Slow TV

I remember calling my Mom in the winter months, in the later days of her life. I would often ask her what she had been doing when I called and she would say “Watching TV,” to which I would respond by asking what was on the television. She would tell me she had the fireplace channel on. I never did quite get that but as of late I have found myself watching “Slow TV” from Norway. I am now halfway through the 7 hour Bergen to Oslo trip. When I tell people, they generally think I am a few cars short a freight. I think differently.

First, I like trains. This semester, for the introduction section of the first day in class, I invited folk to speak about their favourite mode of transport. A good number spoke of trains, and their invitation to relax and see the scenery without worry about traffic etc. Trains are also (for now) low key modes of public travel without the security check etc. There is a kind of a comfort on a train that I do not experience with other modes of transport – aside from ferries.

But it isn’t only the “train” piece of the show that intrigues me. I am also reminded of my own trip from Oslo to Bergen and back by train some 30 years ago. I recall seeing people ski up to a stop, and take off their skis in order to get on, for a time, until the next stop. There is a kind of nostalgia in the show, I think.

Further to this, I like Slow TV as a push back against “reality TV,” which is so far removed from reality as to make a mockery of the real struggles that folk face in a real world not about an amazing race, or voting people off of an island, or some such inane theme. Reality TV seems, in significant ways, to contribute to a juvenile public and a dose of “real reality” seems fitting in these days – even in the mode of the mundane, the daily. It is good to see what people see who travel the lovely Norwegian country side – with sky touching fjord and mountain, and so inviting us to connect what is seen on television with what is seen during our own travels.

I also enjoy this show because it reminds me of my own pilgrimage in Norway some years ago. In some small way the show is an aide de memoire of that delightful journey that gave me occasion to be with dear friends, and make new ones. The paternal side of my family comes from Norway, and I find myself regularly drawn to things Norwegian in particular and Scandinavian in general. I can’t quite say it feels like home, to see the Norwegian country side fly by but it reminds me that I am from away.

I sometimes like watching television that does not aim to resolve a plot line, or mindlessly entertain, or sell a soft drink surreptitiously. The simplicity of the show is refreshing and reminds me of those twice weekly phone conversations with my mom. At the end of her days, life was slowing down and a fireplace was all she needed for entertainment. I am not there, but still, it is nice to watch the country side of my father that gives me occasion to remember my mother as well.

Thank you, Slow TV.

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Being Red, Being White

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Today we celebrate Canada Day.  I’ve always loved this holiday.  I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity.  For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.

 

We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices  and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain.  It was a memorable moment, touching even.  In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of  pilgrimage – in its various guises.  People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages.  But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design.  The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.

 

 

allen-pondering

 

But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA.  Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them.  What did they leave behind?  Why did they go?  Did they ever want to return?  Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway.  We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years.  We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children.  Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies.  Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards.  Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work.  And as for the young women?  Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.

 

Immigration is hard work.    Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc.  And yet immigrants still come.  They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred.  In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home.  As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.

 

Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more.  It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar.  It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow.  Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how.  Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land.  Happy Canada Day all!

Émigré Rock

Émigré rock
tell me of your provenance.
How did you come to be in
my suitcase – when once you
graced the ceiling of Norway?

Did I enslave you? Ensnare you? Entice you?
Or did you bewitch me?
Or, is this a quid pro quo?
Your tales of the Dovrefjell
(for those who have learned to listen to stones talk)
in exchange for
safe passage to the
land hosting now
those who once stood
upon you and yours.

Is it your wish to embrace those
long lost pilgrims?
Or is it this pilgrim’s wish to embrace you –
a not so subtle clue, that I too, am a stranger and an alien like you –
émigré rock?