Summer Melbu 2009.

"By the way, he said, this was a lousy market in comparison to what he was used to, a revolver was not to be found." (August about Stokmarknes market in Vagabonds)

I still remember, what I wrote in my small report from Summer-Melbu two years ago: "With time the whispering of the town has become more audible to me, the town has emerged little by little, has become like an old acquaintance. Yes, here I would like to return to." And now I am here again, arrived in the night to "Skagen", the airport whose name reminds a Dane about sun, beach and painters in the north of Jutland.

After an immensely beautiful drive in "the Northern summer's eternal day", I was warmly welcomed at Melbu hotel.

"It's windy, a foreign wind comes to me, a strange touch. What is it? I look around and see nobody. The wind calls me and my soul turns willingly towards the call and I feel myself lifted out of my context, hugged against an invisible bosom, my eyes drop, I shiver. (PAN).

Not just the literary seminar, but the entire programme again looked extremely exiting, a suite of experiences, something for every taste and every age: Concerts, exhibitions, kid's adventures, football and much more during the days called "Summer-Melbu" from 3 - 11 July.

Literature as collective memory was the theme of this year's three days literary seminar in Melbu, focal point Knut Hamsun's works, which I chose to participate in. This year it is 150 years since Knut Hamsun was born. The Nordland Academy for Art and Science took this opportunity to look closer to the importance of literature as collective memory.

A good starting point for exiting days. And not just literature and being together with old and new friends made the days special, but also the nature on Vesterålen! Yes, it is a marvel and I could not get enough. The sun shined, the mountains on the other side of the sea on the Lofoten towered with snow-capped peaks, the houses in the town like smiled at me, yes here I felt at home, and not the least when I entered the "Sommer-Melbu" office and was greeted with Welcome back! from the organisers, here were many familiar faces.

Friday, July 3rd I had some spare time to stroll around in town before the seminar started at 1 pm in the Samfunnshuset with the film "Vagabonds" from 1989, based on Knut Hamsun's novel and adapted for the screen by Lars Saaby Christensen. Much of the film was shot in Hamarøy and describes North-Norway during the transition from the era of "Nesse-kongerne", almighty local merchants, to modern times around 1860.

"The village was quiet and gloomy, poor and low, no signs remained of the large herring catch, no paint on the houses, no dance and partying at the people.." (Vagabonds).

After the film and strengthened by a cup of coffee we went over to Melbu manor house to listen to historian Edgar Hovland telling about Melbu and Segelfoss town around 1890 and up to the time between the World Wars. We had some interesting philosophy on the two small towns and on the relation between fiction and history.

"One should not show lust on the market, sensual pleasure is holy, the kiss and the embrace have no relation with the street what so ever.." (Segelfoss town).

At 6 pm the official opening of Summer-Melbu took place on the pier in front of Neptun, (Norwegian Museum for Fishing Industries). It was like a mass procession to the pier, with the popular local brass band in front. Welcome address,speeches of well-deserved thanks to the organisers and all the volunteers, recitation by Carsten Jensen from his book " Vi de druknede" (We the Drowned). Yes Sommer-Melbu had a terrific start.

Hungry we were by now, so after a good meal we ended the evening by watching the film PAN from 1922. The film was shot here in Melbu in 1922. It is a silent movie and the moods of the film were finely interpreted by Ida Cathrine Angel from Melbu on the piano. We felt like lifted back to the times when films were expressed by written texts, mimics and music. A splendid day had come to an end.

"Whether you believe it or not, I am freezing now; ice is creeping down my spine when I am close to you. It is because of happiness." (PAN).

Saturday, July 4th. The day started with the author Carsten Jensen and his lecture on his book "We the Drowned". The book tells the story of the seamen, who left the small Danish island of Ærø and never returned. Carsten told the story intensely and with such passion, that We the Listeners felt as if taking part in History. The narrator in the book is a collective We over 4 generations. The book is partly fiction partly history. It was very exiting to experience, how a contemporary novel can enhance our collective self-understanding.

