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Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

Residents of Plumsville who have been keeping a watch on the gradual resurgence of Wodehousitis in the Nordic countries might recall that at the last meeting of the Drones Club at Vollen in Norway, befittingly held on the 15th of October 2016, those present had planned for the next meeting of the Club to be held closer to the National Day of Norway, that is, on or around the 17th of May 2017.

And that is how it transpired that the Egg, the Bean, the Crumpet and the Pieface met at Asker recently. After much back-slapping, flag waving and associated patriotic activities, the four settled down to wide ranging discussions on a variety of Plummy affairs.

Here is a quick recapitulation of the deliberations.

Spreading cheer and happiness

Plum has left behind a range of work which is as prolific as it is magnificent. Homo sapiens need to be made aware and encouraged to drink deep from this underground reservoir of bliss. Hope was expressed that the economies dependent on black gold till now would eventually start becoming dependent on this joyous variety of gold, thereby improving the happiness levels of humanity.

The prodigal sons

When it comes to musicals, it is well recognized that kids of rich producers with bulging pockets and cigars in their mouth alone call the shots. Attempts should be made to breed more of such canine species as McIntosh, so kids can be suitably influenced and musicals can bounce back and regain their popularity amongst the masses.

A teen connection

Thanks to their ignorance about the Wodehouse canon, the millennials are not aware of what they happen to be missing in life. The group wondered if some of our dream merchants would start producing short animated clips which showcase the stories dished out by Plum. Once launched on dedicated ‘Apps’ and other digital platforms, the younger lot with their short attention spans may get drawn to the sunlit valleys of Plumsville, with streets lined on both sides with low hanging fruits of delectable humour.

The translation challenge

The Crumpet wondered as to how the beauty of Plum’s writings could be retained while translating his works into such other languages as Norwegian. The Pieface clarified that such translators often dig up the local history and quote juicy instances therefrom, thereby maintaining the lyrical beauty of the original prose.

Of feminism and the delicately nurtured

In a society which provides equal opportunity to its delicately nurtured, even going to the extent of making both the sexes serve a fixed duration military tenure, just how popular could be the old Victorian-era notions of chivalry, such as opening doors, holding chairs, and the like?

The Bean opined that such notions no longer had a meaning. The practice of such overt gestures of chivalry might be silently appreciated. But the absence of such gestures does not get noticed, much to the obvious relief of the so-called sterner sex.

The literary landscape of Plum

Almost all his works are littered with quotes from, and references to, those at the high table of English literature, such as Shakespeare, et al.

The Egg felt that literary figures preceding Plum had helped shape the present contour of English language. The Pieface thought that this is a vast subject which merits much careful analysis. The group felt they would admire the perseverance and erudite scholarship of anyone who might undertake a mighty task of this nature.

The real estate connection

Is Plum in any way related to the real estate sector of the economy? The Pieface did think so. He felt that he was nowhere near achieving his ambition of having collected all of Plum’s works in English as well as in Norwegian. His room was already overflowing, inviting sinister comments from the Rosie M Banks of his life. In order to fulfil his desire, a barn may soon need to be added. This, he felt, would serve a completely unintended purpose – that of providing a much-needed fillip to the local economy.

The Empress of Blandings

She was the guest of honour, adorned atop a small cake which was baked and provided by the daughter of the Crumpet. The Egg did the honours. All those assembled hummed ‘Sonny Boy’ and devoured few helpings of the same.

Wodehousitis in Norway

Those assembled agreed that all efforts need to be made to popularize the fact that such meetings are taking place in the Land of the Midnight Sun. By making prospective members green with envy, it was felt, the objective could be accomplished in the days to come.

The uneven spread of Wodehousitis

Concern was expressed at the fact that there were wide disparities in the per capita affliction of Wodehousitis across different countries. According to latest informal estimates, USA, UK and India appeared to be leading other countries when it came to per capita affliction of the dreaded disease. Netherlands, Italy and Russia appeared to be forming the middle order. Down Under, the affliction rates were reported to be rather poor. Same was the case with Switzerland which, though famous for its cheese, chocolates and watches, had very little to show when it came to Wodehousitis.

The consensus was that much more needed to be done to facilitate a more equitable distribution of Wodehousitis across the globe. The Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies may be approached to come up with a concrete action plan which, once approved by Rupert Psmith, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Plumsville, may be set in motion.  It would also do well to conduct studies establishing the precise characteristics of Wodehousitis, thereby making it amenable to measurement.

Norway is a unique country in more ways than one. It hosts the Nobel Peace Prize. It is presently ranked as the happiest country in the world. The fact that it is shoring up its ranking in terms of Wodehousitis is yet another feather in its cap.  

