Category Archives: Phenomena

Not fish. Å, Moskenes, The Lofoten Islands, Norway. 2011

Å is a tiny little town that seems to have closed because we arrived few days out of “the season”. The only place we could get a coffee was at an old traditional bakery.
After being in Norway for the last two weeks, the more of Norwegian I hear the more it’s starting to sound a little like English and I have started to feel that I can catch little snatches of what is being said around me and understand some of it. As I was helping myself to some coffee at the counter in the bakery I could hear some Norwegian guys ask the baker, in Norwegian, where she was from and I heard her answer back in Norwegian that she was from Poland.


When the guys left I asked the Baker in English (just about everyone here speaks English) how a Polish person ended up in Å of all places. The baker was surprised that I knew she was from Poland and after a short interrogation from her we quickly got into a discussion about all sorts of things. 

I asked what the bread-like cinnamon rolls were called in Norwegian and she told me but said that was the local fisherman’s dialect for them and then went on to give me a bunch of other names that basically meant things like, spice roll, spice snails, cinnamon spirals etc. From this topic we moved onto the people of the Lofoten Islands and the way how they speak and what issues affect their dialect.

It turns out that the baker is an historian and we got talking about how fixated the Lofoten Islanders were on cod (torsk in Norwegian) to the point that when a Lofoten Islander says the word “fish (fiske in Norwegian)”, they are referring to cod and when they speak about other fish they mention them by their specific name.

 After hearing this, I suggested that perhaps we could simplify the naming of the little cinnamon rolls by calling them “ikke fiske” (not fish)!


The door of the Reinli stave church. Norway. 2011

Years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I was young in the early years of high school, I used to regularly read, amongst many other things, Scientific American.  On one occasion when I was flicking through its pages I came across a fascinating article about thousand-year-old wooden churches in Scandinavia, known as Stavkirke (Stave Church).

Apparently those crafty old Vikings understood wood so well that they were able to construct wooden buildings that were able to last almost a thousand years.  The fact that they are religious buildings is of no interest to me but I do find it mind-blowing that something made out of wood and left out to the elements could last so long.

Like many things that seem so impossibly unobtainable, I put my new-found fascination for stave churches and the desire to see one in person on the back-burners of my mind.  Forty years later on this trip to Norway I have been able to indulge my adolescent wish to experience a Stave Church first-hand. Two weeks ago I went to Reinli and was shown around a small stave-church there by a really wonderful Norwegian woman who told us all about it.  Not only was our guide knowledgeable, she used understatement deliciously.  As she told us about the founding of the Reinli church by Olaf Tryggvasson, she said, “he was the one who Christianed Norway, and he wasn’t very nice about it”.

As a reader of many of the old Scandinavian sagas, I have a bit of a soft spot for the old pagan ways, and I was happy to hear about how Olaf met his end at the hands of peasant farmers who resisted him as he tortured and killed his way across the land in the name of Christianity.  That was until I visited Maere.

Whenever we go on fairly long trips overseas, my ever-inquisitive wife, Engogirl, downloads the entire wikipaedia (without photos) to her laptop (if you’d like to know how to do this, check out WikiTaxi here) and as we travel through new areas she reads out aloud information about the places we pass through.  Maere has a church built on a small hill, where archealogical evidence shows this used to be the site of what is now known as a heathenhof (literally “heathen house” or temple).  With the aid of Wikipedia, Engogirl read excerpts from the Heimskringla saga that detailed some of the goings-on at this heathenhof.  Apparently there used to be blood sacrifices of animals and sometimes humans. The priest used to dip a sacred twig into the blood and sprinkle the attendees with sacrificial blood.  As soon as I heard this I remembered about reading Cortes’ reaction to the Aztec priests he met during those first fateful encounters 500 years ago in Mexico.  Cortes was disgusted and enraged (it usually didn’t take that much to tick him off) by the foul smell and the dark sticky coating of dried blood that covered the Aztec temples and its priests.

All of a sudden, the murdering torturer for Christ, Olaf Tryggvason didn’t look so bad.  

