Notes from the edge of Europe
I sit in a Lutheran church, reconstructed in the 1950s after the Nazis shelled and bombed northern Norway in their retreat southward from Soviet forces. The Russians are seen as heroes here, the only place in Europe where they invaded and then left, retreating back to Russia as promised. A large statue of a Russian soldier with a hammer and sickle emblem at his feet towers over the Norwegian community of Kirkenes.
Located above the Arctic Circle, the community has been attacked by a storm all weekend. Granular sleet, hail, snow, and freezing rain drops are carried by the wind until the streets are covered in a slick ooze of ice and slush. As the bells begin to ring for high mass, they are accompanied by the scream of angry winds whipping through the open portals of the bell tower. The sun already sets well before 4pm here and it is dark outside. A young priest stands with his back to the congregation, which includes 70 Norwegian pre-teens awaiting Confirmation after spending the day fund-raising for dementia prevention and care. A host of tall white candles at the altar flickers and dances as the Arctic winds howl in the spaces between solemn church bell tones. The organ booms and drowns out the wind.
Later, as I walk home under a nearly full moon and the first clear sky in days, I pass by numerous little wooden homes, all built after the war and painted in an array of colours. As is typical in Scandinavia, small glowing lamps or white candles glow in nearly every window to lend a cozy charm to the winter night. It is quiet except for the occasional crow or ship horn in the distance, and the shadows of thin spindly trees dance over the white icy ground.
While I may be in Norway for research, it is evenings like this that will stay with me long afterward.