Chapter 20

A debate about pedophilia, the view of a hawk, then low spirits

 Tuesday April 29th. I wake up with pains in the big toe of my right foot. The toe nail is blue, the toe swollen. What has happened? I am a sleepwalker, and have found no ways to cure my somnambulism. Sleepwalking in the night I kicked my toe against an old chest outside the bathroom. I remember the sharp pain, and swearing because I was so clumsy.

            Now I curse and swear again. I have promised myself I should not swear so much, but it is no helping it when I look at the blue toe.

            I spend the morning making some telephone calls trying to solve an internet mystery. I am the president (nice title) of an association called Rivertonklubben  (The Riverton Club). It is the society for Norwegian crime fiction, counting more than a hundred members. The club is named after author Stein Riverton (1884 – 1934) and was founded in 1972. Riverton was a big name in Scandinavia and Germany in the years between the world wars. His original name was Sven Elvestad. Elvestad means place on the riverside. When he started writing crime fiction, he chose Riverton as his pseudonym because such an English pen name sounded more international than Elvestad.

            Every year before Easter the club hands out a prize, Rivertonprisen ”Den gylne revolver” (The Golden Revolver), for the best Norwegian crime fiction work published in the previous year. The winner of Rivertonprisen competes for the Nordic crime fiction prize, Glassnøkkelen (The Glass Key).

            Last year we had a controversy in Norway over Riverton. A new biography written by historian Bernt Rougthvedt was published. Rougthvedt got a lot of publicity for statements which said that Riverton was a fascist and a pedophile.

            That Riverton sympathized with fascism when living in Mussolini’s Italy was well known to us in the club. That he was a homosexual was also well known.

            But a pedophile operating in Portofino on the Italian coast?

           (The word pedophile or paedophile, ”pedofil”, seems to be a relatively new word in common, modern English and Norwegian usage. It is not listed in my dictionaries from 1968 and 1979.)

            In the newspaper Klassekampen a music writer named Tom Skjeklesæther demanded that because of the accusations of pedophilia against Riverton, the club and the prize should change its name, and the statue of Riverton in his hometown Halden be pulled down.

            I strongly objected to this, and secured the full support of the board of Rivertonklubben and some of its founding members. I said that I found Rougthvedt’s statement of pedophilia to be an allegation. After having read his book, I said that Riverton might have been a person with sexual attraction to prepubescent children. But I found no proof that Riverton, when in Italy, had comitted sexual abuse to adolescents younger than the local age of consent.

            Even if such evidence should come to the surface, I said, the club should defend its name and continue as a literary society under that name. I added that the zeal in the condemnation of Riverton to me was reminiscent of  religious fanaticism. I critizised a behaviour typical of  Protestant Norway. We find it so easy to condemn, so hard to forgive. In a Catholic country like Italy, Riverton would probably have been forgiven for his eventual sins.

              More than seventy years after his death we Norwegians should be able to act in the spirit of forgiveness. I also so said that the dark shades that fall over Riverton are common with authors. Most authors have some dark shades falling over them, some dark spots inside them. Darkness is part of the stuff authors are made from.   

            I am happy to say that Rivertonklubben continues under its original name, and so does the prize.

            The problem we have had to cope with in the last couple of weeks is that our internet site suddenly and for no ascertainable reason disappeared from the web. It is a mystery suitable for a crime fiction society, but also very annoying. I call Erlend Sørskaar and Terje B. Hansen who are on the board of the club, and who know more about the technical aspects of the internet than I do. They have managed to get hold of some peculiar codes that may bring our site back on the web again. I cross my fingers and hope the best.

            I drive off to go to the pool at Sarpsborg.

            A couple of kilometres from my home, at a farm called Børsebakke, I see a big bird sitting on a branch of a small tree very close to the road. I pull over at the roadside and switch on the emergency lights so that I shall not be hit by cars coming from behind me.

            I roll down the side window and stare at the bird. The big bird stares back with fierce eyes. Its colour is dark brown, with a pattern of white stripes on the breast. Its yellow beak seems to be very powerful, its yellow claws also.

            ”You must be some kind of a hawk,” I say. ”But I have never before seen a brown hawk like you.”

            I want the bird to fly so I could study its flight and maybe recognize it by its flight pattern, and honk with the car’s horn.

            The bird sits quiet.

            I honk again.

            No movement.

            ”You’re a tough customer,” I say. ”I wouldn’t like to be a mouse or any kind of small rodent in the forest you circle above.”

            On the road I see a dead frog, run over by a car. Perhaps it is the frog the brown hawk is waiting for to pick up.

            ”You are very impressive,” I say. ”But I cannot wait the whole day for you to fly off.”

            I drive away. The view of the hawk has lifted my spirits, not only because it was such a mighty bird. Observing the bird, I thought I understood something about the origins of religion. Where does the idea of the Devil and his dark angels come from? Birds like the brown hawk must have inspired our ancestors to make the concept of a Satanic angel; a dark, winged creature with evil eyes and a killing instinct, a dark ruler of the sky.

              At the pool I feel heavy. It is like my stomach is dragging me down. I do not find the proper rythm.

            How do we become racists? Small matters sometimes make us racists. In the lane besides me one of our new, brown-skinned countrymen swims. He goes faster than me. That is irritating, of course. But what really irritates me is that he does not use normal swimming goggles like I do. He uses a mask that is meant for scuba diving, not for pool swimming. To come here and use a scuba mask in the pool!

