With a year passing since the dreadful attacks by Anders Breivik in Oslo and on the island of Utoya, not a few have noticed how deeply Germans seem to have been affected. For a goodly number of Germans, something seems to have shattered in their souls. They have been obsessing about the events of a year ago, spilling tears, lamenting the loss of a mythical peace-loving Norway (despite the fact that Norway was at war at the time), feeling that the small Germanic nation in the far north has fatefully stepped out of the Garden of Eden. Why?

I would suggest that Norway comprises, subconsciously and even now, the heart of the mythological Aryan utopia. Here is the pure, untainted Aryan race; here one may find the old myths that speak of human origins above the Arctic Circle rather than among those Semites of the Fertile Crescent; here blond, broad-shouldered men and wide-hipped women frolic in the mountains, forests and fjords; here peace, equality and justice prevail. ‘Subconscious’ of course, but one may trace these lines in the rediscovery of the power of myth in the 18th and 19th centuries, the argument that the Nordic myths spoke of a Herrenvolk that originated in the north, all of which mutated (when it became less than respectable to hold such opinions openly) into the Indo-European hypothesis.

A hard-hitting an honest article from Sindre Bangstad, an anthropologist from the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo. The full article (in Danish) appears in Politiken.

It opens with:

Norway has produced Europe’s first anti-Muslim terrorist. It seems, however, that the public narrative about him and his actions will not accurately emphasise what is said concerning the direction Norway as a society has taken in the Islamophobic era.

32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik’s intense hatred against multicultural Norway in itself would not have been an obstacle to significant parts of the Norwegian population defining him as ‘one of us’.

Norwegian opinion polls show, after all, that an overwhelming majority of respondents from a representative sample of the population do not want more immigration to Norway at all, and that nearly half of those surveyed have no hesitation in banning Muslims from wearing the hijab in public places – all in the name of state-sponsored feminism.

However, through his acts of terrorism, Anders Behring Breivik has become ‘one of them’ – a human being we are free to hate. It is easier that way. For peaceful Norway and the peace-loving Norwegians represent themselves as the embodiment of universal goodness. So it will always be.

No matter how many bombing raids Norwegian pilots conduct in Muslim countries, no matter how many innocent civilians are killed by Norwegian soldiers in the same countries, and regardless of how much the public debate about Muslims and Islam in Norway has been wallowing in the gutter, one thing is clear: We will not face the hatred in our own eyes.

(ht cp)

Having lived in Oslo last year for about four months, the tragedy in Norway feels a little closer to home. It’s a shocker, a direct assault on the strong social democratic fabric of Norwegian society.

However, the right is, as usual, very swift to assert its narrative on events. Initially, there were suggestions of Al Qaeda, but as soon as it became clear it was not – the man arrested is a 32-year-old Norwegian, tall, blond, blue-eyed – the media was full of the ‘lone madman’ hypothesis.  ‘A Madman’s Work: 91 dead in Norway attacks’ trumpets the bourgeois Sydney Morning Herald, in tune with the Murdoch paper, Perth News.

But then, contrary evidence began to roll out: Anders Behring Breivik is a self-described conservative Christian, his blog posted anti-Islamic and anti-gay attacks, as well as criticisms of Norway’s well-established multiculturalist tradition. And he bombed and shot the offices of the ruling Social Democratic Party, as well as the S-D youth camp, where many of the left’s future leaders may be found.

So how does the liberal bourgeois and right-wing media respond? The Australian and The Daily Telegraph (Murdoch rags) stress that it is ‘too early’ to make any connections between his right-wing views and the attacks. Or the mind-boggling argument that he may have expressed such views, but that he has ‘no known links to hardcore extremists‘. They all cast the comments of a police spokesperson in such a light. While he emphasises that the attacks had no connections with Al Qaeda, the comments are framed in a way that leads to the conclusion that he had no connections with any organisation at all. (Although the Zionist blog, Gates of Vienna wants to maintain that he is both right-wing and a jihadist!)

