Per Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen

As you walk up through Oslo city centre along Karl Johans gate, the street opens out into a big wide boulevard. On your left will be Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, and the boulevard stretches all the way up the hill to the King’s Palace, taking in the National Theatre, and the magnificent Law Faculty of the University of Oslo.

In the most central part of the city, which is busy with tourists and locals, there are many public statues but one kept catching my eye, and it’s Per Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen, Man with Bicycle.

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I passed it a few times, bookmarking it in my mind to take the time to examine when I had a chance. I took the time to do so yesterday. Per Ung was a sculptor who was educated in his craft in part by Per Palle Storm, the man who’s work adorns Oslo’s Rådhuset which I wrote about before.

In fact, the style of Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen  struck me as being so similar to the Rådhuset figures that Storm did, that I actually took notice of it mistakenly in the belief that it was more of Storm’s work.

One of the captivating things about Mannen med Sykkelen is that the figure has a certain insouciance about him, a confidence in his cycling abilities. I wondered before examining closely who it represented.

For the figure the sculpture represents, despite the name, is not just an everyman plucked from Ung’s imagination. In fact, the figure standing proudly next to his bike is Gunnar Sønsteby. Sønsteby, nicknamed “Kjakan”, or “the chin”, was a Norwegian resistance fighter during the Second World War. He was also codenamed No. 24 and took part in a wide range of resistance activities throughout the course of the war, spending time in Sweden and the UK. He is Norway’s most decorated citizen, and he died in 2012.

Ung’s sculpture of him with his bike was originally installed at Solis Plass when it was unveiled in 2007. However, after some 17th May celebrations got out of hand and the front wheel of the bike was stolen (and later put back), the sculpture was moved to its more discrete current location along Karl Johans gate, near to Spikersuppa among the trees.

 

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The Guestbook

I recently took a hike up to Paradiskollen near Harestua with two friends. It was – to me – an unseasonably hot September evening. We left from Jeremy’s house at around 5.30pm and began our ascent through the forest nearby up towards the peak. The peak is 670m, or 2,198 feet. We started out at a good pace but I was disadvantaged by the fact that, in preparation for the sun going down and the cold to come in, I wore heavy pants with a t-shirt.  I brought a superfluous jacket. Jeremy and Marcus, both here much longer than me, sensibly wore shorts. In no time at all, I sweating buckets. Fortunately, Jeremy had sensibly packed a big litre bottle of water for us and I was the chief beneficiary. As we climbed, we spotted huge thickets of blueberries all along the path, mostly unpicked, and very ripe. After reaching maybe a third of the way up, we decided to take a breather, and went foraging through the scrub. A welcome break and we were, after picking great big handfuls of blueberries, ready to carry on. There was a deep red haze in the air that dispersed the sunshine, caused we thought by the trees sweating in the late September sun.

We climbed further and further up and eventually, assisted partially by ropes towards the end, we reached the peak. At the peak, I saw something left by the Den Norske Turistforening, which I really liked. There was a metal dial explaining what you could see around from the peak. The view was very impressive indeed. It was I think the highest I had ever yet climbed, and I was glad to have made it, more or less in one piece, to the top of this since I knew that soon I would be walking up Gaustatoppen, which comes in at something like the 1800m mark, more than double this. I have been told, and I hope, that Gaustatoppen – the highest peak in Telemark – has a gentler incline. I’ll need it, I thought, as I stood atop Paradiskollen. As well as the metal disk, with a guide to the views, in the shaft holding up the disk there was a metal box inside of which was a guestbook for us to sign.

I think this is a wonderful idea, and caps off the sense of achievement that comes with getting to the top of any peak, however big or small. Guest books are a big thing here in Norway. It is common that people keep as guestbook at their hytte (cabin). Den Norske Turistforening at their various turhytter, for those who want to go on long hikes and have a place to stay to break up their journeys overnight, also have guestbooks. It is also common in museums and similar such places. Guestbooks appeal to my sense of posterity. Always fascinated by them, I never pass up the opportunity to add my name to one.

