Today was the Norwegian constitution day. There were casualties.
Three hundred days of bloody hell, starting today, a century ago.
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them
– Ezra Pound
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most costly battles in human history: the Battle of Verdun. Some 300,000 died over the course of 300 days. Another half a million were hurt or lost, all in a battlefield covering less than 20 square kilometres.
I visited Verdun last summer. I saw the village of Douaumont, or what was left of it: a forest, with inscribed stones indicating where houses had once stood. The rest had been reduced to rubble by months of continous artillery fire. More impressing was the graveyard and the mausoleum.
L’ossuaire de Douaumont is a necropolis. 16,142 graves, dead soldiers, mostly young men, names written on white crosses, white Stars of David, white muslim tomb stones facing Mecca, row upon row on a sleek hill among green trees and red flowers.
And on top of that hill: the mausoleum, the bone house. Built over those not identified. Through small outside windows you look in on the skeletons, the bones, of 130,000 people, combatants of both nations. 130,000 men! The population of a small city, reduced to skeletons, in heaps.
No names. Just bones.
See also my photos from Arlington cemetery.
This Saturday we celebrate Skull Sunday.
In two days time I’m leaving for Spain to not celebrate Christmas. This is an attempt to make the Christmas holiday an actual holiday (also to escape Norway’s soggy winter darkness). But before ditching all traditions, let’s observe some traditions.
Skull Sunday is a perversion of old traditions observed through need, transformed into a celebration itself. I’ve touched upon the topic before: It’s the annual eating of boiled sheep heads.
Bremanger is the island where my father grew up. The default weather here is shite. This close to winter solstice daylight lasts only for a few measly hours. The dark grey landscape is regularly lit with vulgar Christmas displays. Neon santas riding neon reindeers through neon snow are out of place in more ways than one. Mostly because this doesn’t feel like winter at all. Outside temperature was close to 13 centigrades when I got up at nine this morning. That’s a nicer temperature than we had mid summer.
Winds are rocking the old house, darkness is creeping in, half eaten half heads of lamb are piling up on the kitchen table.
It all feels very wrong in just the right way.
Moving a museum collection, animal by animal.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Super… moose? Nah. Just a regular, stuffed Eurasian elk, lifted out of a third story window down to a waiting lorry.
This, of course, is not part of the animal’s normal migration pattern, but a necessity due to the renovation of the Natural History Collections at the University Museum of Bergen.
The moving of mice and moose, this exodus of elephants, took place October last year. I was hired to document the strange odyssey for the museum and followed the crew for a couple of curious days, as 60 large, stuffed animals of various condition were crane-lifted out of the museum and driven away for temporary storage.
The thing is, however, that nobody really knows how temporary this exile of the animals will be. As of now, the restoration is on hold due to lack of funding. In the last state budget, no money were allocated for this purpose. These days the museum is just empty. The halls are quiet, no work being done.
And the moose is missed.
(Last week the museum invited me back to make a new series of photographs. These were the subject of my last blog post: The Empty Museum.)
There used to be animals here. Wolves and elephants, moose and mice, beavers, birds and bears. Stuffed but wondrous. Ragged, scruffy, dusty and old. And beloved. Now there are none.
The Natural History Museum was one of the most popular museums in Bergen. It was built for a different time, for a different crowd, valuing wonder and mood over educational aspects. It was one of very few museums not yet ruined by forced modernization. Display cabinets had yet to be supplanted by fancy tech. Dust and lack of light were essential parts of the experience. It was a museum’s museum.
But the same age that lent the exhibitions their quaint qualities had also taken its toll on the objects and the animals. Seeing minimal upkeep since it first opened its doors for the general public in 1867, the museum was in dire need of maintenance. Large parts of the collection risked unrepairable damage unless the building itself was restored. Beginning a few years ago, one million museum items were catalogued, sanitized and moved to external magazines. The museum closed to the public. A 600m NOK restoration project, spanning several years, was underway. The reopening was scheduled for 2018. Then the money stopped.
In the last state budget, no money were allocated to the restoration project. The closing was meant to be temporary. But when the museum will open now is anybody’s guess.
(See the animals leave the museum in the blog post “The Great Migration”)
Oh, look. More water. (One of the world’s most stunning water journeys, represented by the dullest portion of it.)
Portraits of dead Russians.
“For centuries, everyday existence in Russia was a strenuous battle for survival; the life of the common Russian was grueling, and worry became entrenched on their face as a permanent reflection of their hardship.”
– From the WikiHow-article “How to Understand a Russian Smile”
Russians do supposedly smile – just not at strangers. Spending a vacation week in Moscow recently, that ocean of faces void of any emotion made me want to make a series of stony-faced Russian portraits. Seeing that there really wasn’t time for it – and that I don’t speak much Russian either – I choose not to, but turned instead to a different set of stone faces: those of proper stone.
These are photographs from the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.