National Geographic : 1971 Jul
Norway, Land of the Generous Sea is rocky slope or vast vidde-bleak plateau or lake or glacial ice. Forests cloak nearly a fourth in conifers and birch; scarcely 4 per cent is flat and fertile enough to take the plow. In length Norway spans 1,100 miles, more than a third of it above the Arctic Circle; yet across its bony throat, from fjord's end to Swedish frontier, the country is less than four miles wide (map, pages 10-11). So deeply does the sea insinuate that it carves a coastline almost as long as Austra lia's and strews 150,000 islands along the shore. Little wonder that 80 percent of Nor way's 3.9 million people live less than a dozen miles from salt water. "The land divides us; the sea unites," Nor wegians have said for centuries, knowing how sharply geography has shaped their nation and themselves. Land barriers long kept the country broken into petty kingdoms. Land hunger sent Norse men viking-plundering-and colonizing far corners of Europe and North America a thousand years ago.* And today farmers from remote mountain and fjordside homesteads are leaving the land for swelling industries in Oslo and Bergen, Kristiansand and Stavanger. BRASS BANDS and a great parade had heralded my own arrival in Oslo, Nor way's unpretentious seat of government, cultural capital, and largest industrial cen ter and port. It was Constitution Day, May 17, the anniversary of Norway's proclaimed independence in 1814 after nearly four cen turies of Danish rule (following pages). Every last one of the capital's nearly half million inhabitants seemed to be lining Karl Johansgate, Oslo's abbreviated version of Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysees. A bliz zard of red-white-and-blue flags fluttered as school children by the thousands marched toward Slottsparken-the Palace Park-for benevolent royal review. Many teen-agers wore scarlet caps and joked and pranced in ragged ranks like half-broken colts; they were the russ, students anticipating a traditional month of merriment and hijinks now that their secondary schooling was almost over. "It is like a happy children's crusade, ikke sant-is it not so?" An elderly spectator be side me at the curb had taken me, correctly, for an American. "Look at them," he said with an almost paternal pride. "No soldiers, no guns. No old war veterans with sour faces. Just children!" It was so, and fittingly. For all of Norse antiquity, the modern nation is one of Europe's youngest, born in 1905. (After the break from Denmark, it took 91 years more to shake off union with Sweden.) And the most reserved Norwegian observes the national birthday with a young and unabashed fervor. My curbside comrade ("Larsen," he said simply) acquainted me with the street ven dors' varme p0lser-slim tender hot dogs slathered with mustard and ketchup. As we munched our way along the greening Stu denterlunden-Students' Grove-near Oslo University, he outlined methodically what every visitor to the capital must see. In time I saw them all: The thousand-year old Viking ships, sweetly curved, eggshell thin, redolent of violence and glory. Kon-Tiki, the cumbersome balsa raft that conquered half the Pacific. The sturdy sailing vessel Fram, that carried Fridtjof Nansen north toward one Pole and Roald Amundsen south to the other. All these, I reflected-Norway's most famous relics-were things of the sea. There were others, of course: the brooding medieval Akershus Castle; Holmenkollen ski jump, poised like a great broken fishhook in the hills above the city (page 13); the art and folk museums (pages 8-9 and 42). And the in credible life's work of sculptor Gustav Vige land-75 acres of controversial unclad bronze and granite statuary in Frogner Park. Most often I found myself drawn to the waterfront near the Radhus-the Town Hall -to watch the interweaving wakes of ferries, freighters, workboats, and yachts. Osloites *Their tale is told in "The Vikings," by Howard LaFay, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April 1970. Generations without a gap: Camping on a busy sidewalk, a skylarking student wins a friendly word from a more senior citizen in Bergen, tourist hub for Nor way's fjords. Red cap identifies the girl as a russ, a secondary-school senior awaiting final exams. Each May the russ launch a month of fun and foolishness that the rest of the populace good-naturedly accepts in a land remarkably free of social tensions. KODACHROME © N.G.S.