Tag Archives: Bergen

Slow Norway

by Carrie Levesque

Winter is coming to Norway.  As I write, on the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 9:45am and sets at 3:30pm.   Since it is common for children here to have to wear their woolen long underwear until mid-May, we have a lot of winter yet ahead of us.

Bergen in Winter

Bergen, Norway in Winter Twilight.

Norwegian culture has developed coping mechanisms over the years to help people ‘stay cozy’ through long, dark winters and bad weather.  “Koselig” (“Cozy”) is one of the first words one learns upon moving to Norway; the word, or some related root word, is ubiquitous throughout Norwegian culture.  To say that you enjoyed a social gathering, you would say, “Vi koste oss,” “We cozied ourselves.”  At the end of the week, people look forward to their “fredagskos,” their “Friday cozy.”  When the weather outside is frightful, Norwegians love to “cozy themselves” in front of a roaring fire and read, knit, or veg out in front of the television.

Because the weather is so lousy in Bergen (25 days of rain in the last 30), we do watch more TV in the winter than we do the rest of the year.  We mostly enjoy sports we didn’t get to watch at home, like Norwegian favorite biathlon (which combines cross-country skiing and target shooting) and the family favorite, ski jumping.  My 4-year-old insists ski jumping is her future.  I’m glad we live somewhere with free healthcare.

Norwegian Ski-Jumper Anders Bardal in Mid-Flight.

Norwegian Ski-Jumper Anders Bardal in Mid-Flight.

We watch winter sports on TV in part to fill the NFL-shaped hole in our lives and in part because, well, there’s not much else on that appeals to our still-rather-American tastes.  Recently, Norway’s public broadcasting system, NRK, has started to garner international attention for being exceptionally, spectacularly slow.  Earlier this year, the New York Times gently mocked their enormously popular program on firewood, featuring expert tips on chopping, drying and stacking it, followed by eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace, “all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations.”  Riveting stuff.

Lars Mytting

Lars Mytting of Elverum, Norway, author of the bestselling Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying, and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning.

This fall, NRK aired a four-hour documentary taking viewers through the process of how a wool sweater is made, from the sheep shearing to the sewing of the final seams.  They then devoted an additional five hours of airtime to an attempt to break the knitting world record.  Said the producer, “it’s kind of ordinary TV but very slow, although they’ll be knitting as fast as they can” (Yahoo).  Unfortunately, I missed the broadcast and so can only imagine the drama that five hours of fast knitting can create.

This week it was announced that “Slow-TV” (“Sakte-TV”) is the 2013 “New Word of the Year” here in Norway, and Television Business International has named Slow-TV the year’s “Best New Format” (TBI).

The thing is, Slow-TV is not really all that new in Norway.  Their first live slow broadcast was in 2009, when they covered the scenic train trip from Oslo to Bergen, minute by minute, for 7 hours and 16 minutes.  Thirty percent of Norway’s entire population watched.  A year later, when the program was exported to Danish TV, 170,000 Danes tuned in, at a time of day when the channel was normally off the air.  This suggested to the network that it “wasn’t just Norwegian patriotism driving viewers to their TV screens,” but a broader “need for a soothing, anti-overload experience”  (NRK).

(Here’s a ten-minute clip from Bergensbanen, worth viewing in full-screen):

A year later, NRK cameras followed one of the Hurtigruten, the fleet of ships that has transported people and goods up the coast of Norway, from Bergen north to the Russian border at Kirkenes (1814 miles), for over 100 years.  The resulting 134-hour broadcast can still be viewed from the program’s website, where they also discuss their reasons for producing such programming.

“Primarily because we’re a publicly funded Public Service Broadcaster with a responsibility towards Norwegian culture; a responsibility for covering things important to the inhabitants of a small country, a country that in spite of, or perhaps because of, our significant oil wealth has a vulnerable culture. And programmes like this aren’t economically feasible for a commercial channel; to a large amount of the public it probably seems completely useless, but to some of our viewers it can have a very high value, be something they wouldn’t get in any other way, and in twenty or two hundred years, it will be a strange document of life at the edge of civilisation from a different time” (NRK).

View from Hurtigruten.

View from Hurtigruten.

(You can stream the entire 134-hour program at nrk.no/hurtigruten/.)

Though I may not yet be sufficiently Norwegianized to sit through so many hours of fire crackling/sheep shearing/coastline passing, it’s not difficult to appreciate the state’s efforts to preserve these aspects of Norwegian culture that make Norway Norway, and provide such a koselig “anti-overload experience.”  We might laugh at the slow hokiness of some of this programming, but as a friend of mine commented when I posted a status about this phenomenon on Facebook: “Remember this when you return to the land of bloodbath-and-misogyny network programming.”

