Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Greenland: An Unlikely Excursion

Writer’s Note: This story takes place in an alternate world, one where Greenland, the self-described island of ice, is actually quite accessible by driving north on the thoroughfares of upstate New York and Canada. Don’t question the logic; just go with it.


We were somehow motivated to drive north, not knowing our destination exactly. But it was okay because we were adventurous, at least most of us were. My father had his reservations about the whole thing but he didn’t speak them out loud. Rhea and I had driven up there before, awhile ago, but we didn’t remember much about the trip or any of the roads that we had taken. We must have been kids or something. I don’t think we spent much time in the country and we certainly never got to the town of the gingerbread houses. But this time was going to be different. We were going to see Greenland, the good parts, not the frozen wasteland of the central region, the coastal towns, and maybe we would even get out of the car and walk around a little. That was the hope at least.


This time Mom and Dad were with us, though Dad was much less interested in looking around and exploring than Mom was. She has always been very into traveling, very into learning things about distant cultures and peoples. I thought it was sort of weird that she would marry a man that was so content to stay in our San Diego home, lying in the hammock and listening to the Padres lose on the radio. But here we are, two products of that unlikely union, and I for one will not complain about my own existence. After all, there is no case for wrongful life, just wrongful death. But I am digressing already.

We're in upstate New York and driving ever north, toward the border of Canada and whatever is beyond Canada. I suppose at some point we will get into Newfoundland and then finally into the land that they have mistakenly and somewhat cunningly dubbed Greenland. For it is not actually green but white. And Iceland is not actually white but green. Of course even privy to that historical knowledge I cannot say with any sort of truthfulness that Greenland does not intrigue me more than Iceland.  It does.

At least three of us in the car now realize that our ultimate destination is Greenland and we are happy about it. I had wanted to go there for a really long time, I mean really explore the island. I’ve been silently obsessed with it for years, even knowing with certainty that it is not in fact as green as it would have me believe. Iceland with its volcanoes does hold some amount of allure but admittedly not nearly as much as Greenland. I can’t say why.

Greenland always fascinated me, viscerally, like it was almost calling out to me, begging for me to explore it. The ones who call themselves scientists and researchers could never penetrate the land like I could. Pun mostly intended. But I have always been fascinated because of its seeming unimportance in the world, so forgotten amongst the giants.

I love Greenland's obscurity, it intrigues me greatly. I think it intrigues Rhea as well. We both like the unknown places, the places that the tourist companies intentionally leave off their brochures. In fact, at some point, before our lives end, we both want to get to Siberia, that icy wasteland, that vast anti-communist prison. We want to come to know its insides and outs. That is the dream at least. Siberia would be a fun place to travel, the trans-continental railroad. Maybe one day we will take it from Moscow to Harbin. And although I’d hate to go during the winter it would be a shame to miss the ice show. I feel like I shouldn’t die without at least once seeing the ice show.

I cannot speak for Rhea but I like the remoteness, the unimportance attached to these forgotten places. No one ever talks about Siberia. No one ever talks about Greenland. No one ever talks about Suriname either. These are the places that I want to venture; these are the lands that my camera wants to document. I’d like to find out why the world doesn’t care about these places. I want to be among the few that actually see them as beautiful.

As we come across the border, in between Canada and Greenland I think, we immediately recognize the main street. There is only one. Rhea pulls out her iPhone and checks Google maps just to make sure that we have actually arrived. Sure enough, we are in Greenland, the massive beast itself, on the main drag of the southernmost city. I don’t know the name of it.

I notice some bars and other whistle-wetting establishments lining the street, but I know our father would never allow us to venture inside one. We will be lucky if he parks and lets us out of the car to walk around and explore. He hates unknown places. More than that, he hates to encourage underage drinking, drinking of any sort really. Once in awhile he relaxes his objections and allows Rhea to take a taste. But it doesn’t happen a ton. She’s two years shy of actually being able to walk into one of those pubs legally.  Unless of course the drinking age is not twenty-one in Greenland.  Then of course this whole tangent is moot.

We drive for awhile up the main street. I still cannot recall the name. It may be hanging on every street sign but I fail to notice. My eyes must be elsewhere. Rhea would know the name of this street; she has her iPhone out and she is charting our course so that she can put it up on later. She is really into that kind of stuff, checking in and whatnot. I make fun of her for it but she ultimately disregards my ribbing. Whatever.

