Of course Oslo, the capital of Norway and its largest city, is not perfect. No place of human habitation could be—humans being the most imperfect of all things alive. Oslo may be as close to perfect, in terms of livability, as an urban conglomerate can come however. I’ve spent a few days here and there around the city over the years and I choose to declare it perfect…with a few exceptions. Oslo has none of the mad energy and excitement of New York City…but then nowhere does; little of the sense of dramatic possibilities of adventure or danger of Johannesburg or Los Angeles. Oslo doesn’t feel like the center of European history like Paris or London or Moscow nor does it represent the future like Singapore or Beijing. I think it’s more like San Francisco before the billionaires from Silicon Valley or the bums at Powell and Market came to represent the economies of Bay Area life. Back when it was the pretty city ‘by the bay’ and hippies and artists and families could afford to live there. But this is now…in Oslo.
Here’s what I love about Oslo, also expensive, but with the cost-of-living kept (slightly) in check by Norway’s smart social policies (and great oil wealth). The best thing is that I have family here and nearby—who are exactly the kind of people to whom one wants to be related. Everything else is also easy to love. The green parks everywhere and blue waterfront spaces, the Grand Hotel where ladies who lunch, very-important-people, politicians and Nobel types hang out, everyday royalty who stroll amongst the folk, giant hot dogs and open-face slices of bread and butter topped with the pinkest and freshest of tiny shrimp, Frogner Park with it’s concrete humans all peacefully entwined, the Nobel Peace Museum and exhibits to think by and, I discovered, a department store (Steen & Strøm) to be treasured like a Nordstrom’s, plus with one of my grandmothers’ last name—oh to be an heir! On this visit I did not get to Frogner Park, the Viking Ship or Munch Museums, or the traditional village where lefse if sold fresh off the stove top—my time cut short by a Norwegian Air (the one extremely imperfect thing about Norway) snafu. But I flew away, most pleased with myself for being Norwegian. Oslo inspires a sense that all’s right with the world—even if it is decidedly not!
Finally…just to say…I am an obsessive fan of Nordic Noir (which includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland) in books and streaming. The murders are innovative, the detectives imperfect in ordinary ways, the psychology of it all a major part of the puzzle. But let me note here how much I dislike Jo Nesbo, probably Norway’s most famous contemporary writer next to Karl Ove Knausgaard. Partly because Nesbo is a storyteller of the shoot-‘em-up, bang bang-you’re-dead genre, so beloved of American cop/crime/mystery writers; partly because his books make Oslo sound like a crime-ridden, gun-loving, drug-infested metropolis. Which I can vouch that it’s not—whatever evil lurks in the hearts of the good and bad folks of Oslo, it mostly stays there without leaking out onto the streets.
KEEP GOING…THE BEST (FAMILY AND ART) IS YET TO COME.
I cannot end these meanderings about Oslo without a note about my new hero/heroine? Mette, our guide on the Linden in Svalbard. Walking down the street in Oslo, a voice called Marjorie? and it was, most happily, Mette. In the interim four weeks, Mette has married and taken on a book editing project. More about that later because it’s an important book. I was excited to run into her since she may be the most remarkable human being I’ve met in a very long time—if ever.
I’m home in Albuquerque now, a big town with a set of quirky attributes that sometimes charm and sometimes frustrate—partly because we’re an absolutely multi-cultural metro area, a mix of Hispanic, Native American and Anglo with each sphere of cultural values sometimes complimenting but often confronting the other. Oslo, only a little larger, feels like a small city, somewhat at peace with itself. It’s without the edginess of clashing cultures, although relatively welcoming to increasing diversity. Oslo is safe and pretty and calm. Is that so bad?
I’ve been back in Albuquerque three weeks. I didn’t sleep enough last night so, before coming to theater-sit this afternoon, a nap seemed in order. As I dozed, trying to sleep, my king-size, ever-so comfortable bed in New Mexico wanted to morph into beds at Neset, on board the Linden and the Finnmarken, in Trondheim, in Stavanger and all those other Norwegian beds—wide and narrow, hard and soft, rolling and still. Sleep wouldn’t come so I decided to focus on one spot—the bed in my pretty cabin at Neset Camping. Which then made the whole of one of my two favorite places on earth come into the hazy view of far-away and I knew it was time to write my farewell posts to Norway. For 2018.
Neset was my home for nearly a week this fall. It was Svein Neset’s home for seven years. Svein was Swan Neset, a lumberjack who lived in Northome, Minnesota when I knew him. Swan was my dad. This was my fifth visit to Neset and I feel more at home, more connected with my history and heritage and culture and family each time I’m there. I feel more me. A slightly silly thing to say I suppose but it somehow feels right.
