Living on Martha’s Vineyard makes me wonder if tourists ever see anything real, and if they do, do they recognize it? I also spend a fair amount of time seething about tourists and recent arrivals who write authoritatively about what they see, at best, only dimly.
Well, I’m about to write about what I think I saw on one of my very rare forays into tourism.
Last December I went to Oslo. The main purpose of my trip was to work intensively with the author and the translator of a book that I was going to be editing: the English-language edition of a book that was about to be published in Norwegian. I could pretend I wasn’t a tourist at all, but this would be crap. I’d known Lynn, the translator, for years online but we’d never met: she’s American-born, married to a Norwegian, with two teenaged kids. The deal was that I’d stay in a hotel for three days and we’d work our butts off, then I’d stay with Lynn’s family for three days, hang out, and do some sightseeing.
I could also pretend I wasn’t a tourist on the grounds that December is not peak tourist season in Norway: the temperatures are generally well below freezing, and the days are only six hours long. But if you live on Martha’s Vineyard, you know that off-season is the best time to visit, so I say it loud: Jeg var en turist.
I saw many wonders while I was in Oslo. Lynn helped me buy a bus pass and showed me how to use it. Pretty soon I was reading street signs and maps and getting on and off like I knew what I was doing.
On Saturday we went out to the Folkemuseum, where the wonders were too many to describe. Among them was the Julmarked (Christmas market), where I purchased a wondrous pair of slippers. Travvy still thinks they are the toy I meant to bring home for him, but he is wrong. (See right.)
After that we went to the Viking Ship Museum nearby. I got to walk alongside three craft that sailed Norwegian waters in the ninth century. Coming from New England, I tend to think history began around 1620 and that the centuries before that were mere prologue. I am wrong. These ships were awesome. So was the ninth-century bridle so well preserved that a twenty-first-century horse could wear it.
The statues at Vigelund Park are a wonder. There are more than two hundred of them. Lynn took my picture next to one woman washing another’s hair. This is how you know that I am not making all of this up.
One marvelous evening I found myself at a professor’s supper table, swapping life stories and advice for dealing with mothers, lovers, and co-workers with several Norwegians, a Norwegian-American, an Afghani-Norwegian, and a Frenchwoman from Marseille.
The greatest wonder of all, though, I saw on my first full day in Norway. Lynn and I were walking along Henrik Ibsens gate past a big park, Slottsparken. I noticed the great stately structure up the hill in the middle of the park. The king’s palace, Lynn told me. I don’t have a photo of this wonder, because it’s hard to make a picture of something that isn’t there. What wasn’t there was a high metal fence, and uniformed guards with rifles and stern demeanors.
What I think I was seeing was a level of confidence and trust that in my country would be dismissed as gullibility. Maybe not on Martha’s Vineyard, though, where quite a few of us don’t know where to find the keys to our front doors but do know that the car keys are in the ignition. Gullibility, maybe, but with a touch of defiance: I do not choose to live behind fences and locked doors.
If you choose not to live behind fences and locked doors, you run the risk that terrible things may happen to you. What has happened in Oslo is beyond terrible, it’s heart-sickening. Could fences and locks have prevented this thing? I do not think so.
Hang in there, Norway. The whole world is watching, and the world needs your good sense, your vision, and your courage.