Monthly Archives: October 2022

People Watching

Currently we are on the return journey back to Bergen after having made it all the way to Kirkenes. The boat we are on is essentially a fancy ferry that transports locals up and down the coast as well as tourists. We stop at a number of ports each day for people to embark and disembark and to allow other passengers to go on tours or meander through the local town.

The ship is small by cruise liner standards but has some of the same facilities. My wife describes the decor as “Upmarket Medical Centre”.

The main attraction for me is the amazing scenery we travel through but there is also time to observe my fellow passengers – at meals, in conversation, on tours and in the general activity of the ship. There are groups, couples, families and singles. There are Norwegians, Germans, French, Americans and a smattering of other nationalities. There are extreme introverts, and the far more annoying, extreme extroverts and every personality in between – and you are all stuck together for hours on end. Then you have drinkers for whom the bar is the focus of the ship, and the knitters who look for a quiet spot to click the needles and observe the amazing scenery. Crossword doodlers, shutterbugs, readers, board game players and jigsaw puzzlers round out the menagerie.

Vardo

A game I play is to listen for the accents to guess where people are from and when an opportune moment arises I will ask them, to see how close I got.

On this particular trip we have had two very special encounters. The first was with a pastor and his wife who had been in a church in Melbourne for a few years and are now back in Sweden. Even more amazing, we knew the town they came from and I actually had a photo of a friend of his which I had taken when he gave us a tour of a museum. The second encounter was with an elderly retired German academic who shared with us some of his amazing life. This was a special privilege.

I shouldn’t forget the crew. They need to keep good order on the ship as well as keeping the passengers happy. Most are friendly and some officious. They all do their respective jobs well but don’t get back to the ship late! Then you see their dark side. After a week you become familiar with the waiting and cleaning staff. On our trip the real test came when there was a bomb scare. Suddenly the crew had to take on different roles in an unfamiliar environment. The threat happened just as people were returning to the ship in port. Shelter, water and food had to be found, frail people supported and information transmitted. This was a moment when some of the crew really stood up and showed leadership and others stood back and waited for orders – a microcosm of everyday life.

Anyway, people are coming back from their excursions so it is time to swatch again.

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War, what is it good for?

As an Australian, it is confronting to discover the impact that World War 2 has had on the myriad of communities throughout Norway. Although horrific, the attacks on Australian soil were minor in comparison to the relentless impact on civilians in this area during WW2.

Nearly every town has a memorial or museum recalling the trauma of the war. Each recounts the destruction of homes, businesses and individual lives.

An Ilyushin plane

The Borderland Museum in Kirkenes, just one example, recalls the impact of being caught between the Soviets and the Germans. Hitler wanted to cut off sea access to Murmansk, an all weather northern port, which meant that this area of Norway became the scene of heavy fortification and of intense battles. No person and no place was spared. Communities and lives were destroyed, and if not totally destroyed forced into a huge upheaval.

This makes the Russian encroachments on Ukraine all the more puzzling. Haven’t we seen enough mass graves and destroyed towns? Haven’t we learned the lessons of manic ideology and rampant nationalism? For countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Baltic states, current events in Ukraine are not hypothetical. There is a tangible history of what happens when tyrants are allowed to run loose.

An Enigma machine found in the Solvaer Police Station
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