There’s exactly two Tweets mentioning Mary-Anne Dahle and one links to the local newspaper’s story about her death Saturday. So that’s pretty much all there is to say about the longtime innkeeper…
…which is to say, it speaks volumes about perhaps one of Svalbard’s old-school pioneers who spared nobody and never was spared herself of the sharp-tongue, non-nonsense wit and words she was well-known for.
Within hours of her death hundreds of local neighbors and visitors from around the globe flooded her Facebook page with expressions of sadness, condolences to her family and memories of their experiences with her – often with the sharp-tongue, non-nonsense wit she was well-known for.
“You were an exuberant lady full of laughter, strong will and full of fantastic craziness,” wrote Ulrika Sjöö Frantzen, who moved to Longyearbyen in 2009 to work for Dahle. “We spent many long nights with French coffee, way too much cigarette smoke and laughter in the ‘smoke kitchen’ at the ‘rigg. It was you who wanted me to work at the ‘rigg and got me up to Svalbard, the eights months that for me would become almost 10 years. We had our discussions abut both good and evil…you were a fantastic bubbly creature that almost always got me in such a laugh that I got a stomach ache. Damn, Mary-Ann, you were a tough lady who went your own way to give (expletive) what other people said about the ‘rigg to you. I stand up to give you a HUGE amount of appreciation for what you have achieved. Rest in peace.”
Martin Kiel, another longtime Longyearbyen resident whose work for Dahle can still be seen today – for those able to take their eyes off the polar bear parts and pelts – appreciated the many aspects of her character including her exacting stubbornness.
“I do remember many years ago I made the wallpaper in the corridors – awesome, an old English wallpaper – and she wanted exactly that and nothing else,” he wrote in an online tribute. “Fantastic lady – she really had the soul of Svalbard.”
Thousands of guests, journalists and others staying at the Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg lodge she started in 1999 have written about their experiences in articles, blog posts and reviews. While generally favorable, the assessments like nearly any business run the gamut from awesome to awful, although in the case of the Polarrigg a journalist who labeled it a “choose your own adventure” experience probably best sums up the lodge/staff/guests in a few words.
Most of the reviews naturally focus on essentials such as the rooms and restaurant, but also obviously have a few things to say about their encounters with the eclectic owner.
“After a chat with vivacious Mary-Ann, you’ll come away with an improved outlook on everything,” an April 2016 TripAdvisor review declares.
Other TripAdvisor reviews during her final few years of doing pretty much everything for a reputed 16 hours a day before being forced to the mainland and several months of hospitalization due to cancer:
• “We didn’t know how long we stay on our tour camping out in the wilderness and as we asked if we need to worry about having to pitch a tent out in the snow when coming back, Mary-Ann said: ‘Don’t worry, there is always place to sleep here, nobody has to stay in the cold.'”
• “Very Svalbard, just sort of randomly thrown together but it really works, and Mary-Ann has put her heart into it – and it shows.”
But the affection and appreciation isn’t universal – and some who didn’t even encounter her in real life had cause to express strong disapproval nonetheless.
“Awful behavior, she fired the chief cook without rationale!” wrote a reviewer for Google following the airing an episode of the BBC reality series “Ice Town – Life on the Edge” in which Dahle berates a short-lived new employee in a scene that would do “Kitchen Nightmares” proud.