Onions imported from Australia, in Norway.
Recently in an agric-industries supply shop on a Norwegian country road I found those strong 20 Amp fuses that I was looking for all over Poland, the Baltics, Russia and Finland; I never thought these still existed, shops that actually carry smallish ancient hardware en detail, spares for tractors seem to be the solution for the 32 year old Mercedes-van. So here I try to repair the radio, yes again I fiddle with the fuses and reconnect the ground cables that the boys had pulled apart, I even get it working and the first song that comes up in random mode is Sayon Camara, Guinean griot that I was lucky to see three times in concert, in those days back in Guinea almost 3 years ago. I listen in for an hour, Sissoko's guitar and Mama Aista's background vocals; these vibes bring my African memories back; this is 1st of July, I am still in Norway somewhere before Trondheim, we have done some 2,500 km from North Cape down south already, this is 10,000 km and 2 months into the journey with my twin boys Daniel and David, about half time and I ask myself, will I go back to Africa after this? (p.s. 2010/09, when I start post editing this story I happen to be in Rome and I still don’t know what next).
In Norway with the boys we have taken so many ferries, we take so many more; for some tunnels they charge good money as well, Norway altogether is not a cheap undertaking. We follow route 17, another one and then another one of Norway’s most beautiful regions, yes Norway is maybe Europe’s most beautiful country just I have my problem with its provincial villages, some towns are really just geared to maximise revenues from tourists. Beware this is a rant!
Trodheim is still kind of nice, its Nidaros cathedral makes me wonder, is from the early days, in the 12th c. a Roman Catholic archdiocese and most important northern pilgrimage site, today it serves its Lutheran bishops. Trondheim also has a McDonalds and the boys need their proteins, I mine too. Weather is nice too and people warm in the late sun along the wooden house front on the main square. But nothing moves here, any city in Poland would be bursting with activity I think, the pub in front of where I park my van and steal my Wi-Fi connection is open from 8-18, when I wake at 9 a.m. it is full of beer drinkers. People all over the world like beer; just for Nordics even eating is a sin, drinking beer definitely, only outlaws drink beer! I should be inside this pub (obviously I have a different agenda because of my boys), but I should be friends with the outlaws. Just my mishap is that the boys peed out by the window of the van and I did not realise quickly enough, been on the internet in the back of the van, the pub’s bouncer is a bit unhappy now; was his car they peed on, but yes, Trondheim is nice kinda. We leave and drive.
We drive on on a hot day, the boys rebel, we stop somewhere, there is a muddy stream, I prepare rosemary potatoes and tomato salad, a great addition to the menu, one of the boys gets his gum boots stuck in the mud, falls, I wash a couple of their shirts later, the clean T-shirt count has been very low for a while, there is one for the day, another one for the night, no spares.
Kristiansund later at 5.30 p.m., no people, no cars on street, most shops closed. Maybe all because of the World Cup in South Africa I think? Wanted to be there, had a plan to go there. Here in Norway, I have not watched a single match. Never mind! Kristiansund is dead. Three bearded men with sunglasses hold their drinks outside a pub; my outlaw friends, they must feel as such in a land so beautiful, so clean, so closed, so cold, with such an odd kave (coffee) culture, so prohibitive. It is not holding me here. I told you this is a rant!
We drive on, through a tunnel, one of these deep ones that go down at a 10% descent then climb up at the same rate, under passing the fjord, my old van struggles. The coastal drive takes us along the little Averoy archipelago, beautiful, cloudy; the drizzle starts. I cook penne arabiatta, our certainly number one dish, one of three, apple risotto and cheese omelette being the other two. The boys play on the rocks covered with soft moss in the meantime; lose their McDonald’s toys. They now largely play by themselves. They love pasta more than anything; they love it my way, spicy with tons of parmigiano cheese on it. We used to put cream every second time or so, just recent budget considerations have put an end to this. Oh, yes this lunchtime I added rosemary potatoes to our menu, comes with tomato salad. And of course there is the odd visit to McDonalds, - for the proteins. The boys have a litre of milk and honey each day, bananas and apples, bread and white goat’s cheese, Norsk Chevre is delicious, they love it, some chocolate sometimes.
