Rock Carvings and Alta Museum

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The rock carvings at the Alta Museum are one of the iconic historical attractions for the city.  For the first time in five years since living in Alta we have got around to visiting the museum to see them.  When you get used to living with Stone, Bronze and Iron Age human marvels just three minutes drive away, complacency can be a monster.

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I have only ever known Alta with these rock carvings, making the city that more special, but the carvings are only a recent discovery.  (Without giving too much away…), the first rock carving to be discovered in Alta in the early 1950s was two feet underground.  A farmer was ploughing his field and unearthed it.  In 1977 boys playing on the west shores of Alta fjord stumbled upon a rock carving ‘field’ when pulling up moss from off the rocks.  Since then, a wide collection of carvings have been discovered in the same area from 6000 to 2000 years old and now the site is World Heritage listed.

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Alta has the largest collection of rock carvings in Northern Europe, at least; 6000 have been discovered.  There are lots of carvings scattered all over the smooth rocks along the water.  Many different designs, with different stories, some displaying rituals and worship scenes.

The museum has adopted one scene for its logo: six men in a boat (below).  Four are sitting down and are represented by single lines, one man has a bow and arrow and the other man is holding a tool or a net for fishing.  It has been suggested that the symbol is part of a ritual, perhaps to the gods for a good hunt.  There are many other fascinating stories and ideas about the carvings and to learn about them you are just going to have to come to Alta and discover them yourself! (Wink wink)

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The red paint used resembles the original ochre paint originally found on some carvings, which doesn’t effect the rocks but allows visitors to see the artwork better.  Along the route, newly discovered carvings are unpainted.  This is because they are still being studied in their natural form.  There is a great concern for the longevity for the carvings.  Because the moss has been removed from the rocks, the carvings are exposed to the elements.  Rocks are beginning to crack and shards of rock are starting to slide away.  The museum is half considering allowing moss to grow back over some of the carvings to help preserve them.

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Because the carvings are in an urban area, which was built up 300 years before the carvings were discovered, a few accidents have occurred, such as a telecommunications company inserting a mast for a power line into a rock without removing moss first to check what was underneath.  (Below)

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In between the rock carvings are sites where Stone Age houses used to be.  Many artifacts have been dug up from around the area including cutting tools and weaponry.

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Seeing the rock carvings was great for our family as we got to talk about how precious they are with the kids, we learnt about the people who made them, about the stories they made, and we made up a few of our own, however, the icing on the cake for me was the wonderful nature that surrounded the open air museum.

A boardwalk has been built around the rocks for easy access.  I must say, the museum was very smart with the placement of the walk around the carvings and along the fjord.  Just out of school in Australia, I was a trainee bush ranger and helped build walks in Mount Tamborine, Australia.  There are two main purposes of walks: 1. conservation – protecting the land from ‘footprints’, and 2. at every turn, (and there must be turns to keep the walk interesting), the walker should be presented with a new view that stops them and makes them ‘awe’.  The museum has accomplished these two goals perfectly.

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The lovely boardwalk winds around the area, showing off the natural habitat…

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…it takes you over a bridge and through the rocks…

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…between the fruiting Rowan trees…

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…past the grass roof fire place and BBQ area…

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…along the beach and up to the next sea side hill…

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…through the flower pastures already browning in the autumn sun…

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…all backlit from the southern sky…

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…through the fairyland of colour with berry plants and coastal moss…

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…past the old barn and into the open…

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…to a rest stop overlooking the Alta fjord…

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…and a coastal view for the way back.

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We chose late Autumn to walk through the carvings but summer, with the blooming flowers, would also be ideal.  In winter and spring, the site is covered in a thick layer of snow and therefore the carvings cannot be seen.  The Alta museum also has an inside display of historical findings and stories related to the area including displays on Sami culture and the war.  It has a small art gallery, a cafeteria and a souvenir store.

There is an entry fee (under kr90 for adults, which is exceptionally cheap for Norway) and the price depends on what time of year you visit, but children under seven are free.  You get two brochures about the museum and the carvings.  You can also select an audio tour which costs a little extra.  There is wheelchair access and the board walk has no stairs, though there is a steep climb on the way back to the museum building.  The museum is on the E6 and can’t be missed – it is the first thing you find coming into Alta from the south.

www.alta.museum.no

Borealis 2015: The Story

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Story is everything.  You may have amazing sets, beautiful costumes and striking lighting but if there is no action or character development, then the story goes nowhere.