I’ve signed guestbooks at museums, art galleries, hotels, castles and now, I can say, on top of a mountain. While guestbooks appeal to my sense of posterity, they are usually a reminder of finitude. After all, once you scribble your name into a guestbook, unless you come back to the same place with great regularity, you’ll never see your entry ever again. Your name will be one more name among the hundreds and perhaps even thousands of people to have signed them. Unless they are digitized and some future relative of mine, yet unimagined and unimaginable in their lives to me, scours online archives in search of references to me – whatever relation I might be to them. The chances that anyone connected to me – living or yet to live – will encounter those marks I’ve made in those guestbooks is slim enough. Pen’s mark lives on, but not the mouth that sang.[i]

This set me to thinking as to the purpose of guestbooks. To record guests of course. One who is entertained at the house or table of another. From Heorot’s hall to a mountaintop in Harestua. The word guestbook was first used in 1849, in Graham’s Magazine,  a magazine that was at one time a rival to Harper’s and was edited by Edgar Allan Poe. The term visitor’s book appearing three years before in 1846 in Punch. He plunged into the mysteries of the guestbook, a sentence in the February edition of Graham’s ran. And we’ve been plunging in ever since.

Today we often think of guestbooks as something you sign at the end of a museum exhibition. One person has colourfully described such means of public expression through the private medium of handwriting thus:

Some signatures have the literary quality of a drunken phone call, while others contain eloquence worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. These institutionally sanctioned rants—these drive-by shootings—these political haiku—are special exhibits themselves…[i]

Outside of museums and exhibits, I associate a guestbook mostly with hotels. Not just any hotel. Hotels that were once country piles – expensive, but not showy – hotels with a certain regard for their own place – however minor or major – in history are the ones with guestbooks. Such guestbooks usually have an off-white or creamy paper, gold leaf about the edge of the pages, with a soft red real or faux leather cover.

I have never yet had the privilege to be the first to sign an empty guestbook. In a way, I’m glad of this. The guestbook after all is a physical, bound, lined, manifestation of the love people have for an exhibit, a hotel, or their friends and their cabin. What could be more unloved than a hotel with an empty or a near empty guest book? What says decline more than huge gaps between the dates between one entry and the next?

Only very rarely have I signed a guestbook at the end of its life, when there is just a page or two remaining. I have signed most somewhere in their middle age. There is a fullness to them – there are plenty of pages filled already, with guests who’ve come from far and wide and there are plenty of pages as yet unfilled, waiting for fresh marks and remarks.

Presented with a guestbook, I catch myself glancing immediately at the names just above where I will mark my entry. A neighbourly relationship is forming. Who will be my neighbours on this page, I wonder. I am interested first in rifling back through three or four of the closest pages, to find places I recognize. Occasionally, I hope to glance a look at someone who hails from the same place I do. My tastes widen then, and I search for those from the unusual or unexpected parts of the world. Then I look at names – seeking out the rare, the unusual. I marvel at the handwriting: the chicken scrawls, the cutesy and the cartoonish, the perfect cursive of those taught to write in close proximity to the teacher’s cane.

Some people leave a lot of themselves behind on the page. Full addresses, the number of their houses, postcodes and all. Some are more cryptic, a street or a town name, sometimes the country alone. Full names, initials, degrees, titles. Some leave little messages – congratulations on the wonderful exhibit, what wonderful hosts & how helpful the hotel staff were. Some draw smiley faces. Some use the guestbook as a chance to play, or to chide. Some write the date over and over again in their own hand, others following convention with a simple perfunctory “. Some add the time. Many of course leave nothing, unrecorded in the guestbooks. Their visit logged, if it all, only in their own memory banks.

We pressure the paper and make our mark with ink in the hope that pen’s mark lives on, but for me, the pleasures is the plunging in. Connecting ourselves with others, even those we don’t and will never know. Writing in a guestbook is at once all about saying I was here, I lived, visited this place once, saw this exhibit, but it is also strangely anonymous as an act. You somehow know no one is ever likely to read what you’ve written and yet you hope. After a few days, a few weeks, to say nothing of the passing of years, your entry will be beyond the onward march of the guestbook pages. Guestbooks work as a kind of intermittent census of yourself. A record of your movements for others. Take pleasure in the plunge as often as you can.

