Author Marie Jervis
Michael Jones, The professor of geography at the University of Trondheim and Kenneth Olwig, the professor of Landscape Architecture at the Swedish university of agricultural science at Alnup have pooled their contact list to produce definitive work on the Nordic landscape: Nordic Landscapes Region and belonging on the northern edge of Europe.
A who’s who of experts has contributed to the book, published by the University of Minnesota press in cooperation with the Centre for American Places at Columbia College Chicago in 2008. These huskies are a team, and they all pull all day. There are no weak links.But to appreciate the scale of learning and the incisive expression of important new ideas one has to read the whole book. Which is a problem of scale, as the index to the book begins at page 589. The scale question is addressed in the text in another context by Anssi Paasi in connection with mapping the Finnish landscape. While mapping the Finnish landscape might be taken as a labor of Hercules, so in a sense is getting to grips with the thoughts of around twenty contributors. Reading, like mapping, can be a long process but both are sometimes necessary and often immensely worthwhile. The book is divided into sections covering Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Some sections have appeared before in Swedish and Finnish, and the contributors ride their hobby horses with determination and skill. Overview sections describe the connection between the three Scandinavian countries and the Finno -Ugric one, and the far flung outposts of the Nordic influence in the north Atlantic, Iceland, Greenland and the Faeroes all get due space. What doesn’t get fair space – and I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere – are the Hebrides, on the constitutional grounds that they were taken from Norway in the fifteenth century and are now strictly speaking part of the U.K. This annoys me, as my maternal family has links to the Macdonalds of South Uist, one of whom furnished a Napoleonic Marshall whose name is commemorated in the Paris equivalent of the M20.
Although it would be useful to have some background knowledge about the history of the region, (and no better work for this exists than Griffiths, Scandinavia, which is now available in Korean, so seminal has it proved to be) absolute beginners are welcomed by Jones and Olwig at the stuga door, so to speak, who provide an amazing insight into a world that could in part be an experience of science fiction, so odd are some elements of the landscape and some behaviour of its human inhabitants. One does not need to know what Norden means to scholars or dream in Swedish to enjoy the polyglot and overarching detail of the mass of information assembled. If you can digest and remember this, you will be an expert on regional trivial pursuit. Questions about Darlarna, whaling, wolves, West Greenland and the Danish West Indies are all addressed. At the end of their adventure in digesting the contents of this book its purchasers will know the answer to such questions as “do bears still roam in the wilds of Norden, and are they dangerous?” This is such a good question I will answer it and it is not good news. A bear killed a jogger out for a run in Finland on June 17, 1998. Ari Aukusti Lehtinen in the chapter on what it was like to live in the forest of Eastern Finland puts the rare tragedy in context. Throughout the ( in my experience normally) rainy summer of 1998 the whole of Finland was talking about the gradually increasing numbers of bears deciding to live close to settled areas, and interrupting the carefree pleasure of mushroom hunting or berry picking, to which the Finns are addicted, like milk and alcohol. Its thought that Finland now has about 1,000 wild bears living in the forests and recreation hunters (who are many in Finland) apply in equal numbers for licenses to shoot bears, despite the fact (and you can hear a Finnish accent when you read this aloud, stressing the first syllable of every word)
several hundred Finns are killed annually in traffic accidents, but no strong voice emerged against the growing number of private cars. Moreover, even though traffic accidents with the semi-wild elks result in approximately ten human lives lost in Finland every year, no agreement on reducing the elk population has been reached.
You will need a glass of milk after thinking about that. This book is not about teddy bear picnics, but about the relationship between humans and landscapes over the period of Norden settlement in one of the most picturesque and interesting regions of the world. The authors and their contributors have produced a lasting work of reference which is of interest to all students of geography, history, foreign policy, ethnology and the vexed question of national stereotypes.
A book like this can and does go anywhere, but not everywhere. Businessmen and women in Norden are as curious as bears and what they do in the landscape is as riveting. All Scandinavians know that in the words of ABBA, and funny isn’t it?