To Molde we get this very evening after the pasta, this is another one of these boring towns with ugly concrete architecture! Why did I come here? Well yes the scenery between the towns has been stunning. I wake up in the morning with headache, my sinuses are blocked, had no success unblocking my nose overnight. Where am I? I cannot even remember the town I parked up last night. The espresso machine sends a wave of aroma, the boys wake, milk and honey for them then we go on a little tour, this town is ugly! Molde Fjord is vast, snow-covered mountains on the other side shine in the glistering haze. It will be a hot day. We buy milk for the boys at Bunnpris. I think of risotto or rosemary potatoes again and check the price of the onions (local, Norwegian, not of prime quality), 2 onions for 15 NOK, almost 2 Euros! This is nuts I think; there are countries I wouldn’t buy two kilos for the same price it shoots through my head; I fume inside.
Now I have become curios and in another town the next day I check things again, in Lom at Coop, onions are slightly cheaper; where are they from? And now I am completely baffled or better angry, it almost ruins me another day, they come from Tasmania, Australia. All the onions at Coop in Lom come from Tasmania; the consumer has no choice but go somewhere else. This is crazy I think! Even as a consumer I can get 10 kilos for 1 Euro in Morocco and it is a mere 3,500 km away, not 20,000. Is anyone questioning what is going on here?
Back to the hot glistening day in Molde: I focus on the route ahead, the scenic drive around Molde Fjord around Andalsnes and on. Driving out I realise the boys have lost the top of the water bottle, the bottle cost me 1.5 Euros. That far have I come; the loss of a plastic bottle makes me unhappy, but I bought this bottle to have one to refill from the jerry cans in a land that has an abundance of free-flowing, fresh water! Still Norwegians are happy to pay for bottled water, not just tourists. At the next stop I am lucky and find the top of the bottle. In Norway I feel like a poor man. And I have not made it through the day. I mean the Euro maybe a bit low to the Koruna, a low EURNOK= exchange rate explains a bit of the high prices story. But then why isn’t Norway awash with cheap Dutch onions, as is all of Africa? Why do they import from Australia? It seems Norwegians are a bit complacent, can afford it; Norway is the richest state on earth, not part of EU but highly inter-connected, its standard of living is highest, cost of living highest (what’s the gain?!); its oil and gas wealth is being distributed amongst its citizens, the "best functioning state runs" a 9% state budget surplus. Norway has savings that amount to a control of more than 1% of all the publicly traded shares in the world (Norway on wiki). Everyone in Norway can afford paying 1 Euro for 1 onion, equals waste money. It is just me who feels extremely poor in Norway.
We get to Andalsnes, the next one on the touted route; cheap architecture, bad smelling paper cup coffee outside a plastic tent (the cafe on the pier), most tourists, in the 60s, don’t mind; chew happily on their moist bap of ham and mayonnaise. Norway you make me miserable especially when the sun and the haze put a curse on photography, the snow covered mounts and the fjords move far, far to the background.
On this Scandinavia-Finland trip this feeling of being doomed surfaces, I cannot afford it; will not making it home, my credit cards go overstretched. What is offered here is not worth it, smelly brownish filter coffee; the thousand of Kafe road signs eventually make me sick. Kafe, Kafe! I desire to burn down one of these places, I wish for a sign that says beer or pub! Supermarkets stop selling alcohol at 6, on Saturdays this is earlier (3 o’clock-ish), no alcohol is sold on weekends. Supermarkets don’t have a wine or spirits section. There are specialised stores for wine and liquor; dug away, hidden, only for the knowing. I have not run over a single one! I smile wryly now when I think back of my rant over taxed spirits in Ireland 6 years ago...
I am scared. I have read that Oslo, the capital is the most expensive city in the world; Angst, what am I doing there? Eat pasta in the van!
We drive further on direction Alesund, scenery amazes by beauty and the white haze at once, 7 km before Alesund there is this round-about, but no sign for Alesund, a sign to me by the universe not to go. I go round the round-about, let Alesund be Alesund.
Norway, the glaciers.
Recently I repaired the radio; reconnected the grounding cables that the boys had pulled apart and put the fuses back in, we can have some music, Bjork, Dull Flames of Desire comes up randomly, featuring the sweet voice of Antony Hegarty, I press the repeat button. The song puts me into dream mode. The negative vibes fall off, I think what will be will be and we turn south, take a ferry then another one. At a lake I cook pasta (2nd in 2 days, cannot afford the onions for risotto), the boys play by the still water and the reeds while I watch, while I cook, they wet their boots and shirts. I am amazed how much I can do with them, how much they have grown, how much they have learnt, how we voyage together, how much love and trust there is. They take and love this journey as if it is the most natural thing to do.