Because Borealis is such an iconic festival in Finnmark, (and I dare say Norway), picking the right story to dramatize for the setting is vital.  I think about the local people, the audience, history, themes, meaning, and if the story can be brought to life on an ice stage.  The story I picked for the first opening show I did in 2011 was about the German occupation and evacuation of Finnmark.  This is not a happy topic – people were forced out of their homes and moved to Troms.  They watched their homes and towns burn while standing on the boats headed for evacuation ‘camps’.   It is difficult to find the beauty in such an ugly time.  However, to dramatize it I chose to tell the story through the eyes of nature.  We had a fire dragon, that burnt down all the houses, that battled with the snow dragon, that put out the fire.  We had a boy who was left behind and Mother Nature took care of him with an early spring.  We had dancing flowers and chirping birds, but seeing the sadness in the boy’s heart, for he missed his family, Mother Nature called the seas to bring back the people of Finnmark.  From scratch the people rebuilt their houses and towns, working together, helping each other.  Even though this story was about a dark chapter in Finnmark’s history, the show was well received, got great reviews, and I got to hug many locals saying thank you for bringing it to the stage.

2015 will be a bigger event because of the dog sledding world cup, but the story selection process is the same for me – local people, audience, history, theme, meaning and if the story can be brought to life on stage.  The only thing that has really changed this time (apart from expectations being higher) is the audience; it will likely be more international, with more international coverage.  So, I want to showcase Norway – Norway’s heart, history, legends.  The first thing that came to mind was: What is Norway’s grand-daddy story?  What is the story that made Norway what it is today?  What made Norway become a country?  And the answer to that goes all the way back to the Viking Age.

Norway has some strong founding stories – their independence in 1905, the signing of the constitution in 1814 and even the Eternal King, the fierce Viking Saint Olaf – but the one that took my fancy was the story of Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway, and Gyda.  Their story is about the unification of Norway; it is about love.

The most reliable story source is found in the Heimskringla, a collection of the Old Norse King’s sagas written almost four centuries later.  The section of story that I’ll be focusing on begins with the arrival of the severed head of the Petty King of Vestfold, Halfdan the Black, to his wife and child, Harald.  Halfdan unwittingly crossed a frozen lake on his horse while journeying around his kingdom.  The ice collapsed and he drowned.  As he was known to be a king of good seasons, meaning during his days the fields gave good harvests, they divided his body up and delivered the parts to the four corners of his kingdom and laid him to rest (in mounds that still stand today), in the hopes of continual good seasons.  His head was sent to his wife and son in Ringerike.  His son, Harald, just a boy, became King of the petty kingdom of Vestfold.  In Harald’s mischievous teens he defeated five kings from different petty kingdoms.  On one of his pillages he saw the beautiful Gyda, a Viking princess from the west.  He sent his servants to claim her as his wife but she refused.  She sent back a message that she would not marry Harald until he was the king of all of Norway.  Taking up the challenge (vowing never to cut his hair until he succeeded), Harald set off to conquer all the other petty kingdoms.  He battled for ten years around the land collecting kingdoms under his belt.  Those who fled by sea where settlers of Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, Canada and other places.  In a great dragon ship battle at Hafrsfjord, Harald defeated Gyda’s father, Eirik, King of Hordaland.  That was the turning point and Harald became king of a united Norway, cut off his long, long hair, and married Gyda.

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King Harold Fairhair takes over the kingdom of his father, Halfdan the black. Miniature from Flateyjarbok.  – 1394.

As a creator, I get to decide when to start and stop the story, what parts to leave in or take out, what order I want the story to be in (narrative), which point of view the story is told in, and even which themes I would want to dominate.  This means the show becomes my own interpretation of the story, and this is what is means to be an artist.  Rather than just giving a historical account, with no voice, I want to put in the struggles and sacrifice, the joys and the sorrows, the lessons and the growth.  This is what brings a story to life – the human quality.