Thankfully, the Norwegian and Swedish media are more sane and realistic. The chief editor of the magazine Expo, Daniel Poohl, points out that it is important that people understand that this was not a lone man who has run amok. According to Poohl, ‘This is not a lone lunatic. He is part of a political battle. His actions are a consequence of the world of ideas in which he exists’.

A new piece with exactly that title over at Voyages on the Left.

This question has almightily puzzled me for many a long year and it is always enhanced when I visit that strange little country. Don’t get me wrong; I have for some strange reason an increasing number of English friends whom I love dearly, but in this case the parts are definitely more appealing than the whole. Most recently, it came up once again with the snow that has fallen there. A few snowflakes appear and the roads are closed, trains cease running, airports come to a standstill, people can hardly get to work, the government ponders an inquiry into dealing with that fluffy white stuff … WTF! In Oslo, I left in early November during a snowstorm. No worries: snow ploughs were out, planes were de-iced, runways cleared, winter tyres were on, cross-country skis came out, people enjoyed a crisp turn – in short, life went on as normal. So too in Canada when I was there a couple of decades ago. But England; no, complete chaos with the hint of cold weather and a little snow. So did they ever manage to run an empire?

So what is the attitude down south towards Norway, the Saudi Arabia of the North? A little over a century ago Friedrich Engels came up this way and wrote:

The people are very primitive, but a sound strong handsome race; they understand my Danish but I cannot make much of their Norwegian. (Friedrich Engels to Laura Lafargue, 4 July 1890.)

The people [of Norway] are handsome, strong, honest, bigoted and – fanatically religious, i.e. in the country. (Friedrich Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 9 August 1890.)

There are two regions in Europe where old Christian-Germanic barbarism has retained its most primitive form, almost down to acorn-eating – Norway and the High Alps, especially Ur-Switzerland. Both Norway and Ur-Switzerland still provide us with genuine examples of that breed of men who once beat the Romans to death in good Westphalian style with clubs and flails in the Teuroborg Forest. (Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in Switzerland.)

All of which is preparation for a piece on Norway, where I remain simultaneously puzzled and amused by the self-perception that the place is marginal, on the fringes of the ‘world’ (which still seems to be code for ‘Europe’).

Spitting is the short answer. In China it seems to be unacceptable to swallow your own spit, so people freely dispense with it anywhere and everywhere. So also, surpisingly, in Norway. When walking a Norwegian street, you need to step carefully, for the footpath is spattered with green and yellow gobs – and that’s just the fresh ones. When I first encountered this, I wondered: does everyone have sinus infections here? Is it the water? The climate? The brown cheese – myseost?

No, I finally found out: it’s the snus. Not quite chewing tobacco, snus is a small satchel of finely cut tobacco that you stick in your mouth, preferably on a gum and let the nicotine seep into your system that way.

One of the more endearing features of Scandinavia (they love it in Sweden too):

Needless to say, it produces big yellow-green balls of snot to spit out on the footpath.

However, China has now turned its back on this refined cultural practice. Nothing like a threatening epidemic (SARS) to change collective behaviour. Since 2002 spitting has been banned in public in China, with fines and the penalty of cleaning up your own spit, so much so that ‘many public health workers feel their work has become easier, with fewer phlegm marks found in most roads‘.

Although I must admit that in the odd corner you can come across a ready-made somewhat mucus-like skating area.

What makes a place sensual? Is it topless bars or erotic dancing? Is it a dubious reputation, like Paris or Rio? Is it golden sunsets, beaches and fine wine – the sort you see only on tourist advertisements? Is it, as Annie Sprinkle once opined concerning porn and erotica, the whole chicken or a feather?

For me the criteria are very subtle, concerned above all the carriage of the body. Learned through a long, supple and largely sub-conscious apprenticeship by children and teenagers, the way we carry your body involves posture, shape and movement. For example, it concerns the way one stands, turns or tilts one’s head, holds one’s shoulders just so, positions one’s body in relation to others, interacts on the street, uses eyes and mouth, or moves one’s hands – in short, the way we are present in and with our bodies.

