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Liveblog: ‘Svalbard: Life on the Edge,’ Episode Seven from Coal Miners Cabins

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9:30 p.m.: I walk into the restaurant/pub at Coal Miners Cabins and experience a moment of panic since it looks like the show’s already in progress on the big-screen TV, rather than the usual weekly show about villages near the Arctic Circle that precedes the series. A couple of minutes pass and I realize it’s actually a long infomercial for the company that owns this place and lots of other tourism businesses in town (the audio is muted and I realize there’s no subtitles). The fact it’s hard to tell the difference due to the similar editing styles (a few minutes each of dogsledding/snowmobiling, a scene in a restaurant/pub, a special event, etc.) highlights something I emphasized in last week’s coverage: a lack of overall focus and direction. A few of the characters have storylines that last past a single episode, but mostly things skip around haphazardly with some aspect of Svalbard (climate change and the environment during the last two episodes, for example) starring as the central character. I’m not at all optimistic about tonight’s episodes based on the preview, which looked a greatest hits compilation of previously visited themes (a snowmobile trip, a dogsledding trip, an outdoor Mass, Mary-Ann cooking at her lodge, a shooting range scene). The only theme seems to be everyone talking about how much they love Svalbard. So maybe I should compare it as promo with what I was just watching. Hopefully my trend of being wrong about virtually everything I predict will hold true.

10:02 p.m.: BTW, I can see Benjamin’s Vidmar’s Polar Permaculture greenhouse (one of the few long-term themes) from here and it’s lit up in a very attractive purple. That’ll get a lot of attention during its first winter here.

10:03 p.m.: And we’re off. As always, there will be typos and goofs as I do this in real time. I’ll fix them afterward.

10:04 p.m.: Title: “Worlds Apart.”

10:04 p.m.: No one’s from Svalbard because nobody’s allowed to be born here. OK, so it’s going to be the diverse population episode. If so, it’d be great theme, but they’d probably sell it short unless – forgive the stereotyping – in addition to the Anglo folks they also feature the Thais here, the Russians in Barentsburg, the Poles at Hornsund and the various countries in Ny-Ålesund. I can’t see it happening.

10:05 p.m.: Christine and Grace Ireland (easily the main stars of the series to date) open, with her sister being the first family member to visit since the couple moved here four years ago.

10:06 p.m.: Christine talks about missing family at Christmas, but that’s part of moving here and wanting isolation.

10:07 p.m.: Sister and her man arrives to hugs, etc.

10:08 p.m.: First place they’re seen stopping is the home with lots of dogs. Her sister Katharine (spelling?) is here for a week.

10:09 p.m.: Narrator talks about tourism numbers and income. OK, that also makes sense as an episode theme, especially since I was told tourism might be the basis of an episode.

10:09 p.m.: Cuts to Mary-Ann Dahle and her self-named rustic lodge. She talks again about working months at a time with no breaks. Narrator again mentions she does everything on her own from cooking to cleaning. If you’ve seen her before, this is getting tiring. She talks about her kids. And – wow- a tough life on street when she married wrong man down south. She said she was broke, needed to make money and this ended up being what worked out for her. Damn…I’m sure plenty of people know about that, but it’s the first time I’m hearing about it. It certaintly explains some of the tough side of her personality.

10:10 p.m.: Narrator says she has up to 12 people on staff (so much for doing it all herself). A receptionist talks about what’s like working for her. Mary-Ann says she’s not a control freak, but is a perfectionist.

10:11 p.m.: They replay that Ramsayesque chef from a few episodes back. Please tell me they’re not going to start recycling clips to save time/money or whatever. That was 30 seconds that should have been devoted to original foortage of a similar nature, even if they didn’t get to bleep out a profanity.

10:12 p.m.: Mary-Ann planning much-needed holiday. Plans to have son Vidar take over kitchen work.

