When The New York Times Magazine contacted me in December to ask whether I would travel across the United States and write about my trip for them, at first I didn’t think of my missing license. The editor proposed that I travel to Newfoundland and visit the place where the Vikings had settled, then rent a car and drive south, into the U.S. and westward to Minnesota, where a large majority of Norwegian-American immigrants had settled, and then write about it. “A tongue-in-cheek Tocqueville,” as he put it. He also suggested that I should see the disputed Kensington Runestone while I was in Minnesota. It was on display in a little town called Alexandria, near where a farmer had claimed to discover it in 1898, and it could be proof — if authentic — that the Vikings had not only settled Newfoundland but made it all the way to the center of the continent. It probably was a hoax, he said, but seeing it would be a nice way to round out the story.
I accepted the offer at once. I had just read and written about the Icelandic sagas, and the chance to see the actual place where two of them were partly set, in the area they called Vinland, was impossible to turn down.
It says a lot about America, I think, that the most American piece of writing I’ve read in a while was written by a navel-gazing Norwegian. And this is only Part I.