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The Selfish Idealist


Freedom has been on everybody’s lips for decades, actually a century and more, and changes in the way of life have been going on for the better. 

But we are not completely peaceful beings, and increased freedom calls for responsible behaviour. There is violence and violent reactions to it, and increasing oppression going on and on its way, I believe in all countries, and right now ought to be a time for thinking and talking rather than rash action.

Summer evening...Oslo.

A Turkish Bakery

Tourist at home Posted on 29 Mar, 2021 17:21

There is a café in Herslebs gate, Mine’s patisserie, just off Trondheimsveien besides a big greengrocer and a butcher, they have very good coffee and Turkish things – baklava, simit (small bread things baked in a ring, with sesame seeds on top), and other stuff, I think baked there.

My favourite right now is a baklava variant with pistachio nuts in it.

It doesn’t fill you up quite as much the normal baklava, which I have to ration when I eat it, one small piece is usually enough.

They also have some of these “normal” baklava types, which are also good, and other, lighter types of baked goodies that are not heavy.

A cortado, a warm simit – a nice breakfast, right now on the street, but still…

A new aquaintance

Tourist at home Posted on 23 Jul, 2020 17:13

Another Norwegian artist rediscovered…at least by me, but I believe also pretty unfamiliar for “normal” art lovers, if not the experts.

Hans Dahl, painter, not related to the more famous Johan Christian Dahl. Hans was born and raised in Granvin, Hardanger, Johan Christian was from Bergen.

Hans Dahl was born in 1849, died in 1937, while his more famous counterpart lived from 1788 to 1857.

Hans Dahl was born and raised in Hardanger, Granvin, studied in Düsseldorf, Germany, also like a lot of Norwegian painters of this period.

His father was a captain in the army, and the son also completed an education as an officer.

(Dahl is a very common surname in Norway, meaning simply valley, the h probably being a remnant of Danish spelling.) 

A close friend of the German emperor, Hans was also very sympathetic with German culture and art, as, I believe, many in Norway at the time. 

He was also writing a lot, and among other things published a book which must be characterized as chauvinistic in favour of German culture, talking also about the danger of the Slavs. («People of the North, wake up!» is the title of this book.) 

The way of seeing the landscape and Dahl’s world of ideas is probably much influenced by Germany, but we should be able today to sort out the dirt from the cinnamon, as we say here, and even if some of his writings, of which I have seen only a trifle, is difficult to accept, we should be able to enjoy the paintings. The same kind of discussions has of course been going on about Knut Hamsun, and we still read his books and enjoy them, even if we know that he did and said things during the war which were unacceptable to us. 

Hans Dahl was not considered important among influential Norwegian critics, which I should today consider a mistake, and in the debate about art and culture, stupidly enough, even back then, there was a conflict which in name was for and against the élite

Dahl sided with the anti-élitists, which also today seems irrelevant to me if we consider only the art. 

What to me looks like embryo-nazi views must be noted and considered today, but we cannot totally exclude the art of this painter and others because of this. 

The style of Hans Dahl is of course national romantic, the landscapes spectacular and with almost photographic qualities.  The women were probably commented too, in the press back then, the whole project was seen as an idolising view of both nature and people, which I also find strange today.  Sunshine and fun is also part of life, and darkness and depression does not have to be considered unimportant because of this.

This is a statement…

Many of the faces and situations in the pictures give me a lot of new thoughts about everyday life in Norway way back. 

In a way the landscapes remind me of normal postcards from my childhood, from the 60s and 70s, and this may lead you to think that German aesthetic thinking may have been present here for quite a while after the war.

This is only an idea in my head which is not documented, but maybe worth considering.

The quality of these paintings is still fantastic in my mind.

The first one down below has the same motive as one of the most famous Norwegian paintings, Brudeferden i Hardanger, Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord, painted by Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude in 1848, and this also shows that there are of course a lot of variants of the subjects in our national «icons», and that the talk which you can hear from and among Norwegians that we have «so little art» being «such a small country» – is nonsense.