One very interesting aspect from my research is about the difference in how Norwegians and I (an outlander) view the story of Harald and Gyda.  The story is known by most in Norway, though to varying degrees, as it is taught in school.  The general consensus is that Gyda was a bit of a gold digger, or, she is taught that way.  The Norwegian idea of Gyda is that she wanted power and riches and that is why she ‘convinced’ Harald to fight all the petty kingdoms to be the first King of Norway – because she wanted to be the first Queen of Norway.  Me, I didn’t read it like that.  In fact, I read it like a Shakespearian tragedy.  She gave Harald an impossible task, perhaps to make him give up his plight for her.  Maybe she believed he could never do it or even die trying and therefore saving herself from marrying him.  But he did it, and his last great battle was to defeat her father.  She lost her father and her kingdom because of her naivety and unbelief in Harald.  All she had left was her promise – to marry the King of Norway.  Making decisions, making promises, not only effects you, but your loved ones, generations, and in Gyda’s case, her kingdom and the history of Norway (as well as the settling of other nations).  This is the story I want to tell.

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Christian Krogh: Illustration for Harald Hårfagres saga, Hiemskringla 1899-edition.

The story of Harald is normally told through a patriarchal point of view but I think it is more intriguing to tell it through Gyda’s eyes.  Norway was one of the first countries to allow women to vote.  It is a country that focuses on equal rights and in modern history has always had feminist values.  Women have played a major role in shaping the history and ideology of Norway – take Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, for instance.  I think telling the story through a female’s point of view is quite fitting, and reveals one of Norway’s qualities.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be blood!  You can’t have Vikings without battle scenes.  And there will be amazing battles.  This is where I get to play around with dramatization.  In the story selection there are three major battle scenes.  The first one is with the 5 Kings when Harald is a jovial teenager; the second is when Harald begins to fight the petty kingdoms one-by-one; and the third is the great fjord battle with Viking dragon ships.  Gyda will have her scene too.  It will be about the power and knowledge of women with the natural world.  Gyda will not be an idiot; her challenge for Harald will initially be to chastise him – she will only choose him if she thinks he is worthy of her.  Though, she gives him a chance, a difficult one but not that unattainable, as it turns out.  There will be a scene of the aftermath; a morning scene where Gyda will regret her actions – her promise – as she walks among the bodies of the battlefield in search of her father.  The end scene will be bitter-sweet – Gyda faces her future.  Beautiful, hopeful.  And all this without a word!  The visual and musical imagery will need to carry the whole story.

The story isn’t complete yet – there are many more elements of the story that are being developed, especially through design, Viking art, and symbolic meanings, to create a complete work of art.  It generally takes several months to complete as inputs from other artists working on the show add texture and insight.  But, readers here on My Little Norway are very privileged indeed.  The inner workings of the story is not normally revealed this early in the process, and the population in Alta generally have to wait until opening night before knowing what the story is.  I hope you will enjoy this insider info on the Borealis show processes!

Freedom from Fear

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At the shopping centre I saw a drawing competition for children to win a ‘pirate raid’ at Ringo, a toy store.  The winners get one minute to run around the store and pick out anything ‘their heart desires’.

My kids and I enjoyed looking at the pictures by children aged 2 to 7, but there was one thing I noticed about the competition that made me a little hesitant to let my kids participate.  The competition required you to write your child’s name, age and your telephone number on the picture for all to see.

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Being Australian, my first thought was about security.  Posting up children’s information in a public place – name, age and phone number, which reveals a child’s sex and inadvertently gives access to home address information through the Norwegian online white pages service – is irresponsible and unsafe.  Such a billboard is a mini-market place for creeps and kidnappers.  Something like this would never be appropriate in the other Western countries I have lived in.

However, Norway, and in particular, Norwegian towns, have kept their innocence.  They don’t have to think twice if other people will abuse their private information or commit other crimes against them.  Norwegians feel safe that their community is good and respectful, that everyone essentially watches out for each other.  Norwegian communities are free of the safety concerns other Western countries face in their communities.

Freedom of fear is what everyone deserves in this world.  But, being brought up in Australia, my natural instinct is to look for potential safety hazards and take action (or no action) to avoid them, thereby protecting myself and my family.  It might also be the fact that I’m female, which adds extra pressure walking in a patriarchal world.  How I wish to have the freedom of mind and the feeling of safety as a Norwegian – to be free of the dark thoughts in the back of my head of what could possibly happen if I’m not careful.  This fear is hard to get rid of and it has taken me ten years of living in Norway to become more relaxed.  Now I can confidently walk down the street without having to be on guard.  No wolf whistles, no ‘hey, baby’s’, no shady characters tailing, no fear – Norwegian men are wonderfully behaved!

