2013 Grateful 22

I have always wanted to live on the water, by the sea, near the coast. My dream is to live on a small island with its own private beach. An oasis of cool in the summer and a wild, raging cacophony of sound in the winter, as waves crash against the shore and gale-force winds serve as sharp reminders of the fragility of life. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Yes, I know… it leaves one big question hanging out there … why did I ever move to Budapest?

IMG_6742 (800x590) (800x590)While Oslofjord technically isn’t a fjord in the geological sense, its accessibility and proximity to the city makes it a little bit of heaven on earth. If you’ve seen Edvard Munch’s The Scream or Girls on the pier, then you’ve had a taste of what it looks like. Boats travel regularly to the islands from a city where using a boat is as common as using the bus or the tram or the metro and all are covered by the one travel pass. It’s usual practice to pack a swimsuit, food, and a disposable BBQ and head out after work – it doesn’t get dark until about 10 so there’s three good hours to replenish the spirit and replace the calm desiccated by corporate living.

IMG_6718 (800x595)IMG_6653 (800x600)The islands in this inlet, those that I can remember, each have their own claim to fame.  Hovedøya has its monastery ruins and during WWII was home to an internment camp for female Nazi collaborators. Gressholmen apparently has its rabbits. Mind you, we spent an evening at Gressholmen and didn’t see one rabbit so I can’t vouch for its claim to fame. The islands of Nakholmen, Bleikøya, and Lindøya have their cabins while Langøyene has the best beach and camping facilities.

IMG_6683 (800x600)IMG_6694 (800x600)The boat ride might have taken all of 20 minutes, if that. And then it took another 15 to walk across the island to a secluded spot on the water’s edge. Those who arrived with us didn’t stay as long so we had the place to ourselves for most of the time. The water was glorious. Cold and clear. A tad rocky but beautiful. I was in my element.

While the salmon skewers sizzled on the BBQ and the Aperol spritz worked its decompressive magic, the only thing breaking the silence was the sound of the seagulls. We watched as they dove for fish, stole sausages, and argued amongst themselves about who had the best whatever. I love the sound they make and have often wondered whether I could get a soundtrack with nothing other than the sound of waves and gulls and if by playing it each evening I could bring the sea closer to home.

IMG_6666 (800x600)In a world where technology increasingly raises the bar when it comes to entertainment, where our attention spans grow shorter by the upgrade, where our ability to sit still and do nothing is challenged by lengthening to-do lists and an increasing sense of time running out, it was simply glorious to sit in silence and just be.

This week, as I near the end of another birth year, I am grateful for the opportunity to recalibrate, to regain my sense of perspective, to feast on fresh salmon and shrimp in good company and spectacular scenery.  I am particularly grateful for those people who seem to randomly drop into my life just when I need them the most.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

212 times over

It’s been a while since I’ve been somewhere that has had such a lasting effect, where the memory of what I’ve seen replays itself time and time again in my mind.  I’m interested in museums, if they deal with the resistance or the holocaust. I like photography exhibitions, if they deal with people rather than places. And I have a minor obsession  with statues. I’ve been led to believe that while all statues are sculptures, not all sculptures are statues. Statues are, apparently, sculptures in the round. Whatever.

IMG_6554 (589x800)Frognerparken in Oslo is home to the Vigelandsanlegget – an arrangement of 212 bronze and granite sculptures (statues?) by Gustav Vigeland. [Note of caution: Do not refer to it as Vigeland Park or Sculpture Park – the exhibition is an entity within Frogner Park.] This amazing man worked from 1906 to 1947, sculpting these life-sized figures without the aid of models or students. It literally is a lifetime of work and apparently the largest exhibition in the world by one sculptor. If anywhere ever gave me food for thought … and then some … this place did. It must have been fascinating to see it back then, to see it evolve, as statue after statue was completed.

IMG_6561 (599x800)I’m not quite sure what it all represents. I’m light years away from being an expert in anything art related, but I know what I like. As I shuffled between despair and hope, between the inevitability of old age and the selfishness of youth,  I felt at once both happy and sad. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. And while this description has been known to fit me on occasion, it has been an age since any work (or works) of art have made me feel so much, and so deeply. Not since I visited Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama have I been so moved.

IMG_6562 (800x595)IMG_6555 (800x600)It was as if, deep inside every block of granite, was a soul. A soul with a message for all who stopped to stare, if only we took the time to listen, to hear whatever it had to say. The crowds milled around (it’s a popular spot). Kids climbed the towering structures, watched over by shutter-clicking adults who should have known better. Where’s the respect, I asked myself more than once.

The detail, the facial expressions, the forlorn smiles of acceptance, all added to that sense of mystery and I wondered how I’d never heard of this man – he who wielded the chisel and imbued the stone with life.

