Oslo and the collective unconscious

It’s Wednesday morning here.

Mom and I both slept abysmally Monday night, though Mom better than I did. I think I got maybe 5 hours total. We both gave up around 1:30am and had a wine break, and then Mom got back to sleep by 2:30ish and slept most of the rest of the night. I slept maybe an hour, then woke up again and read news on my iPhone most of the rest of the night. I finally fell back asleep around 6am and was extremely groggy when Mom got me up at 9am.

We had a pretty good breakfast in the hotel (Hotel Anker, a short walk north of Oslo Sentralstasjon on Storgata). I needed a better strategy, though. I started at one end of the buffet and took small amounts of everything that looked good, and when my plate was full, I discovered stuff that looked even better. Net result was a huge breakfast. Lousy coffee, as you might expect, but a wonderful selection of sliced meats and cheeses, whole grain breads, knikkebrøder, gjetost, syltetøy (the latter I feel obligated to eat in honor of our Siamese kitties of the same names), soft- and hard-boiled eggs, herring (nei, takk!), and so on. Mediocre machine jus (eple, lemon, orange–anyone need translation?). Lots of milk and that yogurty-liquid stuff that I haven’t yet worked up the courage to try. Decent tea bag selection.

And then I discovered the hot food! They had roasted potatoes (not hot, unfortunately), several kinds of pølse (little hot-doggy-looking sausages conveniently chopped into beanie-weanie-sized bites), and a very funky looking thing that I have yet to figure out. It looked like a small, fat pancake, but the texture was chewy and the flavor was decidedly savory. If I were in Japan, I’d have decided it was a fish cake, but it didn’t taste fishy. I wonder if it’s some kind of potato sausage? It was good, whatever it was. Today I’ll start in this part of the line.

Since I clearly had too much food, I decided to do a frugal traveler move and assemble a little smørbrod (literally means “buttered bread” but practically speaking it’s the national lunsj, an open-faced sandwich of whatever you like on buttered bread) for lunsj on the go. Mom decided that was a good idea and followed suit.

(If anyone’s curious about my horrible spelling, I’m taking up Nikki’s challenge to keep mixing up my languages and throwing in lots of Norwegian words as I go.)

We finally set off on foot for Sentralstasjon to pick up our “Norway in a Nutshell” tickets for later in the week, and then to the tourist information desk to pick up our Oslokorter (Oslo cards), which get us transportation and admission to just about everything for two days at a reasonable price. It was probably 11:30 by the time we had all that sorted, and then we continued on foot down Karl Johann’s Gate for a walking tour of the central Oslo shopping district. We passed by the cathedral dome, enshrouded in plastic (or fish skin? see below) and closed for extensive renovations, alas, but Mom spotted a fun photo op: a neon sign in the building next door reading, “Cathedral restaurant bar” and proving for any who still doubted that lutefisk Lutheranism is a much happier version of Christianity than some.

After taking a few pictures of the royal palace, we turned north and walked to the Cultural History Museum. We decided only to look at the Norway-specific exhibits, one on early to Viking times, and another on polar life. Both were fascinating. Lots of the usual archaeological treasures, of course, but with some fun discoveries. I particularly enjoyed seeing the little metal critter in the shape of a moose and pointed out to Mom, “Look, they even had a travel mus!” in reference to a quip of Jane’s years back about a tiny stuffed moose we saw in a gift shop being a convenient travel-sized moose. We had a good chuckle about that and then read the description–this was a weight! Commerce was so important to them that not only did they have all kinds of balance scales and weights and measures, they even took the time to make their weights into fun moose shapes! Gotta love those Vikings.

A little further on we saw displays of Viking-era jewelry (that would be “jewellery” på norsk), and although they were clearly early, primitive pieces (we’re talking bronze and iron ages, after all), we both thought some of the items were surprisingly attractive. Mom and I talked about how maybe Carl Jung was onto something with his idea of the collective unconscious, because we both found these works to be viscerally appealing. (We’re Norwegian-German, in case you’re confused.) You wouldn’t think much of that, necessarily, except that we’ve recently seen much fancier stuff from earlier periods in China, Korea, Japan, and Afghanistan–on Saturday we went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco–and although lots of it was undeniably pretty and much fancier, more elaborate, and technically advanced than the Viking stuff, we both liked the Viking stuff a lot better. Go figure.

