More of Flåm, Norway

I just remembered I had more photographs of our trip to Norway to post.

It’s over a year now since we were there.

The red road train here was plying up and down the road while we were walking in Flåm, Norway. Photo taken beside Flåm Church, hence the gravestones:-

Road Train, Flåm, Norway

The good lady posted photos of Flåm Church – an example of a wooden stavkirke – on her blog here.

The odd sight of this locomotive poking out of a shed is just by the side of the road. It didn’t seem to part of the Flåmsbana Museum:-

Locomotive Poking Out of Shed, Flåm, Norway

After Flåm the ship departed to cruise Nærøyfjord but had to travel back down Aurlandsfjord first.

Aurlandsfjord, Norway

These photographs make it look a bit more misty than it felt at the time.

Heading towards Nærøyfjord from Flåm:-

Aurlandsfjord

More of Aurlandsfjord:-

More Aurlandsfjord

Side of Aurlandsfjord, side bow of SS Black Watch in shot:-

Aurlandsfjord Side

Typical wooded slope of fjord:-

Wooded Slope Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Moving Water, Flåm, Norway

The fjords in Norway are festooned with waterfalls. This one in Aurlandsfjord was the first thing I saw when I looked out the porthole on the morning we arrived to visit Flåm. I dubbed it “our” waterfall. Click on picture to get to video:-

"Our" Waterfall, Aurlandsfjord

This moving sculpture was on the dockside at Flåm. Again click on it:-

Moving Sculpture, Flåm, Norway

This is the Bokkefossen, the waterfall we didn’t manage to climb up to, in a photo taken from the road:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

Earlier I’d shot a video:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

A later photo, taken on way back to Flåm, showing the waterfall’s higher portions:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

Flåmsbana Museum, Flåm, Norway

The Flåmsbana Museum is more or less on the dock side at Flåm. The railway’s story is fascinating. They had to dig the line, which has lots of tunnels, out of solid rock by hand, using hand tools and horse driven carts. Construction was started in 1924 and the line did not open till 1940 by which time the Germans were in control of Norway.

It’s the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe. The information card said that because of the safety considerations required by the railway’s steep gradients and no rack and pinion back-up this early locomotive had six different braking systems:-

Locomotive in Flåmsbana Museum

A more modern locomotive, no longer used, outside the museum building:-

Old Locomotive, Flåmsbana Museum

Another obsolete locomotive, a bit further away:-

Newewr but Obsolete Locomotive, Flåmsbana Museum 3

Old railway poster, showing a stavkirke, or wooden church. These can be almost Russian Orthodox in appearance:-

Old Railwat Poster, Flåmsbana Museum

The Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana)

Flåm is most visited for its railway (the Flåmsbana.) It’s a branch of the line from Oslo to Bergen coming off at Myrdal.

Since Flåm is so small the railway mainly carries tourists eager to experience the steep gradients and spectacular views.

in Flåm itself the railway is not as spectacular as elsewhere. If I ever go back I might take a trip on it.

Front of train heading out of Flåm to Myrdal:-

Train on the Flåm Railway, (Flåmsbana)

Rear of train:-

Rear of Train on Flåmsbana

Leaving Flåm heading to Myrdal:-

Train on Flåm Railway

Train in Flåm heading towards Flåm terminus having come from Myrdal:-

Flåmsbana Train in Flåm, Norway

Flåm and Flåm River

The river at Flåm is called the Flåm (Flåmselvi). Fishing platforms have been built round some of the rocks.

Fishing Platforms, Flåm, by Aurlandsfjord, Norway

A notice said these had been recently replaced after having been washed away in a flood. They are for locals only. There were “no fishing” signs up:-

Another Fishing Platform, Flåm

Typical Norwegian Houses, Flåm:-

Typical Norwegian Houses, Flåm

Flåm River, looking up Flåm Valley:-

Flåm River, Looking up Flåm Valley

Flåm, Aurlandsfjord, Norway

First stop on the Norway trip was Flåm, at the top of Aurlandsfjord, Norway. The ship’s daily information sheet said Flåm is pronounced flom, but the (Norwegian) Captain had it somewhere nearer flum than flom.

It was a bit misty and a small city was docked at the quayside.

Flåm from Aurlandsfjord

Due to that small city we were told we would be tendering.

This is the MV Black Watch’s tender:-

Tender from Ship to Shore

We decided to go for a walk round Flåm, actually in search of a waterfall, the Bokkefossen. It was a steep and muddy climb though so we gave that up.

This is the village from above, Aurlandsfjord is off to the left:-

Flåm Village from above.

Flåm looking back towards Aurlandsfjord:-

Flåm looking towards Aurlandsfjord

Part of Flåm with Flåm River:-

Part of Flåm with Flåm River

Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

Apex Book Company, 2018, 230 p. Reviewed for Interzone 276, Jul-Aug 2018.

