One of the most important things in a culture is its folklore — tales that have been passed down over the centuries from family to family that shape the morals and fabric of a society. In Western society, these folktales have been watered down via Disney or the Internet, but in a secluded country like Greenland, which was isolated for so long from traditionally modern society, the tales are not only still told verbally, but also performed.
The story telling isn’t just about the dance. (Photo: A Broad Abroad)
At the National Theatre of Greenland, I met the principal, Makka Kleist, and her dance student Kimmernaq Kjeldsen.
Anybody who knows me knows I don’t drink vodka. I don’t do tequila. And I’ve never been a big fan of anything that comes with a garnish. I am, however, a beer girl. Raised in Cincinnati, a town with German roots, I have a deep love of hops, and over the years my tastes have been refined fromHudepohl and Schlitz to craft beers. Don’t get me wrong — when stuck on a riverboat for a bachelorette party in, say, Austin, Texas (thanks to my sister Emily), I will still happily down a Bud, a Coors, or a Schlitz. But I have learned to appreciate the fine craft of beer making and love a small-batch brew. So on my trip to Greenland, when I heard there was a craft brewery in town, I made a beeline for it.
The Godthaab Bryghus brewery is in a building that conveniently also houses a dive bar called Daddy’s. While “Daddy” is a great guy named Gert, the actual brewery is run by Mikael Sorenson, who swears that the beer there is made with glacier ice that is at least 2,000 years old.
“Yes, we have men who go out onto the ice and cut slabs off the glaciers for us and bring them back here for our beer,” Sorenson said.
[Side note: Apparently ice cutting is a big business. Down the street is an ice cream shop that also uses 2,000-year-old ice. “Ice cream in Greenland?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it cold enough?” No. It’s not. Greenland has the second largest ice cream consumption per capita in the world, second only to Finland. Go figure.]
While there are no official stats on how much beer is consumed in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, judging by the crowds in the bars and the continual snow, I’d say it ranks right up there. And frankly, I can’t say I blame them — the weather is rough (see previous episode: “Snowmageddon 2015: Cabin Fever Hits Hard in Greenland”), and the beer is delicious. At the time I visited, there were five beers on tap, including the Musk Ox, the Eric the Red, and the Polar Bear (they like to name the beers after local animals). And here’s a tip: While they are all delicious, if you ever find yourself at Daddy’s in Nuuk, ask for Gert and Mikael and get them to give you the unfiltered versions of all the beers. They may smell like dirty feet, but they taste like heaven.
As anyone living on the East Coast can tell you: This past winter was rough. I thought I’d seen it all — snow for days, snowdrifts several feet high, icy sidewalks — you name it. But apparently, in the Arctic Circle, what we call Snowmageddon is just another Tuesday in April. Or May. Or, you know, whenever. And when you’re in the Arctic Circle, all plans are speculative.
I went to Greenland in April, with dreams of dog mushing, ice fishing, Northern Lights viewing, and hanging with polar bears and Inuit, possibly in an igloo. I was supposed to fly into the capital city of Nuuk (population 17,000) for a few days before heading north to Illulisat and my adventures. Little did I know a blizzard was on the way. And by blizzard, I mean a snow dump that lasted three and a half days — as in, it didn’t stop snowing for one hot second for three and half days. All flights were canceled and my A Broad Abroad crew and I were stranded — granted, we were stranded at the lovely Hans Egede Hotel, but when the power goes out intermittently for three and a half days, all hallways, no matter how nice, get real creepy, real fast.
Now, I don’t know if you know this, but there’s not much to do in a town of 17,000 people — especially when you can’t walk anywhere due to low visibility and spotty electricity. But, just in case you are ever in the same situation, I have made a handy-dandy list of things to do when snowed in — and, even better, I captured all the randomness on video. So, watch the video and read the list.
1. Make new friends. Or try to…
Just so you know, there are three — count ’em, three — guys on Tinder in Nuuk. And not one of them wanted to hang with me … possibly because in my not-so-subtle message I asked for an interview instead of a date, typing, “Hey! Just in town for a hot second with a film crew — want to be on camera and talk about how to date in Greenland???”
2. Ask for suggestions of what to do on Twitter and Facebook
Which leads to things like making snow angels (and getting snow down your pants), building snow caves (and getting snow down your pants), snowball fights with strangers (fun fact: Locals in Greenland are much, much better at snowball fighting than anyone from 49 out of 50 United States — funny, that), and karaoke/sing-alongs with the guy playing piano at the hotel bar. A lot of karaoke and sing-alongs.
3. Have a drink. Or five.
Speaking of hotel bars, when the sun is blocked out for days on end and every hour bleeds into the next, there’s not much else to do but drink. Thankfully, Greenland has a lively craft brewery scene, and the beer is not only delicious but locally made (unlike everything else in the country, which is imported), so it isn’t insanely expensive.
4. Just give in to cabin fever — start talking to yourself and filming homages to The Shining
When I first heard about the Arctic Winter Games, my head immediately filled with snowboarding, skiing, dog mushing, and possibly ice fishing. But that’s not all that happens…
Occurring every two years, the Arctic Winter Games are the Olympics for athletes in the places that inhabit the Arctic Circle: Canada, Russia, Alaska, and Greenland. Within the games are the Arctic Sports, a series of competitions that derive from Inuit culture and survival techniques that the Inuit needed to have when hunting or camping out on the ice for weeks on end. While now performed inside a warm gym, some of the sports — while featuring some seriously dubious names — can still be dangerous: Greenland’s Prime Minister Kim Kielsen is missing the middle finger on his left hand thanks to a game called the Finger Pull.
