Bus rides and Tønsberg

March 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

I think my toes might fall off. I’m rethinking how brilliant of an idea it was to wash all my socks at the same time. Normally the cottage is warm and comforting, but somehow I lack the knowledge of both the location and operation of all the space heaters. I’m extremely tempted to light a fire but I’ve already used half the wood and don’t want to use all of it before my Aunt returns from her trip to Sweden. So far, the best idea I’ve had is to light as many candles as I can and hope that the heat is sufficient to keep my toes attached.  That and possibly sealing all the windows and doors where the ice cold air seeps through.

Yesterday I made my way down to Tonsberg to visit with my cousin and her family. In order to do that I had to escape my isolation on the island and attack my first experience with the bus system. It’s amusing how fearful we can be of the unknown. Almost as if we aren’t good enough or strong enough to rise to the occasion. I’m fully aware that I am only speaking in reference to taking a bus ride. In my defense, I currently have no sense of direction, much less knowledge of how the public transportation system here works, and no effective means of establishing where I am at any point in time. I pictured myself either getting on the wrong bus or missing my stop, then calling my cousin and not even being able to pronounce where I was.

As the bus pulled up I glanced at the woman driving and rehearsed what I was going to say. I had a great start as the door opened from the opposite side of where the door handle was located and ended up whacking me in the face. I laughed at myself and said hi, then found myself in a certain state of shock as the driver responded, not as a woman, but as a man with a light blue eyes, a fake tan, and a long, highlighted perm. My payment was processed and my need to transfer explained, in English, and I shuffled into the first seat. As we roared through the fields of snow, I found myself alert to a familiar fluctuation of sounds behind me. I turned my head slightly and tried to grasp more of the sound over the groaning of the tires under my seat. My transfer stop popped up and the driver turned and ushered me off. It was then that I found the source of the familiar sounds, Americans. Norwegian is spoken like music, fluid and connected. Apparently, the tone of the English language is more jagged and broken, at least enough to stand out among the bouquet of sounds.

So here I was, stuck freezing at a bus stop with a typical Norwegian girl, the two Americans, a teenage boy dressed in true emo style, and a crazy lady in a tracksuit carrying a bag full of miscellaneous nothings and what appeared to be the better part of a vacuum. I wanted so badly for something about me or on me to momentarily appear familiar enough to attract and engage the Americans in conversation. The man looked at me every now and then, possibly acknowledging the expression of recognition of our common language in my face. The girl however was fully involved in her story and I found myself satisfied to simply witness her typical American phrases and slang. After a couple minutes of basking in my proximity to something reminiscent of home, I slipped on my iPod and selected John Legend’s new album. As I stared at the untouched snow bank ahead of me, memories I had flashed forward, as if to fill the blank space I zoned out on. How easily accessible our memories are when we are experiencing a transition in our lives. Perhaps our imaginations are more open to the unknown surroundings and as a result are more prone to replaying the past perceptions already lingering in our consciousness.

My stay at my cousin’s was both socially satisfying and soothing. I’m warmed by how quickly we picked up our relationship and how close and accepted I feel by her family. Each time I see them we delve further into deeper topics and I find myself learning a lot from them. I’m not sure if my feelings towards children in general have changed or if I’ve just unintentionally made an exception for her sons. They are so full of light and smiles and I thoroughly enjoy being around them. There is also an alluring quality children have here when they speak. It is as if the way Norwegian is physically spoken, the face expressions and formation of the mouth around the words, causes children to appear as miniature adults. At the same time, visiting at her house had confirmed that I have yet to develop the constant patience and never-ending energy necessary to raise children. For the moment, I will make do on the occasional interactions I have with my second cousins.

We began the morning with a typical Norwegian breakfast, a style I have come to love. The center of the table is reserved for the multitude of options of which to satisfy your hunger. After selecting a base, anything from soft wheat bread to rye crackers, you choose a spread: strawberry preserves, ham and cheese cream, fish cream, or light mayo. Finally you finish with your toppings: fresh sliced ham, salami or turkey, swiss or sweet brown goat cheese, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, hard boiled egg, etc. I find it exciting to cut your bread slice up into small pieces and create a variety of different concoctions, the combinations are endless. All this is washed down with hot tea with milk or strong, black Norwegian coffee, which I have found to be so strong that it essentially feels as though you are sucking on a bunch of espresso beans. There is something very social about this method of eating. Consumers are constantly engaged as they reach for specific items and build their next bite.

In the afternoon we went to visit her cousin on her dad’s side. They have two young children as well and usually spend the weekends with each other, giving the children time to socialize and release all their energy. The adults sat inside drinking that amazing black coffee while the kids played outside in the snow. I thought to myself how convenient it is to live in this climate when you have children, as snow provides a free playground. After an hour or so the kids dragged us out to marvel at the tunnel system they had built. I promised myself that I would one day build a snow cave.

I’ve found, through my conversations with acquaintances here, that the language barrier is often a test of my self-esteem. A lot of times I find myself stopping to decipher whether the person I’m speaking with simply finds me boring or has no clue what I am saying and is therefore just nodding and smiling blankly in response.  Also, I feel an even deeper need to learn Norwegian faster; a feeling fueled by the guilt I feel for how my lack of language skills hinders general conversations. Anyone in my presence will speak English out of respect, regardless of whether or not the conversation is directed towards me. I wonder at the awkwardness they feel conversing with each other with their limited English vocabulary, when they could do so effectively in Norwegian. Sometimes I catch people, amidst a conversation in English, just staring at each other, hoping that whatever he or she said has made enough sense to the other.

My return trip on the bus was much more smooth, but equally entertaining. I found myself waiting at the bus stop with a young Norwegian man about my age. At first I didn’t find him too interesting; he was dressed normally and carrying several plastic bags full of what sounded like recycling. Then I glanced at his neck, specifically at the “Vatos Locos” tattoo inscribed in large letters under his jawline. I then noticed that he had a black eye, was drinking a Smirnoff, and the bags he carried were full of six packs of beer. I wish I’d had the gall, and ability, to inquire about the story behind that tattoo.

I’ve been asked a lot about my choice to move here. I usually respond with something along the lines of school and the general experience, whatever jumps into my head at that moment. I have a small notebook where I write down everything thats me laugh, quotes that inspire me and thoughts that I have. I find that, depending on the point in my life, I am drawn to different quotes in this book. As I read through it on the bus ride home today, I came across one with quite an alluring point. It follows in the category of the “why not?” response when inquired about my move.

“For believe me! The secret to harvesting the greatest abundance and the greatest enjoyment from existence is this: Live dangerously! Build you cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Be robbers and conquerers… you knowing ones! The time will soon be past when you could be content to live hidden in the forest like timid deer.”

-Friedrich Nietzche

We inherently suffer the fear of the unknown, the fear of change. Why not conquer this fear and throw ourselves out there? The worst thing that could happen is that the stories of our lives would be worth telling.

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