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Working it out in the world, and sometimes writing about it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I am in the Louvre, in Napoleon’s apartment quarters. I am taking photos of his royal-blue chair, an “N” emblazoned in gold thread on the seat back. The light is low, and it’s hard to get a good photo. A stern-looking guard approaches me. Uh oh, I think. Am I not supposed to be taking pictures in here? He says to me in French, “How’d it turn out?” and motions to my camera. I show him the picture on the LCD screen and he frowns. “No, that won’t do.” He leads me much closer to the chair, to a break in the stanchions and anti-tourist rolled rope strung between them. He pushes me gently into the tiny spot where my foot can fit so I can get as close as possible to the chair. Click click click. My shutter is the only sound in the room. I look at my LCD screen, and the result is much better. “Let’s see,” the guard says. “Ah—yes. There, you can actually see the blue the way it should be seen.” He smiles, and walks back to his post.

I am in Oslo, a city I have come to dislike, and I am crying at the reception counter of my hostel. They have no beds tonight. Viklieg, the older gentleman behind the counter, sees and says, “Let me get you a paper.” He walks quickly as if I’m bleeding, and grabs me a napkin. “Don’t cry. You’ll have a place to sleep tonight. At the very least, you can sleep on the couch in the common room. We won’t turn you out on the street. We understand how it is in Oslo.” He smiles at me. I sleep on the couch.

I am in Bergen, checking my email as I sit on my host’s couch. I click on one from Laila, the woman I met at the tourist office a few days before when I first arrived in Oslo. I had asked her general question about Oslo, and then asked her what she knew about getting to the fjords. She claimed that she knew little, but asked for my email in case she heard anything that would be of help to me. I opened the email, and Laila wrote that she had spoken with her parents who live in a town near the fjords, and they would be happy to have me for a few days if I liked. She included her parents’ contact information for me, and left it up to me. “Have fun! –Laila.”

I am in line for the women’s bathroom at the Dublin Pub in Oslo on St. Patrick’s Day; also, Italian Unification Day. I am with a group of Italians on vacation in Oslo, and they are waiting for me back at the table. The bathroom is a typical pub bathroom—messy, and out of toilet paper. A woman emerges from a stall with a stack of unused paper towels. She thrusts them in my hands and says what I can only assume is “That one’s out of toilet paper” in Norwegian, and leaves. Right then, another woman emerges from a stall. She says to me in English, “Jesus, woman. Do you really need all that paper? Think of the environment. Jesus Christ. Goddamn!” and walks out. I don’t have the slightest clue as how to respond to the woman who has already disappeared and left me surprisingly ashamed for something I didn’t do. The woman standing next to me says, “It’s all your fault, isn’t it?” and smiles.

My Italians in Oslo, at our lovely hostel.

There is a steady flow of people scanning their tickets to the entrance of the metro at the Paris Nord station. The woman in front of me scans her tickets and begins to walk through. I pass mine through, too, but her ticket gets rejected. However, she is admitted through because of my ticket. She turns around and tosses a “Merci! Pardon!” over her shoulder and is on her way. I try my ticket again, and it won’t work because it’s already been validated. I have no Euro on me to buy another ticket. I have to get through to catch my train. Dammit. I start to climb over the partition. A man behind me that I had passed hurriedly earlier says, “No, no, no.” He motions for me to let him pass, and I do. Then he grabs my wrist and pulls me close to him and he scans his ticket. He pulls me along with him, and we both pass through the partition. “Merci beau coup,” I say and smile. He smiles back and puts his headphones back in and walks to his train.

I am in Paris and I can’t find a phone that will work so I can call my host. All the pay-phones in Paris have been upgraded to smart-credit card read only. No coins. I am trying to call my host to tell her to meet me later so I can hear Peter Carey, famed Australian novelist, read at famed bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. I try a few hotels, and none of them have lines that go out. I head to the bookstore to see if they know of an internet café and I explain why I’m trying to call. Instead, Marie takes me inside and says, “Read me the number.” I get a hold of my host, and everything is taken care of. I tell Marie thanks, and she hands me a bookmark with her number on the back and says, “Call me in case it doesn’t work out.” I stay for the reading, my host comes, and I wave goodbye to Marie.

Peter Carey at Shakespeare & Co.

I am in the corner of Filo’s kitchen and we are arguing. He is telling me that I am stupid to ask that question—does he swear that nothing will happen if I sleep in his bed tonight? He says, “Do you think that you’ll be safe if you ask that question? If someone wants to take advantage of you, he’ll say anything. ‘Yeah, sure, I swear.’ He’ll say anything and then do what he wants. You’re silly to ask that.” He grabs his beer off the table and takes a drink. “If you need to feel safe tonight, I suggest you take a knife to bed with you.” He tries to hand me a knife. A few hours later, as we’re all getting ready for bed, he comes out of the bathroom. He’s in his tiny Italian boxers. I am not happy. In the morning, I wake early and think about how to get out of there. He turns over next to me, and, thinking I’m still asleep, pulls the cover over my shoulders. He does this twice. He goes back to sleep.

We are in 7-11 in Bergen, on one of the main streets. I am waiting behind my host, Julia, to pay for coffee, which is going to set me back an unbelievable $7. I stop paying attention to what’s in front of me and start thinking about the evening ahead of us. Soon, Julia steps away from the cashier and I step forward, change in my hand. The cashier looks confused. I ask, “How much is it?” She opens her mouth to reply, and Julia grabs my arm and pulls me towards the door. “I already paid for it. Come on.” We walk back over the windy bridge and to her apartment.

I am scanning the reader board every minute for news to see if the train is going to be even later than expected. I am trying to get to the airport in Oslo, and both of my trains of the day have been late, causing a significant problem for me. I’m worried that I won’t be able to get to Edinburgh tonight. It is a terrible feeling, and there’s nothing I can do. I already asked the Norwegian Rail ticket vendor if there was a bus or any other train leaving sooner. He told me there wasn’t, wished me luck, and I wiped away a tear. All of a sudden, I see the vendor walking towards me. He says to me, “Are you the woman who came from Bergen today and is trying to get to the airport?” I say yes. “Come with me, and take your luggage, please.” We are walking underneath the railway and out to the pick-up/drop-off area, by all the taxis. “Is there a problem, sir?” I ask. “Yes, and I am going to fix it, at least, part of it.” He hands me a stamped taxi voucher and tells me to take a cab. I can almost say nothing to this man, except ask him his name. “Paul,” he says and smiles. I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Thank you, Paul, my name is Amanda.” And then I run to the taxi, and we take off for the airport. $400-plus later, I am at the airport, and I catch my flight to Edinburgh.


Filipe Teixeira said...

Again I'm totally speechless. You're a brilliant writer, and this posts always make me smile. It's kind of strange to read your blog, because I always feel that I'm reading an amazing book I can't continue reading whenever I want to. In the end, it's always nice for me to wait for your next story :).

Cody said...

Perfect way to describe traveling. Encounter upon encounter of selflessness and selfishness. I think it happens when not traveling too, but when we're fully dependent on the people around us, it comes into clear focus. Thanks for sharing.