Leadpipes and statues and boats, oh my!

Dag to i Oslo began with the promised better strategy at breakfast. I started on the hot side but unfortunately found that the pølser weren’t as good as the day before and the weird thick pancake things were definitely some kind of fiskekake–not bad, though. The potatoes were hot and yummy, but the egg-sausage scramble was awful. Mom came up with smørbrod combo she likes quite well, putting both Jarlsberg and gjetost together on a sandwich with a slice of ham or whatever. Seems weird to me, since Jarlsberg is tangy and savory and gjetost is sweet and gooey, but it works for her. (Today she finally tried a piece of bread with gjetost on one half and just butter on the other, with two kinds of jam going in halves the other direction, for a cunning sampler mosaic. She says the orange marmalade on gjetost quarter was best.) Once again we each assembled an extra smørbrod to smuggle out in Mom’s spare ziploc bag for a free lunch on the go. (Today we spotted a sign in the breakfast buffet saying we’d be welcome to make a lunch packet for 85kr/person, about $12. We smuggled once more instead. We have a perfect record going, after all!)

After breakfast, I called Dan the horn maker and made an appointment to go out to his shop in Stabekk. I was on a mission to pick up a new leadpipe for my friend Alicia. He kindly met us at the train stop and walked us to the shop on a tricky walking path through the houses, which saved us a ton of time. I tried both leadpipe options and quickly decided with Mom’s agreement that the one Alicia was leaning toward was indeed the better choice. Dan advised us on how to get to our next destination, walked us to the bus top, and promised to meet us at our last destination for the day with a finished leadpipe. (Leadpipes start life as straight chunks of tapered brass tubing, and after you choose one, it has to be filled with pitch, bent into shape, cut to the right final length for your horn, and have a ferrule added to reinforce the first six inches or so against bending, banging, and other calamities. It’s an hour or two of work, and we didn’t feel like sitting around wasting our limited Oslo time any more than he probably felt like having a bunch of old women watching over his shoulders. Plus I’ve been there and done that–I spent a whole weekend at Kendall Bett’s Lawson Horns shop last winter, and although it was fascinating, I didn’t think the rerun would be.)

We took the #38 bus to Olav Kyrres plasse, changed to the #20 bus (or maybe those numbers are the other way around), and accidentally rode it past our intended Vigelandparken stop to Frognerstadium or something like that one stop further. Fortunately the stops aren’t that far apart so it wasn’t any big deal to walk back to where we meant to get off. We arrived at the park gate a few minutes later needing a restroom stop but were confounded by a 5kr coinbox to get in (about 75 cents). Fortunately there was a cafe next door where we could get change. I feel rude going into businesses just to ask for change, so I decided to buy a something for 15kr with my 20kr coin so I’d get 5kr change instead. Unfortunately, either the price was marked wrong or the clerk made a mistake, because he charged me 20kr for the ice cream bar I’d chosen, so then I had to ask him to give me two coins for my 10kr coin. He gave me a knowing grin along with the coins. Oh, well–I tried.

Here’s a weird tangent: I couldn’t think of the name “ice cream bar” so I asked Mom, who said when she first got to college in Minnesota she was confused by her classmates’ excitement about having Cheerios at a welcome picnic. She coudln’t figure out why the oaty breakfast cereal would be such a big deal at a picnic for college students, but when she got there she found a pile of ice cream bars branded “Cheerios.” Seems like a trademark-protection problem to me!

Our business done, we strolled into the park. It was quite cold out, so we were wearing out ski caps and gloves and still shivering a bit, and we were eating an ice cream bar. Are we snow-belt natives or what? I was a tiny bit proud of us for that.

Vigelandparken is an incredible and overwhelming thing. It’s a huge park with sidewalks spoking out from a central “monolith” sculpture zone and a whole mess more sculpture along the main axis from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock, and another piece out at 3 o’clock. In the outer zone it’s mostly bronze figures, and the inner zone is all granite figures. Wrought iron gates along the way also feature silhouettes of figures. All the figures are nude, male and female, every age from infant to geezer, always touching each other or interacting with each other somehow, many tangled together as if in ballet poses or love making or cuddling or comforting, occasionally in an unrealistic way, like the man with babies all around him, in his arms, flying out from him at various directions, one hovering in air above a foot that appears to be lifting it up from the ground the way a talented hackysack player might lift a grounded sack with his foot. There are some animals–dogs, wolves, bears I remember–and a few puzzlng ones with skeletons. The central “monolith” features a huge granite obelisk carved with a ginormous stack of entangled nude people. What these sculptures all have in common is that the figures are real-people looking, usually both muscular and hefty (no scrawny ones or fashion model or body builder magazine lean ones, even though most are clearly muscular and strong), and they’re all nude. No matter what combination of ages and genders appear together and in what apparent situation or relationship, there is a joyful, connected, sexual energy in their interactions. It’s not smutty or perverse, though–it’s human and joyful and real. There are penises and breasts all over the place, and there is no way these would appear in a public park in the US, but it all comes across somehow as very wholesome and affirming. Somehow in making every set of figures overtly sexual he has deemphasized sexuality from the charged, controversial thing that it is (at least in contemporary American society) back to the natural, everyday, lifelong thing that we know it really is. It’s fascinating, liberating, and comforting all at once.

