I am following this excellent series on PBS. Of course, for personal reasons – having to do with my Norwegian mama and her brother – I have an interest in it. But it would be worth my time, regardless. It is an intelligent series that covers the personal lives of the protagonists, while still managing to capture the terror inflicted by, and the existential threat of, the Nazis. In the first episode, there is a scene in which the Germans – invading Norway – strafe a passenger ship: impossible to avert your eyes from the cruelty and capriciousness of the act, as well as the fear of the victims. It has only been 80 years, but it is easy to forget how depraved the Nazi vision and actions were. The cast is terrific – I am pleasantly surprised by Kyle MacLachlan as FDR. He isn’t doing an impression – thankfully – but manages to capture the whimsy and gravitas of the president.
What I most appreciate about the PBS website is that they have included a “fact or fiction” page for each episode. I was delighted to learn that a particular moment in episode two was fact: Princess Martha is leaving Norway with her three children, bound for a ship that will bring them to the United States. In order to reach the ship, they must go out on a smaller boat through a harbour in which there are many Norwegian fishermen. They recognize the princess and begin singing the Norwegian anthem and cheering then three-year-old Prince Harald (future king). Martha holds him up in response. So beautiful. And made more so by the fact that the little boy is still king of Norway! I wonder what he remembers from that difficult time.
Update: wanted to add this paragraph from the obituary (written by yours truly) of a family friend. His name was Haakon Aass, and as such a name would suggest, he was Norwegian. He was living in Norway during some of the events of Atlantic Crossing:
“…Haakon went on to engineering school, graduating in 1936. Shortly thereafter, he committed himself to a career in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. During the Russian-Finnish conflict of the late 1930s, Haakon, along with several Air Force classmates, took an active part in the protection of Finland. One war barely over and another to fight, when, in April of 1940, the Germans invaded Norway. Along with many other Norwegian soldiers, Haakon went first to England and then to Canada to further train for missions in Europe. In Toronto, he was stationed at a camp known as ‘Little Norway.’ Writing of that time, Haakon recalled that many of the people there were brave members of Norway’s underground resistance. They were, he wrote, ‘the cream of Norwegian youth.’ Modesty ever intact, he continued, ‘Please do not consider me in this class. I was sent by the Air Force.’…Soon after , he was posted overseas to fly missions in the North Atlantic. In May of 1945, he co-piloted the plane which flew the Allied delegation to Norway to accept the surrender of the Germans. He often told us how wonderful it was to have German officers clicking their heels and saluting him, to be part of liberating his country.”
I had known that his mother was among the Righteous at Yad Vashem, but I am surprised – maybe I shouldn’t be – that it got little media attention during his life. I was also surprised that it was not written into The Crown. Again, perhaps I shouldn’t be. The Crown, while entertaining, is fictionalized history, and as such relies on caricatures: Prince Charles is a spoiled pill; the Queen is duty-obsessive; Prince Margaret an embittered tippler, and all the rest. When the Duke of Edinburgh died, a lot of column space was devoted to his colourful comments over the years, and I suppose that is justified. But there was clearly so much more to him than that. His sisters married Nazis and yet he fought against the Nazis. His mother rescued Jews, at very real risk to her own life. His great mentor during his teen years was a Jewish refugee who founded the Gordonstoun School which Philip and Charles attended (poor Charles did not enjoy it, I gather). For all the bluster about what an old curmudgeon he was, he spent his adult life walking three steps behind his wife. I read that he was the last person in the Queen’s life to call her “Lillibet,” her childhood nickname. I can only imagine Her Majesty’s grief.
The poet laureate of the UK, Simon Armitage, has written a most beautiful tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh (title above). Not sycophantic, not pompous, fresh and sensible, like the Duke himself. It was published for the first time yesterday, the day of Philip’s funeral. It reads like a tribute to a man and also to a generation – we won’t see their like again, sadly.
The weather in the window this morning is snow, unseasonal singular flakes, a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up for a whole generation – that crew whose survival was always the stuff of minor miracle, who came ashore in orange-crate coracles, fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.
Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets, regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business. Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became both inner core and outer case in a family heirloom of nesting dolls. Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.
They were sons of a zodiac out of sync with the solar year, but turned their minds to the day’s big science and heavy questions. To study their hands at rest was to picture maps showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions. Last of the great avuncular magicians they kept their best tricks for the grand finale: Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up and skies to come will deliver their tributes. But for now, a cold April’s closing moments parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
Stuck in Toronto – there are worse places to be, of course – I feel the dearth of great art. It isn’t like walking around virtually any city in Italy, say, where you can be treated to absolute delights in a random manner. For Good Friday, I thought I’d post some images pertaining to the day. All three were taken in Perugia, Italy, in 2019. First two are high reliefs along the steep staircase that leads up to the Convento di Monteripido. The third is an image of Saint Veronica from inside the Tempio di Sant’Angelo (also somewhere you reach after quite a climb, something consistent with so many Umbrian cities). Her story has always enchanted me.
For all who celebrate, I wish a joyous and hopeful Easter.