Andy Meyer, Fulbright Roving Scholar in Norway

Month: November 2015

Fengsel og folket

The past couple weeks have been memorable—and travelt, the Norwegian word for “busy,” which is especially appropriate for this job, what with all the travel-ing! Planes, trains, and automobiles this week, plus busses, and all along the west coast. Early last week I visited Åsane videregående skole in Åsane, a sort of suburb just north of Bergen (Åsane means “the hills,” which I think is appropriate, given Bergen’s landscape). The school building is, the teachers told me, a former umbrella factory (which is also appropriate, given Bergen’s climate). Then to Ålesund, self-proclaimed prettiest city in Norway (I’m not going to argue [see below]). Then a stint in the quaint town of Gran, snug in the historical district of Hadeland (winter did a little work in the valley while I was there, though it’s since taken a pause). Lastly, I paid a visit to a few rain-beaten islands off the west coast near Haugesund: Stord, Bømlo, and Karmøy.

Åsane sticks out in this visit, for a special reason: I went to prison. Along with their usual curriculum, Åsane VGS has the responsibility for the education program in Hordaland’s prisons. I’ve been lately thinking about prisons a lot, what with the sort of renewed focus on our American “criminal justice” system effected by the racial violence and all of the forces that have given rise to Black Lives Matter. In fact, my Civil Rights presentation is called #BlackLivesMatter and in it, I pay some attention to the deeply troubling statistics of the American prison system. So it was a timely and rewarding opportunity to visit two Norwegian prisons—especially in this context, as a teacher. I visited both Bjørgvin Fengsel, a low-security prison, and the high-security Bergen Fengsel.

My experience was inspiring. For the sake of privacy, I won’t, in fact, say much about the specifics of my visit, but the teachers I worked with were wonderful and the inmates I encountered seemed genuinely interested in the topics I presented. Talk about rewarding.

Americans, in the main, find Norwegian prisons shocking in their humanity, it seems. Yet, Norwegian prisons are often lifted up as an example of “how to do prison right.” (I just googled “global prison recidivism rates” and the first page of results contained numerous articles about the comparative success of Norway’s criminal justice system.) Norway has a reputation of treating its inmates humanely, as members of communities (and, notably, as tax payers) whose have suspended their right to participate fully and freely in open society because of their decisions, or, of course, actions. Thus, the motive that determines the operations of Norwegian prisons rehabilitation, as much as it is to punish. In the US, our system is primarily a punitive system. You do a bad deed, you go to prison, you feel bad, you maybe get to breathe fresh air sometimes, lift some weights, say, etc. You “do your time”—sometimes a lot of it—and then, if you “behave,” you come out into the world again. And if film and TV have anything to say, you also get threatened or abused by other inmates while you’re there, especially in higher security prisons. I had some really great conversations with teachers, on the other hand, about the motivations that govern Norway’s “correctional” system. First and foremost—først og fremst—as a collectivist (as opposed to an individualistic) society, Norway’s concern (I feel like I’m a character in Hamlet, talking about “Old Norway”) is that members of the folk, or folket (our “We the people”), are full participants in Norwegian society. There is a national interest, for example, in populating the whole country, even the distant north. Compare northern Sweden, for example, to northern Norway just across the border, and you’ll find quite a difference in population density. This extends to prison: if you’ve done something that warrants suspension of your full participation, i.e., if you’ve broken the social contract, the goal is to help you repair it. And if you provide something that resembles (even while it is, by definition, an exception) civic life, with work to do, intellectual questions to explore, vocational skills to practice, social changes to learn about, inmates, especially if they’ve served longer sentences, will be less likely to find the “outside world” an alien, unwelcoming place, with an inhumane learning curve. I don’t have to describe all of this, to be sure; there are plenty of articles and resources that take on these issues. And I want to be clear: prison in Norway is still prison. You don’t want to go there; it’s not a cake-walk or a mere slap on the wrist or thoughtless tsk-tsk. It is a prison. It’s just that it’s less demeaning and dehumanizing than what we’re wont to imagine in the US.