After driving for what seems like hours, our father finally decides to call it quits. I think he is somewhat uncomfortable venturing so far into an unknown country. He, like many others, considers Greenland only superficially, if he considers it at all. Certainly, it was never a destination that he cared much for traveling to. I’m not sure where his fear of venturing into unknown lands came from, but I know that I did not inherit it. Neither did Rhea. We both love strange lands, the stranger the better.

Karen, my younger sister who is two years older than Rhea, is very prone to outward displays of panic. She is definitely not the adventurous type, not at all. If anything, she is a hypochondriac in the making, famously afraid of her own shadow and other innocuous things. She inherited all of my father’s wariness and none of his business sense. It’s a damn good thing she isn’t here with us right now. She would just be complaining about being hungry and trying to get my parents to pull over and buy her something. She is always trying to get something out of them. I think it’s how she measures their love or whatever.

At my father’s continued insistence that we are getting terribly off course, we decide to look for a place to chill out for awhile, gather our thoughts and maybe nourish our bodies. My mother keeps complaining that there is nothing around, no stores or anything, but I keep pointing out shopping malls with J.C. Penney’s and Macys stores for her. She doesn’t care though. She keeps being a snob and looking for Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus. I try to explain that we are in Greenland and that she should be lucky to find a Penney’s, but apparently she does not feel very lucky at all. She is accustomed to high end places and she doesn't deny it. I’m not sure why. My father certainly did not condition her that way.

Eventually we all agree to stop at a food court type place in order to get some lunch. I am not feeling very hungry, in fact I want to keep moving on toward Nuuk, but I figure this might quiet the complaints of my parents and put them in a better mood for getting up to Nuuk by late afternoon, which here in the dead of summer means it will still be light out. At this point, I am still holding out a childish hope that we will go further into Greenland. I think Rhea is holding onto the same hope. Of course disappointment is sure to follow; it always follows.

We park in a parking lot near a grand food court. The name on the sign is in English and I find it interesting because everyone knows that Greenland is a largely Danish province. I feel like all the writing should be indecipherable to me. My father is happy because he thinks English should be worldwide prevalent, like the global language or something. He’s a Republican.

We walk into the food court, huddled somewhat together. We start to look around at all the possible restaurant choices. My father keeps commenting on the fact that he cannot believe that there are food courts and shopping malls in Greenland. No one is impressed by his snobbery either. My mother on the other hand is full of complaints. She keeps complaining that it is too cold and that her jacket is not making her feel warm enough. I don’t know what she was expecting to find here. Any cursory view of a world map would tell her that Greenland is essentially an ice-island, even in the dead of summer. My family really likes to complain; they will take any excuse, even if it is quite tenuous. Rhea and I are the only ones truly enjoying ourselves.

At the food court, my mother orders a cheese pizza. Well, not really. She keeps asking for an orange cheese tortilla and the vendor has no idea what she is talking about. Eventually he just decides to make her a pizza and tell her that it’s an orange cheese tortilla. He wants to get her off his back and after all, he is running a pizzeria, not a Mexican food joint. Rhea decides to get something at the pizzeria too. She likes to do whatever our mother does. We always call her Mom’s Shadow, you know like, “Hey Mom, where’s your shadow today?” She’s the youngest, that’s why she’s so clingy and annoying. At least, that’s the party line.

I move on from the pizzeria pretty quick because I am not feeling in the mood for pizza. I walk over to the booth my father is standing at. He is waiting in line and ready to order. I ask him what he will be ordering. He says he is going after a roast beef sandwich because it is really cheap. He cannot get over how inexpensive everything is here. He is really having a good time about it. I smile and tell him that it is cheap because we are in Greenland. I have no idea if that is true. But it sounds good.

I think about standing in line with my father and getting a sandwich as well, a vegetarian one because I do not eat meat. Well not much meat anyway. I don’t have a moral objection to eating meat; I just really hate the taste. It tastes like blood; it tastes like wet dog fur. I don’t like the taste of blood or wet dog fur. So naturally I don’t eat much meat.

Ultimately though I decide to get nothing at all. My father is secretly happy about this because it means that he doesn’t have to spend any more money. He likes it when he can save money, and watch it all stack up. I think I did inherit that from him. I always like to see my money stack up even though it happens pretty infrequently these days. I have a ton of stupid student loans to pay. But that is a rant for another time.

My mother asks me why I am not eating any food. I tell her it is because I just don’t feel like it. She drops the subject after that. I am really excited to make it to Nuuk and look at all the gingerbread-looking houses. Rhea and I talk about how cool it will be. We never made it to Nuuk the last time we were here. I don’t really remember why. But we have since both spent extensive time looking at the pictures of Nuuk from Google Earth and neither of us can believe the city will disappoint. How could a town of gingerbread-looking houses possibly disappoint anyone?

