Thursday, September 29, 2011

more than the places I've been

Place I've Been (view from Tellaro bus stop), 2011

I feel a pull from the general direction of the Barents Sea, the Nordic countries, somewhere near Sweden, Finland, or Norway. A desire to head toward the open landscape and spare sensibility I imagine.

The raw and honest beauty of Tove Jansson's landscapes and characters. The places that inspired her trim prose.
It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It's as simple as that.
-Tove Jansson,
Fair Play
My vision of the snow covered landscape, the austere cabin, and Per Petterson's quiet and contemplative central character in Out Stealing Horses.
All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.
-Per Petterson,
Out Stealing Horses
And then there is artist Anna Emilia's weather diary. She treads gently on her landscape. Her delicately detailed paintings, a form of contemporary Folk.
The wind and rain outdoors play the most magical instruments. Anything they touch becomes a small echo. Anything they pass, becomes a small note. A cup of tea in left hand, a sketching pen in right one. Light is disappearing, candle flame dances inside shadows. These gray days the color of sleep.
-Anna Emilia,
Weather Diary
Yes, they are all really quite different, but careful observation reveals a definite thread. These are insider views, just a few pinpoints on the map of this vast landscape. A comfortable perspective perhaps only accessible to those born in the region.

Vendela Vida observes the stark landscape of the Sami from a different perspective. She has only visited Lapland three times. In Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name she writes of a young woman's search for truth in a subarctic climate she is experiencing for the first time, the land of polar night and midnight sun. During an interview Vida speaks of having fallen in love with Lapland in the winter, the subtle gradations in the darkness. She liked the way the physical landscape mirrored her central character's emotional state. I'm intrigued by her exploration of violence and forgiveness in this bleak landscape. My attraction equates to fear and curiosity rigidly standing side by side.
It was three in the afternoon when my plane landed at the Helsinki airport, but outside my window, dusk was already settling in like a bruise. I retrieved my suitcase, its handle cold, and stumbled to the tourist information desk, where a woman with good teeth and bad English helped me find a hotel near the train station. My plan was to take the first train north, to Lapland, after a night of sleep.
-Vendela Vida,
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
I wonder how it would feel. Could I love it more than the places I've been? This place where respect for the land appears inherent in its inhabitants, where they haven't forgotten the wilderness is wild.


  1. A sensibility for the wild, the stark. I can see its appeal - and such prose that you cite.

    Virginia Woolf's A Lady in the Looking-Glass, I would love to hear your impressions on it.

  2. "...fear and curiosity rigidly standing side by side."

    "...where they haven't forgotten the wilderness is wild."


  3. I too am seduced by these landscapes. I loved Out Stealing Horses for this very reason. I was also smitten by the Swedish tv version of Wallander (the BBC version is also filmed in Ystad, but it's more exciting to read the subtitles). But really, it's the lingonberry pancakes, baby potato salads, and smoked fish that draws me...

  4. This collection of words give such a lasting impression. I too wonder as you do.

  5. It's such a planet that we live on. I am often shocked and bewildered at what we've done with it (in some places) and that others like Jansson's landscapes remain as they are.

  6. "A desire to head toward the open landscape and spare sensibility I imagine." Here's to it! Feeling hemmed in this evening, I second your desire for open landscape. Perhaps I will do so through prose. To the bookshelf I head!

  7. cha sen, I've been distracted by Michael Ondaatje's new book and haven't started A Lady in the Looking-Glass yet. Soon. It's a darling little book.

    melissa, : )

    Sam, I am a big fan of smoked fish. My dad makes his own and it is the best.

    alexandria, Maybe we will meet up in Lapland.

    Nicole, It seems Mother Nature hasn't given up quite yet.

    gracia, Would love to know where your bookshelf took you.

  8. There is nothing like real wilderness. I've just returned from Europe and spent most of my time down the Balkan Adriatic Coast. For one week however I took my girls to where my father was born in the wilds of Montenegro. The girls loved it. Said it was the best part of their trip. A place where no tourists roam. A place where we feared an encounter with bears. A place that can be reached only by foot or donkey. The girls used words like magical, fantasy land, spiritual and primitive. True wilderness still exists though it can be difficult to negotiate and walk through. After months away and seeing famous tourist landmarks, it is the wilderness that remains permanently etched in our hearts. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. I, too, was drawn in by Per Petterson's prose in "Out Stealing Horses." From the first sentences that I read, I knew I was entering a stark and somewhat melancholy literary experience as beautiful as the setting the author was describing. I'll have to check out Jansson and Vida's works as well.

