Long Day’s Journey into Oslo

Last year, about this time (give or take), I was heading for Dresden. That was an eventful trip. I had originally dubbed it “the trip out of hell” because of a dirty trick someone pulled on me that led to the cancellation of my ticket (and during the World Cup, to boot!). But faithful readers of this blog know that, to paraphrase the inimitable words of Stealer’s Wheel, “everyone’s agreed that everything turned out just fine”.

In fact, that was one fantastic voyage. Dresden was a great little city, if a bit under-developed and, okay, drab. Still, roll in Leipzeig and Berlin, Frankfurt and stops inbetween, and Germany was a revelation. The personal growth stemming from that trip, too, wouldn’t be traded for a library of books (well, okay, maybe a stack at B.Dalton). But I changed in palpable, significant ways.

Which is what peripatacity — the restless urge to explore and experience — is all about.

Leaving it up to the next dot on the world map to qualify as “trip out of hell”. And, I may have just found it. On the long, never-ending road to Oslo.

Aside from the standard three hours of trains from Sendai to Narita, there was a short 90 minutes in the airport (enlivened by the full-dress koto accompaniment), followed by 10 hours to Copenhagen, 45 minutes drifting aimlessly through a neon and glass shrine of make-shift shops, then a one hour hop to Oslo, followed by 10 minutes in Duty-Free (where disembarkees acted like a frenzied pack of rats liberated from 17 days on a starvation diet into the hold of a grain store), another 10 on a frigid train platform where my breath seemed to freeze-dry into crystals in front of my mouth, then 25 minutes on a mid-speed bullet into the city center. 6 minutes dragging three bags later, I was in my hotel.

Well, say it that way and it doesn’t sound like any biggy, but, believe me, the minutes added up. By Copenhagen my nerves were jangling; I had entered an altered state. I might even have voted for George Bush just to get a chance to lie down in bed for 15 hours. 10, 2, 4 – I didn’t care – set me to soak in a tub of Dr Pepper and set me to snooze.

As I snooze what I think about is the way that societies reduce representations of themselves into cultural shorthand; iconic expressions (codified into things or acts) which actually have little — if any — connection to contemporary self (writ either at the macro — i.e. national — or mico — i.e. indiivdual human — level). How is it that kimono and koto become symbolizations for Japan? I mean, after finishing their music, those women knock off for a drag on a Marlboro, a bottle of “ActiveDiet” post-water, and a quick call on their cell to their married boyfriend. The representation is mere illusion. And Norse helmets? How many Norwegians do you see walking around with those on their heads during your daily trek to Oslo station? Who is it we think these signs are speaking about and what do we think they are really communicating?

Well, that’s the cultural criticism portion of my late-night mental sojourn.

Many hours later, I am up and out. Well, at least on my way to eat in the cafeteria on-site. They told me it would be easy to get there, just take the elevator down to 2, then follow the stairs. Actually, that leads me into an alley out back. But from the alley I can spy the cafeteria – across the cobblestone. To get there, though, I have to retrace my paces up the stairs (which — like Ulysses S. Grant — I am loathe to do on pure philosophical principles), then down a long corridor, right and down another and finally: there are the stairs! Along with a sign “to dining room”.

Even jet-addled me can fathom that I must be on the right track.

Once at the foot of those stairs I run smack dab into books. I guess for those who wish to pass the time. But what I wonder is why folks would come to Oslo to read? I mean, don’t they possess the creativity or initiative to entertain themselves? Well, just in case, for such folk, there is a T. Jefferson Parker (cool) and a couple of Danielle Steeles (far less cool). They’re in Norwegian, which I suppose would make the Parker a frustrating read and the Steele a more tolerable one.

All things considered, I think I will be taking my camera out into the streets, window shopping, museum gazing, and people watching. You know, sampling the fruits of peripaticity.

The breakfast is one of those standard European affairs – lots of cereals, breads, platters of meats and cheeses, fruits and assorted cut vegetables. By now we all know the drill. There are also slimy and whipped and battered and mixed bowls of stuff like anchovies in sour cream and cole slaw in mustard, and pickled beats and pickled pickles (of all things). The juice is fresh, the coffee can be had with skim milk and there are packets of hot chocolate for your sweet teeth.

Standard fare, perhaps, and every day the identical menu, but since I’m not paying, who can complain? That is, I am supposed to be paying – 50 Krone per (which, according to my computer’s currency calculator, tops out at about 8 bucks or 1000 yen a sitting) – but because of inefficiencies (or else extreme courtesy?) in the staffing, no one seems to be asking me for a room number or else cash up front. They’ve asked at the front desk twice now whether I wouldn’t like to consider adding breakfast to my stay-plan, (the paranoid in me suspects this could be a case of: “hint, hint . . . we’re onto your game”) but they seem to be satisfed with my explanation that I’m fine as I am. Sure I am, since no one is marching in with a gun to compel compliance.

Yeah, I know, my duplicity shocks you. Me being such a straight arrow in life’s wars. But, I guess I look at (or is that “rationalize”?) it like the U.S. military: if they ask I’ll tell; until then, I’m just living my life, doing my job.

And since it is time to go do my job, I’ll get to it. Now that my long day’s journey to here has resolved into completion.

And since I have survived.

At least long enough to tell you about the next leg of the journey, this next day.