21 Stops and Freedom
T is a distinguished city. The hometown of important Vikings like King Sverre and explorer Lief Eriksen. St. Olav rests forever beneath the most northern Gothic cathedral. Here was strong resistance against Nazi occupation. In T, a vibrant student population synthesizes with the past and makes a future. T is quite the town.
A special claim T has on the world, is title to the northern most Trikk in the world (tram, pilgrim). The Gråkallen Line rides the rails at 63˚ North, about the same latitude of Fairbanks, Alaska. It’s not a special collection of carriages, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it is a little like the solitary man at the sorority dance, who cares who homely he is, he’s all you’ve got!
I got on at the beginning, the first stop of 21 on the way to the forest above and east of T. The sky was adding clouds, and inverting the temperature, the wind strengthened. I was ready with my pack, kittert, and my smart phone (which I have come to live by here – I had a dumb phone prior). After about 10 minutes of waiting, I first heard, and then saw, the trikk.
You deserve a forest and meadow and wanderland for your city and town. I wrote in August about the joy and necessity of Nordmarka forest for Oslo, the same is true for T, and it should be the same for you (speaking to the American audience, specifically corn country). Bymarka is the city forest and wanderland for T. Because of Allmensrett, it can seem like all of Norway is your forest and playground. While that sentiment has validity, this is something extra special about your city having its own forest. A little additional ownership and pride.
Bymarka is typical. There are the evergreens, meadows, requisite lakes to circumlocate, and sons and daughters of the northern lights clad in form fitting petroleum-based active wear. Maybe Bymarka is also a little special, like T.
Approaching, the trikk was nothing special: another hulking gray chunk of steel driven by an overhead electrical connection. Inside it was less special, or maybe more? The pilot was a young women. She had blond hair that had been dyed green, now faded. Only the tips of her shorter feminine cut were clearly verdant. Juxtaposed against her plain black and white uniform she worn a belt with a checker pattern of black and competition green. Contrasts in a land of contrasts.
I trudged up the path, now a little hurried because I didn’t want miss the ride down, or have to wait in the retreating daylight. Flashing my T public transportation pass vis-a-vis the App on my smartphone, I bounded aboard. Just me. Just me and the pilot, a man. Slightly deflating, I was hoping to share a celebratory smile with another wanderer. And then with a lurch, we were off. Around the loop of the track and retracing the tracks from a couple of hours earlier.
Opposite the cool and soviet gray of the carriage was an interior that was almost kitschy with a peach-colored steel interior. An assortment of wine-colored vinyl covered the bench seating, marking different eras and different manufacturers. I will choose to believe the trikk reveled in the dissent of so many subtle differences. It resisted description and codification.
With a jerk we were off, a relatively well-populated trikk. It rumbled, it swayed. Gathering speed the electric motor gave off a pained voice, a protest against the labor. There was nothing refined in the motion. No, this trikk was a practical beast, a mule, and it would do of it as it was asked without the worry for trivia like points for style.
I heard the trikk before I saw it. Nearing the end of my circling a small lake, Lianvatnet, the trikk was a welcome sensation. My feet were struggling to avoid tripping on the tangle of roots as I paralleled the shore, I was tired. Not tired from all the walking but a deeper fatigue. It had been a long week in T. Wonderful would be the first word to describe the week but tiring nonetheless. I was worn out and I still had to get back to the hotel, hopefully connect with my cousin, teach on Friday and then fly home to Oslo.
Circling the lake I spied three boys fishing, a man walking with his dog, a smattering of dwellings, and a sod-roofed primary school. Who own access to a lake? Should any one person own that access, even just a little? When my ancestors left Norway, a strident contingent of their countrymen also left for America to create a classless society. They immigrated to build a new life of shared suffering and reward, a life free of the ossifying effects of inheritances.
I read recently in Wisconsin Outdoor News that lakes in northern Wisconsin will be “fully developed” in about a generation. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) scientists have proven that as a lake is “developed”, that is, the shoreline looses its natural cover to turf grass, a dock and run-off from a dwelling, the reproduction of key fish species like Walleye and Musky drop. We are loving our lakes to death.
Leaving “downtown” we pass a stop that makes my ears prick, “Skansen.” No, no, you’re saying it wrong, think “W’sconsin,” just like the locals and you have it. We are in full rumble mode now, and climbing. In this section of track, the rails aren’t welded. It’s just like the old timey days, a rough and boisterous ride.
We pass abused vegetation during the accent. Frayed and desiccated small poles are all that remain of young and hopeful trees. In a geography already at odds with trees, it seems like a cruel and unnecessary violence. Is a clean cut too much to ask? T is a place where too many young and hopeful scions were brutally cut down, be it 1030 or 1940.
