22 February 2009

Seattleite With Norwegian Roots Writes About Seattle: Now, Then, and in the Future

He goes by the name "Knute Berger," or possibly "Mossback," or even "Skip." He responds to all three names. However, truth be told, he could have a fourth name, the name he used in autographing my recent purchase of his book: "Pugetopolis." The name scrawled across the cover page is "Knute Olsson." He is a Seattle ‘boy’ who has Norwegian roots. His Norwegian grandfather, Knute Berger, changed his name from Olsson to Berger so as not be thought of as a "dumb Swede." Like many Norwegians, he didn’t much like the Swedes.

Knute is the third of four Knutes and third of five generations of Bergers who have grown up in Seattle. He describes himself on his blog as:

“…a Seattle-based writer and commentator with a new book, "Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice" (Sasquatch Books). I also write the "Mossback" column for Crosscut.com, a Northwest news and analysis website and serve as Editor-at-Large of Seattle magazine where I write the monthly "Gray Matters" column. On Fridays at 10 am I'm a regular media roundtable guest on "Weekday," KUOW-FM (94.9), Seattle's NPR station. I also write a political column for Washington Law & Politics magazine.”

Read Knute's blog at www.pugetopolis.blogspot.com/

On Friday, February 20th I left my home in Ballard to attend a function at the Swedish Cultural Center on on the east slope of Queen Anne Hill. Knute read from his book "Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Whimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice," a collection of Berger’s columns filled with anecdotes where he deciphers Seattle’s myths from reality. He opened the gathering with an oral history of his Norwegian ancestry and talked about growing up in Seattle. He shared a tale about his father’s memories of being terrified by bedtime stories of terrible trolls read to him by his own father. This resulted in Knute's father being frightened to hike up the Queen Anne Hill greenbelt to school, for fear of being attacked by a giant walrus. It’s the Norse way to terrorize children at bedtime to instill in them the idea that life is precious and fleeting.

Knute then went on to read three of the nearly 75 columns previously published in the "Seattle Weekly," "Seattle" magazine, "Eastsideweek," Crosscut.com, and other local publications. He shared with us – a standing room only crowd – his perceptions of the myth of Seattle Nice; what he learned as a boy scout and while growing up in Seattle. He had the room in stitches when he read from his book: “… Mossback doesn’t like the way things are going. Too much growth, too much change, too many outsiders trying to grow palm trees—or skyscrapers—in our backyards. I think the only way to turn this thing around is to adopt measures that will turn newcomers off, yet reinforce local values:

• Hire consultants—from North Dakota
• Recycle or you die!
• Outlaw designer pets
• Weather restoration act
And my favorite…
• Mandatory lutefisk

Only Mossback could spew such an eloquent description of this “…grotesque, gelatinous fish dish from Scandinavia." Mossback had to choke down a pile every Christmas Eve to get his presents. That’s Calvinism on a plate! Served properly, this steaming pile of lye-soaked, boiled cod takes on the consistency of sperm and exudes a fishy odor.”[1] He takes this a step farther, saying, “The legislature should pass a law: once a week, everyone has to eat a plate—or maybe a barrel—of lutefisk. Lutefisk testing stations at the state border can pass out samples, giving immigrants a chance to turn around before it’s too late.” It may hold off the Californians, but the Minnesota immigrants might see this as a plus!

I’ve only just begun reading the book, but what I’ve read is great. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about Seattle: past, present and future – through the eyes of a fellow Norwegian-American.

As for the Q & A session that followed his book reading, below is a list of the questions that were asked and answered:

1. Seattle’s tendency between tolerance and prudishness.
2. What about historic preservation (by inclination); i.e. the Denny’s in Ballard.
3. What does Seattle look like in 20 years?
4. (Comment on) The Role of Bicyclists, Motorists and Pedestrians in Seattle.
5. (Comment on) Transportation and the Light Rail.
6. (Comment on) The Initiative Process in Washington.
7. (Comment on) Bookish City in jeopardy of loosing both daily newspapers.
8. (Comment on) The Denny’s teardown and what REALLY happened behind closed doors.
9. (Comment on) The digital age transforming our cultural interactions.
10. (Comment on) The cross purpose of the rising cost of living in Seattle: poverty vs.prosperity.
11. (Comment on) The demise of bowling allies in Seattle (vs. Tacoma).
12. Dick’s Drive-In … if we loose Dick's it time to leave town.
13. If you could re-write the Seattle Landmarks Ordinance… what would it look like?
14. What is the proper role of nostalgia vs. significance?
15. Andy’s Diner vs. Denny’s, why was there a difference in the community uprise?

He addressed each question with genuine insight, a thoughtful response, and a touch of humor. If you would like to hear his responses to these or other questions, come see him on Wednesday, February 25th at Town Hall Seattle with Timothy Egan, or check out his blog for future book readings.