But it’s worth adding that, as it turns out, the reparation of the social contract also means you contribute economically to the nation. That may smack of opportunism, but when full participation also means paying taxes again, and when those taxes are used to provide a real, humane social safety net for those in serious need, well, that’s a pretty good thing. Moreover, it is, both here in Norway and in the US, wildly expensive to keep an inmate in prison. So getting people out of prison is wise by several measures, whether you’re a humanist, a capitalist, or a socialist. That’s something to think about. To be even a tiny, tiny part of that process of rehabilitation (and, to be honest, rehabilitation aside, to have great conversations with interested people in a particularly complex situation) was, for me, an honor. I will value those moments long and long.

There’s certainly a lot more to say about prisons, and about my (brief) experience there (I didn’t even talk about the fantastic bike maintenance program a teacher at Bjørgvin fengsel is running!), but I’ll save those deeper reflections for in-person conversations. As for the rest, I’ll leave it to a couple of images that capture my lucky pair of days in Ålesund. The first was a pitch-perfect morning, and I had just enough time before heading to school to clamber up (ok, it was a very sleek staircase) to the fjellstue on Aksla, a hill overlooking the town from which many of the famous images of Ålesund are made (a sort of Ålesund-ian version of Seattle’s Kerry Park). The late-morning sunlight rendered the city in stunning detail, with that half-golden hue only angular northern light imparts. The next day shocked the scene into snow, and hung that unmatchable blue over all things. I suppose it’s normal for these parts. But then, each place has its normal, and for we, the visitors, a glimpse of that normal startles the sensibility.

But then, I hope the initiated never lose that startle, either.

Day One: Ålesund from Fjellstua Aksla.

Day One: Ålesund from Fjellstua Aksla.

Day Two: Ålesund from Fjellstua Aksla, under afternoon's snow.

Day Two: Ålesund from Fjellstua Aksla, under afternoon’s snow.

Ro i landet

I’m sending love and care to the terrorized people of France, also thoughts of rest—as well as anger on their behalf—and a sort of deep, deep, generalized frustration, unsure where it ought to land, about the persistent why of such suffering, the origin and taproot of its ideologies that seem always to lie a little deeper than we’ve been able to dig.

And I’m sending the same love and care to people terrorized all over the world, no matter their nation.

I can’t understand it, and I do not envy the politicians, the heads of state, the commanders of vast instruments of destruction, the cultural leaders, their position right now. But I do join many others who’ve spoken already in their call to respond with care and the deepest compassion we can muster. Many are afraid of how Western leaders will respond, assuming more violence, more insult, more sabre-rattling, more fire-stoking, etc. It will again be easy to conflate the completely fucked up hate-work of ISIS with the vast majority of Muslims, who are humane, loving people, like (I believe on my best days) the vast majority of Americans, many of whom ARE Muslim or the vast majority of the French, many of whom ARE Muslim. It will again be easy to forget the depth of violence carried out in the name of Christianity (and I don’t mean way back in the Crusades, but today), and in the name of Democracy. It will, in other words, again be easy to justify violent response, both on the part of nations and on the part of their private citizens, to versions of “difference” that fit conveniently into simplistic narratives of “us” vs. “them,” and drum up the easy but dangerous pleasure of bias confirmation. I hope we move further into this inevitable mire more thoughtfully than that.

The bulk of my role as a Fulbright Scholar this year is to be something of a representative, a sort of cultural ambassador, for the ungainly, cumbersome, not-altogether-easy-to-love nation of the United States, its ogre of a government, its irreducible multitudes of people. But I’m in no way responsible or expected to know something special about international governmental relations, or to have any sort of official opinion about anything at all. Indeed, the disclaimer on this blog demands that I’m but a private citizen (as tangly as the term “citizen” is). Still, in the wake of last night’s terror in Paris, I’m trying to think through things. And as I do so, my thoughts are full of care and love for the people terrorized, the families of the dead and injured, the people of France, and my own friends and companions who are in some cases directly affected by this horror.