By the Sødre Hoem stop the rails’ rumbled lessened. The rails are more modern, welded, one continuous line. The line of history in T is long too. As an American this ancient arch of history is easy to understand but hard to appreciate. What do we still use in America that is a thousand years old?
I made my way back from the wrong direction. Google maps, plus a remote corner of the world is a recipe for disaster. The pasture was set into a hill, the highpoint looked out over T, an impressive view even in the descending gloom of cloud cover and fading light. A happy discovery was that I was on the Pilgrims’ Path. A route from various points in Norway to the Nidaros Cathedral. From Oslo, the journey walks 643 kilometers. A simple marker acknowledged the way. Inadvertently I was treading a historical path of the faithful, I took a moment for reflection.
Higher, and muddier, the path’s vistas begged me to use my binoculars, I obliged. While cloudy here, the sweeps of distance allowed me to look at far northern hills bathed in sunlight. Trees covered the impressive mounds and hinted that they soon would delighted with color. Their shapes reminded me of pictures of the Appalachians, although I have never personally seen them. I continued to scan east, to my right. Freyer failed to conceal fully the distance vistas.
As I panned right I gained sight of mountains that were clearly high, and jagged, and rock. Snow, I saw snow! At approximately 225 degrees I saw snow fields on mountains. Snow from last year, or last century, or maybe snow from the last millennium. Wind and silence, fitting and ominous.
A boy is now on the trikk, maybe he’s 6 years old. He has red hair and a green stripped shirt, the cuffs of his sleeves are soiled. At Munkvoll stop, he leaves. In his place is a new group of ebullient youngsters with a patient leader. It’s hard not to smile. The clouds have thickened. The rails here are welded, though it doesn’t seem to make much difference. At 3:46 PM we arrive at Lian, end of the line, top of the hill; there are few of us left to depart.
The pasture I was traversing was here on purpose. As near as I was able to tell from the sign, the farm was for the enjoyment of the people. Stiles crossed the pasture in many places, inviting a wanderer to tread carefully along the worn paths and dung piles. I met two milk cows, 21 sheep, and countless droppings. Strangely to me, I didn’t smell the animals. In the Midwest the concentration of livestock is such that when on are on a farm you smell the animals.
21 stops and freedom. Freedom to amble and ramble, freedom for the mind to wander further than the feet are able. But the beginning is also the end, a circle. The trikk picks me up at 4:57, the pilot is a man and I’m the only rider. The carriage rumbles on the loop of rails and rejoins the mainline. Down we go to St. Olva’s Gate, 21 stops and another form of freedom.
(Editor’s note: due to technical hurdles, pictures are temporarily absent. They will be added as soon as the Binary Gods allow, takk skal du ha!)
Photos added 3 October, 2015 at 21:03
The Sunday Nature Call, uke 39
To Hell with the cranes!
Yes, I said it. I know you may be shocked but somethings a man, a birder, must say thre truth, as shocking as it may be. Like Dick Cheney, I will not appologize.
Oh, not that Hell, the other one. You know, the one in Norway, the nice one. The Hell with friendly folks and certainly not hot. Seriously, have you been to Hell, Norway? They don’t even need air-conditioning there, instead, bring a sweater (wool if you’re serious).
Lesson # 41 about Norway, have no expectations so you can’t be disappointed. I didn’t expect to see any new birds during my week in T (Trondheim for the uninitiated). Frankly, that is a good place to start. I expected to see nothing, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I witnessed two new birds. For those of you who are birders, you know how exciting that is. For those of you who aren’t, some day you will understand. I record my new gets in a paper journal and an electronice spreadsheet, lest one or the other fail. A new bird is far more than a notch on some belt but rather a deeper communion with nature and the great biological forces to which we all yield.
The airport express bus was taking me from T to TRD at Værnes. Reliable highway E6 was uncrowded and the skies were partly cloudy. Passage through several tunnels makes for a dynamic trip.
Exiting a tunnel near Vikhammer I spied a group of long-legged and long-necked gray birds gleening a recently chopped grain field. I didn’t want to believe it at first, and then I didn’t want to create a scene on the bus with frantic gesticulating. Heroically I channeld my best impression of Ola Nordmann being excited and quietly made a note on my phone’s tablet. Less than ten mintues later we passed through Hell, Norway and then arrived at TRD.
Ærfulg (Somateria mollissima)
Trane (Grus grus)
Yes, that’s all you get.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
No Good Answer
I stared, for a second too long, so I looked at my shoes and then across the room. I had just been caught flat-footed; I had no response. The student’s question was so sincere, there was no way I could give a pat answer to, “Are American police racist?”
A favorite bible story for me is from Luke, Chapter 15, “The Prodigal Son.” I feel a little like that son this week. Since Sunday night I have been in Trondheim, or “T” as I write it and, “T (big T)” as I say it. It has been a pleasure, it has been better than I deserve. This week has been a tourist bureau coup for why to come back again and again. And this week, perhaps, I came home.
