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Friday, January 20, 2012


        location for the film noi the albino, iceland

This morning I went out to feed the birds, it 25 degrees. I noticed when I stepped through the open doorway into the cold, I didn't brace against it, walked into it relaxed, thinking of the people living in Scandinavian countries, not the least bit shy of cold air. In an Icelandic film, Noi the Albino, I saw a high school girl putting gas in a car, wearing a tshirt, acting like it's the same as summer, and it snowing. In Danish film, Smilla's Sense of Snow, Smilla tells of growing up in Greenland until her mother died and her dad moved back to Copenhagen, where he was from originally. Smilla could not stand the heat in the house. She lived outside the house in a tent until she became acclimatized. In The Sea, I saw a woman in mini-skirt, no shoes, lying in the snow, passed out drunk. I see those people going into the cold like we go into a summer day, here at latitude 36. Iceland is latitude 64-67. It's northern extremities touch the Arctic Circle, where it is only cold to Xtreme cold. Iceland's latitude is the same as the northern parts of Norway. For time measured in millions of years, this island in the North Sea was washed clean of soil a long time ago. Fishing is how they live, not agriculture. Rock and ice everywhere.

I've been enjoying the films primarily because they are so well made; excellent writing, excellent directing, acting awfully good, good story. Now I'm finding these Scandinavian stories are giving me new insight into winter. Before, and I mean all my life, I've braced against the cold and waited for it to leave by end of May, worn out from waiting. About mid February I am ready for winter to be over and it's just the half way point. Looking at these stories of people who live where it is cold all the time, I see them relaxed with it, flowing with it. At this time in the life I'm paying attention to my own flow, feeling my way with it, and found this morning feeding the birds and later walking to the mailbox without putting on a jacket, that I flowed with the cold, didn't even shiver like a dog when I came back into the house. The cold amounted to a sensation, neither pain nor pleasure, neutral. It never occured to me to use these films going into winter to subconsciously acclimatize self to cold all the time.

Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo, latitudes 59-61 are up there with the latitude of Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Bering Strait at latitude 65, the land of the midnight sun. Sweden is famous around the world for its suicide rate, which I've attributed to year round cold. But, here in Alleghany County, between latitudes 36 and 37, we have the same suicide rate as Sweden that is way up north. It's not the cold or the midnight sun. Possibly a Protestant belief system the two places share and a certain pride, a mixture of possible "causes." Only the individuals know the causes, and they're not telling. Twice I've been asked by psychotherapists if I'd ever thought about killing myself. I said, "Of course." Did that ever set the pens in motion. Right away they wanted to get me in treatment. I'm then obliged to explain I have never thought about it to do it, but it naturally is one of those subjects we humans think about and wonder why other people do it, wonder if there really are advantages to it. Of course I think about it. I've never met anyone who hasn't thought about it, same as we think about what it would be like to be killed. I'm not one to entertain that kind of thinking, but the curiosity has arisen. What would I say? "Oh shit." "Gawd-damn." "Fuck." I'd go into Eternity laughing like a monkey if one of these turned out to be my last word, or all of them. Steve Jobs saw the light, saying, "Oh Wow," three times. Like my friend Lorne Campbell thought it hilarious that Elvis died on the toilet. That was how he wanted to go. And he did.

I appreciate very much how seeing these films has relaxed my attitude toward the cold. I've looked up information about the Sami people, the indigenous people that live in the upper regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and over into Russia. They drive vehicles not built for speed, but for driving in deep snow all the time. They're boxes, Hummers without side windows that look like square box vans. Big snow tread tires that set the car body way up off the ground like a mud-sling pickup from around here. They look like they could climb up and over a snow drift. The Sami look like some rugged people, too. I look at the faces and see a variety, like everywhere else. Where do they get firewood? They need to keep a fire going year round. Snuggle into a bed of polar bear fur. Let it snow. The Sami would be the European continent's counterpart of Alaska's northernmost people, what we call the Eskimos. These are the kinds of places I'd have to be born and grow up in to tolerate the summers, let alone the winters. There are people who spend their lives going about in arctic water in a kayak, water so cold that if your kayak flips over, you're dead. That's dangerous water. Wait with a spear at the blow hole for a seal to surface for air, to eat its body and wear its skin. It's rugged living, but when it's been done for so many thousand years it has no beginning, it's just how we do things around here.

Actually, I had never given any thought to the weather in the Scandinavian countries, just thought of it as cold and snow. One of the aspects of the cold in these films I'm seeing--I've noticed a casual attitude toward the door like in America. In Noi the Albino, he goes in the house, snow and freezing outside, and leaves the door open. Today I saw the Swedish film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. In a scene with a little old uninsulated house with a wood stove. The Girl with the tattoo walks right in and gets with her computer, leaving the door open and it below freezing outside. I saw it another time in another film. It struck me a very casual relationship with the cold. When I saw the man carry firewood into the house, I wondered what he wanted for a fire. Three little logs that wouldn't last an hour in a house that had been vacant that it would take a few days to get the walls warm. That little bit of wood he put in the stove wouldn't put a warm spot on any wall in the house. That I took for something a director decided not to waste time on, getting a good fire going and heating the place well.

Evidently, the people of those latitudes up north experience the cold very differently from how we feel it where winter is not with us all the time. I can imagine the coldness would get old to the point of acceptance and go on being old. Yet the people that live in it seem to have no issue with the weather, the same as we don't here, except for complaining about its extremes. I'm glad every day that I've pursued a Scandinavian film festival from netflix. It used to be Bergman was the only Scandinavian film maker I knew of. Now, I see he is one of many. One of many truly Xcellent film makers.  


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