Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part II)

This is part 2 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part I 

It’s about 11 am, nearing lunchtime, when Dam stumbles out of his room with mophead hair; his eyes are dried out, depthless coals in his sockets. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, reading through part of Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest and eating trail mix bought this morning from a convenience store down the street. Victor’s in the other room, reading his own French copy of The Cider House Rules.

Dam and I lock eyes (eyes and coals), and his expression answers all of my questions, so I don’t say anything. All he says is, “You might want to put some music on, ‘cause there’s going to be some loud noises,” then goes into the bathroom and closes the door.

Shortly after, I hear these violent sounds, these bottom-of-the-ocean explosions like depth charges going off, a whale in its death knell or some other nautical alarm-like blast.

To drown it out, I pull Wham!’s Everything She Wants up on my phone and play it on speaker. Now 1985’s hottest pop hit clashes with what essentially sounds like an animal dying; the bathroom walls give the noises sufficient bass to echo throughout the entire apartment.

Victor pokes his head out of our room. “He is dying, no?” he asks me.

I shrug. “He’s evacuating the poison from his body.”

An hour later, we’re crossing over the bridge back toward the girls’ apartment. Dam lags behind a bit, hardly looking straight ahead at all, sucking down water from the bottle I’ve lent him. I feel an even tempo of things around me: steady traffic, light breeze and dry air. I’m feeling fine on a fine morning. Dam, however, is still reeling from the eventful night before. He mutters French into Victor’s ear like he’s suspicious of someone trailing behind him. I look back whenever a truck passes and see Dam scrunching his eyes shut, wishing the noise away.

We arrive at the girls’ place and Nina answers the door, rubbing her eye. She explains she and Petra are the only ones up, and that she still needs to “clear the fog away.” We all go to the main area, Dam immediately falling backward onto the couch, sprawling out just like he did the day before. Petra emerges from the basement, all dressed and ready to go, a vitalizing glow coming off her skin.

“Well, hey!” she says, then sees how Dam is looking at her blankly and asks me and Victor, “Big night, then?”

“You already know,” I say.

Dam starts crying out that he’s dying or something while Nina makes coffee in the kitchen and the three of us good-feeling foreigners talk about last night, Petra’s flight in, and what the plan is for today, the last of which remains completely up in the air. Petra hints at a hike but doesn’t know the details of such. Nina walks in holding two cups of black coffee, one for herself and one for Petra, putting hers on the kitchen table in front of where she sits.

Nina looks at Dam, and Dam says, “Death, this is death, dying, dead, deaded, dying, deceased.”

“We’re leaving at one,” Nina says, already walking out.

Dam, holding his stomach, wailing like an infant: “You betray me, Nina.”

Nina, from the kitchen, dryly retorts: “I betray everyone. It is my nature.”

Anders then appears at the head of the basement staircase, puckering his lips and scratching one of his butt cheeks. He calls out to Nina in Norwegian, exchanging prolonged words with her, then says, “Your man is dying.”

“Well, what of it?” she calls back.

“Well, what of it yourself,” he responds, then takes a seat at the table and joins in our light conversation as a calming steam unfurls out of Petra’s mug. He explains that Eva’s getting ready, that, yes, we’re heading out at one, and Hanne will be meeting us “there.” Fine with us, we say. If it’s a hike we’re doing, it’ll be a good hike done.

Fast forward an hour and a half later (not at all one pm) as we walk through the park near their place. Two babies inspect rocks while clinging to an iron fence, and nearby, one of the fathers there salutes Anders and says, “May the force be with you.” The park is full of happy faces and tinted sunglasses. There’s a large fountain near the center with young grass-sitters orbiting it, facing inward. Black labs prance around every which way. Some guys stand on a staircase leading up to a tall vine-covered wall, thumping their feet to a song on a radio.

Some people raise their hands and say, “Hey” or “God dag” while passing us, most likely to Anders, still. From all the attention he’s given, Anders seems to be the unofficial torchbearer of the neighborhood, everyone else his obedient yet respecting subjects and followers. Anders: the young, handsome statue man, piloting the icebreaker, always working to forge connections and batter away incessantly at tedium and pettiness that might plague his immediate domain.

Dam is feeling a little bit better. He’s walking with his head held higher than before and he’s able to talk at a confident volume. Still, he seems to cringe when one of the black dogs runs by, barking.