Over 130 years ago my ancestors left Norway. Some left earlier and some left later, but they almost all left, such was their poverty. Not only did all my ancestors come from Norway, but almost all of them came from Trøndelag, more specifically, the Trondheim area. And here I am, all these years later. An American, from the richest country in the world. I came from a family of humble and hungry Norwegians who achieved the American Dream.
Because of my ancestral history to the area I wanted to like it. I wanted to feel a sense of place and being, maybe a little familiarity. I wanted to feel like I had a little claim to T. I wanted to love T and I really wanted T to love me back.
Again, the Fulbright experience has been too kind to me. Freyr has been too kind to me. T has been too kind to me. What can I say to express fully my gratitude? Really, I need help.
Mange tusen takk will have to suffice.
Byåsen Vidergåenda Skole has been my home for the week. Mostly suburban, mostly white, mostly affluent..seems like home. Apologies LM but the building is much nicer. It was purposely built almost a decade ago, there is a uniform architectural and aesthetic signature. And they have a real nice teaching resturant inside. Seriously, a real resturant that students work in to learn the food service and culinary trade.
My lessons have been with all manner of Byåsen students (in Norway its “pupils,” “student” is reserved for those at university). My guide has been a teacher, from America. Ahhh, nothing lost in translation – it must be relief for us both. The stage has been a small lecture hall instead of a classroom. I would prefer a classroom with students at tables to facilitate my group-work activities but I’ll take it. In Norway, the teachers move for every class. They have an office suite with other teachers but no classroom of their own. That was a strange bridge to cross for me.
My students ranged from those destined for university and well versed in english to those in the trade-school track and whose teachers were kind enough to forgo some of their class time to the odd American. Thank you.
“Are American police racist?” That question invited a quick, “No, but there are some bad actors in any organization, blah, blah, blah.” No, this question demanded a response that was soul-searching, a response but not an answer. Because there is no definitive answer.
“Are American police racist?” I repeated the question for all the class to hear and then said, “Thank you for such an important question. No, but I don’t know if I can answer it. It is a very complex question actually.”
I speak enough Norwegian to sound like a knowledgable idiot. It’s better when I don’t, thankfully in Norway the level of english language preparation is such that I don’t have even try too often. Like any country there are accents and regional differences in speech. The differences can be nearby yet pronounced, such as Boston accents from Beacon Hill versus Southie. Dialects can also span great distances, such as eastern Kentucky to northern Minnesota.
Norway has two official Norwegian languages, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål is the formal and Danish influenced language, it’s what everybody speaks. Nynorsk is a dialect language from the isolated fjords and valleys of western Norway. It was formalized during the patriotic fervor of the 19th century and adopted an official langauge alongside Bokmål. Teachers here tell me that the kids don’t want to learn Nynorsk. The language of the Sami is also recognized but you would have to be in the far north so see or hear it.
Trøndelag is famous for its accent. As a hopeful Norwegian speaker, it is everything I can do to keep up with the speakers of proper bokmål. The subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences of Trønder språk are just another level of challenge. Sometimes that is fun, but the effort gets old fast.
Learning a language is so demanding and challenging no wonder we need to learn it as young as possible. Like your new and complicated television remote, leave it to a nine-year-old, it may be too much for you. On Thursday I was invited to a “Speaking Table” at the central library. Built on ruins dating back 1,000 years, remodeling excavations revealed ancient artwork and graves with skeletons. Some of the excavation were left and incorporated into the new building. It makes for a clever little museum in the library. Pay your library fines or else!
The group met on the fourth floor. From an initial meeting with three participants, the weekly events now attracts 40-70. All are adults looking to improve their Norwegian with conversation and games. I was late, I had been dallying at the bones, and didn’t make the big room with games. I joined a small group in a separate room which turned out better anyway.
We were from: Philippines, Spain, America, Afghanistan, and Hungry. Our leader, I’ll call him Abe, was convivial local with a purple shirt, three-day beard, and the requisite large wristwatch. He fiddled with his paper coffee cup unceasingly. I was so proud for all the people who were there, trying, struggling, and laughing in the mission to fit in better and increase their opportunities. I even added a couple of new words to my language bank: innbygger, halvpart, and kikkert.
The topic that elicited the most animation was on accents. Abe relished in sharing some of the ways that Trønderfolk use contractions, shorten sentences, and generally make a little rebellion out of their language for outsiders. Maybe this is a type of revenge Trøndelag is able to exact on Oslo since Trondheim is no longer the capitol?