 

[i] Morris, Bonnie J., “The Frightening Invitation of a Guestbook”, Curator: The Museum Journal, Volume 54, Issue 3, July 2011, pp. 243–252.

[ii] Trevor Joyce, “Rome’s Wreck”, XXXII, in Selected Poems, 1967-2014, Bristol: Shearsman Books, p. 58.

A brief guide to Oslo’s bookshops

As part of getting to know a new country and a new city, one of my favourite things to explore are the bookshops and in Oslo there are more than you can shake a stick at.  This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the city’s bookshops but is a small sample of those that so far, I have enjoyed exploring. This is likely a post that will have future follow ups as I get to know the city and its bookshops better.

To begin with in Oslo there are the various chain bookshops, ARK, Norli and Tanum. Each of these has multiple shops of different sizes across the city but a few are worth taking a look at. In particular the Norli on Universitetsgate, and the Tanum at Litteraturhuset are worth going into. ARK have a good shop on Karl Johan’s gate the main drag in Oslo city centre for shopping.

The Norli on Universitetsgate, not far from the palace and around the corner from both the National Gallery and National History Museum is a shop with a glass door that it would be easy to miss but once inside you will find a well laid out and spacious bookshop with two floors and lots of fascinating titles not only in Norwegian and Swedish but in English too. One of the curious things I noticed in the bookshops here is that as well as their being an English language novel section as is common in Prague say, in a sign of the strength of English language learning in Norway, English language books are scattered among the Norwegian language books in practically every subject matter.

Going to the Norli on Universitetsgate also has the advantage of getting you close to several more nearby bookshops. Two doors over from Norli there is a Fretex shop (Salvation Army). Downstairs there you will find an intriguing mix of books at reasonable prices and again English language books mixed among the Norwegian. A little further up the street past the Kaffebrenneriet on the street you will come to Tronsmo bookshop. 

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The new premises of Tronsmo on Universitetets gate in Oslo city centre.

Tronsmo is a beautiful big bookshop, with a huge range of titles. Now on Universitetsgate, it was previously in a location just around the corner which is now a temporary gallery. The music section of the bookshop is especially strong as are the current affairs, politics, photography and art sections. There is also a strong children’s section. The walls of the shop are covered in photography and posters of vintage and more recent variety. Because of the big wide open layout the bookshop at first feels like it might be sparse but after a good ten minutes browsing you realise that the shelves are very full and they have many recently published English language books. It’s a fairly high brow bookshop as these things go, and the odd seat to take a bit more time over things would be welcome but its a bookshop that will require multiple visits.

Just before Tronsmo there is Norlis antikvariat which looks like a real specialist bookshop for those interested in rare books and collectibles. The windows contain rare books and maps among other things at fairly high prices. I’ve yet to work up the courage to enter, but look forward to popping in some day.

If you go back to the square on Karl Johan’s gate and make your way towards the palace, but then turn right away from it you’ll eventually find Litteraturhuset. As well as being offices for a variety of writing related organisations, an educational space, a writing space, and much mord besides, the ground floor boasts a café and a small but rich bookshop, run by Tanum. Here you will find a fantastic selection of essays and literary criticism as well as novels, poetry and current affairs and history.

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The entrance to El Dorado bookshop in Oslo.

Elsewhere in the city, walking east away from Oslo sentralstasjon, along Storgata, you will find El Dorada bookshop, which has a strong selection of English language books but they push especially Penguin Classics. They have an overwhelming selection of literary journals which are worth browsing and the bookshop is aesthetically very pleasing to be in.

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The sign in the window of Cappelens on Bernt Ankers gate.

Further along Storgata and turning onto Bernt Ankers gate you come to Cappelens Forslag. Cappelen is a well-known name in the world of Norwegian books. Cappelen Damm are one of the country’s largest publishing houses, but the Cappelens behind this small rare bookshop are not connected to the big name publisher. Opened in 2011 Cappelens Forslag is a small square place with lots of character and it specialises in rare English language books in the main. It is chiefly famous in Norway for its konversasjonsleksikon, a kind of subjective encyclopedia, the second volume of which appears later this year.

