By Leonard Alexander,2014-05-15 09:51
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     Now elsewhere in the world, Iceland may be spoken of, somewhat breathlessly, as western Europe’s last pristine wilderness. But the environmental awareness that is sweeping the world had bypassed the majority of Icelanders. Certainly they were connected to their land, the way one is complicatedly connected to, or encumbered by, family one can’t do anything about. But the truth is, once you’re off the beat-en paths of the low-lying coastal areas

    where everyone lives, the roads are few, and they’re all bad, so

    Iceland’s natural wonders have been out of reach and unknown even to its own inhab-itants. For them the land has always just been there, something that had to be dealt with and, if possible, exploitedthe

    mind-set being one of land as commodity rather than land as, well, priceless art on the scale of the “Mona Lisa.”

    When the opportunity arose in 2003 for the national power company to enter into a 40-year contract with the American aluminum company Alcoa to supply hydroelectric power for a new smelter, those who had been dreaming of some-thing like this for decades jumped at it and never looked back. Iceland may at the moment be one of the world’s richest countries, with a 99 percent literacy rate and long life expectancy. But the proj-ect’s advocates,

    some of them getting on in years, were more emotionally attuned to

    the country’s century upon century of want, hardship, and colonial servitude to Denmark, which officially had ended only in 1944 and whose psychological imprint remained relatively fresh. For the longest time, life here had meant little more than a sod hut, dark all winter, cold, no hope, children dying left and right, earthquakes, plagues, starvation, volcanoes erupting and destroying all

    a world revolving almost vegeta-tion and livestock, all spirit

    entirely around the welfare of one’s sheep and, later, on how good the cod catch was. In the outlying regions, it still largely does.

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