            My first round: 15.30.

            I try to go faster on the second round, but something keeps me back. I do breaststroke swimming, and it is important that I do not forget to use my legs properly. Now the legs feel like logs. I am tired., my force gone.

            16.01! And I swear.

            How come I did so badly? I blame the blue toe. I blame my fate. I blame my age, my diseases. If I had a God, I would probably have blamed God. 

            Having had a heart operation and cancer one gets wary about the signals the body gives. The soul is very much affected by the bodily signals. I know I am too obsessed with those signals, but I cannot help it.

            I go to an artificial waterfall in the pool to try to let the flow of water relax my tense body and clear my thoughts. We humans want our lives to be improved, not to deteriorate. But at my age, and with the health troubles I have had, it is too much to hope for real improvement. I should work to maintain status quo as long as possible. I should not think that a bad day at the pool is a signal that I am going down the drain. I am not in a hopeless quagmire.

            But it is logical that in such a situation, on a bad day, feeling old and worn out, one asks if there is not a supporting staff one could hold on to, like the one bishop Wagle believe will support him. Why am I so reluctant to pick up that staff? Why not go for an easy solution, give myself up, give myself to a higher power?

            I am a stubborn idiot!  

            In low spirits I go to the sauna. There I meet the old sailor who was a chief steward on oil tankers.

             He asks me what I think about the Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu who has served a sentence of eighteen year in prison for telling secrets about Israel’s work with atomic bombs, and is now being isolated in Jerusalem with no freedom of movement and speech. Should Vanunu be given political asylum in Norway? Before I can answer, the old sailor answers his own question. He is absolutely in favour of giving Vanunu asylum, even if this could jeopardize Norwegian relations with Israel. He has no sympathy with the religious pro-Israel lobby in Norway, which sees Israel as the Holy Land.

            Those brisk words from a man of the people lift my spirits a bit.

            When I leave the pool, which is named in Norwegian and called Badeland, I make a note of the name of the hotel the pool belongs to. It is called by an English name, Quality Hotel. The training centre on the floor above the pool is called, in English, Family Sports Club.

            I am going home to write in English. It is high treason to my mother tongue. I am no better than the conceited name-makers who eradicate Norwegian and make English substitutes.

            Back home I consult the book ”Norges fugleliv” (”Birdlife of Norway”). I find a very good colour drawing of a bird which is called ”musvåk” in Norwegian, a brownish and hawkish bird. That is the bird I saw this morning, no doubt about it. It is a migratory bird. It comes to Norway in April, from Southwest Europe. I check the English name in the dictionary; common buzzard.

            I have seen buzzards circle over our plot of land and over the forest. But this is the first time I have seen a specimen at close range.

            My friend Jon Aga, who is a medical doctor, has read ”Brev fra de troende”, and given me a book that he thinks I should read if I am to write more about religion.  The book is ”Myten om Sisyfos” (”The Myth of Sisyphus”) by French author Albert Camus, a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

            I have read the book when very young. It made a strong impression on me, even if I did not understand everything, if anything. I told Jon that I really appreciated that he gave me the book.

            I sit down to read Camus, and page through his book. The name Kirilov appears in the text. I remember Kirilov. He is the hero in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ”The Possessed”. Camus writes about Kirilov’s thinking: ”If God does not exist, Kirilov is god. If God does not exist, Kirilov should kill himself. Kirilov should kill himself to become god. This logic is absurd, but it is supposed to be absurd.”

             I ponder the absurditiy of Kirilov’s thinking, which in the end makes him put a gun to his head. In Norwegian we have a saying ”jeg er glad jeg ikke er i hans bukser”; I am glad I am not in his pants, meaning I am glad I’m not in his position.

             I am glad I am not in Kirilov’s pants. I also think that God does not exist, but that never made me think I am a god. I do not have to commit suicide to become god. I hang on to life by the skin of my teeth.

              Reading Camus is a mixed blessing. I am pleased because he is so intellectually sharp, but displeased with myself because I am not able to grasp all his points. My concentration slips. I put ”The Myth of Sisyphus” away.

            I do some typing, which goes better than expected on the day of the blue toe and the bad swimming

            Finally, I go out on the veranda in the night and listen to the sound of a tawny owl (”kattugle”) sitting in a nearby tree. Our ancestors thought that tawny owls screamed ”kledd i hvitt” (dressed in white), and that this was a warning that somebody should die and be dressed in white.

            But I like the sound of the tawny owl in springtime. It makes me think of life, the life that goes on in nature, independent of what we humans do. And, I think, without the interference of a deity. God did not create the owls. They created themselves, through evolution.

            In China fossils of plumed dinosaurs have been found. These dinosaurs covered with feathers are thought by paleontologists to be the forefathers of birds. Sometimes when I see a crow in low flight with a killed baby bird in its beak, I envisage a flying little dinosaur. But then I think that our birds of today have gone a long way since they were dinosaurs, and that the pleasure I get from birdsong is the closest a heathen like me can come to a heavenly experience.

              This tawny owl is  a male, I guess, because the sound is a deep ”ho-hooo-ho-hooo”. He is calling to attract a partner with whom he can make owl chickens.

             I wish him good luck. 

       Chapter 19

Chapter 21