Close your Eyes cover

This certainly starts with a bang; to be precise a supernova, in which the star in its death throes somehow impregnates a woman called Ekhi, apparently by means of light. Thereafter she is forced to pilot her own ship after shutting down its AI heart since it goes insane due to entropic breakdown of its programmes. She is found floating, naked, in the ship’s control centre – throughout the book these are named egia – by Mari, Hodei and Sugoi, scavengers from The Good Ship Lollipop. At this early point the text displayed an uncomfortably voyeuristic attitude towards Ekhi, embodied in the character of Hodei, who is also fascinated by a nude model in a stache of magazines he keeps. (Magazines? These digital days?) This fascination is later revealed to be because he has the essence of a woman, Iuski, hidden inside him.

Sugoi is Mari’s (very jealous) lover and resents, to the point of violence, any hint of interest in her by Hodei. Sugoi is a lumbering, almost inarticulate creature. With his propensity for violence it is difficult to see what, for Mari, his attraction might be. Then too, there seems to be little jeopardy. Biological repair organisms named thalna can restore to health a body damaged to a high degree. In a similar way robot-like mozorro keep the egias running “smooth and perfect”. Moreover each character contains within itself systems called patuek which “have the ability to store a mind in stasis and be transplanted into a healed, cloned body”.

The ship’s captain, Itsasu, has a frail withered body tethered to the ship’s control heart near the Ortzadar engine (found on the ruins of a moon) and its “bizarre wisdom culled from centuries of intelligence algorithms evolving and learning and storing information into complex data matrices”. She is on a long, 435 year, quest to find her husband but has kept this from the crew, never explaining “exactly why they wandered the stars, stealing from dead cities and spun-down relics of starships”.

None of these are sympathetic characters, not even Ekhi, who seems to be present only to kick-start the story and incubate the supernova’s child. This problem of empathy is exacerbated by Jessup’s use of short, sometimes one word sentences. This is a technique best used sparingly, rather than being endemic.

Jeopardy does come; in the shape of pirates of a sort whose main weapon seems to be language; “‘We would whisper the word once, just once, and your mind would become a slave to this foreign tongue, this alien thought device.’” “That language is a giant looming inside of my mind. Hunting me.” “With the new language came a new being, a hive mind that commanded each and every one of them.” This enemy is connected with the sakre, which can drive human minds to destruction.

The novel is divided into two “books” titled “Open Your Eyes” and “Close Your Mouth” both with five Acts and separated by an Intermission. The birth of the child of the supernova (“I am Arigia. I am the dreams of humanity, the lands of the stars. I am the coupling between all and everything. I float, I am free. And I sing this ship to life. The port to life. I sing the sorrow song at the end of the universe, at the end of time,”) ends the first section. This seems to presage Arigia’s subsequent importance but she is all but totally absent from Book II wherein a wheelchair bound Isatsu, accompanied by Mari (now turned into a bird,) and Isatsu’s husband Ortzi – or, rather his consciousness contained within a skull – wander a labyrinth loosely drawn from the minotaur legend through a landscape of severed heads, while trying to escape the clutches of a bear-like creature called Basa and his diminutive controller La whose driving force seems to be, “Cover them in words. Take their heads. Fill with eggs.”

It all presents as just a little bonkers. Add in some purple-skinned, elephant-headed creatures for seasoning.