 

There is also a small cafe space at the back with black coffee and a range of Chinese teas imported via Bergen which are a real treat. Its an especially good bookshop in which to talk books with the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

The final bookshop for this post which I’ll mention is another small independent shop on Schous plass in Grunerløkke. Schous bokhandel, which only opened this year, is another bookshop in a square ground floor space with the books stacked neatly along the walls. It has plenty of chairs and the day I was in, the guy working there was just popping some Johnny Cash on the record players. They carried plenty of unusual English language titles along with everything else. Like Cappelen’s forslag, they also had interesting poetry titles in both English and Norwegian from a range of presses big and small.

The pickings in Oslo for bookshops are rich indeed and if you find yourself passing through you could do worse than find the time to pop into several of these bookshops in between admiring the rest of what Oslo has to offer.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

By a happy accident last week, I happened upon Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut Pond. After a meeting and a tour around Oslo’s Litteraturhuset, I spent some time browsing the Tanum bookshop on the ground floor of the building next to the cafe. I was browsing through the English language fiction section when the stark blue of the Fitzcarraldo Edition of the book jumped out at me. The book was actually first published by The Stinging Fly Press back in Ireland and is currently available in the US via Riverhead Books, and imprint of Penguin RandomHouse. I first encountered Bennett’s work in the pages of The Penny Dreadful, where the chapter of Pond known as “To A God Unknown” appeared in their fourth issue, so this discovery was exciting indeed.

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The book has received stellar reviews. The book review of the New York Times said of it that  it was “a sharp, funny, and eccentric debut … and that the book “makes the case for Bennett as an innovative writer of real talent. … [It]reminds us that small things have great depths.” Many have commented on the seclusion of the character who forms the centre of the book. On the pond and on Emerson’s Walden. The cover of the Fitzcarraldo Edition of the book with white lettering against a deep blue background adds heft to the pond in the book, which is a neighbour’s pond, pointlessly but also pointedly signed.

What I found interesting about reading Pond  was that it draws you in and on – it is strictly speaking a collection of short stories, although the character through whom we experience each story is the same woman. There are longer stories often punctuated with smaller snippets that break you, momentarily, out of the spell woven by the longer sections. The collection of stories has a certain degree of forward propulsion to it but it is best when you ignore this and luxuriate entirely in the telling. There is no plot as such, which can make it a very visceral, very real experience when reading. One of my favourite passages concerns an ottoman the character has and her hopes about who will sit at it during a party:

I think I’m going to throw a little party. A perfectly arranged but low-key soiree. I have so many glasses after all. And it is so nice in here, after all. And there’ll be plenty of places for people to sit now that I’ve brought down the ottoman – and in fact if I came here for a party on the ottoman is exactly where I’d want to sit…

The woman then contemplates a situation in which she imagines coming to the party and someone already sitting on it, and how she would slowly move closer to being able to sit on it. Among the guests to come to her party

I wonder who out of everyone will sit on the ottoman? Well, if you must know, that is not a spontaneous point of curiosity and I don’t wonder really because in fact I already possess a good idea – a clear picture actually – of who will sit upon the ottoman. Oh yes, a lovely picture as clear as can be.

This to me is a trademark passage of fixating on some thing, some object, and making it not from one thing into another thing but a conduit for thoughts and ideas and mental meanderings. In an interview with The Paris Reviewconducted by Philip Maughan he notes at the end that

At a reading in London last year you said that Pond was “a love story,” and it’s true there’s more sex, sensuousness, and longing in it than critics seem to have noted.

BENNETT

There is this phrase that something or other “has captured my imagination,” and I think that love captured mine at a young age. The madness and the mystery of it overwhelms me, the beauty and the tenderness of it reassures me. Love channels throughout my imagination in the same way that a fragile yet tenacious vine weaves in and out of an old wall…

Maughan is certainly right that sex, sensuousness, and longing form part of the story too. But not all the sex or the potential encounters are tender or reassuring perhaps. There is also the dread of potential sexual assault present. Jia Tolentino in her New Yorker article about Pond notes of  an encounter with a hooded man in the section titled “Morning, 1908” that:

The imagined danger is all the more frightening for the swiftness of her acceptance—the toll many women pay to make the experience of danger go away.