Reading such bodies requires a little intuition and much patience, but it’s deeply satisfying. So what are the most sensual places on earth?

Top of the list must be Ukraine. Ukraine!? Through a mix of fortunate genetics and excellent upbringing, Ukrainian women and men would have to be among the most sensuous on the planet. The way they amble among a crowd, the unconscious ability to move a thigh or slide perfectly shaped buttocks in a long stride is simply amazing. As is the turn-and-look movement while talking, the carriage of the head and the inquisitive eyes.

Russia is comparable to Ukraine, since they were part of the same country for many years, but some subtle differences soon show up. Ukrainians are more up front in their assessment of you, but not Russians, at least the ones I have met. Walk down a street and none of the Russian beauties looks at you. Or at least it seems as though they don’t look at you. No matter how surreptitiously you try to glance at someone passing, you never catch any one so much as flicking a look in your direction. And yet you get the distinct feeling that you are constantly being checked, surveyed, and assessed in the most sensuous manner possible.

Serbia wins a spot here since it is the historical point where many ethnic groups have fought, razed the city and then rebuilt. The result is a mongrel people, and mongrels are by far the strongest, healthiest and have the most positive outlook on life. As a result, Belgrade women have the smoothest, olive skin, taking every opportunity to show off as much of it as they can (at least in summer), long dark hair, lithe flowing bodies and the challenge of a direct and sustained look.

I can’t leave Denmark off the list, especially Copenhagen. The key here is the blending of bicycles and people. Flowing hair, long thighs descending into high-heeled boots, baskets overflowing with beer or bread or clothes, all moving in a slow, sensuous rhythm along every city street.

Greenland: an unexpected entry on this list, but Greenlandic people are stunning. Meet a tall, well-endowed Greenlander on the street, with jet-black hair and the tough eyes of one who has seen far more than you will ever hope to see, and you will be smitten.

Last for now is China, although this is a very subtle one. Initially I simply didn’t get it: Chinese people in China were, it seemed to me, as missing in sensuality as the many I had met in Australia. The men wore their pants impossibly high (amazingly avoiding the squeak I constantly expected) and the women were reserved, if not withdrawn. But then, after some time in China, the subtlety began to dawn on me: a fold of clothing at a metro stop, a surreptitious glance on the street, a careful move of a hip.

I can’t leave this discussion without pondering the most un-sensual places on earth.

USA: sorry, but you just don’t have it. Brash and awkward and botox ain’t sensual.

England: ditto, but worse. Everything doesn’t work here – posture, movement, carriage. A turn-off.

Germany: Big, clumsy and rough. For some, that may mean sensual, but not for me.

Latvia: curious one here, since the military-like precision of their manner may do it for some. Not me.

Norway: sorry about this Norway, but you are slick, glossy and a little obscene. Too much money and simply no sensuality; even in high-heels, you look awkward and ungainly. Go to Ukraine to find out how to do it. And running or riding about town in yet another expensive sports outfit is not sexy.

France gets a thumbs-down as well. I know many will be surprised at this, but France is just too self-absorbed, too convinced of its own sensuality that it’s like one great wank. Not much fun for anyone else.

I know every country has at least one: Australians have vegemite, Americans have hamburgers, Danes have sylte (a gelatine loaf made out of pig’s hooves and unidentifiable odds and ends from the animal) and Norwegians have:

The wedge is self-explanatory (if you can’t read, the picture of prawns might help), but the first one: dead pig and cheese – in a tube!

On my recent tour along the Norwegian section of the North Sea Coastal route, which had plenty of mountains, wind and rain and moments like this …

… I came across what must be among some of the more innovative signage I’ve seen for a while:

Now Norwegains aren’t great ones for bicycles (I’m afraid to say, for they have a great love for cars), but this is pushing it to a whole new level.