Norwegian Halvard Hanevold Shooting from Skis in a Biathlon Competition

Norwegian Biathlete Halvard Hanevold Shooting from Skis.

I leave you with “The Cabin,” a video from the Ylvis brothers poking fun at cabin culture, another slow way Norwegians like to unplug and cozy themselves.

Observations on Norwegian Geography

by Carrie Levesque

Hilsen fra Norge! Greetings from Norway!

850px-Bergen_from_MtFløyen

Bergen, Norway as seen from Mount Fløyen

I’m going to swallow my pride and admit that the first time I met someone studying for an advanced degree in Geography, my first thought was, “Seriously?  How much schoolin’ do you need to know the world capitals, or what a taiga is?”  They didn’t offer courses in ‘Geography’ at my small undergraduate college (and even today, Geography courses there are tucked away under “Environmental Science”).  I knew Geography as simply a Trivial Pursuit category, a Carolina-blue piece of the pie.

In truth, Geography is a broad field of study examining how humans shape their environments and how environments shape the people who live in them, to put it very simply.  These days, I find myself thinking a little Geography background would be very useful as I process my observations on the relationship between the culture and the unique terrain of my new home: Bergen, Norway.

Bergen lies near the southern end of Norway’s west coast.  It is Norway’s busiest port, “a city of seven mountains.”  If you’re up for the climb, or have a ticket on the funicular or cable cars, spectacular views are everywhere to be had.

Orographic Lift

Unless, of course, it is one of the 219 days a year it is raining.  Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream, Bergen has some of the mildest temperatures in Norway.  But the mountains create a meteorological effect called ‘orographic lift,’ where an air mass quickly moving from a low elevation (sea level) to a high elevation (up a mountain range) cools quickly and creates conditions for A LOT of precipitation (16 inches our first month here).

We had four sunny days the entire month of September.  On those days, even if we’d worn ourselves out with the previous day’s hike, I’ll tell you, the urge to get outside every minute that sun shone was overwhelming.  Which leads me to a couple of geography-related observations about Norwegians.  First, they are impressively accepting about how much it rains here, and second, they are a people who LOVE to be outside.

Norwegians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”  They take their outdoor gear very seriously.  You wouldn’t believe how many layers of specialized clothing you are expected to outfit your children in if you hope to avoid looks of pity and scorn from their teachers.  But this specialized clothing enables Norwegians to do what they love best in any weather: to be outdoors.

220px-Stoltzekleiven

The Stoltzekleiven

Bergen provides an overwhelming variety of opportunities to recreate.  There are seven mountains to climb, and people climb them, daily.  Bergensers even run up the mountains; one of the city’s most popular races took place at the end of September — the Stoltzekleiven, where runners climb over 1000 feet up 800 wooden steps, the fastest of them in around 10 minutes.  Cycling is also huge here, along with skiing in the winter months, and on any given day as you look out your window on the light rail train, you’re quite likely to see someone hang gliding from Ulriken, the city’s highest peak.

Bergen’s terrain presents fantastic outdoor opportunities, but also unique challenges.  Bergen is a growing city — currently with a population comparable to Greensboro’s — with little place to grow.   Boxed in by mountains, Bergen struggles to use a fixed land area ever more efficiently.  Traffic is especially an issue, despite the government’s best efforts to make owning a car difficult (i.e., high tolls on roads into the city center and exorbitant taxes.  Norwegians pay 100% sales tax on vehicles.  A Toyota Corolla goes for about $40,000 here.  That’s some painful math, and a topic for another time).

Geography has always presented great transportation challenges to Norwegians, as building new roads over, around or through mountainous terrain is expensive.  Only as recently as 1990 was a modern highway built connecting Bergen to Voss, a major tourist center roughly 60 miles away.  For much of the history of this area, the gateway to the famous fjords, ferries were the main means of transportation.

A Norwegian Fjord

A Norwegian Fjord

It was on a recent 10-hour road trip through Voss to the mountains beyond and back again that the last hazard of Norwegian geography I will discuss was brought to my attention: aesthetic overload.  On the drive home, I felt completely wiped out, though I’d only sat in a car all day.  It sounds crazy, but it literally hurt my eyes to look at the fjords we drove along (I know, waah waah).  But it made me think that perhaps the brain can only process so much beauty at one time, and I think this is why Norwegians are drawn to the outdoors with such urgency.  It takes a lifetime to take in so much gorgeousness.  As for me, I’ll do what I can with the 6 years I have here.