I came from Rome with postcards of everything, inspired throughout to my fingertips. Among other things I shared was my collection of Everything That Moves. I don’t know how, but looking through my older photos of Oslo brought me to a simple insight: Oslo has no less postcard-worthy bikes, scooters and small cars. Isn’t it strange that you have to travel to a new place – so that the treasures of your own place can be discovered by you anew?
We get so used to the same town, the same streets. So we travel to break away from the routine. And traveling away seems not only to provide such a break – but also to bring a new inspiration that can be found on the same old streets. Interesting!
Once in Ukraine I bought a bread with the name “Danish bread”. I am sure, there was nothing Danish about it, the producers just wanted to give it a fancy name. I was a student back then, just 20 years old, who had never travelled outside of Ukraine, except to Russia. The name of the bread made me wonder: “What do I know about Denmark? And Scandinavia?” I tried to make a mental list in my head. And was always messing up the capitals (“Oslo is the capital of Finland, and Helsinki – of Sweden?”). Ok, so Denmark is easy. It’s Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid and H. C. Andersen. Sweden is Astrid Lindgren and Pippi Longstocking (I was a literature student and it was easier to name books than IKEA. I had no idea about IKEA then). Norway? Ok, fjords. And Finland – just sauna and that’s it?
I still remember the kind of hunger I felt – hunger to fill in my blanks about that part of the world. I had no idea then that I could end up living in Scandinavia. And those blanks would be filled, with overflow actually 🙂 Already as a child, I had loved Scandinavian fairytales, Moomin trolls by Tove Jansson, H.C. Andersen – and I wonder if this could be a secret reason why I came to live here in the North, though I have never dreamt about it explicitly. Maybe, it was my subconscious dream 🙂
Scandinavian summer is the best. When it happens. And it happens. This year we have experienced a natural miracle: three weeks of summer in a row! In May. Like never before. It never happens in May. It very seldom happens during the summer too. When the temps go up to 30 degrees – and stay there. When evenings are so warm that you don’t need a jacket. Some say, it’s the global warming, some say, it is the direct wind from Sahara, blowing between the low and the high pressure (can it reach all the way up to the North?). It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. While the South of Europe is cold and rainy – Norway, for once, is enjoying the real summer!
Scandinavian summer is the best because it is never too hot. Only a bit too warm at night because the houses are built for winter, not for summer, no one has AC and the fans get sold out with the speed of light these days. Even though it is burning in the sun, the shadow is always cool and the wind is refreshing. This is the best version of summer I ever know! If it would last for three months, like it does in other places, who would travel to the South? To the full airports, taxis, hotels, packed up beaches. Who? Usually we have to go because we need sunshine. As it is said here: “I love Norwegian summer. It is the best day of the year”. That’s the real reason why we travel. One day is just not enough 🙂 But if it would last – the rest of the world would come to us in summer! 🙂
The spring in Norway seems to be the most unpredictable of seasons. One day you wear a winter jacket, the next day you sit in the park with only a bikini on. So it looks like both people and nature try to make the most of it and catch every opportunity. For people – to enjoy life, for nature – to bloom. It is unbelievable how much comes up in such a short time. Wasn’t it all white and cold here just a couple of months ago, lasting like forever? And now everything that can bloom – blooms. The nature seems to be in a hurry like it knows that the season is short 🙂
In spring we all become botanists and a huge interest for nature wakes up in everyone owning a mobile camera. People stream to the parks and gardens, take the photos of cherry trees in blossom and tulips, either available in fields or modest patches. My favorite place to observe the season changes is the botanical garden of Oslo. However, it is not only I who remembers it these days. On a nice sunny day there are crowds wanting to take a pic of that alley with white and pink blossoming trees. I came on a Sunday evening and there were still enthusiasts waiting in line to take a photo. So I stayed in a shade and took photos of some shy blue flowers. Why, they deserve admiration too. Will you join me on my natural explorer walk through the garden?
And it is 17th of May again! A day when Norwegians say to each other “Gratulerer med dagen!” (Congratulations on the day!). An only day in the year when they become extremely social, talking and smiling to strangers, starting easily a small talk. When it is ok to start the day drinking champagne and then put on your best dress or a suit or a national costume – and get in crowds on the streets, laughing and cheering. It is Norway’s national day, a birthday of the country, as they like to put it. Hip hip hurray!
Schoolchildren march to the main street where they will parade in front of the royal palace and wink to the royal family. Adults march later, after the 17. mai frokost (17th of May’s breakfast), some holding beer or a wineglass in their hand. The numerous musical corps play famous national songs. One of them is called “Norway in red, white and blue”, where there is this line: “It is you, it is you, dear Norway! We will clothe you in red, white and blue”. This looks like the official color theme of this month, and I gladly follow it 🙂 Here is my color report of the day, and the month, and some celebration. Join me (no champagne glass needed)!
Once, when I was working as a substitute teacher, in the beginning of my teacher career here, we took our second-graders to the local woods. To look for the spring signs. It was officially the subject of the class. To look for the first flowers, buds and bees, to listen to the birds. On return the kids had to fill out the form: “what have you seen and what have you heard?” The science teacher had warned them: “Don’t write “I have seen everything”, it is not interesting. Write what exactly you saw and what you heard (like birds)”. The smartest (or laziest) of them all wrote, of course, in their funny second-grader’s handwriting: “I have seen everything”. While others drew battle scenes from their fantasies. An early lesson on mindfulness. Failed? (Succeeded?)
I have caught myself in a pattern: every spring I go to the botanical garden. To look for the spring signs. After the long winter it feels like coming back to life. And when I see the first flowers, usually they come before the buds, I cheer like in some celebration: “It is spring again! The life has won again! We have survived this winter!” I guess, these emotions would not be understood by the inhabitants of the warmer countries where the season change is not so visible or not so important. But here in the North, where the country is covered in snow and ice for some five months, seeing the first signs of life is like waking up from the dead. For me it is an emotional thing. It seems that in the places where winters are long and harsh, the people are more keen to the change of seasons and are joyful about the spring arrival like no one else.
Every year, in the weird season between winter and spring, the same thing happens: the UN Happiness Report is released. Every year here in the Northern edge of Europe we delight ourselves in discussing its outcomes. It looks like the report is released in the month of March especially for our part of the world: while other places start watching spring signs, we still walk the icy streets, covered in winter layers, wondering if the meters of snow will ever melt this year. And our only novelty and a topic for discussion is this: who is the world’s happiest country this year? Because it is us. Or our neighbors.
The first place in the happy ranking was occupied by Denmark for so many years that everyone just had to give up. But last year Norway suddenly squeezed in to be the champion. As we shrugged from the snow and sleet in April and pulled on our last resources of patience, we looked at each other with disbelief and amusement: look, we live in the world’s happiest country, what a surprise! The top five was occupied by our Nordic neighbors: Denmark, Iceland and even Finland, with one non-Nordic country (what was that again?) miraculously making its way into the top. This year Norway was moved to the second place, but by whom? By Finland, ladies and gentlemen! I felt like laughing hysterically. The positions reshuffle but you would find the same countries in the top. It looks like the Nordics are really better than the rest of the world: at least, at answering those surveys 🙂