National Geographic : 1964 Feb
Smogless Reykjavik Rides a Headland Jutting into the Great Bay of Faxa Subterranean volcanic fires stoke a huge natural furnace for Iceland's almost treeless capital. Piped into homes, the boiling springs provide smoke less warmth. Across an arm of the bay, flat-topped Mount Esja rises 2,982 feet. The Johnsons deplane at Keflavik International Airport to visit Iceland, final stop on their tour. black volcanic rocks and treeless green sheep pastures. Dark clouds spotted the sky, for the Gulf Stream that warms this rocky shore also brings a blustering rainy climate-but not as much ice as the name implies. "Last winter," a young Icelander com plained, "we didn't even have enough ice for skating." On our way into Reykjavik, the capital, we passed immense greenhouses. These "farms under glass" are naturally heated by hot water brought in insulated aqueducts from thermal springs. In the capital the same hot spring water heats many homes as well as handsome apartment houses that stand above the harbor. In other ways, too, Icelanders make the most of their geography. Fishermen brave North Atlantic storms to bring in their catches of herring and cod. Whalers land 350 to 500 292 whales each year. (Lynda Bird, tasting one small portion of this catch, compared whale blubber to "white jello.") All these lusty traditions, of course, are true to the island's Viking past. Norsemen settled Iceland in the ninth century; their sagas are still part of the local culture. In characteristic fashion, the people of Reykjavik showed me how they feel about our alliance. Outside the University hall where I spoke, a Communist group had as sembled to protest Iceland's NATO ties. About 200 party-liners were carrying signs that said, "We Want a Neutral Iceland" and "Against Foreign Encroachment." The dem onstrators were firmly planted along my path, but I felt nothing could be gained by evasion. A large and overwhelmingly friendly crowd moved right along with me-straight through the Communists. There were a few scuffles, of course, but I had nothing to worry about with so many Vikings on my side.