It has also taken me a while to loosen up about my kids too.  At first I never let my kids have play dates unless I knew the parents personally (it was smart in Australia), but that is not how Norway rolls.  I was very surprised one day to find Lilu’s first grade class outside my front door with her teacher telling everyone that it would be fun to play at my place because of the blueberry forest and soccer field out back.  We often have kids come round looking to play and I always ask if their parents know where they are and what their last name is (as the school gives out everyones name (child and parents) contact numbers and home addresses to all parents of the same class! and it’s good to know which kid you have got at your place.)

Boy, this freedom of fear is hard to get used to.  I’m stuck on the decision whether to keep my cautiousness, which feels like a recurring ache from an old injury, or to just let it go, become innocent again, and enjoy the peace of mind.  There are benefits for each but one is designed to prevent and the other could be reckless with believing nothing will ever happen.  Sometimes I see Norwegians and think, ‘you guys need to start protecting yourselves for Norway will not be innocent forever’ and the other times I envy their freedom, their peace of mind.

But, knowing my kids will grow up in a carefree environment, without the continual worry of safety or security is a great blessing.  When it comes to safety, Norway is a dream country, a country that everyone hopes for, a luxury that many countries have lost.  I believe the reason Norway has this freedom is because of its unique population spread.  Cities are small, towns are very small and dot the whole country but add up to most of the population; villages can just be a couple of houses.  It seems the human race does well in small communities spread out over the country side.  They look after each other better, they enjoy safety.  It’s only when you put us all together, cramped in blocked, high-rise housing, that there is a need for fear.

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Other observations about the luxuries of living in Norway:

(Above) A box full of high quality pens for all to share, as well as some wall-tack to put up pictures.  When we were drawing at the tables, the maintenance guy came up just to check we had enough wall-tack left for our pictures.  He was surprised that people had been so conservative with the wall-tack but was going to bring back some more anyway.  Norwegians have a habit of being considerate and are very good at teaching their kids this valuable trait.

(Top) In the first picture you’ll notice there are only a handful of drawings posted up.  Another thing that I love about Norway is that Norwegians don’t over indulge, especially when kids are involved, even when there is a prize.  There are no rules to the competition on how many entries you are allowed or age limits, yet Norwegians are very classy – they don’t try to beat the system by getting their kids to draw as many entries as possible.  In fact, some sheets of paper feature drawings from two kids, summing up to one entry.  When kids are involved the general consensus is that everyone gets a fair go (no one abuses the system), that participation is more important than the end result, and that community events are just fun activities to be a part of, not hardcore competitions – there are no losers in Norway.

(Middle) The middle poster says a lot about Norway by not saying anything.  There is no small print – no disclaimers, no rules on judging, no law statements, no penalties or disqualification warnings, nothing.  They are not needed as Norwegians play fairly, especially when kids are involved.  The competition is just a casual and fun way to draw attention to a pirate show that is coming, and is an opportunity for kids to display their drawings.  There were no rules on what they wanted kids to draw but for some odd reason (wink wink) the kids all drew pirates and pirate ships.  I guess the advertising worked – in the best passive way – not in your face, but by a little desk that was placed under the escalators with a few posters of a pirate.  If I hadn’t sat down next to the posters so my kids could have a shopping break, I would not have known the competition even existed.  Kind of uneventful, really.

As it turned out, my kids have their drawings up for everyone to see, along with their name, age and my phone number.  I guess trust wins the day.

Creating the Borealis Winter Festival 2015 Opening Show

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I’m the creator and director for the Borealis Winter festival 2015 opening show next year.  This will be the third time I have designed and directed a show for the ice stage and I am so happy to be doing it this year with the wonderful artists and dancers in Alta.

Borealis 2015 will be a bigger deal than most because the Finnmarksløpet (Finnmark race in dog sledding), which is a part of the festival, is hosting the international championship in dog sledding.  There will be more people and more broadcasters from all over the world.  (Not much pressure at all!)

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As I’ll be immersed in creating a show for Alta, Norway and the world, I thought it would be interesting for readers to get a glimpse into the creative processes involved in putting on an outside show on an ice stage in the Arctic.  I will be posting several articles about certain aspects of the show – from story and history to snow choreography and building ice stages.  The articles will be headed by “Borealis 2015″.

There will also be an opportunity to see the show live on the internet, as the High School’s media centre streams the show and they also have a youtube channel.

I hope you enjoy following the creation of the show.  (And if you have the chance, we’d love to see you come over for the celebrations!)

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