Jussi the old reindeer herder beamed around the room, his face pale but reflecting a kind of cherubic glow. Then he went to the first table of Ivalo girls, made a stiff little bow and stood silently aside. One rose and danced quite amiably through one tune, then Jussi returned her to her chair. He kept on with the same routine, the stiff bow, the dance, then on to another girl. Soon perspiration was dripping in rivers from his nose and his chin, and the fringe of gray hair was plastered wet around his glistening pate.
Finally, Jussi had danced with every woman in the lodge, including the tourists" wives and the barmaids. About midnight, still grinning and still having uttered not so much as one syllable as far as the Viking Grandson had seen, Jussi bowed at the doorway and departed into the night.
"He rises before the sun to care for reindeer," said Valttori. "Only thing Jussi likes more than reindeer is dancing with Ivalo girls on Saturday night. He is Real-Finn."
One morning I took an SAS jet from Oslo to Bodo, a small port on the Norwegian Sea, perhaps 50 miles above the Arctic Circle. Around noon I found myself standing upon a dock in Bodo that smelled strongly of raw fish, and I clasped my arms tightly about myself to keep warm in the relentless freezing breeze that howled in from the harbor. A woman from the local tourist office said, "The wind in Bodo does not ever stop blowing in winter. Some say it is like a crazy man humming the same tune over and over and over. You get used to it eventually."
The sun sparkled upon the sea, but I shuddered as I thought of how the shriek of the crazy wind would come to sound during those long weeks when it was constantly night.
The lady from the tourist office hunched her thin shoulders in the wind and said rather sadly, "Up here we say that travelers who come to the north of Norway in summer—and there are many—are doing an individualist's vacation. In winter, it is a triple individualist's vacation. Almost no one comes. Americans almost never come at any time."
Given the routine issue of Scandinavian tourist brochures one could easily come to believe that in winter the country is fit only for wolves. Most of the photography published to lure tourists consists almost entirely of candy-coated Kodachrome scenes of summer. These pictures are used so frequently that they would have us believe the place is in a constant state of bloom, rampant with hollyhocks and limpid pools and barbered parks where gentle cellists play Sibelius all the livelong day. Almost no snow is shown—and certainly none is forecast.
Well, hell. No flower child's garden could have nurtured such noble louts as Snorri chronicled—the likes of Sven Forkbeard and Olaf the Stout and Magnus Bare-legs and Ivar the Boneless. Of course not. Nor could Ull, noble god of skiing and hunting, thrive in such an Easter-basket land. Nor could The Rodoy Man—the celebrated stick figure of a Stone Age man on skis, crudely etched upon a rock near the Norwegian region of Rodoy to prove to archaeologists' satisfaction that the sport of skiing did in-deed exist in Scandinavia 4,000 years ago. Whatever the brochures showed, the Viking Grandson felt rather smug about being classed as a "triple individualist" and he decided that the essence of Scandinavia definitely lay in the bitter gales of winter. It was good I felt that way. God knows there were no hollyhocks in Bodo and snow was forecast for that night in the Lofoten Islands.
At the Bodo docks I boarded a coastal steamer, the Haakon Jarl, one of a small fleet that makes voyages up the coast of Norway far into the Arctic all year round, offering a magnificently civilized form of daily transportation even between such frigid outposts as Bodo and Stamsund in the Lofotens and Narvik and Tromso farther north. The boat was serene and gently lighted in its interior, warmly appointed with yellow carpeting, a great deal of tan and sepia woodwork, shaded lamps and overstuffed furniture in the lounges. In the dining room there were fresh carnations on the tables, and the cuisine—beer, boiled beef, boiled potatoes, boiled custard—was hearty and filling if not very delicate.
In its voyage from Bodo to Stamsund, the Haakon Jarl consumed about four and a half hours. The boat rolled and pitched as it plowed through choppy dark waters flecked with white cakes of ice. Not many miles away, at the end of the Lofoten Island chain in the Norwegian Sea, was the legendary Maelstrom current, a vile stretch of water which was the setting for one of Edgar Allan Poe's darker tales of mystery and imagination. But there was no danger, of course. The steamer plowed ahead, past magnificent saw-toothed stone islands that thrust violently out of the sea. Eventually, the sun slipped close to the horizon and it spread a shimmering reddish-gold channel upon the black waters in the ship's wake. On deck icy spray ran in rivulets down the glassed portholes, and the wind moaned louder as night fell.