Thursday, June 07, 2007

from Norway: train ride

I have a six hour ride on the train that links Oslo with the western shores of Norway. I sit in a car with several dozen others. Most everyone is very tall, light-haired, and properly (if extremely conventionally) attired. A German tour group and an assortment of Norwegian couples. And small me, with no socks, shoes tossed under the seat, computer out.

Looking for a three-day retreat (to write), I had opted to sequester myself somewhere along the stunning coasts of the fjords. It was not easy to find a room with a view. June is a favorite vacation month here. Who wouldn’t want to take in the light, the spring flowers, the vivid, green countryside? Inns and hotels are fully booked.

The Norwegians have done well for themselves. It helps to have all that offshore oil and acres of acres of trees. (The use of wood is so ubiquitous that it catches you by surprise: chair handles on the train, elevator doors, walls, counters, all of it: wood.)

But I'm wondering -- the meticulous conformity, where does that come from? The properly tucked shirt, the guide book, read diligently, with a ruler to help with the penciled underlining. Well tended, confident, tall. Enough to easily swing a heavy suitcase onto the rack above the seat.

In the restaurant car, sausages turn on rotating rods. I see kjottkaker (Norwegian meatballs, $18)) and lefse (a Norwegian pancake-like thing). You could get a can of Carlsbeg ($11) or a glass of wine ($15). I settle for a cup of coffee and a candybar. We have Starbucks back home so I am at least used to inflated prices on coffee.

We pass over a mountain ridge where there is still snow and the trees look like they may never sprout leaves. A few cottages, seemingly random and out of place. Summer retreats? A short season of endless light followed by endless darkness. (I was in Iceland one week-end in late November and I remember this well. Days without daylight. How do you clear your cobwebs and wake up happy without sunlight to push you along?)


The conductor announces that the next stop is at the highest elevation. We all get out for a minute to take in the cool air and to reach for our digitals. A glacier spills out onto a field of snow and ice. We are mesmerized. Twice, the train enigneer pushes on the claxon. People, I have a schedule to keep! get back on board. We linger nonetheless.


Finally the red train from Olso picks up speed and zips downhill. The ice is melting with each minute. It's like global warming at fast forward.


Station stops are used by a few testy souls who insist on getting out, just to get a better view (and take photos; me, for example).


Finally, down in the valley, it is time for me to get off. I overnight by a lake. Lilacs bloom, a motorboat with a glider zips by.


The unusual warmth brings out young people, stripped of layers of winter wool, exposing flesh that is not used to a strong June sun. Lovers. Always, in the most scenic spots, you will find lovers, or dreamers. Or both.