(A vote of thanks is due to Morten Arnesen, Jo Ingebrigt Spalder and Oystein Moe for propelling the Nordic Wodehousitis Mission further)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/a-drones-club-meet-at-asker-in-Norway

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/a-drones-club-meeting-at-vollen-in-Norway

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/a-drones-club-meeting-in-Amsterdam)

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Some residents of Plumsville might be interested in this news release from the Nordic branch of PBC, the Plum Broadcasting Corporation.

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It is a well documented fact that the epidemic of Wodehousitis peaks at two times in a year. One, around the 15th of October, the day on which P G Wodehouse was born. Two, around the 14th of February, the day he decided to start regaling his Guardian Angels instead.

This is not to say that the epidemic is dormant during the rest of the year. It merely subsides a wee bit, popping up here and there, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, sex or ethnicity.

The medical fraternity continues to be clueless as to how to contain the dreaded epidemic. Researchers of all hues continue to be baffled at the unique kind of drug resistance displayed by those who suffer from Wodehousitis – they exhibit no desire to be rid of the affliction.

It is learnt from reliable sources that residents of Plumsville, a euphimistic term deployed to identify those suffering from acute Wodehousitis, could go to any lengths to celebrate their shared suffering from the dreaded affliction. To them, cultural, linguistic and continental barriers do not count. Man-made boundaries do not matter.

Take the case of one Morten Anersen from Norway and one Ashok Bhatia from India. On the 15th of October, 2016, the two decided to put their nose bags together and meet up at the Little England Tea Rooms (LETR) at Vollen in Norway.

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It is understood that wide-ranging talks were held between the two on the occasion. The atmosphere was said to have been highly cordial and congenial. The couple running the show at LETR, Henning Edin Lyche and Liv Kjersti Lyche, when forewarned about the specific occasion being celebrated, revived the best of Drones Club traditions. British high tea was served with much enthusiasm and attention to detail.

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The talks are said to have covered the following topics:

  • BREXIT: Whether Wodehouse, had he been around these days, would have approved of Brexit. The conjecture of the duo was in the negative.
  • The Technological Twist: Would he have continued churning out juicy narratives, with his trademark old world charm, replete with eccentric lords, super-intelligent butlers, domineering aunts, goofy females, woolly-headed bachelors, romantic cops and kids who could motivate even vicars to aspire to higher levels of spiritual upliftment? Especially, in this age of technology and the Internet of Things? The guess was in the affirmative. Probably, at best, telegrams might have got replaced by WhatsApp messages and phone calls by Skype or Viber calls.
  • Of dyspepsia, class distinctions and scarabs: Some ever fresh lessons from ‘Something Fresh‘ came up for discussion. Larsen Exercises, brisk walks and cold baths and the need to have a digestive system which keeps firing at all twelve cylinders, were mentioned with much enthusiasm. The socio-economic divide between Aline Peters and Joan Valentine, inter alia, came under the duo’s lens. The correlation between being a millionaire and being a collector of scarabs was discussed.
  • Real People and Real Books: Many facets of Wodehouse’s personality were discussed. The fact that he modelled his characters based on real life people was mentioned. So was the fact that books like ‘Types of Ethical Theory‘, once used by Florence Craye to attempt to uplift the intellectual leanings of Bertie Wooster, really did exist.
  • The Nietzsche Taboo: Surprise was expressed at the fact that Friedrich Nietzsche, held to be basically unsound by a person no less than Jeeves, was also born on the 15th of October, though the year of his birth was 1844. There were mutual confessions that Jeeves’ world was taken rather seriously. Hence, no attempts were likely to be made to read up any of Nietzsche’s works.
  • No darts, please: Out of respect for the excellent interior design of LETR, as well as for several other customers present, plans to throw some darts were deferred.
  • Potential members: It was noted with much regret that such eminent members as Geir Hasnes, Jo Ingebrigt Spalder, Jens Magne Andreassen, Oystein Moe and others could not join in the festivities.
  • Of 2017: It was hoped that a meeting planned some time in either April or May 2017 would attract better attention of Plum fans based in various parts of Norway. A strong need was felt for a local Jeeves who would be able to spare some time and coordinate the affair.

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It is reliably learnt that Liv Kjersti Lyche, the delicately nurtured better-half of the owner of the place, a charming lady in the mould of Mrs Spottsworth, had spent some time during her teens in India, learning the art of dishing out piping hot samosas and chicken tikka sandwiches.

She also turned out to be a Plum fan, thereby adding some more sparkle and warmth to the proceedings. Another round of animated discussion is said to have followed, wherein ‘Laughing Gas‘ was merely one of the several works of Wodehouse which had popped up.

