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Senior Correspondent

The More the World Changes

The More the World Changes

California and Jerry Brown are planning for a high-speed rail connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco one day and future connections to San Diego and Sacramento. But getting there isn’t everything. In a recent New York Times (Sunday, Sept.21) we learn the maximum speed of a popular old cruise ship in Norway is around 15 knots or about the speed of “a brisk bicycle ride.” The point here is to think slow.

The view of Norway’s glacial landscape is very slow. In earlier times the boat, the Hurtigruten, was billed the coastal express. It delivered mail and goods to the coastal residents. Nowadays the old ship is an escape for people weary of the pace at which the world runs. Passengers really have time to dwell on every small rocky island, every sand bar, every little red farmhouse.

The more leisurely pace has extended its image to Norwegian public television. In 2009, it went on the air with a broadcast of nearly six and a half hours uninterrupted train ride from Bergen to Oslo. The transition was made by putting a camera on the front of the locomotive. We’re told the producers had modest expectations for ratings but the show was a hit — surveys found about 20 percent of all Norwegians tuned in to the panorama at some point during the broadcast.

The writer of the Times piece Reif Larsen, is an American novelist, one-quarter Norwegian. He writes that a 76-year-old man forgot he was not a passenger when the train arrived in Oslo. When he got up to get his overhead luggage he crashed into the living-room curtains.

Two years later the station NRK came up with  an even slower program — a coastal journey lasting 134 hours. It began without much fanfare from Bergen, but viewers began gathering. In several days marching bands welcomed the boat’s arrivals and departures; one politician announced her candidacy. On the last day the queen of Norway waved to the ship from her royal yacht.

“The program,” said Larsen, “became a bona fide national event — half the country watched the voyage at some point.”

In search of an explanation for the popularity of Slow TV, Larsen asked around. “Oil  reserves,” he said “were discovered off Norway’s coast in 1969 and everything changed. The youngest child had suddenly became rich.”

Twenty years ago Oslo was a provincial town, today Europe’s fastest growing capital anywhere. Skyscrapers and metal and glass buildings are on the rise. The pace of life has quickened.

“In a relatively short amount of tine, many Norwegians seem to be suffering from a kind of cultural whiplash, leaving them apprehensive for the future and nostalgic for a past that was barely the past.”

On the other hand, as Larsen points out, “Norway, with only five million people, is still small enough (and homogeneous enough) to allow a story or program to become a national event.”

This article originally appeared in the San Leandro Times.

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