Norway Day (Festival) and the Long Now Museum

On a warm Sunday, May 6, 2007, I drove to Fort Mason for Norway Day. I'd never been to the convention hall before, and, although I'd been to the area, I'd forgotten what a pain it is to park there. There is pay parking but it's hard to locate the entrance and harder still to find an unoccupied space.

As you'll see from the various performers, products, and foods, the festival seemed more designed for Norwegian expatriates than for anyone else.

I went a little light on pictures and movies this trip, so this post should serve as the primary point of reference for the things I saw.

A spent an hour or so watching the very good multimedia artistic performance Terje Vigen. Terje Vigen is a 150-year-old epic Norwegian poem about Norwegian men who rowed across a sea, passing a naval blockade, to Denmark in order to get food for their families. By multimedia performance, I mean an actor on a stage (with set and all) sings operatically, accompanied by music, behind whom is a screen onto which is projected a video of another actor going through similar motions (just not on a stage but rather in the real world: e.g., rowing on a tossing sea). Although the poem is in Norwegian, this performance used an English translation that I liked. I have no idea if the translation was good or bad, but the combination of music, video, setting, and poem made one coherent package so it couldn't have been entirely wrong. This was the first performance of the musical production of Terje Vigen outside of Norway.

One observation that's more a comment on the festival than the musical is that all the advertisements in the big booklet they handed out about the musical are in Norwegian.

The festival also screened a snowboarding movie about the quest to set the world record for quarter pipe height. I watched a bit of it before wandering away. They showed it because some of the main events happened in Scandinavia.

Near the end of the festival I observed some Norwegian folk dancing, which turns out to look fairly similar to American folk dancing.

There were two main types of booths: retailers selling Norwegian products difficult to acquire in the states, and social clubs.

Regarding the former, items for sale included Norwegian books, packaged food stuffs (some of which I saw prepared during the cooking demonstration), shoes, jewelry, travel planning (to Scandinavia, of course), sleds (!), and paintings of flowers (rosemaling is a traditional Norwegian art of flower painting). A meadery located in far Northern California also had a booth. A few Norwegian artists (photographers, painters, sewers, and potters) were there; I don't know if that's their ancestry or if they actually live or have lived in Norway.

Regarding social clubs, there were many for Norwegians or Scandinavians represented, often segregated by gender (e.g., Sons of Norway). There were also a few schools represented, seemingly targeting children of expats who are likely to want to return to Scandinavia. To enroll, students must be fluent in at least one of Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.

It's unusual for a ethnic festival to make a nod to minorities related to the ethnicity, but this festival did, with an exhibit devoted to the Sami, an indigenous people who lived in the Nordic region.

Food and Cooking
Food was a substantial part of my experience at this festival. For lunch, I had an unexciting open-faced sandwich (smørbrød) with unremarkable shrimp and tartar sauce. For dessert, I had a lefse, a sweet folded bread that I liked so much I bought another right before I left the festival. The festival also served other types of open-faced sandwiches along with cream cake (blotkake), Norwegian waffles (vafler), and rolls with cheese.

Happily, lunch wasn't all the food at the festival. I attended a cooking class. The head cook wore a shirt that said "kiss the cook, he is Norwegian." I've seen analogous shirts at Greek festivals and feel it somehow gives support for the authenticity of the fair. The cook, a good speaker, treated us like members of his family, explaining everything about everything, whether dishes prepared by him personally or by someone else. (Grandmother-types made some dishes.) It's definitely one of the best cooking demonstrations to which I've been. Many more details are available in the picture captions.

Long Now
In order to enjoy the sunshine after a day indoors, I took a long route to my car. On the way, I spotted the Long Now Museum, a foundation and museum devoted to building structures and processes that will survive eons, including earthquakes, nuclear war, language shifts, and technology data format changes. Although the museum was a tiny two or three rooms, enough cool stuff was on display that I didn't have time to see everything before the museum closed for the day. (I want to return.)

Two exhibits struck me. One was a clock designed to last and stay accurate for ten thousand years. As the display explained, after much thought, they decided the best strategy would be a pendulum. After further thought, they concluded that tungsten was the best material for the bob. Not many people think that deeply about what the world could be like in ten thousand years. Here's a preliminary list of some issues they considered. (The display better described their decisions and the reasons for them.)

The foundation is also trying to make a "rosetta disk" -- basically, a decoder that will preserve all we know about languages, partially to maintain culture and knowledge, and partially to help archaeologists in the distant future read and understand other documents from our time.

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