“Are American police racist?” After I hinted at a copout answer, I had a hint of inspiration, and then moved to its flank. I turn away from the querier to speak to the whole class. I told them about accents. How they had accents to me. That I had an accent different from many regions in America. We acquire our accents young.
I asked the students to think about how hard it can be to drop an accent, even subtle elements remain for the most practiced and clever. We needed a word for an answer, since I didn’t have the right word I used a token for it, a metaphor. I reminded the fresh faces that America, for all its laudable goals and remarkable beginning, was racist from the start. Slavery, racism, and hate were enshrined into our Constitution. The best minds in America gave our nation an original sin, a scar, something that persists despite great efforts.
Slavery and racism are accents of America. The accent is heavier in some places and less in others but America has an accent. And like the Trønder accent, it is deep. Perhaps you move from T to Oslo, your accent moves with you. Perhaps in Oslo you are able to get about without a noticeable accent, very nice. But in moment of excitement, or fear, or fatigue your accent returns. It happens, maybe you’re embarrassed, but nobody gets hurt. In America people get hurt.
The young man who asked the question seemed to accept the my offering, he gave me a knowing nod. In this mostly suburban, mostly white, mostly affluent school he was black with conspicuous hair. I can’t speak for police. But I do know that the police are Americans. And like all Americans, they have an accent.
5 days of Roving
4 days of teaching
3 different schools
Ruter Buss – NSB – Norwegian Air Shuttle – Flybuss – Skyss buss
Manday, Tirsday, Torsday, Fredag
Langhaugen, Bjørnson, Nannestade
Poor Kids, Poems for art
The Sunday Nature Call, uke 38
It was a very old taste that was flooding my mouth and not in a good way. It was the taste of a very old and dead animal, the dust and sweat of decades. Yuck! Try as I did, I couldn’t spit enough to be free. So long was I was still afoot walking home there would be no relief.
Don’t you love it when a smarty-pants, a know-it-all get’s his what-for. There is a pleasure we take when someone who thinks they are so damn smart and clever gets expose to be a fraud or is undone by his or her own “genius.” Expressions about for what must be a universal human trait: “Hoist on your own petard,” “Schadenfreude,” “Just desserts,” etcetera.
For those you who know, I think by now you have developed a grin of pleasure anticipating this wise-guy getting his own “what for.” Feels good, doesn’t it? Yes, yes it does.
I walked to a birthday party down the road, only about a kilometer to pick up number two son from a birthday party. There had been rain showers on and off all day, it was just spitting now. I was decked with my overcoat and my trusty western-style hat of beaver; think more Harry Truman, less John Wayne. This outfit has covered me for almost a decade of walking to work in all manners of weather in Iowa. The articles themselves date back even longer. The overcoat was part of my original uniform issue in the Marine Corps, about 25 years old. The hat was Dad’s and is probably twice the vintage.
Meghan thinks I look silly, but I don’t get too many stares anymore on my familiar route in Marion. Although I still witness on occasion an explanatory conversation between a parent, and young child who was pointing at me. I imagine the child, raised on a rich diet of American cartoons transcending the years, just asked her mom what Inspector Gadget was doing walking by Indian Creek Elementary school.
Here, Meghan hates the hat. Accordingly it makes me want to wear it even more. The trap is set.
The nature story of the week has been Petra, birds and foliage get the week off. I don’t find the irony of a flood inducing storm named after a desert city amusing. Plus I just can’t stand storms getting their own names that aren’t tropical hurricanes. It’s like every kid getting a prize just for showing up. George Carlin would be livid.
The afore-mentioned storm visited the Kingdom and deposited rain, rain, and more rain. The volume was unusually high and flooding was severe. Farmers, already suffering from a wet, a cool growing season, are watching crops soak in the fields, hectares of grain lodged, and hay grown into unpalatable weeds. Not funny at all.
Yet rain is a part of life, more so in western Norway but overall a ubiquitous part of life. I spent a couple of days this week in lovely Bergen. The postcards of Bergen drench it in sunshine but by God everybody knows you plan for rain. I too shared my experience with some of its famous rain. In my personal journal I wrote that Bergen deserved rain.
Now, hold on, there’s nothing spiteful in that statement. It’s just that Bergen is so beautiful, that if it had more predictable sunshine it would be insufferably wonderful. It would be loved to death by the world. You wouldn’t be able to get any work done because you would be ceaselessly beckoned outside. They are lucky to have the rain.
When it rains during recess, the boys play outside. Of course they do: it rains, kids go outside for recess, “everybody does it.” Parents are expected to send their children to school with a full kit of rain gear. Their school has a generous wardrobe for all that wet gear. There was some planing in the design for it.
