Postcard from Upernavik, I

A collection of cabins built onto the side of steep rock and scree facing west and an open harbor often imprisoned by ice blocks calving from the Upernavik Glacier.

Dwellings are brightly painted to the Greenlandic theme: colors are primary-red, yellow, blue, and green. Only one house has striped itself in pastels. Windows are small and triple pained. Laundry is hung out to dry. I see thermal underwear blowing in the breeze. It’s July.

The winter’s deep freeze means no municipal plumbing is provided. Household water is delivered by truck and pumped to indoor tanks. Toilets do not flush; their bowls are hung with black plastic bags that are taken to the street when full.

Sledge dogs howl from where they are chained in front yards, back yards, or just off the street, their runs long since mud caked, as is their fur. They are infrequently fed in summer and only fed at the end of a day’s work in winter. A sledge dog is obedient when hungry, otherwise wild.

Above the village, the mountain is flat, dynamited to make way for the airport, a just-fit affair, oddly flat and uniform in a geography starved for anything like regular geometry. Upernavik flights are frequently turned back due to fog, which the airport cannot rise above. Being stranded in town is such a commonplace that it provides a steady income for Gina, the local boarding house operator.

The town has one grocery with household goods on the second floor. The cheapest bottle of wine is $25; a frozen Tbone steak is $19. The bananas just arrived by boat are brown. The potatoes are fresh and hard, and we buy 10 pounds.

Just outside the grocery is a stand, painted blue, from which the local fishermen sell their catch. Arctic Char and Cod are a usual offer, but only seal meat is available during our visit.

The town has one tavern, not open during our stay, two churches, one hospital; an overlarge gymnasium provides recreation facilities during the months of icy darkness.

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