IBSEN- and HAMSUN-FESTIVAL in GRIMSTAD: 9 - 13 AUGUST 2006

What is "The Lady from the Sea" ? I do not know, I do not know at all; because the Lady from the Sea talks so divinely profound. - No, this is a book for Germans. (Hamsun writes about Ibsen in his lecture "Norwegian Literature"). Ibsen on the contrary never wrote about Hamsun, though that would have been highly interesting! It has become a tradition that the two giants in Norwegian literature meet here in an exiting event and I believe that the two, each sitting on his cloud, will agree, yes, there is room for us both! Once more Ibseniana and the Hamsun-Society in Grimstad invited to a rich and exiting programme, this year mainly focussed on Ibsen and the centennial of his death.
Still with the memories of the experiences in Hamarøy present and after having sent my companion home on a plane, I arrived in Grimstad, this beautiful white town in the south, that received me with sunshine and colourful tourists. Yes, Grimstad equals the experiences in Hamarøy, both are highlights in festival-Norway.

Hotel Norlandia now became my base-camp for the next days, full of curiosity I made a round in Grimstad, good friends started to turn up too and filled the days with joy. A guided tour of the newly renovated Ibsen-museum was first on my list and I crossed the new pavement towards the entrance with much anticipation. An Ibsen Café and shop was situated opposite the museum and tempted with offers for mind and body. Already at the entrance to the museum my thought were turned back to the times when Ibsen arrived here as a young man in 1843 and during the following 6 years mixed powders and ointments whilst dreaming of becoming a poet and during his leisure hours wrote his first play "Catilina". "To write - that is holding judgement day over one-self", Henrik Ibsen. As I went around this incredibly interesting museum, I wished that I could have continued in a Hamsun museum! I still hope this wish may come true!


The Ibsen museum Jon Fløjstad at Norsk Hagebruksmuseum

I stayed in Ibsen's world and drove to Dømmesmoen, where Jon Fløjstad lively and captivating told about the pharmaceutical apprentice Ibsen and the myths about his use of herbs. The title was "Ibsen's currant bushes and other bushes." The myth that Ibsen wandered the county collecting medicinal herbs was done away with. The use of medicinal herbs was ruled by severe royal statutory instruments and herbs had to be bought in Copenhagen and Hamburg. Really a new and interesting theme. But the day offered more Ibsen events.
The programme for the evening was in the town hall: "Wild flowers and potted plants". Yes, that was really title of the concert with Bodil Arnesen, soprano, Ola B. Johannesen, recitation and Erling Eriksen, piano performing very beautiful and poetic music by Edvard Grieg and texts by Henrik Ibsen. Here we also heard "Terje Vigen", a story ever so moving. A splendid start of some exiting days.


"Wild flowers and potted plants" The dining room in Hotel Norlandia

I did sleep!! but in the neighbouring room somebody was suffering from chronic coughs and I suffered too!!
Breakfast with Nils Magne Knutsen and an interesting talk. As soon as I saw the dining room, named "Growth of the Soil", I was ready for Hamsun's world and for Ibsen's too off course. The day was spent with good friends in Grimstad, coffee at Reidar Marmøy, fish balls at Ola Veigaard, a visit to the book shop and the local newspaper before I fetched Nils Magne Knutsen, who was rehearsing the programme "Eroticism and Love", in which he was to perform Friday night together with Anneke von der Lippe and Sven Nordin. Nils Magne wanted to see the Hamsun menhir at Tjore. Ola Veigaard also came along and told the story behind the menhir. One gets captivated by the special mood here. On the menhir a plaque with the beautiful quotation from "On overgrown Paths" is found: "We are all on a voyage to a place, where we will soon enough. We are not in a hurry, we take fortuitousness as it comes."


Ola Veigaard and Nils Magne Knutsen

Then a visit to Nørholm and the poet's cottage was due before returning to the hotel.
"Nagel" is groaning and creaking in the joints when I turn the steering wheel, but according to a competent mechanic it is only due to the heat! Though he is not old by years, he has passed 150.000 km.
In Grimstad it is tradition to perform an Ibsen play during the Ibsen- and Hamsun Days, this year we had an excellent experience: TanGhost. It was with much anticipation that I and all the rest of the enthusiastic audience in the Cultural Centre saw Ibsen's "Ghosts" in a new and modernized version with dance, music and video performance. It was a superb experience: Ibsen's sharp text combined with tango, which in it's form and expression showed the all the moods of the play. The audience was in raptures over the performance. In the newspaper, Grimstad Adressetidende, Karin Engh wrote the day after: "Even the "Sfinx" himself would have smiled and spended a well deserved applause to this modern version of Ghosts. TanGhost was a magic performance and a full Catilina held it's breath for one and a half hour."