I don’t feel our American schools are built for the weather they actually find themselves in. My opinion is that we build schools for the postcard day. We show building plans with sunny skies. Open-houses for new construction and remodels seem to be held only in the fair weather months. We should design them better for December and March. We could design schools to handle children coming in from a post-winter storm with snow, and wind, and bitter cold kit, but we don’t. Where are the planned well-ventilated areas for all that rain gear to dry during lessons? Have you seen them?
I carried the tiny umbrella along for the walk in my pocket, reserved for number two son. The party was a riot of boys and sugar. The hosts were magnanimous. The kids were just finishing their destruction of the cake so I would have to wait a bit to leave. No worries mate.
We ended up being about the last to leave, typical. As I was speaking with the host mother Owen twice came to interrupt that he couldn’t find his rain boots. Go look again.
On no, really? They really were not there. Now he clarifies the mystery by saying that another boy has the same rain boots as him. My mind had to take a pause for logic, “but then what about the other boy’s original boots?” Focus Hanson, pack to the crisis at hand. Through the miracle of modern cell phones the host mother was able to phone before the missing boots got too far down the road.
Ensconced in his own gummi’s and carrying a partying gift of popcorn in a large paper cone, Owen and I set off to climb the hill on Vækerøveien back to our apartment. It was raining now, I gave Owen the umbrella to keep his treat dry. The size of the canopy was scaled perfectly for a boy. We walked on.
The volume grew to a steady downpour. My lower jeans were getting soak where they met the bottom of my trench coat. Owen was babbling brook of conversation, I just wanted to get home.
We passed Rema 1000, the neighborhood grocery, halfway there. Now we were in a full-on deluge. My head was getting wet, I didn’t expect that. Water was streaming down my face and neck, into my mouth and down my shirt, I didn’t expect that either. A brief glance downward release a healthy splash of water from my hat. The cool clear water strained through years of life transformed into something disgusting. I certainly didn’t expect that.
Owen tried to stop and show me the great big puddle at this school. I barked at him to keep walking. Actually what I roared was, “I don’t care, I just want to go home!” Not one of my better moments as a father, I think I startled a neighborhood boy playing nearby.
Finally we reached the deck and kitchen door. Owen was full of excited reporting, Meghan helped usher him in and strip out of his kit. She took one look at my sad, sour, and soaked self and did everything she could to restrain her grin. I did expect that.
Nobody in Norway wears a hat like mine. Their hats are for actual weather, not postcards. It’s been two days and my hat is still wet. I deserve that.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
The carriage was crowded because the platform was crowded. The early train from western outlying towns to central Oslo and the airport was predictably full. This was my first time on the R11 to Eidsvoll. I was just happy to be waiting at what I hoped was the correct train to fulfill my long commute. The internet map predicted almost two hours. Every travel is a new “adventure” for me.
The train stopped at the last moment – to me at least – I thought it was going to bypass our stop. There were fewer groggy Norwegians towards the back, less competition was attractive to me. A fellow traveler pressed the little disc on the carriage to open the doors. We squeezed in, so much for less competition. I took an awkward standing position wedged behind someone’s chair and a railing, spilling about half of my body into the walkway. My feet were planted at different levels.
And then nothing.
Movement and stillness.
We were rolling to be sure, but all was still. It’s weird how you can notice the absence of sound, that silence can be an overwhelming presence. Well almost silence, there was an unmistakable throb penetrating the calm. Ear buds.
This was a “quiet car,” Stillhet in the local language. My seven weeks of using public transportation has made it easy to understand the stereotype of the taciturn Ola Norman, but really, nobody rides the bus to party or make friends. Given this was the Stillhet car it just upped the ante. And our young and stylish man was unwittingly committing a taboo.
Nobody moved. Eyes transversed, but seldom heads. I hate earbuds. I might have been holding my breath – there was no way I was going to do anything to contribute to the clamor. The train speed increased so that the outside noise of rushing air and hum of the rails overwhelmed the latest techno hit. Exhale.
Next stop, Skøyen. More commuters boarded, including two young ladies. The trouble began immediately. Standing room only, the hubris of youth, plus the convention for silence; something was going to give.
I now had a seat to witness the lead up to violence. Where they 20 years old? Well, let’s just say 20. They entered the carriage together, continuing a conversation from the platform. Or more correctly, one of them was continuing a conversation from the platform, I’ll call her Rose.
Rose dressed locally, complete with a wide gray scarf wrapped once about her neck as is the style. In her left had she held, no, waved, a smartphone in a red case. She kept talking.
Rose stuck out. Did I mention Rose was also a “non-native Norwegian”? Let’s say her family came from southeast Asia for the sake of argument, my apologies to Rose. Non-native Norwegian is the best polite phrase they have here for people who don’t look the part. Rose sounded the part, but she didn’t look it.
I noticed the man from the Lysaker platform standing astride the right doors. He got on with me. I looked at him looking at Rose. He looked about 50.
