National Geographic : 2009 Jan
• Out here on the Bygdøy Peninsula, visitors can spend days rambling through splendid muse- ums that house ancient Viking longships, 19th- century shing vessels, even or Heyerdahl s famed balsa wood ra , the Kon-Tiki. But the most striking of Oslo s nautical tem- ples is a pointy glass-and-metal structure that rises from the waterline in the shape of an enor- mous letter A. Inside, basking in the filtered light, sleeps a sturdy wooden schooner, built in 1892, called the Fram. Fram (which means "forward") is perhaps the most famous ship in Norway s long seafaring his- tory, and an icon of polar exploration. Nothing about this fat-bellied ark would begin to suggest the grueling odysseys it has endured. e story of the Fram is a modern Norse saga, a story of unimaginable hardship and intelligent striving that is closely tied to Norwegian national iden- tity. e boat itself is an engineering marvel--- its reinforced hull having withstood three years gripped by Arctic ice. True to its assertive, full- frontal name, Fram bored farther into the frozen latitudes than any vessel had before. e prime mover behind the Fram, the bril- liant and moody scientist-explorer who com- missioned its construction and led its insanely dangerous maiden voyage into the polar mists, remains a national patriarch. His name is Fridt- jof Nansen, and although today he is not as well-known outside Norway as other marquee polar adventurers---Peary, Scott, and Amundsen--- he should be. For Nansen was quite simply the father of modern polar exploration; all others were, in a very real sense, his acolytes. Nansen was a strapping blond man, fair com- plected, with a frosty stare and a truculent face that seemed slightly at odds with the refine- ments of his intellect. Nansen stood apart from the quixotic glory hounds who characterized much of polar exploration s golden age. Call him a Renaissance Viking: He was a gi ed writer, a sought-a er lecturer, a rst-rate zoologist, and a prominent statesman. Fluent in at least ve languages, adroit with a camera, he made beau- tiful maps and illustrations, kept up a volumi- nous scienti c correspondence, and brought an element of cerebral precision to all his explo- rations. A contemporary German scientist said of Nansen that he "knew how to handle the microscope as well as the ice axe and skis," and his scienti c achievements were notable, includ- ing a groundbreaking paper on the nature of the central nervous system. In 1888 Nansen led the first traverse of Greenland---with typical understatement, he called it a "ski tour"---but he missed the last boat home, forcing him to stay the winter hunting seals, learning to kayak, and living with Green- landers. is experience formed the basis for his acclaimed account, e First Crossing of Green- land, published in 1890, and a lively ethnology, Eskimo Life. Following his Greenland adventures, he became a leading proselytizer for the sport OUT IN THE COLD FJORD, on a spit of rocky land just a short ferry ride from the city center, Oslo has created a kind of national cemetery for famous ships. It s a Norwegian thing---what other country would build public crypts around its most beloved boats and enshrine them for the ages? [ BY HAMPTON SIDES ] Hampton Sides explored the life and times of frontiers- man Kit Carson in Blood and under, one of Time magazine s ten best books of 2006.