It’s been over a week. I have been busy. Well… to be a little more honest, i have been VERY busy with being absolutely not busy at all. The wifey and i have made a bit of a pact that we shall be deliberately doing as little as possible for the first week here. Mainly so we can shuck off the jet lag.
Which isn’t working by the way. So let’s just start there shall we?
You get on the plane at 7PM in Chicago. Which, by the way, is a fricking zoo. It’s an apocalyptic zoo. Sort of like walking into a music festival where you hate all the musicians playing…. and everyone is a vampire in a bad mood. Or a Werewolf with mange. In our case, we sort of bustled to the nearest bar, had a seat and had a few. This is part of my flying routine. Generally, i am so absolutely stressed by travel (and particularly leaving the comfort of my home Butt Groove) that pounding back two (no more than two) vodka cranberries before a flight helps to steady the nerves. Why no more than two? Because you might get a wee bit tipsy and you don’t want to give them any excuse not to let you on the plane.
I was excited by the prospect of an open lane in my seats on the plane. It has happened on this trip before – particularly if your seat is towards the back of the plane. I ALWAYS take the back of the plane. It might be a bit smellier, the seats are tiny, BUT the further back you are, the closer you are to the bathroom and the less fear you have of getting locked into your seat when the service carts start moving. AND the more likely it will be that there may be open, unclaimed seats. I have personally witnessed one intrepid traveller on a larger flight sprawl out in the center aisle seats. I have also had a row to myself once. If you haven’t travelled much, know this – that having a row to yourself is absolute bliss.
Unlike this flight.
Remember the mangy werewolves i mentioned? Well… one ended up sitting right next to me. Here i thought i hit the jackpot and had the row to myself again but at the last minute it filled up – one incel writer type in a tweed jacket that he did not take off despite the canned and sweltering air and another… well… mangy werewolf is the best description. There was just something… off… about that guy: shaved head, sketchy darting eyes, blotchy. He was the fellow right next to me. He climbed into his seat which is basically the reverse of being born, sat down and sacked out before the plane even left the earth and stayed that way until it touched down.
Now you might say ‘oh gee, you lucked out’. Which is not the case. Because, as it happens, folks who sack out that hard and that consistently on an international flight are aberrations from the depths of hell. And they tend to flop. And flail. And the fellow did both. Often. Right on top of me. I’m in coach, of course, so there is precious little space to begin with but having a 250 lb man snooze closer and closer eats up what little space you have rather quickly and i couldn’t exactly create more without actually opening the window.
Anyway… Back to the jet lag.
The thing of it is, you’re not just flying east by seven hours. You’re also flying north. This makes a huge difference. While Oslo is not the land of the midnight sun, it’s close enough that you can smell it. So not only is your body off by seven hours when you land, but you’ve also just experienced the shortest night ever AND the light, when you land, is all sorts of wrong. We landed in Reykjavik at 7 am. It felt like 3 PM. And that displacement would only get more pronounced the further west we travelled.
Unlike, Chicago O’Hare, Gardermoen Airport in Oslo is a paragon of grace and beauty. They have an actual Munch painting right there in the long, wide, parquetted concourse. The space inside the terminal is nothing short of glorious. Angelic. I swear, if it weren’t for the general subdued noise echoing off of natural wood interiors, you might hear a choir of angels sing or Handels Messiah playing as you make your way to arrivals. It’s literally the prettiest airport i have ever seen in my life, a fact made all the more precious by the fact that it is well run, well organized, and actually makes some sort of rational sense.
Norway is part of the Schengen area – a set of european countries that have abolished the need for passports at entry. This means that once you pass through customs at Keflavik in Iceland, you are done with the customs process. And passing through customs at Iceland is USUALLY a licketty split process. This was the first and only time there was a bit of a wait. It might have had something to do with travelling on a saturday. But either way, there is nothing much to do at Gardermoen except take your leisurely time getting through the gloriousness of the airport -maybe enjoy the view of the distant mountains outside the concourse windows. Then you collect your bags. There is no glowering TSA agent waiting for you to hand in your little slip of paper or check your Fast Pass. There is a door that says ‘nothing to declare’ and that’s it. Go through that door and you’re out. (Unless, of course, you have something to declare.)
By now it is 11 AM. And i am temporally displaced in the extreme. Because the arrivals area of Gardermoen is so well ordered it actually FEELS like a nice quiet sunday morning. I grabbed my bags and headed out to the pick up area which, again, is busier than i have ever seen it. Which is to say it’s 300 times LESS busy than O’Hare on an off day. It’s quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful. Not much to do but take in clean air and watch pigeons and magpies battle each other for scraps of fresh baked bread from the various kiosks in the arrivals area. And smoke. I’m a vaper. So i vape. Ten hours of flying has turned me into a chimney.
Ordinarily, at Gardermoen, you’d simply hang a right through the ‘nothing to declare’ door, head to the Flytoget (Plane Train) kiosk and get a ticket into Oslo. That’s what i did every other time i’ve been through and that’s why Gardermoen is like an airport for silent monks. There is no need for the hustle and bustle of absurdity that is the pick up for every other airport i’ve been to. You simply get your bags, get a ticket, get on the rather sumptuous plane train, and whisk your way quickly to Sentrum. This time, my wife’s parent’s picked us up.
So now i am here. Home. It took me about 48 hours to remember the homeyness of it. I still missed my butt groove. But one walk to the grocery store from our apartment and it was like putting on an old pair of jeans. Lilacs dripping down from fresh green lanes, people meandering along the roadways, the quiet peace of the neighborhood.
Oslo, or at least my current section of it, is what i would have imagined had i had the tools to imagine it. It’s what i would have built if i knew how to build it. It’s quiet, but there is some sort of odd reverence to it’s quietness that doesn’t feel enforced. It’s not… well… demanded… but respected in some way. As though there is an agreement among everyone that this is how it should be – the tiny little lanes, the footpaths that meander into woods, the way the rock of the fjord and mountains jutt through and are worked around. It’s as though elves live here or something – determined to preserve as much of the natural beauty of the place as they can while still building around it. I love the rock protruding from peoples lawns, the miniscule forested areas with their little paths. I love the outside seating areas around every bar or restaurant – the seats covered in sheeps wool, empty wine glasses still sitting on the table.
And despite the undeniable comfort of my relinquished American Butt Groove, there is nothing so wonderful as this place and my home. Even as i write this, my tiny but unbelievably fierce part Norwegian Forest Cat, Spoon is staring at me. It’s cool. It rained this morning. And it’s quiet. I may still have absolutely no idea what time it is, but in this moment i don’t care. It’s enough to be here. To be building a new butt groove. To be home.
There are homes we are born to, and no matter how hard we try we will never fully escape them. That’s what America was built on: memories of homes we left – ethnic festivals, cuisine from the home country. It’s why lutefisk is served in Minnesota. It’s why we have a Polish fest in Milwaukee (and Irish Fest, and Italian Fest). These places are always a part of you and will be forever. Even longer, in fact, than you are part of them yourself. They live on in families, in traditions, in stories and you pass them on generationally. But there are also the homes you build, the ones you find, the ones who creep up on you unexpectedly and maul you with their promise of peace and light and life. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough that you have both and they’re the same place. But sometimes it’s all you can do to drag yourself from one to the other, reluctantly, painfully, inexorably. It’s hard pulling yourself from one to the other – particularly when they’re so far apart – but it’s worth it if you let it. If you learn to leave off the resistance and just love the space you find yourself in.
Home is where you make it. I choose to make it here.