The door of the stave church at Reinli speaks volumes of the mindset of the people who built the church at the behest of bloody-handed Tryggvason.  Although the foundations of original church that was commissioned about 1000 rotted, and then the next version burnt burnt down, the metal fixings from the original door were saved and used in the door of the church that was rebuilt in the same spot (possibly in the 1200s).  On close inspection, the escutcheon over the keyhole shows two heads, one of which is Odin (due to the fact that he is missing an eye, but you can’t see it in the photo below). 


Sure, you can terrorise people into building a church in the name of your god, but the guardian of the keyhole that controls entry into the church is Odin.  Which goes to show who they thought was really in charge.  For me, one of the really great things about stave churches is they aren’t some precious little exhibit behind glass at a museum, they are rather large substantial things that can be approached closely and touched.  Our guide could see how thrilled I was to be so close to something so old and with such cultural weight that she handed me the key so I could put it through the old escutcheon, turn it, and open the door.  As sad as it sounds, I think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.

About 10kms north of Skora on road 15, Norway. 2011

It’s hard to take a photo in Norway, that doesn’t look like it belongs on a box of soft centred chocolates. Not that I’m complaining but I do feel such images could have been taken at just about any time in the last couple of centuries (the colour of the buildings do give a clue).


When I look at, and think about such images I’m reminded of the romantic landscape painters of the early 19th century.  All “beauty” but no real information other than the mindset of the painter.

The Post Modernists have said for quite a while now that photographs aren’t “documents” in an objective sense, because they are the subjective framing of small parts of reality that have been given significance and therefore changed into an artefact by the photographer’s choice of where to point their camera and click the button.

For me such arguments don’t ring true because I think the Post Modernists have gotten too hung up on “titles”.  Just as we once thought that the sun revolved around the earth because we assumed man was the centre of the universe. In short I’m saying all material things have a nature of their own that is completely separate from what we think of them.

We’ve all seen Post Modernists playing with notions of  “reality”, by staging photos to look “real” (such as fake murder scenes) when in fact they are still recording phenomena that has a reality of its own, independent to the intention of the “artist”. Sure you can stage a photo and call it anything you like (much like the surrealists) but the photographic apparatus has recorded a simulacrum of what we perceive with our eyes (because that’s what cameras are designed to do). The camera makes no intelligent decisions it merely records in a mechanical fashion what it was pointed at. Photographs are products of machines and have a “reality” of their own and are “documents” as much as a crushed rock that has been hit by a hammer. To give a scene a title to change its meaning doesn’t really matter one bit, because to quote Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name is still a rose”.

What a difference a day makes. Mount Dalsnibba, Strand, Norway. 2011

The top of Dalsnibba (about 1500 meters or 4500ft) is reached by a toll road run by the locals and it is well known for the views from the top…. if the weather is good. The first time we went there the summit was completely covered in very dense fog (cloud, really considering we were so high), but the tour buses kept coming and the hapless and ill prepared punters spilled out into the mist to wonder what they were doing there as there was very little to see, other than little cairns of rocks piled up by thousands of other visitors.


The woman in the picture above was standing, shivering in the cold (2 degrees C or just above freezing) while her male companion gave her directions as he took photos of her. When the photos had been taken, the woman bent down and picked up a rock and threw it quite hard at the guy with the camera, and hit him with a rather loud WHOMP! One couldn’t help but think she was nonplussed with being there.

The next day we (Engogirl and I) went back to the Dalsnibba with the hope of getting a better view.


Is Geiranger the best travel destination in Scandinavia? Norway. 2011

It’s a silly question I know, but I raise it because just about every reference to Geiranger I’ve come across on the net has things like ” voted best travel destination in Scandinavia by Lonely Planet” or “Geiranger is the crown jewels of the fjords”, etc, writen in them.

There is no doubt about it, Greiranger and the surrounding area is jaw-droppingly beautiful…… that’s if the weather is good. It would be very easy to go to Geiranger and not see much except for rain and clouds, but when the clouds lift it’s hard to imagine many places in the world that would be more spectacular.


I find it interesting that we as humans like to create hierarchies. The web is full of silly lists like “10 most beautiful places to wake up in” (Lonely Planet isn’t what it used to be and has much to answer for nowadays). Such lists tend to be written about places which recieve the most visitors, not necessarily the “best” (whatever that would actually mean and how could it be measured?). Luckily there are still quite a few very beautiful places left that are visited by so few outsiders that any publicity in their direction gets lost in the noise about the more well know places.