And there are of course other thoughts—thoughts of a more political nature—that this kind of event stirs up. They aren’t new ones. They’re all knotted up (a metaphor I feel like I’ve turned to so often lately) in the seemingly intractable tension between the “West” writ large and what- or whomever is not the West. I wrestle with my own thoughts. I think of J. William Fulbright’s notion that I recalled only recently in this blog, that the purpose of international exchange is to “convert nations into peoples and to translate ideologies into human aspirations.” I really do value this way of thinking because it is an attempt to demonstrate by interpersonal relationship, communication, empathy, and care, that the acts of nations are not reducible to the acts of the manifold people who bear those particular political labels (and neither are the acts of people reducible to those of the nations that claim them). This is vital when you’re an American abroad, given the less-than-positive view much of the world has of the activities of the US worldwide since WWII. I do believe that much good has been done, but much damage also. And I don’t know if the balance tips either way. So it seems to me that, somewhat simply, the failure of vision that gives way to acts of terror is the failure to see people as something more than nations, something more than pure products of ideologies. This has always been my frustration with the logic of war: that human beings become absolutely expendable as mere appendages of a political or religious ideology. That in the context of political or religious conflict, humans temporarily suspend their own humanity, despite the lingering truth that politics and religion are supposedly enterprises rooted in the very idea of what it is to be a human. At the risk of seeming glib, I think of the illicit address to the camera by manager at Stan Mikita’s Donuts in Wayne’s World in which he asks, “Why is it that when you kill a man in the heat of battle it’s called heroic, but when you kill a man in the heat of passion, it’s called murder?” This is the facelessness, the inhumanity of war and terror alike.

And to be sure, international educational exchange has its risks, not least of which is the fact that human personality, which I’ve been preoccupied with the last couple years, is knitted right in there: the “person” whom the “other” encounters, no matter the direction in which the encounter occurs, may well be an ass or a fool. In other words, people are people, in the last analysis, and the image of the people that someone gets via any particular person may well not be a positive one that generates more empathy. But it will be an avenue to hope. Fulbright wrote in The New Yorker in 1958 that “The exchange program is the thing that reconciles me to all the difficulties of political life. It’s the only activity that gives me some hope that the human race won’t commit suicide, though I still wouldn’t count on it.” A glimpse of his realism, there, in the heat of the Cold War. Power, I guess, is also part of humanity. How do we hold that problem in our hands?

But all this raises the question of how successfully people can really escape, even for a moment, the conditions of their political identity. How able are we, really, to suspend the baseline of the lifeways and the habits of thought against which we are wont to measure our socio-cultural expectations, the assumptions against which we measure difference and compare ourselves to “others.” No matter how deeply we cultivate our empathy, our willingness to imagine how others see the world, it’s nearly impossible to unhitch our self-centeredness. Western media is right now obsessing over the terror in Paris last night. I watched and read and listened as it unfolded last night, until I was too tired to continue; I was reading multiple news outlets this morning and listening to the non-stop coverage and discussion on Norwegian public radio (NRK) all the while (even while I did the crossword—people continue to live their lives in the midst of horrors), and the front pages of every Western media outlet are entirely consumed with Paris. I came home after being out for several hours and NRK was still in the midst of nonstop coverage on its main channel. Yet, as many writers (and social media friends) have already pointed out, a similar terrorist attack was carried out in Beirut only two days ago, killing 43 and wounding upwards of 200. Every morning I read the New York Times and listen to NRK. I glance at newspapers in cafes and on the streets or in the (idyllic) breakfast halls of the hotels I stay in. Yet I hardly heard about the acts in Lebanon. It was a level two or three headline. One story among several others. It was certainly not the whole front page of any Western paper. “We,” in the West, feel that attacks on the soil of Western nations are attacks on our own. We almost expect such violence on, say, Middle Eastern soil, because most of us secretly believe that violence is more “natural,” or at least more usual, there, that “those people” are somehow more liable to violence, given what we (think we) see of their societies. We too often see the people in those nations in the same way we imagine people under the logic of war: as appendages of a foreign political or religious ideology. Because of the acts of a few, and too often a highly powerful and highly corrupt few, we temporarily suspend our belief in the complex humanity of the people who really live there. We imagine a little too quickly that the norm of political life in the West is peace and the norm of political life elsewhere is violence. Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, said in her response that “we do with words what ‘they’ do with weapons” (a rough translation from memory). And indeed, she is specifically talking about ISIS, but I fear how quickly the fringe gets conflated with the whole when it comes to these things. President Obama insisted that this was an attack on our “shared universal values” (and again, no such response to the attack in Beirut, as though we don’t share universal values with ‘them’). It’s as though ‘they’re’ used to violence in those other places. As though it’s not quite news. I don’t like that assumption. I don’t like how it feels, even as I catch myself making it. I want to practice thinking differently, cultivating a different kind of empathy.

