Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Codfish & Grieg

Bergen Harbour

Old Downtown


Fish Market

Old Bergen Museum

Rosenkrantz Tower

Grieg's Statue, Troldhaugen

Grieg's Summer House, Troldhaugen

Fall in Troldhaugen

Dried codfish gave Bergen wealth and Edvard Grieg gave it music. There's actually no cod in the waters off Bergen. The fish come from further up north in the Lofoten Islands, hang dried in the sun, with the resulting constitution of manila hemp.

The samples at the Hanseatic Museum in historic Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage, were meant only for show not to taste as I found out. To eat, one has to soak the dried cod in water for days to bring back the spring in the meat. Or, in true Norwegian style, soak the dried code in lye for days, then boil or bake it, then serve as "lutfisk", the traditional delight with the consistency and taste of jello.

Edvard Grieg is Norway's ultimate and greatest composer. He is to Norwegian music as Henrik Ibsen is to Norwegian literature. His summer home in Troldhaugen with his beloved piano is worthy of a visit by those who have heard his piano Concerto in A Minor. The concerto is dramatic, a little wild, whimsical at times, which basically describes the landscape, the city, and the weather in Bergen.

Bergen's history dates back to 1070, founded by King Olav at the end of the Viking age. It was Norway's second capital, after Trondheim further up north on the west coast, before Christiania (Oslo) took over. During the medieval times, the city was an important partner in the Hanseatic League, the alliance of merchant cities of the Baltic, Germany and Northern Europe on par with notable trading cities like Bruges in Belgium, and Hamburg in Germany. Trading dried cod gave Bergen its bragging rights in the league.

The city landscape, the mountains, the water and inlets (or arms) bear a striking similarity to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada.The foliage and evergreens gave the place a certain mellowness in early November of 2004 when I visited. The overnight train trip from Oslo was supposed to end with a dramatic approach to Bergen, a sunrise spectacle as the train came down the mountain toward the sea. However, it was 4:00 am in mid-autumn, pitch dark and foggy when the train rolled into Bergen. The view, unfortunately, could only be possible on a clear morning during Norwegian summers.

Coming out of the train station in darkness, save for the eerie glow of street lamps, I walked across to the old downtown with its narrow cobble stone streets. At the end of the rows of wooden and concrete low rise buildings with quaint shops, I emerged at the Bryggen. The colourful wooden trading houses of the medieval ages on one side of the street fronting the harbour, was Bergen in a postcard.

One of my favourite cities in Europe, Bergen is very picturesque, like Vancouver, Rio, de Janeiro or Hongkong on a much smaller scale, laid back with salty sea air charm. Although it can be damp cold, it isn't lacking in vibrancy as an urban and cultural center with the blending of the medieval old, 19th century old and Scandinavian modern.

The most memorable place, undoubtedly for me, is Troldhaugen, Grieg's summer home. This has more to do with the piano Concerto in A minor that is firmly lodged in one of my brain cells. It happens to be one of my father's vinyl record collection of classical music, which he played most Sundays on the old hi-fi.

For more information on this charming city, Visit Bergen.
To listen to Edvard Grieg, Piano Concerto in A Minor.