Thursday, October 26, 2006

Places you should know – Norway

First of all, thanks for inviting me to this exciting project. I’m not sure Norway would choose me for ambassador, but when I think about it, maybe they should. What I lack in diplomacy and etiquette I more than make up for in spirits and sass.

There are plenty of places in this country that both natives and visitors consider worthwhile pastimes: Trying to figure out what the sculptures in the Vigeland Park are thinking; suffering insomnia in Lofoten’s magnificent midnight sun; searching for Santa in the Christmassy streets of Lillehammer by winter. You can lose your breath to the fjords, get a glimpse of the ancient history of stave churches, or take a look at more modern impressions in the street art of Oslo.

These activities are all swell. But frankly, you don’t need me for this information. Any travel book you pick up would guide you there. What I want to share with you is a better kept secret. Now, if someone I cared for came visiting, I would take them to…

My hometown

With a population density of one square kilometer per person Lesja should have enough room for all the people I care for and a couple of those I don’t like so much, too. If I wanted to, I could stretch to my full length 555 times in either direction of my personal square kilometer without risking bodily contact with another person. My hometown is nothing like Monaco, where I’d have to fight with 23660 other fools for leg room.

In the 1823 Encyclopediae Britannica article on Norway, the natives of my valley are described along these lines: They grow so tremendously old that they become sick with life and in the hope of dying sooner they move to areas with less healthy climates. A long standing joke says that we are very impulsive people, as long as we get some time to think it over. This is surely an attitude that keeps us out of danger, hence the long life spans.

Neighboring Dovre is home of the Mountain king, the troll that Ibsen’s Peer Gynt parties with. In fact, this area is ripe with trolls. In folk tales it is said that only German mythical mountain Blocksberg rivals Dovrefjell as venue for the best annual troll & witch conventions. Dovrefjell represents the ancient, the eternal, the unchanging, the grounded. In 1814, when Norway wrote its constitution, the founding fathers formed a circle, held hands and proclaimed: “United and true until Dovre falls.”

So, in a place like this, what would I have my guests do? Well, if the weather was nice, meaning a notch above blizzard-level, we could sit on the veranda enjoying some of the strawberries that we proudly consider the world’s finest. The veranda is an integral institution in Norwegian culture. In the cities you can easily tell the home-owner’s ethnicity by the set-up of their verandas. If they use them as storage space, they haven’t been properly integrated into the Norwegian way of life.

From the veranda we could watch the scenery and talk about how we wonder if the snow will finally melt this year, a topic that has been highly debated ever since the first people set foot on what eventually became Norwegian soil. This practice is called sitting in the “solvegg” (sun-wall), where we drink “utepils” (outdoors beer) while we desperately work on our tans. This is a strange country, indeed. If you’re too brown by way of southern genes, they tell you. But if you’re born pigmentally challenged, like me, they make sad faces and ask if you can’t tan - like it’s a dreadful disorder.

If it is a really good summer, one of those we barely see once in a decade, we could go to the river beach and play a game of boules. But if it gets too hot we start complaining. Our houses are built to keep the heat, not to keep us cool. And the only thing we love more than our verandas and strawberries is complaining. It is considered life-affirming.

When we’re done complaining, my foreign friends could join me on a hike to a mountain lake, where we could fish for pink-fleshed trout – which, judging by the expression on my face, clearly is as much crazy fun as a person could ever hope to have.

We could wash off sleep with chilling morning baths and as night falls we could light a fire, gather round and listen to recording artist Terje Nordgarden perform a private session to no one but us and the reindeer that happen to pass by.

No museum or fjord cruise can compete with this. Welcome to Lesja.


Blogger Rebelde said...

It looks like Norwegian life it's a lot of fun. If I were there i'd more the sit-by-the-veranda kind of guy, I wouldn't dare to come near to a river because a) I'm not that outdoorsy, and b) If I touch the the river I might freeze and die, I'm not used to that kind of cold.

Either way, it's a great post and it makes Norway look like a very cool place.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Tonje Brustuen said...

Thanks! :)

Yeah, the river is too cold, even for me. But the non-outdoorsyness I'm sure we could work around.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Clare said...

It sounds blissful.

I love the fact that you have a special word for outdoors beer. Very civilised.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Tonje Brustuen said...

Well. We also tend to get not so very civilized because we drink too much of it. But it sounds good in theory :)

9:54 AM  

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