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The meeting is said to have generated much laughter and camaraderie and reconfirmed the presence of Wodehousitis in the Nordic country which already boasts of more than 40 works of Plum translated into Norwegian. It also set a precedent of sorts in terms of achieving Gender Diversity for the Drones Club.

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Vikings are believed to have had a stiff-upper-lip approach to life in the distant past. Gallows Humour is said to be a typical Scandinavian offering.

Folklore has it that the sense of humour of Indians also leaves much to be desired. If it has been there, perhaps it has been more of the loud and overt kind.

But goofy gatherings of the kind reported herein above indicate that those inhabiting Nordic and Asian regions of the world these days perhaps relish not only a chuckle or two but also a loud guffaw once in a while. Subtle humour of the Wodehousean kind appears to have gained currency in these regions.

One wonders if the Humour Quotient of Homo Sapiens tends to improve in tandem with their gradual evolution over a period of time. If so, sunnier days are ahead. Further research by anthropologists and historians is strongly recommended to validate this hypothesis.

The global per capita density of the epidemic of Wodehousitis also needs to be studied further.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/the-epidemic-of-wodehousitis

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/a-drones-club-meet-at-asker-in-norway

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/what-ho-what-ho)

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The winter Sunday was in its latter half. With a light fog enveloping Asker in Norway, the fading daylight was falling on a little garden which the recent spate of snowfall had converted into a quaint little skating rink. Some children were honing their skating skills under the watchful but indulgent eyes of their parents. The air was fresh with a whiff of ozone, imbued with a chilly sharpness so very characteristic of Nordic winters.

From Facebook to Face-to-Face

In a cosy corner of Egon, an artistically done up restaurant near the Asker train station, a meeting of some members of the Drones Club was in progress. An Egg, a Bean and a Crumpet could be seen happily chatting with each other.

Introductions and exchange of pleasantries had got over. The conversation had already covered such wide-ranging topics as genealogy, the open-ended social milieu of Norway, the economic challenges being faced owing to the dip in oil fortunes and the state-of-art infrastructure of the country. Concern had been expressed about the global challenge of maintaining harmony and peace in these troubled times. The relevance of the Code of the Woosters to usher in a phase of sustainable peace had been discussed.

A dash of patriotism

Norway National DayThe Egg and the Bean spoke of the National Day of Norway, which is celebrated with much gaiety and fervour on the 17th of May every year. The Constitution of Norway was signed on this day in the year 1814. The constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom in an attempt to avoid being ceded to Sweden after Denmark–Norway’s devastating defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. All residents come out in their respective national dresses and participate in a parade. The King and the Queen are an integral part of the proceedings.

The Crumpet shared the details of the Indian Republic Day which honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950. The military might of the country is on full display in a parade which marches down an important thoroughfare of the capital city New Delhi. So is the social diversity which gets covered in several colourful tableaux which form a part of the parade. Indian Republic Day

The Egg and the Bean touched upon their exploits in the Norwegian military in their younger days. The Crumpet was delighted to know that the delicately nurtured had equal opportunity to join those of the so-called sterner sex in guarding the national frontiers of Norway. The Egg and the Bean were also happy to be informed that the Indian armed forces follow a similar policy.

The Drones who sought Leave of Absence

The audience would surely be wondering by now as to why there were only three members present and where the other members were. Well, a Whisky and Soda had already explained that he would be on the road attending to a critical chore which was essential to keep his body and soul together. A Pieface could not join in because he was confined to bed and was trying to nurse a viral infection with one of Jeeves’ pick-me-ups.

A Gin and Tonic had not responded, apparently because she was busy somewhere on the slopes of Galdhopiggen, tending to some injury of Pauline Stoker’s suffered by her during a skiing adventure. A Couch Potato had also not responded to the overtures, possibly owing to a lack of expertise in throwing darts, should a competition got organized.

Aurora_Borealis_and_Australis_PosterAn intellectual cove, who is one of the forty odd literarily gifted persons having had the distinction of translating Plum’s work into the Norwegian language, was discovered just after the meeting. He was said to be busy enjoying the mesmerizing display of Northern Lights somewhere in the Arctic Circle. The loss was entirely that of the members assembled.

Thus, only the Egg, the Bean and the Crumpet had trooped in.

The joy and the pall of gloom

At one stage, the emotions of the three members assembled had almost overpowered them. These called for a ready outlet. They wanted to stand up and announce that a common passion had brought together persons from two countries – Norway and India – which are as different as chalk and cheese. But the ambience of the place restrained them. They wanted to stand on the sturdy table in front of them and sing ‘Sonny Boy’ in unison. But they could not do so because customers would complain. They wanted to shout three cheers in a boisterous fashion, but couldn’t do so. The management would have looked askance and perhaps called in some rozzers eager to augment their incomes on a Sunday evening.

