Midnight Light in Oslo

Each time I return from an assignment to the kind of country where such things as paved roads, existence of & respect for traffic lights, and public water supply that’s free from unwelcome microbes are taken for granted, it’s an interesting shift in my own perceptions and expectations. The question friends most often ask about each new assignment is “what’s the food like there?” I remember asking a similar question, before I started working in resource-poor settings, of a friend who’d gone with Peace Corps to Togo a few decades ago. He answered with a basic truth I’ve come to understand viscerally – that food in the sense of a cuisine that you’d want to talk about, write home about, or visit a country for, is the preserve of nations with a history of sufficient social stratification & wealth concentration to allow at least some people to consider food as pleasure, not simply hard-won necessity for survival. Two hundred years ago (heck, probably one hundred), most residents of Europe and the US very rarely had the chance to take pleasure in food, more than just ensuring enough to survive. Although extreme hunger is globally reduced, still hundreds of millions of humans devote a lot of their days to just finding enough food for their kids and themselves – many concentrated in places where we work. (Here’s a quote from the WHO’s page covering malnutrition: Around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition. These mostly occur in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, in these same countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising.)

The same applies at national scale to investment in public architecture and parks, bridges that are beautiful as well as functional, streets which are clean and free of potholes or, in the case of many countries I’ve visited, even paved at all.So my senses greatly enjoyed a training visit I was able to make to Norway shortly after the end of my assignment in Central African Republic. Oslo is a gem of a city situated among gentle hills at the top of a long fiord, with abundant public sculpture and lovely architecture such as the parliament building (above) and the opera house as centerpiece of an ambitious waterfront urban-redesign effort (below). Since I enjoy art and architecture, I appreciate when governments and societies are able to invest in making them available to the public, not just hidden away in private residences and collections. The training was only three days – but since daylight was very nearly 24 hours each day, there was lots of evening time to explore along with some travel-day time before and after. Photos of specific buildings and such will usually have a title that says what it is. Enjoy these photos!

The city not only has abundant public sculpture and art but also some great museums. I think I’m allowed to post the photos above with I took at the National Gallery — Norway’smost famous artist’s most famous painting, though I’ll admit I actually found the other paintings I photographed more emotionally and visually engaging, if less dramatic. And I learned about a new artist, Gerhard Munthe, through the special exhibit of his work. Despite being a fairly populous capital city with a long history as port and harbor, Oslo still has a lovely little river that cascades down through the heart of it, and many public fountains as well. I walked along the river or enjoyed the fountains on the long evenings as much as I could :-).

This photo of clouds against a darkening blue sky was taken just after 21:00 (9pm) on June 20th, while the next shot of a dark-ish sky over buildings was taken just past midnight. Fun 🙂

One response

  1. Hi Paul, thanks so much for these evocative pictures of Oslo around the time of the summer solstice. What an interesting-looking city it is! Wasn’t “The Scream” actually stolen a few decades ago and then somehow recovered? One thing I vaguely remember from my own trip to Oslo many decades ago was that weird, interesting Vigeland sculpture park with its carved stone column/totem of people seeming to writhe and climb upwards. If you put the Vigeland sculptures together with the Munch paintings, Norwegian visual art seems pretty strange and interesting.

    September 2, 2018 at 09:03

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