10:12 p.m.: Cuts to Alex. He talks about Svalbard being a lonely place, but his girlfriend is a guide here. She talks about how he’s not the stern person he seems to be as a guide (again, a short scene from a previous show is aired…this is feeling tacky). Alex and his girlfrend do getaway trip to Isfjord Radio, which Karolina (his girlfriend) worked at for a while. He kayaked four hours in icy waters to see her, passing a romantic test. (Actually, that sounds like an awesome trip even if you don’t stand a good chance of getting laid at the end…and with the annual rummage sale for charity happening this weekend, where kayaks from the university are basically given away, I might need to finally take advantage, especially given my my crippled leg. Thanks Alex.)

10:15 p.m.: She talks about packing avalanche rescue kits instead of flowers and chocolates. Been there: 20 years ago in Alaska a romantic gift with my sweetie was something us to wander further into the wild or in greater comfort.

10:16 p.m.: To Leif at Svalbard Church who has family visiting. OK (again), now I’m seeing the theme forvthe episode. His nephew (also named Leif) is an operatic singer. They show him rehearsing for two Easter concerts. (Not mentioned is it’s also the first concert featuring a new church organ, which is what fishwrapper story to be mentioned shortly was about.)

10:18 p.m.: People arrive for concert. Narrator talks about how Longyearbyen was long a mining town without much culture. But more diverse population changed that. (Yes and no…there’s always been plenty of diversions. It’s just more formalized now. Hell, I can see some London Theater performance of “Romeo and Juliet” this week if I want…livecast on the town’s main movie screen).

10:19 p.m.: Leif introduces nephew. Nephew talks about what he’ll perform.

10:20 p.m.: Me shotting photos of concert. Me crawing around on floor trying to stay out of way of other cameras. I know it looks distracting, but I’m doing everything possible not to block other people’s shots, something a lot of journalists don’t bother with.

10:20 p.m.: Narrator mentions no TV broadcasts for many years, so live events important. It’ll be a lot to cram in if they try to make this the “culture” episode as well (another planned theme, but if so…)

10:21 p.m.: Aftermath of concert. People chatting as nephew talk about why he enjoys performing. Me putting story online.

10:21 p.m.: Back to Christine and Grace, with sister, at the range so she can try shooting. First she points gun in snow and then sort of at the group. Not good. She shoots and says the same thing as when she heard the first shot from her sister (“fucking hell”). Her marksmanship did not go well (nothing hit on the targets). Christine says it reminds her of when she first started out. Actually, it is a great example of how what locals quickly see as normal is anything but to newcomers.

10:23 p.m.: They arrive at kennels. Christine offers to let sister shovel poo, which sister does with sardonic glee. Christine says “I feel like I spend half my life chasing shit around this place.” She says her and her sister “are like chalk and cheese.” Maybe a common Brit saying, but I’ve never heard it before.

10:25 p.m.: Mary-Ann’s packing for her holiday. She and son relax in restaurant as he asks her about her work hours. Son says she should rest more in everyday life. He’s shown cooking right before she departs. She says the one hard thing about being here is wondering if she spends enough time with her family.

10:28 p.m.: -22C as Alex and his girlfriend make 90km journey to Isfjord Radio. They get there and, according to the narrator “they’re ready for a stiff drink.” Narrator mentions strict alcohol laws. Alex talks about penalties for DUIs. “That means you if you’re driving to a party you don’t even think about it.”

10:30 p.m.: Their room has twin beds. How romantic. They get dressed up fancy for dinner. The story of his kayaking there to visit here is retold from her point of view.

10:32 p.m.: A formal dinner and three bottles of wine (you have questions, I have questions…let’s just leave it be). He talks about her, completing the shared experience. BTW, as someone who complained Alex was getting totally shafted so far this series in terms of screen time and the limited stuff he was doing during it, it’s great to finally get to know him after seven episodes.

10:33 p.m.: Christine and Grace taking sister and friend out for snowmobile trip. A guide, Tom, tells the visitors how to drive. Katharine has a bit of trouble getting the snowmobile to accelerate for the first time.

10:34 p.m.: Tom talks about how can’t get off snowmobile when on the glacier field since there’s a risk of falling into crevasses. That’s gotta be unnerving if you’ve never been on a glacier before. First time I walked on one I was terrified. But, again – like so many unfamilar things – you find out it’s actually not all that radical when you do it (although I can’t imagine being the rare person to actually get trapped if it happened on a first trip). Anyhow, they cross safely.