The pall of gloom which such severe restrictions cast on them did not last too long. Miss Postlethwaite, the efficient barmaid, soon popped up. The quiet simplicity of her costume and the devout manner in which she pulled the wine-handle brought in the requisite cheer. Soon, the pot-boy appeared with a steaming hot creamy fish soup which appeared to be coming straight from the stables of Anatole. Nose bags were duly put on and a free-flowing conversation followed.

Of Plummy affairs

The Egg brought up the innumerable qualities of Jeeves, expressing his ardent wish he could get hold of one such gentleman’s gentleman. The Bean admired the woolly headedness of Lord Emsworth and wondered if he did not possess similar qualities. The Crumpet spoke reverentially of the personality traits of independent women like Joan Valentine and Sally. The goofiness of Madeline Bassett got an honourable mention. So did the romantic nature of Mrs. Spottsworth. The Eastern connections of Captain Biggar-Biggar and his own Code of Conduct were fondly recalled.

Lessons of good health espoused by Ashe Marson came in for general praise. Several escapades of Bingo Little and Rosie M. Banks which contribute to the cause of matrimonial harmony were mentioned. The paramount importance of women having their afternoon cup of tea was analysed threadbare. The fact that not many details were available concerning the parents of Bertie Wooster came up for discussion.PGW HughLaurie-BertieWooster

An action movie on Master’s works?

Over coffee, the Egg and the Bean mentioned the authors whose work they read. The Crumpet lamented his being at the terminal stage of Wodehousitis, making him incapable of devouring anything else. The general opinion of the group was that if reading Wodehouse is escapism, then all forms of literature and fine arts could also get labelled likewise.

Movies with a Wodehousian sense of humour came up for discussion. The members present wondered if ever an action movie could be based on the works of the Master. It was doubted if any movie moghul would consider sliding down pipes to escape the fury of an aunt interesting enough. Or, for that matter, either the case of a minister facing an angry swan while perched on a roof in the midst of heavy rains, or the burning down of country cottages by conscientious boy scouts.

Spreading the virus of Wodehousitis

Norway Drones Club Jan 2016The Bean raised the sartorial standard of the meeting by wearing a Drone Club tie which is no longer in circulation. The Egg and the Crumpet are now in the market looking for benevolent souls who might like to donate theirs!

While the deliberations were on, darkness had stealthily enveloped the surroundings. Decorative lights put up by merchants hoping to clear their shelves by offering hefty January Sale discounts were imparting a soft glow to the snow on the streets. It was time to get back to the real world.

The meeting ended with much back-slapping. Hopes were expressed that more such meetings would get planned in future, thereby spreading the virus of Wodehousitis far and wide.

Notes:

  • The intellectual cove who could not be invited: Prof Johan I Borgos. He can be reached at http://www.borgos.nndata.no/Wodehouse.htm
  • The members who attended the meeting: Morten Arnesen, Jo Ingebrigt Spalder and Ashok Bhatia.
  • Should Jeeves come across this narrative, the members shall have no objection to its contents getting entered in the dreaded book maintained by the Junior Ganymede Club. Prior intimation would, however, be necessary.
  • The members deliberately chose not to pass any adverse comments about the several aunts which populate Plumsville. This ensures that Anatole’s services can be sought for future meetings of this nature.

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A friend suggested visiting the National Gallery in Oslo. Having had the opportunity of admiring the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso and others in the last few years, I was naturally curious as to what Norwegian artists had come up with in the past. The visit turned out to be a truly instructive one. I realized the depth and range of work done by painters as well as sculptors and marvelled at the passion and artistic fervour of the artists concerned.IMG_1716

Founded in 1837, the National Gallery houses Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. In its permanent and temporary exhibitions, the museum presents older art, with principal emphasis on art from Norway.IMG_1652

Highlights from the collection are shown in the permanent exhibition “The Dance of Life – The Collection from Antiquity to 1945”.IMG_1664

The exhibition presents a chronological overview of more than 300 Norwegian and international masterpieces from the Renaissance, the Baroque period, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Cubism and modern abstract art. IMG_1658

Special attention is devoted to paintings by J.C. Dahl and Romanticism, Christian Krohg and Realism, Edvard Munch’s renowned works, as well as Norwegian evocative painting from the turn of the last century.The_Scream

Central attractions include Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna and paintings by Cézanne and Monet.IMG_1672