And indeed, millions wouldn’t be fleeing their homelands to places like Sweden, Norway, or Germany, or wherever, if they were “used to it,” if the violence currently wracking the Middle East was somehow to be expected. And I get it: I certainly will admit that, two years ago, when I was stranded for 48 hours in Khartoum, Sudan, on my way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to teach in a summer program, I was a little taken aback by the highly visible, almost unremarkable presence of assault weapons on the street or carried by everyday security guards. The same is true when we take students from The Northwest School to El Salvador. Even in Addis, the security guard who was stationed at the entrance to the school was a super-friendly fellow with whom we made jokes and gave hi-fives and big smiles each time we came and left. He carried a very large assault weapon. So it’s easy, thoughtless, even, to make assumptions about what a “normal” level of violence is given what seems so plain to see. But then, how many school shootings do we need in the United States before we acknowledge the limitedness, the selectivity of our vision? How many shootings of young black men, however “violent” they may be towards the police (who harass them unevenly, compared to their white neighbors)? How many abuses and sometimes murders of people of alternate sexual and gender identities and expressions? I don’t write these things to denigrate the US. In fact, I love being American, in my way. I value the sort of freedom and opportunity my nation affords me more highly than most things. But I’ve learned to recognize that I am afforded these privileges in part due to my skin color and heritage. That they are not shared by all, even in my own nation. The theory is so beautiful. The practice has not been so. Our struggle is, as ever, to close the (arguably huge) gap between the idea we celebrate and the lived experience that bears it out, which has so far excluded so many more human beings than “we” like to admit.

One of the exercises in my US Constitution workshop for Norwegian high school students is to have them translate the preamble into Norwegian. My own grasp of the language allows me to help them understand or ask interesting questions about the translation choices they make. I’m always particularly struck by their translations of these two parts: “to ensure domestic tranquility” and “provide for the common defense.” In Norwegian, there are at least two words for “tranquility” that work here: ro and fred. The former means “rest” or “calm” (e.g., the phrase ta det med ro means “take it easy”; the adjective rolig means “peaceful,” as when the barista at a cafe called Oslo K yesterday said this spot is more rolig than the busier cafes over in Majorstuen, with the glut of high-end boutiques and foot-traffic there). The latter, fred, means, more aptly, “peace.” Fred is the word you’ll see in Christmas carols that sing of peace on earth, and it’s the word that is more commonly used as the opposite of war. Thus, it has a little more political valence than ro. Yet, Norwegian students offer one about as commonly as the other in their translations. “Domestic tranquility” becomes either hjemmelig ro (“homely rest” or “rest at home”), ro i landet (“rest in the country”), or innenriks fred (“domestic peace”). Likewise “common defense” becomes felles forsvar (“common defense”) or felles beskyttelse (“common protection”). Constitutions are, naturally, self-centered: they don’t provide for ro i verden—”peace in the world”—but ro i landet, peace limited to the artificial political boundaries we draw around ourselves. This is to be expected. I’m not trying to say this is wrong-headed somehow (i.e., I’m eliding the question of whether the very idea of a nation-state is or isn’t wrong-headed), only that self-centeredness a natural part of nation-building (in my Civil Rights workshop, I ask students to define the terms “ethnicity,” “nationality,” and “race,” which always raises really good questions around the issue of civic self-centeredness). At any rate, certainly a constitution that aimed to ensure ro i verden or utenriks fred—that is, “foreign peace”—would provide for quite the global disaster. And yet, laying implicit claim to a political ideology that assumes peace as the norm, the West, as the self-styled pure products of the European Enlightenment, too often sees itself as the sole agent, or sole proprietor, of ro i verden.

