Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Secrets Of The Museum

The ferry to Bygdoy leaves from the quays at the south end of Oslo, just below City Hall. It's a water taxi, sailing through the gray mist of the bay. A few drops of rain fell earlier today. I'm packed for snow and freezing wind, but not for rain. (The upcoming weather doesn't look like rain...)

I film on the ferry with the F3, and a Nikon prime 35mm lens. I am enamoured with this camera already. I want to go back in time and re-shoot all my old films with it. Return to the slow, deliberate style of fixed lenses.

I've only met Karina once before, never met her husband Nils, but as I step off the ferry at  Bygdoy island they greet me like old friends. Nils has offered to show me around Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki Museum, because Nils was - not so long ago - a marine archaeologist. (Is there a more adventurous kind of archaeologist?)  But before the Kon-Tiki, Nils has a surprise for me.

He walks with me through the vaults of the Maritime Museum. The shelves of material not on display, unidentified. Some pieces are of unknown origin - shards that can't be put together. Some pieces just don't have enough resources or money behind them to reconstruct. In one corner is an entire ship, laid out in indistinct strips of wood like a drying carcass. "Imagine trying to put that back together..." Karina laughs. I remember that my mother was an archaeologist, and once had the patience to sit for weeks piecing together clay jars from hundreds of tiny fragments.

There is a pile of bones. Broken pipes. Bottles, shoes, dozens of shoes. Nils jumps excitedly from shelf to shelf, recounting fragments of history and anecdotes as they spring to mind. He opens a box with pieces that he found, cleaned and categorised in the early 1990's. They're still in good condition, "It's good to know my work has survived."

There is a team of archaeologists here, wading in waterproof boots through a huge vat of polyethylene glycol. It smells like darkroom photo fixer. The vat held the longest canoe made from a single piece of wood ever found in Norway, and the team is soaking the wood to preserve it. It looks like an oil slick, fragments of flotsam floating on the thick surface.

Nils and Karina drive us up to Frognerseteren, a Dragon hut at the top of Oslo's ski slopes. We peer over the edge at the city's newest ski jump, an angle so steep it scares me just standing here. I imagine the open mouth of Herzog's ecstatic woodcarver Steiner. We look out over the view of the city, now glowing gold with the sunset. Nils remembers his childhood spent up here, drinking hot chocolate after a day's skiing, dancing drunk on the tables after the school prom. Karina and I lament the exploitative, abusive and ruthless industry that television "entertainment" has become. I promise to bring them back pictures from the far north.

On tonight's six-mile run through the city, I have to remind myself this is the warmest I'll be for the next 19 days.

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