Bonkers is fine, but a human story to hang on to while we’re at it, characters whose fates the reader might care about, would help the medicine go down. If SF ideas for the sake of SF ideas do it for you then give this a go. Those who prefer their senses and sensibilities to be engaged should look elsewhere.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian, eg “inside of” (for inside) is littered throughout the text, as is outside of, though there was at least one plain “inside”, shined (shone,) gasses (gases.) Otherwise; sung (sang,) pixilated (pixelated; “pixilated” means drunk, not “blocky in appearance”,) madamoiselle (mademoiselle,) “the sound of the engine became a thundering rush of sounds” (sound….. became …. sounds,) “recording each movement and sending it back” (sending them back,) “and he doesn’t expect me too, either” (expect me to, either,) “kept trying on the shape of names” (shapes,) “had climbed into … and stole away” (stolen away is more natural.) “The only thing preserving his being … were his patuek” (The only thing …was.) “She felt a smile, somehow, hung in her mind” (hang in her mind?) “The eyes were not orbs, but instead flashlights, letting out hot white halos from LED eyes.” (The eyes …. eyes,) “[you] will be discarded of properly” (discarded properly; or, disposed of properly; not “discarded of properly”,) “the heart and the AI where the only things” (were the only things. How on Earth does this “where” for “were” substitution get past i] the writer, ii] any agent involved, iii] a publisher’s reader, iv] the editor?) “her remembered his mother” (he remembered,) “tried to push his cheek back and out its washcloth caress” (and out of,) “with the tip of his toes” (tips.) “His life readings show that his still alive” (he’s still alive,) “near were we need to be” (and now we get the reverse; “were” for “where”,) “a white milky, substance” (a white, milky substance,) ganeeshas(ganeshas,) “with doors along the every facet of the interior” (along every facet,) “Hodei opened door” (opened the door,) “a craggy old fishermen” (fisherman,) “and horded them for itself” (hoarded,) “of the most importance” (utmost?) “it heard a voice sing a solitary voice sing” (take out either ‘a voice’ or ‘a solitary voice’,) “on one the lesser pods” (one of the lesser,) batadur (previously betadur,) crow’s feet (crows’ feet,) “all of her wonderful machines she’d been building” (all of the wonderful machines she’d been building.) “The tenor of the words were true” (The tenor … was true.) Patuek (patuek.) “Sword to help each other” (Sworn makes more sense,) “She saw that flicker of flame tattoos on each of the foreheads” (that flicker of flame tattoo,) shrunk (shrank.) “The profound of absurdity of our very existence” (The profound absurdity of our,) “we watched thirteen suns float through and endless sea of night” (an endless sea,) encoves ….. “on a raised dais where the reprogrammed dolls” (Here it is again; were the reprogrammed dolls,) “all I found where your doubles” (and again: were,) a missing question mark (x3,) Mozorro (elsewhere mozorro,) their epidermis (their; therefore epidermises,) super nova (supernova,) “a room that was on large tank” (one large tank,) “waiting to be woke into” (woken,) “It always changed when they go on the hunt” (when they went on the hunt,) “And where they more her than she was?” (once more; were,) “through the infinite of space and time” (infinity,) sat (seated; or, sitting,) “The pain one’s experiences” (the pain of one’s experiences; or, the pain one experiences,) “This ship was filled with the most flammable object known to humankind. Oxygen.” (That “object” ought to be “substance”. And oxygen isn’t flammable. It’s the agent that causes flame,) damnit (elsewhere dammit,) “a thought eeked out” (eked? Leaked?) “with these cluster of doubles” (this cluster; or, these clusters,) ‘Can you use to revive him?’ (use it,) “full of explosive oxygen” (oxygen isn’t explosive; in its presence other substances may be.)

End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

Nærøyfjord

Nærøyfjord is a branch of the Sognefjord which in turn is the largest and deepest in Norway. The SS Black Watch took a turn up Nærøyfjord on its way back to the sea after visiting Flåm.

Nærøyfjord entrance. The mists do make it look dramatic:-

Entrance to Nærøyfjord

Nærøyfjord:-

Nærøyfjord, Norway

Further into Nærøyfjord. Waterfall on fjordside ahead:-

Further into Nærøyfjord, Norway

Further up Nærøyfjord:-

More of Nærøyfjord, Norway

About halfway up fjord:-

Nærøyfjord, Norway Again

Towards head of Nærøyfjord:-

Towards Head of Nærøyfjord, Norway

Head of fjord:-

Head of Nærøyfjord, Norway

Looking back up Nærøyfjord:-

Looking back up Nærøyfjord, Norway

Houses, Nærøyfjord, Norway:-

Houses, Nærøyfjord, Norway

More Houses, Nærøyfjord, Norway

The ship’s captain said this was the smallest church in Norway but it doesn’t look much smaller – if at all – than the one in Flåm:-

Church, Nærøyfjord, Norway>

Video of one of the waterfalls in Nærøyfjord:-

Waterfall in Nærøyfjord, Norway

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

Flamingo, 1990, 283 p. First published in 1956.

The Towers of Trebizond cover

Reading this was an odd experience. It is couched as a first person memoir of a trip to Turkey by narrator Laurie who is accompanying her Aunt Dot (plus camel) and her companion, the very high Church Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, both of whom wish to convert the natives to Christianity. Their camel steps are dogged by Seventh Day Adventists desirous of witnessing the Second Coming on Mount Ararat, spies who may not be spies, Billy Grahamites, and a BBC van recording the singing of the inhabitants. As a narrator Laurie has a very chatty style, it is as if she is talking to the reader, yet everything is considered and the sentences are beautifully balanced. The narration is interspersed with diversions on all sorts of topics, religion foremost among them – pages 4 and 5 present a potted history of Anglicanism, and there are more such discursions – but also ruminations on Laurie’s life, which seems to be provisional, in a kind of limbo. The chattiness can be engaging but also wearing. In the guise of Laurie, Macaulay is excessively fond of the word “and”. Lists joined by it abound; in one paragraph there must have been at least twenty instances.) The whole for a long time seems like little more than entertainment, a comic novel with only its lightness to recommend it.

