Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Trip part 2

1st leg, Boston to Oslo, Norway.

I am one of those people who doesn’t mind showing up to the airport early. Showing up late stresses me out, showing up on time stresses me out. My feeling on it is that if I am at the airport, two or three hours early what is the worst that happens? Maybe I buy a lunch I am not sure I need, or I sit and watch children run ape-shit around the airport. But the upside is that if the gate changes, or there is a delay I am there and I know about it well in advance, which I think out weighs the kids and the lunch.

The Boston Logan International wing of the airport is funny. They have a vending machine that sells, wait for it, iPods, Sony PSPs and accessories to go with both. Imagine a coke machine, filled with expensive electronics and that is what you have. It has a credit card swipe and a then you push a couple of buttons and then viola you are holding a high-priced consumer electronic device. Amazing. I was blown away by it. I need to get out more.

I flew Iceland Air which I had heard tons about before actually experiencing it. I have to say that the thing that makes it okay is that the flight to Reykjavik seems a lot more tolerable then the flight to either London, Manchester, or Venice, the three other cities in Europe I have flown into. But outside of the ease of flying into Reykjavik Iceland Air is, in fact, just another airline. The fly Boeing 757s in apparently one configuration and it is fairly uncomfortable if you are above 6’0”. We had a window and a middle seat for the overnight flight so I asked to be moved into a row which I noticed was unoccupied, citing my concerns about space. The airline accommodated my request but they didn’t tell me that the seats were bulkhead seats, meaning they have more leg room, but the seats are narrower because the trays slide into the armrest and you can’t put them up. It seems silly to complain about it, but I am going to anyway because I work in Customer Service and I think 90% of the job is distilling what the customer says they want into what they actually want. Iceland Air didn’t really do that. But oh well.

We got into Oslo on time and had a small scare with our bags. They have this feature in Oslo where they inform you when a plane’s bags are on the belt and when the last bag is on. It is tremendously informative, but can also inspire fear and rancor. We were staring at the empty carousel spinning around bags from Reykjavik and Vienna and watching anxiously for some sign of our bags. I would have taken anything ranging from the bags complete and intact to a tripod or a piece of underwear making the round trip journey. We got our bags no problem, I can only assume that someone forget to unload one of the carts back in the belly of the luggage sorting system. But I will forever associate the song “Girl from Ipanema” with lost luggage now because of a man who was cheerfully whistling the song while waiting for his bags, also on the same flight, to show up.

So Lovely Wife has done a bit of a blow-by-blow on our trip to Europe and I would rather not create a ton of overlap for our dual readership. So I am going to take a slightly different tack on this posting and talk about the things that I noticed that are more cultural, or sociological.

So to kick it off... Any rumors you hear about Europe’s public transit system being superior to the US you can absolutely rely on to be the G-ds Honest Truth. We took a train from the guts of the Oslo Airport (which ought to win an award for most easily navigable airport in the world) right into downtown Oslo, and then walked a meager block to our hotel. It was fantastic. While in Oslo we took every form of public transportation they offer and here is my thought on it. If New York, DC or Boston had this thorough of a set up, scads of stops, everything running on time, tons of ticket vending stations, there would be no need to own a car in those cities. San Francisco’s transit system has similar coverage but that is a geographical thing and the city of San Fran shouldn’t get credit for being hedged in on a peninsula. The buses in Oslo are clean and the drivers are friendly.

I also noticed that Oslo, and maybe this is true of Norway as a whole, are very proud people. We went to two museums that really drove this point home for me and they couldn’t have been more different. The first was the Nowegian Football Museum. Yes. I went to a museum dedicated to Football (or soccer). And it was probably near the top of the museums I went to. It had a heap of useful information about the Norwegian FA, their history and their famous players. But it also had useful exhibits about FIFA and the evolution of the game, such as the institution of the red and yellow cards. All of this was accompanied by a tour of the grounds and also the locker room for the home team. You were allowed to touch the pitch, but not walk on it. The stadium called Ullevaal Stadium holds about 35,000 people and is beautiful and modern and it makes me sad that the MLS has to play in shitty stadiums that double as American Football Stadiums. The guide that we had was a kid named Per. He was profoundly knowledgeable about the history of the FA, and I got the sense that he worked for them, or for the stadium somehow. Towards the end of the tour you get to see a display of the past uniforms, each bearing the Norwegian Flag, and the proposed new team kit that bore, instead of the flag, a more stylized depiction of Nordic dragons intertwined. If you are a football fan, then think about England’s Three Lions. Apparently when the NFA announced and unveiled the new shirts the country unanimously went into an uproar about it, to the point of leading protests in the streets outside the stadium. I wonder if that happened to the US National team if the couple thousand football fans would think to protest?