This stay at Neset was preceded and followed by visits with friends and family, both newly met and previously known. It was and continued to be a perfect time for me until the day I left—and Neset felt like the anchor for everything.
I rather sadly took long last glimpses and last photos before my wonderful friend Olav Neset drove me to the train in Kristiansand. The following bit of history has been included before…here it is again just in case you missed it. Olav’s family and my family both took the name Neset from the outcropping of land/peninsula where the farm, owned by Olav’s family, with some land rented/farmed by my family, was located. My Nesets, besides Torgus (my grandfather), moved nearby to their own land some years before but Torgus, Asborg and their four children stayed on Neset until they left for America in 1910. Olav’s father turned the land called Neset into this beautiful camp site I love so much.
Here’s my almost-last album before Norway fades completely into the background of real life.
A day in New York, tucked between Oslo and Albuquerque. I haven’t been in the City since joining my friend Cathy for the bus ride to the Women’s March in DC lo those many years ago. And…god help us…the slimeball against whom we were protesting is still in place—but I digress. It was good to be in this most exciting of cities again however briefly.
To many of us, New York means Manhattan with her hip sister, Brooklyn, increasingly part of the mix as more of the arts scene moves there. This was my first time in Queens however for longer than the ride from the airport. I was actually staying near LaGuardia in the simplest and most inexpensive of airbnbs so a visit to the borough of Manhattan took on a new dimension.
It went like this:
A Bus Ride
A Subway Ride
A Central Park Sighting
A 3.4 Mile Walk down Fifth, Third, and Second Avenues to St. Marks in the East Village.
Dinner with Reggie, artist, friend and raconteur extraordinaire, at Café Mogador
A Pricey Cab back home to Queens.
You are not in Oslo anymore Dorothy…I mean Marjorie.
You are not in Norway anymore, Marjorie. You are home…home where Republicans roam with their guns and their gods at play. But this fall is heard an encouraging word…and the skies are not cloudy all day…. And where tomorrow evening I will be back home on the range...because Albuquerque is out west and on the range and I love that about it. Okay enough with the bad cliches and parodies.
Right this minute, this fine Saturday morning, I’m sitting in the last in a series of ‘homes’ away from home, my humble travel abodes getting humbler by the day. Actually…the reason I know I’m not in Norway anymore is…no fluffy white duvet, no electric kettle, no silence. I am happy to be home though, although the Queens is not quite all the way… This little layover is due to some awkward travel planning on my part…horror stories to follow. But never mind all that, Southwest will get me back into high desert mode by tomorrow evening. Meanwhile l’ll see if Zahir, my last airbnb host, will drag one of my heavy travel bags up the flights of narrow stairs to the third floor where I’m semi-comfortably ensconced in yet another economical attic…this one with not a cruise ship in sight.
And just so you know…no need to go into withdrawal at the prospect of no more Norwegian family, Norwegian butter, Norwegian trees, Norwegian sunset, Norwegian rain…. posts, I do have a few to go. Just need to get back to my very own desk and coffee pot and make sure my bamboo trees are okay first.
A maritime expression having to do with discarded or useless things. Seemed appropriate for a grouping of photos that don’t really fit anywhere but I can’t quite ignore because I … love them. I guess they’re just about being in Norway at a beautiful campsite that is very dear to me. You’ll like them if you’re an aficionado of rabbits and not too tired of scenic lake shots.
The Rabbit Series.
The Lakeview Series: As the Day Goes By
One or two or three or four ‘letters’ from Norway to go. Let’s see, there’s this one about Lyme disease and walking in the rain. Then one about butter accompanied by animal pictures (and no, the animals in question are not being braised, sautéed or fried in that deliciously golden salty Setesdal Valley butter. And then there’s saying goodbye to Neset, and Olav and Solveig, and a quick look from the window of the train from Kristiansand to Oslo this fine sunny day. Oh yes, and a final sign off from Oslo in a few days.
So about my brief but momentarily scary bout of Lyme Disease. I’m a little proud of myself for not panicking (not that there’s really anything to panic about if you do just a little research…) and calling my Albuquerque doctor or going to a clinic here or even feeling overly sorry for myself. I did send my brother a whiny email but he didn’t respond … so much for whining.
