Unusual news from Greenland and Fairfield, Mont. 

Did you know that Fairfield, Mont., is the Malting Barley Capital of the World? Unless you hail from Fairfield, probably not. You might not even have heard of Fairfield, much less know that the town lays an apparently uncontested claim to those particular honors. And Fairfield is only one of five Montana cities and towns that have staked similar claims to capital status, not merely of the state or even the country, but of el mundo.

How can this be anything but heartening in light of the not merely conspiratorial whisperings of a global economy that would theoretically render regional or municipal bragging rights to any particular forte a moot point in the grander scheme of characterless, emblandened vassal states? It seems an innocent enough endeavor: towns and cities awarding themselves the largely unaccredited but de facto status of world capitaldom in such diverse fields as the production of malting barley, carrots, artichokes and even the breeding and husbandry of mules. Could there be a more guileless way to bolster civic pride? Give us a Mule Capital over a soulless, mirrored corporate skyscraper with one Picasso in the lobby any day of the week!

The no less than 300 towns in the United States and Canada that have voiced capital claims are the subject of a new book by author Bill Rau, a tireless wanderer of the continent’s highways and byways in search of side-road Americana. Among other juicy tidbits, America’s Capitals tells us that three towns vie for the honor of Blueberry Capital and that West Virginia is the only state without any self-proclaimed capitals. Another edition is planned for two years hence, so come on, Montana! Register those domain names today!

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Speaking of our place in the world, the University of Montana will soon have another research and teaching partnership to add to its credentials, this time with one of the farther-flung institutions of higher learning imaginable—The University of Greenland. Last month, UM President George Dennison and UG Rector Ole Marquardt signed an agreement to establish a summer short-term study-abroad program in Greenland for UM and Montana Tech students, with interests in arctic geology and wildlife, glaciology, and the Inuit and Norse cultures.Greenland, like Montana, is one of those places that occupy a sizeable chunk of real estate on a map but also a longish, slightly embarrassed pause in popular conversation: What’s it really like? Well, for starters, pretty big. At 840,000 square miles, Greenland is more than five and a half times as big as Montana but claims a modest, Missoula-sized population of 53,000, most of whom live along the coast in the roughly 15 percent of the surface area that isn’t covered by a massive inland ice sheet. Of this population, roughly 45,000 Greenlanders are Inuit and 8,000 of European extraction, mostly Danish. Long a colony of Denmark, Greenland officially became a part of that country in 1953 and was granted home rule in 1979. While Danish is spoken and generally understood, the official language of Greenland is West Greenlandic, an Eskimo language related to those spoken by Inuit people in the United States, Russia and Canada. To find out more about Greenland, check out www.greenland-guide.dk.

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