The other museum that really punched in Norway’s pride was the World War II Resistance Museum. It was chock full of information about the Norwegian Resistance to the Germans during WWII. Not just the military aspect of it either. They talked about clergy and teacher’s strikes over being told to teach certain topics to the students. They disagreed with the government stance and so they all quit. The result was that they were rounded up and sent to Concentration Camps. Now... this is one of those things that I don’t know how to say delicately but I am going to try anyway.

I think that sometimes the concentration camps get lost to the Jewish cause, and rightfully so, but it was so much more than that. The concentration camps happened to the world, and we shouldn’t forget that protestants, Catholics, Jews, teachers, mothers, fathers, children, athletes, farmers, whites, blacks, gays, straights, Dutch, Poles, in short everybody was affected by them. Even the US rounded up people during World War II and isolated them. Everybody in the world, bar none, should be ashamed at they we allowed other people to be treated. In the end, Humanity won the battle of World War II, but when I look at how things are playing out in the world I can’t help but be concerned that we are going to lose the war.

Sorry for that soapbox episode, but I haven’t been able to get some of the images of the Resistance Museum out of my head and I am still really taken aback by them. So onward we move.

Lovely Wife and I then headed out to Copenhagen. We took a ferry from Oslo down the Oslo Fjord. Ferry is a bit of a relative word because it was a cruise ship with a holding pen for cars with eleven decks a half dozen bars, a dance floor and a venue for live music. Which was awesome.

The night we were on the boat there was a six piece band playing; two guitarists, a bass, a keyboard, and drummer and a percussionist on bongos (or something similar). The band was good in the way that surreal cover bands are good.

Imagine that you play guitar and are pretty good at it too. Now imagine that you need a gig, hear about cruise ships as an alternative to pounding the streets looking for bar gigs. Now imagine that the only thing your band can agree upon is a selection of cover songs from the 60’s and 70’s of American Music. That was what he had. It was fantastic. Kenny Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Eagles, CCR, The Beatles, Commander Kody at one point, and I am 100% sure that this band didn’t know a single one of the words. They seemed to know all the sounds, but the words were ancillary to the objective. The audience was quiet and reserved, the danced to anything that was played in three four time and some of them would get up and cut a rug to the up tempo stuff, but when Holger (the band leader, whose name I completely fabricated) started to “wail on his axe” they would flee the floor like children at a lima bean convention. The highlight of the night for me was when Holger said, “now we are going to try something a little different.” Then pulled out a set of Pan Flutes and did a little rehearsed schtick before playing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” However, nobody knew any of the words outside of the refrain that gives the song its name. GLORIOUS! I was cracking up the whole time, but not maliciously, they were genuinely a fun band to watch and listen to, like a really good wedding band.

The cultural significance of their performance for me was the perception of what American Music is. They really played like an American band. And maybe this makes me naïve, but there is a wealth of Norwegian and Danish folk and pop/rock music out there and they played American standards. A fact that reminded me how important American Culture is. Sometimes I think we are only represented through our entertainment products; and when that includes shows like the shit about the Kardashians or Paris Hilton, or Orange County Housewives it makes me cringe. Because we are putting our worst foot forward. Entertaining as these hateful shows may be, the rest of the world sees this.



Blogger Quin Browne said...

now, the bit about the cruise ship music actually made me laugh out loud.

i'm loving the whole trip tale...

8/09/2008 01:47:00 PM  

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