Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

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Goodbye to Landegode, Goodbye to Norway

Our last day in the far north of Norway, my cousin arranged for us to take a boat ride out to the island of Landegode. From every village on the coast for miles, this is THE major landmark, and even more importantly for fishermen trying to head back to shore, Landegode has been a crucial navigational aid. It is also a place almost deserted these days, with few people living there. But my traveling companion and myself were amazed to discover that many people in town have never been there.

The island is very important to me and my Norwegian cousin because that is the place where our mutual ancestor lived. It was an incredible ride out to this island that rises straight out of the sea in jagged spikes. We stopped a little ways from Landegode to throw a line off the side of the boat, no bait, just a flashing lure and some empty hooks. After a few minutes of my tugging on the line up and down to fool the fish, we reeled in two lovely pollock, which we ate for lunch upon our return.

The water is crystal clear, and we enjoyed an unusually calm ride out to sea. By the time we turned toward shore again, however, a cold wind picked up and the clouds moved in to obscure the peaks of Landegode. The island’s name translates into good-land. Yes, what land exists on the shore in tiny patches is good, I suppose. But more so, it is a land to inspire awe. My cousin says that when he goes fishing on a beautiful day like it was when we started, he doesn’t care if he does not catch a thing. It is enough just to view the rugged land and calm, blue sea.

The elderly relative we visited twice during my trip, Kristianna, told us: “…beloved Landegode, most beautiful thing I know.” She lived with the sight of that good land for seventy years before moving to a nursing home. Above her head on the wall hung a painting of Landegode in winter.

And so we have left the far north now, and today visited Trondheim. Tomorrow we fly to Bergen, moving south in great leaps. The next day we board a ship to take us over the North Sea to England. We are tracing the immigrants as best we can.

No internet, I expect until we arrive in the UK in a few days. Meanwhile, I leave you with my hope that all is well and you are living in a good land, a land that you call beloved.

Visiting the Birthplaces and Lost and Found Relatives

I stood on a small hill this afternoon surrounded by the ruins of a crumbling stone foundation, crying like a baby. A blue sky, puffy clouds, light breeze, mild temperature, and daisies waving in the wind.  A tree growing up crooked out of the stones. Oscar’s birthplace. 

My Swedish cousins had brought me to the place where Grandma’s father, Oscar, was born in 1878. You know the way a little half-surge of emotion wells up, a signal that comes just before the tidal wave, warning you to take cover?  That little catch in the throat gave me just enough time to step over the rope fence and turn my back to my relatives, who had brought a little picnic of coffee and sweets to eat after a long day of visiting various family sites. As they passed tupperware boxes full of cake and little buns and poured coffee and juice for one another, I sobbed in Oscar’s little ‘house.’

It’s hard to explain what happened to me. Partly I am just still so hurt by Grandma’s death.  The two year anniversary of her death is fresh, and I kept thinking how sad that she had missed this, that it would have meant so much to her to be here.  But more than the grief and pain of her loss, I also felt a strange sadness, an overwhelming ache.  How could Oscar’s parents leave here and get on that ship to go to America?  Such sacrifice.  So brave.  Being in that exact spot in person somehow made the enormity of what they did hit me full on. This place is beautiful and today especially so with such perfect weather.  How could they turn their back on this place and turn their face to a new land?  How could they say goodbye and then never see their family again?

I mean, my geneology, handed to me on the first day, goes back NINE generations!  And that is just the names and dates.  Of course, they had lived here forever, my family. Maybe my having lived in over twenty different places in my life makes it hard for me to imagine ever feeling so rooted in one place.  For me, then, coming here is like finding something lost. A sense of ‘home.’

So, I cried.  And my friend who is traveling with me later told me that my cousin’s wife was standing behind me down on the path holding a box of cake.  She kept inching forward and backward, undecided about whether to approach me.  In the end, she left me to my tears.  They all did. And I’m glad that I spent that powerful moment alone.  I don’t know what it all means, but when the wave subsided, I turned and saw my living realtives, the lost and found relatives, laughing, eating, talking happily.  I stooped to pick four daisies, one for each of the family that lived and left there: Johan Agust, Eva Charlotta, Oskar, and Gerda. 

Stepping back over the fence, I was received by our hostess with a big bear hug and immediately handed a bun. Eat! she said. Another woman handed me a tissue.  I blew my nose and took a big bite of my pastry. It was good.  She was right.  Sometimes a bit of cake makes it all better.

