The Japanese tradition of hanami – the celebration of the transient beauty of flowers, observed through enjoying a nice picnic in the shade of a cherry tree – is a brilliant concept that lends itself very poorly to Norwegian weather.
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.
DC / Cherokee / New York / Chattanooga: The penultimate blog post on the American journey in which the author-traveller does a National Mall stroll and reveals his dismal view on the future for an unlucky surveyor in NYC.
– To the White House, please.
– You got an appointment with President Obama, asks Mr. Abdul Khan, our friendly taxi driver.
– Yes, we’re his nine o’clock.
– Haha – you know I drove Obama once, back when he was a senator.
– Oh really? Was he a nice passenger?
– No, man, he paid the right money – right on the meter!
So there you have it. The President is a bad tipper. Also, the White House is way smaller than I imagined. Other than that, DC feels extremely familiar to someone who’s never been there before. Okay, the White House isn’t a marble fortress prone to exploding in the beginning of the third act, the Lincoln memorial statue doesn’t rise from his stone throne to run for re-election and the Washington monument (probably) isn’t a camouflaged above-ground missile silo – but other than that the capital handles the transition from pop culture to real life reasonably well.
PS – Disillusioning Dave
At some point during our travel I think I said jokingly that the US is a big and friendly country that is fond of melted cheese, Jesus and fireworks, in that order. We certainly had our shares of cheese and massive displays of fireworks, but were actually spared any real run-ins with folks preaching the gospel in our general direction. Yes, somewhere in the Midwest we did see a series of billboards proclaiming that adherence to the theory of evolution led to eternal damnation, but that’s so off the charts that it ain’t offensive in the slightest. Actually I think the 20-something hipsters folding hands for a mealtime prayer in a fancy NYC place is almost more shocking to my irreligious Northern European sensibilities. Anyway, my point is that no one had tried to proselytize me or even engage me in a religious conversation. Not until the very last day.
It’s the morning of our last day in the US. I’m having breakfast in Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan and have already had some more or less meaningful conversations with strangers on topics ranging from cilantro to organ donation, when a new guy approaches. He introduces himself as Dave and tells me that he is from some sort of ministry but seems like a nice enough fellow.
Dave: – We have some questions that we ask visitors here in Bryant Park – would you mind if we spoke for a few minutes?
Me: – Sure, I don’t mind.
Dave: – How do you think it all began?
Me: – Life, you mean? It originated from a beautiful bio-chemical coincidence – then evolved through a process of natural selection.
Dave: – Oh.
Me: – I gather you and I have quite different opinions on this?
Dave: – Yes. But that’s okay. Let’s continue. What do you believe went wrong for us humans?
Me: – Oh, that’s easy. Our single measure of success is progress, but you can’t have unlimited growth based on a system of limited resources. At the same time we lack the cognitive ability of thinking and planning long-term. Our brains are wired just the same way as when fight or flight were the only decisions of importance, making it very hard for us to actually fathom the consequences of problems such as overpopulation and climate change.
Dave: – Hmm. Is there any hope?
Me: – No, I don’t think so.
Dave: – So how will it end?
Me: – Horribly.
Ah yes. That was Dave’s encounter with the smiling happy and dreadfully pessimistic Norwegians in Bryant Park. And actually also my last really memorable interaction with anyone in the States. Well except for the staff of five at the Irish pub in Newark Airport, who deemed the question of whether or not Vin Diesel is gay as far more important than me having a steady supply of Guinness.
This is America part nine. Read also
The sun shines, having no alternative, atop the clouds. Below is misery.
The weather is the fallback topic of any conversation gone stale. I don’t believe this blog has gone stale quite yet, but I’m still writing about the weather. Go figure.
Here, west of the mountains, the default weather is either “raining” or “inbetween two showers” – the latter something we actually have a dedicated word for in Norwegian: “Opplett” means “yes, it is actually raining. Just not right now.”
Not long ago it was “opplett” for almost 30 days straight. Which left us in a bit of a panic once the rain started again, as we feared that we had used up all the sunny days allotted to us this year. This is nonsense of course, except that so far it has proven true. Now it is the third of May and it is … snowing? The proverb “April showers bring May flowers” could possibly be corrected to “April showers bring May snow and dread and bollocks to all your optimism: spring is dead.”
Pretending It’s Summer
The last week of March I was in Copenhagen and Roskilde photographing for the upcoming summer edition of KLM’s inflight magazine.
Shooting a summer story at this time of year is always difficult, but this time Denmark experienced its coldest month of March in 30 years. I think I spent three hours on Amager square just waiting for a couple of hipsters in seasonally neutral attire to pass. And there really aren’t that many hipsters too cool to be cold when it’s ten below.
This is of course no joking matter (well, hipsters in ten below is, but the climate isn’t). This spring chill is not an isolated Nordic phenomenon, but something affecting much of Europe and the Southeast U.S. And that even in a year (yet another) with global March temperatures reaching record highs. These two facts are probably linked. As The Guardian writes, scientists link frozen spring to dramatic Arctic sea ice loss.
The basic science of it being this, according to the article: Because of global warming, sea ice is now 80 per cent less than it was thirty years ago. This ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere thus shifting the position of the high altitude jet streams that govern most weather in the northern hemisphere. This shift allows the cold air from the arctic to plunge much further south and screw up our spring.
Now, I have never really been prone to swinging moods because of bad weather as such – but I have spent much of my adult life in a state of a mild, constant climate depression.
And the combination really gets me.