Saturday, 14 December 2013

One Nisse to Rule Them All - At The Breakfast Table!

Here in Norway, Christmas has a different take on Father Christmas (if you're British) or Santa Claus (if you're American).
We have the Julenisse!

This is a somewhat dubious character really, originally a slightly scary barn elf, who, if you didn't feed him porridge then he might wreak his Blackadder style re-weng-ee on your household, letting your farm animals escape into the cold, bleak, midwinter and setting your house on fire.

It was only natural that this little character should morph into something slightly more jolly and that Norwegians would want him to accompany them at breakfast.

That's not the end of the story...

Norway isn't what I would view as an especially commercial country. We don't have chain stores of shops just for cards; it's only newsagents and book shops that tend to be repeated up and down the country. That also translates into there being a clear winner amongst what Norwegians eat off at mealtimes around the Jul celebrations: Porsgrund's Nisse Service!


There isn't the jolly, Coca Cola Santa here; we still have little fat figures, but the men are dressed in grey onesies. Each nisse has a red hat on, the men wearing conical, night-cap affairs.


One of the lovely quirks is they are all getting up to something, so the echoes of the past naughtiness come through! Some of them are dancing, some are on skis with their hands behind their back (the truism that Norwegians are born on skis perhaps!), some are running and others are piled on a sledge, complete with the traditional steering pole (I have no idea what that's called; if you do then please help me out!).


We have enough of the stuff to eat from at breakfast (pictured!); maybe in time to come these nisse will take full rule over our mealtimes around Christmas!

God Jul!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Winter Nomansland


The headline from the Daily Express, a UK tabloid newspaper
It's that time of year again; the forecasts of snow appearing with dramatic headlines foretelling of doom and gloom, big freezes, records broken, because of a few inches of snow, not likely to last more than a few weeks.

I saw the headline in the screen capture above on Facebook, posted by one of my friends and former colleagues who I worked with on a large Facilities Management (FM) contract across the UK. His comment, reflecting that the extreme weather made the work as an FM manager especially interesting, made me smile. I shared the headline, mindful of my friends and family in the UK who would be subject to this weather if it did indeed come about.

But increasingly I feel it's harder to relate to the drama created by these headlines, viewing the UK with more continental eyes as my time here in Norway increases. Having been here for almost two years now, I have 'survived' two winters, and while I don't especially look forward to 5 months of snow in one stretch, I appreciate how Norway mostly treats snow with what at worst could be described as an acceptance, or even, a stiff upper lip. Where's the stiff upper lip that the UK, or perhaps more precisely, England, is famed for? 

With the saying the Norwegians are born with skis on their legs, I am hoping that my acceptance might, this year, morph into something warmer in feeling, as I hope to learn to cross country ski and, not being disabled by Morton's Neuroma this year, being able to physically get out and about more. I have taken with ease to the art of "kos oss", enjoying the cosiness of reading, candles, rugs and gløgg. Maybe I might gravitate to actually feeling a warmish love for the snow?

As I bridge that nomansland and slowly migrate my outlook to become more Norwegian in style, I wonder what the outlook for the UK will be in the months to come. Hibernation perhaps, or examples of people skiing to work as I saw in the Peak District in the snow of December 2010? I wonder if the snow might once again bond people, with the novelty and break in routine it creates. Solidarity in joy, being outside with their neighbours, unrecognised often, but suddenly acquainted. In Norway the snow can bring relief to the darkness: a removal of the grey, overcast skies, children playing outside in the soft, silver glow in the evenings. I understand that, because of the infrequency and general unpredictability of the weather, it doesn't make sense for the UK to invest so heavily in a more effective response to snow. But nevertheless, the weather is a great bond, whether in England or Norway.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Growth of the Soil

In my quest to catch up with almost 42 years' of Norwegian culture, I've started reading English translations of Norwegian authors' work, to listen to older Norwegian music, and to seek out Norwegian art.

The latest book I've read is Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil, published in 1917 and which won the Nobel Prize in 1920.


It feels an unassuming book, relating the story of an initially unnamed man, finding his own, unnamed land in an unnamed area of Norway. The initial anonymity is an interesting cipher as gradually both the man and the land become known and develop. His name is Isak, the land becomes known as Sellandrå, and each grow and develop at his own hand.

