Wednesday, 10 March 2010
‘Bonjour, Monsieur. Erm, do you evv enee snow?’
Note your pronunciation of the word ‘snow’. Say it slowly, in a lingering manner, with considerable emphasis on the vowel sound, your lips in a petulant pout a la Peter Sellers. You may think the noise you are making is French, but actually, it’s Norsk. It is spelt thus : snø.
For the last three years, whenever I have said ‘snow’ I just can’t help thinking I am Inspector Clouseau. Which is unfortunate, what with him being a complete twit. But anything to keep the chickaninnies amused.
We are well into the eighty-first day of snow by now, and it’s still here. But the snow is in a state of flux, it is gradually ‘smelting’ (melting) and turning into ‘slaps’ (slush). Every day starts with a concentrated through-the-window inspection of the current state of the snow....what’s it doing? Snø, smelting, slaps, snø, smelting, slaps, and so on.
Before a Brit visits Norway, he has a general impression of the place being permanently snowy. Neither logic nor imagination can disabuse him of this preconception, and no-one told him there is a warm and very light summer here. He thinks every Norwegian is born with a powerful love of snow and all things cold. I wonder. For a country with its top end in the Arctic Circle, the question is, do Norwegians themselves really like snow or are they just pretending?
I suspect occasional lapses. I suspect there is subversion. I have heard dark mutterings in corners, quiet admissions of impatience. I even heard one woman, out for her morning ice-stroll, openly complaining that she had had enough now and would it all please just go away.
Meanwhile, in Bergen, up the coast from here, they are really quite annoyed. This lovely city, resplendent in its Hanseatic history, is a stunning, hilly place with many high, beautiful buildings. But Bergen is famous for rain, not snow. They don’t like snow there, and they don’t want it. So this year, with great dumps of the stuff being chucked onto them, there have been reports of stray litter bins, abandoned cars parked at curious angles on steep hills, and warning signs as roof-top ice poses a threat to passers-by.
Thankfully, my faith in the existence of the stereotypical Norwegian has been restored by Nansen himself, a man who positively ached for proper snow on an annual basis. Fabulous Fridtjof was originally from an area outside Oslo, or 'Christiania' as the city was known at that time. There he had developed an insatiable love of skiing which was to define his life. After just one year at university, he took a job as curator of the zoology department at Bergen Museum, partly to escape his domineering father, and partly because the set-up at Bergen allowed him more freedom to pursue his scientific research. There he was able to achieve great things, furthering our understanding of the nervous system. (For the swots amongst you, he eventually discovered that the nerve fibres ‘bifurcate’ into ascending and descending branches....this was of enormous importance and led to these nerve fibres being known as ‘Nansen fibres’...his findings provided the foundation for our understanding of the spinal reflexes).
But as Christmas approached, Bergen’s lack of snow was really getting on his nerves.
Bergen and Christiania are on different sides of Norway, with a mountainous wilderness in between. Nonetheless, fed up with the lack of snow in Bergen, Fridtjof decided to go home ON HIS SKIS. Going by ski meant several days of appalling hardship traipsing over the very big, cold, dangerous Hardanger Plateau, which, as we have learnt, is the highest plateau in Europe.
While most 21 year old males are known to be annoyingly gung-ho about danger, somehow this particular endeavour seems exquisitely Norwegian. I know students get annoyed from time to time, but to shove your skis on and stomp off home in a huff across one of the most arduous terrains in the world was fairly extreme. And he didn’t even just try it once. He did it several times, finding that blizzard and wilderness simply egged him on.
So, if ever I hear a Norwegian moaning that they are fed up with the never-ending snow, I’m just going to think they are indulging in platitudinous small-talk.
Posted by Returning Scot at 09:04