The erotic side of some of the pictures may very likely have been a problem in the 18- and early 1900s, in a country where petty morality used to be a cradle gift for most of us, or at least something we had to relate to. To call it erotic is maybe also saying a lot about us…

Dahl is known for having both treated and paid his models very decently, according to an online cultural dictionary.

Sweet Velvet

Tourist at home Posted on 10 Oct, 2019 16:38

I have started exploring the other way from my little flat, along Trondheimsveien instead of Grünerløkka. Løkka still has possibilities, which I discover every time I go out with another city dweller, when they have other habits and know of places I have never seen.

This time only a small dessert at what is probably a Syrian restaurant, since the name on the door is Damaskus.

It’s true, what a friend once said, that you don’t know what happens in your mouth when you eat sweet stuff from the Middle East, or even more Eastern parts. The Pakistani sweetshops in Grønland, a part of town not far from here, also have a lot of strange and enchanting thing to feed your sweet tooth, and I am going there whenever I have something to do there, or just take a stroll to buy these pink and green and otherwise coloured things. They often taste very sweet, but one of the guys in one of the shops said that they did not use that much sugar.

Today’s pudding was not too sweet, but warm, and the experience was a little circus-like and sensuous, as the last time I had it.

I always feel very relaxed among Muslims, they have, when I meet them, a very soft and friendly attitude which in a café like this makes me feel like I am paying for luxury, and, well, in a way you always do that in a café, but this time, cheap luxury.

In waiting

Tourist at home Posted on 26 Aug, 2019 17:08

I was going to take a walk and take a look at a statue of Rodin, which stands in Solli plass, kind of the beginning of the West End, Vestkanten, as different from Sentrum, the central parts of town, which is of course a concept with a little changing content.

But anyway.

The statue wasn’t there, just a kind of box which could have hidden and protected the sculpture, and with a picture of it on the outside, but the inside was empty.

I don’t quite know why.

One could phantasise about anti-art governments or politicians, who don’t care about art, and who don’t push those processes which always go on in administrations, necessarily so. Those processes, I believe, although I’ve never been an insider, often depend on people who wants this or that and push things they feel are important in a particular direction. In the direction of doing, not just thinking, which, I acknowledge that, is also necessary.

But I ‘m sure there is a good reason that the statue is not there.

Dead sure.

I passed Ibsen and Bjørnson on my way there, they were standing in front of the National Theatre, and looked a little high up, which is of course an unneccessary way of seeing them, as long as you stick to what people write and not what someone says about them, I mean, their art is a lot more interesting than their lives, at least it should come first.

I met Ibsen once more, sitting outside his extravagant appartment in Drammensveien, which is now Henrik Ibsens gate… Here he looked a little comic, sitting on his…pedestal would maybe be a proper name for it, I don’t know if the artist had a particular reason for making him look funny, this could be interesting to know, or just had a thing with humour in general.

I have nothing against making fun of Ibsen, but I would love to know the reason for the mocking. I’m not bigger than that…

I don’t know why Ibsen is considered our only great playwright, and I say this straightforward, I don’t know it, but I believe we could as well get others out from the shadows and read them and play them.

It’s probably done already too, just as the music of Norwegian classical composers are coming out from their shelves, where they have been sleeping for quite a while. Everybody who are into classical knows Grieg, Svendsen, Halvorsen, but seriously, there is also Catharinus Elling, Johannes Haarklou, Hjalmar Borgstrøm, there are loads of composers and fantastic music which only need to be understood and played.

Actually, it seems to be happening. New recordings emerge, more and more interesting.

A national renaissance? Why not, we’ve been actually too timid to appreciate our own stuff properly. As long as it’s used for thinking and contemplation, not war, I find it totally in order to revive this part of tradition.

No war against other nations, and no war against popular culture, which was always strong here and should go on being important.