The story unfolds as Isak walks into the forest with just a bag, but steadily over time he starts clearing Norwegian forest (presumably Spruce and Pine mainly) and begins to cultivate the land, growing crops (grain and potatoes) and building up small herds of sheep, goats and cows. Much of this is only possible after he acquires the help of Inger. The description of how, in the country, the relationship of man and woman develops and the social expectations and constructs in rural environments was interesting to read, and at some points reminded me of some of Thomas Hardy's work, though that was of course set a few decades later and in southern England.

I enjoyed the rhythm of the seasons and pattern of different activities relating to those: clearly different tasks are related to the times of the year, but much of this is lost in our modern day synthetic lifestyles. And it's probably one of the reasons I like to walk and backpack - to gain that closeness to the land that is lost when you are not actively involved in cultivating it.

Another intriguing aspect was the inclusion of superstition and mysticism: what was the cause of Inger's harelip and what provoked other events in the novel? How the main characters, perhaps because of their connection to the land, each experienced other worldly happenings which feel tenuous, inexplicable, but familiar. Again this reminded me of Tess as she laid in Stonehenge.

Intermingled with the earthly aspect of tilling the land, building a homestead, living in turf and wooden cabins (wooden cabins being very much in evidence here still, so easy to relate to), the advent of modern agri-industry, politics, women's suffrage, communication and city life was interwoven and adopted. Interestingly, Isak had least issue in adopting agricultural advancements, which belied his pragmatism in working the land. There is subtle arousal of who actually feels the struggle and conflict of advancement (Hamsun himself recommended that Norway build on agriculture as her future). Internal struggles of different social development, self expression and awareness were artfully depicted (well of course, who am I to disagree with a Nobel committee!), as well as a somewhat difficult, for me description of the relationship to Lapplanders but on which I have no evidence to counter.

Reading the Growth of the Soil helped me feel slightly more connected to my new country, and I shall certainly read more of Knut Hamsun's work, though I understand other works are written in a different vein. Per Pettersen's Out Stealing Horses is said to be influenced by this particular work, and I can well understand why, with the references to farming on whatever scale, the relationship to other landowners, the equivalent of gentry folk, and village social structures. I shall attempt to read that one in Norwegian soon!

Hamsun has been a controversial figure in Norway: a Nazi sympathiser he was charged after the war. For me this didn't detract from the book, and in the edition I read (Penguin Classics), there is a short analysis in the Introduction about whether the man who produces art can be separated from the man who cultivates such views. Now his books have become much more popular, but there was a period during which it seems he was castigated and not included in mainstream Norwegian literature.

Erling Nielsen 1897–1954
(sign. EN)
Hele folket i arbeide 
By og land hand i hand
Det norske Arbeiderparti, 1933
Litografi. 60,5 x 40,5 cm
Arbeiderbevegelsens Arkiv og Bibliotek. Mag.sign. P8
© Arbeiderpartiet/Arbark
























In print for almost 100 years, the book has been published with many different jackets. Reminding me of an exhibition of Socialist posters from the time of Russian influence (National Library, Feb 2013), the dynamic of this edition's figure, with a scythe, that productive energy and purposeful attitude is somewhat different to the image I carry of Isak. He is no less productive than this image suggests, but more pragmatic and perhaps stoic than dynamic in my eyes.


All in all, for people interested in Norway, I would recommend this novel for an understanding of the country and its development, to gain some appreciation of folklore and superstition and the societal struggles the countrymen went through. I shall definitely re-read this in the future.




Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Watershed 2

There are a few days in the Norwegian calendar, in Spring, which are looked forward to by Norwegians in Oslo at least, and, like my last post, as a little like another watershed.

The days feel as if they are another marker of time, of seasons change, of new beginnings, a baptism if you will.

And in a sense there is a baptism, a baptism of the streets as the streets are literally washed clean and clear of all the grit that has been laid down over the last 6 months.

Unlike in England where rock salt is used (and then what?), in Norway the streets gather so much grit over this period that you can be floating on an inch of the stuff as the snow and ice melts away. Paths are blurred into the grass as new tracks are made, ruts form on the roads as cars, busses and lorries groove their way.

It's serious business; woe betide any resident who happens to violate the mandate to not park in the vicinity of their house or apartment at the appointed time, hefty fines are applied.

Grit?
Be gone!

Today a number of large Tonka truck like vehicles are worming their way around the streets near me. This is nothing like the road sweepers that tickle the curb-sides on that little island out to the west. This is heavy duty road sweeping and washing, like quarry vehicles to a child's matchbox toy. Huge flat bed containers are cast into the middle of road junctions to receive their collections, tractors with washer attachments and massive water tanks move up and down, washing the mud, grit, detritus of winter. The world here, like Spring, is reborn.

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