Friday, 13 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Pilgrimage - Part 4, the Church and the Grave

According to Google Maps, it would take 25 minutes to walk the 2 kilometres from the Bobby Fischer Center to Laugardaelakirkja, but as Mrs Club Organiser and myself were both a bit under the weather, and as it was about zero degrees with a bitingly cold wind, we opted for the three minute car ride instead. (Actually it took about 5 minutes, as I managed to take a wrong turn, which looks totally impossible unless you enlarge the map!)

The arrow straight approach road - more of a lane really - is across flat, open country, though snow capped mountains frame the scene to the north. Passing a turn off to Selfoss Golf Club (easily avoided, even by me) you shortly arrive at the small cluster of buildings that make up the settlement - not even a village - of Laugardaelir. There are a couple of houses, a big farmstead surrounded by an unappealing collection of large, run-down, barns and sheds, and a tiny, modern, white church with a  small graveyard. This is not where you would expect to find the final resting place of the 11th World Chess Champion.

The Church itself is very picturesque, and once inside it is warm, light and airy. But you have to wonder where it gets its congregation from, as it feels as though you are in the middle of nowhere.

The main part of the graveyard is to the side of the church, but Fischer's grave lies alone, immediately inside the front gate to the churchyard, hard up against the wall. While the view to the church is appealing, the view beyond the headstone is anything but - a giant agricultural skip and general dilapidation, which even the brief appearance of the charming Mrs Club Organiser in the video below can do little to dispel. An ironic continuation in death of the tragic struggle of Bobby's life and character, perhaps - the two extremes of beauty/truth and ugliness/falsehood fighting to have the final word?

The grave is marked by a very simple headstone. I stand there feeling incredibly sad that such a supreme talent should have ended up here, after what - despite its glorious triumphs - was largely a wasted and ruined life. He cheated himself of so many possibilities, and he cheated the world of so much uncreated beauty on the chessboard. That it should come to this. That he should end up here.

RIP Bobby
I feel that my words are not doing justice to the moment. Even to myself I can't express the range of emotions that came flooding over me in this deserted, bleak, bone-achingly cold graveyard. How can you even begin to reconcile this emptiness with the awesome beauty and majesty of his great games? Games like this one, for instance?

But luckily the thirteenth world chess champion was moved to rather greater eloquence on his visit to Laugardaelakirkja, and thankfully the words were captured for posterity.

Many years ago I stood by the tomb of Paul Morphy on a swelteringly hot day in New Orleans. He was called "the pride and sorrow of chess", but no-one could have known that another American would eventually come along to lay even greater claim to that description. In 2018 I stood by the grave of Robert James Fischer on a freezing cold day in the Icelandic countryside. Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy. But death will always eventually deliver checkmate.

The pilgrimage ends.

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