Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SVALBARD'S LEVIATHAN

Innovation Norway - Jens Henrik Nybo - Visitnorway.com

The so called Unidentified Flying Fish

Arctic waters hide terrible monsters, but spotting them under the waves is not easy at all. Or, even less, recognising their nature. Prehistoric animals? Ghost submarines? Spectres of consciousness? Recently, only two people have been witnesses, without being able to lift the veil permanently: the Norwegian glaciologist Monika Kristensen, arrived in Italy to present her compelling book set in the Svalbard, "Operation Fritham", and Russian actress of the award-winning film "Leviathan" Elena Lyadova, whose eyes in tears seized a tremendous truth off Teriberka. Although hundreds of kilometers away, the Arctic archipelago and the lost fishing village in the Kola Peninsula, north of Murmansk, are tied to a single thread, but snow and ice try to separate their story anyway. Strange fate: we live in times of  polar melting just as a new Cold War is whipping, recklessly aimed by those who have not learned to respect the first and original inhabitants of those territories, yet. The Bear.





Innovation Norway - Jens Henrik Nybo - Visitnorway.com

And for an Earth that boils it cannot lack a truth that burns; because when the ice disappears, there is little to strive to: what's done is done. What is written is written. Paleontologists such as Joorn Hurum know it very well, as he has been able to bring to light 10 disturbing Jurassic skeletons at the foot of Janusfjellet, including the huge "Predator X": the largest aquatic reptile that, 150 million years ago, tore anything that moved in its vicinity, having a two meters long jaw and four times as powerful as that of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Thanks to the right to own the fossils unearthed in Svalbard, a further indication of the free status of exploitation guaranteed by the international treaty of 1920, paleo-hunting keeps on growing among visitors. But the mysteries to thicken. Paradoxes of progress. The possibility of encountering even better preserved bones than the small "Ida", the oldest primate found in the world in 1983 and again visible in Oslo’s Natural History Museum by the end of this year, feeds the illusion: piece by piece, the puzzle will be solved. It’s only a matter of time. Yes, one more. A little bit. One more step, before you say enough. Better to move with caution, however. Locals repeat it like a mantra, well aware of the risks of traveling to an area where the encounters with polar bears are snags of neighborhood, the streets a luxury granted only to the town of Longyearbyen, while the turnaround weather, like the unreliable marshes created by the retreat of the permafrost, reveal themselves sudden lethal traps. And there's no kayak, snowmobile or dog sled that fits.



Innovation Norway - Kristin Folsland Olsen - Visitnorway.com

Innovation Norway - Kristin Folsland Olsen - Visitnorway.com

Without an experienced guide at your side, even an harmless walk on glaciers can become a pioneering feat. You must then learn to read every sign: from the flight of a Snow geese or a spotted lagopus, to minor shade-variations of over 140 species of flowers that, between June and October, paint just 6% of territory free from ice. Essential to recognize a Norwegian word, necessary a sign in Cyrillic. Surely becoming a good bird-watcher, or an experienced botanist, is a first and wise step to get caught not by the wiles of the arctic desert, but at the same time to appreciate its fragile ecosystem with a keen eye: although less than 35thousand international visitors arrive every year, and yet very few people able to contemplate its impenetrable polar nights between November and February, man still remains a cumbersome guest in Svalbard islands. If not, even noisy, when he indulges in jazz or blues festivals to better sustain the winter isolation, or engages himself into singing his heart out on the flames raised for the return of the Sun, essential rite of March, during the week of Solfestuka.

Innovation Norway - Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com
Barentsz map (1598)


Aware of its strength, just as the hoary bear, nature remains often to look and seldom breaks down. Indeed, when Isfjord’s waters return every year to lap the ports of the capital or of the Russian settlement of Barentsburg, finally free from the grip of the ice, the landscape seems immutably the same. It wakes up in the same condition in which it had fallen asleep. Or so it is natural to think since the days when man began to bear witness, first through descriptions of "the island of the cold coasts" contained in the Icelandic saga "Svalbarði fundinn" of 1194, then thanks to the most meticulous notes left by their modern discoverer Willem Barentsz in 1596, when the archipelago was nothing but a great landing place for hunting whales and Basques masters’ harpoons.

Longyearbyen view - Smudge9000

Longyearbyen - Smudge9000

Longyearbyen Miners memorial - Smudge9000


"Huset, Longyearbyen’s meeting house built in the 50's and almost never touched since then - remembers Monika Kristensen in "Operation Fritham"- it was still a popular meeting place among locals and tourists. It dated from the same period of the great dining hall of Sverdrupyen and it shared the same square shape and confidence in the bright industrial future of the archipelago, that after only ten years was to prove unfounded. The two buildings had in common also the indefinable color, a gray-green that perhaps was once a light brown. They were the places where the miners went to have a beer and relax a bit after the shift down in the mountain; It was located near their homes, in the old part of the city that had been named Einar Sverdrup, for many years director of the Store Norske and died in the bombings of Isbjorn and Selis".