The Woodtick: The story goes like this…Norway has woodticks that carry Lyme disease just as we do in the states. Word apparently got out in woodtick world that I find Norway to be perfect…and a particularly grumpy one decided to put a pucker in paradise and attached itself to me. By the time I realized it, the poisoning deed was done. Two days after the discovery I developed an odd assortment of aches and tingles and weaknesses and a horrendous headache—took me part of the day to realize what it was…but here’s the brilliant part. My RA doctor always supplies me with a round of antibiotics before I leave on one of my long trips because I once developed a worrying infection in some far off place where the healthcare system was iffy. Of course this isn’t the case in Norway but who wants to spend time finding a doctor when you’ve much better things to do…voila, my pills were at hand. I’ve only finished the second day of the seven-day regimen and I already feel generally fine, but of course I’ll continue until the end. My tiny dead friend is a revolting-looking specimen, almost like a miniscule cross between a spider and a beetle. I’m bringing him home in case I go truly mad and the doctor needs to examine the source.
Up the Hill and Round the Bend to Byglandsfjord I Go: On one of the glorious days of rain, I donned my Svalbard heavy-duty hiking sneakers and rain jacket and walked the two/three kilometers from Neset Camping to the village of Byglandsfjord. And a lovely walk it was. I tried to absorb enough fresh air and fresh water and fresh plant matter to last a few New Mexico months. There is zero pollution or dust here. Zero. I stopped at the Revsnes Hotel on the edge of town for tea, wandered about the drizzly streets, full of late summer’s fallen green apples and bright gold zinnias, went to the grocery store, and stopped back at the hotel for a wine on the way home.
Pictures. Of course. You need pictures. The walk in the rain.
Saturday was crisp and sunny, the perfect day for a stroll along the periphery of Neset Camping, taking in the everyday landscape of the little boy Svein who would grow up to be my dad. Neset means small peninsula or outcropping in Norwegian and that describes this scenic spot of land sticking out into Byglandsfjord. Olav Neset and his ancestors have owned this land for a long time, building it into one of the most successful campsites in Norway. When my dad, his mom and siblings left for America, there was only Olav’s family home and barn, a couple of small log buildings and the cabin that my family rented at the other end of the property. Both families took their names from the place, the farm and land, which was common in those days. It was a time of great poverty in this country, hard to imagine in the prosperous Norway of today, but the reason for the mass Scandinavian exodus to America, similar to the great Irish emigration.
I always like walking about and listening to the quiet country sounds of waves on the lake and wind through the pines, birds singing, cawing, ducks quacking, a dog barks…it’s nice. This is a kid-friendly place and, while it’s quite empty now, in the summer the sound of children chasing each other and laughing makes me think of dad and his twin sister, Ellen, and little brother Ilif, doing the same all that time ago.
Okay, let’s get on with the Walk Around Neset photo album before I wax too sentimental.
Sunday, September 16, 2018. Just as I prefer my Sundays to be…it’s a grey rainy day and I have too little to do. I should explain. I have been working somewhat diligently on book organizing ever since arriving at Neset Camping on Tuesday. The book that has emerged in bits and pieces over the last years. The book that has potential, people say. That book, which if I do not write it now will never be written…because…well….there’s age and memory and stamina and desire to consider. To rephrase then. There’s too much to do…all of it about what I always think I’ll do…if there were only time and solitude. Hello, time and solitude…So Just Frigging Do It.
One of the reasons for this surplus of time is that I’ve slightly wrecked one leg. It’s been a little creaky off and on but apparently walking a few kilometers in the cold and rain was an insult too far. So here I am alone in a comfortably rustic cabin in the rain—unable to go for a long walk up the mountain…oh darn. Today’s agenda, keep on organizing and reviewing and non-serious editing for the Book, with time out for what will be one of my last posts while physically on this trip, and some time for streaming Midnight Sun (Swedish, a little confusing but I recommend for geographic/travel adventure in the far north of the country, lots of death and destruction, and several outstanding actors).
Oh yeah…there’s also selecting which of the thousands of mushroom, grass, water, duck, butter, historic house/new friend photos to include when I publish these Neset posts.
For breakfast I’m preparing eggs, Norwegian cheese and diced green chili (mild of course), cooked in a whole lot of Byglandsfjord butter; It’s Santa Maria Green Chili from Peru. Yum, just like Old El Paso. Soon 11am and still raining. If I were one of those hoping and praying people, I would make it all about the right to rainy Sundays, which is just about as possible to achieve in New Mexico as world peas and an end to gun violence. Maybe if I just flat out demand…Like goddamn it god, just for one Sunday a month could I have an all-day of rain. That’s my pluviophile personality speaking. Obviously if I hadn’t developed some New Mexican traits I wouldn’t have searched the Kristiansand grocers for green chili.
