I always thought Oslo was a boring place full of Bjork and peace activists, except for a brief foray into mass murder with the bootylicious (if you’re into stern Aryan good looks, which I’m not) but apparently nutty Anders Breivik.
However, sitting outside in a sunny, crowded Oslo cafe overlooking the Oslo fjord, watching ridiculously dressed people go by, I realise I actually like the place.
Viz, an elderly couple strolling by, laden down with shopping bags from the prada district. That is, the man is officially elderly (grey hair, peaked cap, baggy track suit) but the woman’s determined not to be, and thus is eye-poppingly outfitted in a skin tight black skirt and gold lame blouse over aggressive boobs. There is a time in life where size DD silicone gun turrets don’t add to the general appeal. The art is in knowing when that time has arrived, and she clearly doesn’t.
Across the harbour by ferry is the Kontiki and Viking museums and (guessing by the statuary-infested ‘cottages’ nestled by the fjord) one of Oslo’s more upmarket residential areas. I feel all weepy at the Kontiki museum because when I was a girl I used to have a recording of someone reading out bits of Thor Heyerdahl’s ship log, all about flying fish and whales scratching themselves on the underside of the boat, and having seagulls for lunch while gazing out over the endless ocean….the romance of it all! And there’s the actual BOAT! Well, raft.
Thor and his wife once went and lived on an island to get away from it all. Thor built a palm-leaf hut and they ate mussels and yams and skinny dipped every day. HOWEVER it all ended badly – in the end they had to hail a passing ship to rescue them because the native islanders had got grumpy-drunk and were advancing on them with skinning knives at the ready. Typical! Live your dream and what happens?? Some pissed primitive goes and steps in it!
The Viking Museum has an actual viking ship on display, which has been dug up by archaeologists. Who would have guessed that people BURIED viking ships! Imagine what a big hole you’d have to dig (but that’s what slaves are for – if only I had a couple for my garden what miracles I could achieve!). Together with two women (possibly shamans – perhaps victims of a viking era pogrom against new age spiritualists?) and the ship, the miserable Vikings also buried some of the slaves, plus horses, dogs and peacocks. It’s a real shame about the animals – what a crappy thing to do! (pity about the slaves as well, come to think of it..).
Meanwhile, harbourside, two buskers are arguing over their pitch. One has an accordion and the other has a guitar. At first they both play at once, it’s like a small inter-European war prosecuted with musical instruments (the casualties being mainly passing eardrums). After a few unimpressed passers-by shoot them pained glances the guitar guy goes over to the accordion guy’s stand and bails him up. “I was here FIRST!” he insists menacingly. ‘But I come here every day!’ says accordion man, looking bullish. But by the time I come back from the museums, guitar guy has won and accordion guy has slunk off. So there, frog!
Up on the cliffs above the fjord perches Akershus Castle.
You can sit on the edge of the walls here and gaze out over the sea and eat sandwiches. If you want to spear throw someone, this is also the perfect place –it’s a long way down and no fences or warning signs or ‘mind the drop’. Just a nice, green verge, perfect for picnicking and shoving people over by mistake. The Nordics don’t seem to expect people to do stupid things around heights. Why is this? Are their insurance companies complete wusses? Or, are people here actually intelligent enough to know a cliff when they see one?
Day 2. I have a long chat to a self-styled Norwegian anarchist in an Oslovian Laundromat. We start off on European fishing rights (ah, fish, never far from any Norwegian’s heart) then move on to pollution (you can’t get clean air any more, even in the Arctic circle!), squatting and anarchy. He says the younger members of his anarchist group are a bit of a disappointment to him – their hearts are in the right place but they won’t learn from their elders’ experience and are making a hash of things politically. In Australia this guy would have had chipped teeth and metho breath and a beer belly. Here he just looks like a slightly down-at-heel version of Thor Heyerdahl. I can’t get over this Nordic looks thing.
Taking a break from the laundromat, I stroll up to a cafe called ‘Wayne’s’. In Oslo? You don’t reckon the name’s a bit anachronistic, I ask the waiter? No, he says, it’s ‘global’. File it in folder with ‘Sir Winston’s Public House’ (also in Oslo). This is one GREEN place. Teabags are made of something that looks like calico and take up half the mug. Eco-teabags? Also, streets in Oslo are often called ‘Gate’ which confuses you if you’re looking for one. Gate, that is. As opposed to street.
Oslo has a beautiful cemetery, in which there are several members of the resistance who got shot by the Nazis, and a lot of people walking dogs. Speaking of which, don’t you love this line?
Knut, a former resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of Norway, did what he had to do: He reached inside his right nostril to the lethally barbed hook and slowly pulled it down toward the end of his nose. He kept pulling it down and around, working the arced portion through — then yanked as hard as he could to force the square-shaped eye through his outer nose and down his nostril.
That was when men were men and nostrils were TOUGH.
On the way back to the hostel I’m almost mown down by an elderly hippy lady riding a bicycle festooned with flowers. BUT later, my friendly Norwegian psychologist room-mate invites me to a classical concert in the (boringly modern) Oslo Concert Hall, by the Oslo Filaharmonien. (Right now, she’s guiltily watching Norwegian Idol. Where the contestants look a million times better than our own Aussie idol, but sound like walruses mating. Interestingly, if you look up http://www.norwegianidol.com you get a Nordic technician who works in Malaysia standing doing a stork impression next to a fjord. Why? I would have to read Norwegian to know.
At the concert, the piano soloist (who’s Chinese, wears a red silk evening dress, and is revoltingly stunning as well as talented) plays a piece that the psychologist, who’s a classical buff, can’t quite identify. (The soloist was great – but most of the stuff she played sounded like someone knocked a piano down some stairs with vast technical brilliance. That said, I was bit prejudiced because she reminded me of one of my exes’ particularly obnoxious side-squeezes. Just think, if we hadn’t split, I probably would have developed an instinctive distaste for just about every variety of female on the planet).
So the psychologist goes around asking the cultured crowd if anybody knows what this piece is. Nobody does. So then she says to me ‘You take half the room and I’ll take the other half, and we’ll track down the composer in no time. SOMEbody must know!’. I suspected it was probably one of those experiments that psychologists write up afterwards ‘I tested my theory relating to cross-cultural humiliation triggers on a casual Australian tourist and found…’. Still, I start on my half. I’m in luck. One, they ALL speak English, and Two, the second person I ask says ‘Ah yes, that was Grieg’s voterkriegensladhtenshclagencroft in G minor’. Which I can’t remember or pronounce, try as I might.
The highlight of Oslo (just kidding)? A statue of a woman with actual pubic hair! I don’t know if you’ve noticed but while male antique statues often have stylised curly pubes, women are usually de-forested. Anyway, not this one – striking another blow for women who WON’T.