Thursday, 9 September 2010

Colours of Norway

I've just been on a business trip to Oslo, and one of my colleagues did the nicest thing possible - he lent me his card for the Oslo free-bike scheme. I spent every spare minute of my five days there zipping around on a bike - which in a very cycle-friendly city was a remarkably pleasant experience - before spending my one free day hiking in Nordmarka.

The thing that most struck me wasn't the price of beer, or the architecture, or even the fact that I was overtaken by a skier. (Yes, Norwegians ski in the middle of summer; obviously some technical adjustments need to be made, such as the addition of wheels on the bottom of your skis.) It was the amazing colours of the landscape, and the variability of the light.

In the morning, there's mist, dew, soft light with a hint of mystery. At midday, the light is cold, pure, strong; the sea shines blue-black, not wine-dark like the Med or turquoise like southern waters, but steely.

Everything is green. Last time I was in London, the grass was burned brown already; but in Oslo, trees and grass were bursting with greenness, a moist-looking, vivid light green that seemed to fizz with life.

In Nordmarka I found the viridian of sphagnum moss in the bogs, almost the colour of a tropical tree-frog, a slightly unhealthy green as if it had been forced or kept in the dark. And also red and pink-and-white mosses. Sunlight in the forest picked out a single fern against the scrubby undergrowth.

Here the rock is grey, pine roots brown, mud black. Birch bark shines palely; the trunks of pines are a light yellowy brown.

Another surprise was the bogginess of much of the terrain. The bones of this country are rock; but when it rains, the precipitation has nowhere to go, so it lurks in the rocky basins, making dark mud, and eventually bog. The rivers and lakes are brown with ironstain or peat residue. Only in the higher pine forests do you find drifts of pine needles, a delight to walk on, and huge ant-hills made out of these needles, like strange burial mounds.

Out on Bygdoy, the quasi-island west of the city centre, are tiny coves of black rock streaked with bright green seaweed. The sand is golden in sun, pale beige under cloudy skies; the sea dark green-blue under sun, grey to black when it's overcast.  Grey fractured rock at Paradisbukta, black whale humps of rock at Hukodden. Hay fields bright green, except one that had just been cut, where the grass was darkening as it wilted (and when I came back the next day, it had been shrink-wrapped in huge white rolls).

The colours of sunset; not the reds and purples I'm used to, but here was fiery orange, and even a green tinge just above the sunset streak. Intense, electric, strange.

And then I came back to a rain-sheeted, grey Norwich.

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