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203 7 PAYING TO SEE THE STARS A NEW KIND OF SURVIVAL “I’ll pick you up at Dísa’s,” Inga Fanney said to me on the phone. Dísa had returned to live in Iceland some years earlier, and her extra bedroom had become my much-cherished Iceland home. “I want to take you up to see my land, the summer house,” Inga Fanney continued , “but first I want to show you something.” She drove us to her house, and after making coffee (of course), she went into the other room, bringing back an old book. “Do you remember that seawoman from the late 1800s you wrote about, Gudný Hagalín? The one who liked to shoot foxes but then her aunt said she couldn’t?” I nodded. By this time, I had begun writing this book and had given sections of it to Inga Fanney and others to read. The idea was to let the seawomen tell me if what I was writing about them was actually true. “Well, Gudný was my great-grandmother. And I had no idea she ever worked at sea!” “What?” “This is Iceland, Margaret,” Inga Fanney said, as if that explained everything—which it did. She opened the book. “Here is a history of the family.” She then got up while I thumbed through the dusty pages. Shortly, she returned bearing a garment wrapped in a plastic clothing bag. “This was hers,” she said. She carefully unwrapped the plastic to reveal a long black wool skirt and a very petite, square-cut jacket, very stylish even today. They were both trimmed in elaborate embroidery of swirls and floral designs, all in silver thread—real silver. The effect 204 CHAPTER SEVEN of the silver on solid black was stunning. “This was her confirmation dress,” Inga Fanney said. “In our family they are passed eldest daughter to eldest daughter, so it came to me.” I reverently touched the dress, thinking of the gutsy young woman who had worn it. Confirmation generally occurs at age fourteen, so she would have been fishing then. I thought about this connection, seawoman to seawoman, a lineage that was invisible perhaps, but still going. I felt very happy that I had given Inga Fanney the manuscript to read. “This was hers,” I stated, as if to make sure it was real. “Yeah,” Inga Fanney said, carefully pulling the plastic covering over the dress again. “And look at this.” She took from a box a stack of yellowed documents. “No one really cared about these, so I took them.” She laid out one document. “Gudný’s father died when she was sixteen, so after that she was alone. She married at nineteen and had nine children, of whom only three lived longer than she did. One son drowned when the boat he was on sank.” She paused, then continued. “My grandfather had been living in Canada, and in about 1926 he came back. He had dark-brown eyes, dark hair, and tan skin—in Canada everyone thought he was French. He didn’t look like an Icelander—and he was dressed in the style of an American, not an Icelandic farmer.” I decided not to ask Inga Fanney the obvious question, since if she had known what might have caused him to look so different she likely would have told me. Contact between foreign seafarers and Icelanders was fairly well established, regardless of the rules, and especially from the late 1800s, when those regulations became more relaxed. In thinking about encounters between Icelanders and foreigner seafarers, I suddenly recalled from my research a wonderful account of Katrín, the seawoman who found her miracle coat tumbling on the waves. While she and her crewmates were out fishing one day in the early 1900s, they heard the shouts of some French fishermen who were fishing on a much larger ship nearby. Katrín and her crewmates gradually realized that the Frenchmen were attempting to shout the Icelandic word for “gloves.” Icelanders knew their knitted gloves, made with the particularly warm and waterproof wool of the Icelandic sheep, were a highly valued trade item. So Katrín and her crewmates, who, being prepared for this possibility , happened to have some gloves in their boat, pulled up alongside the Paying to See the Stars 205 French ship and got invited aboard. They traded the gloves for pounds of biscuits and some fancy French bread—both groups very happy with the trade—and then...


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