How someone who was born in Cape Town in 1927 came to develop a Nordic mentality is a story in itself. Huntford's father was both a soldier and a farmer, while his mother was a Ukrainian exile who had escaped the Bolshevik revolution. Huntford came to London after the second world war to study physics at Imperial College, but lasted only two years before he was asked to leave - "not a high point in my education" - and he disappeared to the continent to do nothing gracefully. "I felt my mind had been deformed by science in the UK," he says. "Over here scientists seemed to have a tunnel vision, whereas the ones I met abroad had a wide range of interests and were happy to discuss Italian literature.
"To be honest, I was a drifter, and probably still am in some ways. I ended up in Florence where I hung out with the other would-be artists, fraudulent or otherwise, that gathered there. I don't know if I had a good time, but one would need to have had a heart of stone not to be affected by its atmosphere, its Renaissance painters and writers: to this day, Dante remains my favourite poet."
He moved back to London in the late 50s, found digs in Chelsea and met a Danish communist double agent who was to change his life. "He was obsessed with Ibsen," Huntford said, "and ordered me not to read him in translation. So I started to learn Norwegian and found the language came to me naturally." On the back of his newly acquired passion for Ibsen, Huntford moved to Scandinavia, spending time in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and though the provincialism sometimes got to him, he loved the landscape, the winter darkness and, most of all, the snow.
Friday, December 26, 2008
"Seal steak and biscuits and pemmican and chocolate"
At the Guardian, John Crace interviews Roland Huntsford on his histories of Nordic skiing and polar exploration. The flavor of bygone days: