In The Waste Land, a piece of poetry that I studied at school and still love today, T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month, but to be honest, I’d never really agreed with him. For me, April was the month of spring, of new life, of warmer days and of shorter nights. Plus there was a birthday or two thrown into the mix; what’s not to like?
Perhaps though he just had the gift of foresight – April 2020 has been a cruel month indeed for a huge proportion of the world’s population.
Living in Norway, we have escaped the worst of the pandemic and life here is slowly returning to, if not normal, then a “new normal”: a situation that is perfectly liveable for the medium to long term, just different. My heart goes out to those who are suffering during these strange times and I hope that the second half of 2020 is kinder to all.
Sam and I have been very fortunate: we have both been healthy, Sam has kept his job and is able to easily work from home, and our lockdown rules have been loose enough that we have been able to get all the fresh air that we need. We have seen no signs of panic buying and the shops have stayed fully stocked throughout, lending an appreciated air of calm continuity. The Norwegians seem to be a pretty stoic bunch; in general, they have just “got on” with it, complying with the measures with little fuss and little complaining.
I have seen an awful lot written about how this situation can really highlight the important things in life, perhaps making us less materialistic and less consumerist. Perhaps this is true for others, but it not something that I’ve really felt at all. The two largest disruptions to my life (and in the grand scheme of world events these are so incredibly minor) have been not being able to see my friends, and not being able to use public transport to take us out of Stavanger and into the hills. In fairness, at no point did Norway stop people socialising, but it seemed slightly irresponsible to continue to meet up, so we didn’t. Public transport is still running, true, but the government asked that this was only used if essential. Although the Norwegians really value their time outdoors, I couldn’t quite justify hiking as an essential…
Thankfully, after most people have stuck diligently to the measures, Norway has been able to lift many of the restrictions to the extent that we can now hold gatherings of up to 20 people in private residences and the vast majority of business have reopened. I have been able to meet several friends for walks or dinner, and it has been wonderful to catch up with them, albeit tinged with sadness as some have lost their jobs and will soon have to move back to their home countries.
Due to the travel restrictions we haven’t left Stavanger since early March and I think it’s safe to say that we have now explored more of the city than perhaps really necessary! After four months of significantly above average rainfall, April has been much drier, with mostly sunny, clear days. It has been warmer too, with the temperature climbing into double digits for the first time since December (and the maximum temperature in December was only 10.9°C and 10.4°C in November. Brrr!).
Don’t be fooled though, summer still seems a long way off – yesterday we were treated to hailstorms, snow, and sleet, and with the wind chill factored in the temperature felt like 1°C. Definitely not time to pack away the down jackets just yet!
Even with the cold, the longer days have been so very welcome. We have been treated to some beautiful sunsets, although I won’t be seeing them for too much longer as sunset today is at 10 pm and, not being a night owl, I am usually tucked up in bed by then. With sunrise at 5 am, the days already feel stretched out and there are still several weeks to go until the longest day.I’m not the only one loving the light. One of the benefits of treading the same paths over and over is that it’s easy to see spring unfolding right in front of me. Well, yes, it does seem very delayed, and there are still some trees without even the hint of a leaf, but most are now in their first flush, presenting their bright and delicate blossom or leaves to the world.
As well as watching spring advance, we’ve also been able to appreciate more of the city. The sculptor Antony Gormley has created 23 life-sized cast iron figures that are placed at various points throughout Stavanger, and we’ve enjoyed attempting to find them all on our rambles through the city (there is a map that we could use, but where’s the fun in that?).
Handily for exploring, there are 52 hverdagsturer, or everyday walking routes throughout the city, marked by red T signs. We still have several to go before we can tick all 52 off!We have also been scoping out some of the street art that decorates many of the city walls – some on public buildings and others on private residences. Some are displayed in prominent positions while others are tucked down side streets and narrow alleyways. Not all are to my taste, but they certainly brighten up a lot of otherwise plain walls.Staying with the ‘wall theme’, we’ve also made time to stop and read (and translate) the blue plaques that are dotted are around. I now know that within about 50 metres of our apartment lie two interesting (and rather juxtaposed) buildings: one the home of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the other a place where unfortunate criminals were put ‘on the wheel’ and publicly executed.
Although we’re missing our wilderness fix, there are strips of greenery in the city, including the Sørmarka forest where I was thrilled to find a population of red squirrels in residence. With their own nut-storage boxes set up for them, they’re in squirrel heaven and were very content to be the subjects of hundreds of squirrel-themed photos. The Norwegians thought I was mad, but having come from a country where red squirrel sightings are rare indeed, it was a real treat.In two days time we’re due an update on Norway’s travel restrictions, which may mean that we will be let loose in the hills once more. Until then, we are very content to continue exploring our adopted home, feeling grateful for the immense privilege to do so.