For a Friday, he was a well dressed businessman. I first noticed his nice raincoat, it was tan and short, so stylish. Beneath was his blue checkered shirt with oxford collars, open at the neck of course. White undershirt. Nice dark blue pants that were neither jeans nor Dockers, a brown belt. And to be complete, a conspicuously large wristwatch suggesting his inner self fancies scuba diving deep-sea wrecks and Formula One cars.
Rose kept talking and gesticulating. He was looking at her. Staring was more like it. He was boring a gaze into Rose that should have snuffed her out. Rose’s native looking companion faced Rose and away from me. She seemed to be dressed more frumpy and subdued: a white Northface jacket with print and a tan backpack. She had curly and long dirty blonde hair.
The hero at the door kept staring, his right hand gripping the yellow grab-bar unnecessarily hard so that his knuckles pulsed between white and pink as his heart beat. He teeth were clenched. I think he was mentally willing Rose to shut up before something bad happened. The other passengers starred in their own directions, blankly.
“God, Rose,” I thought, “shut up already, you should know better.” I had that feeling like when you are about to see a terrible accident on the highway. Rose continued her yammering.
And then it happened.
Coming home the from the trip Friday to Nannestad, my bus was invaded by a barrel of monkeys. Actually, I think a barrel of monkeys would have been quieter. A class of first or second graders rushed aboard from an outing, now on their way back to school. Kids ran up and down the aisle. Some sat on top of railing or seat backs in a carnival like display of disrespect for the laws of physics. I finally saw their teacher, she was watching but said nothing. The other adults said nothing.
In fact the other adults ignored the chaos all together. This cacophony of sound and whirlwind of bodies was not worth noticing. “Norway, Where kids run free,” sounds like an appropriated hotel chain slogan. Correction, some of the adults did notice, the one’s near me beamed smiles and friendly nods at the children. Maybe it was a chance to vicariously escape the trappings of adulthood? Perhaps some reminisced with their memories? But two stops later the children piled out of the bus like they piled in and the riot continued on the sidewalk as the #32 bus drove away. Calm returned.
Ola lead with his right fist, it crashed into Rose’s unsuspecting face below her left eye. Although not necessary, a flurry of punches and then stomps ensued. And then it was over. Rose’s companion bent over to attend to her. Ola resumed his position astride the right door. Nobody moved. The other passengers starred in their own directions, blankly.
Rose was dragged off the carriage by her companion at the National Theatre station. I lost track of Ola. The R11 continued on to Eidsvoll.
Ola did not attack Rose, I imagined it. How many other people imagined that too?
Americas is so big
How big is America? Yes, the land mass of America is knowable, approximately 9.1 million square kilometers (CIA World Factbook, 2015), uff. Subtract Alaska and Hawaii and you still have an impressive land of depth and breadth. America is also so varied: from the sub-tropical wetlands and reefs of Florida, boreal forests of Vermont and Minnesota, high and low deserts of the Southwest, to the alpine tundra of the northern Rockies. How can such an array of geographies and biomes be one place?
In my lessons Monday and Tuesday at Langhaugsveien Vidergående Skole in Bergen, the students were exposed to the idea of different Americas. The topic was childhood poverty and my intention was, in part, for them to understand some of the regionalism that exists and persists. There are a lot of poor children in the South, but more dispersed in that rural land. In the North you have poverty too, but the large cities and their suburbs distort the wealth of the region and the very concentrated levels of poverty, particularly in non-white areas.
America is a such a large and diverse place, geographically and socially, that I posed the question to the students that perhaps there are actually many Americas. Yes, of course, there is one Constitution and one currency. Beyond that there is a centrally produced culture that is transmitted from Hollywood, Manhattan office suites, and the satellites of Clear Channel in Texas.
Yet despite the efforts of capitalists, America is still a richly diverse land, for better or worse. Visit communities in region X and you will see fences in front yards, in the Midwest, that would be taboo. Watch people walk and use public transportation in some Northeastern cities, while we drive most everywhere else. Accents, habits, and local customs are still wide ranging. Why is that so many house in St. Louis are brick? How come chili on spaghetti noodles is a thing in Cincinnati?
Is anyone aware how large America is? Maybe. But flying across the county gives you zero authentic, on-the-ground knowledge. A road trip by interstate highway is too fast and sanitized to interact with all that is America. We actually live and travel in such small circles.
Norway is big. Yes, it actually is, to me at least. My experience of Norway has been largely by foot. Walking, running, wandering while just a little lost… The pace of life at less than 5 kilometers per hour increases the scope of a place. Treading the land brings one into a greater intimacy with a place, its sights, sounds, and smells. I want to believe all the walking we are doing is engendering a greater authenticity with life in Norway.