According to the Arctic Winter Games website, finger pulling occurs when “Two competitors sit on the floor facing each other and lock middle fingers. Competitors pull steadily at the fingers while bracing their opposite hands on their opponent’s ankle. The object is to pull the opponent over or touch the opponent’s hand to one’s chest.” Again, this can be oddly dangerous.
2. The Kneel Jump
“The competitor begins in a kneeling position, with buttocks resting on one’s heels, toes pointed backward, and hands on knees. From this position, he then jumps as far forward as possible, lands on his feet in a squatting position, and maintains balance.”
“Two competitors lie on the floor, their stomachs facing each other. A looped band is placed over the back of each head above the ears. Rising to a ‘push-up’ position with only hands and feet touching the floor, the athletes pull with their heads, bracing their hands out in front and using their whole body strength to pull steadily backward. The object is to pull the opponent over a line that is drawn between them. (Males only)”
“The competitor starts with a running or standing approach with feet no more than shoulder width apart at take off. The target must be clearly struck while both feet are parallel. Maintaining balance and control, the competitor must land on both feet at the same time, no more than a shoulder width apart.”
“In the starting position the competitor must brace himself with the elbow of the balancing arm tucked into the body. The competitor begins by lifting his feet off the floor while balancing on his hands. With one hand the competitor reaches up to strike the target while maintaining his balance on the other hand. The striking hand must touch the ground before any other part of the body does so. (Males only)”
“The competitor lies on the floor, face down, with arms straight out in an ‘iron cross’ position. Four assistants lift the competitor two to three feet off of the floor and carry him forward at a constant speed. When the competitor’s body or arms begin to sag, he drops. Longest distance before dropping wins. (Males only)”
7. The Triple Jump
“Using a running or standing start, the competitor completes three consecutive jumps. Feet must stay no more than shoulder width apart. The shortest distance from the back of the starting line to the nearest point touched by any part of the competitor’s body wins.”
While there are more self-explanatory Arctic Sports – including arm pull, stick pull and other jump categories, these were the most… illuminating of the bunch. In 2016, Greenland will host the games solo for the first time ever, so Arctic champion Tonny Fisker took me to the local high school gym where he and other athletes were training… Check out the video above for all the arm pulling, head pulling, stuffed seal kicking, and airplaning in action. It’s pretty fascinating. I swear.
Most people don’t associate the Arctic with couture… and many people would cringe if told a jacket was made from polar bear (a threatened species), seal, or arctic fox. But then again, most people don’t live in Greenland — population: 50,000 — where clothing needs to be functional and warm. Very warm.
In Greenland, the majority of the populace are either full or partially Inuit, a people who have lived self-sufficiently on the island for tens of thousands of years — it’s only relatively recently that they have incorporated outside trade into the culture. So they hunt and eat and wear what they kill. The clothing they made hundreds of years ago is still being made today — in the same way.
Yes, that means they wear things like polar bear fur and skin (which is banned in most countries) and Greenlandic sealskin (which is exempt from the EU ban because it is considered ethically correct — the animals live in freedom until the day they are shot). Plus, the animals are shot for meat, with the skin being secondary. (They do eat polar bear in Greenland. Not a lot of it, but they do. It is supposed to be very fishy.)
Hansen in her national costume that has fit her since she was 13. We are jealous.
“We use every part of every animal we kill,” Louise Lynge Hansen, owner of Nuuk Couture, said, noting the meat is eaten, the skin is worn, and even the bones, claws, and teeth of an animal are used for adornment.
Each community has it’s own take on the traditional costume: in the far north, it is basically a huge polar bear coat and seal leggings, but the further south you go, the more colorful and intricate the costumes become.
Details of Louise’s national costume.
But Greenland isn’t just about old school Inuit costumes — thanks to a new wave of designers, it is now trying to establish itself as a fashion hub. Hansen and a few other local designers are starting to combine function with style, using traditional materials like wool, silk, and seal skin to create unique, new looks.
Hansen, from a Western tribe in the South, still wears the national costume her grandmother sewed for her when she was 13. She keeps it wrapped and stored carefully in a suitcase, only taking it out for special occasions. The outfit is comprised of outer boots with minute pieces of colorfully dyed sealskin hand stitched onto white bleached sealskin, sealskin leggings, fur shorts with more detailing, several inner shirts, an outer coat, and a beaded neckpiece.
Yes, I know it’s hot out — summer usually is — but not in Greenland. Ever. And it certainly wasn’t anywhere near hot in April, when I went there to film a story for “A Broad Abroad.” Being terrified of the cold and not exactly a “mountain climber”/hike-outdoors-in-the-snow kind of girl (I am much more an après skier than an actual skier), I was concerned.
(Photo by Corbis/Erik Mace/Yahoo)
So, I checked with some friends and, thanks to their help, was dressed appropriately. In the end, I may have looked like the Michelin man or the kid from A Christmas Story, but I was warm. And this, my friends, is how you dress for the Arctic:
For a good base layer, start out with some solid long underwear like the Women’s MTF4000 Leggings from Hot Chillys. (Photo: Hot Chillys)
Step 1: Base layer — long underwear
You can use any kind of long underwear, but I prefer the Hot Chillys brand — it has fleece on the inside and hidden key pockets and Uniqlo. (It’s cheap. And good.)
A pullover like the Women’s La Montaña Zip-T will keep you nice and warm. (Photo: Hot Chillys)
Step 2: Insulating layer — pullover sweater or fleece