Norway - beautiful one day, bloody annoying the next | Joanne McCarthy

THE irritation had been rising for days.

I was standing with my friend, who we’ll call Betsy, and she was photographing something – a bird’s beak, lichen on a rock, a strangely-shaped piece of native animal poop or anything else that would catch the eye of a geography teacher with a camera – when I finally blew after too long keeping my emotions in check.

“Oh for God’s sake look at that weed. Just look at it. It’s gorgeous. That little flowery weed is more beautiful than 98 per cent of the world’s actual, proper flowers. It’s ridiculous. No, it’s not ridiculous, it’s offensive. Yes, it’s offensive. That’s the word. It’s absolutely offensive that Norway is so breathtakingly beautiful – has an actual glut of beauty, is a country that’s a beauty glutton – that it can’t even turn out a dumb old ugly weed like everyone else. I mean, really. Enough. There’s been too much beauty. I can’t take it anymore,” I said.

I threw myself onto a bench in the middle of a gorgeous little park in the Norwegian town of Balestrand and looked across a meadow of soft, lush green Norwegian grass strewn with tiny flowers, to the view beyond.

Of course the park was in an impossibly spectacular position beside a ridiculously wondrous expanse of water – Norway’s largest and best known fjord, Sognefjord.

Of course there was a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, and while I was sitting there complaining about the ridiculous gorgeousness of the previous few days some golden shafts of late afternoon sunlight speared through dramatic banks of clouds, to rub salt into the wound. “Think that’s amazing?” Norway seemed to be saying. “Try this. Think that dramatic waterfall plunging down that sheer cliff into that deep blue depth of fjord is incomparable? What about a double rainbow with that? A soaring eagle and its baby? A Viking burial mound?”

Bloody Norway. No light and shade. No ugliness. Just beauty, beauty, beauty until you long for a dusty old field beyond a shopping centre carpark, with a few mangy scraps of grass, a dead tree on its side, some abandoned cars and mattresses and a pile of garbage bags – preferably with one spewing out its contents.

Bloody Norway. No light and shade. No ugliness. Just beauty, beauty, beauty until you long for a dusty old field beyond a shopping centre carpark, with a few mangy scraps of grass and a dead tree on its side.

Betsy finished taking her native animal poop shots and turned to me.

“Where’s the weed?” she said.

“There. Not the gorgeous white ones shaped like stars, or the tiny yellow bells or the pink ones with the red streaks. See that little mauve one?” I said.

She walked across, took a photo of it to add to her Norwegian beautiful weeds collection, and wandered off. Too many impossibly gorgeous things are barely enough for her. It’s why we were heading to the Arctic Circle in search of the northern lights and she was carrying enough photographic gear to cover the first moon landing.

She’d already warned she was likely to cry because she’d wanted to see the northern lights her whole life.

I, on the other hand, ranked seeing the northern lights – on a list of possible life experiences – somewhere near learning how to make jam, dying my hair purple or meeting Elton John. In other words, it could be nice, but I could also go a whole life without bothering.

In case the crying put Betsy off her northern lights game I’d promised to whinge while we stood watching them, to help her keep a lid on her emotions.

Norway is a long way away – at least four sleep-inducing prescribed drugs away on my count. On our trip in September I remember a meal on the plane featuring beans and chicken, a screaming child, an airport stopover and an unsuccessful search for thongs, and throwing back enough sleeping tablets to make a 17-day flight (at least that’s my memory of how long it took) bearable.

And then we were in too-bloody-beautiful Norway, where even the people are annoyingly, wholesomely attractive.

In the five years since I’ve been in Oslo the Norwegians have finished their new opera house. It’s not the Sydney Opera House, but any opera house where you can run, walk, sit, squat, sleep, roll or ride a motorbike on its roof – as you can do with Oslo’s opera house – is a winner in my books.

Betsy and I ran up it in the pre-dawn dark, took in the glorious views of the sleeping, beautifully-lit city (of course, it’s Norway), and later that day chatted to a man who rode his motorbike on the opera house roof because he could, and because he was being filmed for something.

In the far northern town of Kirkenes near the Russian border we climbed a hill to catch the northern lights. They were nice. (I said I could go a whole life without bothering.) I whinged about the cold, Betsy took her photos and whimpered a bit, and then we walked down the hill again.

When we returned to the hotel we found that our friends had had a better view of the whole thing while drinking beer and sitting under big heaters on the veranda overlooking another beautiful Norwegian waterway.

Anyway, Norway is a particularly annoying country from an Australian perspective. It has mineral resources in the form of offshore oil. We have mineral resources too many to mention.

Norway’s 5 million people have amassed the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund that’s on track to exceed $US1 trillion by 2020. Australia has made a mess of it.

In his recent book, Trillion Dollar Baby: How Norway beat the oil giants and won a lasting fortune, specialist resources writer Paul Cleary explains how Norway decided two decades ago that it was the master, and not the servant, of Big Oil.

Federal Auditor-General Grant Hehir sank the boot in a blistering report this week revealing how Australia has allowed, and is allowing, multinational oil and gas companies to ride a one-off resources boom and dud us of billions of dollars .

Australians all, let us react.


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