Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MIDDAY IN HAMMERFEST at 70º 39’ 48”, puts it at roughly the same degree of latitude as Point Barrow, the northernmost part of Alaska. The Gulf Stream brings warmer water and warmer air to this region, so it isn’t as cold as the islands north of Canada and the center of Greenland... but it’s cold enough in winter. We are enjoying a summer day here with temperatures in the mid-fifties. For several days we have stopped at fishing villages with the small clusters of red, blue, yellow, white and green houses; Hammerfest has the feel of a town, almost a city, with taller buildings. There are no skyscrapers, but several structures have the mass of city buildings. Hammerfest was a natural base for German operations in the North Atlantic between 1940 and 1944. When the Germans left, they leveled the town, so what we see today was built since World War II. The entire end wall of Hammerfest Church is a spectacular stained glass window. The crypt is the only building in the town to have survived the war. There is a bustle here that is completely absent from the fishing villages. In 1891, Hammerfest became the first town in Norway to have street lighting. Today turbines have been installed in the seabed to generate electricity from the tide-run.

I’d like to be able to tell a tale of a narrow escape from the polar bear on an ice flow, but you’d know it would be true; so I may as well say up front that the bear is stuffed in an exhibit center in the International Polar Bear Club in Hammerfest, which I declined to join.

Monday, June 29, 2009

We learned today that Norwegian law is very strict. Norwegians themselves are not given harsh prison sentences. Twenty-one years is the maximum. Crime rates are low. No the other hand, Norway, on the other hand, comes down hard on international criminals. These fishing trawlers are Russian. The wandered into Norwegian waters and the boats were impounded. Apparently they won’t be released to the owners until a huge fine is paid. Mostly, the fines don’t get paid, so the ships languish in the harbor until they are worthless rusted husks.

Russians are a real presence here. The border is only about 20 miles away. Almost all the stores in Kirkenes have Russian language under the Norwegian on all placards and signs. Clerks speak both Russian and Norwegian. As a final act of war, the German soldiers blew up the town, absolutely leveled it, even the church. Everything here is "new" since 1945, but the weather here ages everything quickly. Russians liberated the town. The residents were mostly hiding in a tunnel. The monument to the Russian soldier sits on a little hill in the center of the town.

Andy and Marisa are Austrians who left us today. They got off the ship in Kirkenes and will fly home to Austria from there.
We have met some very nice people on this voyage. Lois and Patrick are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary today. They said their vows again on the rear deck just before I snapped this picture. they headed off to the Russian Border on these off-road vehicles when we got to Kirkenes.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

KJOLLEFJORD, like all Northern Norwegian towns is a collection of very colorful, very neat homes clustered around a snug harbor. At the entrance of the inlet, a couple of rocks are said to look like churches.

