18 November 2010

Polar Bear Pride

Norwegians have a thing for Polar bears--especially northern Norwegians. I was recently going through some picture albums and came across a few pics I snapped of some of the MANY stuffed polar bears that are scattered all around the small city of Tromsø. (If you've never heard of Tromsø, check out my mini-video: Live From Tromsø, Norway!) Polar bears are not only a part of their history, but also part of their identity and pride.

Tromsø is known for many things, including the land of the midnight sun, having the northern-most university in Europe, called "the Paris of the north" (I completely disagree with that one), the most joked about by locals is being a city where polar bears roam the streets. While this was true a very long time ago, it has of course become old lore. It is still true for some of the northern-most islands of Norway, and I have actually met a few people from islands where polar bear sightings are common (and they're very proud of this). But the only polar bears you'll see in Tromsø are stuffed.

I once heard a lecture on local Tromsø history that described how "in the olden days" the height of women's fashion in Tromsø was to wear a full, gleaming white polar bear fur coat (which her strapping Norwegian husband hunted himself) and to accessorize it with a matching baby cub on a leash (a newly orphaned cub, thanks to the said coat). Not to mention that the husband was likely a whaler for a living--but that's another story. Thankfully, times have changed. But that doesn't mean that businesses aren't incredibly proud to display a full grown polar bear at their entrance--usually standing tall with their paws up, looking ready to maul you to death. For some reason, this menacing welcome is most popular at banks. Fair warning?

These bears are huge and their paw alone is bigger than my whole head! They are keen hunters and fierce protectors of their cubs. Norwegians have immense respect for polar bears, so they must be pretty admirable creatures. I sure wouldn't want to come face to face with one in the wild, but when they just stand there, so calm and fury...how can you not love that?

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