In the Arctic/Antarctic exhibition, we saw still more cool stuff including an early raincoat stitched together from a bazillion panels of what we later learned was fish skin–translucent and strangely modern-looking–and we both particularly liked the Sami clothing and preprosterously fancy hats. We wondered what purpose such elaborate hats served, and I suggested that perhaps they were inspired by their reindeer-friends’ antlers. A taxidermified reindeer in the exhibit was indeed quite cute, and shorter than we expected–kind of large dog-sized–but pictures showed larger ones, too.

I admired the early kayaks, very little changed from the one I use today except for the materials and colors.

We then walked around the block to the Nasjionalgalleriet (sp?), another free museum with some really nice paintings. Gee, there’s an impressive bit of art criticism for you! Once again I pondered my “collective unconscious” notion, because numerous painters of similar era and technique to more famous ones captured my fancy more–e.g. the JMWHMSPinafore Turner guy whose gloomy landscapes fill the Tate Britain in London leave me completely cold, but a Norwegian dude who was clearly his contemporary did technically similar paintings that I just liked a whole lot more. Mom agrees.

Of course, Munch’s paintings are the main reason to visit the Nasjionalgalleriet, and they didn’t disappoint me even on second viewing (I saw them when I was here in 1998). There’s something about his stuff that just speaks to me, I guess. Mom liked them, too, but commented that she couldn’t see hanging them on her walls where she had to look at them every day–she’s not into people paintings as much as scenery. Her remark made me realize that a huge share of the paintings we were seeing in the gallery (not just the Munch room) had people in them–even the landscapes. Mom says those are appealing, though, because they’re not about the people so much as the situation. I kind of agree with her when it comes to portraits–unless there’s something about portraits that give me a glimpse of daily life (“oh, so that’s what it looked like inside their houses!” and so on), I move quickly.

From there we walked toward Akerbrygge while eating our purloined smørbroder, stopping along the way to check out Heimen Husflid in the Hotel Bondeheimen on a tip from Ruth. Good tip! Lots of gorgeous sweaters and all kinds of other stuff. I drooled over some thick felt slippers and some elk-hide-and-mystery-fur slippers, but they started around $100/pair, so I decided I could survive without them. We found quite a few gorgeous sweaters, but none in the needed sizes. A few blocks further on, though, we popped into UniQue, another sweater-heavy joint, and parted with a bunch of our money. By this time it was getting darned cold out, so we both got hats to match our sweaters, and within half an hour, we were both wearing our new hats. I think today I’ll probably be wearing my new sweater, too, because although it’s only 32ish out, it’s COLD and snowing, and I’ve gotten wimpy after 14 years in California.

We tried to check out the Norge Hjemmefrontmuseum (Norwegian resistance museum), but it had closed at 4 and it was now almost 5, so we strolled around a bit of the Akerhus Festning (fortress), but it was quite dark by now (only 4:30pm) and the wet and sometimes icy cobbles seemed a bit treacherous, so we cut that short and proceeded on our way toward Akerbrygge. There was a big village of tents selling Christmas stuff, so we walked through and poked into a few tents.

Then we continued to Akerbrygge and decided fairly quickly that it was time for warm indoors and dinner. We settled on Albertine Cafe, where we shared half a liter of Barbera, Mom got a red wine-braised lammeskank with potato puree and lemon-thyme saus, and I had a venison stew (hjortegryte! what a great name!) also red-wined braised on potato puree with loganberries. Yum! A basket of yummy ciabatta-like olive bread further tempted us from our supposedly gluten-free diets. Yeah, right–not here!

After nearly falling asleep in our plates, we decided to hike back to the hotel, taking a slightly different route through the town center, and by 8:30 we were both falling asleep over our books. I slept solidly until about 3, when I gave up and poured some juleøl and resumed my book. Mom had been mostly awake since about 1, so she also gave up, got up, poured some wine and resumed her reading. We were up for an or so and then both went back to sleep. I slept pretty well until the phone vibrated around 5, and then I was up for good. Mom says she slept fitfully, but I know she got a lot more sleep than I did after our reading break.

It’s 9:15 now, and we’re both showered and dressed, so we’re going to head down to frøkost and try to improve our strategy from yesterday.

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