Money, Money Money
It’s a Rich man’s world
Rich men now are part of the landscape in Norden, although for centuries there were only poor people living there. Even the kings, barons and counts were hard up, although the bishops fared better on the whole. I have noted curiously discordant signs in the activities of the entrepreneurs and investors who roam the capitals and man the stock exchanges and sit in suits on boards as well as nude on rocks. To take airlines as an example, but one could take ferries, as transport is part of the hard landscape, and as germane to the history and geography as road crashes. How did Finnair get away with canceling Finnair flights from Mariehamn to Helsinki in the twenty- first century, thus depriving passengers from seamless travel from Aland to other Finnair stations? Aland is part of Finland, thanks to the League of Nations rather than the wishes of its population, and one would think that in modern democracies ,with constitutional rules to enforce the noble inclinations of social democracy, the part should be treated equally with the whole. So why does SAS function like a 30 year old doctors’ Volvo? Why is it that SAS subsidiaries are more or less on a par with Turkish budget carriers where safety is concerned? Just after 9/11 SAS was not responsible for a crash in Milan (which was Italy’s worst airline disaster ever), but travelers climbing the ominous anal stairway into the ancient derriere of an MD plane must wonder why they have to fly in such aircraft as the one which very recently left so many Norden and Spanish passengers dead after catastrophic failure. The systems of norden usually work well, so why do tragedies like the Estonia Ferry sinking and the Spanair prang happen in such well ordered and technically advanced engineering landscapes? Anyone who has the misfortune to step aboard Finnair or Scandinavian Airlines System and take a holiday or work in the region has more cause to worry about the safety record of Norden’s off shore company subsidiaries than the fatal chance encounter with a mother bear.
This reviewer is not attacking the authors for what they did not say- the fate of all writers of contemporary history, as Voltaire has observed -but praising them for what they did.
In her chapter, Kirsten Hastrup opens the reader’s mind’s eye to the world of volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, and sulfurous pools of Iceland. Now fleetingly famous for having the worst managed economy in the western world, Iceland will outlive that blip on its radar screen. Iceland, as an island with a distinct name appeared officially in the 11th century. An Irish monk Dicuil was given credit for mentioning it in writing as Ultima Thule in 825. In Iceland, Hastrup shows, landscape and language have a poetic power as
Rocks and mountains tower over daily life, and, due to their magnitude, both in terms
Of sheer enormity and of impressive beauty, they are almost personified and seen
more as social than natural features.
Finland has a bear fixation, putting bears on jigsaw maps of the country, Norwegians consult the trolls at the bottom of the gardens before going away on an important jouney, and Iceland has troll-rocks. Its history is defined by ice. It owes its name to drift ice in the fjords, and was a place where starving polar bears landed and went foraging, and guess what the ate when the got hungry. Icelanders. Arne Thorsteinsson in his chapter shows how much safer a Viking would have been to have chosen to settle on the Faeroes, which were sheep islands in fact as well as name. Viking emigration led to the establishment of Norse farming communities in areas inhabited by Celts on the islands of north and west Scotland, Ireland, and on islands in the North Atlantic. (As earlier noted, South Uist, North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, which are grossly underrated in importance by the editors, who give the Western Isles and all they contain less than a sentence in one reference on page 554, although to be sure the most important fact is mentioned, that Scotland took the area off Norway in 1468.)
If the reader is denied knowing more than he needs to know about landscapes in the Hebrides, he or she is over -supplied with compensation in a fund of data about Greenland. One will find that Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, stands out as an example of modern urban landscape in the Arctic. Bo Wagner Sorensen explains just how it is that Greenland’s vast Arctic expanses are inhabited and how it are that they Inuit are heroic survivors with a fascinating ability to adapt. Without fascinators obviously, take a look at the photo of Nuuk and recoil and understand why this area is such a magnet for the robust and the intrepid.
Regional identity in historical Sweden is described brilliantly by Ulf Sporrong , who wrote both on Darlarna. Like all field working geographers, he took masses of photos himself, and the heath landscape, the Kalix River, and an example of the ubiquitous iron works which turned Sweden into a great power illustrate the extent of his skill. He has written a few deft paragraphs on Astrid Lindgren, one of my favorite authors, who immortalized, to a world audience, the countryside where she grew up.Lindgren’s brilliant stories about Bullerby replicate the farms and buildings of Vimmerby. If you like Pippi Longstocking it’s rewarding to dig a bit deeper about the reality behind the fiction.