  10. And still - there are such different landscapes within Scandinavia... The deep forests and lakes in Finland, the largely built up, flat, wheat- and rapeseed field landscapes of Denmark and Southern Sweden (and Ystad), and then... the far North, with only crooked birch trees and then not even those at the very easternmost tip. Plains of heather and reindeer moving quietly. (I'll have to put up some more of my far North photos on Flickr.) Just reading your words I get homesick.
    Also, make sure to come by our house in Copenhagen when you do come.... :)

  11. I wrote a second, better worded comment, and the browser ate it. Not just sleep deprivation working against me these days.
    I grew up in the far north and I don't live there now - there is always a longing in me after that particular, barren landscape. I think you should go. I don't know whether you will love it. But I know that I do.

  12. Hello, dear friend. I've been reading through the many posts I've missed in my absence...

    I'm definitely drawn to the quiet introspection of this type of landscape - and like someone said above (although not quite about the landscape, but the writing), the quiet melancholy of it. I wonder if in my search for solitude I'd become lonely, though? I don't know.

    I would certainly love to visit Scandinavia some day, in all its wonderful landscapes as Anja describes. One day. Perhaps you'll travel there sooner, and I'll get a glimpse of it through your eyes and words, which would be a beautiful gift. Your words and photographs always are.


  13. I've always wanted to live in Scandinavia and hope to achieve my dream one day. How wonderfully these different extracts express all that attracts me to these places and what a beautiful photo. Thanks too for the reading tips, the Weather Diary especially intrigues me.

  14. Insider views ... I like that, particularly because the landscape looks as if there's no place to hide. I'm most intrigued by Anna Emelia's weather diary and the image of candlelight flickering inside shadows.

  15. these stark lands are places that I imagine being on the edge of this physical plane; they brush up on, cross over into other worlds.

    Vida's title "Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name" ah--what a knock-out!

    love all the perspectives you've assembled here, Denise

  16. I went to the Finnish Ambassador's house in Santiago last week and met a bunch of Finnish people who raved about their country (and their educational system--which is what the get-together was about)... I would say maybe not in winter though... one or two hours of light...gah!

    Annje (for some reason can't post with my google profile... boo)

  17. I think you could love it - how could one not? I've been contemplating of late my increasing love of autumn and winter, and the quietening stillness these seasons bring. The crisp evening air and the sense that all around life is settling down for the months ahead. Thank you for this post - it perfectly suited my contemplations. And I felt a strange aching when reading Per Petterson's quote... my desire for aloneness is one that appears often - especially at this time of the year.

  18. All I can say is serendipity comes over. Great post! Great blog!

  19. Marianna, Your children are quite lucky to have a mom like you.

    D., I hope you enjoy Jansson and Vida.

    Anja, I am intrigued by all of those different types of beauty. If you post on Flicker I'd love a link. And it would be very nice to see you in Copenhagen.

    Maria, I know what you mean about the loneliness. A definite possibility.

    Emily Vanessa, I do adore the weather diary. I've also just received some beautiful little note cards she created. Maybe we'll be neighbors in Scandinavia one day.

    Rachael, Interesting observation about there being no place to hide. I wonder how that affects a person, over time.

    Nancy, Yes, the edge. And Vida's title, I like it too.

    Annje, Winter and the lack of sunlight is pretty scary. I'm sure it can really get to a person.

    Annie, I am one of those people who need alone time, not always, but I do need my fair share.

    Edward, Not cool.

  20. I feel the same way--the bleak beauty, the sea, the starkness. I loved Liv Ullmann in the Bergman films-so romantic. Out Stealing Horses is one of my favorite books. I look forward to following up on some of the other references you make.

  21. i find what you write in between those grandiose citations invaluable.
    resting. my case.

  22. Jen, Hello. I hope you enjoy some of the other references. I have added Bergman's film, Persona, to my list of things I'd like to do soon.

    n, Oh, good. Thank you.