Svalbard, March 2020.
story: Riccardo Astolfi
photography: Isacco Emiliani
We are really very happy you are here. You are reading a short abstract of a much larger story. This is the story of an uncomfortable and inhospitable land, cold and glacial.
This is the story of men who dream of a different future.
This is the story of the future.
Each discovered land is a treasure island.
We are all children of Christopher Columbus, after all, and our every unexpected and temporary landing is the dream of the Indies that we harbor in our hearts.
This was the case for the Arctic, also for the Svalbard Islands.
Getting to these islands that look like the Alps in the middle of the Arctic Circle is a blow to the heart.
I can imagine William Barentz when, in the incredible undertaking of finding the Northeast Passage for the usual desired Indies, he found this sight in front of himself.
Also incredible, around three centuries later, it must have been the view of John Longyear, an American entrepreneur who, arrived in the freezing plain that now houses Longyearbyen, saw, through the sinuous curves of the mountains, routes of pure coal.
Centuries ago colonialism was a dream: new lands, new hopes, new wealths.
Every land known by man in its long history has been the target, protagonist and victim of this colonialism.
Here in the Svalbard Islands it was whales first (with their fat capable of becoming good fuel) and then coal.
Always trading goods, always sources of energy: it is easy for me to find some parallelism with today’s times.
Here, today, narrowing my eyes burnt by the freezing wind, history repeats itself: from ancient and modern colonialism to contemporary post colonialism that makes these lands a cooler Las Vegas without slot machines.
Today the Svalbard Islands are the place of contrasts and compromises, of appearances and cold reality.
The town where everything or almost everything happens is a borderland without borders, a Klondike at the 78th parallel north, a No Man’s Land where man clings to consumerism as the only bulwark to feel alive.
Could tourism be the only sustenance of an island here in Winterfell?
How could a Paradise Lost like this sustain all these people, snowmobiles, cruise ships over time without destroying such a precarious balance?
From the eco-centric land spotted by Barentz we have come to the purest and most frightening self-centeredness.
Have we always been so capable of ruining everything?
Wasn’t this the island of dreams?
Colonialism, we said.
Colonialism derives from the Latin colonus, farmer.
The settlers – coloni – were the people who in ancient times were sent to new lands to live and cultivate them – in fact.
The renaissance of this island today passes right here: from the farmers, from the coloni.
Who can be colonus in this inhospitable land, where nothing grows and where no man can be born or be buried?
There are dreamers who do not need fertile lands to sow: it is the vision of a better – and more sustainable – world the best fertilizer.
On our trip we met Ben, American dreamer-cook-farmer here in Svalbard to realize his dream: to grow vegetables a stone’s throw from the North Pole and to create the first sustainable Arctic economy with zero impact.
We met Åsmund, a Viking divinity with a good heart who told us how here, inside the permafrost, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is at the same time backup, gift, cathedral and a dream come true. A gift for humanity of the present and the future.
We met Cheshtaa, Mirko and many young dreamers. Yes, because this is the island of dreams. Dreams that can become nightmares if not pampered well.
This is their story.
This is the story of the future of this treasure island.
The future of the Svalbard Islands passes from here: from dreamers like Ben, who will make his agricultural – indeed, post-agricultural – project flourishing and in a few years he will be able to grow microgreens and vegetables for the whole island, passes by Åsmund the viking, keeper in this permafrost of the collective memory of all the farmers of the world, and passes through all the visionaries like Cheshtaa and Mirko who, here to change the world, are starting to change themselves.
this abstract is a 4000 characters preview of a full story (25000 characters + 25 photography)
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