10:35 p.m.: They take a break and sister talks about how Christine has gone from loving stuffed seals as kid to eating them now. Tour companies and others have done a lot to appease vegans and others in recent years, but this is definitely not a place to vent those “meat is murder” lectures. Sorry to keep up the “me” interruptions, but my fav such moment was when my (now ex) wife – a vegetarian when we started dating – bought a sealskin coat at a thrift store in Greenland (no kidding…it was hanging there like any any old used jacket and I don’t blame her since it was insanely cheap, gorgeous and highly practical for the Arctic, as a handmade coat would be. Anyhow, Christine talks about how special it is to have sister here and maybe she’ll understand why the couple wants to stay.

10:36 p.m.: Mary-Ann son’s last day in kitchen. Making a traditional reindeer stew. He talks about how “if she’s not happy about something you will definitely hear about” But…narrator notes he’s rearranged the kitchen. And perhaps in ways that won’t work for her 5’3″ frame. “Luckily he won’t be there when she gets back.”

10:38 p.m.: Good Friday. Leif and his nephew prepare for outdoor Mass at Vindodden (wrong spelling) where there’s 20something cabins and a prominent cross. Leif talks about necessary equipment. He talks about other work in Kosovo, West Bank, etc. so familar with dangerous situations. He talks about coming here because he was looking for a “lifestyle job.”

10:40 p.m.: -31C for the service (I missed it because I suffered a fall that cost me the use of my right arm for a bit, but knowing this I no longer regret it). But it is a clear sky and very scenic. Leif talks about how it can be difficult to do services in such cold.

10:42 p.m.: His nephew singing. Various scenic shots of service.

10:42 p.m.: Mary-Ann’s back after a week off. Nobody there to welcome her. OK, there is in the kitchen after a minute or so. She’s not exactly happy with the reorganization. But she’s taking it well, with laughter rather than anger. She and workers put things right again – exactly.

10:44 p.m.: Only -18C at Isfjord Radio the morning after. They plan to take a trip further south and do some skiiing. Narrator asks if they brought champaign. Nope…lots of rescue euqipment and emergency food, she says this is her idea of romatic trip. Nice shots of the two of them alone in a vast snowy landscape.

10:47 p.m.: Christine a bit teary as she takes sister to airport. She talks about what she’s learned about this place and Christine.

10:48 p.m.: And we wrap up the episode the same place and the same way (hugs, etc) at the airport.

10:50 p.m.: Next time: More Christine, a visiting doctor, Wiggo and Claudia (FINALLY!). Hmmm…danger would seem to be the theme, but not sure how they show it.

As for this episode, the word “sweet” is the main one that comes to mind. I suspect it will be very popular with some viewers, much less so with others who see it as what hapoens when anyone move to a remote place far away. Not much new was learned about Svalbard and, aside from Alex, not a lot was learned about the characters. Knowing what I do about the scenes filmed and the fact there’s only three more episodes, I think a lot of the best stuff will never be seen because of the comfort in taking refuge in safe episodes like this.

(And just for fun on a personal note: this is the point where they were still editing the series and became aware of my occasional harsh criticism. I wouldn’t be shocked if they basically say “f*** him” and all but exclude me from now on. Which actually makes sense, since it’s not like I did much of anything worth filming during all of this and had too much screen time up until now. From what I hear, the stuff with that visiting doctor next week is impressive, so I definitely suggest those starting to get bored watch it.)







About Post Author

Mark Sabbatini

I'm a professional transient living on a tiny Norwegian island next door to the North Pole, where once a week (or thereabouts) I pollute our extreme and pristine environment with paper fishwrappers decorated with seemingly random letters that would cause a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters to die of humiliation. Such is the wisdom one acquires after more than 25 years in the world's second-least-respected occupation, much of it roaming the seven continents in search of jazz, unrecognizable street food and escorts I f****d with by insisting they give me the platonic tours of their cities promised in their ads. But it turns out this tiny group of islands known as Svalbard is my True Love and, generous contributions from you willing, I'll keep littering until they dig my body out when my climate-change-deformed apartment collapses or they exile my penniless ass because I'm not even worthy of washing your dirty dishes.
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