A Norwegian summer idyll
Looking back on the summers of yesteryear
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are back, and after months of masks, sequestering, and finally, vaccinations, Norwegians and Norwegian Americans alike are raring to go—boy, are we ready!
For many, the pandemic has been a time of introspection and nostalgia, as we have looked back on the “good old days,” simpler times, filled with fond memories. For some, this may have meant snuggling up with a good book and delving back into history, for others going through old family albums, or watching classic movies.
Many of the these cherished memories go back to summertime for those of Nordic extraction, when days were long and pleasures were many. And who wouldn’t be happy after months of cold and darkness? There is a good reason why Norwegians reward themselves with long summer holidays …
For Norwegian photographer Håvard Mossige, summer was always a magical time. Looking back on his own childhood, he was inspired to put together a collection of photos and memorabilia in his latest book, Alle tiders sommerferie—“The best summer vacation”—a real sommerhefte or summer edition—a potpourri of vintage photos, advertisements, puzzles, quizzes, and much more.
Mossige grew up with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck comic books, which each summer offered a great mix of content, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Since his inception by illustrator Carl Banks, Donald Duck has always had a huge following in Norway, and in fact the concept of “Donaldism,” the concept of fandom associated with Disney’s comics and cartoons, was penned by Norwegian author Jon Gisle in 1971. Mossige is a huge fan and remembers all the “trivia and fun stuff” from road trips and lazy days at his family’s summer cabin.
Another source of inspiration was the work of the pioneering Norwegian photographer Anders Beer Wilse from the early 20th century. Wilse traveled throughout Norway and much of Norwegian America, capturing the beauty of the landscape and the lives of everyday people. Many of his photos were skillfully colorized by his assistant, and even today, “people are still amazed” by the snapshots of life from 100 years ago. “It’s a journey back in time around Norway,” said Mossige.
The author also had his own collection of old newspaper and ad clippings to draw on, and he admits to being somewhat “addicted to collecting. He also spent hour upon hour combing through archives for just the right mixture of materials. The Norwegian National Library has digitized much of this type of content and continues to expand on it offerings. Mossige also recommends the website digitalmuseum.no for anyone searching for vintage photos from Norway.
Last but not least, Mossige relied on his own talents to create original artwork for many of the collages in his new book. You will find a quintessential summer mosquito scattered here and there, along with other iconic summer images. Mossige commented that many of these drawings had once been made just for fun, and now he finally had the joy of putting them to use—and indeed, it’s a lot of fun for everyone now.
If you are already familiar with Mossige’s popular Christmas book Gladelig Yule! Minner og hilsener fra det norske Amerika, authored with Travel Editor Cynthia Elyce Rubin and published last year, you will be delighted that this new book follows much the same format. I like to refer to it as type of “organized chaos.” While there is a logic with subheadings or chapters, it really appears more like a scrapbook, devoid of any academic pedantry, and is ready to be consumed and enjoyed by all. As with the earlier book, it is not necessary to understand Norwegian, for the pictures themselves can tell the story.
One of my favorite sections is “Romantikk”—“Romance”—and who wouldn’t be in love with the idea of summer romance? Falling in love has never gone out of style, and the playful depictions of couples courting 100 years ago bring back memories of much more recent summer romances. Think of the Hollywood beach movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello: Summertime is when young people fall in love. With this book, you can learn a little about how people connected in former times, with advertisements seeking suitable marriage partners, instructions on how to kiss, or even a handy “kissing card” from 1925 to track the adventures along the way. It’s bit of innocent fun, or maybe not so innocent after all—it’s left to your imagination.
Talking about this in retrospect, the author shared his thoughts on all of this, saying that we all tend to “appreciate the basic things in life now after the pandemic: meeting people, seeing, and touching others, things that we used to take for granted.” He is in love himself, having just married last year. He is hoping that young people will be able to enjoy the summer again and perhaps fall in love, too.
Bathing beauties & ice cream
Summer is definitely a time to get into the water, and Mossige devotes a fun-loaded chapter to “Bathing.” Several pages long, you can revel in the bathing suit fashions of days gone by, from the modest bathing costumes of the 1920s to the more colorful and revealing bikinis of the 1960s. And those wild latex bathing caps are not to be forgotten. It seems to be that swimwear was just as flipped out in Norway as in California, and everyone was definitely having a good time.
And what better treat to enjoy than a tasty and refreshing ice cream cone or specialty bar, preferably covered with mouth-melting chocolate? I can remember traveling to Scandinavia as a child and thinking that the selection was more limited than at home in the United States—but I can remember how good it tasted! Ice cream and summer certainly go together just about anywhere, and you will enjoy perusing the old posters from the famous Norwegian ice cream makers, that perhaps conjure up special memories for you from your childhood there or comparisons with your favorite American varieties.
Out in the country
But for many Norwegians, the summer holidays have always been less about getting to a beach than getting out in the countryside, where most Norwegians have their roots or at least some close family connection.
The author shared that he was city kid from the Sandvika/Bærum area west of Oslo, and that with his red hair and pale complexion, he was not that fond of sitting on a beach, but he always looked forward to visiting his relatives in Norway’s more rural parts. His father was from Nærbo in Rogaland, and he remember driving for eight hours to get there each summer. “Life, culture, and the smells in that small town seemed very different,“ he recalled. The family would also take the train to Vingelen, north of Oslo in Østerdalen, where his uncle had an old farm. The cows, in particular made a big impression on him, and his mother taught him how to dry the hay in the old-fashioned way.
It’s only natural that Mossige would devote several pages to the summer countryside experience, so deeply rooted in the culture. The photos are stunning, especially those taken by Wilse. The closeness to the farm animals, the unspoiled nature, the beautiful old architecture, and the colorful folk attire will delight you. It’s also worth noting, that much of the this has been preserved in the modern Norwegian vacation experience, with the opportunity to visit old farms, even as tourists.
Finally, I asked Mossige what he misses most from the summertime days of his youth.
“I sometimes miss the innocence; things seem simpler back then,” he said, “But I know memory can be selective, and in many respects, things have gotten better. I guess it’s important to remember all the good things though, like trust and a feeling of belonging.”
Wise words and something to remember when you enjoy Alle tiders sommerferie. May it bring back fond memories for you and fill your summer with comfort and love.
All photos courtesy of Håvard Mossige
This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.