My husband and I just spent a few days in Reykjavik, and once again, I was astonished at how relatively little information I have about the world around me, and how many completely unwarranted assumptions I make, based on the limited and limiting information that’s been passed on to me from others. For example, outside a soaring modern church in the center of Reykjavil is a statue of Leifr Eiricsson, with this inscription on the back:
Wait – I had some vague factoid in my head about somebody named Leif Erikson sailing west from Scandinavia…but discovering the US? And wait – the one thousandth anniversary of the…Althing?
So I bought a little book of Icelandic history, written by an Icelandic historian, and it seems as though there’s a good deal of evidence that a guy named Leifr Eiricsson sailed from Iceland around 1000 AD and established a settlement near what is now Newfoundland. There is some indication that he may have also sailed as far south as present-day New York.
And yet, every child in the US still learns that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and became the first European to set foot in North America. Well, except for that other guy who showed up 500 years earlier. Ironically, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9th “Leif Erikson Day”, so you can actually decide whether to celebrate Columbus Day or Erikson Day during the second week of October. That is, if you know that Leif Erikson existed and that he has a national holiday dedicated to him.
And as for the Althing – that’s the Icelandic parliament, which has met regularly since the year 930. It’s one of the two “oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world,” according to Wikipedia.
I love finding out new stuff…I get excited to realize that as long as I live, there will be new and fascinating things to discover every moment of every day.