It was the end of September. We boarded a small Air Greenland plane at Keflavik airport. Just our little group, a few Eskimos, the pilots and the stewardess. Before long everyone was having great fun on board. The Eskimos opened another bottle and Nunu the stewardess demonstrated the use of the safety vest and the whistle. Apparently this was necessary in case we had to land in the ocean. Nunu performed her little routine in Danish and Eskimo. Nobody apart from the locals could understand these languages. But she was very good with her whistle and our Italian friend asked her to whistle a few more times. The very same evening Nunu succumbed to his charms.
It is a wonderful feeling to fly above melting mountains of ice that leave azure circles on the steely ocean surface, to watch granite peaks covered by a blanket of snow in September and to try and understand what happened to placenames in this part of the world, and to try and think of Greenland as a green island.
We arrive in Kulusuk, the plane softly taxiing down on the small airport’s landing strip. We leave the plane. We are surrounded by snow and crystal-clear air: it is intoxicating and makes our lungs ache. We go through customs at the airport; I can’t see any locals, only whites. We can buy some duty-free alcohol and cigarettes and get our passports stamped, this time in English. Kulusuk, the gate to Greenland. We come out but instead of taxis we see Eskimo boys with dog-drawn carts. These are the local taxis. We arrive at the village shop and are met by Johann and Johanna, an Icelandic anthropologist couple who are on a scholarship here, studying the local community.
The Eskimos who live in these parts are said to have been discovered by the whites relatively late and that is why they have managed to preserve their true primitive character, which has evaporated from their brethren inhabiting western Greenland and the areas in the north devastated by the US bases. The village has a little shop-cum-post office, and the shop assistant has two jobs although only one salary. The shop is rather peculiar, its shelves displaying ammunition alongside shotguns, porn magazines, alcohol and condensed milk with an end-of-the-world sell-by date. Johann takes our little group to the place where we will spend the night, a kind of damp alcove without toilets; we will be sleeping on the floor. A performance is planned for the evening – a shaman from a very good shamanic family with long shamanic traditions is coming. He will dance and sing with his little drum; he will perform for alcohol. Johann says the more drinks we buy him the longer he will dance. The girls are a little shocked by the hygiene conditions. Only the Italian, while still feeling fresh, has vanished for couple of hours to Nunu’s hut.
Kulusuk is full of children. They are everywhere. They have no regard for discipline and have a free rein in the village. This is typical of Eskimos: the little tots have to enjoy a real childhood. They have driven the Swedish teacher to a nervous breakdown and the Danish pastor out of the parish. Apparently they climb in and out of the windows during lessons. They come and go as they please. It was the same with religion.
The settlement is full of dogs. They are on long chains, fastened to rocks and stones. Their barking is infernal. It’s probably caused by hunger since I have not seen anyone feed them. Kulusuk has a small port. The locals have boats and hunt seals. Seal meat is the staple of the local diet. I saw them pull out the huge, fat bodies, bloodied rolls of ham clad in fur, clean them and eat bacon with raw meat.
The village has a cemetery, a strange cemetery. There are little stone mounds and crosses but without names, surnames and dates. The Eskimos don’t believe in inscriptions. They may well have a point.
It’s time for the soiree. The shaman has arrived. He takes half his clothes off, dons a hair band, picks up a stick and a flat drum and begins to drum and sing. His performance improves after the third shot of vodka. Johann told us he can bring about anything by dancing; God listens to him, at least that’s what the village believes. The presence of white women has clearly made the shaman happy, it is for their benefit that he performs his distinctly erotically flavoured dance with its gyrations, and it is for their benefit that he grabs at his crotch in pauses between dancing. The girls are embarrassed but he just keeps going, downing one drink after another and praying to the Great Spirit to give Sophia and Helen an orgasm. I can see my Italian companion’s eyes widen; he approaches me and says he’s got to go out, he’s got a bellyache. There is no toilet, it has to be done somewhere in the snow. The shaman falls in front of one of the German women and starts to lick her feet. Suddenly we hear screaming as if someone were being murdered; the screaming is followed by dogs’ barking, the sound of hundreds of famished working animals’ throats. I run outside and see my Italian gliding on snow, clutching at his trousers. He reaches me. He’s panting. I ask what happened. There’s a mad look in his eyes. He can’t get over it, he can’t catch his breath and then, finally, he tells me that when he had done his business he felt something licking his behind so he jumped up and saw one of the cart dogs swallow, in a few mouthfuls, what he left behind in the snow.
Three old men were sitting on a bench in front of the deserted church, one of them with a bottle of Absolut in his hands. I went for a little walk. I saw eagles floating above the bay leading towards Amassalik, I saw seals playing by the shore, I saw my own reflection, the reflection of a constipated face, since the Italian’s story gave my stomach a bit of a shock. By the time I finished my round, the old men were lying under the bench. The empty bottle of Swedish vodka stood on the bench.
One day a mysterious letter from my publisher appeared in my computer. He was asking if I knew any shamans. At that time the West Coast was in the grip of wildfires, and the fire was getting close to his home. He said he was waiting for a miracle as the fire-fighters, planes and helicopters were unable to cope. I grabbed the phone. I dialled Johann’s number in Kusuluk and asked him to have a word with the shaman. To ask the shaman to dance for some rain for the poet. We didn’t have long to wait. The following day the West Coast started to turn from an inferno into a gigantic puddle.
I don’t believe in magic. At least I didn’t until I visited Kulusuk.