We then, it is getting late, turn land inwards towards the glaciers, scenery is most stunning, Styrn, a town, but I don’t bother stopping in the towns anymore. Nearby water falls from the cliffs, dark turquoise water, in still lakes fishermen row their boats, their women hold the rod, or the other way round, these are broad quiet streams and still lakes, so serene; the glaciers are not far, I smell the snow and winter; some white tops capture the late sun. This is camp for night at Sogne Fjord. The boys run around in circles on a huge stone, don’t think of sleeping, want descend to the lake, this is pretty steep a bank and the lakes are deep here, what I know.
Dull Flames of Desire keeps playing for a while this evening! Something is going to happen I think and it’ll change life forever again. It will put me on a new path, a new journey; it has always been like this. Change is going to come some day, only the Gods know where and when. I can rightly be curious.
In the morning I realise we are in Gods own land here, the high plunging waterfalls and the rushing white waters are so much nearer, the smell of snow and ice is in the air, we climb up to 1,100m of altitude to Styrn summer skiing centre, Strynefjellet. Snowfields touch the glacier’s lakes, the boys like it, I am ready to jump behind them - in case they slip!
Then we take to a walk over the alpine field, trot through the glacial streams, I am determined to get their adventure and nature senses going. They enjoy it so much, dare the jumps or withstand the currents of the stream. When their gumboots take too much water they take them off, keep trotting bare-feet. Only when they fall eventually and get completely wet we return to the van for dry clothes and milk and honey.
We drive, get through Skyåk commune, Grotli is a village with scattered wooden houses; all roofs bear a thick layer of earth and grass and even bushes on top, isolation for the harshest of all winters. We get to Lom and the onion experience and return west on a more southern route we climb again high to 1,400m, stop where many others stop, go for a 2 hour walk to where a near-by glacier spills out (think it is Fantensteinen), walk 3 or 4 km, Daniel and David climb over boulders, sink into deep snow when crossing the snow fields, I am truely amazed.
We roll then down, pass through mountain and lake scenery, I still have the thoughts going, we are back to sea level, at night it starts raining and the rains won’t go away anymore. The ferry boat on the next morning takes us over Sognafjorden, the longest Fjord in Norway second longest in the world (wiki). Long and difficult is the driving in the rain, traffic south here is becoming more intense, I change music, listen to Algerian Ray star Cheb Khalid, ça me fait envier and Nigerian Fela Kuti, so funky, also Gnawa Hamid El-Kasri. So is it Africa?
Why am I trying to answer this question now and here, in the rain? Well, I will need to earn some money again at some stage and Norway, beautiful and expensive as it is makes me realise this faster than elsewhere. So what can I do; what would I want to do? Photojournalist, photographer on an expedition or project in Africa or elsewhere, but then every photographer wants to do this, so I have to find the one who gives me that job. So simple...
I carry this stone of which I cannot remember where I really picked it up, the beach in Egypt maybe; this stone is always in my pocket, I roll it and look at it on occasions. It is really just half a stone; the cut side reveals a graphical outline of some land, a map of a continent engraved by nature. But as it is with guidance its picture resembles a bit India, South America and indeed Africa. So I am free to make my choice where to find my luck.
Bergen to Oslo.
Bergen (wiki) is boring, Bryggen a couple of Hanseatic wooden houses, Unesco blessing makes it a farce, drizzle turns to rain, stops and starts again. The drizzle makes it nice. The Gulfstream gives the coastal areas so much rain but also its remarkable mild climate in winter. McDonalds is an obligation before we find a space for the night with free Wi-Fi. I get a parking ticket at 8 in morning. It’s all about paying here; driving in town requires paying a toll tax. Norway as a state has achieved a high level of complexity, its people have become complacent, accepting burdens and complications in return for cleanliness and security, roads and healthcare, an overly complex society is bound to fail "when investments in socio-political complexity reaches the point where the benefits begin to decline, first gradually then with accelerated force" (Joseph A. Tainter, The collapse of complex societies, 1988, wiki.) Norway might not be there yet but it is a tough land for some-one like me.
We leave and it rains nearly all the way to Oslo. The drive leads over Alpine plateaus 700 to 1400m, the clouds hang in deep, put a veil on the top of the waterfalls in Vøringfossen, a tragedy. The Gulfstream sends this part of Norway the most rain and in winter snow, snow poles of 5 meters at the side of a road indicate just that. But surprise, before we settle for night on the plateau the sun come out.
Oslo then is a nice surprise. A crowd gathers to watch the semi final Spain-Germany, beers for 8 Euros. No chance to see that with my energetic boys, who prefer to go round town, have fun with the cities fountains, get wet, needed a shower anyway. In the morning it rains; nothing to gain here.
We enter Sweden and the sun comes out. We have been craving for some heat. This is the 8th of June 2010.