We continue through to the city center. In this natural light, it feels like an entirely different world than the dark reversed-matter realm of the prior night. The Hanseatic architecture is perfectly bayside, the birth from the Victorian Era and Portland, Maine. There are marching drumbeats echoing through the corridors of the streets. Cruise ships hang suspended on cranes above the water, cut in half and being fitted for newer parts. Everyone is tall, happy and alive—it feels right, and the air is still dry, which is a hard difference from the moist air of Ireland.

Dam begins sucking on his index-knuckle. When I look over, it appears that blood is dripping from his mouth, but when he takes his hand away, a large gash oozes a thickish red mucus—blood and something else—which Dam tries to wrap up some spare tissues he has in his pocket. My lips feel cragged and parched, and I’m afraid the dryness will do the same thing to me as it has done to Dam.

We’re somewhere near the fish market when we find Hanne sitting on a bench, her sunglasses on as she watches the ships go out. Eva, Nina and Anders step in front of her while us foreigners stand aside waiting. Hanne turns to us and lets out a little gasp, jumps to her feet and hugs us all long and hard. There’s a warmth in her body that is rare in this world, a kind of perfect assurance in her embrace that settles any waves that might be crashing inside me.

We continue on toward the mountain, talking about the usual things: airports and boredom and work. All the while, I’m still rolling in Hanne’s hug, the benevolence of it failing to dissipate until we reach the base of what Nina has told us is Fløyen mountain.

There’s a tram that we take up the mountain for ten kroners each, going up 70 degrees, as kids watch us from bridges and the grass. It feels strange going up this way, being dragged up the mountain so smoothly, so effortlessly. Similar to the train ride before, it feels like the journey along defies convention, the Earth adjusting its orbit to accommodate our ascent. As we climb, Bergen stretches out into its natural U-shape that fronts the spread of the Bay, where the cream-colored wake trails of boats curl and cross to create a work of long-stroke art. The water acts as the canvas, and the mountains on all sides frame it in natural ruggedness.

From atop the mountain, the city appears to possess a kind of singularity that is focused at Nordnes Park, where the two rivers U-curve at the point of the peninsula into more open waters. The ships all pull in magnetic directions like their trajectories are already ordained. You don’t realize how deeply mechanical and designed everything is until you see it from above.

Nina leads us in the direction of the pathway down. Shortly after our start, we break where a pack of goats dig their noses in piles of branches for food. All of the goats are white except for one: a pitch black one that traces my footpath with its front legs slightly spread in a defensive pose. However, it stands there, completely unphased, as I walk up and rub it on the back of its neck. Nearby, there is an outhouse with pictures of each goat and their respective names.

I get a good laugh out of the black goat’s name: “Obama.” Of course that’s what it is. There’s something kind of innocent about it.

We continue down the path as it winds up and down and all around the mountain face, leading away from the tram line and going into desolate territory. The trees grow tall and sturdy, perfectly straight like redwoods or some other rare yet elegant coniferous tree. Some of these trees are cleanly chopped, with chairs carved from the wood, still attached at the flat bases of the stumps.

A belly horn from a cruise ship holds the air for a moment as it sets course. Nina says, “Watch out for the invisible witch.” Rocks are stacked five feet high all over like petrified watchmen looking over the trail, which switch-backs and hair-pins all the way down. All these sensory details are presented without explanation, nor do I necessarily believe any explanation is called for. The sun sets all the same and these little things conform a comfortable indifference around me as we wind our way back down toward the city. There’s an economy of movement required to traverse this path. Everything is so simple within these trees.

We stop again at a statue of a girl on a rock, crouched and leaning way forward, looking out through a break in the trees, with the caduceus ingrained into her right shoulder. This bronze child turns black as the sun continues falling and the color is gradually depleted. Why the caduceus? What is she looking out to? Why is she hiding up in the mountains? Like everything else, there is no explaining it, though I feel like the philosophically stoic way of taking it all on—everything, all the time—is to recognize that some things are just the way they are and be done with it; to find the harmony in the thing itself and keep it close to your chest. Such thinking has worked pretty well for me thus far, so I don’t ask anyone any questions about the statue as we move on.