The narrator looks around at the pasture, at the cows, the incremental sunset. She thinks of the imagined rape, a vision that “had not been incited by fear of him but rather by the horror I had felt towards my own twisted longing.” She walks back home as the man’s figure recedes, dispassionately narrating the mundane psychosis familiar to anyone who has ever spent too much time alone.

Sexual violence, like so many other things in this set of stories, is represented as utterly quotidian. And it is Bennett’s ability to make so much of the quotidian that makes this such a powerful read. Another book which I recently read was Leaving Leaving Behind Behind by Inger Wold Lund. It was published by the Ugly Duckling Presse in 2015. This is another book I came upon fortuitously in another Oslo bookshop, Schou’s Books.

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Inger Wold Lund’s 2015 poetry chapbook Leaving Leaving Behind Behind.

In some respects it shares a certain amount with Bennett’s Pond and it’s worth thinking for  a moment about the similarities between both books. Bennett’s Pond is, from my reading of it, about extrapolation – about moving the focus out from the cottage and her character’s innerlife through a rich and profuse language. Inger Wold Lund’s Leaving Leaving Behind Behind which is somewhere between prose and poetry, and prose poetry proper, like Bennett’s book, loosely comes together in separate snatches of story and poem, and revolves in some way around the desire to find love.  Unlike Bennett’s work, the wording is spare and minimal, skeletal almost. It might read indeed as a kind of yet to be fleshed out counterpart to Pond. But it stands alone, and I read the book of poems in a single sitting and was, like with Pond, wanting more but also exhausted by the pressure placed on the words and the sense of being overwhelmed in this case by the blank spaces. Here is an extract to give a flavour:

Some years ago. Outside a studio.

The asphalt was still warm from the sunshine earlier in

the day. Inside there was a party.

So you are together now?

Yes.

But you know that he never stays.

What do you mean?

I mean that he always leaves.

Or this, later in the series of poems:

Many years ago. In an apartment.

He told me that he did not like it when men he met on the internet slept over. He preferred to clean his room, make his bed and put on newly washed clothes. Then he liked to sit without moving, while waiting for the doorbell to ring. That, he said, was his favorite moment.

What do you like?

He asked me.

I like it when my pillow smells of someone else.

Reading these passages again puts me in mind of the end of “Postcard”, a little after the halfway mark in Pond:

God in heaven it is raining so hard now  – straps are beautiful, just hanging in fact, off a chair by a pale unclean bathtub. It passed  – I came off the bed and I walked to the window and blew two or three toenails  out upon the wet roof of the very room where recently a dinner party to celebrate a birthday had occurred. The zip on my dress was long and gold, you see.

Both Bennett and Lund tap into something fundamental about intimate moments and the curious things that mark them. In a short review of Lund’s work for Rain TaxiTova Gannana writes:

Leaving Leaving Behind Behind could be written for a lover, or for a former self. In this way, Lund leaves space in her poems for the reader to enter, and the book grows in our mind, continuing to take its place in an ever-present “after.”

It would not be much of a stretch to say something similar about Bennett and Pond.

From the Archives: Ireland 3 – 3 Norway, November 1937

In 1937, Irish football was in fairly healthy state, and had in many respects weather many of the worst storms of the decade. Domestic football had mixed fortunes in the 1930s, growing in popularity and casting off its image as the foreign game. At the same time, the games newfound popularity and the growth of the Free State League faced many difficulties as a result of the deep depression that Ireland, and the world, found itself early in the decade following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. 1937 saw a first for Irish soccer, as we played Norway in our first competitive fixtures against one another at the end of the year which would be forever famous as the year that our new constitution came into force.

