We sailed south to get here but as I wander about I have the uncanny sense that we’ve come further north. Maybe it’s all the whiteness. The large harbour where we’re moored is full of white boats – packed ranks of them, all gleaming, from the shiny power boats and sleek yachts to the large ferries, and even the fishing boats – a stark change from the rustbuckets lurching around Scotland. The docks themselves, an extensive network of floating wooden walkways, are weathered to a silvery grey. Ashore too, paleness dominates. The pavements are an almost-white concrete, and all the large buildings around the harbour are pale: the minimalist white stone library and concert hall, the light grey hotels and apartment blocks, the huge white silos further along on the industrial waterfront. They form crisp negative silhouettes against the dark mountains which surround the city, which, in turn, form their own silhouettes against the now cloudy white sky, silhouettes scooped here and there with bright patches of snow.

It’s all so clean and so linear – a true Arctic city scene. Many of the streets and buildings are fronted and roofed in plate glass, further reflecting all the cold brightness. It’s an impersonal-looking city in many ways, unlike the smaller wooden towns we’ve been in so far. Yet I feel at home here, in its spaciousness, in its lucent absence of colour – human as well as architectural. Elsewhere, the cool indifference of much Norwegian social contact has been disconcerting. Here it forms part of a sense of human space, a sense of a people neatly and graciously spread out, and I feel peaceful. There is room here, on the bleached wooden docks, on the wide glassed streets. Pale, clear room.

Especially in this room, on the first floor of the Bodø Bibliotek. The room is a distillation of the city itself, spaciously arranged and immaculately white. The floors are lined with warm wood but everything else – the walls and bookshelves, the tables and chairs – is white. Almost everywhere I look I see clean whiteness and I can look everywhere because the entire sea-facing wall is made of huge panes of glass. From the outside, the glass looked bluish but from in here it’s invisible, and in the uneffusive afternoon light there’s a sense of continuity, as if the glass is not holding things in but letting things out. I feel as if I’m outside as well as inside, my sight lines extending out smoothly to the street and the harbour and, beyond, to the grey south-west line of the sea.

I walk up the softly side-lit stairs to the upper floor and into its central atrium. It’s glass-walled all around and open to the sky, with a pale grey stone floor upon which, unexpectedly yet perfectly, sits a massive grey boulder. Its immense weight anchors the ascending height: I understand why they put it here. This is the heart of the building, the high centre.

I put my hand on the boulder and listen. The city is quiet from here and I notice that I am too – unusually so. The library is doing its work, lending me its patient grace and clarity, its sheer and simple form. I turn my attention inward for a moment and find my mind, normally a fairly cluttered chamber, has become a large transparent room, sparsely furnished, its low hum of chatter like an audible silence. The thoughts within it are spacious, elevated and calm. They drift outwards from this open room, over the pale glass-vaulted city, over the snow-lined peaks and out into the ever-enveloping opaque white sky.

clean white stone building with tall blue windows on pale concrete pavements which seem to reflect the grey sky overhead

Bodø, Nordland, Norway
26th June 2017