The first paved streets we reach near the bottom still occupy the same winding pattern as the hiking trail. Three skateboarders come racing past us, bombing the hill, powersliding all the time to control their speed and effortlessly winding around the tight bend and out of sight. There’s talk of food, rumors of stomach growls and hunger pains, so we decide to head toward the park near the girls’ house, buy some patties and a disposable grill (they don’t have that in America!) and serve up some burgers in the park, sitting on those steps leading up to the vine-covered wall.

Sitting there and scarfing down the much-needed meat, I see a couple holding hands, each in their own red suit, like that kid on the train: the guy with “Hey!” stitched into the back and the girl with two fingers pointing to her backside. I watch them walk off, still not understanding it, but also opting to maintain my Socratic thinking and simply bask in the ardor of the details around me. I’m successful with this for a stretch of time until I have a fully focused déjà vu moment as I try explaining to Victor what the game of charades is. As I’m explaining the rules, I think, “I’ve said these words before, I’ve sat on these steps in this park in my dreams.”

I watch myself watch myself, see the words written in the air in front of me before I say them.

A wild “Look out!” cries out as a soccer ball almost smashes one of the girls in the head. We look up at the top of the wall behind us and see two men leaning over the railing, with cringed looks on their faces, as they watch their ball go bouncing toward the fountain. A group of half a dozen older folk, well into their fifties, comes walking by. One of the men from the group, a gangly looking fellow without much apparent ability, breaks off to grab the ball. He looks up at the two men with his arms spread out in a “You serious?” pose, then straight drills the ball back up to them, thirty meters up, at least a 100-meter polar distance from where that man stands, with one swift punt. Everybody freezes and watches the ball soar back into the hands of one of the men. That man can’t even believe he catches it. The people around the pond, including us, break into applause for this wonderful man. But he just smiles, almost embarrassed with himself, and quickly rejoins his group.

After the burgers, we toss the grill into a nearby trash can and head back toward the downtown area. There’s a prevalent car culture apparent in late evening Bergen, where all sorts of cars roam the streets: Aston Martins, Corvettes with their hoods down, and retrofuturist sedans, suggestive of a tomorrow that never was. The biker gangs (of which there are many) are out and about at this time as well. They’re all clad in similarly battle-armor attire, as if every gang joined together for weekly viewings of The Road Warrior.

And everywhere now, there are young people—tall, beautiful and possessing a bottomless well of youth. Shit, even here, the twenty-something-year-old males are able to pull off that lumberjack beard look, and I can’t say that for anyplace else. So many of them are in those red suits—and hey! there’s that same couple from the park!—mingling along the dock areas.

Many of the suits are emblazoned with patches and uniform symbols, and Hanne explains to me as we wander around that these red suits are worn by graduating high schoolers as a form of celebration. The patches are evidence of the successful completion of certain graduation rituals, like tripping on acid, stealing a car radio or having sex in the woods. Some of these kids, she tells me, spend thousands of dollars to rent a bus for 24 hours and ride around the city with their friends, throwing fruit at civilians from the windows. She admits that she and the other girls wore these suits too, but didn’t take part in any of those wild or macabre rituals that would earn them patches. “But, just like America and your Homecoming,” she says, “we all have our own school traditions.”

They show us around the fish market and Bryggen area, which is comprised of old merchant buildings that I imagine are popularly used for postcards. Then, we go deeper into the alleyways in between, where everything is cramped, made of wood and virtually two-thirds their proper size. Boardwalks crisscross above our heads, connecting each building to the next in slanted, Dr. Suess fashion. The number of times this area has burned down, the girls explain, is astronomical.

After this, Anders and the girls have to leave to put the finishing touches on their theses, which are due within the week, so now it’s just us foreigners in the city. Oddly, we’re all still hungry for a proper dinner as those burgers in the park failed to put a dent in any of our appetites. So, we scope the area out with our noses held high and find ourselves in an Italian restaurant, sitting at a table in the back corner.

We talk about our finals, our final dinner with the Norwegians that’s fast approaching and the feeling of going back to our own schools, but the restaurant—and life itself—is filled with strangers and it feels empty all the same.

We talk about keeping in touch over the internet and Petra maybe driving from Ohio to Montreal when Yaro and I go visit Dam at McGill in the Fall, but there’s this feeling that has come over me ever since we entered the restaurant that makes me think it’s all a charade. It’s pointless, all for naught. I don’t know what it is.