Why not have it both ways?

I think it can’t be wrong.

So I guess I’ll check out Bjørnson, which I have read just a little of so many years ago that I can’t remember what it was.

Or someone else.

The same with painters, the last years we’ve seen things of women, Harriet Backer was of course known, but had a lot more than I knew, Kitty Kielland, there are doubtless more of them too, men and women, painters I didn’t know of.

In this vein Lillehammer kunstmuseum is worth a visit, I believe, and others, I shoud not say too much, I’ve been too few places. There are regional museums around the country.

They have closed the National Gallery in Oslo in waiting for the big new museum…they, maybe some of them could emerge from their shadows and tell us why. Kunstindustrimuseet, also closed, used to be a beautiful place, I thought.

The Munch Museum is still going on like before, even if this museum is also moving into another new, huge building.

The Høvikodden and The Astrup Fearnley, modern art places, I haven’t been there for a while, but I usually check out what’s happening when I feel like it.

The Rodin statue is nothing big, and it’s a copy, but I guess those greats had people working for them anyway, they didn’t actually do all the work themselves all the time, although the shape, of course, the mould or the result is supervised by them and the form is…formed by them.

He’s just a sculptor I really like.

But right now I didn’t find him where I thought he’d be.

Irony and nature

Tourist at home Posted on 01 May, 2019 02:32

For those unfamiliar with Norwegian humour, the name of the restaurant Ben Reddik in Grünerløkka refers to one of the characters in an extremely popular film from many years ago, Flåklypa Grand Prix. The film is an emblematic portrait of an important part of Norwegian mentality, with the (anti-) hero Reodor Felgen as its main character.

His title is actually bike repair man (sykkelreparatør), but he is more than that, an inventor type, seemingly modest both in apparition and behaviour, but capable of creating all kinds of fun technical gadgets, like for instance a wooden box for recycling used tobacco smoke, which you strap onto your back. This way you can both save money on tobacco and save your immediate environment from breathing your cigarette smoke.

Reodor looks like a typical Norwegian of my father’s generation, and you can still see his type many places here. The nickname Reodor (Felgen) is still a common expression for the ability to fix or invent anything practical, anytime anywhere, which is actually a typical national inventiveness, also in other connections than practical and technical. It must have developed out of geography, fun, and the relative lack of traditional European education.

The northerners even have a saying for it – vi træng ikkje pæng, vi fikser med stræng, (we don’t need doe, we fix it with wire).

In the real north (remember that Norway is about 2000 km long) – the improvisation has also gone thoroughly even into the language, and the ability to create words and expressions on the spot has been common there and in other parts too. Probably still is.

Reodor Felgen is the product of Kjell Aukrust’s mind, who was an artist and writer and the creator of Flåklypa Times (Flåkypa tidende), the local newspaper of an imaginary place in a valley of Norway, which came in several volumes in the 60’s and 70’s. It actually contains a lot stranger things tham just local news, and the humour touches upon many different issues from public life.

A felg means the rim of a wheel – and this constructed last name illustrates another side of Norwegian humour – slapstick, practical humour, visuality – these tools or modes are never far away.

Flåklypa as a place name actually exists, but I don’t think anyone lives there. I had some motor trouble there many years ago, and accidentally noticed the road sign, not far from Lom.

Aukrust himself came from Alvdal, quite a few hours drive from the actual Flåklypa. Alvdal is partly the inspiration for the fictional Flåklypa.

The author has also given a witty impression of the real Alvdal in Bror min (My Brother) and other autobiographical works. A great humourist and also illustrator of his own books, he has given us a picture of an important part of Norwegian culture. We have after all always been rural to a large extent, despite a normal output also of “European” art, music, etc.

The landscape I grew up in, in Asker, just outside Oslo, is very much recognisable even in those drawings from Alvdal, which is further up the land from my home place. The Eastern hills and slopes resemble each other across a large area.

