KINNVIKA BAY cont.
Fear, was where I left off…
Wake at 4.00 a.m. to engine sounds and soon after to a sharp crack and crash which hits me full on in my port side tomb, and jumps me awake. We’ve clearly hit an iceberg and the grinding and rasping sounds of the engine that follow, suggest an impediment somewhere. Certain that I will be of no help above deck, I stay in the comfort and warmth of my bunk but sleep fitfully until breakfast; wondering about the story of reversals, surges, anchor drops and lifts. On the dream-like surface of all this action float two lines of poetry infuriatingly intertwined and maddeningly, on some semi-conscious level, seemingly relevant to this place:
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams/
These fragments I have shored against my ruins…
Yesterday afternoon Fiona Shaw performed “The Waste Land” at the most Northerly point of the globe available to us on this voyage – roughly 80 degrees 03’ North and 18 degrees 15’ E and completed a tour which has taken that work around the globe. In actual fact she was comfortably (we trust) rehearsing “John Gabriel Borkman” in Dublin, whilst a Zodiak landing vessel carrying ten of us, heavily insulated against the Arctic cold and waterproofed against a rough sea spray, landed at Kinnvika Bay. We made our way along the coast to a collection of huts that comprises the Swedish/Finish research station built in 1958. There, in a freezing bleached wood hut, with an Arctic wind sounding outside, I played a recording of her performance made at Wilton’s Music Hall in January of this year. Here her astonishing performance of Eliot’s poem echoed through empty and deserted rooms whose invisible and silent inhabitants left in the 1960’s, but whose presence is still strongly felt. The audience was the Arctic landscape of snow-capped mountains and ice-dusted beaches, littered with frost-shattered shingle, pale white bird skulls and silvered driftwood. During the 33 minutes of her performance of Eliot’s poem, which takes on the beginning and end of everything, our crew sheltered at a 200 metre distance in an unheated, abandoned sauna hut. I’ll never forget the sound of the ghostly Wilton’s audience applauding at the end across the Arctic tundra. Together with Cape Farewell and Faber and Faber I hope to make this into a short film.
“I will show you fear
In a handful of dust”
Fear. The iceberg that hit this morning, with its attendant grindings and reversals, turned out to be a failed attempt by our Captain to leave the bay. An unexpected quantity of sea ice had come down from the North and was completely blocking our way. The decision was taken to abandon the night exit and to wait until this afternoon to try again. At 3.00 pm we set sail and after an agonising one and a half hour of pushing, grinding, cutting and slicing, the ice closed behind us and our ship – The Noorderlicht – was caught in its grasp. I was in the galley when our Captain made the emergency call:
-Hello – yes, Captain here-
-Not so good-
-We’re stuck in the ice and drifting towards some rocks-
-Danger about 0.2 nautical miles-
Five minutes later we were all summoned together on the deck and told that an emergency helicopter had been dispatched from Longyearbyen – that it would take forty minutes and that we must wear all our warmest clothes ready for an off the deck air lift – back to the huts at Kinnevika Bay. Suddenly the rocks that few of us had noticed to our starboard seemed very near. The ice was now a land around us – we looked like the “Fram”. I put on an astonishing 5 layers more of clothing and went out on deck to think about my fate. As I was marvelling at the beauty and deathly nature of it all, I noticed out in the white desert, something moving – a polar bear.
The story ends happily, but not until after the polar bear had sat and, in delight, eyed his prey. Shockingly he was joined by another and her cub. Perhaps all this romance took our eyes off the terror and onto the heaven of bears. The helicopter arrived but five minutes after we had found clear water,
I hear the Captain’s last emergency satellite call:
We clear now.
Yes, it was a close shave.”
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