Random weirdness for the week of March 1, 2016

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We’ve long stated Longyearbyen residents are a bit dim in a way since, while the first sunrise after the three-and-a-half-month polar winter was Feb. 16, we don’t actually celebrate the first appearance of the sun until March 8. But here’s a real mental fuse-blower as everyone gears up for this year’s nine-day Solfestuka festival: Longyearbyen enters 24-hour twilight three days before it “sees” its first sunrise of the year. There’s two reasons for the phenomena: 1) the mountains surrounding most of the town keep the sun’s rays away from all but a few exposed areas on the outskirts for nearly a month after the first official sunrise and 2) while 24-hour “astronomical twilight” begins March 5, the sky will still appear completly dark to the naked eye (meaning, yes, you can still take in the northern lights if we can get something other than cloud icons in the long-term weather forecast). We’ve only seen the sun twice during the seven years we’ve covered the midday March 8 ceremony on the old hospital steps next to Svalbard Church – supposedly the first spot where the sun’s rays appear, if only for a minute or so – but this year looks like another one for the grey column with cloudy skies, light winds and a temperature of -9C. So everyone may have to settle for gazing at the sun that will grace lots of t-shirts, buttons and other memorabilia thanks to Astrid Andersen, 6, who was selected from about 85 local youths as the winner of this year’s Solfestuka logo contest

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Money shot: Norwegian Minister of Industry and Trade Monica Mæland, center, makes a hasty exit from a gift shop Tuesday, either to flee a paparazzo who spotted her by coincidence or because she was late for her flight back to the mainland. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

It’s not exactly a long-term solution to Longyearbyen’s economic crisis, but Monica Mæland ended her two-day trip to Longyearbyen on Tuesday by hurridly purchasing a few gifts at Lompensenteret for some young ones back home. Norway’s Minister of Trade and Industry has visited Svalbard several times since the crisis at Store Norske began in 2014, meeting with local government and business leaders. Among the stops during this week’s trip was a visit to the abandoned Mine 3 (which was converted to a museum and guided tour attraction last year) and posing for pictures with real miners in Mine 7 (the last mine standing as of this summer). She also talked with local officials about the construction of new housing following the Dec. 19 avalanche that destroyed 11 homes, and about changes in the law that will allow fish processing companies to build plants in Svalbard. What didn’t happen, at least publically, was the minister offering any indication what sort of long-term policy goals and overall recovery plan the Norwegian government might be, which pretty much has been the case for every one of her recent visits…

We haven’t actually spotted him/her, but our guess for this week’s most annoying tourist is anyone using a drone to take photos during guided tours of the wreckage from the Dec. 19 avalanche, if some of the more heated local social media debate is any indication. Complaints about tourists gawking at the 11 homes destroyed by the avalanche have been heard for weeks, especially when they pester locals in the neighborhood for details. But the situation has ramped up to a whole new level as it appears somebody is using the disaster to make money. “Does Longyearbyen and Svalbard have so little to offer to tourists there must be arranged guided tours up to the pointed-roof houses?” wrote Pia Sivertsen, the mother of Nikoline Røkenes, 2, one of two people killed by the avalanche, in a post on Longyearbyen’s “Jeers, Cheers and Info” Facebook page. Sivertsen stated she saw the tour while carrying out items from her wrecked home shortly before it was demolished by a wrecking crew. The reaction was near-universal outrage and inquiries about who is leading the tours. Visit Svalbard Director Ronny Brunvoll said no local commercial tour operators are offering them, and called the concept “immoral and disrespectful”…

More debatable is the use of drones for photography, with the face-off beginning when a documentary producer asked on the same Facebook page if he could borrow one from somebody. “Am I the only one to be sick and tired about All These drones flying over us?” responded Sophie Cordon, stating she’s seen six in her neighborhood during a six-week time span, not including those used for official purposes such surveying the avalanche zone. Julia de Cooker, a visiting photographer finishing a book project, argued that while, of course people shouldn’t be filmed inside their homes without permission, “when it is for the purpose of a film…I can only be supportive. Art is a very important thing for our society.” An unanswered question is how many users of the drones are obeying regulations related to their use which include, among other things, a ban on using them within five kilometers of an airport.

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