19 July 2008

Immigrant song

I crossed the North Sea for the first time nearly two years ago to the day. It was as wild and woolly a sea crossing as one could hope for: grey and lowering sky, 15-ft. swells, what seemed a gale-force wind. I've never experienced anything quite like that since.

Fortunately, I don't get seasick, so it was memorable, rather than miserable.

I do, however, get colds, and I've got one again, second one in two months, and while I'm not exactly miserable, I'm a bit crabby about it.

That notwithstanding, today, in Norway again for the first time since that sea crossing. The sky was similarly threatening, and it was surprisingly chilly for July, even in Oslo. I am unaccustomed to wearing cashmere sweaters this time of year, but I was enormously grateful I thought to bring it.

An unlooked for pleasure in visiting the Viking Ship Museum for a second time. I try to make the most of every place I see because I know it is unlikely that I will pass this way again. And yet, I've been to Leningrad/St. Petersburg three times now, Helsinki twice and now, Oslo twice. I consider myself extremely fortunate in my travels, even when I visit a place as small as Manchester, New Hampshire (unexpectedly, twice, and can it only be a week ago?).

The first time I saw the Viking ships, I found the experience very moving. Not only is there such a huge sense of history in those wooden ships--to think that someone hundreds of years ago painstakingly carved the designs on the largest of them--the building itself, stark and simple, feels like a monument, a memorial to those who were buried with the ships. It is astonishing as well, to consider that those ships, small as they were, held up to 67 souls for days at a time.

But the true treat of the day was getting out to the Norwegian countryside. I'd never been outside of Oslo proper, though I'd seen some of the fjords, but this time, I headed out along the major road between Oslo and Bergen. Two years ago, the spouse and I dreamed of retiring to a little house on a Swedish island or along a Norwegian waterway or on the Danish island of Bornholm, but today, I saw the apple orchards. I think that someday I shall find myself a tiny orchard, a little cottage and a proper Norwegian cat.

(Yes, I know. There is the Norwegian winter to contend with. Isn't it grand that I like to ski?)

The rolling hills here--formed by glaciers--are lovely, the rock odd and igneous, the mixed forest so greenly beautiful. Wildflowers populate the highway verge (along with the proper Norwegian cat I saw jumping from the fence into the flowers, no doubt in pursuit of some hapless rodent). It rained torrentially for a short while, and then the sun returned, warm and glorious, bright as it was in London.

I can't explain why I feel so at home in Scandinavia; perhaps some remnant of Viking blood courtesy of my Scots-Irish ancestry, though I tend toward the less romantic notion that perhaps I simply like the cats and the flowers and the tiny apple trees.

Go listen to some good music: "Immigrant Song" from the album Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin.

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