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?