Mercifully, places like Geiranger which are so well known and crawling with tourists (like me)  are truly beautiful and seem to be able to withstand the influx of its many admirers. As for the other little gems that haven’t attracted the world’s attention, let’s hope Lonely Planet never hears about them.

My idea of Hell, and is schadenfreude a sin?


The reason why I didn’t identify where this picture was taken in the title, as I usually do, was because I didn’t want anyone to think that the lovely little Norwegian town I took the photo in was terrible. What I found Hellish was the concept of travel that some people would have us believe, is desirable. I think that for most people who haven’t done it, a cruise would seem like an ideal holiday. A cruise of the Norwegian fjords sounds even better. The trouble is that reality doesn’t match the sales brochures.

The Norwegian fjords are beautiful but I don’t think taking a cruise is even close to the best way to enjoy them.

When I was in Dubrovnik a few years ago there were four cruise ships in port and the place was overflowing with people who had been ferried in for a few hours to look around, only to be hustled back onto the boat before nightfall for dinner and departure for the next destination. I asked one of the passengers where they had been the day before and I was told “Venice”. Venice one day, Dubrovnik the next and Athens the day after.

Thank you MA’AM!

So back to the image above. My wife and I have been in Norway for 5 days now and it’s rained every day. the thing is that it usually hasn’t rained all day and there have been pockets of sunshine.  As I drove into Olden near the end of the beautiful Nordfjord I saw two cruise ships moored close to shore and the tiny town (population of about 500) was packed with hoards of tourist trudging through the rain with nothing to really look at other than a rather ordinary town with a supermarket and a few souvenier shops selling tat. There they were, hundreds of people who’d probably dreamed and fantasized for years as they scrimped and saved to go on a cruise to the fjords, wandering around in the rain with the view obscured by clouds and rain.

As if to mock the poor wet punters, an idle fake fantasy train (I really hate those things!) was parked by the cruise ship, devoid of passengers save its crew who lounged dry inside.

As I drove past I thought to myself, “you poor bastards!” …… Then I turned around and took the picture with a smug sense of schadenfreude…… as one does!

The trouble, as I see it, with cruise ships and just about any other kind of group travel is that they aren’t that flexible. You can’t just get off when you want, you have to leave when the tour operators want to leave and you have to suffer the further indignity of queueing up for things all the time, like buffets (bleeeegh!), checking into hotels, getting into coachs or ferries to shore etc. ad infinitum. 

When you are in such a large group you have a much smaller chance to interact with the locals other than to buy something from them. Although the Nowegians have a reputation for being taciturn, I’ve found them to be a friendly lot, who are ready to spend a little time with people, who have the leisure to show a modicum of interest in them.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011

Whilst wandering around Copenhagen last week we came across this very picturesque part of town that looked as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of assorted chocolates. The canal was spannned by a small bridge that had a little alcove poking out from the sidewalk where people were almost lining up to take photos from. One after the other we took our shots from exactly the same spot, to produce almost the same image in a Hockney-esque meditation into how time can divided up into little slices like a speciman being prepared for a microscope slide.


As I took in the scene I found myself thinking how we as humans like to congregate with other humans. Nyhavn’s picturesque nature attracts many visitors, and I noticed there were quite a few restaurants along the base of the colourful buildings that were full of people eating and drinking. I found it ironic that people wanted to eat in the middle of a “view” because so many people were milling around it, but the diners couldn’t take in the view because they were in the middle of it. Strangely enough, the other side of the canal, where the buildings weren’t so colourful wasn’t crowded at all although it offered a much better veiw of the part of Nyhavn (New Harbour) that was attracting the crowds. Surely it would be better to have the restaurants on the second floor of the buildings on the less crowded street so one could take in the full unobstructed scene.

Copenhagen is quite a small city and it’s mercifully flat which makes it an ideal place to go cycling. Fortunately the civilised and sensible Danes have built cycle lanes on most of the roads, so cycling around town is a real joy. The fact that cycling is encouraged in Copenhagen is lost on many of the tourists who choose to go on guided bus and canal boat tours to places that can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. They can’t have all been infirm, could they?