When I see my family eating, noshing away and making yummy sounds, I get an insane sense of jealousy and decide that I do want something to eat after all. Something small. So I walk over to the sandwich place, the place my father ordered from, intent on getting some French fries. I see on their menu that they offer the curly ones. I love the curly ones. The vendor greets me cheerily. I smile and tell her I want some curly fries. She nods. “Are you local,” she asks me curiously. “No,” I reply with a casual shake of my head. Then she acts like I am from Canada. I respond in the negative once again. It is at this point that her face falls and she suddenly says, “Don’t tell me that you are from the States. I hate the States.”

I don’t know whether I should be honest or lie at this juncture. But finally I decide on honesty, only because I don’t feel like I should lie to a Greenlander. I’m really not sure why. “Yes, I am from the states, California to be exact,” I tell her matter-of-factly. Her face turns from cheery to complete antipathy in a matter of semi-seconds. She gives me this wholly disgusted look and then refuses to serve me my curly fries. I see them right there on the shelf behind her but she won’t reach over and serve them to me. I suppose I should be mad that I am being denied service due to my country of citizenship, but I am totally used to it. Even though I have no interest in the politics of America, I don’t even vote for that matter, I feel that it is totally reasonable and even somewhat justified for people to hate Americans. For the most part, we tend to be arrogant and pushy. I’ve always tried to dispel that negative stereotype in my own travels around the world, but some people are unwilling to give me the chance. That’s alright. I don’t need those curly fries anyway.

I shrug at her and walk away. I relay the story to my family as they continue to eat their meals. My father offers me some French fries that I reluctantly accept. He tells me that I should be expecting that kind of treatment from this place. Maybe he’s right but I surely do not want to accept it. I mean, Rhea and I were here before and we were not treated this way. Oh well. On to Nuuk, maybe the people will be more accepting there. I sure hope so.

We promptly leave and get back in our car. My father is being smug. “I told you this place was no good,” he says almost triumphantly. I grimace and refuse to give him any sort of positive acknowledgement for his comment. That was just one bad lady. I would be remiss to label an entire country as prejudice based on one small encounter with one not-so-small lady. That would be akin to insanity.

As we get back in the car, I notice for the first time how cool the streets are. There is a good amount of snow on the ground but the signal lights are really no different than the ones in California. It’s interesting how un-different this place is. Except for the snow, I would certainly believe, if dropped here, that I was still somewhere in California. This city is much more modern than I had predicted it would be. I guess I don’t remember much from the last time.

My father announces that we are heading south, back to New York. “NO,” Rhea and I both cry out at once. We try to convince our father to go on to Nuuk but he refuses. We are both really disappointed. I thought that going to Nuuk was the whole point in driving up here but I guess I was wrong. My father claims that it is too far to drive and that he is tired. He has changed his mind completely.

I tell him that I will take over driving but he still refuses to head north toward Nuuk. I am angry and disappointed but I do not let on. I am too mild mannered to argue heavily with my parents. Rhea is silent but I can tell that she is likewise disappointed in the decision to turn back. We were so close this time, painfully close. Who knows when we will get another opportunity to go to Nuuk. This was sort of a once in a life time opportunity. At least, it felt that way to me.

“Nuuk is only another couple hundred miles away,” I whine, hoping to persuade them into biting the bullet and heading north. My mother claims that she wants to get back to New York before nightfall. I’m skeptical that that is a feasible mission but my father agrees to it as well. He likes to agree with my mother when she makes stupid comments.  They do not want to chance anything unknown happening.

So ultimately I stop arguing, recognizing that it is a waste of my time. Rhea looks over at me, silently urging me to do something but I don’t know what I can do. If our parents are not on board with the Nuuk trip, there is nothing much I can do to change their minds at this point. They simply do not want to travel any further into Greenland; they are afraid of what might befall them on the roads. It seems quite apparent that Nuuk is out of the question. We are going back to New York. Maybe in the future I will get to see Nuuk, take in the Northern Lights and see the village of gingerbread houses. Until then, I will have to settle for my own imagination and the images on Google Earth.

 This is Nuuk, Greenland.  Supposedly.  I've never actually been there myself so I have to just trust the wisdoms and assertions of Google Images.  This is not my picture, blah blah blah copyright lingo.  Don't sue, really it would be a waste of your time and merely fodder for another one of my stories.  Just look at the gingerbread type homes on the ocean and think about what it might be like to live in one of them.  Yes, it might be peaceful.  Yes, it might be boring.