Paintings by Picasso and several other artists are also on display.IMG_1683

In the exhibition on abstract art, one could see some striking works. A particular one I found of great interest was entitled ‘The Universal Flag.’IMG_1638

With more than 4,000 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and nearly 50,000 works on paper, the National Gallery’s art collection is the most comprehensive and wide ranging in Norway, and one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.IMG_1692

Michelangelo is said to have taken four years to adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have taken three years to finish ‘The Last Supper.’ Dahl is said to have taken six years to paint ‘Stalheim’; remarkably, he did it while he was nowhere near a fjord in Norway!Dahl-Stalheim

All these eminent artists worked in an age devoid of photography, computers, internet, trains, aeroplanes and mobile phones. They suffered innumerable hardships while creating their works. Since they simply loved what they were doing at the time, they would have surely derived immense joy and satisfaction while pursuing their creative goals.IMG_1678

Leads one to wonder how creativity originates. We may know the external circumstances and the trials and tribulations they faced. We may marvel at the outstanding works of art they have produced. We may surmise as to the motivation and the feeling behind each work. But would we ever know the precise moment when the germ of an idea really hit them? How long did it simmer within them before taking a tangible shape? Unless they have left behind an autobiographical account, or someone else has covered their life and times in some detail, we might never be able to identify the real point of origin of their creative outburst.IMG_1689

Surely, all great artists have a streak of divinity in them. Besides, they have passion for their form of art. Patience and perseverance would be only two of their several sterling qualities. They would also have been lucky to get mentors who spotted and nurtured their talents. Some blossomed in adversity, enabled perhaps only by their innermost conviction.IMG_1702

We may not know the exact point of conception. We may be unaware of the technical details or the process of eventual delivery. But we shall be forever grateful that they have left behind a rich tapestry of the dance of life, capturing its precious moments for posterity. It is a legacy which continues to attract, entice and inspire artists and laymen alike all over the world.

Note: ‘Scream’ and ‘Stalheim’ reproductions are courtesy Wikipedia. Others are a result of my photographic skills, which are severely limited. Please bear with me for deficiencies – if you notice any – in these.  

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Quite a few amongst us are fed up with our daily dose of bad news. Wars – covert or overt. Disasters – natural or otherwise. Genocides. Murders. Rapes. Income inequalities. Social prejudices. Accidents. Every single day, the media keeps reminding us of what is wrong with our world.

During the last three weeks, we were fortunate to have come face to face with institutions and bodies which try to do something good for the world.

Here is a quick recap of such encounters of the pleasant kind.

THE UN OFFICE at Geneva

A guided tour of the Palais de Nations in Geneva makes us realize the way the UN functions and the organs through which it operates in fields as diverse as health, education and sustainable development, besides matters of political import.

Palais de Nations

Palais de Nations

Other than United Nations administration, the UN Office at Geneva also hosts the offices for a number of programmes and funds. As many as 23 organs of the UN are located at Geneva – such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the International Labour Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Health Organization.

The General Assembly hall at Geneva

The General Assembly hall at Geneva

We get to witness a Human Rights Council meeting where records of countries are getting reviewed and commented upon.

The compound has impressive artefacts, including a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi in the UN compound at Geneva

Mahatma Gandhi in the UN compound at Geneva

Where the League of Nations failed in 1939, the UN appears to have succeeded so far – keeping a global war at bay by a relentless effort to defuse tensions. However, several conflict zones remain active in various parts of the world, needing intervention.

The ICRC at Geneva

A visit to the global headquarters of the Red Cross brings us face to face with the kind of trauma, pain and suffering the denizens of our planet have undergone over the last 100 years.

The ICRC Headquarters at Geneva

The ICRC Headquarters at Geneva

The ICRC, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

At the permanent exhibition, testimonies of witnesses and survivors can be heard. A section on children missing from strife-torn areas moves us deeply. Records of persons missing during both the World Wars and the attempts made to reunite families leave us wondering as to why wars are waged at all.

An exhibit at the permanent exhibition at ICRC

An exhibit at the permanent exhibition at ICRC

Havoc caused by natural disasters like earth quakes, tsunamis and global warming can be experienced by means of movies, working models and testimonies of witnesses.

A painting lauding the efforts of Nelson Mandela

A painting lauding the efforts of Nelson Mandela

For those made of sterner stuff, some details of the treatment meted out to prisoners of war can be realized through a temporary exhibition of paintings, sculptures and short movie clips.

The NOBEL PEACE CENTER at Oslo

In an ironical twist of faith, Alfred Nobel, in his sunset years, decided to do something to help society overcome the damage some of his inventions had done. Of the five prizes conceived by him, he decided to allot the Peace Prize to Norway in 1905.