One of the problems with traveling is that it is very easy to get into the well worn rut that has is used to help separate people from their money and to keep them unfit in the name of comfort and convenience.

Our comfort zones are a death trap.

The Aurlandvegen snow road, Norway. 2011

Into every life a little rain must fall and in Norway they get more than their fair share. From an Australian point of view, Norway seems so green and of course the greeness is a consequence of rain. From a photographic pespective, there’s nothing more boring than a landscape that has either a hazy or a totally blue sky.

For the last two days it’s been raining but we knew that interesting scenes were waiting to be experienced. This might sound perverse but I love alpine areas in less than ideal weather. There’s nothing like freezing temperatures and a stiff breeze with horizontal rain to give you the feeling that you’re “out there”.


To hell with fine weather and the sort of scenes that belong on boxes of assorted soft centred chocolates!

Happy New Year from Sydney. NSW, Australia. 2011

I’ve been so slack with my blog lately.

I could always use the excuse that I’ve been caught up in the social whirl that is what the silly season is all about. I HAVE been socialising an awful lot of late, but that’s still not a good reason for not posting for so long.

Lately I’ve been wrestling with what direction this blog should go. One of the reasons why I have a blog is to practice writing about my early years of colourful stupidity. I know I have at least one book in me. The reason why I write about other subjects besides my past  is to show that I’m not a complete out-of-control-wingnut with poor impulse management. I guess the problem I have is trying to control how, many people are prone to pigeon-hole others. It’s just so easy to form a mental image of someone when you don’t have to use many words to describe them.

I once heard it said that autobiographies are just a self indulgent way to try to control how the subject is perceived and that biographies are much more relevant.

As I think about what direction I should take this blog, I’m constantly conflicted about how much I should expose. Then again, it’s such an act of hubris it is to think that anybody would be interested anyway. I have to admit that such thoughts are fleeting because of all the affirmation I get from my friends.

I think that friends not only enrich our lives, but they are also the benchmark by which we can measure how successful we are as human beings. It’s not success in one’s career or one’s finances that define us in a cosmic sense, but our relationships.

The last week has been a blur of feasting and drinking with good friends. One event after the other. In the short moments between engagements I’ve been catching myself counting my blessings. I feel so lucky on so many levels.

Yesterday I was at a new year’s day get together with one of my wife’s co-workers. I know most of Engogirl’s comrades in engineering and count them among my friends. As the evening wore on I got to hear many accounts of how people spent their new years eve. Sydney is famous for it’s new year’s eve fireworks. People come from all around the world to see the fireworks and each year the crowds get bigger. This year about 1.5 million people lined Sydney harbour to see one of the best and longest fireworks shows available anywhere on planet.

For the well heeled there are very expensive viewing positions but for most people, it’s a case of arriving at least 12 hours before the show to secure a good spot. Of course Sydney at this time of year is stinking hot and many people try to drink themselves into some kind of comfortable place. All along the foreshore in various parks are crowds of hot, sunburnt, inebriated people having a great time. The vast majority of people are in a splendid mood and there is a real party atmosphere.

Luckily for my wife and I, a friend of ours (Peter) has just bought a lovely house in East Balmain that has great harbour views and he invited us to his place to watch the fireworks in comfort. No cars are allowed in of out of Balmain after 3pm on new year’s eve, so we and Peter’s other guests (also our friends) arrived at about 2.30. Before we settled in, to relaxing with food and wine, we took the opportunity to have a walk around the nearby parks that overlook the harbour. Every vantage point had been taken hours ago and there were quite a few people already flaked out on the grass.

A multitude of foreign languages could be heard, and there were plenty of very happy light skinned northern Europeans working on character building sunburns.   

It was pretty easy to pick out the people who are used to living in such a hot and sunny place as Sydney.

The smart people just relaxed in the shade and saved the drinking for later.

Because of Peter’s invitation to his house, we were able to kick back in comfort, drink lovely wines and eat nice food as the day wore on. At one point in the evening, another friend of mine said to all of us at the table with a chuckle, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?” I replied to him, “some of us are sitting with their rich mates drinking their fine wines, in their beautiful houses!”  To which our host beamed with pride and said, “what’s the point of having all this if you don’t have friends to share it all with?”