Three hours later, we sat at the house again and more relatives kept coming and coming. We ate and laughed and talked and looked at pictures and played with the little children and discussed recipes, and I became family — for real — by the end of the night.  I kept wondering how people could be so welcoming and so hospitable and so incredibly generous with a person who is virtually a stranger to them.  But then it hit me that while I had felt a sense of a lost home, they had felt the loss of the people who sailed away. We were lost to each other and now we are found. It was a joyous reunion.

Lagom: No Word in English for This…

Lagom.  I am told as I stand in my cousin’s kitchen that this is a Swedish word for which there is no English equivalent.  It means roughly not too much and not too little but just right.  I am told that in Sweden, this is the ideal for which they strive.

Ah.  That’s why there is no equivalent word in English, especially American English.  Too much?  What does that mean, says the American Joe Shmoe.  Too little, say too many in our country.  But strive for that ‘just right’ place…that’s an interesting and novel approach from an American perspective.

Today was lagom … but almost too much.  Almost too much delicious food.  Almost too much interesting information about the family that I can use for the book.  Almost too much loving kindness.  But only ‘almost too much’ because it is so hard for me to imagine people taking in relatives so far removed on the family tree and giving so freely of their time. Our welcome is far beyond anything I had a right to expect. This is true hospitality.

Ah, but I must try to get to sleep as my head is swirling with everythingI learned today:

the imse vimse spindel song (itsy bitsy spider!) sung to my fourth cousin (17 months old) by my other fourth cousin (8 years old)

Jag är en Svenska flicka (I am a Swedish girl — ah the games my sister and I played when we were young)

great-great-great-great grandpa ‘Moose’ (that’s seriously what he was named and for good reason)

I come from a military family (who knew), men who were hand-picked to be soldiers because they were big and strong

a few choice words from the Swedes here about our President Bush and his terrible war…

…so much more…but this all will have to wait.  Much to do and so little time these three days in the land of my great grandfather.  I must try to rest so I will be ready tomorrow to visit the farm where he was born!

Sweden at last: Pigeons and Slut Soup

We made it to our destination yesterday after two ‘days’ travel (since there’s a time difference of six hours), lengthened by a pigeon incident at Newark airport. 

Apparently, while the good folks at Continental were getting our plane ready for boarding, two pigeons flew through an open door at the back of the plane. The captain was trying to be helpful and opened the front door, but without first punching in the code to de-alarm it.  So when he opened the door, the emergency inflatable ramp flew out and quickly filled with air!  That poor guy will never live this down, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, the incident also delayed our flight for over two hours.  The airline was very gracious about it, I thought.  After all, they TOLD us what happened, so that was a good laugh right there.  And then they gave us a free dinner voucher to use at the airport, and they gave us a 10% off your next flight coupon. I was fine with just the story….

When we boarded, I asked the flight attendant if the pigeons were okay.  She laughed and winked at me, ‘No pigeons were harmed in the making of this flight…’

Upon arrival, we caught a train straight from the airport to Göteborg, Sweden.  The ticket lady said, oh, about two hours, when I aksed how long the trip takes.  Hmmm.  Try four.  Unfortunately everything closes so early here that we couldn’t get to go to the emigrant house museum, the archives, or the Göteborg museum.  But we did walk around town maybe two or three miles worth in search of just the right place to eat supper (fun to see the town, actually).  FInally got a recommendation for a place that has real Swedish food that you can take out.  Swedish Meatball take out brought back to our lovely Eggers (pronounced egg-ish) Hotel, where we ate on our balcony.  Ah.

What we did NOT order was soupa somethingerother slut. Turns out that is actually some kind of Greek soup, but honestly slut soup??  We stuck with meatballs and mashed potatoes.

On to meet the relatives this morning.  More later…

Miscellaneous Meme

Praying to Darwin tagged me (well, anyone who was reading her, actually!) and I promised a response. Here goes:

What I Was Doing 10 Years Ago

June 1998: Living in Palouse, WA, a town of 1,000 people located about 17 miles from Pullman, WA, a city of 35,000 and the metropolis of the region. I was on unofficial leave from my Ph.D. program, having postponed finishing my dissertation due to a difficult pregnancy. I had been home caring for our eight-month old and having a blast. He was a great baby who took naps, laughed a lot, and was endlessly curious! But by today’s date in 1998, I had embarked on a marathon revision session to finish the dissertation over the summer so I could graduate and work as an adjunct professor in the fall. I made it. On this date ten years ago, though, I didn’t know if I’d make it. I didn’t know that I’d eventually publish that dissertation, that I’d get a job as a real live professor, that in ten years I’d be scrambling to finish another manuscript over the summer….