The Nobel Peace Center at Oslo

The Nobel Peace Center at Oslo

The Centre at Oslo captures the spirit behind the prize, the process of its finalization and details of all its 123 recipients till now. An electronic book about Alfred Nobel provides interesting insights into his life.

Use of technology to display the details of all the Prize recipients

Use of technology to display the details of all the Prize recipients

Activities of the 2013 winner – Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – are on display. We get to understand how the OPCW inspectors monitor, locate and destroy chemical weapons. It is interesting for us to know that it was only in 1997 that the protocol for control of chemical weapons came into force.

In a temporary exhibition entitled ‘Be Democracy’, we learn the extent to which the democratic form of governance has become popular all across the world. In an interactive section, one can form a message supporting global peace and leave it behind.

An interactive exhibition

An interactive exhibition

Mahatma Gandhi appears at different places in the exhibition. It is a matter of deep regret that a person of his stature could never get a Nobel Peace Prize.

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi

In a small room, we come across some paintings done by children of different countries. We are delighted to see three by Indian children.

A Churning and Cleansing

Global bodies which try to do something good face tremendous challenges. Better access to health and education continues to cause concern; so does the rise of terrorism, the sophistication in weaponry, the change of a bipolar world into a multi-polar one, economic predation, sustainable development and non-compliance with humanitarian laws, just to cite a few.

Stop Terrorism, Spread Peace - a painting by Sudarshan V, 12 years, India

Stop Terrorism, Spread Peace – a painting by Sudarshan V, 12 years, India

We live in times when the spread of internet has changed the way we experience and interact with the world. Use of armed drones and robots and cyber-attacks are newer challenges on the horizon.

One may scoff at the idea that peace prevails. There are conflicts all around us. Possibly these are part of a churning which takes place within the collective soul of humanity. Such churning appears to be a cleansing process, designed by nature to rid us of the poisons within our collective conscience.

Beacons of Hope for Mankind

When hatred grows with no end in sight, it generates its own momentum. That is where the role of organizations like the United Nations, the Red Cross and the Nobel Foundation assumes relevance. It is a role which earns more brickbats than bouquets and is never short of generating controversies.

Voodoo dolls depicting the problems affecting humanity (ICRC, Geneva)

Voodoo dolls depicting the problems affecting humanity (ICRC, Geneva)

The good news is that despite political pushes and pulls, they continue to discharge their obligations towards humanity. Going forward, a conscious drive to make them more inclusive – providing better role in decision-making to the emerging economies – would surely help.

The presence of dynamic institutions and bodies which stand up for righteousness and work for the collective good assures us that there is hope for mankind. May be, a day would dawn when ‘Vasudhaiv kutumbukam’ (let the whole earth be one family) would become a reality!

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With temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius, it is summer time in Norway. Flowers of all hues are in full bloom. The birds and the bees are going about their daily chores with gay abandon. Streams are in full flow. Fjords present a majestic tapestry of greenery interspersed with charming backwaters.

Denizens of the Land of the Midnight Sun are out in full force, soaking in the scarce sunlight, enjoying the greenery, swimming and indulging in other outdoor sports. That is, the ones who have not decided to take a vacation to some exotic locale in Italy, France or Switzerland.

Time to venture out and explore Oslo! We decide to start with the Oslo City Hall, which is the seat of the City Council and the City Government.

Outside the City Hall, an Astronomical Clock uses five hands to indicate time, sidereal time, the phases of the sun and moon, and eclipses.IMG_1445

The swan maidens Alrund, Svankit and Alvit are the first ones to greet us in the outside courtyard.IMG_1425

Fables of pre-historic times are beautifully presented in finely chiselled wooden reliefs, all works of Dagfin Werenskiold.IMG_1433

Embla and Ask, the Scandinavian version of Eve and Adam – the first human beings who appear from the mythical power of creation – are also there to receive us.IMG_1435

Inside, we find the main hall where the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony takes place.IMG_1473

All around, the walls are lovingly painted. There is Henrik Sorenson’s oil painting ’Work, Administration, Celebration’ adorning the back wall. Alf Rolfsen’s three ornamental works dominate the rest of the hall.IMG_1486

The fresco at the bottom of the staircase represents Oslo’s patron saint, St. Hallvard, and the woman he tried to rescue.  IMG_1469

Upstairs, we walk through the Hadrade Room, named after the founder of Oslo city, the Munch Room with his painting ‘Life’ adorning the back wall, the Festival Gallery and the Banquet Hall with the portraits of the royal family.IMG_1477

The Krohg Room has fascinating frescoes on changing seasons. The City Council Chamber is an open political arena where the public is allowed to observe the proceedings and the Storstein Room where a mural depicts how human rights and the torch of freedom were carried from the French Revolution in 1789 to the signing of Norway’s Constitution 200 years back, in 1814.IMG_1499

We are delighted to see a replica of the Taj Mahal, a miniature marble piece, gifted by an Indian Ambassador.IMG_1502

At noon time, a twelve gun salute declares the birthday of Queen Sonja who turned 77 on the 4th of July, 2014, the day we happened to be visiting the Oslo City Hall.IMG_1482

Within a space of two hours, thanks to elaborate paintings, frescoes and murals, we get a whiff of the history and culture of Norway. We also get a sneak preview of the artistic, literary and commercial accomplishments of the country.