While most people will probably recall the game between both countries at USA ’94 in the group stages, our history of competing against one another goes back much, much further. Back in 1937, over the course of a month, Norway and Ireland played each other twice, in a pair of games for World Cup qualification – the new competition which had begun at the start of that tumultuous decade in 1930. The first game was played in Oslo at Ullevål Stadion, which I wrote about yesterday, and saw the Norwegians beat Ireland by three goals to two. Two of the winning goals were scored Reidar Kvammen, then a young policeman playing for Vikings in Stavanger where he would spend his whole career. Kvammen would also go on to be the first Norwegian player to reach fifty international caps, and he scored a career total of 17 international goals. The game was played in front of Norwegian king Håkon and Prince Olav.

The journey to get to Oslo was a gruelling one – the players went firs to Newcastle by boat and then onwards to Bergen, before a twelve hour journey from Bergen to Oslo. (Evening Herald, October 6 1937) However, the trip was not all travelling, with the Irish Press reporting that the players would be brought to see the viking ships at Bygdøy and dine at Frognersæteren Restaurant in Oslo before heading back to Bergen to begin the return leg of their trip. They even managed while in Newcastle, and waiting to head to Bergen, to catch Celtic take on Sunderland at Roker Park. (Irish Press, October 9 1937)

While there was disappointment with the loss from Irish officials, the trip was a success from a cultural exchange point of view. The Norwegian Fotballforbund (NFF) gave the Irish team a silver replica of a Viking ship as a gift, while the FAIFS gave their Norwegian counterparts a Belleek statue representing the figure of  Eire. (Irish Press, October 14 1937)

The return game v Norway, and the prospect of getting to the World Cup proper was seen as an opportunity to get one up for the FAIFS against all the other home nation sides who were not taking part in the newly minted competition.

When the Norwegians came to visit Dublin, they stayed at the Gresham Hotel, and were received at Government buildings by President Eamon de Valera. Their post match dinner was at the Royal Hibernian Hotel.This game was a draw, with the Irish team getting a late equaliser to make it 3-3, however this wasn’t enough and Norway progressed. Remarkably footage of the game survives:

Not only footage, but here you can hear the Norwegian state broadcaster, NRK, radio coverage of the game, including a brief few words from then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne. The Evening Herald, in a colour piece about the second game in Dublin, made some reference to the longer history between the countries, with a correspondent writing that:

Once again the Norsemen have carried out a raid. It was vastly different from those perpetrated by their forefathers in the distant past, but even the modern Norsemen did not go away empty handed – they took away with them Ireland’s hopes of remaining in the World’s Cup competition.

There was a definite feeling that this was a bit of a missed opportunity since the the Irish team came back from 3-1 down to draw the game 3-3, though it was too little too late. Ireland would have to wait until 1990 before finally reaching a World Cup final competition, starting an era on unprecedented success for the national team but in 1937, they came very close indeed against Norway.

At Ullevål: Norway 0 – 3 Germany

On my first visit to Norway last November, I stayed briefly in Oslo, and was in the Ullevål area of the city, close to Ullevål Stadion which is the home of the Norwegian national football team, and Vålerenga football club. Part of the complex is also a football museum, there is a fanshop, and the offices of the Norges Idrettsforbund (Norwegian Sports Association), the Norwegian Fotballforbund (Norwegian FA) and the Norwegian Olypmic and Paralympic Committees  can be found there. Perhaps only Bislett Stadion, closer to the city centre, and host of many world record breaking triumphs in speed skating, rivals Ullevål in terms of importance in Norwegian sport.

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Ullevål Stafion as it was when it was first built, with the connecting Sognsvannbanen also in the picture. Source: Norges nasjonalbiblioteket

The stadium was built in the 1920s, opening in September 1926 after Lyn football club agreed to go for this site over others. A deciding factor in the choice of Ullevål was that Akersbanene, the local tram company, had the rights to the Sognsvann line. A private company was established to build and run the ground made up of Lyn football club, Aker municipality who owned around 25% of the company, and several other sports clubs whose combined ownership amounted to 5%. It has been revamped over many years since then, and Vålerenga moved in to make it their home in 2000. Lyn’s share in the ground, which by the mid 2000s, had been much reduced to just over 13% of the ground, was bought out by the NFF in 2007.

