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Here, there and back again

At some point I feared a re-run of my trip to Costa Rica in 99, when my luggage never got to San Jose with me, and I, for lack of anything better to wear, ended up donning the hotel bed sheets to a VIP reception.

But then I thought: at least I did get there. I did get to Bergen on my second attempt, and miraculously, to my relief, my luggage also managed to get there with me.

Now, I had never been in Bergen before, so I was quite excited about the prospect when I got up in the wee hours to catch the 07:15 plane there to cover the Editor's Association Spring Meeting and the Nordic Media Days on Wednesday last week.

A few Bergen-bound flights were kept on ground that morning due to fog on the West Coast of Norway, but our ballsy pilot gambled that it would all have cleared by the time we reached Bergen. Gambled - and lost. My first flight to Bergen was spectacularly unsuccessful and was forced to return to Oslo after circling over Bergen for about half an hour. That was the opening session.

And when I finally managed to retrieve my luggage there was a planeload of passengers from Warsaw waiting in the ticket queue to rebook their tickets before me. Luckily, I'm scarily good at throwing a civilised tantrum when forced to. I rarely loose my temper, and quickly found someone to convince of my VIP status who let me jump the queue and secure the last seat on the delayed 10:30 flight to Bergen (all bullocks of course, I'm not a VIP, but I needed to get to Bergen as it was the only way we had of covering the events that day).

Come to think of it, that VIP-business only works in the languages I master: it failed spectacularly in Costa Rica, where I finally did end up loosing my temper – to no effect, as the Spanish airport officers didn't get half of my English swear words – and I had to bring a Spanish editor friend to the airport the next day just to make myself understood (that took us as far as a middle manager's office, but my luggage didn't arrive until ten days later, just in time for my return trip).

(Charles lent his moral support. Early days
of digital cameras, hence the grainy quality)

It annoys me tremendously that it has to be this way: why isn't "you lost my luggage" or "you didn't get me where you promised me" enough, why all these games to get what you paid for in the first place?

Ah well, back to Bergen. I finally checked in to my hotel about 3:30pm, just in time for the editor's shrink session (some famous shrink talking about working together as a team), but decided that, for me, the bath tub would be more therapeutic and help ease my mind so as to be better prepared to cover the price ceremony in the evening.

However, I'm ashamed to admit that despite having two cameras in my bag, I somehow managed to come back to Oslo almost exclusively with pictures of men in suits, the notable exception being journalist Helle Aarnes, from Bergens Tidende. Aarnes scooped up the "Journalist of the year" prize for her series of articles on the Norwegian women who were stigmatised for decades after being romantically involved with German soldiers during the second world war.

For my return trip, I simply couldn't make myself catch that 9pm flight back to Oslo on Friday. Nackered from running around photographing men in suits and getting intimately acquainted with all the conference rooms at Grieg Hallen conference hall, I just had to catch a few hours of the Bergen sun and soak in the scenery while I had the chance.

So I opted for taking the train back the following day, which was a brilliant choice, perhaps not for my wallet, but certainly from all other aspects: hours of spectacular scenery and a very civilised restaurant section with leather sofas and panoramic windows.

It was also fascinating to see how the landscape changed as we journeyed from the Bergen and the West Coast, through the mountains to Oslo: from the sharp, jagged, dramatic landscape of the West, to the gently rolling hills of the East - growing ever more soft and rounded the further East we went. It made me think of Montesquieu's (and Aristotle's for that matter) thoughts on how the landscape and climate shape its inhabitants, which is a rather deterministic notion, I know, but not entirely far-fetched in my experience – in either case, that's the topic for another post....


Sounds like it was a tiring trip - geez, I think I have to subscribe to your Twitter updates, I missed out on all the nonsense you were going through.

Hope things are better now, and can't wait to hear about Aristotle, Montesquieu and the landscape (I'm gonna copy it and dump it in my dissertation, should get me a page more written).

I'm afraid I was half-joking about Montesquieu, Aristotle and the landscape/ climate. Not sure I'll write that post, although it's something I do think about every now and then, especially when I'm flying into a new country or observing new landscapes, but it's more of thought-experiment than anything else. As in: what if I were to apply these thoughts to how remarkably square, symmetric and, well, rigid or at least ordered, the Dutch fields are compared to Norwegian or English fields, when seen from the air - what if we could to deduct something about the Dutch from this observation, for fun if nothing else.

The backdrop is how the philosophers I mentioned thought the climate had an influence on national character: according to Montesquieu, for instance, Southern Europeans were overtly hot-tempered, lazy sensualits, whereas the Northern Europeans ( Scandinavians) were icy and stiff, but also brave and energetic (think the Vikings). The French on the other hand, Montesquieu being French himself, were living in the perfect climate and hence had the perfect temperament:-) I'm sure Wikipedia etc. will tell your more about this or point you to more sources...

Yeah, it's actually something we covered in class but I never could make head or tail of. What follows is just speculation.

I think Montesquieu is trying to be funny more than anything: he says my ancestors spent all day lounging around in the sun in loin cloths, and I know that would never have happened because it is way too gross b/c of the heat already to do such a thing.

- Well, on second thought, maybe it did happen. -

The more serious points covered in class revolved around a cold climate being conducive to the laws in a way: it is no coincidence, for Montesquieu, that England is cold and has a decent political order. The Germanic tribes and Germanic law (which English law is rooted in for Mont.) were decidedly influenced by a cold climate, where temperance was a necessity and sensual pleasures couldn't quite be indulged in as easily. Whereas hotter climates were conducive to tyranny.

The story sounds ridiculous and is meant to be ridiculous to a degree. The really deep point according to Prof. Mansfield (cf. "Taming the Prince") is that the characteristics which define a people are not being tied to any strict principle, or the rationale behind a people's own laws and customs. Rather, laws and customs are outgrowths of something physiological. In making this move, however laughable, Mont. is breaking with Aristotle and Aquinas and the idea that "reason" has anything to do with politics fundamentally.

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