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August 31, 2005

pining for the fjords

For the most part, this is supposed to be a professional blog about civic renewal, moral philosophy, and related subjects. However, today I cannot resist recording some of the memories that still fill my mind after two weeks in Scandinavia.

rainbow over Geysir, Iceland

Iceland: I especially recall the southern coast road, two hours of driving on gravel without ever seeing a house, lava fields coated in thin moss on one side of us and the gray Atlantic on the other ... Swimming outdoors on a cold, rainy day, because that's what Icelanders do. A municipal pool, heated by geothermal energy, is a model of Nordic design and a place where people meet to conduct business, steam rising above their bare flesh into the rain. ... A nineteenth-century farmhouse (now preserved as a museum). The respectable front parlor is decorated with wainscotting, severe photographic portraits, and a sofa. The parlor door leads to a dirt tunnel that winds past an open fire pit to a kind of bunker where the animals once sheltered in the long winter: a facade of European gentility concealing extreme hardship.

the fjord at Balestrand, Norway

Norway (the best country to live in): The University quarter in Oslo, with its elegant Regency-style buildings and the healthy, energetic, youthful, and stylish crowds on the streets. ... The rail lines between Oslo and Bergen, which are what every model railroad enthusiast has ever dreamed of creating in his basement: little trains puffing across bridges, through tunnels, around spectacular wooded mountains. ... The view across the fjords from our pension in Balestrand: the sky, the tendrils of fog, the forests, the snow, and the water each form huge swaths of changing color.

Stockholm: This is a fabulous city with a great variety of neighborhoods and sights that we enjoyed for three packed days. But now what I constantly recall is a variation on the following scene: a large expanse of blue-green waves (the city is built on islands and one-third is under water); a horizontal band of stone and stucco buildings, spires, and Mansard roofs behind some moored pleasure boats; and then a great blue sky with fluffy, scuttling clouds, as in a Dutch maritime painting.

On our way back from Stockholm, we flew over snow-capped Norwegian mountains and the fjords, then landed in Reykjavik after seeing a good view of the geysers at the "Blue Lagoon." On the second leg, we noticed the Greenland coast below, dotted with huge icebergs. A few hours later, the pilot noted that Manhattan was clearly visible out of the right windows. And then we landed in a steamy Baltimore summer evening. Everyone says that the Internet has shrunk our world, but to me nothing makes it seem as small as a long airplane ride.

Posted by peterlevine at August 31, 2005 10:17 AM


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