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-432-0796-07, Flugzeug Focke-Wulf Fw 200 "Condor"

An old icebreaker and a ship for seal hunting. These were the powerful means that the anti-Nazi front managed to put in place in the summer of 1942, when it tried to regain control of strategic islands. These were the easy targets for German bombers Focke, which sank in a few minutes a shipping of interminable weeks, destroying 12 people, injuring 15 others and forcing the remnants of the 83 soldiers to survive on the way to Barentsburg. But it was not the first time that the British and Norwegian troops were surprised by the lighting attacks of the Third Reich. Up there, in the Arctic, the Germans seemed to be able to re-start even destroyers which, logically, could not be supplied in any way. Yet they continued to do so. Even during the naval battle of Narvik two years earlier. Eluding Royal Navy’s cordon, the fuel had arrived aboard the infamous Jan Wellem. But where the hell did it come from, given that the only supply route in Swedish Lapland was not controlled yet? Even after the war, finding an answer in the archives of Narvik’s Museum of the Occupation has long been impossible. Where ever did the Nazi-Leviathan Nazi conceal? 

German Gebirgsjägers in the mountains at Narvik

Monika Kristensen

Even Monika Kristensen says nothing about in "Operation Fritham", although her historical thriller takes place between Svalbard and Finnmark, the northernmost county in Norway. Land of few words, but thin eyed, just like those of the nomadic Sami and their enigmatic rock paintings in the Unesco site of Alta. Land of clues and border, which for decades has been questioned on what ever happened behind the Iron Curtain. In Korzunovo, thirty kilometers to the east, the memories of cosmonaut Juri Gagarin’s experiments are kept alive more from the grip of frost than the inhabitants of the former Red Army’s base. In Teriberka roofs creak, the doors are off their hinges, vessels rust inexorably on the beach. Were it not for the promise of industrial revival, which is ready to replace the gas extraction to the decayed fisheries sector (using an offshore basin potentially able to satisfy the 2% of world demand), the last 200 inhabitants would perhaps have gone for quite a while. Now the movie "Leviathan", set in this part of Soviet nostalgia, simply does not have infused new hope in who relies on tourism entirely. On the lips of olders a name - thought buried under the rubble of the Great Patriotic War - has turned to bounce : Basis Nord.



The enigmatic, invisible, feared base of the German navy that Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had assured the Reich and through which the Germans had set out to bring down the British Empire. The conquest of Norway, however, turned out faster than expected and the supporting stations for submarines were soon moved on the western front, even coming to Svalbard. Basis Nord, now the pivot of Russian Arctic fleet but then only a sketch of nautical call between Teriberka and Zapadnaya Litsa, had just enough time to become a legend. Yet, if that damn Jan Wellem had not replenished destroyers in the battle of Narvik, Norway could perhaps keep in check the Germans. Probably France would be spared from invasion. And the war, maybe ... water under the bridge, you will say. Veterans’ regrets. But who understands the Arctic, is well aware that certain truths remain indelibly engraved in mind, as well as in the rock. Time freezes the memories. It jealously preserves and shares them with the worthy ones only. Monika Kristensen is right, when she writes: "Two kinds of people go to Svalbard: those who love adventure and extreme nature, or those who have something to hide and forget".




The abandoned town of Pyramiden still keeps quiet. Wrapped in the silence of its cracks and its spectrally empty buildings, resends visitors questions about what Soviet Union was and what looked for here. Old installations of coal, gold or zinc mining in Ny-Ålesund, on the contrary, try to remind researchers of Dirigibile Italia base, like those ones working in the hypertechnological Amundsen-Nobile Climate Change Tower, that Man, in the Arctic, is just passing through. His achievements remain fragile. An inflexible cosmic law imposes to remove what has been taken beyond the right, but to repay with an even greater gift if someone is able to sacrifice something of himself. For an over-the-Pole-flew won by the duo Amundsen-Nobile, in that fateful May 1926 the 26th, two years after almost invariably followed the crash of the airship Italy, the death of the great Norwegian explorer, the race against time to recover ten adrift men.

@Bernt Rostad


Innovation Norway - Jens Henrik Nybo - Visitnorway.com

Alpinioya, the island of the Italian mountain corps long time invisible on the maps, then launches warnings to anyone who does not agree to the limit which, for better or for worse, the man is delivered in, but before which seems not to want to resign at all today. And if a memorial expedition - like the one led in 2010 by the explorer Piero Bosco and the Cuneo city section of Alpini national association (ready to replicate this year) - it should be accepted as an invitation to meditate on Man’s hybris, ice melting, polar bears drowning, sudden storms, stranding of whales persist in repeating that the time to retrace our steps is about to expire.



Longyearbyen Kirk @MartynSmith

Or maybe it expires, every single day that we challenge recklessly Leviathan: a creature so huge as ineffable that, through the Sphinx face of Svalbard and the Arctic, puts on the scales paradise, without grant us grace nor forgiveness. Patient, it strives to speak our language by the panels of Longyearbyen’s Museum of Expeditions, in the blue lights of the painter Olaf Storoo or in the blinding white of his colleague Kåre Tveter, through the yellowed maps collected at the Galleri Svalbard, between the wooden walls of the church in the city, where a fireplace, a cup of coffee or a waffle have never been denied, provided that we finally stop our step. We honor the silence. We look up to the world that continues to live beyond the illusion of our screens; and huge, terrible, infinite, it stands in front of a tiny little man. Someone has dared to give it a name: Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The underground storage of all seeds on Earth. He has confused it with the Apocalypse.


Mari Tefre/Svalbard Globale frøhvelv
Aurora over Svalbard @Martyn Smith

1 comment:

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