Sporrong’s material on Darlarna is tremendous, and it’s worth starting reading the book if you are doing it for pleasure not learning, so open up to page 192. From there you will be painlessly introduced by postcards to the romantic landscape, towers, lakes, churches, forest, and the maypole (I wonder what that could symbolize? my spell checks abc gave me male pole).
To me, Henning Mankell and his crime novels tell you all you need to know about Skane. Scorn is how it is pronounced, and it is usually wrongly rubbished as the Danish bit of Sweden. This is covered well in the contribution by Tomas Germundsson. I purchased a loom myself at Glimakra in this part of the world, which is truly beautiful. The postcard illustrating Skane’s charms (as opposed to the ingenuity of
brutal criminals Kurt Wallander kills in Mankell’s novels) shows just what the driver to Stockholm will see when rolling along past windmills, barns and receiving Greetings from Skane. I was particularly enchanted by the material on Baron Rutger MacKlean, Skane’s answer to the Grachii brothers, an agrarian reformer if ever there was one. Gabriel Bladh in Selma Lagerlof’s Varmland shows the winter landscape in Finnskogen, the Finnish woods, explains why there was a Finns’ wood and what it was doing on the Norwegian landscape. Here you should know that spell check prefers Algernon to Lagerlof’s. Forgive me my following SAS practice and throwing away Norden orthography in the interest of world understanding. I did this deliberately to annoy the pedantic. There is a sign to seen in the SAS timetable and www custom, and that is saying that SAS is a world airline and its directors think that insisting on putting funny little marks across the top of vowels is distracting and off putting in the global landscape. Bladh too has taken photographs, and as one who has survived to tell the tale a mid winter Finnish smoke sauna and an involuntary roll in the snow thereafter I was particularly taken by the shot of the smoke cottage owned by a local folklore society. Finnish was spoken in the area until the 1970s. Make what you will of the comment “The Finnish language was not promoted”. Perhaps we cannot blame the Finns for chopping the best air connection to Mariehamn.
Maghareta Ihse and Helle Skanes describe the Swedish Hagmark landscape, Michael Jones defines two landscapes in North Norway, Anders Lundberg looks at Western Norway in a case study, Ingvild Austad and Lief Hauge explore the fjordscape of the Inner Sogn (as I did in a Citroen D20 Safari, equipped with a 1903 Baedekker, forced off the road at frequent intervals by no-surrender Saab driving locals). If your taste runs to agropastoral (and whose doesn’t) try Ann Norderhaug. Which brings me to Mead. W.R. Mead. Whose geography book on Finland ,with its hairy cloth covers in bilious yellow, drove me to research the Fennomen and the Svencomen and all the other fortunate alcoholics in the Scandinavian east of real Europe. Nils Stora has a great section on Aland, where I have spent many a gloomy midsummer watching rain fall on the Maypole erectors, Maunu Hayrynen does a good job on Finnish landscape identity as does Anssi Paasi. I can say 200 grams of meat for the dog in perfect Finnish, so this book has captivated me. Finnish dogs seem to recognize it, although it stumped Inspector Rex in Florence. Even if you a not interested in comparative philology and how a nation can get by without conjunctions, its impossible not to be swept of your feet by Venke Asheim Olsen’s chapter on the Landscape in the Sign. This section focuses on the local and heraldic arms of North Norway, but goes beyond the predictable in painting pictures of a broad variety of cultural identities. The researchers on gender in Northern Norway have come up with the term “flexible sex”, and the investigation of this concept and others like it give pictures of reality which are though-provoking to a disturbing extent. Signs are everywhere in Norden. Polis, Infart and, signs warning of driving off ferry landings, hitting elks. Signs explain, warn and direct. In Norden you will find in advance if you keep your eyes open early notice of border crossings and the Customs, an sex shows on the Swedish-Norwegian border. If you want to be alert what the environment means, portents and illustrates, this is the book for you. Look to the sky, the earth and the ground and read this book to know what the Signs mean as well as any ancient astrologer.