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.
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.
Oh, look. More water. (One of the world’s most stunning water journeys, represented by the dullest portion of it.)
Pics from a drive through Western Norway some six months ago, forgotten until I got stung by a wasp yesterday (which in late September is kind of an off-season event. The off-season-ness is the key here. It’s not that arbitrary. Really).
Caution! Danger! Stop! Keep off! Do! Don’t! Warning: this blog post may contain words and pictures.
It’s the little things. Travelling the US, there are of course quite a few things that sets the country apart from the one you call home. Like the fondness for melted cheese, Jesus and fireworks, for example. Or that strange belief in guns.
But when asked what’s really different in the US, I think of the little things. Like why are all shower heads wall-mounted and not fitted with a hose? And how come it’s so hard to get a small coffee? (12oz is a third of a litre and in no reasonable understanding of the word a small portion.)
And then – of course – you have that tendency of micromanaging banalities – that overwhelming abundance of useless signs.
Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate a good sign. When my girlfriend and my GPS are having one of their usual arguments, I very much appreciate an easy-to-read sign telling me the directions to where we’re supposed to be going. Or a proper warning sign, warning me of dangers I’d otherwise be ignorant of. Yup, they’re good. So sure, a useful sign is useful, no surprise there.
But oh so many aren’t.