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Thursday, December 15, 2011


         edvard munch

It's Christmas present buying time again. Money flies away anyway, but this time of year it disappears like stinger missiles. I'm out of money and have more presents to buy. Not a lot, but a lot is the same as a little. Any is more than I can handle. A half hour at and I'm done in. Won't gain any weight this month. Won't lose any either. I'd like to buy presents for everybody I know, but can only handle a few.

Watched a Norwegian film today, MAX MANUS, the story of Norwegian resistance in Oslo during the Nazi occupation. It was historical, Max Manus the name of the hero of the resistance effort in Norway. I knew nothing at all of the Norwegian experience during WW2. I suppose if I think about it, I'll remember hearing about U-boats hiding in Norwegian fjords, but no more than that. I've been learning about Scandinavia seeing movies, looking at maps in the Atlas, seeing landscape and cities, seeing the people, hearing the languages. Max Manus began his war effort fighting Russians in Finland. Back in Oslo, he once said he would like to go back to Finland, because there it was clear cut; in Norway you didn't know who was with the Germans and who was not. Everyone you knew was a potential for turning you in.

He became a national hero quite inadvertently, as I suppose all heroes are founded, didn't see himself any greater than the guys he worked with who were dead. Toward the end he was talking with a German officer, who was locked up on war crimes charges, the German asked him how he managed never to be caught. He said he was lucky. The German said he didn't believe in luck. Manus shrugged it off. What else could he say? We got a brief look into his memory in several split-second shots of moments when a guy he was with was killed, which could have been him. It was flipping a coin. What else could he call it when he could have been shot many times, was hit a few times and survived? He didn't see he was a hero for surviving. He felt like he should have been dead with his friends that didn't make it. He'd found his talent. The war over, he didn't know what to do. All he'd ever done was be a soldier.

A couple of times, escaping arrest, he would go to Sweden on cross-country skis. He was fluent in all three languages, knew English and evidently German, too. At the end of the war he was honored by the king in a parade it looked like everyone in Norway went to. Manus sat in the front seat of the king's Rolls, the king and his wife in the back seat. The camera held on Manus's face for a long time as the people on both sides of the street were thick and all waving Norwegian flags, all cheering for him. In the beginning of the parade, his face was like he was looking for the cat hole, the way out of there. He was not comfortable. He was not a hero. It was not him they were cheering, but his friends who died. His face was pained. After a long while between two rows of his country's people waving the home flag that had been his inspiration, his face softened, his eyes lit up a little bit and the beginnings of a smile appeared on his face. The End. He got it. His efforts, his stress, his agony, his fear had prevailed. He accomplished what he set out to do. Maybe it wasn't so bad to survive it, after all. 

Edvard Munch was from Norway, the painter who made the Scream and a large number of beautiful paintings with powerful feeling, a brief poem of a story. A 4-hour documentary of Munch's life used to be available at netflix a year ago, but isn't now. I wanted to see it again. At amazon it's more than $40 and I'm not paying that to see it one time. As a documentary of Munch's life, it carries the same feeling that is in his paintings, that came from within Munch, himself. Maybe 5 years ago the art museum in Oslo was hit for two Munch paintings, the primary ones, the Scream and the Madonna. What a shock it was for something like that to happen in Oslo. Oslo never gets in the news. Anyway, that's how it used to be. Then the crazy fascist killed sixty-some children of liberal parents, weeding out the next generation of liberals. He tested the Norwegian penal system to the max. If I remember correctly, and I don't, twenty-one years is the maximum sentence. Then you get this guy who needs to be put out of sight of the sun forever, looking at 21 years. I imagine they've found a way to deal with his sentence. I'd say he rates out of the ordinary sentencing like his crime was out of the ordinary. It's not my call. I'm glad I don't have it to make.

I have an inner longing for my next lifetime to be somewhere in Scandinavia. I'm thinking I would like a lifetime in a country with a sane government. Seems to me those five governments are the sanest in the world. Living in any country is living under a government. China is a bit too much like the USA for me to want to turn up there next time. I'd like to live someplace where their only tradition in war is actual self-defence in landscape nobody else wants. Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki are about the same latitude as Fairbanks, Alaska. They have long nights and long days and long winters, long, long winters. Short summers. But when it's all you've ever known, it's home. All of Norway is mountains. The northern two-thirds of Sweden is mountains. Finland looks like Piedmont from south to north, east to west. Countless lakes in Finland. Big lakes. Big lakes in Sweden too. Big lakes in Norway, long lakes like very wide river. In Norway the highways run alongside lakes and rivers everywhere all over the country. I look at the topographical map and marvel at how wonderful it would be to drive some of those highways in the summer. Norwegians don't strike me foolish enough to fish their lakes and rivers to extinctions. Scandinavians in general seem to me sensible people. The ones I've known have been. 

It would be funny to grow up in Stockholm in the same kind of fundamentalist spirit I grew up in Kansas locked into, asking what crimes against humanity had I committed in past lifetimes to warrant growing up in a Kansas fundamentalist church. Wouldn't that be irony of ironies. The Finnish language fascinates me. It is so radically different from the others. Possibly people living there feel like they are the backwaters of the world. Maybe that is what appeals to me about a place like Helsinki. St Petersburg a short voyage by ferry or plane, the same as to anyplace. Denmark would be a nice place to live. All these countries are mostly country people in little villages sprinkled all over the land with roads between them. This may have something to do with why these nationalities seem like such sensible people to me. Maybe they have their feet in their roots all the time. That sounds a little too idealized. More than likely they're people like people other places, people with their own cultures, their own belief systems, their political preferences.    


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