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The lighthouse

The bus left me in the center of Vík, in front of the petrol station where the local young people meet in the bar. It was afternoon, and it was already cold, at least for the Italian standards. Thus I asked immediately at the bar how to find the house of the susbtitute warden of the lighthouse, one Jonas Jonasson. The owner of the bar looked at me for a long time, exactly like the clerk in Reykjavík, and asked:

--Are you the new warden of the lighthouse?

When I confirmed, a glacial silence fell in the crowded bar. The owner gave me some directions, and I set off. The house of Jonas Jonasson was at the outskirts of the village, a small wooden cottage covered with sheet-iron, but very clean and with a garden in which the last flowers of the past season were withering.

Jonas Jonasson was an elderly man, with a kind countenance; he made no silly remark and took me to the lighthouse at once. To get to the lighthouse you have to follow the Ring Road, going back towards Reykjavík, for 5--6 kilometers, then you turn on a narrow road descending to the beach, then you go up again on a winding road to the top of a rocky headland. The lighthouse is on top of a cliff which falls down vertically to the sea; on the left there is a sequence of rocky headlands and small islands inhabited only by sea-birds, on the right a great beach tens of kilometers long. Bewitching surroundings, indeed.

The lighthouse is a building with a wider base, with many rooms containing the services, the kitchen, the machine room with the generator, store rooms and workshops. Above there is a tower with two more floors; on top there is the light; the middle floor is a single large room, were the warden lives. Jonas led me to visit the entire building, and explained with care what I had to do to start the generator, to turn on the light, and all the necessary operations and maintenance. The workload could not be lighter: as he explained, my job was only to turn on the light every evening and to turn it off every morning.

--Please be careful.--he said to me --it does not look like a very critical job, but it is: the reefs in front of Dyrhólaey are very dangerous for the ships: you should never forget to turn on the light in the evening. If you need to go away for one day, I can take your place, but you have to let me know.

I had the impression that the only problem of this job was how to fill the immense leisure time. I soon understood that this was precisely the purpose of the room at the second floor. One entire wall of the room was covered with bookshelves, full of books with yellowed pages and somewhat mouldy. There were all the classical Icelandic sagas, all the transpositions of the same sagas into verses done by XIX centruy writers, many Icelandic novels from the beginning of this century, and some foreign novels translated into Icelandic. I realised at once that improving my understanding of the Icelandic language was a matter of life or death.

Apart from this my life at the lighthouse was pleasant enough. Twice a week I walked to the Ring Road, where I was almost always able to get a lift to Vík. There I did my shopping, and I spent some time at the bar, in the unsuccessful attempt of making some friends among the local people. Every evening, that is about 4 p.m., after turning on the light, I chose a book from the shelves and went to read in the bed on the opposite side of the big room; I would only get up every hour to poke the fire in the stove at the center of the room. Once in a while I took the stairs either to go up to check the light or to go down to check the generator; as a matter of fact, very seldom there was some maintenance and some adjustement to do: everything worked perfectly.

next up previous
Next: The diary Up: No Title Previous: The holiday end

Andrea Milani
Fri May 5 08:45:48 MET DST 1995