Moreover, at the same time, I’ve been giving a presentation on the history of American Civil Rights. If there is a way to give the lie to American domestic tranquility, our record of civil rights and equal protection of the law is perhaps the best way. I include in my Civil Rights presentation the litany of racially motivated cases of violence against (especially) young black men by (mostly) white perpetrators (whether police officers or white-supremacist kids) and some of the startling statistics of incarceration that reveal something about the motives of our justice system during the past, well, hmm, during the past 394 years, since the first slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619. These facts offer somewhat of a challenge to the success of “ensuring domestic tranquility” in the US for all those who dwell “domestically.” Despite the United States’ myriad successes in building a concept of a peaceful, humane society, our nation and the people who bear its label, have struggled mightily to figure out who belongs in the category of “domestic” and who is included in “common.” Who, really (and this is a cliche, I know) constitutes the “We” of “We the People”?

Many of us have it really good. Many of us have never had to ask whether or not “we” are part of that “We” that so meaningfully opens the Constitution. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an essay in the New York Times op-ed section a few years ago in which he made a comment that really got to me. You may disagree with his larger point in the op-ed, but his comment, I think, is profound: “We,” he says, meaning African-Americans, “were never meant to be part of the American story.” I think he’s right. We wouldn’t have been so thrilled, or so surprised (even those of us who voted for him), when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America, if it weren’t so. To be sure, black Americans are, and always have been, a part of the American story, just not the one that is told and retold under the rubric of “Freedom, Opportunity, Democracy, Equality,” etc., etc., and all the beautiful things we celebrate about ourselves. If we’re going to mean it when we celebrate American democracy in the twenty-first century, the the first truly global century, in which human beings will doubtless need to begin to tell a new story as a changing climate forces us all together, we will need to be able to look at ourselves and our secret assumptions, even in the midst of what appears to be outright, unadulterated evil perpetrated by a fringe group proudly claiming a label and so dragging so many millions of unsuspecting, innocent human beings into the mud with them.

The great challenge is knowing our own limits of tolerance, and knowing how and when to change those limits. I admit I have my own struggles, even with moderate Islam. I believe, and I dare say universally, in women’s rights, and I haven’t yet been able to see parts of Islamic practice, as it’s carried out today, as anything other than denigrating to women. I am appalled by the hatred spewed towards LGBTQ people worldwide. But then, that’s not unique to Islam. So my point is simply that we be careful. I cannot stand the things that are carried out by the force of ideology, of belief. I hate what has happened in France. I fear that similar things may happen in places even closer to my homes. It’s so very difficult to get out of it. But I only mean to say that it’s important that we remind ourselves that we all have one or another ideology. That none is immune to it. That our greatest challenge (and I mean this for all “sides”) is to imagine the experience of others, even others whose radically different appearance, worldview, ideology, is unrecognizable to us, is wholly foreign to our own. President Hollande called the terror attack on Paris “unprecedented.” Maybe that’s true, if he means attacks by foreign ideologies. But we must remember, however long ago, that other “Terror” that came absolutely from the inside, at the dawn of the French Revolution. Enlightenment thought has long been highly prone to violence. “Terror” is not unique to foreign ideology. It is almost always the product of a few shockingly committed humans seeking power at all costs, based on the depth of their commitment to, their inculcation in, an ideology. So we must always examine our own ideologies when we are in the moment of casting harsh judgment on others whose lives we don’t quickly recognize as “familiar.”

I don’t know what the right solution is to ISIS. They seem like a truly evil force in the world. I fear sweeping military action because of the inevitable collateral damage. The unwitting numbers who sacrifice their lives in a flash. I fear the tendency toward suspension of habeas corpus, the suspension of human rights, the suspension of the very values we implicitly defend when we heave our righteous anger towards threatening ideologies like ISIS. So I hope we step carefully, all of us, into the swamp to come.

