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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Across the narrow sea

This may be my favourite part of the town, the pier. Kristiansand is a beach town making it warmer than Oslo also meaning that the people have boats and places from which the boats take off. The wind here is fierce, it whips the snow into a frenzy, tiny bullets flying all over the place like an annoying corporate memo. The water that you look into is called the Skagerrak, its cold out there. Wind is cold, its annoying, its irritating and its oh so strong. When you walk along this pier you're usually wearing these heavy jackets that the wind pushes back. Walking slow motion has never been so easy. And it howls, making a mournful, soulful sound as it hurls snows at you. Maybe this is why the water looks like it has no soul, a sound that strong cannot be just elemental, it has to be spiritual too, a sound that mournful has to be meaningful.

And across this narrow sea is Denmark.

There’s a hierarchy in European countries I was told on my first week here, a hierarchy that is not disputed and has nothing to do with power, politics or economy. Depending instead on borderless travel, cost of living and absurdity. When people in Norway want to buy cheap they go to Denmark, people in Denmark go to Germany, people in Germany to Poland and it goes on each country passing the ball to another until there is nowhere to go but up.

The cost of living in Norway is huge. The formalities of going anywhere else within the Schengen bloc of countries is nil, the absurdity I will explain henceforth. Let me take the example of a bottle of liquor, a full blooded bottle; those that run to 1 litre or at least 750 ml. fondly referred to as mzinga back home. This in Norway costs 350 nok. One euro makes 7.5 nok. In Denmark it costs about 150 nok. And here lies the absurdity. The ship ticket to Denmark, the round trip-6-hour-in-total-ticket costs 50 nok. Let that sink in as I tell you that a pack of cigarettes costs 90 nok here and 30 nok in Denmark. Let it begin to be clear to you that you save money if you go to Denmark buy one pack of cigarettes let alone a bottle of liquor and come back. One pack of cigarettes.

So bright and early on Saturday morning we went on the boat. A service provided by colorline running between my town of Kristiansand and the Danish town of Hirtshals. It was the biggest boat I have ever been on. I can now without having to qualify this statement with a quick no homo confirm that it is not the motion of the ocean that matters but the size of the boat. 7 stories tall, a business class and an even more prestigious voyager class, a hold in which buses, yes buses were parked.
that's the ship.

I wasn’t there to see the boat pull up anchor but I went on the deck soon afterward. The ship moves fast and I am knot kidding. It cuts through the sea like a ship through a sea; I have no idea of any other simile that better captures this. Behind the ship in the wake of its motors is a churning of the sea water it looks like someone took detergent in their hands and mixed it in with the sea, the water looks solid but not in any complete way, a broken glass, or a mirror with a huge, huge gash. A gash so huge in a mirror so big that you can convince yourself what you are looking into is not a fault of this world but a window into another. Added to this is the feeling of seeing an actual horizon. Not that thing we have in cities and on lands which is broken every step of the way by the shadow of a tree or the barging in of a building but actual horizon. Clear and endless, disappearing into mist and mystery in the palace where the last clouds meet the end of the world. A world that at that moment looks flat as a plate, a world where you are careful as you rush because if you go to fast you could fall off.

like di caprio am on a boat!
It was a gentle passage, so slow you could almost forget you were on a ship and as the size of the ship overwhelms you don’t think you are anymore, my friend took a nap woke up and came to me,
“I think something is wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t walk straight I feel so dizzy like am drunk”

“You think that could be because of the rocking of the ship?”

Those three hours flew by pretty fast and soon we were in the Danish town of Hirtshals.
Denmark looks different from Norway, for one thing they have this wheat grass is I guess what you would call it. Grass that looks blow dried, sun bleached hair hanging out in the sun, lounging back in the breeze of the wind. There was no snow on that day and the sun was shining which is a very important plot point come later. Another difference is the attitude towards alcohol. Norway is scared of alcohol, it is traumatised deeply by some past experience and it has this deep, deep need to keep the devils liquid out of its resident’s lips. You can only find any alcohol stronger than 6% beer in a government controlled shop called vinmonopulet which translates directly to wine monopoly. In Denmark you walk into the convenience store and the first thing you see is the liquors for sale. Granted this may only be in this Norwegian supermarket of a town, which needs some explaining…

…I don’t want to throw dirt on this town, I may miss. It’s that small. No one lives here, nobody. I got the impression that it exists as some kind of supermarket for Norwegians. Wikipedia informs me now that “The shops in Hirtshals thrive on the excessive number of especially its Norwegian visitors, who shop regularly in the small town all year long.” The reasons for this are as I have stated earlier. so they immediately display what the Norse peeps want.

We walked down the streets and we were alone. It was a pervasive aloneness a silence that wasn’t bothered by our intrusion.It wasn’t the tense silence of the library where you can just tell that people are ready to break out in song and dance and that only their willpower is holding them in check or more accurately their disapproval is holding in check those who would make noise. Here you are invited to make noise and it’s not the solemn quiet of nature, the kind of places where you speak just so that your echo is let loose but different. Speak as loud as you can, there is no one around, shout as loud as you can, no echo will return. It feels empty, the streets are, the stores are and there is almost nothing to do except…


actual pictures

My friends stopped for lunch I did not want to be financially irresponsible, so instead of lunch I bought beers with the same amount of money they used. And these were not 4.5% norge beers these were 9% Danish beers. Packing a punch in a small bottle asking to be throttled and swallowed and this I did. In the afternoon we walked toward s the pier just to sit by the sea.

A boat was playing some music and the sun was shining down on us.it was warm somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees and as I sat there I understood why people sun bask. The light caress of the rays on my face was something. theres a sight i had missed seeing more than i knew. Its that thing that comes when you close your eyes to the sun and the light peeks through your lids leaving a red stain. Its a sight as much as a feeling, its something that stretches back before humans, this warmth of the sun that yawns back to the beginning and you can't shut your eyes to such history otherwise all you'll have is a red stai...and then I just fell asleep in my winter clothes, with my Danish beer and all my cares left behind.

We woke up with hours and hours to kill, I eventually bought some liquor, something I have sorely missed. Stashed it in my bag and bought a few more beers to make the ride back by ship that much better.

We drank on the way to the ship, we drank as we waited in line variously getting into conversations about the problems that will arise when your family gets used to life in Europe and you want to return home (with a Jamaican who had the one of the closest parental relationships i have seen in a while.) talks about native American art and the reasons Americans don’t travel as much (cost is as important to this as ego.) and of course punctuated every conversation with sips of beer.

They don’t allow you to get on the boat with your beer. The reason it’s so cheap to go is that they can sell you alcohol, both at their bar and at the tax-free. So a ship captain confiscated my beer. He took it away when I had just opened it. No time to swallow, or protest, no open opportunity to chug it away and hide it in my gut, just summary execution.

So for the last Danish beer a friend and I went outside and stood in the cold. Stealing sips like schoolboys. Security came and my friend quickly said, 

“Yer we were drinking a beer but we finished it.”

They believed, they left, we drank, and got careless got caught again.

“You know you can’t drink beer here right?”
“Where’s the dustbin then?” I said chugging it all away as I took the can to the bin.

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