The TanGhost ensemble Marianne and Ann Christine Hamsun

The evening ended in Grimstad Hotel with plenty of food and discussion. I had a talk with the actress Hanne Dieserud, who told that her husband had played the role of Nagel in the Norwegian television production of Mysteries from 1996.
I slept well, the neighbour with the coughs had moved out!
After breakfast and a talk with Kirsten and Bjørn Hemmer and with Nils Magne Knutsen I went into town, strolled around until midday and the next event: "Lunch with Henrik and Suzannah" in the garden of the old Pharmacy, where the sun sent golden rays through the canopy covering the courtyard giving a magic touch. But before "Henrik and Suzannah" an Ibsen/ Hamsun prize of 50.000 NOK was awarded. This year an Ibsen related project was chosen and a beaming Bjørn Hemmer was the well deserved receiver, a hard working Ibsen fan and on top of all he is also active in Hamsun affairs.
Finally we saw and heard "Ibsen's female characters in life and literature", a talk between Astrid Sæther and Ivo de Figueiredo with Oddbjørn Johannessen as interviewer, alternating with Ibsen's texts recited by Hanne Diserud.


Mayor Svein Harberg and Bjørn Hemmer Oddbjørn Johannesen and Astrid Sæther

After this lunch comprising of something for the tongue as well as for the soul - the restaurant served us a salad - the next event was awaiting us at Dømmesmoen. Ola Veigaard bid welcome, and then Nils Magne Knutsen took us on a journey to Nordland: "The long way home - Knut Hamsun and Hamarøy". Hamsun had not written like he did, had he not had a longing for Nordland and his childhood. I had just heard this excellent lecture the week before in Hamarøy, but I could hear it again and again and here it was phrased slightly differently, as we were now in the deep south of Norway! At the same time he presented his new book "Knut Hamsun og Nordland - Den lange veien hjem." Hereby warmly recommended, and after the lecture Nils Magne was very busy writing greetings in the books sold.


Ola Veigaard Nils Magne Knutsen

After Nils Magne's lecture we went in another part of Dømmesmoen, the Norwegian Museum for Horticulture, which was completely full. Kjell Stormoen read from "On overgrown Paths". No matter how well one knows this text, we are all enchanted every time we listen to Stormoen. And one more highlight awaited us: a lecture by Inge Eidsvåg on "Growth of the Soil". "Oh, Geissler was a master, he could act or abstain from acting, shake his head or nod a yes. He could make a village smile again." Inge Eidsvåg sees, like I, Hamsun personified in the character Geissler, though Hamsun is present with a fragment of himself in any of the characters he describes.
Then the exhibition "Knut Hamsun as a farmer" was opened, something that I had looked forward to, but I gave up getting through the crowds of people and with only 10 minutes to the inauguration of the Terje Vigen-sculpture on the quay, this I had to witness.
Crowds of people were sitting in the perfect weather on the Terje Vigen quay, amongst others also Toril and Leif Hamsun, who had just arrived. Trond Audun Berg from the newspaper Adressetidende told, that exactly 100 years ago the Terje Vigen menhir at the graveyard in Fjære was inaugurated, and Trond discussed in his lecture, whether Terje Vigen was a historical person. Today, scholars have digged out enough evidence to prove, that Terje Viken has actually lived. We then witnessed the actor Joen Bille from Copenhagen, Ibsen's great-grandchild, unveiling the statue and we all admired Nina Sundby's beautiful piece of art here on the Terje Vigen quay. It was as though Terje Vigen was amongst us, I have always imagined him like this. My photo does not do him justice, unfortunately.


Inauguration of the Terje Vigen statue

After all these experiences we were all hungry, the restaurant Apotekergården offered their well-known fish soup at 8pm. We first sat on the terrace partly covered by parasols, but when it started to rain we moved into the courtyard where everybody was sheltered by a large awning. We were enjoying it, talking and drinking wine, but the fish-soup we had to wait for. Finally at 9. 40 it was served, but it was good.