Honningsvåg snuggles into the side of a mountain and is testimony to the sheer determination of people who make a go of it even in a hostile environment. The temperature can drop to as low as 60 degrees below freezing in winter. Attractive, simple homes are scattered around a snug harbor. Besides our Hurtigruten Coastal Express, there were two cruise ships crowded into the harbor and the Cunard Line’s behemoth Queen Victoria, to big to come in, almost filled the shipping channel at the mouth of the harbor.
So I could see the Midnight Sun, I went out on deck for the beginning of Sunday, June 28. From my cabin window just before twelve O’clock, I saw that the rocky cliffs were sunlit all the way to the water; so I hurried out on deck to see the sun. I had seen the light from the sun at midnight the day before, but I couldn’t see the sun itself because the ship was deep in Troll Fjord. I was expecting to see the great golden ball hugging the horizon, but the sun was actually well above the edge of ocean into which it will not sink into for another month and a half.Looking out on the bright, cold midnight seascape and landscape of Northern Norway, I wondered what total environment, including where the sun and moon are relative to an individual’s place on earth, determines one’s sense self. If I had lived my life in a tidy little blue house on the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep fjord being warmed almost never by the sun, would I be the same self that I am having lived my life in places alternately warm and cool, dark and light? How would I think about the people living in the red house down the road, the only house and only neighbors for many miles?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Picture for the Day: The picture for the day was taken yesterday just before midnight, but I’m counting it for today because I like it so much. From the deck of the ship I could see way off in the distance some mountains that looked more like dream mountains or story-book mountains than real ones; but I aimed and shot, expecting not much because they were so far away. The excitement I felt when I saw the picture on the computer was a little like the excitement I used to feel when I could see a picture coming up in the developing tray in the darkroom. Wow! I doesn’t matter to me if nobody else is wowed by the picture. I like what it does for me.
Blog 02, 3. 4: Lofotveggen is a small, remote fishing village that is in the process of being transformed into a quaint resort for the rich and famous. Old fishing village houses have been completely redone on the inside so that each one is a room or a suite in a fancy hotel. The setting is incredibly beautiful. The air is a little fishy because thousands of filleted cod fish are hanging out to dry all around the town just as they have been dried for centuries. At this time of year, the fish is dry and less pungent; but I can imagine what it must be like when they are first gutted and hung up on the open-air racks. The place reminds me of those little Colorado and Idaho towns that were metamorphosed in a single decade into ritzy vacation destinations. A statue of a striding woman guards the entrance to Lofotveggan harbor. I don’t know the story, but there surely is one. I’ll try to fine out what it is.

The town of Tromsø, with a population of 63,000 is the capital of Arctic Norway. A guidebook says it is known as “the Paris of the North.” Frankly, I don’t see it. It’s a nice town, but even an impressive tower probably wouldn’t convince me. The citizens here seem real. They look as if they could survive fierce winters.

I think the reason flowers and vegetables and will grow so big here is that they have this long period of 24-hour sunshine. Dandelion flowers and profuse and very big.

The town of Tromsø, with a population of 63,000 is the capital of Arctic Norway. A guidebook says it is known as “the Paris of the North.” Frankly, I don’t see it. It’s a nice town, but even an impressive tower probably wouldn’t convince me. The citizens here seem real. They look as if they could survive fierce winters.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Who would ever believe that green, delicate growing things thrive within the Arctic Circle...

The imaginary line around the top of the earth encloses the Arctic Ocean and a scattering of isolated, cold islands and the frigid top of Europe, Asia, and North America. As global warming melts the polar ice cap, it will become possible to navigate around the entire Arctic Ocean in summer. Norwegians don’t worry about a flood of tourists flooding into the Arctic region. Too few people is the bigger problem.

The thirteen Hurtigurten Coastal Express ships are the buses for the West Coast of Norway. The MS Trollfjord is one of several that provide easy transportation between towns along the coast. Bodø is the Northernmost terminus of the railroad. It is the largest town north of the Arctic Circle... 40,000 cold souls. The town was completely destroyed in World War II, so everything here is new looking in a very old sort of way. It is possible to take a train from Bodø and eventually make it all the way to the Pacific coast of Russia and to the Eastern coast of China. When we are in Kirkenes we will be only a short distance from the Russian border.

As I post this on the Internet, we are making our way across a fairly long stretch of Atlantic Ocean to get to Samʂund.

Hundreds of bald mountains scarred by advancing and receding glaciers are the epitome of loneliness. Alienation is an issue for all human beings; but in Norway aloneness is an acute condition which has become a part of the national character. We have only to read Ibsen and look at the art of Munch to know that dealing with loneliness is not a new problem in Norway. Loneliness can be seen in the way people build their houses. Even in settlements where people might be expected to huddle together in tight clusters, homes are spaced well apart. Day after day summer light baths the northern world in an optimistic glow that seems never to end; but it does end in December when the sun disappears and doesn’t show itself again until February. Where I live in San Diego, thecycles of daylight and darkness condition us expect any gloomy day to be gone soon. Here in the far north people say those who don’t learn patience go mad.