A fat bald man sings “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” a couple tables away, popping his shoulders with each syllable. The singing drags me further down into the pit of “The End,” that hellish part of my mind where the nucleus of all my thoughts is the inevitable, unavoidable death of myself and those around me. Jesus, what a funk I sometimes find myself in. And look at me moping about turning to dust and the worms eating our eyes when I am six time zones away from my childhood bed, eating and drinking and getting into all sorts of intemperance and what do I do?—I go and whine about it. Who wouldn’t want to be 20 and do what I’m doing? I try to climb out of my hole, silently in my little pocket of the table, for the rest of dinner.

We finish eating and leave the restaurant around 9:00 pm. The sun still hasn’t fully set yet, and the mountains, once again, have that toasted look to them. The opulent buildings, as well as the Edwardians and Painted Ladies, adopt an extra-dimensional texture to their outer walls in this late evening, like second shadows cast across their windows. Dam starts speaking, not to anyone in particular but to whoever’s listening, about how the Norwegians were once strangers, how our meeting them could have been a one-time occurrence, and yet now we’re in Norway, just like that.

But, that feeling from the restaurant is still there, or at least the rough shape of that feeling. As Petra splits off for the girls’ place and us guys walk across the bridge, looking at the huge white disk hovering over the mountains in that purple-tinted sky, I think how the Norwegians might, in fact, become strangers once more in the inevitable passing of time. How I would want to see time plainly in one frame, the past and future all at once, like the boats in the Bay making art with their paths.

To just see it all laid bare, so that people once known are always known, never gone, always there, but that isn’t how the governor of time designed it.

The character of time is that it’s fleeting, always marching, always forgetting, for its purpose is not to carry past things into the present, but to leave them behind. Such is the nature of things. Such is the nature of this trip, I guess. But, it’s not over yet. No leaving things behind right now. There is still more to come. There is still more being held for me here when the sun rises again.


This is part 2 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part III

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I'm an accounting major, as well as Head Editor of the Ellipsis Literary Magazine, at Binghamton University. Telling captivating stories has always been my passion, and I'm always searching for ways to grow as a writer. I still don't know too much about this thing called "Life," but I have come to find that it is short, yet sweet, and while life may seem like a bitch sometimes, you should kiss her anyway.

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ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part II)

This is part 2 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part I 

It’s about 11 am, nearing lunchtime, when Dam stumbles out of his room with mophead hair; his eyes are dried out, depthless coals in his sockets. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, reading through part of Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest and eating trail mix bought this morning from a convenience store down the street. Victor’s in the other room, reading his own French copy of The Cider House Rules.

Dam and I lock eyes (eyes and coals), and his expression answers all of my questions, so I don’t say anything. All he says is, “You might want to put some music on, ‘cause there’s going to be some loud noises,” then goes into the bathroom and closes the door.

Shortly after, I hear these violent sounds, these bottom-of-the-ocean explosions like depth charges going off, a whale in its death knell or some other nautical alarm-like blast.

To drown it out, I pull Wham!’s Everything She Wants up on my phone and play it on speaker. Now 1985’s hottest pop hit clashes with what essentially sounds like an animal dying; the bathroom walls give the noises sufficient bass to echo throughout the entire apartment.

Victor pokes his head out of our room. “He is dying, no?” he asks me.

I shrug. “He’s evacuating the poison from his body.”

An hour later, we’re crossing over the bridge back toward the girls’ apartment. Dam lags behind a bit, hardly looking straight ahead at all, sucking down water from the bottle I’ve lent him. I feel an even tempo of things around me: steady traffic, light breeze and dry air. I’m feeling fine on a fine morning. Dam, however, is still reeling from the eventful night before. He mutters French into Victor’s ear like he’s suspicious of someone trailing behind him. I look back whenever a truck passes and see Dam scrunching his eyes shut, wishing the noise away.

We arrive at the girls’ place and Nina answers the door, rubbing her eye. She explains she and Petra are the only ones up, and that she still needs to “clear the fog away.” We all go to the main area, Dam immediately falling backward onto the couch, sprawling out just like he did the day before. Petra emerges from the basement, all dressed and ready to go, a vitalizing glow coming off her skin.

