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by:Larm 2009: Hot Music from the Frost-Bitten North

Kevin Pearson
A Poor Man’s Connoisseur Guide

Oslo Harbor

The organizers of by:Larm were also kind enough to hand out free copies of a hefty little travel book titled: Oslo – A Poor Man’s Connoisseur Guide to Happy Living in One of the Most Expensive Cities in the World. It was as helpful as the advice I gleaned from the people I talked to, but didn’t come with a friendly smile or free beer. Then again, my new friends never offered up interesting tidbits such as the sentence I found on page 14 of the Guide that read: “As a Scandinavian Gulf state, all airborne star architects like to compete in will waving contests, ejaculating their hedonistic secretions onto the seafront of Oslo.” Unfortunately, unless you are going to catch a ferry, I would advise against taking time to visit Oslo’s harbor and the “hedonistic secretions” ejaculated upon it. I trundled down there expecting a Manhattan-like sprawl of giant fjords only to be met by a flat, slightly hilly horizon. The guide’s advice, however, was an important tool in my treks around Oslo, as the rumors are true: Norway is expensive. Yet, thanks to the handy guide and friendly folks, I managed to find cheap Indian food, cheap coffee, and cheap-ish beer. The Norwegians, it seems, drink a lot of beer (and weirdly a lot of Sambuca as well).

Tim Wendelboe

Beer, in fact, was probably my biggest expenditure while attending by:Larm, but coffee came a close second. And while there is a slew of American-style 7-Eleven’s dotted throughout the city –- pretty much every second corner is home to one -– good, gourmet coffee is the only way to go in Olso. Apparently, Norwegians drink the most coffee in the world, and if you want your fix while visiting, there’s no better place to go than Tim Wendelboe. I happened upon the nondescript coffee shop while walking around Grunerlokka. With just a bar and two stools, it’s not your traditional coffee shop -– no sitting for several hours sipping on a latte and updating your Facebook profile here. Behind the counter sits several trophies proclaiming Wendelboe as the best barista in Norway as well as several well-placed World championship positions. Unfortunately, Wendelboe wasn’t there when I popped in, but Tim, an Australian transplant living in Oslo, was an informative barrista suggesting two types of espresso to me. Of these, the Aricha #32, a fruity flavor from Ethiopia, was the best, mainly because I’d never drank espresso before that tasted like strawberries. Tim, as well as suggesting great coffee, also told me about his favorite bar, Oslomekaniskev, situated in the former old town area of Groenland, now an immigrant enclave that was also home to the cheap Indian food I had found during and earlier excursion. The “circle of life” as Elton John might say.

Oslo City Center

It was while walking through Groenland that the several Scandinavian stereotypes jumped out at me: People walking around with skis slung over shoulders, parents pulling children in plastic sleds instead of pushing them in strollers, and bar after bar televising several varieties of winter sports. Back in Grunerlokka, it was the housing stock that had struck me – all differing shades of pastel, giving the area a slight fairytale-like feel. Oslo has obviously came a long way since it was known as Kristiania and nicknamed the City of Tigers due to its dodgy nature. In fact, the only dodgy situation I found myself in was self-imposed. On Saturday morning I joined an organized trip that found a busload of international delegates traveling up a winding mountain road that -- and I am sure there is a decent amount of hyperbole stuffed in this next phrase -- was reminiscent of a snow covered cousin to Bolivia’s Yungas Road -- aka the Road of Death. Half way up, we meet another bus coming down. Something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it’s us. We mount the snow-covered roadside tipping the bus to a 30-degree angle. Any more and we’d start to wobble. Fortunately for all of us, we make it to our destination: A lodge with panoramic views of Oslo (though, with the weather we can’t see a thing) where coffee and sticky buns, plus an a cappella performance by Norwegian folk artist Kim André Rysstad awaits us. Unfortunately, at some point, we have to drive back down. We do. It’s a lot better than the journey up, and we make it safely back to the center of Oslo in time for the rest of the day’s festivities. It’s this mix of warmth and welcome amidst unsavory conditions that sets by:Larm apart as not just another music festival, but an endeavor and an expedition. It would have been easy to stay at home as the snow fell, but the crowds came out in full force with ticket lines wrapping around Youngstorget and certain shows being impossible to get into unless you were already there for the previous band.

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