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Watching humans develop. Seven Hills, NSW, Australia. 2010

A little while back, my friend Paul was talking to me about the latest drama he was having with one of his teenage sons. I thoughtlessly commented that I thought he was having so much trouble because he had spoilt his kids by trying to be their peer, rather than their parent. Paul smiled and replied to me, “that’s right, tell about how to raise kids now, when you don’t have any of your own, but know everything about it. Because if you have kids all that certainty and knowledge will disappear and you’ll realise that you haven’t got a clue”.

All around me, people I know are raising children, and when ever I visit them I feel like some sort of a low rent David Attenborough. Sitting aloof and feeling emotionally detached, watching their children as though they were animals on the Serengeti. Often when I see children around the two years old mark, I think about how they are at the point in their lives where they are on the cusp of superseding adult chimpanzees in intelligence.

When I look at very young children I sort of see them as little unreasoning animals that have immediate wants that have to be met without regard of anyone but themselves. For that reason, I never feel angry at them as they are screaming for something like food or attention. Such young children don’t have the developed intellect to reason or be reasoned with, therefore, it’s not like they’ve made a choice to “misbehave”, they’re just trying to communicate the only way they know how.

I always find it fascinating watching parents cope with crying children. There’s not many parents that aren’t immediately galvanised into some kind of action when their child cries. Every attempt is usually made to placate their little screamer. Food, attention, pleading, threats, distraction and just about anything that will quieten and pacify is tried. All the while, the parents are conscious of the fact that other people are watching them and judging their parenting skills.

Last week, my cousin Andrew (who I haven’t seen for twenty years) with his wife Midori (Green in Japanese), and child Sakura (which means Cherry Blossom) came to stay with Engogirl and I for a fortnight after fifteen months in Japan with Midori’s parents. Andrew is the brother I never had, and it was a real pleasure to catch up with him after so long, but that’s not what this post is about.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to observe a twenty month old child at close quarters. It’s been very interesting to watch the clash of cultures as different approaches to child rearing are applied. Midori, being Japanese is a very indulgent mother. It’s just the way the Japanese are. Japanese kids, from my (ignorant) western viewpoint,  are spoilt rotten until they are teenagers. The slightest little squeak they make is attended to, immediately.

Andrew on the other hand was the product of a very harsh, neglectful and abusive childhood and as such is very mindful about his duties as a father. Andrew has read fairly widely about child rearing and wants his daughter to have all the love and every opportunity that he never had, but Andrew also has a western attitude to discipline. Children will be made to understand their place in the world, which isn’t in the centre of it.

Both Midori and Andrew obviously love their child so much and each of them does what they think is best for Sakura. Midori caters to every need in an instant whereas Andrew tries to guide and educate. It’s like watching a struggle between the id and the super ego. On one hand there is the emotional response of Midori and the more rational approach of Andrew.

What I found interesting is that at twenty months old, Sakura is in transition from non-rational little animal into rational human. The animal part of Sakura is catered to by Midori and the developing rational part is appealed to by Andrew.

To paraphrase my friend Paul, I don’t have kids, so what do I know? In truth, when it comes to children, not much. I do find parents and young children absolutely marvellous to watch and think about though.

Everyone who met Sakura instantly loved her. Sakura is a total delight, so bright and lovely. A real little angel if there ever was one. Sure, she had her tantrums but they were few and far between and they were over fairly quickly, thanks to Midori’s Japanese placating mothering skills.

It was amazing to watch how quickly Sakura was starting to learn English and how well she responded to instructions. In short, it looked to me that Sakura was receiving the benefits of two cultures and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. A sort of cultural hybrid vigour, if you will.

Andrew and his family left for their home in Cairns in Queensland last Tuesday. Both Engogirl and I were surprised at how much we enjoyed their visit and how much we enjoyed having little Sakura around. Having said that, let me state the bleeding obvious, such young children sure do need a lot of attention and care.

On Friday night, Engogirl and I went to some friend’s house for dinner. Our friends also have very young children and both my wife and I found it quite interesting to watch undiluted cultural parenting skills. At first we both thought that the stricter western approach seemed right, but as the night wore on we both felt that Midori’s more indulgent responses coupled with Andrew’s rational instructions were more effective in getting the results they wanted.