A Land of Dead Men

Their faces and names are everywhere, but you can’t talk to them. The ubiquity of these men makes them seem so close, so present. Of course they are far away, they are in that undiscovered country. To visit them is to never return to the here, the living. They are dead.

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Grimstad Kirke

Week 47 now finds me in the south, the south of Norway: Sørland. Since Wednesday evening I have been in Grimstad, “The town of poets.” That Sørland is a popular tourist destination is easy to understand, I hope I can return in its glory of the summer sun. This part of Aust-Agder attracted artists, and/or inspired their creativty. I was inspired to run.

But first I had breakfast. The Scandic Hotel in Grimstad is a treat. The interior reflects the neighborhood buildings in design, array of colors, and the feeling of being in a warren. The “old town” of Grimstad is like the “old town” of Stavanger – prepare to get lost, especially with no sun as a reference point.

Breakfast on the road means eating too much. One, ohhh, it’s all so tempting: breakfast buffet. Two, I am so cheap; if I eat a huge breakfast, then skipping lunch is not too much of a challenge. But I also wanted to run. The vote was broken by my growling innards. Eat!

My preference is to run in the woods and on trails…it is Norway after all. But I don’t like getting lost and now that we are in the dimenished daylight season, I am even more sensitive to running within my limits. So a road run it would be and why not run to Fevik, the summer home of Roald Dahl.

Unbelievable but true, I hadn’t heard of Roald Dahl until I came to Norway. Actually, I hadn’t heard of Roald Dahl until my son read to me from a Roald Dahl book he got from the library at his school, in Norway. We are now well aquainted.

The nice woman at the Hotel desk said the run to Fevik was a clear route. She warned me though that it was about 8K, one way! The hint of cigarette smoke helped me appreciate her concern and to carefully grin at the short distance. And we’re off.

In, “Hexene,” (The Witches in english) the boy learns from his grandmother that witches abound in Norway, along with many other mysterious creatures. So many summers of Dahl’s childhood were spent in Fevik that clearly the local lore and landscape left an impression on the author. I set my sights for the Strand Hotel – his summering home – and ran.

One very nice thing about being a pedestrian in Norway is the bounty of paved paths. A second nice thing about being a pedestrian in Norway is the scenery. A bad thing about being a pedestrian in Norway are all the oil-burners (the chuch is tolling 8 PM as I type). Diesel trucks, diesel cars, and the cold engines that put of a stench that just seems to linger too well in this air: a smell I will remember forever.

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The road to Arendal, Route 420, was my path and the Strand Hotel Fevik was my destination, it was time to  Let it Go.  Would I get to see a witch or troll along the way? Unlikely because there is still just too much daylight for those creatures of the shadows to manifest. I kept an eye out nonetheless.

imageBoulders, meadows, ocean inlets, and the homes of civilization paralled my route. Are mountains and jagged rocks necessary for mystery? I can’t think of too much mystery from Iowa or Illinois, but then I can’t think of much mystery from Colorado or Montana either. It must be Norway.

The Strand Hotel was lovely. Even on a gray day, she sat with dignity on the water’s edge. The timeless waves washed against her beach. I got to hear what Dahl heard, I got to see his vision of the sea, I got to taste the lightness of the saltwater, I got to feel the grains of sand between my fingers as I caressed a shell, and I got to think about what inspired his fantastic tales.

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The woman at reception was too kind. She invited me to the pub to see where Dahl would enjoy a beverage and cigarette, pictures of him look back from the walls. Surprisenly there was no Dahl merchandise. Does the hotel not have the rights or do they have too much restraint? My bet is on the latter. I hope I can return in its glory of the summer sun.

I ran back to Grimstad on the same path. It was still cloudy and cool, about 4 degrees centigrade. At the hotel I took the stairs – after running 14k taking the lift seems wrong. The circular stairs (i love circular stairs – we need more of them in america) were a path through an art exhibit on the walls: historical photos, contemporary art, and famous writers: Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Vilhelm Krag, and Gabriel Scott.

imageKnut Hamsun is celebrated and ignored. He is remembered, although some wish to forget (the Grimstand Church bell tolled 9). The man was as interesting as his works. If you are interested first go to the library and read his works, the internet can be a sewer.

imageWithout need for apology, Norwegians celebrate Henrik Ibsen. At the age of 15, Ibsen moved to Grimstad to begin an apprenticeship in chemistry, little could people have imagined that he would actually begin his path towards international stardom. Ibsen is still too famous for me to add anything of value.

The names and images of famous dead men abound here in Sørland. Their quotes are placed here and there, on walkways, walls, and buildings. With the magic of print, their words live on long after they became feasts for worms.

How did this place inspire: the people, the sceneary, the seasons? Was it the dark time, with all the forced contemplation? You’ll have to ask them when you get the chance. Until my time comes, I will continue to wonder and take a little inspiration from this land too.

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Framed poetry, room 401, Scandic Hotel Grimstad

Epilouge: I did not speak of women writers, correct observation. During my travels, monuments to men are ubiqutous but the same for women are scarce. You will have to look hard to find commemorations for women like Collete or Undset, but you should look.

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