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Anders Beer Wilse photo of the crowd at Ullevål in October 1935. Source: Norges nasjonalbibiloteket

Last night I finally got to go and see a live game at Ullevål, as Norway took on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier. Although no one expected an upset in this game, the Norwegian team acquited themselves well and it was the second goal, which came just before half-time, which really killed the game as a contest. Up to that, Norway had responded well to going a goal down. The goal came after 15 minutes, and was the result of poor attempts to clear the ball from the Norwegian box. The goal had been coming as Norway set itself up lying very deep in that opening period, and attempting from early to spring the counter attack. After the goal, they responded well, playing positive and more open football. They pushed their own line a little higher up the field, and one chance which broke was one of those great almost goals that any football fan will be familiar with.

The second goal, which came not more than a minute before half time killed off whatever resolve the Norwegian side had, and the second half was all about damage limitation. Not that 3-0 was a flattering scoreline, as it seemed Germany were capable of being broken down when Norway strung their passes together. It was a fantastic occasion despite the result and will certainly be a memorable game for me.

Myself, herself and her uncle got to the ground in good time, and I bought myself a scarf – a nice deep red scarg with ‘NORGE’ on one side and ‘JA, VI ELSKER’ on the other. Ja, vi elsker is part of the opening line of the Norwegian national anthem,  which was played on the night by a large brass band wearing a cream uniform (so if anyone can help me identify who they are, that’d be great). I tried to use my debit card to buy the scarf, but, being an utlending (foreign) card, it wouldn’t work, so herself had to step in to buy it for me.

As we approached this impressive ground – it’s a fine stadium but has a surprisingly small capacity of around 28,000 – I went to look for a match programme. Much to my surprise, not only had they programmes but they were free! I was fully expecting to pay 100NOK (about €10) for a programme at such a big game but instead they were completely free, which I thought was a great touch from the NFF.

Once inside the ground, and taking our seats – we were sitting just the German away support in mixed seating – we got ready for the buildup. After a while the players came out for one last warm up and then the brass band came on. The carpet was laid out on the halfway line and the cardboard fixtures put up, the flags were held and the national anthems were sung. Time for kick-off.

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My view of last night’s game.

Robinson Crusoe på Norsk: Week Two

Or uke to, if you prefer. I haven’t been as dedicated to the bould Robinson’s adventures this week as my first. Consider it to be the reading equivalent of difficult second album syndrome, only its a week, and about reading.

Still, a little after time, I managed to finish the rip-roaring second chapter of this book, which in this format aimed at kids, moves a good deal faster than I ever remember the original moving – then again, we were reading that slowly in university for our course too.

After more adventures on the high seas, Robinson settles down for several years until some Portuguese plantasjeeier (plantation owners) suggest that Robinson travel to Africa in search of 400 slaves. He begins his next adventure, this time as slaver, on 1st September, the same day as eight years previously he left home. One suspects that Robinson’s avarice is going to get the better of him…

One thing I did notice from reading this week was that more words were familiar, more sentence structures, so that I didn’t have to spend quite as much time stopping and figuring out every third word. I could read it a little faster, and get the general gist a lot easier, although there’s still plenty of new words that may or may not be useful.

Take innfødt, for instance. It can be understood as native, aboriginal or some variation on the two. Født means born, and Inn means, well, in basically. So Inborn, if you will. It’s kind of close to Iron-born, but it’s not. And this isn’t Game of Thrones. It’s much more moral than all that. The opposite of being Innfødt is to be utlending: a foreigner. Our outlander, basically. Jeg er utlending. I am a foreigner. Jeg er ikke innfødt, I am not a native.

Of course, the words native or aboriginal carry with them a good deal of baggage from colonialism. If people use this word today, it’s probably a fair shout that they might be well aware of that rather heavy colonial baggage attached to that word. Nonetheless, it can’t be assumed that this is how the word is actually used. It may be that it has the more innocent connotations of saying one is native to a place: Jeg er innfødt av Waterford, or av Irland, for instance. It matters of course who’s calling who a native as usual. Incidentally, as I read this chapter, there was a speech given recently by King Olav V of Norway on ideas of belonging and who is and who isn’t a nordmann (Norwegian):

 

 

 

Getting into the sea: a new view on Waterford’s past

As a child, summer to me always meant the seaside.  Tramore. Bunmahon. Benvoy. Woodstown. Dunmore. The Saleens. The Back Strand. Annestown. The Guillamene. Some beaches were for bathing, some for walking, some for cockle picking, some for swimming, some for spinning to in the car. Some were hardly beaches at all. The smell of sea salt. Salt and Vinegar. Fishing nets and boxes. Trawlers. A whole world of sounds and smells. I’ve always loved looking out at the ocean. Imagining what lay beyond the horizon.

