22 May 2008

proof of presence

One thing that Icelanders absolutely love that has taken a bit of getting used to for me is the Signing of the Guestbook. Sure, there are guestbooks in the US, at weddings, at art openings, at other kinds of important receptions, but here they are at spots both large and small. In order to commemorate your presence there, it is essential to leave your name in the book, with or without comment. This happens in tiny summerhouses, this happens in mountain huts, this happens at the top of Esja.

It's not just an Icelandic thing though, it seems to be a habit of the northern countries. When I was in the wilderness of Norway I signed the guestbook at the top of the mountain when I skied, and when we were in Finland, we got the special permission to sign the Awesome guestbook at the home of the famous Finnish composer, Sibelius. The names of our Icelandic choir members were on the same pages as foreign dignitaries of all stripes, preserved for the next decades.

Is it because the populations are so small up here that people want to know where others have been, that the stamp of human presence is significant wherever you are? Is it in hopes that you will one day return to that same place and be able to find that record of years ago when you were at the same location once before, and remember all the time that spans between? Whatever the reason, I hope to sometime find my name again years from now in one of these books, sprinkled across the landscape.

7 comments:

jonas said...

i figured i'd "sign your guestbook" here... i've been reading your blog for a long time and it is wonderful. planning a trip to iceland in august.
i look forward to more and more posts... best,
jonas

Anonymous said...

I feel I must complain (in the most benign sense of the word) about the lack of pictures accompanying these recent posts! Your words paint the most scenic of pictures, but your photography is also sublime, and has been missed as of late.

But seriously, another lovely post. I've noticed a few of these guestbooks in my travels - probably the most unexpected one being in a German WWII cemetary located in France. We did sign - I'd love to go back and find it again.

-Sarah :O)

chic cyclist said...

I never considered the guestbook a particularly Northern thing - my great-great-aunt keeps one in MA, and I've signed a number of them in mountain huts along the Sierras. Watching my dad sign the special Stanford book at Cliveden makes me think that it's really all about the 'club' of those who've already been here. Signing it makes the place a part of yourself. That a book can do that is really remarkable.

ECS said...

jonas: Thanks for saying hi! I hope your trip is all you hope it will be.

Sarah: Yeah, I do have some photos but I haven't gotten round to sorting and uploading. You know how things are these days :)

CC: maybe it's just the kind of thing that appears in places that don't have too much traffic, although my aunt has a bathroom guestbook that has lived in at least four countries along with her. I do like the tradition. Oh, and since this is national bike-to-work month in Iceland I thought I should mention that your blog is AWESOME! I wish the weather and my commute were more agreeable to such stylish cycling statements as you are displaying there.

SOe said...

I LOVE to sign guestbooks - to say that I liked the place and would like to come back someday. We have a lot of them in Germany too.

chic cyclist said...

E, what are you saying about your aunt's bathroom???

With smiles,
C

Food, she thought. said...

Guestbooks are like OG blogs. That or more polite graffiti. One or the other. Maybe both.