[1] Knute Berger. "Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice." Sasquatch Books: Seattle, 2009, p.258.

Luci Baker Johnson

16 February 2009

Bring Ethnic Culture Home to the Table

One of the best ways to ensure the continuation of ethnic culture is to EAT IT!

Pictured is the entrance to Olsen's Scandinavian Foods at 2248 NW Market Street in Seattle.

I sometimes attend events at the Sons of Norway Lodge in Ballard, which is an area of Seattle known for its prominent Scandinavian community dating back to the 1880s. During one visit in early February, I remembered that a Scandinavian foods shop sat only a block away, on NW Market Street. I decided there was no better Valentines Day gift for my mother than a taste of her childhood.

Walking in the door of Olsen's Scandinavian Foods, I was immediately taken by the warm, sugary smell of freshly baked krumkake--waffle cookies rolled into a cone and usually served stuffed with whipped cream. Krumkake are made fresh right in the store.

There are also plenty of award-winning selections of pickled herring, fishcakes, meatballs, cold smoked salmon, lutefisk, and other food selections sure to please those palate memories from the Old Country, whether that be Norway, Sweden, Denmark, or Finland. In particular, I was drawn to the shelves containing the goat cheeses, chocolates, and jams.

For my mother, who grew up on a Norwegian-American farm in rural Minnesota, I came away with a big box of Mor's flatbread, two packages of lefse, some Gjende cookies, and a jar of lingonberry jam. Okay, so it wasn't all just for Mom... My own favorites are the prettily packaged blocks of sweet and creamy Norwegian goat cheese. When I have some Ekte Geitost around, I can practically live on it. I love it for breakfast or lunch along with a few gluten free crackers, sweet Mango chutney, and a big cup of tea with milk. Oh, yum!

I had previously been buying my goat cheese at a local natural foods market. But, it occurred to me that without adequate support, neighborhood ethnic stores like Olsen's might quickly become a thing of the past, especially as the older generation diminishes. From now on, I plan to buy my goat cheese, lefse, and other traditional foods from Olsen's and other stores like it. I hope my ancestors will forgive me if I pass on the lutefisk, though. It's a taste I (gulp) never quite acquired.

Please support your local ethnic stores and delis--especially now, when a difficult economic climate makes it particularly challenging for small businesses to stay afloat.

Keep your family's ancestral culture on the table!

(This is a reprint of a 11 Feb 2008 entry from my other blog: http://nordicblue.blogspot.com.)

Chery Kinnick

15 February 2009

Why Norway Has Two Written Languages

In the Middle Ages, Norway had its own written language, Old Norwegian. When Norway came under Danish rule in 1380, a union that lasted until 1814, Old Norwegian was eventually replaced by Danish as the country’s written language and the language of the Church, State, and belles letters [1]. Throughout this period, the Norwegian language in the form of the different dialects remained the spoken language of the common people.

In 1814, Norway got its own constitution and became an independent nation. The question of nationality became prominent in many areas of society. One important issue was the establishment of an official Norwegian language. There was an upper-class spoken language that was actually Danish as pronounced by member of this class in the nation’s capital, whose corresponding written standard was official Danish. For the majority of the people though, and especially in rural areas, different local dialects were spoken which had a lower- social status and no corresponding written form

Two ways of solving the language problem of the new national were proposed. Linguist Knud Knudsen used the upper-class spoken language and the written Danish as points of departure to create a national language. This was the foundation of riksmål, since 1929 called bokmål, which is today the majority written language, used by over 80% of Norwegians. Ivar Aasen’s landsmål, since 1929 called nynorsk, is used less than 20% of Norwegians. There have since been several reforms pertaining to both standards. Today’s language situation with two different versions of Norwegian, is thus a result of our history. (Editor, Johan Fr. Heyerdal.)

[1] Belles-letters are essays, particularly of literary and artistic criticism, written and read primarily for their aesthetic effect.

Source: The Norseman, Special Issue No.4/5 September 1996, Vol.36, p.9.

Luci Baker Johnson

13 February 2009

Nearby Norwegians in Print - Chery Kinnick

"The Naturalist and His Camera," an article by Chery Kinnick, is in the current issue of Old News (Spring 2009, vol.9, no.1), a quarterly publication of Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). Chery is currently working on a biography of the "naturalist": Lawrence Denny Lindsley (1878-1975), a Washington State photographer and explorer.

To sign up for a subscription to Old News, visit the website, http://www.seattlehistory.org/ for information on membership and all museum events. To subscribe to MOHAI's e-newsletter, please send your e-mail address to Mercedes Lawry at mercedes.lawry@seattlehistory.org with a message asking to subscribe to e-NOW@MOHAI.


Chery Kinnick