Wild Ducks and Fascists: Wartime in Norway

Jpassport Julia Grønnevet in Guernica:

The last victim was buried on August 18th, and the international media is long gone from Norway. But Norwegian media are still compulsively following every development in the Anders Behring Breivik case. While the rest of the world is consumed with the 9/11 anniversary, the Norwegian papers are writing that the gunman who shot 68 kids on Utøya and set off a massive bomb in central Oslo wanted to wear white tie and tails to his court date on August 19th. “This is the most formal dress for men,” his lawyer Geir Lippestad writes in a letter to the police, “and will not be offensive to the court, or demeaning or disturbing. On the contrary, the dress will show that the accused takes the process very seriously, and wishes to be presentable as he faces the court.” The article is accompanied by one of those pictures of Breivik that has become so familiar by now, the pale face, blond hair and queasy smile of a satisfied Norwegian man. The photo appears to have been taken indoors with a flash, the colors are over bright and the details are crisp in the wrong way. If this photo were taken with a camera using black and white film it would be a picture of a 1940s gentleman. Most Norwegians my age grew up with that sort of photo hanging on the wall, photos of our grandparents and their generation, the ones who faced The War. Our ancestors’ blue eyes turn colorless in grayscale.

There was only one War when I grew up, and it marked my grandparents so strongly it was the explanation for their every eccentricity. The slices of bread at their house were thin and crumbly, because during The War they had had to save on the food. Their multi-room walk-in pantry, and my aunts’ pantries (they remembered rationing) were always stocked with incredible amounts of food that they bartered for with their fisherman neighbors. Dead bodies could have fit into the industrial freezers that were in the basement of my grandparents’ farmhouse, the ancestral home of the Grønnevets, Sunnmøre on the northwest coast of Norway. Forget about buying German cars—where I grew up, German tourists were not to be spoken to and The War was remembered at every meal.