Friday, December 28, 2012

Glima
















I arrived home in the wee hours of this morning, having spent the past seven days exploring night life and alien landscapes in Iceland. It was a Christmas vacation with my friends Shane and Barbara, and I went fully expecting the trip to be blog-free and wrestling-free. As it turns out, it is possible to have good times without thinking about wrestling--or dissecting every thought and feeling about it on the Internet--just unusual. And even with that expectation in mind, I happened upon a statue of two wrestling men (first three photos, above) outside the Hotel Geysir in Haukadalur, while visiting the geysers there (we get the word "geyser" from the Icelandic language, by the way). Not only that but the dining room of the hotel (photos 4-11) had a wrestling theme, with a championship belt (introduced in 1906) and vintage photographs behind protective glass and a giant modernist sculpture of two men locking up collar and elbow that loomed over the tables (decorated with Santa caps for the season). Then on Christmas Day, back in Reykjavik, we had dinner at the Hotel Borg, and right next to the main lobby and its Christmas tree were display cases containing even more wrestling memorabilia (photos 12-14).

Glima is Icelandic for wrestling, and it's also the word for a distinctive folk style of wrestling belonging to the Norsemen and Vikings. The thunder god Thor was reputed to be a great wrestler--unconquerable until he unwittingly challenged the personification of Old Age and lost (I identify). Two styles of glima emerged: one was a fight to the death, in which the victor grappled his opponent to the ground and killed him without a weapon (you literary types might remember that Beowulf insisted on defeating Grendel without a weapon or any outside assistance, using only his bare hands), the other type was for fun, but still reportedly involved mortal risk. Most of the wrestling occurs while standing, with both wrestlers following set steps, almost like dancing. Both men and women competed. In all styles, the winner is the last fighter standing, triumphant over his (or her) prostrate opponent. In the Summer Olympics of 1912 in Sweden, a demonstration of traditional glima was featured as part of the celebration, though the sport is seldom practiced anymore, even in Iceland. The International Glima Association (IGA) apparently still exists to promote the sport to us moderns.

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