I live in a forest.
No, it’s not true, I live in the middle of Oslo, almost as central as it gets.
But if I take a nap on my couch, which I regularly do, there’s a lot of greenery when I look out of the window from my pile of pillows. There’s a rather ugly block behind the trees, which I have gotten used to, so now I consider its rectangles and squares instead of thinking about its ugliness, and I am even willing to discuss the texture or even the colour, even if it is a rather boring thing. From the 80s, probably.
They say that to Norwegians Oslo is like a concrete jungle, to the rest of the world it is a park. I am not sure which part of the city they mean. The real city was mainly built in the 1890s, which must have been a fantastic time for entrepreneurs. Probably the industrial revolution hit us like a brick and
everything happened at the same time. Later came the usual periods of
demolition and neglect, of course, like everywhere else, I guess. Still, there
are many beautiful places in the city, and there are lots of trees, even
new parks, almost, like the one outside, along the river. Some of the oil money came to pretty good use.
But all around the city centre is a huge area with normal houses, blocks of flats too, inbetween, but really, the suburb starts pretty close to the city, it’s not that big. Then you’ve got the real woods, where you can walk for hours and really relax, if you enjoy nature. It’s not far, you can take the subway there, half an hour at the most. Right now the thing everyone I know has feared seems about to happen: They are going to start building there, which hasn’t been done before, there has been an agreement that the city has a fixed limit. If you want to see the whole thing, visit us quickly. I may be exaggerating, as usual, but you never know what comes out of politics.
Norway has a lot of secrets, even to us. There is, of course, nature, which everyone else seems to know about. It used to be our playground, our life, our philosophy, the mould that everything was cast in. Still, for the majority, I think, it is like that. Darkness, for instance, used to be sometimes a really friendly thing, like when you stood in the snow, winter holiday time in the mountains, February, starry sky, the moon is up, maybe, pretty open landscape. You just need to cool down a little from the fire on the fireplace, or you have to go peeing, either at the little house or just in the snow. There, that’s another secret, peeing outside. Yep, peasants we all are, so they say. Well, almost. I enjoy city life, but also country roughness.
The biting cold, in itself never dangerous, because we knew how to handle it, to me it still contains a huge chunk of Sachlichkeit. Does it sound strange? At -10, even, you know what you deal with, no nonsense with slurry slushy wet marshland or swamp where your foot sink down. That could be dangerous, if you “go in the swamp”, as they used to say. Cold, dry snow, you can trust it, your skis slide very well, you can thread on the snow, it’s
firm, and if you can’t, well, you know how it behaves. It doesn’t fool you or make tricks.
And the darkness of that winter type, full of imagination. In the really old days there was superstition, that must have been trouble for them, but today we enjoy only nice things, the feeling of presence, of life, the trees, the water, the animals which I rarely see, but sometimes I do.
I am sometimes scared at night, for no special reason, and was even more so as a kid. “Mørkredd” was the word. But later it disappeared, and was replaced by this benevolent feeling, we were friends with nature. Today I miss it. I came across a description, I think in one of Virginia Woolf’s excellent essays, of something very similar. I can’t recall the context, only the feeling. Kind of nice.
In the north, but that is a completely different story, another secret, a big one. One of the places I lived up there, in Troms, I used to wake up in the morning some days with the reindeer grazing outside my kitchen window. Gnawed on the grass, just like that. I was excited of course, coming from the socalled civilized south, and even more so because it was an everyday thing, in itself in a way unspectacular. I enjoyed acting unimpressed sometimes, but I’m not sure I made it all the time.
The Lapps brought their animals on a big boat (I lived on an island) for the summer, and they stayed there until it was time to slaughter some of them, in the autumn. I bought one myself, which was a really exotic thing to do for a young man interested in culture, because I had to go there several days in a row before they could decide that this was the right day for killing the little beast.
Maybe they were mocking us, I don’t know, but it took me a couple of days to get my business done. “Naah, come tomorrow, I think I’ll do it then.” And then, the day after, it was “noo, talk to Aslak, he’s slaughtering today” and it went on like that until suddenly, now was the time. Then the guy whom I ended up with took his lasso, caught the calf and killed it. I can’t remember quite the rest, but no, sorry, it didn’t affect me much, I love veggie food, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one full time. I’m a brute, right.
We then smoked some of the meat in a tent, a lavvo, and ate some of it for supper or what would you call it? We lay on the ground, drank coffee, smoked our rolling tobacco and ate the meat. I can remember I
felt a little like a stranger, which I was, of course, coming from the south. Maybe it was because I didn’t know whose tent it was, which was to me then a source of uneasiness.
For no reason, of course. The northern sense of property, I won’t say too much, because I don’t know too much, but it is certainly different from Oslo, you share things more, simply. You know who owns things,
and you probably ask, but people very often say yes, of course, please borrow it. It’s a very practical system, which does not exist where I live now, which probably saves the northerners a lot of money and trouble. I hope it hasn’t changed. Down here it is far too common to be more gniten, stingy, in a way, keep your things, someone may steal it. They’re after my money. Who? Everyone. Yeah, sure. Especially me.
Well, it’s nostalgia, of course. I had to leave the north, and if I had stayed, there would be things, annoyances. There always are.
Oslo is nice too. As I said, I can feel I live in a wood in a city, not a big one, but big enough. There are still places to explore, even for me. Places to hide, if necessary.
And the nature, I guess if you come from, say, England or Germany, not to mention the Netherlands, you think it’s pretty cold and wild everywhere in Norway. But for Norway, Oslo and surroundings is a calm place, lots of leafy trees, shrubs, cool gardens at night.
To me, now, nothing of this is common. This type of places also all contains, for me, the small adventures of my childhood, which are almost forgotten in my mind, but the places are not. I didn’t think much of them then, but now I do. Strange, really. Of course, I have some spectacular memories, like the sensation of seeing a real pheasant close to where
we lived, on a field. I was maybe ten.
I saw a moose just once, standing in complete calm near a friend’s house. Other than that I’ve never seen one.
Cows were grazing just across the road of our house. I can remember the sound of a guy banging down the fence, in spring, it must have been, and the distance made me see the blow first and hear the sound later, after maybe half a second. I remember I was fascinated by actually seeing a physical law, even if it was a simple one, that light travels faster than sound.
We went there every now and then, inside the fence, on our way to some other parts of the woods surrounding our houses. Watch out for the kukake,
cow’s cake, or you’ll stink forever.
My brother once hung from a tree, tummy bare,
and was licked on it by a cow. If you have ever touched a cow’s tongue, you
know that it is like sanding paper, no. 20, probably, or thereabout. Coarsest there is.
Even I thought it was a pretty good story.
You can still see cows close to the city, the king’s old farm, now run by one of the major museums, producing organic milk and I believe some other stuff, probably vegetables, potatoes, maybe. I was there with the kids, we said hi to a really big, really friendly pig, and rabbits and hens.
They are coming tomorrow, I mean the kids. I don’t think we have time then, but one day it would be fun to see Sverre Fehn’s pavilion from Osaka, the world exhibition, in the seventies some time. A very special room, they tell us, almost like a partly inflated balloon.
It stands right now in the architectural museum, a 10 minutes walk from where I live. I don’t know how famous Fehn is in the world, but he is a great architect. He worked a lot with concrete, which is maybe the reason I didn’t ignite at once when I first read about him, but the shapes he made look really interesting. I must admit I’ve hardly seen any of his work, but I’ll make up for it, pretty soon. I’ll start with the Osaka pavilion, which was never built, not until now. I’ll walk over and take a look.
Maybe next week.