“Well, hey!” she says, then sees how Dam is looking at her blankly and asks me and Victor, “Big night, then?”

“You already know,” I say.

Dam starts crying out that he’s dying or something while Nina makes coffee in the kitchen and the three of us good-feeling foreigners talk about last night, Petra’s flight in, and what the plan is for today, the last of which remains completely up in the air. Petra hints at a hike but doesn’t know the details of such. Nina walks in holding two cups of black coffee, one for herself and one for Petra, putting hers on the kitchen table in front of where she sits.

Nina looks at Dam, and Dam says, “Death, this is death, dying, dead, deaded, dying, deceased.”

“We’re leaving at one,” Nina says, already walking out.

Dam, holding his stomach, wailing like an infant: “You betray me, Nina.”

Nina, from the kitchen, dryly retorts: “I betray everyone. It is my nature.”

Anders then appears at the head of the basement staircase, puckering his lips and scratching one of his butt cheeks. He calls out to Nina in Norwegian, exchanging prolonged words with her, then says, “Your man is dying.”

“Well, what of it?” she calls back.

“Well, what of it yourself,” he responds, then takes a seat at the table and joins in our light conversation as a calming steam unfurls out of Petra’s mug. He explains that Eva’s getting ready, that, yes, we’re heading out at one, and Hanne will be meeting us “there.” Fine with us, we say. If it’s a hike we’re doing, it’ll be a good hike done.

Fast forward an hour and a half later (not at all one pm) as we walk through the park near their place. Two babies inspect rocks while clinging to an iron fence, and nearby, one of the fathers there salutes Anders and says, “May the force be with you.” The park is full of happy faces and tinted sunglasses. There’s a large fountain near the center with young grass-sitters orbiting it, facing inward. Black labs prance around every which way. Some guys stand on a staircase leading up to a tall vine-covered wall, thumping their feet to a song on a radio.

Some people raise their hands and say, “Hey” or “God dag” while passing us, most likely to Anders, still. From all the attention he’s given, Anders seems to be the unofficial torchbearer of the neighborhood, everyone else his obedient yet respecting subjects and followers. Anders: the young, handsome statue man, piloting the icebreaker, always working to forge connections and batter away incessantly at tedium and pettiness that might plague his immediate domain.

Dam is feeling a little bit better. He’s walking with his head held higher than before and he’s able to talk at a confident volume. Still, he seems to cringe when one of the black dogs runs by, barking.

We continue through to the city center. In this natural light, it feels like an entirely different world than the dark reversed-matter realm of the prior night. The Hanseatic architecture is perfectly bayside, the birth from the Victorian Era and Portland, Maine. There are marching drumbeats echoing through the corridors of the streets. Cruise ships hang suspended on cranes above the water, cut in half and being fitted for newer parts. Everyone is tall, happy and alive—it feels right, and the air is still dry, which is a hard difference from the moist air of Ireland.

Dam begins sucking on his index-knuckle. When I look over, it appears that blood is dripping from his mouth, but when he takes his hand away, a large gash oozes a thickish red mucus—blood and something else—which Dam tries to wrap up some spare tissues he has in his pocket. My lips feel cragged and parched, and I’m afraid the dryness will do the same thing to me as it has done to Dam.

We’re somewhere near the fish market when we find Hanne sitting on a bench, her sunglasses on as she watches the ships go out. Eva, Nina and Anders step in front of her while us foreigners stand aside waiting. Hanne turns to us and lets out a little gasp, jumps to her feet and hugs us all long and hard. There’s a warmth in her body that is rare in this world, a kind of perfect assurance in her embrace that settles any waves that might be crashing inside me.

We continue on toward the mountain, talking about the usual things: airports and boredom and work. All the while, I’m still rolling in Hanne’s hug, the benevolence of it failing to dissipate until we reach the base of what Nina has told us is Fløyen mountain.

There’s a tram that we take up the mountain for ten kroners each, going up 70 degrees, as kids watch us from bridges and the grass. It feels strange going up this way, being dragged up the mountain so smoothly, so effortlessly. Similar to the train ride before, it feels like the journey along defies convention, the Earth adjusting its orbit to accommodate our ascent. As we climb, Bergen stretches out into its natural U-shape that fronts the spread of the Bay, where the cream-colored wake trails of boats curl and cross to create a work of long-stroke art. The water acts as the canvas, and the mountains on all sides frame it in natural ruggedness.