Each nation has a unique culture of its own. It is justifiably proud of its accomplishments. The fact that a nation chooses to showcase its essential character in a magnificent manner touches a chord within us.IMG_1506

Our thoughts wander to the basic concept of a nation. Given the diversity in cultural values, ethnic origins and aspirations of people across our planet, it makes eminent sense to let a collective identity get perpetuated through the concept of a nationality. This fulfils the basic need of a unique identity being acquired by a group of people. By it’s very nature, the concept of a nation is a truly democratic one.

Unfortunately, boundaries also create problems when greed, avarice and envy rule the roost and replace the credo of freedom, equality and fraternity!

(Related post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/a-trip-to-norway-the-land-of-the-midnight-sun)

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For those of us who live near the equator, it is rather baffling to sit down for dinner at, say, 9 pm and find that the sun is still shining bright outside the window. The digestive juices go in for an initial phase of revolt and the stomach refuses to accept any offerings coming its way! One somehow persuades oneself to gulp down a  few mouthfuls so as to keep the body and soul together. The sun reluctantly sets at an hour close to midnight and is cheekily up again at 4 am, waking one up in a rather befuddled state of mind!

Well, this is what happens when one visits a country near the Arctic Circle. The days tend to be much longer – upto 20 hours long – and the nights shorter. Also, the night sky never turns pitch dark. It always retains a dusky-hued feel to it. That is how, a country like Norway is also known as ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’.

A short trip to Norway – tucked away as close to the North Pole as one can imagine (between latitudes 57° and 81° N ) – was overdue for us for quite some time. Frankly, the Land of the Midnight Sun did not disappoint us! Like most of Europe, we found it to be immaculate, spick-and-span, and highly organized. The two cities we could visit during our sojourn were Oslo, the capital city, and Bergen, a commercial hub. The trip gave us a first-hand feel of the great country, its rich culture and traditions, and its warm and helpful people.

Norway has a geographical spread of 3,85,252 sqkms, which makes it somewhat larger than, say, Rajasthan in India. Population-wise, at close to 50 lacs, it happens to be smaller than Himachal Pradesh. As the largest cities in Norway, both Oslo and Bergen are small by international standards. Oslo has a population of around 9 lacs and Bergen has a population of only about 2.35 lacs.

 From Oslo to Bergen : An Enchanting Journey

The train journey between Oslo and Bergen is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys. One goes throughbabuji_028 awesome countryside with a stark beauty that is typical of Norway – endless forests, placid lakes, swamps, red-painted houses, cottages with grass roofs, and at the top, a trackless, desolate snow-covered mountain landscape interrupted by the odd frozen lake, even in mid-summer. Often, a single house quietly enjoying its isolated glory whizzes past us, surrounded by snow on all sides for miles together.

On the way, we get to experience the warmth of the people. A train conductor who sees us trying to get some coffee from the machine on the coach of the train finds us fumbling for coins of the right denomination. He comes up and offers a steaming hot cup drawn out of his own money. When we offer money, he refuses to accept it, saying we are his guests! We learn that Indians do not have a copyright on atithi-devo-bhavah!babuji_041

The mountains here rise to 1,300 meters; the Hardangervidda is the highest mountain pleateu in North Europe. It also houses Norway’s largest national park. There is a lovely biking trail through here, part of which is parallel to the railway. Eventually we arrive at Myrdal, a small hamlet boasting of few houses in the middle of nowhere that is the junction for a narrow-gauge railway to Flam.

The Flamsbana train is a star attraction. It runs up to 15 times a day, and takes an hour to descend more than 850 meters to sea level, down a steep-sided valley studded with cliffs and waterfalls. A taped commentary in several languages and overhead screens tell us all about it as we pass through. The train actually stops at one point, between two tunnels, so people can get out to view a stbabuji_043upendous waterfall. It is the Kjosfoss, that too in a frozen state!