In the film, one of the sponsors, I believe, of the car race, is sheikh Ali Ben Redik Fy Fazan, who meets our countryside heroes in the tent that he brought with him from his homeland. He also brought with him a beautiful bellydancer, who has just about time to turn the head of Solan, who sees her in a glimpse through the tent opening. Solan is an outgoing and optimistic chap, always willing to take a chance, the complete opposite of his friend Ludvig, whose gloomy slogan is “The Northern winds blow from everywhere”.

The film is animated, played with dolls made by Ivo Caprino, who is also famous for animated versions of Norwegian fairy tales and other stories.

Racism was already rife in Norway when the film appeared (1975), but I don’t think sheikh Ali or the film contributed substantially to it. “Fy Fazan” is a “foreignised” and euphemistic version of “fy faen”, the most common Norwegian swearword, but knowing Aukrust and Caprino and their work you have to think very strangely to interpret the character as racist, rather the opposite. His accent is comic, but all characters are comic, and we see in him, for instance, a guy who is confident enough to give respect to his hosts.

All characters, in the film and the stories, are comic, maybe except Reodor himself, who is actually more of a wise grandfather, the person who “owns” the humour. His personality also resembles Aukrust’s, in the film especially, and also in sequels, which have been made in recent years.

The humour of Norway often resonates to a coarse background, not necessarily in a bad way, but it is completely strewn with irony, hints and double meanings, it is often difficult to see through to the last end of it. Which is also often the point, to pull your leg.

A little tourist information

Tourist at home Posted on 01 Dec, 2016 18:27

If I had the kids with me, or maybe even better alone, and were having a vacation in Western Norway, I would consider stopping at Årdal and visit this place, simply the public outdoor swimming pools. There are even two, a few miles apart, in two different villages.

Looks like a pretty fine place to swim, if you ask me, if you enjoy the scenery. Outdoor swimming feels special, exactly because of the climate. The swimming season is normally short, but if you’re a little daring you can do it even in rather cold weather. The pool is anyway heated.

I’ve never used the pool in Årdal myself, the last time I was there I was 17 or something, on my way down from a hiking trip in the mountains. I have been swimming in an outdoor pool, though, for instance at Klækken hotell in Ringerike, where they have a small but fun pool where you can swim from the indoor to the outdoor part of the thing. Heated pool water and snow on the ground was really fun when I was there.

This is the pool in Øvre Årdal, which seems to be the most spectacular place, judging by the photo:×768/4820652_1352375.jpg?

Information about the pools on the same site, unfortunately not in English:

It says to be open “all summer”, whatever that means. I would say normally May until August, but I don’t know how Årdal kommune defines the summer season…


Tourist at home Posted on 11 Oct, 2016 19:28

Winter is soon here, if the climate problems don’t change the whole scenery this year too.

I’m not a freezing person. I’m usually in the need of cooling down rather than warming up. Winter and autumn is a time to be inside, the cosy cliché is almost at it best this time of the year. 30 years ago it usually happened at home, also in the city, where I had relatives. I grew up in what can now be considered a suburb, but then it was almost countryside.

Now we have the cafés, I believe everywhere.

Also in the city. They are in use, west end or east end. The atmosphere is maybe a little different in the different parts of town, but the feeling is not, it is one of hospitality, no matter whether you carry a black envelope for your Mac and has an expensive look about you or you live on social security and haven’t spent this month’s money yet. There may still be a line of class differences over the counter, but it must be diminishing. I hope the people who serve me the coffee know how much they and their work mean to us.

An elderly couple just left Kaffebrenneriet at Elisenberg as I arrived. On her way out the lady said to the two foreign men at the table next to them, and now, you two stay in Norway, right? The kind of womanly encouragement which sometimes feels a little too much when coming from someone close, but is well meant and at any rate works well at the distance of a café table. Fuel to go on, friendliness, affirmation. As an outsider in Oslo you may be surprised by the doggedness and roughness that sometimes come with it, but you can feel the love too.