Strangely, and maybe a bit ironically, I’m drawn to Thomas Hobbes, speaking of Enlightenment. I think his articulation, in 1651 in Leviathan, of the reasons human beings band together to form societies, is beautifully put. He says, early in the text, that the “Passions that encline men to Peace, are Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them.” Commodious living! How lovely a concept. But it’s that last one that I like. We live together because we have hope that our creativity and our care are enough to make the world not just inhabitable, but inhabitable well. We are going to need to figure out how to do that together more and more urgently.

The Fulbright quotes, as before, came from here: J. William Fulbright Quotes.

En av mange sirkler

For so long as I can remember, I’ve been magnetized by the farthest north. I’d spin our family’s globe and pore over the islands of northern Canada, the icy mass of Greenland, the Russian isles in the Arctic, Norway’s Spitsbergen, and so forth. I remember specifically being transfixed by the town of Resolute, Nunavut, known as Qausuittuq (though when I was looking, Nunavut had yet to be formed). I was obsessed by the question of how people lived there, in the northernmost settlement named by the map we had. What did they do? (A question many people in various elsewheres were asking of my home in rural Iowa, too, to be sure.) In my childish mind, I imagined whole lives transpiring in a moment in a landscape nearly void of trees and, somehow, always covered in snow, the horizon barely noticeable. My imagination was surely conditioned by my own experience, by a subtle sort of cultural condescension rooted in the particular kind of civil privilege I’ve been afforded my whole life. But really, curiosity was, and is, the primary driver of my interest in the deep north.

Twenty-odd years later, I’ve just crossed the Arctic Circle—Polarsirkelen på norsk—for the first time. I think often of circles, and so I think of the opening of “Circles,” my favorite of Emerson’s essays: “The eye is the first circle,” he says, “the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.” Throughout the essay, Emerson works the figure of the circle into a sort of chain of reminders of the limits, the incompleteness, of our understanding. “Circles” is, to me, the essay most dedicated to the concept of humility, especially given Emerson’s notorious ego, his “overman”:

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

When I crossed the Arctic Circle, I thought of Wallace Stevens’s ninth way of looking at a blackbird:

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

I’ve always thought Stevens was gesturing toward Emerson in that line. Especially considering he also begins with the eye:

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

Not unlike Emerson’s circular eye, I think. So I marked my own passage over one of many circles by thinking a lot about the limits of our manifold “places” in the world. The world we all build around ourselves are a sort of partially shared response to the particular place from which we emerged. I from Iowa, the people I meet in the Arctic (say, Narvik) from the Arctic (say, Narvik). Our knowledge of the world—and, I might argue, of the experience of others—is a kind of repetitive forgetting. “The man finishes his story,—” Emerson writes, “how good! how final! how it puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo! on the other side rises also a man, and draws a circle around the circle we had just pronounced the outline of the sphere.” I’ve been thinking so much about the American tendency to fear what’s outside of the “American circle,” especially watching the circus (!!) of the primary races going on, darkly entertaining as it is, and the extended bonkers joke of Trump and Carson (imagine having to try repeatedly to explain to the wide-eyed Norwegian high school students—and teachers—how those clowns are taken seriously for one second on a national stage!). In any case, lest I wander off into the thicket of political opinion, as exciting as that forest can be, I’ll just quote my benefactor, J. William Fulbright, in saying that exchanges like this “convert nations into peoples and to translate ideologies into human aspirations.” ( I’d add that exchanges also turn maps into people, and, moreover, into the sort of wondrous integration of people and place that a map represents. The imaginary Arctic of my youth is, as it ever was, a living place, and now newly.