From atop the mountain, the city appears to possess a kind of singularity that is focused at Nordnes Park, where the two rivers U-curve at the point of the peninsula into more open waters. The ships all pull in magnetic directions like their trajectories are already ordained. You don’t realize how deeply mechanical and designed everything is until you see it from above.

Nina leads us in the direction of the pathway down. Shortly after our start, we break where a pack of goats dig their noses in piles of branches for food. All of the goats are white except for one: a pitch black one that traces my footpath with its front legs slightly spread in a defensive pose. However, it stands there, completely unphased, as I walk up and rub it on the back of its neck. Nearby, there is an outhouse with pictures of each goat and their respective names.

I get a good laugh out of the black goat’s name: “Obama.” Of course that’s what it is. There’s something kind of innocent about it.

We continue down the path as it winds up and down and all around the mountain face, leading away from the tram line and going into desolate territory. The trees grow tall and sturdy, perfectly straight like redwoods or some other rare yet elegant coniferous tree. Some of these trees are cleanly chopped, with chairs carved from the wood, still attached at the flat bases of the stumps.

A belly horn from a cruise ship holds the air for a moment as it sets course. Nina says, “Watch out for the invisible witch.” Rocks are stacked five feet high all over like petrified watchmen looking over the trail, which switch-backs and hair-pins all the way down. All these sensory details are presented without explanation, nor do I necessarily believe any explanation is called for. The sun sets all the same and these little things conform a comfortable indifference around me as we wind our way back down toward the city. There’s an economy of movement required to traverse this path. Everything is so simple within these trees.

We stop again at a statue of a girl on a rock, crouched and leaning way forward, looking out through a break in the trees, with the caduceus ingrained into her right shoulder. This bronze child turns black as the sun continues falling and the color is gradually depleted. Why the caduceus? What is she looking out to? Why is she hiding up in the mountains? Like everything else, there is no explaining it, though I feel like the philosophically stoic way of taking it all on—everything, all the time—is to recognize that some things are just the way they are and be done with it; to find the harmony in the thing itself and keep it close to your chest. Such thinking has worked pretty well for me thus far, so I don’t ask anyone any questions about the statue as we move on.

The first paved streets we reach near the bottom still occupy the same winding pattern as the hiking trail. Three skateboarders come racing past us, bombing the hill, powersliding all the time to control their speed and effortlessly winding around the tight bend and out of sight. There’s talk of food, rumors of stomach growls and hunger pains, so we decide to head toward the park near the girls’ house, buy some patties and a disposable grill (they don’t have that in America!) and serve up some burgers in the park, sitting on those steps leading up to the vine-covered wall.

Sitting there and scarfing down the much-needed meat, I see a couple holding hands, each in their own red suit, like that kid on the train: the guy with “Hey!” stitched into the back and the girl with two fingers pointing to her backside. I watch them walk off, still not understanding it, but also opting to maintain my Socratic thinking and simply bask in the ardor of the details around me. I’m successful with this for a stretch of time until I have a fully focused déjà vu moment as I try explaining to Victor what the game of charades is. As I’m explaining the rules, I think, “I’ve said these words before, I’ve sat on these steps in this park in my dreams.”

I watch myself watch myself, see the words written in the air in front of me before I say them.

A wild “Look out!” cries out as a soccer ball almost smashes one of the girls in the head. We look up at the top of the wall behind us and see two men leaning over the railing, with cringed looks on their faces, as they watch their ball go bouncing toward the fountain. A group of half a dozen older folk, well into their fifties, comes walking by. One of the men from the group, a gangly looking fellow without much apparent ability, breaks off to grab the ball. He looks up at the two men with his arms spread out in a “You serious?” pose, then straight drills the ball back up to them, thirty meters up, at least a 100-meter polar distance from where that man stands, with one swift punt. Everybody freezes and watches the ball soar back into the hands of one of the men. That man can’t even believe he catches it. The people around the pond, including us, break into applause for this wonderful man. But he just smiles, almost embarrassed with himself, and quickly rejoins his group.