Yet there are serious aspects. Both the redoubtable Aunt Dot and Laurie display that peculiar English attitude to religion, which simultaneously treats it as a serious matter but at the same time, secure in the knowledge that theirs is the best possible, is very off-hand about it. Dot is much exercised by the position of Muslim women, one exemplar of which, Dr Halide Tenpinar, reluctant to marry a Muslim man for the lack of expression that will entail, joins the expedition for a while. Dot remembers the good old days, when travelling was only for those and such as those. At one point she laments, “‘Abroad isn’t at all what it was,’” while Laurie feels that foreigners (ie tourists – of which she does not appear to consider herself to be one) only want to see the old things of a country, not the fruits of the country having got on which the locals are more keen to exhibit.

On an objection to a proposed foray into the Soviet Union Aunt Dot replies to the question whether that would condone its government, “if one started not condoning governments, one would have to give up travel altogether, and even remaining in Britain would be pretty difficult,” while on the suggestion that Turkish men would never accept freedom from dress restrictions for women as it might inflame their passions we have, “‘Men must learn to bridle their temptations’ said aunt Dot, always an optimist.” Those last three words certainly hit the target.

Having reached Trebizond, or Trabzon as it is in Turkish, (it has no towers, Laurie envisions them in a later dream she has of an ideal fantasy city) they go still further until Aunt Dot and Father Hugh venture off on their own and disappear – presumably over the border into the Soviet Union – and eventually become something of a minor press obsession. This is about the only eventful occurrence in the book apart from a small sub-plot concerning the theft of the work of a now-deceased writer by one of Laurie’s acquaintances. It is notable that these incidents are only relayed to us. Laurie is not directly involved in either of them.

Left to her own resources Laurie retraces her steps and goes on to travel with the camel round Asia Minor and the Levant. Reading the names Aleppo, Palmyra, Baalbek, Homs and Damascus as being safe places for a young(ish) Englishwoman to travel safely accompanied only by a camel is a reminder of how the world can change. This passage of the trip also lets Macaulay describe the early manifestations of what has become the enduring antipathy between Israelis and Palestinians.

Laurie’s wanderings give ample scope for reflection. Pondering the phrase “met his/her/its Waterloo” she remarks, “curious how we always seem to see Waterloo from the French angle and count it a defeat.” After a week spent with her (adulterous) lover Vere, Laurie continues her travels and her thoughts on religion grow deeper, “.. the Church, which grew so far, almost at once, from anything that can have been intended, and became so blood-stained and persecuting and cruel and war-like and made small and trivial things so important and tried to exclude everything not done in a certain way and by certain people, and stamped out heresies with such cruelty and rage. And this failure of the Christian Church, of every branch of it in every country, is one of the saddest things that has happened in all the world.”

As to the reliability of the Gospels – written after all long after the events they describe – she considers some things which might have been very important may have been forgotten or left out, and some things put in may have been wrong, “for some sound unlikely for him to have said. That is a vexatious thing about the Gospels. You cannot be sure what was said, unless you are a fundamentalist and must believe every word, or have an infallible Church.” There is “no need to be so drastic” as to take it or leave it “and few things are ever put down quite right, even at the time.”

A potential flaw is that Laurie’s lover Vere is something of an absence in the book. They meet rarely and none of what is said between them is revealed to us so we do not get a flavour of their relationship beyond that it exists. He only appears on the page in a speaking role once and that more or less as an aside, an adjunct to that sub-plot and in a piece of reported speech. As a result, what Laurie tells us at the end does not have the emotional pay-off it might have had. Macaulay is, perhaps, aiming for a pathos her book therefore hasn’t earned. On the other hand another way to look at it is that the whole thing is an exercise in displacement, a desperate enumeration of little things, ramblings and considerations of the nature of faith in order to avoid contemplation of the seriousness of life. Here we are again with love, sex and death. But while Macaulay – through Laurie – mentions them she rarely addresses them head on. As an authorial approach that is arguably very subtle but here runs the risk of early disengagement. Such considerations are in any case somewhat at odds with the generally light tone.

The Towers of Trebizond won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1956. I would probably not have picked it up had the good lady not been working her way through as many of the winners as she can find. I’m glad I did though.

Pedant’s corner:- There are several 1950s spellings – Moslem, haarem, yoghourt, Irak, Erivan – but raise cheers for archæology/archæological and manœvre/manœvring (except why, then, penny-plain medieval?) Otherwise; aunt Dot is used throughout (as a relative Dot’s designation ought to be a proper noun, so Aunt Dot,) manicheeism (Manichaeism or Manicheism,) everthing (everything,) occasional commas omitted before a piece of direct speech, “‘as we had to often heard of it’” (too often,) “did not probably think it peculiar” (probably did not think it peculiar,) “once for all” (I’m more familiar with once and for all.)

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