Category Archives: Norway

Reflections on My Trip

I’m still recovering from jet lag.

I’m also reliving many experiences from my trip to the Norwegian fjords and the city of Newcastle, England. Some thoughts:

  • Newcastle residents speak a dialect called Geordie, a reminder that travel in Britain used to be a formidable undertaking, and towns and cities were much more isolated than they are now. Result: Wide variations in how English was spoken.
    Nowadays travel in the British Isles is quick and easy – my sister’s train ride from Edinburgh to Newcastle took only 90 minutes.
  • To my ears, the way some Britons say fjords sounds a lot like fields, creating a lot of hilarity on this trip until I finally figured out what was going on. (Some of the conversations probably resembled Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”)
  • The Norwegian language is so similar to Danish and Swedish that speakers can understand one another much of the time. That family of languages is the father of English, and I spotted similarities every time I looked at a sign.
  • Norwegians’ fluency with English is astounding (and embarrassing to American monoglots like me).
  • My sister and I were the only Americans on our cruise. I tried hard to be a good ambassador for the US (not easy for a transplanted New Yorker like me who never quite mastered the art of slowing down).
  • Passengers who saw me on the dance floor asked me where I did my training. (Answer: Florida.) Ballroom dancing developed into an art form in England, which still hosts the world’s most prestigious competition every year in Blackpool. I was proud to say that we American dancers can cut a rug too.
  • My sister and I hiked up a mountain to view the Briksdal glacier in Norway. Signs on the path showed the outer boundaries of the glacier in the 1800s, in 1920, and in 1940. The glacier has receded so much that hikers no longer get close to it. Europeans don’t quibble about climate change: They see the effects all around them.
  • We visited Edvard Grieg’s home near Bergen and – as part of our visit – were treated to a 30-minute live concert by the resident concert pianist. Could other museums and historical sites follow their example?

Norwegian Flag


Fantoft Stave Church

My sister and I set out this morning for a stave church in Bergen – and it was a thrill to see it at last.

And exhausting and nerve-wracking. We followed some bad advice and ended up walking (mostly uphill) for half an hour – it was supposed to take 10 minutes – and no stave church in sight. We flagged a woman driving slowly down a side street and asked if she knew where it was. “It’s too far for you to walk,” she said. “I’ll take you there.” 

And she did!

My thanks to everyone who sent positive energy our way. Bergen gets rain 300 days of the year, and it poured twice today – both times while my sister and I were indoors.



Kristin Lavransdatter

My sister and I are on a ship somewhere off the west coast of Norway. Tomorrow we will dock at a pier in the Norwegian city of Bergen and take a tram outside the city limits to visit a uniquely Norwegian building called a stave church.

I have been thinking about this trip for more than fifty years.

In high school I read – and reread – a novel called Kristin Lavransdatter, written by Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset. It’s the story of a woman who lived and loved in 14th century Norway.

Undset, the daughter of an anthropologist, researched the historical period so thoroughly that there are endnotes at the end of each of the three volumes. (It’s a long book!) One of those notes describes a stave church that figures in the novel, and that’s where the determination to make this trip was born.

What I can’t explain – not even to my sister, who probably knows me better than anyone else – is why we’re making this pilgrimage.

It’s not that I think I’ll find Kristin and her family sitting inside the church when I open the door. I don’t need to. I already know them on a far more intimate level than I know many of my relatives and friends. No one will ever convince me that the people in the novel – Kristin, Erlend, her parents, and her children – are just fictional people.

Somehow – and I know how crazy this is – I feel an obligation to honor them by spending at least a few minutes in their world – for example, by opening the door to a stave church. 

And I’m far from the only person who feels such a strong connection to this novel. Kristin Lavransdatter won a Nobel Prize in 1928, and Sigrid Undset is such an important writer that she’s pictured on Norway’s currency.

So I’m not going to do a literary critique today. Instead I’m going to make an impassioned plea for all of us to have an encounter with a story, book, poem, or play that we can’t shake off afterwards. It doesn’t even have to be something brilliant or profound. I saw Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers on Broadway, and for a month I was lost in the New York of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

I want everyone to have an experience like that, and there’s something else. I want all of you, the writers who read this blog regularly, to commit yourself to making that happen for someone else.

When I taught literature, I used to ask my students to do a presentation about a literary work that moved them. “Literary” could (and did) mean works as diverse as the Star-Spangled Banner, a rap song, a children’s book, or a Hollywood thriller. Some of those presentations were amazing, and I still think about them.

My own contribution was to read aloud (with my New York accent – sigh) Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill.” We never analyzed it. I just wanted students to hear the words. And for days aftewards I would hear inside my head, again and again, “And I sang in my chains like the sea.” (Some of my students told me that similar things used to happen to them after a class meeting.)

If you can hold tightly onto a line of poetry, or a snatch of a song or a story, you can start to find ways to use words to connect deeply with others. Please think about that – and don’t worry if it seems strange and difficult. On some level the doors will begin to open, and you’ll embark on an extraordinary journey – similar, in its own way, to what I’m experiencing as I wait for tomorrow to arrive.

Stave Church