Waterford city was established as a viking settlement early in the 10th century. A little earlier than that, there was, we now know, another important settlement at Woodstown. Waterford city has always been influenced by the sea. Things have long come in and out of the quays in the city be it people, goods or ideas. From Waterford you can draw lines to Denmark and Norway, to Britain, Newfoundland, and many more places, and in those lines trace the history of the city running north, south, east and west.

I didn’t really begin to think seriously about Waterford as a place connected to the sea until quite recently. Part of the reason why I began to think of the city, and the surrounding coastline as connected to something much bigger was driven by what I learned about the Atlantic world from reading Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh’s The Many Headed Hydra. This book completely reshaped my way of thinking about how places on coastlines are connected by the history of sailing. In some ways, it was realising what I knew intuitively to be true, but I finally had, thanks to this book, a better idea how to express that same knowledge. It made the history of Waterford bigger, rather than smaller, by placing it into an even bigger context than a national history, placing it into an international history where the only barriers between places were ocean names. it is a part of a maritime history going in all directions.

I first encountered this way of organising history through that classic of twentieth century history, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by Fernand Braudel. But Rediker and Linebaugh’s work, a work of radical and revolutionary labour history  on the Atlantic in the early modern period, offered a very different way of understanding maritime history. I’ve since read many of Rediker’s books in particular, including The Slave Ship and Outlaws of the Atlantic.

This new frame through which to understand local, and indeed Irish history, has been extremely helpful to me. It’s also helped me to understand better some aspects of my family history, as you can see here. I’ve now moved to Norway, and it is through the sea which I am beginning to understand the history of this part of the world. I’ve just finished Robert Ferguson’s The Hammer and the Cross: A new history of the Viking Age and am just about to move on to Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are.

Both books have provided invaluable (and occasionally overlapping) insight into how to think better not just of the history of the seas north of Britain and Ireland, but how to reorient yourself entirely when thinking of how life was organised in the past. As Pye himself writes early in The Edge of the World: “The sea could kill, and yet it was the easy route: the connection, not the barrier.” He goes on, a few pages later, picking the theme up again:

Since the sea was not a barrier like the land, the world had a different shape. We would it hard to recognize. Suppose you crossed from Domburg to the trading port at Ipswich on the east coast of England, newly opened in the seventh century, your cargo might be pots from the Rhineland or glass or the hefty lava quernstones used for grinding in mills. Stand on the banks of the River Orwell and look out at the world. If you think in terms of the time it takes to get to places, then Bergen in Norway is closer than York in England… The coast of Jutland is closer, and better connected, than an English midlands city like Worcester. You could be over the water and in the port of Quentovic, on the border between modern France and modern Belgium, in half the time it took to get to London overland…

Reading this, and attempting a similar reorientation – imagining that the sea was a shortcut rather than a roundabout way of getting places at a time when roads were very poor, suddenly the history of a city like the one I grew up in makes more sense. The settlement by Vikings early in the tenth century, the religious vestments which were made in the medieval period to a design from Bruges with silk from Florence, the trade with Spanish and Portuguese ports including Barcelona, Bilbao, Cadiz, Farrol, La Coruna, and Lisbon in the 17th century; the fishing trade links with Newfoundland in the late 18th century, and the continued trade out of Waterford port right up to and including the twentieth century. The next time you find yourself at a quayside, a river mouth or a beach, it might be worth thinking, wherever you are of the hundreds and thousands of shipbuilders, chandlers, sailors, fishermen, dock workers, and more characters besides over the centuries who lived lives determined by what in various poems of the past world were called whaleroads and who saw the sea as the connection not the barrier.