From my car-driving world, distance are more appreciated when you walk. There is no quick trip across town when you are by foot. Since this life in Norway is a temporary arrangement, I am trying to revel in my shoe leather. From time to time I feel like I should be recording my foot travels with video. Narcissistic and intriguing but impossible. Where would it end and how could it be used? It couldn’t and it wouldn’t.
I don’t know how big Oslo is, but by foot it’s huge. Norway is a lifetime of terrestrial travels to understand. Who knows America? Has anyone known America in its present state? I submit a traveler named John Muir as the most likely candidate.
Muir was born and raised in coastal Scotland. At age 11 his father moved the family to a homestead in Wisconsin, there he wandered the prairies, lakes, and woods. As a man Muir walked through southern Ontario. He walked from Indiana to Florida. Muir rambled over the Sierra, he toured the Alaska. Maybe given his outsider, immigrant perspective, Muir was uniquely positioned to understand and contextualize what he was seeing.
I think John Muir had an idea of how big was his America. With actual shoe leather, and human skin, he walked over the land. Muir smelled the land, felt the various earths beneath his nightly sleeps. The grime of the trail found its way into his mouth and pores. John Muir intimately traveled America in a way that would be almost impossible today.
If you wanted to walk over America today you would have to stick to legal trails and paths, someone else’s idea of where you should go and what you should and should not see. A significant sojourn is possible but it’s bound by fences and interstate highways. Allemannsrett codifies wandering in Norway. It is a right in Norway to wander, to cross paths, to follow instincts and interests, provided you essentially leave no trace.
I don’t think I’ll ever get to understand how big America is. My efforts in Norway will fall short because of time. But I don’t think the point is completion, the journey is the victory, the effort. Calvin Rutstrum told of an exchange between a fishing businessman on vacation and a Cree. The businessman asked the Cree how long it took by canoe and portage to reach a particular spot in the wilderness. The Cree replied it took three days. Proudly the businessman replied that he was able to travel that distance in one hour by chartered float plan. Nonplussed, the Cree asked, “Buy why?”
The Sunday Nature Call, uke 37
I apologize for the tardiness of this week’s installment of The Sunday Nature Call. No excuse available, mea culpa.
Thomas Jefferson said the harder he worked, the more luck he seemed to have. I didn’t try to hard to see any new birds this week, and fittingly, I didn’t. Below is the bird not seen.
Dove of Disappointment (Galatian sex)
Speaking of birds not seen, the previously reported sighting of an Aythya marila was actually identified by a sharp-eyed reader as an immature male Aythya fuligula. Unbridled enthusiasm. Birders, like fisherman, are prone to such bouts of hope and excitement. I don’t have to apologize for that.
Below is a little photographic array about the transition of the seasons here.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
“I could just live here, it’s so fun,” said Owen as we left Leo’s Lekeland. Leo’s is a franchised indoor playground. We had a little banter about where would one sleep and so forth and then I asked him if it would stop being fun, you know, if you were there all the time? Owen screwed up his face a little, maybe he didn’t like having his fantasy damaged. Who would? “No, I guess not,” he answered.
Travel brochures, family propaganda, fun literature, and internal aspirations create ideal places. Judge for yourself, think about: The Cotswolds, Bavaria, New Zealand, Nepal, or Tuscany. It is difficult to imagine life there as anything but mundane. “How fascinating… Must be nice… Couldn’t you just picture yourself…,” and all those other familiar phrases of lowgrade jealously. “Folks in Vail must never be bored.” “I wonder where people from Miami go for vacation?”
Norway is no exception to those examples. The chamber of commerce and tourism bureau do a bang up job here. And when you travel on a tourist’s agenda you expect to see, smell, hear, feel, and especially taste everything that makes a place wonderful. You better or disappointment begets negative press.
The reality is that life is so similar. Globalization has brought Levi’s, Coke, and Nintendo to all corners of the world. People go about their daily lives and gripe about the same issues. We should all be so lucky to complain about the mundane. When you live with famine, or displacement, or violence the trivia of life must become a dream.
Today was mundane. It was a nice day but like a day I could have had almost anywhere in the modern world. Saturday began with our new routine, which I detest: the boys spending a couple of hours on their e-tablets playing Minecraft. I don’t have too much standing to complain because since they’re playing quietly I troll the internet on my devices, Meghan does too. Codependents, all of us.
We needed to do something, to have a goal and get out of the house for the sake of our mental health if nothing else. Yesterday was stellar, the bar was low for today but there was a bar and we needed to cross it. Last night we scored big experiences for nary a Kroner so I was feeling generous.
What to do? Meghan and I settled on a choice for the boys: the Røa indoor pool or the indoor playground in Østerås. Leo’s was the winner even though it required traveling in a new part of city. But hey! That’s what makes every seemingly simple trip special. We hoofed it to Røa, took the #5 train to the end of the line at Østerås and then returned to Shank’s Mare for the rest of the trip. It took about hour total. I’ll be waiting for some local reader to suggest a more efficient route. Meghan quipped it would have taken 11 minutes if we had a car.