After this inspiring lecture we went to the cinema to see a unique film: Growth of the Soil, a silent movie shot in 1921 in the district of Rana in Norway. It has recently been found, restored and new film-music added, matching the film perfectly. About 20 minutes of the film has still never been found. Really an experience to see this old film, one of the highlights for me in this festival.

"The house stood grey and naked, stood like a house in shirt-sleeves" (Growth of the Soil).

After lunch the historian of ideas Nina Frang Høyum proposed to look at "Growth of the Soil" not just as a book on eternal values unbound by time or place, the book may also be seen as the history of the development of Northern Norway in the years from 1860 and 25 years onward. There are striking resemblances between Sellanrå and the mining community of Sulitjelma in this time-span.

In his diary Thorkild Hansen writes Friday 25 March 1977: Still grey and cold outside, but: finalizing "The Hamsun-trial": 5 parts, 40 chapters, 809 pages. There are weak points still, but the final chapter is OK. When I read it to Gitte, she was moved to tears."

Historian of ideas Heidi Norland: Her lecture I had been looking most forward to "Thorkild Hansen's The Hamsun-trial. Facts running wild." By reading just this book I entered the world of Hamsun and have never left it since. No other biography has triggered such discussions, since it was published autumn 1978. I wonder whether it were the painful facts on Hamsun, that started the debate or was it Thorkild Hansen's way of writing the biography? Really an intriguing question.

The last lecture of the day was given by the literary scientist Lars Frode Larsen "Knut Hamsun's literary and political metamorphosis". Lars Frode took us on an exiting hike through the years 1890 - 1940 on literary and political paths. Which relations exist between the young radical Hamsun and the old reactionary? A lecture that triggered much reflection.

In the evening we were invited on a sailing trip in a traditional boat-type from northern Norway, the Jekt. A beautiful evening, a bit nippy but a marvellous experience: Downstairs we were treated to freshly boiled shrimp and wine, outside the midnight sun behind the mountains and a lot of happy people onboard.

Sunday, July 5th. We commenced the day with half an hour of the television series "Benoni and Rosa", which had been broadcasted on Norwegian television in 1973 or 1975. We then listened to a very interesting lecture by the media-expert Hege Gundersen. The theme of the lecture was, what happens when a society of the past is portrayed through a TV series, which picture do we get of the historical events, which myths are destroyed and which are created.

"The Sun shines on and on, hour after hour, day and night." (Benoni).

The literary scientist Walter Baumgartner boarded on the tricky theme: "Did Hamsun have a history-viewpoint?" He based his lecture on one of Hamsun's short stories and on "Women at the Pump".

"His language was like his anatomy: He knew what he had to know.." (The Women at the Pump).

The last lecturer was the author and historian Jørgen Norheim "The historical novel as collective memory." Norheim compared a society without collective memory with a person without memory and spoke of the collective memory as a process with many stakeholders and many actors.

We really had three marvellous days with experiences for all senses: Films based on Hamsun's novels, lectures, concerts, debates, sailing around the Lofoten islands. Summer-Melbu is a cornucopia of experiences. I did not even have time to visit the different art exhibitions, unfortunately, next year I will add an extra day here.

We managed to partake in the garden-party at Melbu manor house during Sunday's lunch-break, the sun was shining over people of all ages, enjoying the fresh air while enjoying coffee, tea, coke, water and the speciality rømmegrød, a kind of creamy porridge - though the latter I managed to avoid :-). Music was performed by Morten Carlsen (viola) , Hans Josef Groh (cello) and Siri Torjesen (soprano), really very special sentiments sprinkled over us.

The day continued with a guided tour over the beautiful island of Hadsel. After a splendid dinner the evening offered a "tank-concert", a performance with lights and sound composed especially for the tank and it's distinctive character. The tank was before used for storing oil of herring and it has unique acoustics. A unique experience performed by Håkon Kristiansen (drums), Rasmus Johansen (bass) and Maja Eline Larsen ( light design).

Many warm heartfelt thanks to all who gave us such unforgettable experiences. My Heart was full like of dark wine, as Hamsun describes it, as I early Monday morning drove towards the airport and flew south, enriched and a little bit wiser on collective memory.

Hedvig Rasmussen


© Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen www.hamsun.at