It’s actually not so cold here. I mean, the sun is out. The sky plays peek-a-boo with the clouds which, for the most part, are white. The thermometer I walk under hangs above the door of a home furnishings shop; it registers 8. I guess that would be Celsius. Not frigid, mind you, but one does have to keep moving or the digits will likely grow numb. I am told that the last snow was a couple of weeks ago, but descending into Oslo airport, the surrounding hinterland is revealed to be thoroughly caked in white. Lots of fir making like plenty of Christmas trees.
Oh, yes . . . this is that place; the land of that animal. And, in fact (and I kid you not) at the reception I went to tonight, the platters of meat wraps were, alternately, (according to the staff serving the stuff): “fins” and “Rudolph”. By which I think they meant: salmon and reindeer.
As a matter of fact, I think that shiny thing I ate was . . .
Anyway, back on the matter of weather: currently there is a 5 by 7 meter pile of old snow massed in the quad in front of the central train station. It has turned black, as such piles tend to do the world round, collecting soot and detritus, during the course of their slow-melt process.
Meanwhile . . . back at the furnishings shop . . .
It has two brass beds on display, with large photos blown up over each. One picture depicts a young couple – toothy and fresh-scrubbed – eating a snack in bed. It has a kind of “imagine this” vibe going on. Only, you have to imagine this under rather circumscribed conditions, for the man is thin, but taut, in a white t-shirt, with a couple day’s growth of beard; the woman – slinky in a shimmering, but understated baby-doll — is dark-complected. The other picture posits a different couple – this one, no less youthful and healthy – but in their own worlds. The male reading a book, the female sacked out on the other side. The meaning, one presumes, is not that this is merchandise even a dysfunctional couple can enjoy, but rather that the mattress is comfortable enough to accommodate prolonged reading, yet cushy enough to induce sleep.
See, no matter where I go in this great wide world, I can read an ad. You might say that I am consumer-fluent; I am multi-ad-text-lingual.
Downtown is not precisely run down, but it could use a little attention. It’s rather drab, in fact. Kind of like the people who tromp back in forth in exceedingly functional blue jeans, nondescript flannel jackets, baggy coats of brown and grey, and hiking boots. Lots and lots of people who all seem to have been outfitted in the same camping store.
It doesn’t help that everyone is so tall that I have to cant my neck back and ratchet my vision to so great a distance away that I can’t make out any of the distinguishing details. Everyone simply is so far removed from my line of sight that they take on the cast of sameness.
This sameness extends to the storefronts, a large number of which rest vacant. This great business exodus is reminiscent of some of the towns I visited in Australia a few years back. It may not be the case that every third space is seeking a new tenant, but it feels that way. If rents are anything close to the cost of a Burger King combo or a Subway foot-long, then that must be the reason why. Judging by the ads outside shop windows, people pay twice what it costs for a fast food meal in Oslo than they do even in Tokyo. So, what kind of a paycheck are these folk pulling home?
This much I start thinking I know: if I could just manage to figure out how to get paid a salary here without actually having to pay for food and basic maintenance, I might actually live to die a rich man.
Returning my vision to the cobblestone streets, I note that many are being torn up and having stuff done to them –- either above or below ground. This all imparts the sense that this is a city center in transition.
Another sign of flux is readily apparent after two minutes along the sidewalks. But let me explain it like this . . .
While winging my way over here, I was not sure what I was expecting. Maybe nothing, since I was in the process of doing what I always do: buy a ticket, jump on a plane, and simply arrive; I delivered myself unto the place without any prior research or planning. In keeping with my style: spontaneity, flexibility, refusing to impose definitions or engage in pre-perceptions. You know: allowing life to unfold and happen.
But having said all that, I did imagine (I suppose now I realize this based on the sudden, jarring recognition that assaulted me upon arrival) that everyone would be tall, blond, big boned. Well, I got it about a third right. The white folk here do tend to be tall and big-boned. Not all are blond, though; like the gal in the bed ad above. But most surprisingly, a very large number of the people I immediately encountered – at least in the downtown, near Oslo’s central station – were people of color. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what their nationalities are (hey: maybe Norwegian!), but there were a lot of folks with black, brown, burn-orange, and rust-colored skin.
And that was a surprise. But a good one. Reminding me that it is not about the journey as much as the way we journey that matters most, above all. And the way we journey ought to be with our eyes open . . . and our minds clear of expectation. Or, if expectations are unavoidable, then carrying the capacity of carrying us against and beyond expectations. Transporting us over and through boundaries.
That is, if we hope to gain much of anything new from the experience.