Leo’s was nice. It was clean. It had a lot of room and a surprisingly sophisticated food selection. In fact, the staff would even deliver the handsome open-faced sandwiches to your tables – no intercom blaring, “Solbretsen, dine pølser er ferdig. Solbretsen!” So actually, in those ways it was different from my experiences in America, but I digress.
We paid for the boys, we all took our shoes, and then, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Meghan and I found a comfortable brown leather couch. This place was organized for the contemporary world. That is, the parents are almost all on their smart phones, not paying attention to the children. So, the comfortable seating and couches were dispersed through the play areas. Kind of a soft supervision, if a child cried out at least there would be an adult nearby who’d look up in curiosity.
I am giving the architect a lot of credit. If it was an accident of design, then well done anyways. While the boys played Meghan and I read. She had her novel, I grabbed the house copy of VG, a daily newspaper. I was pleased to read a featured story about a Norwegian family living in sun-drenched Spain. The title was, “Lever Drømmelivet i Spania,” or my translation, Living the Dreamlife in Spain.
As a young couple they skipped out of Norway to Spain with just enough money to live for six months – to have an adventure. 17 years later they have two kids, a borrowed turtle and “hverdagsliv,” everyday life. That is they say their lives in sexy Spain don’t live up to their friends and countrymen’s ideas of what life is like in that Francophone slice of heaven. The weather is different, but after that it life is remarkably similar, said Hilde.
I predict this will be my abiding insight to living abroad, a year in Norway will strip away the gilding. I will get to appreciate the beauty and the wonderful people, but also that Norway is like most anywhere else. People go to work, worry about how their kids are doing in school, wonder what the election will mean for them, and complain about the weather.
And if you life movies, or sport, or repairing old cars, then you will find that most anywhere you live. Sure, if you really like ski-jumping, painting sunsets over the Channel Islands, or attending first-run theatre, then you need to choose your geography. But if you’re like most people, and you are, then where you live doesn’t matter that much. Same Difference. Continue reading →
Home is Whenever
“Do you miss the dog?”
I thought for a couple of steps and then answered Meghan as deliberately as I could, “No.”
I went bird watching this evening, trying to capture perhaps some action at dusk, and settle my soul. My perch was the rentable little red cabin at the bottom of a steep meadow that doubles as a snow sport hill I presume (padded light poles). I rested my rump on the wooden deck and felt the chill of air descending. The sensation of warmth ebbing from the body was so slow that you didn’t feel it happen as much as noticed that it had happened, like thermodynamic hindsight.
At any rate I was hopeful. At least I wanted to be since I haven’t had any success dragging myself out of bed early enough to try this at dawn. Wood Pigeons crossed the meadow, some to the east, some to the west. Passing aircraft headed for Gardermoen outnumbered the birds.
A woman in a red vest followed after her hairy, piebald setter. You would think the dog was walking her. The dog coursed down the wood line, diving in the wood and then running back out, occasionally looking back. He was hunting, the tell-tale crisscrossing action of a bird bog. It was easy to stare, I was watching something as compelling as wild birds.
That’s the trouble with dogs. They are so alluring, dogs give you a sense of the future, hope. You get to project onto a dog your desires, your best attributes, your belief they can help you be a better person. In that respect it is a lot like children. Substitute baby for dog, I rest my case.
What no one advertises is everything else. The indignity of collecting excrement in plastic and then trying to find an appropriate place to dispose of it. All that dirt that gets brought into the house, filthy feet, special food, damaged furniture, terrifying health scares, crazy specialty doctor bills… Responsiblity is neither for the ignorant nor faint of heart. But all you need is a few moments of magic, of love, to erase any memory of woe. Substitute baby for dog, I rest my case.
Earlier today I told Meghan that I don’t feel comfortable in Oslo. Norway is wonderful, but it’s not home. If there’s anyone who would be a perfect match for the Kingdom of the North, ancestors notwithstanding, it would be me. But, well, there’s just something not right. It’s not home. I understand better the Framers’ insistence that the Presidents be native born. Its only been a month though, maybe comfort will be like a true friend: something that builds slowly but lasts.
My dog died of cancer, too young. He was best worst-dog-ever. I said goodbye long before that terrible day in June. The grieving party in the household didn’t need a fourth.
Lambeau loved to sit with women. He wanted to be held, like he was an eight pound lap dog, not the tough, cold water duck hunting dog I picked. A memory of home, of comfort, I have is the smell of my dog, specifically his feet. I would grab and smell a paw, that was his essence. If I think about it, that sense can flood my mind. I do miss that.