Gute Reisen

Part 3 of Matt's Visit

Flying to Oslo was easy. A short train ride, a quick pass through security, and Matt and I were on the 2 hour flight to a city farther north than he or I had even been. Our flight landed at 4:30, the opera began at 7, and neither of us had done a super great job of prepping to navigate the city. Free wifi was around, and 10 minutes on the tram took us to our AirBnB spot. Our hosts were from Seattle and France, and Matt and I had a small guest room in the hall. We dumped our stuff quickly, asked if we could make it to the opera house, and we were told it would be no problem.

Back out into the cold, up to the opera house and dashing to the cashier. She sold us a couple of 10 dollar tickets and just like that: Wagner and Terje in one weekend. 

Now the first thing most people told us about Oslo was how expensive everything is, and one of the first things you’ll read about Oslo is how fantastically rich it is. This really hit me in the lobby of the gorgeous Oslo opera house. Beautiful people, beautiful room, expensive cocktails, but the real signal for comfort and wealth was the garderobe. With your ticket you were assigned a number and that number corresponded to a hook in an area full of coat hooks. Even the fanciest people were just walking up, hanging their coat on a hook and leaving them to hang there, in the open, unattended for the duration of the opera. 

The staging of The Flying Dutchman was once again interesting, the setting was updated to be an English shipping company operating in Africa. There was a highly political message here that was supposed to be conveyed, but felt a little cheesy and forced to me. I just don’t know why, after Wagner laid us out how everything should be these crazy new directors have to come in here with their new fangled ideas. 

The scenery was pretty amazing, a giant circular wall in the middle of the stage would spin and move, as would the walls on the side of the stage to simulate being at sea. Paintings were revealed to be video projections at moments when something magical or spooky needed to happen, and the opera is a fun breeze at only 2.5 hours, no intermission, it was perfect. Though twice now, when I’ve seen Dutchman, the director chooses to omit the final image of the opera: the heroine and the Dutchman rising up to heaven together. In both cases that I’ve seen the heroine kills herself out of either love or madness or both, the music ends, and the opera is over. I wonder how many people already know the intended ending so you can skip this potentially effects heavy climactic moment. However, the whole point of the end of Dutchman is that it’s this woman’s love that saves the damned man’s soul, and if we only see her kill herself that seems to change the ending of the opera, to me. But what do I know, I’m just some dude from Texas.

the stage

the stage

We left the opera house around 10, and took to the streets of Oslo hoping to get to know the city a little. It was Friday, and we expected to be greeted by some nightlife here in Norway’s capital. We were wrong.

Later we found that we’d made just the right wrong turns to miss on any of the action in Oslo, but there isn’t that much action to being with. Several times now I’ve been told by people that Norwegians aren’t partiers, they go home, they sip a glass of wine. It is very expensive to drink in Norway, so it makes sense. Of course that doesn’t quite square with the fact that we were in Oslo to see a Norwegian musician who makes up-beat party music. I can imagine him in a cold gray studio trying to give himself that warm summer feeling. The only place we could find near our place was a small Italian wine bar that would sell us Peroni beer for 9 dollars and offered a cozy atmosphere augmented by a pop country radio station that must have been streaming from somewhere in America. Weird. Almost as soon as the beers were ordered we were warned the place would be closing soon. We finished our beers and ended our Friday there.

Naturally, I was awake long before anyone else. I laid in the dark of Oslo, sure that it was 5 am, and I would have to just stare into the darkness waiting for a reasonable hour to approach. I broke down and looked at my phone. 9 am! The blackout curtains, the quietness, the good bed, it all conspired to give me a fine nights sleep. Intent on letting Matt sleep as much as he could, since it was his vacation and all, I slunk out to the local coffee shop, and got myself a pastry. The girl behind the counter either thought I was breathtakingly attractive or found my foreign ways baffling. I’m almost certain it was not the attractiveness, because when Matt arrived she resumed her giggly ways with him, a style she did not adopt with the Norwegian customers. 

I’ve never been outright mocked by people in a country before, but Matt and I got laughed at and made fun of several times on the street. And I didn’t think either one of this really gave away our foreign-ness too easily. One woman just walked up to me at the opera, looked me in the eyes and said “excuse me, you don’t speak norwegian do you?” “no, sorry” I said. She looked satisfied and said “I didn’t think so,” and walked away.

Matt makes a business call on one of Oslo's inexplicable pay phones.

Matt makes a business call on one of Oslo's inexplicable pay phones.

Oslo is a weird city, is what I’m saying. Really nice cars, very high prices, but all in all the city is quite dirty, and the infrastructure felt under-maintenanced. Norway has amassed almost a billion dollars from it’s primarily state-run oil reserves. They are saving for a future without this oil, and only recently is there a large enough right wing party here. They are arguing for lowering taxes and spending some of the money on things in country. It’s a beautiful country, and clearly it’s quite comfortable there for the people, but I just wasn’t able to quite figure it out. It’s really taken to common hipster fascinations, super high end coffee, over the top bikes and clothing stores, things like that. It has the feel of London and San Francisco, but transplanted to somewhere in Eastern Europe. I’m tempted to go back in the summer just to see what its like when the city really gets to blossom. 