According to the trusty crew at NOAA’s SWPC (Space Weather Prediction Center), a solar storm made for a stellar (!) show of Northern Lights . . . but one only visible to those rare dwellers above the week-long clouds that hung low over Narvik, which sits at 68°N, during my stay. In any case, I got off the plane at Harstad/Narvik Lufthavn Evenes, and walked into a sharp, gusty north wind and rain (a sort of romantic entry, really), and made my way to town on the bus. A welcoming school, and a great visit, including some great discussions with teachers about classroom technology, and a wall of post-it notes full of one class’s feedback on my environmentalism presentation. Gonna remember that! Narvik, my host Fiona told me, is a relatively young town by Norwegian standards, and is built on the iron ore industry. Trains of ore cars were constantly rolling in and out of a huge industrial processing facility. It felt a lot like the Mesabi Range in Northern Minnesota—a sort of Duluth-y feel, only smaller (and, y’know, a tad farther north and a liiiittle more mountainous). My visit was, as is my wont, a walking one. I love walking towns, and though the daylight arrived and escaped with surprising speed (in fact, the sun rose 18 minutes later and set 17 minutes earlier on the day I left than the day I arrived; thus, Narvik is losing close to 40 minutes of daylight a week about now), I managed to carve out time for a good stroll up Narvikfjellet, the small mountain that rises right over the town and serves as a sort of ski paradise when there’s enough snow. Pictures below, of my wander into the clouds, where, despite the unseasonable warmth, some snow clung to the hill.

These last few weeks have been fuller even than Narvik, though, with two weeks on the west coast in Sandnes and Stavanger, Norway’s oil-town, beforehand, including a presentation on my ol’ favorite Ursula K. Le Guin at the ASANOR Conference (American Studies Assoc. of Norway). Due to the oil industry, I’ve harbored a sort of quietly bad attitude towards Stavanger (call it a Houston-prejudice), but although Stavanger is “Norway’s Houston,” my is it a pretty town! I walked and walked Stavanger (and Ryfylke, the mountainous region across the water towards the famous Lysefjord, among countless others) and made a point to spend some time at the Oil Museum, which is quite good, and, somewhat surprisingly, dedicates a lot of space and time to criticism of the nation’s dependency on oil money for many of its social privileges, both from within and without Norwegian society. I confess I was impressed (both by the critical dimension and by the technological immensity of the oil infrastructure out in the Norwegian Sea). The long stay in Stavanger was sweetened by a reunion with some of my oldest, dearest friends from Luther (it did not take us long to reach the point where we were doubled over in laughter). Nathalie, my teacher host, graciously lent me her car so I had the chance to hop the ferry (which, being a Washingtonian, threw me into a rare but minor fit of nostalgia) to Tau and on to the infamous Prekestolen (or Preikestolen, in the western dialects). Speaking of dialects, it was a healthy challenge for me to adapt my ears to Stavangersk for such a spell, all the kor‘s and kva‘s and kordan‘s where hvor‘s and hva‘s and hvordan‘s usually live. Uff!

In any case, on to the images. I’ll keep up with the panorama theme, with a few exceptions, given the timespan (and the nature of my adventures). First a few from the phone, then a couple from the camera.

This the view from Dalsnuten, looking toward Sandnes as the sun set. The Atlantic in the distance.

This the view west over Gandsfjorden from the top of Dalsnuten, looking toward Sandnes as the sun sets. The Atlantic in the distance.


My first sight of Prekestolen. Lysefjord below. Is that man taking a selfie or doing tai chi? (Notably, the Norweigans have developed the term "fjellfie," or "mountain selfie"; I admit I think it's cute.)

My first sight of Prekestolen. Lysefjord below. Is that man taking a selfie or doing tai chi? (Notably, the Norwegians have developed the term fjellfie, or “mountain selfie”; I admit I think it’s cute.)



Prekestolen over Lysefjorden. October is the time to visit here, I say! Google Preikestolen and you’ll quickly see how crowded it gets in the summer. Plus, that color! Those gnarly branches!



I waited and waited, and got a relatively rare image of Prekestolen sans tourists (save the one with the eye).



Narvik from Narvikfjellet. The dramatic mountains were here & there visible as the clouds broke up & reuned. The farthest north I’ve yet been.



Inside the cloud on Narvikfjellet.



Same view, just under the cloud, for a spell.


These next few, from the real camera, are from my hike back down from Prekestolen. There is something about that autumnal grass, its auburn glow against the evergreens and the stark indifference of granite. It’s no wonder trolls hide here.

DSC_0957 DSC_0963 DSC_0974

The Emerson text I quoted from is the Library of America edition of Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte, published in 1983.

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