenching two hour rough crossing). And I needed to have brought all my food: the island had no shop at all, except for one house that sold knitwear. It was there that I bought the beret you see me wearing in the photo that adorns my North Pole competition entry ( I took that photo on the Greenlandic coastal ferry, proving that the hat travelled with me round Greenland.

This digression should help explain, not just why I sported a tan mohair/wool beret on the ferry through Greenland’s coastal fairyland, known as Hamborgerland, but also why I found it interesting to look at the Greenland telephone directory at my landlady’s flat in Nuuk. Yes, the entire country’s telephone numbers are contained in one slim volume (the population is around 56,000 - that’s the population not of Nuuk, but of the whole country). And yes, Greenland (and the world’s) most northerly civilian town, Siorapaluk (population 68), boasts a listing that can be encompassed by a third of a column. That includes around ten business numbers, as well as residential numbers. I have a feeling that not everyone needs to have a land line. After all, if there was an emergency, one could always knock on a neighbour’s door... If I had been able to go to Qaanaaq, the town created when the US military displaced the population en masse from Thule so that a base could be built, Siorapaluk would have been a short dogsled ride, or, considering that it was summer, a fifteen-minute helicopter ride away. And why would I have wanted to do this? People in Nuuk, and points further south, all raved about the far north every time it was mentioned. Nuuk was not the real Greenland, I was told. ‘What are you doing staying here?’ said the bus driver who took me into town from the airport, peering puzzled through his reflective sunglasses, cool in his Manchester United shirt with short sleeves while I stood bundled in two pairs of thermal trousers and a mock-fur down lined jacket purchased in Wyoming. ‘You want to go to Ilulissat, go dog sledding.’ And another man in the hostel in Narsarsuaq went into a rapture of nostalgia, speaking the name like that of a lover, ‘Ah, Thule’, pronounced like a lapping brook, ‘TOOL ah’.

So, unable to journey to the Ultima, I had to content myself with seeing the telephone numbers of the people I might have encountered in near round-the-clock daylight, eager to talk to any unlikely visitor, offering hot dogs and sled dogs that were not packaged for tourists but part of daily life. And, yes, it also meant that although I would be achieving a new ‘personal north’, I would not have that feeling of having gone as far as I could go, before turning around with a feeling of satisfaction that I had seen all there was to see. Is it any wonder that I want so much to stand on the North Pole and feel the entire earth turning beneath me?

29 August 2008 08:11 recalled 16 January 2011


then lope over to my Greenland blog

and stay tuned for another episode tomorrow!

No comments: