Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When I was growing up... Minnesota, it was common knowledge that our Norwegian brothers and sisters were, well, boring. Even Garrison Keillor implied as much on his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion:

"A Norwegian bachelor farmer can sit at a bar and nurse one drink until it gets better and walks away."

What about you? Do you think Norwegians are boring? (Do you even have an opinion?)

If you said yes, a story in today's New York Times, "Bark Up or Down? Firewood Splits Norwegians," may make you think again (my emphasis):

A TV program, on the topic of firewood, consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace.

Nearly a million people, or 20 percent of the population, tuned in at some point to the program, which was shown on the state broadcaster, NRK.

In a country where 1.2 million households have fireplaces or wood stoves, said Rune Moeklebust, NRK’s head of programs in the west coast city of Bergen, the subject naturally lends itself to television.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?’ ” Mr. Moeklebust said in an interview. “And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.” 

“National Firewood Night,” as Friday’s program was called, opened with the host, Rebecca Nedregotten Strand, promising to “try to get to the core of Norwegian firewood culture — because firewood is the foundation of our lives.” Various people discussed its historical and personal significance. “We’ll be sawing, we’ll be splitting, we’ll be stacking and we’ll be burning,” Ms. Nedregotten Strand said.

But the real excitement came when the action moved, four hours later, to a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse.

Perhaps you have seen a log fire burning on television before. But it would be very foolish to confuse Norway’s eight-hour fireplace extravaganza on Friday with the Yule log broadcast in the United States at Christmastime.

While the Yule log fire plays on a constant repeating loop, the fire on “National Firewood Night” burned all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations. Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it.

For most of the time, the only sound came from the fire. Ms. Hatlevoll’s face never appeared on screen, but occasionally her hands could be seen putting logs in the fireplace, or cooking sausages and marshmallows on sticks.

“I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.

“I’m not being ironic,” the viewer continued. “For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.”

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