The Breathtaking Fjords On The Way

At sea level, the first thing we see is a vast cruise ship, completely dominating the little settlement of Flam. It is on one of the innermost arms of the famous Sognefjord which is 204 kms long and up to 1,308 meters deep. Flam has become a popular cruise terminal with lots of tourist amenities, a superb little railway museum, hiking trails and a wide choice of sightseeing tours by coach and boat.

As the cruise ship navigates through the fjord, we marvel at Mother Nature’s virginity on offer. Crystal clear waters, mbabuji_047ajestic mountains with mirror-perfect images down below, absolute stillness and peace, pristine beauty, small hamlets surrounding beautiful churches after every few kilometers, and the  single odd house precariously perched – either on mountain tops or jutting out of the dizzying slopes. Occasionally, we pass by some magnificent waterfalls, their cascading waters making the only sound audible in the immediate vicinity.

The fjords were carved out during the ice age by melting water pushing its way under the ice, forming deep valleys in the mountains. The result as we see  today is a spectacular landscape. Glacier capped mountains rise more than 2,000 meters, steep above the fjords. Waters run as deep as 1,300 meters and we can easily navigate into the open North Sea. Between mountains and fjords, people have lived their lives since before the viking-ages.babuji_065

The ship eventually drops us off at another place, from where a bus whisks us off through enchanting countryside to a small town by the name of Voss. We  board the waiting train there and finally reach Bergen after another short and comfortable ride.

Bergen, A Commercial Hub

Bergen is a UNESCO world heritage city, partly because of its unique waterside, the Bryggen, which has been photographed so often it has become iconic. Originally a Hanse port settlement, it was run by German merchants, and no Norwegians – or women – were allowed on the site. On the neighborhood quay is the world-famous seafood market. And there are so many round trips to Fjords on offer that one is literally spoilt for choice.

Bergen is a lovely city, with a brand new tram line connecting new suburbs to the city centre, a spectacular fort, museums, beautiful parks, a new opera house by an artificial lake and a fountain, and so on. We visit an aquarium where sea lions, penguins and several other creatures of the ocean frolic about in their respective enclosures. The flower of Bergen is the rhododendron – there are about 300 different species and they love it here because of the mild climate and the rain.

The city is surrounded by seven mountains. There was a light drizzle, so we  take the funicular train up to Floyen, from where the view is inspiring as well as invigorating. It is fun to ride in coaches with a glass roof, affording a great view as the train takes us up 320 meters above sea level. The floors of the coaches are at an angle of close to 40 degrees, and it is interesting to get in and out. Once on the top, we appreciate how well the outlying islands protect Bergen from the North Atlantic weather. There is a restaurant and a well-stocked souvenir shop. Incidentally, all the places we ate at in Bergen made a point of serving only local produce in season – talk about sustainable living!

Oslo, the Capital City

Central Oslo has a typical big city feel about it. The architecture is imposing and the infrastructure is elegant. There is the Kon-Tiki museum, the Viking museum, several art museums and lots of parks and squares. It is easy to move around, as the city has an integrated transport system. We exercise the option of buying only a single ticket at a standard price; it is valid on trains, buses, metro, trams, boats, or all five.

The national gallery has wonderful landscape paintings. There is the Oslo City Hall where the annual Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. We also see the Royal Guard with military band parading up the main street to the palace for the changing of the guard – a stirring sight!

We are told that for a breath-taking overview of the city, one can take the tram all the way up to Holmenkollen where the newly built ski jump is. A climb up the viewing terraces leads one to the ski museum (the oldest in the world and absolutely fascinating). The adventurous can then take a lift to the very top. As well as a dizzying view down the run itself, there is said to be an impressive view of greater Oslo and a wonderful panorama of the bay with all its islands and headlands, as well as the surrounding mountains.

Major Tourist Attractions

Eastern part of Norway has stunning mountains and the Jotunheimen National Park. Northern part has the Arctic Circle and the Sami people, who are the original inhabitants of the country. For those who are fond of fish, there is salmon fishing.

Above all, one can not miss the spell-binding wonder of Aurora Bouraelis, or of  Northern Lights! Alas, due to bad weather, we are forced to cancel a visit to Tromso to witness this unique natural phenomenon. Also, on this trip, we miss meeting any lovable Viking a la ‘Hagar, The Horrible!’

We leave these attractions behind, hoping to come back once again and continue exploring The Land of the Midnight Sun on a future date!

General Information

Most people in Norway speak English as their first foreign language. The currency is the Norwegian Kroner. Even compared to other European countries,   things are pretty expensive. Both Oslo and Bergen offer tourist cards giving you free or reduced admission for museums, cultural events, tours, restaurants and parking, as well as free use of public transport. There are quite a few hotel chains which also run a line of budget hotels.

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