Matt and I spent Saturday walking the city, trying coffee, and just generally trying to get a better understanding of this place. We wandered into a cooler part of town, record shops, bike shops, special high end clothing stores for biking enthusiasts. The kind of stuff I guess I should like, except I feel totally alienated by. I can not afford to be this cool.

The bars and coffee shops we enjoyed in Oslo were all immaculately designed and decorated. We tried our a tiki bar, which was themed impeccably, a coffee shop that looked suspiciously perfect as a recreation of an office from the 60s. It was beyond a theme, it really felt like they'd taken over the space 40 years ago and hadn't changed much. Again, it was all stuff that I should be super in to, and yet, I felt alienated from. Sitting in the 60s coffee shop, I felt like I should have dressed to match the room. 

Coffee shop, bar, and antique dealer. Really. Matt and I sat at the table on the right.

Coffee shop, bar, and antique dealer. Really. Matt and I sat at the table on the right.

Soon enough it was show time. Matt didn’t have ticket yet, as the show had sold out months ago. I bought my ticket nearly 6 months ago as a way to ensure that I would come and do this. This was the night after the attacks in Paris so security was high, and everyone seemed a little on edge. We arrived at the theatre an hour early, hoping to grab a ticket. A security guard came out and talked to us, I asked after tickets, and he said, “Look for the shark, I know him, he will be here, you will have to pay maybe 20 percent more for your ticket, but he will be here.”

As they put up the chains to direct the crowd into the club the shark appeared, slowly pulling the tickets out of his jacket. Matt and I were upon him before anyone else, not that there was anyone else around. He asked for 50 for the ticket. I paid 35 originally. Matt agreed instantly, and we were all set. The shark left money on the table.

We were among the first ones in, I checked my coat, and we ordered a couple of Oslo’s local beer, Ringnes. A very beautiful very blond girl happily poured me a beer while I asked her how to properly pronounce Ringnes. Again, either she was completely taken with me, or Matt and I gave of some sort of comical Of Mice and Men vibe, and I was definitely Lenny. “How you say that beer name?”

The opener was an hour set of DJ Strangefruit. A member of the excellent group “Mungolian Jetset” another Norwegian group that Todd Terje led me to. It was a totally bonus this guy was here spinning disco records for us and getting us pumped. The theatre was empty enough that for the first bit of the set most people were sitting on stairs just enjoying the music.

As his set wound down the floor filled up, Matt and I stood up and took a spot dead center about 10 meters from the stage. To my left a young Norwegian leaned over and told me about how he was really fucked up in Belgium last week and he cracked a rib. He politely asked me to keep my dancing under control so that I wouldn’t elbow him. I nodded. The theatre went dark and some colored lights on stage came on making a huge French flag. There was an announcement in Norwegian and my neighbor hissed “moment of silence.” We stood quiet and out came Todd Terje. Tall, slim, and he took his post as we all quietly stood there. He opened with “Swing Star” and the audience cheered. I put my ear plugs in.

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It was a curious show. He had a great band with him, drums, percussion, guitar, and violin. It was fully satisfying, and I smiled through almost all of the show. There was a small amount of disappointment that the set was remarkably similar to a show of his that’s online, and that no new songs were unveiled. However, as the set wound down and he played his most popular song, “Inspector Norse” the audience started supplying a synthesizer line from the song with their collective voice. A room full of people singing a song that has meant so much to me over the past 2 years. That was worth the trip all by itself.

I had been hoping Todd might say something, or to betray his emotions about the show, but no. That’s not his style. He smiled when the dancers came on stage, he seemed genuinely pleased at the end of the set as he took his bows. I’d probably be disappointed if he said too much. He made a profoundly silly and wonderful album of instrumental music, he has no words to say maybe.

The show ended and we discovered Oslo’s night life. There were lines to get into every bar and club we passed. Again, Matt and I aren’t big partiers, so it was easy for us to convince ourselves that all that was in those bars were crowds of people that wouldn’t talk to us, and drinks that would make us gasp at their ice. We walked home talking about the show, and about the excellent drummer, and bedded down. Sunday was to be our day of Norwegian Cultural Exploration.

Oslo

Oslo

Sunday was museums and more exploration of Oslo. It was a slow come down from seeing Todd Terje. After we got back to Munich Matt only had a few days of his trip left, and after two weeks of hard-core vacationing we were both quite tired. We managed to visit Neuschwanstein, and drink more beer, but the last days of his visit were low-key and relaxing.

I missed him as soon as the u-bahn pulled out of sight. The thought of the friends I left behind in Austin, and the fear that I won't make friends that good here creep in and make me sad, especially here at the holidays. I need to get out and meet more and better people.