I’m making book progress. It’s nice, lots of breaks of course but then I have a whole day…and since this is a thinking-it-through/new and better ideas/contemplating-my-navel stage, breaks are good. I pace, pack something, wash a dish…and a productive thought presents itself for my consideration. I jot it quickly down with the purple-ink pen I brought along for just this kind of work.
Monday morning at Neset but still late evening in New Mexico. Just to finish the rain obsessing…all day it rained. A steady healing peaceful rain, not much wind, not too cold, just thick water making that softish drumming on the porch. Done!
It’s time to come home…I’m waking early, worrying about money and work and apartment decisions and the marathon which I stupidly signed up for—two t-shirts this year, who could resist? It’s not like I signed up to run, just a 10K walk. I know the rest of my body will probably cooperate but my left leg feels bothered, annoyed, sporadically painful. I’ll check it all out at the gym where, if I collapse—since it’s Pres Healthplex—they can do something, although that’s not my insurance carrier so maybe they won’t?
The real purpose of making this post was to post a whole lot of random photos of life around Neset Camping. First let me just step outside and check out dawn breaking over Byglandsfjord. Click click click.
Here’s more of yesterday…rainy yesterday. Bunnies, duckies and mushrooms to follow.
Tuesday Evening. Neset Camping. Have I said ‘…perfect day’ too often? At this moment I’m in a lovely cabin which is pleasantly familiar because I’ve stayed in it before (miss you, Lace) and it’s cold and windy outside on my private bit of lakeshore and warm and cozily-lit inside (as all the world should be…). Branches of the big fir tree out front are waving vigorously about and the moss-splotched boulder (where my dad used to play) is just feet away from the corner of the cabin. Out the front window a lone duck is braving the choppy waters while I’m all snuggled up in what will be my piney refuge for almost a week. Am I excessively sentimental about this place? Of course I am but I give myself permission…because being here makes my life perfect for a few glorious days once in awhile.
This is my last real blog post of the week although I may post an album of trees and water and random ducks once in awhile. I have things to do.
Today has a multitude of small components that go into my once again throwing around ‘perfect’ but there are two that loom large—the first being another really fine road trip with Simon from Kristiansand up here to Byglandsfiord the back roads way. It just simply does not get any better than that, especially with someone else doing the driving and that someone being a person like Simon who’s interested in history and the environment and the world in general, who is from southern Norway so knows the highways and byways of the region and, in fact, has a rather dramatic personal story of doing the right thing under circumstances of corporate intrigue that bordered on downright dangerous.
The backroads of southern Norway are scenic to put it mildly, you know, all those mountains and rivers and forests and bucolic farms. Well Simon has an extra for his personal tours—he works for one of the larger suppliers of hydroelectric power in Norway with dams and power stations up and down the Setesdal Valley (Norway is 99% clean energy, almost entirely hydroelectric). The most interesting plant was built in the 1920s, it is quite a beautiful building and everything still works just fine; at another site they were releasing some of the overflow from all of the rains this week so there was a grand scene of water showing off just how powerful it is.
We climbed around the mountainsides a bit, drove down narrow windy roads, and visited some of the old railway sites from when the train ran between Kristiansand and Byglandsfiord—the train my grandmother and her brood would have taken to meet the ship that would take them to America. Then we had a hot dog and Simon brought me ‘home’ to Neset Camping—which forces me to use that word-perfect again.
Along the way….
Am I a short-timer now? One more big – and important – week in Norway – at Neset Camping – a short stayover in Oslo, a day in NYC, and home. But this moment is still Kristiansand. It’s been a completely enjoyable few days with my gracious family hosts and that brilliant road trip. In between there was some art that I found most interesting so thought I’d share a few photos as a farewell to Kristiansand.
So…who knew? The University of Agder here in Kristiansand has the largest Beat-Art collection in the world. Bigger than San Francisco’s. My cousins found this out when visiting The Beat Art Museum in San Francisco (http://www.kerouac.com/) which they had assumed would have the most substantial collection. Turns out it was right here where Tone works at the University of Agder.
Of course I visited and collected more photos. For more info go to https://www.facebook.com/uiabea/
All of the information about this collection and the beat artists is available on line so I didn’t try to document each photo. Just wanted to share the knowledge that these collections exist and are pretty spectacular…maybe particularly for those of us who only know the Beats as poets and writers.
Some of the names are below. Also the University of Agder has published a beautiful book about this collection. Unfortunately it is both heavy and expensive so won’t be coming home with me.