After the burgers, we toss the grill into a nearby trash can and head back toward the downtown area. There’s a prevalent car culture apparent in late evening Bergen, where all sorts of cars roam the streets: Aston Martins, Corvettes with their hoods down, and retrofuturist sedans, suggestive of a tomorrow that never was. The biker gangs (of which there are many) are out and about at this time as well. They’re all clad in similarly battle-armor attire, as if every gang joined together for weekly viewings of The Road Warrior.

And everywhere now, there are young people—tall, beautiful and possessing a bottomless well of youth. Shit, even here, the twenty-something-year-old males are able to pull off that lumberjack beard look, and I can’t say that for anyplace else. So many of them are in those red suits—and hey! there’s that same couple from the park!—mingling along the dock areas.

Many of the suits are emblazoned with patches and uniform symbols, and Hanne explains to me as we wander around that these red suits are worn by graduating high schoolers as a form of celebration. The patches are evidence of the successful completion of certain graduation rituals, like tripping on acid, stealing a car radio or having sex in the woods. Some of these kids, she tells me, spend thousands of dollars to rent a bus for 24 hours and ride around the city with their friends, throwing fruit at civilians from the windows. She admits that she and the other girls wore these suits too, but didn’t take part in any of those wild or macabre rituals that would earn them patches. “But, just like America and your Homecoming,” she says, “we all have our own school traditions.”

They show us around the fish market and Bryggen area, which is comprised of old merchant buildings that I imagine are popularly used for postcards. Then, we go deeper into the alleyways in between, where everything is cramped, made of wood and virtually two-thirds their proper size. Boardwalks crisscross above our heads, connecting each building to the next in slanted, Dr. Suess fashion. The number of times this area has burned down, the girls explain, is astronomical.

After this, Anders and the girls have to leave to put the finishing touches on their theses, which are due within the week, so now it’s just us foreigners in the city. Oddly, we’re all still hungry for a proper dinner as those burgers in the park failed to put a dent in any of our appetites. So, we scope the area out with our noses held high and find ourselves in an Italian restaurant, sitting at a table in the back corner.

We talk about our finals, our final dinner with the Norwegians that’s fast approaching and the feeling of going back to our own schools, but the restaurant—and life itself—is filled with strangers and it feels empty all the same.

We talk about keeping in touch over the internet and Petra maybe driving from Ohio to Montreal when Yaro and I go visit Dam at McGill in the Fall, but there’s this feeling that has come over me ever since we entered the restaurant that makes me think it’s all a charade. It’s pointless, all for naught. I don’t know what it is.

A fat bald man sings “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” a couple tables away, popping his shoulders with each syllable. The singing drags me further down into the pit of “The End,” that hellish part of my mind where the nucleus of all my thoughts is the inevitable, unavoidable death of myself and those around me. Jesus, what a funk I sometimes find myself in. And look at me moping about turning to dust and the worms eating our eyes when I am six time zones away from my childhood bed, eating and drinking and getting into all sorts of intemperance and what do I do?—I go and whine about it. Who wouldn’t want to be 20 and do what I’m doing? I try to climb out of my hole, silently in my little pocket of the table, for the rest of dinner.

We finish eating and leave the restaurant around 9:00 pm. The sun still hasn’t fully set yet, and the mountains, once again, have that toasted look to them. The opulent buildings, as well as the Edwardians and Painted Ladies, adopt an extra-dimensional texture to their outer walls in this late evening, like second shadows cast across their windows. Dam starts speaking, not to anyone in particular but to whoever’s listening, about how the Norwegians were once strangers, how our meeting them could have been a one-time occurrence, and yet now we’re in Norway, just like that.

But, that feeling from the restaurant is still there, or at least the rough shape of that feeling. As Petra splits off for the girls’ place and us guys walk across the bridge, looking at the huge white disk hovering over the mountains in that purple-tinted sky, I think how the Norwegians might, in fact, become strangers once more in the inevitable passing of time. How I would want to see time plainly in one frame, the past and future all at once, like the boats in the Bay making art with their paths.

To just see it all laid bare, so that people once known are always known, never gone, always there, but that isn’t how the governor of time designed it.

The character of time is that it’s fleeting, always marching, always forgetting, for its purpose is not to carry past things into the present, but to leave them behind. Such is the nature of things. Such is the nature of this trip, I guess. But, it’s not over yet. No leaving things behind right now. There is still more to come. There is still more being held for me here when the sun rises again.


This is part 2 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part III
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