Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Magnificent Norway

Jeg er i Norge! I’m in Norway! Really, this time. 

Who was I kidding? I have plenty of time to write. It is 1 am in Bergen, and I have just woken up after a refreshing two hours of sleep, because my body thinks it is only 7 pm. (Of course, I still don’t have internet, so this may be posted a week from now).

Flying into Norway, I saw the fjords below me. It looked as though little pieces of Norway had decided to break for freedom and swim away into the Atlantic. The waves cresting against the islets trailed off in white, leaving a wake. We came in low over Bergen. I saw mountains, and the sea breaking against them, and trees flooding the hills with red balconied houses peering over them here and there. Norway is… mind-blowingly magnificent. Piney and craggy and sprawling. The traces of humankind are quaint against the forest that carpets the entire landscape. The airport nestles (there it is again!) in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And I’m living here for a year.  Sometimes I feel so damn lucky I don’t know what to do but dance.

It is very easy to walk into Norway. Passport control was two stalls: one for Norwegians, one for the other five of us. A man looked at mine for thirty seconds, stamped it, and smiled me into the country, without a single word exchanged. Customs is just a door to walk through. It was more difficult to get into Heathrow for my three hour layover than into Norway for a year. At baggage claim, the carts luckily accepted quarters (and kroner and euro and something else—what else is there?), so I manhandled my 150 pounds of carefully chosen possessions onto a trolley into the reception area where Anita, my supervisor at Bergen Catedralskole, waited with a sign that said “Hannah” and a big grin.

Oddly, Anita is not blond. But she fits all the rest of my Norwegian stereotypes. In good shape, and has short sporty hair, and mouth in the Scandinavian contours that I’ve already noticed around me. And even friendlier and more concerned about helping me adjust than I’d hoped.

We drove into the city center, Anita filling me in on what I was seeing. Bergen glowed in the late afternoon. At one roundabout, near a shopping mall, she apologized for how ugly the intersection was. I was a bit boggled. All you had to do was turn your head around and you were staring at lush mountains instead. Ohio just doesn’t have that option.

We drove past harbors with sailboats and painted wooden houses, parked at the Catedralskole (Katten for short, which literally means “the cat”), and walked across Bergen city center to the University to pick up my keys.

People on the streets look, well, Norwegian. Lots of blonds in sporty outfits that my dad would love to buy for thousands of dollars at Outdoor Source. Blond hair, defined jaws, tight European pants (no matter how Norwegian my style becomes, I will never wear those tight pants!). We threaded through the streets, crossing some cobblestones, some light rail tracks, and hit the park in the center of the city. An enormous pond fills the city center, and Bergen natives jog and stroll and feed pigeons around it. Anita pointed out a slab of blue stone covered in flowers where people stood in silent contemplation. It was an impromptu memorial for the July 22 attacks. I wondered if any of the people who stood there, their faces in pain, had lost someone. I hope not. A busy tourist street is no place to grieve for your dead. The response to trauma in Norway seems ill-coordinated: both less dramatic than what I’ve experienced in Israel, and less healing, too. But then, they’ve had less practice.

Right up the street, the UiB campus opened behind an enormous red church. It is much, much smaller than the campuses I’m used to: more like Barnard than UMD or OSU. Only, beautiful. I saw the Humanities building and the student center, picked up my key, and we headed to the studentboliger at Fantoft where I’ll be living for the next eleven months. I have my own bachelor pad, with big room and kitchenlet and bathroom, and it is perfect.

I spent the last hours of the evening unpacking and hydrating, waiting for Tisha B’Av to start at ten. I’m not even going to begin to describe my thoughts as I opened what must be the only Tanach in Bergen to read Eicha. Luckily, I was in too much of a sleep-deprived stupor to really worry about the fact that in Bergen, the summer days are so long that the fast lasts until 11 the next night. The farthest I could get was thinking that this was going to be the most atypical first evening in Bergen any resident has ever had. Well, I’m probably going to have plenty of those moments this year. 

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