I promise to add some photos to illustrate these points when we get back home and I have a little more time.

We then walked over to the Vigelandmuseum, which is a massive building the city of Oslo gave him to live and work in for the rest of his career, in exchange for his current and all future work belonging to the city, most in the massive sculpture park. Stroke of civic genius! The building is now a museum displaying more sculpture, clay models, sketches, tools, displays explaining how he worked and how models were converted to granite sculptures by teams of stone carvers, and so on. Even the smaller-scale models are mammoth and imposing. Even knowing he had an at times huge crew, it boggles the mind to imagine how one man created so much, let alone such creative, beautiful, thought-provoking, and technically impressive stuff.

From there we caught the #30 bus back down to Olav Kyrres plasse, changed to the #20, and rode down to the Norge folkmuseum in Bygdøy. We arrived at 2:45 and were informed the indoor attractions all closed at 3, but we were welcome to walk around outside until 6pm. We hurried, therefore, to the main attractions–a stave kirke from the 1200s and a farm village from following centuries called Setesdahl. We arrived at the stavekirke in time to hear a lengthy description and explanation along with a group on a guided tour. Stavekirker are built on huge posts (staves) at four corners and more huge posts at corners of an exterior wall. The weight of the elaborate roof of many slopes is carried on the interior staves and also transferred diagonally down to the exterior staves much like flying buttresses, except that the exterior staves are also surrounded by walls, creating a covered pathway all around the church that is in between outside and inside. I found a book in the gift shop that had many explanations for this, including: it made a place for people to wait for services to begin, for the unbaptized to be near but not in the church, for the observant to “walk circles” around the church, which apparently was an early ages ritual to mark importance and ownership, and so on. Interestingly, many of the farm houses also had this same basic architecture (though much simpler, of course) including the exterior surrounding compartment. I’m assuming this was used for many of the same purposes and perhaps also for livestock, but I’ll need to research that.

Finally we walked a few blocks to the Vikingskipsmuseum, which houses four big Viking ships and numerous smaller boats and artifacts. They were huge. One thing that impressed both of us is how much extra effort they put into carving elaborate, beautiful decorations on their boats, their furniture, even their barns. Is this the product of a long winter? A society so prosperous that it has excess time on its hands? A slave economy? Superstitions? Praise? Probably a bunch of all of the above.

Meanwhile, we’d texted Dan to let him know we’d arrived there, and he texted back that he’d be there in half an hour. We’d arrived 15 minutes before closing, so we had close to 15 minutes standing in the parking lot freezing to death, but we were rewarded with a ride back to our hotel in a nice warm car instead of numerous changes of bus and subway. We got to experience a little slice of normal life in Oslo sitting in mild rush-hour traffic, too. It wasn’t too bad, but you could definitely see how it could get bad and be frustrating without too much more traffic.

After dropping our stuff and the new leadpipe in the hotel and having a glass (okay, plastic cup) of wine, we set off on foot for dinner. We looked for an Italian restaurant we’d found on Google maps (neither of us were in the mood for julebord menyen) but couldn’t find it. After a long circular route we ended up back at an Ethiopian place near the hotel. We had a delicious but shockingly expensive meal of kitfo lebleb and doro tibs. I also had a beer, and I think our tab was around $75. Prices like these are pretty much how it goes, though–we have yet to find a cheap meal in Norway.

Back at the hotel, we both fell asleep within half an hour. This time Mom slept soundly most of the night, but I woke up around 2 and stayed awake until about 6, then finally fell asleep in time to be groggy for breakfast. I spent most of the time tapping away at the computer, chatting about the home fires with Victoria, chatting about art criticism with Meg in Massachusetts, reading lots of newspapers, answering a bunch of email, and so on.

Our adventure continues in the next installment, which shall discuss “Norway in a Nutshell,” our scenic trip by train, train, boat, bus, and train to Bergen by way of Flåm, Gudvangen, and Voss.