Ann Christine and Leif Hamsun Toril and Marianne Hamsun "Eroticism and love"

Luckily the rain had stopped, so we hurried the few 100 meters up the Kirkeheia, where at 10.30 an extraordinary and poetic experience awaited us: "Love and eroticism. Knut Hamsun in poetry and prose"! Anneke von der Lippe and Sven Nordin presented texts from Pan, Victoria, Wilde Choir and from the short story On the Bench, all underlined by Stian Carstensen and his accordion. The light from a few lamps and burning torches around the stage gave a moving sentiment with Hamsun's texts and beautifully bound together by Nils-Magne Knutsen, we were all in a special mood when we drove home to the hotel and it was very late before the last conversations ended.

I'm sorry, Ibsen - but again an event that I had looked especially forward to, a meeting with some of the people who had been employed at Nørholm. First the exhibition, incredible interesting and well done, here we could learn about Hamsun as an employer, admire one of Marie's dresses, Hamsun's walking cane, Hamsun's letter box - no, not the famous from downtown Grimstad, but his own from Nørholm, Hamsun's record player, yes a special atmosphere ruled over the exhibition.


The Norwegian Museum for Horticulture was completely crowded at the meeting with Hamsun employees

The Norwegian Gardening Museum was completely full, more than full, extra chairs were brought in and good spirits and animation ruled. I did not taste the Stampegraut, a dish that Hamsun had desired served at Nørholm though according to the employees it was only served once! The dish is a kind of mashed potatoes and flour served with butter.


From the exhibition at Hagebruksmuseet, Dømmesmoen

At the end of the splendid and interesting days Toril and Leif Hamsun accompanied by Knut Møretrø came to see Hamsun's cave, which Møretrø just had discovered. August 1st the local newspaper, Grimstad Adressetidende, wrote about the discovery and presented a photo with Knut Møretrø in the cave. In his book "On overgrown Paths" Knut Hamsun writes about a cave, that he found during his walks from the old people's home in Landvik northwards along the Skiftenesveien. Knut Møretrø tells, that he had been looking for the cave and here everything fits the description from the book. Rubbish is still thrown down the hillside, as Hamsun described. With expectancy we descended the hillside remembering what Hamsun wrote. Now it was not Knut Hamsun seeking refuge in the cave but his grandchild Leif Hamsun, who found it a special experience to sit here. Karin Engh from Adresseavisen was also present and took pictures of Leif in the cave and I did not hesitate to fix the historical moment with my small camera. Yes, we are always experiencing new things in Hamsun's tracks, also things not found in the programme.


Leif Hamsun in his grandfathers cave

And then there were all the events, that I would have liked to participate in, but simply had no time for:

- The miner. Recital and guiding with Jens Olai Justvik and Jon Fløistad in the mines at Lerestveit.

- On overgrown Paths. A guided tour over Møllerheia.

- Four Ibsen-biographers. A dive into the poet's life. With Ivo de Figueiredo, Astrid Sæther, Erik H. Edvardsen, Joen Bille and Oddbjørn Johannessen.

- Terje Vigen at Kvaløya with Sven Nordin.

- Ibsen-experiences. With Gisken Armand and Joen Bille, music by Stian Carstensen, Kirkeheia.

- Terje Vigen. Victor Sjöström's silent film from 1916 with live music composed and performed by Ketil Bjørnstadt.

Really a cornucopia of experiences!

Everything comes to en end, after a day with Marianne Hamsun I packed "Nagel" and set course towards Kristiansand and the ferry to Hirtshals. Rarely have I seen so many people and cars, the ferry was packed to close that one could only enter one's car when the row next to it had left the ferry. And we had a gale, the ferry rolled and tossed, many became seasick - an experience that I luckily still have ahead of me!
After a couple of days with my family in Denmark I set course southwards, where I in rain and sunshine arrived in Karlsruhe, a lovely holiday had come to an end and I could after 4 weeks unpack. Now realizing the grandeur of both Ibsen and Hamsun and the significant roles they play for people of today, thanks to all of the organizers!
Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen.


© Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen www.hamsun.at