Five Things on My To-Do List Today

  1. Go to my office to meet up with the tech guy and receive my new laptop computer and laser printer! Yee haw — wireless and wonderful! My old one is a 2001 model. 😦
  2. Finish the laundry. (Why is that item always on my list?)
  3. Help my son revise and edit his letter to IHOP complaining that their kid’s meals come with styrofoam cups. (I’ve got him started on a summer home school program of my own design to help him improve his writing process, spelling, and punctuation skills. He’s fine for his grade level, say his teachers, but I’m an English Professor. I can’t have a ten-year-old son who spells dinner: chicen. Also, I’m a sadist.)
  4. Start the rough draft of an article I was commissioned to write.
  5. Bring the piles of stuff in my bedroom up into the attic for the “one day I’m going to have a garage sale” pile.

Things I Would Do If I Were a Billionaire

Buy my sister a house and pay for her to go to grad school full-time.

Quit our jobs and move back to the Pacific Northwest, where we would buy or build a totally green home.

And with the bulk of the money, I imagine we’d start a charitable foundation and my husband and I would run it. We’d give grants to worthy projects to save the world and all that. Not sure how far a billion dollars would go, but we’d do what we could to help.

Three of My Bad Habits

  1. talking too much when I’m nervous
  2. laughing too much when I’m nervous
  3. saying stupid things when I’m nervous

Five Jobs I’ve Had

  1. “Receptionist” (AKA babysitter) for a home office. What a joke. This was merely a glorified (hardly) babysitting job. The house was so filthy that I spent most days cleaning. Ugh. Kids were not too bad. Oh, and I learned how to fry an egg cause that’s all they’d eat for breakfast.
  2. Worked for a department store called Weinstocks in their lingerie department. Stapled my thumb one day. Still gives me the creeps.
  3. Janitor, cleaning up the dining hall at my college after dinner. Amazing what I found on the floors — used to dread spaghetti and meatball days. I guess those pesky meatballs just roll off the plates all by themselves. Oops!
  4. Door-to-door sales. Yeh, that’s even worse than stapling your own flesh. I sold books in Alabama one summer for the Southwestern Book Co. Part of the way they are successful is they make their sales help (all college students) drive clear across the country to an alien world. That way it makes it a lot harder to give up and go home when it gets tough. I did okay at this job, but I wasn’t quite bold or enthusiastic enough to be a star.
  5. Library assistant — I shelved journal articles and books in the reference section of my college library. Great job to help pay the bills for school — clean, quiet, and no knocking on doors.

Five Books I’ve Recently Read

  1. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Still a great read after a dozen times reading it!
  2. Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal by Diana M. Raab. I thought this would be a help for me as I write my Grandma’s memoir. It was. It showed me that I can do a lot better than stuff that’s already published.
  3. Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. This book taught me that I have a long way to go to really write well. Beautiful and engaging. How can this be her first book?
  4. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. A MUST READ! Awesome book, a real page-turner. I reviewed it earlier. See my Good Books category on the sidebar.
  5. Tales From Nowhere: Unexpected Stories from Unexpected Places edited by Don George. I absolutely loved this collection of travel essays. a fun and intriguing read. Still thinking about the stories…

That’s it! I’ll follow Praying to Darwin‘s lead and leave it up to readers to decide to do this meme themselves.

Clinton Landed Here???

For a while now, I’ve been puzzled by a monument at the soccer field where my son practices. I (soccer mom that I am!) often pull into the parking spot right in front of this rock with a plate commemorating an auspicious occasion. Recently, however, I began to think more deeply about this monument….

So what exactly is being commemorated? Bill Clinton “Landed” here in 2000. LANDED? Ah, my husband tells me that President Clinton was attending a fundraiser at the Tsongas Arena in our town that day in 2000, and his helicopter landed on our soccer field. He was whisked away by car to the fundraiser, returned to his helicopter a couple of hours later, and flew away.

WOW. This really is such an important occasion that we absolutely MUST tell the world about it on a bronze plaque attached to a big boulder in our parking lot.

Reminds me a little of other famous people who visited Lowell, MA in very brief but highly touted visits. One such occurred in 1842 when the famous novelist, Charles Dickens, arrived in Lowell by train and toured the local mills (factories and insane asylums were mighty tourist attractions back then — seriously!) Dickens stayed in town only a few hours, but at least he actually came to Lowell to see it! Clinton came to, what…, grab some cash and fly away?

Dickens was kind to the city, too, in his travel book about his trip to America, devoting a whole chapter to the worker paradise he thought he saw in the mill city. His book is called American Notes and is an interesting read.

Meanwhile, our grand monument to Clinton’s historic touchdown, as it were, on the playing field of history…. Well, you can see this famous site next time you’re in the Northeast.