This is Oslo’s actual style, when you manage to get past or tackle the annoying politeness which is also part of the culture. Roughness and a smile.

I can remember my uncle’s mother, who was a frequent guest in the family. Her face told the same story, it was slanted for some reason, and I thought, rather surprised, she is actually ugly, but she is not mean. She was always friendly to me, which made her ugliness not ugly, not dangerous. Beauty can be defined, through the golden ratio and all the other stuff in the science of the arts, but it must also contain love to be complete.

Life is a bitch, but come here, let me give you a cup of something. Cocoa, anyone?

This I grew up with.

There was, as I recall it, not many words stating these things, in my childhood not much talk of anything else than practical things or later the matters of society, so you could get the impression that there was no love at all. But there was food, drinks, a chair or a sofa, the making of an atmosphere, a room, a table with something on it.

These things are the inside part of winter, I mean, simply being inside. Going for walks was – is? – normal too, but November is not the best month for walking in the woods, and later in winter, if you had actually been skiing since morning, you needed a treat when you came home anyway.

Being heated in front of a fireplace.

Or being surrounded by the chatting of people and the energy and the calmness which come from the making of the coffee.

The fairy tale bridge

Tourist at home Posted on 23 Jul, 2016 05:07

Since I live just beside the Fairy Tale Bridge, Eventyrbrua, so popularly named after the sculptures on the bridge, and since obviously the tourist
office didn’t do their job or the Swedish tourists I met on the bridge tonight didn’t know anything about what is there, I’ll tell you.

There are four sculptures there, based on four stories and fairy tales.

The Norwegian parallel to the Grimm brothers and Perrault is Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812-85) and Jørgen Moe (1813-82). Asbjørnsen was a natural scientist, Moe a folklorist, and a priest, later bishop. They collected fairy tales around the country, published first in the 1840s. There are three volumes, in addition to some erotic ones that were published first in the 1970’s, I believe, because they were too much for our prim public life. Quite fun for me to read at a young age.

The statues – three of them – are figures from this collection of popular stories which we all grew up with. We still read them, but I must say that my kids knew many of them from kindergarten, there was a girl working there who had quite a talent for reading, so when I came up with the idea to read for them my son usually said “no, I’ve heard that story already”.

But they couldn’t have heard them all, I think, it’s a real stack.

The names of the characters are given on the bases of the statues.

If you come from the city centre, Kvitebjørn kong Valemon, King Valemon, the white bear, is the first figure on the left, a white bear with a princess riding on it (there are no polar bears on our mainland, only in the real arctic, Svalbard and thereabouts, and this one is anyway filled with magic, of course).

I can remember the story pretty well, one of several where the main point is a princess caught by a spell, the prince naturally wanting to rescue her and does so, through a long journey (og de gikk langt, og lenger enn langt. They wandered far, and farther than far).

In English this sentence sounds queer when translated literally, but if you have had any contact with Norwegian nature you will know what distance
means, even today, and so much more way back. I won’t even try to say anything about the northern parts. Go see for yourself, it’s vast.

These words are a stock expression in Norwegian, I hope they are still there. At least they are known in my generation and upwards.

He has to go through a lot of trials, to fool scary creatures and trolls, and this particular story is especially long and beautiful, it was one of my childhood favourites. I can absolutely not recall the details right now, but the feeling remains, not least because of the beautiful illustrations of Theodor Kittelsen and Erik Werenskiold and others. These two, the most famous ones, essentially belong in the 19th century, even if they both lived and worked well into the 20th. There were also, in the third volume, I think, drawings by Per Krohg, Alf Rolfsen and other artists whose style were too realistic for my taste, not as evocative as Kittelsen and Werenskiold, in my mind.

On the other side of the road is Veslefrikk med fela, Little Frikk with the fiddle, born in poverty, but whose playing aquires the magic quality to make everyone dance, every time he plays on it. In the story he gives away
all the little money that he has, to three beggars, which turns out to be the
same man, a spirit who grants him three wishes. He wishes for the fiddle magic, a gun that hits whatever he aims at, and that no one can deny him his first wish.

