From Iceland — Ghosts Of Pompeii

Ghosts Of Pompeii

Published May 31, 2010

God Returns To Iceland pt. 2

Photo by
Inga María Brynjarsdóttir

God Returns To Iceland pt. 2

The Lord thought about Pompeii and wondered why he did not do this more often. From the perspective of infinity, the days all tended to roll into one, but this was one he could remember clearly.

In the early morning, he had observed a group of children setting fire to an anthill just outside of Herculeaum. There seemed to be no purpose to their activity, other than hearing the sound the insects made when they burst. Perhaps this was the sum of all human endeavour, and the Lord wanted to play too.

He lit up the sky and all those underneath it. Snap, crackle, then pop. Flesh melted away and the bones made a pleasing sound when they cracked in the heat.

One might be forgiven for thinking that it was in retribution for the anthill that the children of Pompeii were reduced to cinders. Not so, for from the perspective of heaven there was very little difference between the two. Others surmised that it was because of its greed that Pompeii was destroyed. There was some truth in this. If there was something the Lord detested, it was greed. This was not because of any notion of right or wrong, indeed he cared as little for one as for the other. The Lord’s dislike for greed was purely aesthetic. Greed rarely created anything; it left nothing behind by those who succumbed to it.

The Renaissance Italians had killed each other over access to land and gold, to be sure, but they also competed in sculpture, in painting, in every form of art. The Sistine Chapel had endured long after personal fortunes and their owners were ground to dust. The petty kings of Germany had schemed against each other, but their attempts to outdo one another also took the form of musical appreciation. To this day, whenever the Lord listened to a recital of Mozart’s Requiem, even he felt compelled to believe in the possibility of an afterlife for creatures who had created something so enduring. Not only the Italians and the Germans and the French had created something that could be called culture, even the English had something approaching it in between their colonial exploits.

But these Icelanders had never created anything. They were competitive to a fault, but they only competed in the collection of money and the consumption of alcohol. They bragged about both, but were good at neither. Their buildings were a reflection of their bank accounts, vast and empty.

A more patient God would have waited to find out what happens to materialists stripped of material things, to see if they would repent and turn on to a better path. But this was not a patient God. He was a creator God, impulsive and intemperate. He had created mankind in his own image, curious and at times cruel, but always with the ability to dream. He could not stand a people without imagination.

When the Pompeiians gave up on trying to outdo the Greeks in terms of culture and turned to the pursuit of money instead, he grew bored with them. As it turned out, their demise was far more interesting in visual terms than their existence had been. Though not as enduring as feats of creation such as Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro, the Lord still thought of the pillar of smoke rising out of Vesuvius as one of his major works, a wonderful piece of performance art.

But how to do away with Iceland? Volcanoes were his weapon of choice when it came to destroying civilisations, and he had placed plenty of them in the vicinity for precisely this purpose. Still, the idea of repeating himself bothered him. He had unleashed the fires in Iceland once before, and even that had not been much of an improvement on the Vesuvius eruption. Was it true which the philosophers said, that his best works were behind him? It was all well and good to destroy cultures through sound and fury, but he was past that now. He wanted a more mature offering. He wanted it all to signify something.

He thought long and hard on the subject, but nothing came to him. Nothing refused to turn into something. This had never happened before, and for the very first time, he felt old. He needed inspiration. That’s all that was missing.

God decided to explore his canvas. Like most visitors, he found much to admire. It was not quite as polished as the White Cliffs of Dover, or as meticulously crafted as the Greek Islands, but it had a certain rough charm to it. Iceland had been created during one of his more experimental phases. He had to admit that though he hadn’t put much thought into it at the time, the outcome had been better than he expected. The wild combination of styles that reminded some of a granite Sahara and others of the moon convinced him that the country might be worth keeping.  

It was when traversing the east coast of Iceland that the original composer of words, the one whom some claimed was the word itself, was at a loss for things to say. His highlands, which he now recalled he had put precisely there to be out of harms’ way when the humans came, had been partially ruined. The vandals had dug dams in them and poured mounds of concrete over until there was nothing left to view but the collecting of króna. This was precisely why he detested greed so much.  

The earth started trembling under the Lord’s feet. He would have run the remains of the island into the sea then and there, had not the mountains silently reminded him that his quarrel was not with the land, but its inhabitants. He had to erase them somehow, without damaging the canvas.
God Returns To Iceland pt. 1

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