IMG_6567 (800x600)Everywhere I turned I was reminded of our inability to communicate. That wanting to say something but not knowing how. That fear of feeling lest it upset the clinical balance of our lives. And I recalled, not for the first time lately, the line from Rod McKuen:  However wretchedly I feel, I feel.

IMG_6548 (564x800) (564x800)There’s a 100 metre bridge, lined on either side with statues, 58 in all – a little reminiscent of the Charles Bridge in Prague, without the religion. Here, too, you can spot the ones that are supposed to be lucky to touch, where the patina has been rubbed away and that particular piece of the statue gleams, as if it were a badge of popularity. Like the Angry Boy (Sinnataggen). Then far in the distance is the monolith. Way back in 1929, three stone carvers started to carve Vigeland’s design in a block of granite. It took them 14 years to finish. At Christmas 1944, this 14.12 metre high sculpture composed of 121 human figures was unveiled.  Reaching up into the sky it is said to represent man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation.

IMG_6566 (576x800)That’s not quite what it said to me but my interpretation could be more to do with my current state of mind and a tincture of resistance to prescribed artistic interpretation. As I looked at it, I didn’t see people striving upwards towards the great spirit. It seemed instead that they were holding each other back or hanging on for dear life.

IMG_6575 (800x600)I took my time wandering around, trying to decide what it was I felt, trying to focus in on what was bothering me. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t put my finger on it. For days afterwards, and even still, I see those faces, those figures, those statues, and wonder what was going on in Vigeland’s mind as he chipped away. Do they reflect his state of mind then? Did the forms just take shape of their own volition? Was I confusing hope with despair? Was I seeing the glass half-empty? Was I simply not getting it?

IMG_6571 (800x600) (800x600)But I keep coming back to it all being a reflection of communication. Human communication. Or the lack thereof. And I’m still wondering. And that’s what art is for…to make us wonder.

Seeking cold

I went in search of cold weather. It was 16 degrees when I booked my flight but by the time I got there, temperatures had soared. I landed in Oslo to 27 degrees and wasn’t at all impressed. Then I discovered that beer (which I don’t usually drink) was about €10 a pint and that a glass of wine could be more expensive than a meal. And that’s where the disappointment ended and the infatuation began.  Oslo – I’m sold.

IMG_6520 (800x599)What is not to like about a country where, every June, you get 12.5% of last year’s annual salary as fun money – for your summer holidays. And where each December, you pay half the normal income tax. And where if your bus is more than 20 minutes late, you can get a taxi and reclaim the fare. Imagine a country where the minimum wage is €15 per hour, you work 35.5 hours a week and get 5 weeks paid vacation. Not to mention free education and health (ok, so if you’re paying taxes it’s not exactly free). And yes, Oslo, as the country’s capital, has its fair share of problems – rape and murder being the two that come to mind. And yes, there were parts of the city where I didn’t feel comfortable. But that said, the pluses far outweigh the minuses.

IMG_6510 (800x598)That Oslo is on the water is a huge plus in my book. Anywhere that has a promenade or a boardwalk automatically rates high marks. That everyone speaks English and Norwegian and the Lord only knows how many other languages makes life as a tourist so much easier. And that the people are so hospitable, friendly and helpful… well, it made me wonder if I’d stumbled onto the set of some utopian dream.

IMG_6765 (800x600)When I can navigate a city within a day without fear of getting lost, that’s a miracle. When I can plan to leave at 7.53 and arrive at 8.07 and know those times to be exact, that feeds my OCD. And when I can eat fresh fish, all day, every day, with a mayonnaise that (dare I say it) is as good as Hellmans, that makes me stop and wonder whether I’ve died and gone to heaven.

IMG_6527 (800x600)I’ve been missing Alaska a lot lately. Perhaps it something to do with catching up with my Alaskan mates on this recent US road trip. Perhaps it has something to do with craving some decent cold weather. Or perhaps it’s the remoteness of it all that I long for. Although I didn’t venture further than Oslo, and by all accounts it only gets better once you cross the city limits, I felt an immediate affinity with Oslo that transported me temporarily back to Anchorage.

To be fair, had I not had a well-read, well-informed, and multi-talented guide in FC, I might be thinking differently. Seeing a city from the perspective of someone who lives and works there is so much better than leaving it in the hands of a travel-guide writer who may never have physically set foot in the place themselves but relies instead on what others have written.

IMG_6509 (600x800)IMG_6504 (600x800)Like my intrepid guide, Oslo has attitude. Even its street sculpture has something to say. Around every corner, there’s something new. It reminded me a little of Bratislava in that sense. Some might say that there’s not much to see – a few main attractions and that’s it – but once you start looking, really looking, the city is like one big box of assorted chocolates there to be savoured or devoured, depending on the mood. It’s certainly not cheap, but if you do it right, get the weekly travel pass, visit the supermarkets, and watch for the lunch specials, it’s doable.