With these three weapons he manages to get back at all the people that abused him during his years of trial, as it were. In the beginning of the story he works for people who pay him very badly, among others the policeman.

The priest and the policeman, the lensmann, ends up dancing like mad, the policeman tied to a tree and his back then torn to pieces. A familiar theme in many Norwegian stories, in- and outside the fairy tales, also a major key to understand our politics, maybe what it’s all about. Askeladden is the official protagonist which everyone talks about, but this story also has similar traits, even easier to see, the little man against the officials.

On the other side of the bridge is Peer Gynt, not found in Asbjørnsen and Moe, but also a traditional story, which is a starting point for Ibsen’s

Then Kari Trestakk, Kari with the wooden skirt.

It is a Cinderella story, also a long one, in Asbjørnsen og Moe. I had to read it once more. I couldn’t remember this one at all, except the title, of course.

The king in the story is a widower who mourns his wife, the queen, but at last marries another widow, another queen, who is the evil stepmother, with an equally mean daughter.

Kari Trestakk is the king’s daughter.

She is badly treated, of course, and is set to work, she has to shepherd the animals.

A particular blue oxe in the herd is sympathetic towards her, and as the evil
queen makes a scheme to kill him, the bull and the princess run away from their persecutors together.

He is her ally, and guide and protect her in all the difficulties they have to go through. They ride through magic woods, owned by trolls, and the bull has to fight them, one troll worse than the other. The blue bull gets them through. In the end he asks her to kill him, which she reluctantly does. He leaves the story, but tells her that if she needs him, she can knock on the rock with a stick.

Which she does later on.

The aim of this journey is getting to a palace where she finds and wears the wooden skirt and gets work in the kitchen. She is treated really lowly by the prince in the castle during the week, and by the other workers, just like in other Cinderella stories.

In this version the place of her “real” appearance, where the prince falls in love with her, is not a ball in a palace, but the church, where she quite similarly to Cinderella wears a dress, first of bronze, then silver and in the end gold and precious stones. The dresses are all given her out of the rock where she killed the bull who helped her getting there. She acts on his instructions, knocks on the rock with the stick, and the dresses come out, one after the other.

When she meets the prince in all the humiliating situations, it is not the time or the break of dawn that stops him from getting to know her, it is Kari herself who says some kind of magic formula and simply disappears, because she wants to. He then spends a lot of time looking for her, with no
result. This detail is interesting.

The shoe – of gold – is not lost on the way to a carriage, in this version it sticks in tar that the prince has poured out in kirkesvalen, something similar to a cloister, in order to “help her over”. I don’t know quite what this means, it is probably understood that something of the floor in the cloister is broken and maybe wet, leaking.

Anyway, the shoe sticks in the tar, and the rest of the story is as usual, Kari-Cinderella getting the last chance of trying it on, after everyone has mocked her thoroughly, and she is the only one who fits into it.

I think there are other local traits, like the thing that the shoe is filled with blood when the evil stepdaughter is about to marry the prince.

The kirkesvale detail in the story seems to me very old, the only place I can remember having seen anything like that in a Norwegian church is in the wooden stave churches, a Medieval type of building. I may be wrong on that one, but tar was anyway traditionally used for protecting wood in houses against the weather.

These stories are almost the backbone of our heritage. We were brought up on this stuff, in our family or at least in my interest completely parallel to all sorts of “normal” literature, but these things were especially important.

So, if you want to understand Norway, you can’t get past the three volumes of Asbjørnsen og Moe. I think they mean more than the sagas of Snorre or even Håvamål, they are at least much more widely read and cited.

A few illustrations you’ll find on this bridge. Its official name is Ankerbrua, and you go basically Torggata eastward, past Hausmanns gate and towards Søndre gate.

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