Through the kindness of strangers I spent the month of July living and working in the former train station of Hval, Norway. About a hundred years ago some of my forebears lived within a few miles of this place this and I've always been looking for a reason to visit. My reason came in the form of an available studio space, where I've been able to make new paintings and find inspiration. As a studio I've been using the first floor of what was once the train station's freight depot. The building is perhaps a hundred years old. It is a two story structure, build in the post and beam manner. The exposed joinery in the upstairs level is quite lovely, and it's still doing the job. Even in heavy winds the freight station seems completely solid. Overall the houses and buildings in Norway seem to be remarkably well built, perhaps even seaworthy, which is what you might expect from a nation with a history of outstanding boat-building.
The exterior of my studio, with some new pictures
Beautiful old joinery
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what kind of work I do, it is something along the following lines: I am the CEO and the director of research of the Shackway corporation. Shackway is a privately held American corporation whose purpose is to invent it's own history and present it in visual terms. For this reason I've been thinking about what kinds of products the company must have formerly sold in the Scandinavian market, and what kinds of products we might have exported from this region. I'm not currently at liberty to discuss the new things I've learned about the Shackway organization, but there is every chance that recent findings will be presented in the form of an exhibition in Minneapolis in the first half of 2011. In the meantime, here in Norway, work on the track to Oslo has resulted in an atypically large volume of train traffic at Hval station. There is a siding directly outside my studio where trains sometimes stop for fifteen minutes at a time while rail traffic passes in the opposite direction. I've been pinning pictures to the outside of the freight station for a captive audience of travelers on Norwegian trains. This had long been on my list of crazy person things to do, just above crocheting a bow tie for a fish and nailing a carnation to a potato.
There are so many peculiar things about this country. One would be popular music tastes, as evidenced by what you hear when listening to the radio or visiting restaurants and bars. For some reason Dolly Parton's "Jolene" is extremely popular. I've heard it on the radio repeatedly, in restaurants, and while just walking down the street. At the bar in nearby Honefoss, many of the women patrons will spontaneously start singing along with the song when it is (inevitably) played. The singing becomes even louder and more heartfelt if any song from the movie Grease is played. The Norwegian national temperament seems to have a soft spot for older songs where there is a little bit of a soap opera going on.
Some readers may remember "Save the Last Dance", the 2001 movie where Julia Stiles plays an aspiring ballet dancer whose mom dies unexpectedly. She somehow ends up in the south side of Chicago where she comes of age by merging her classical ballet training with the urban dance moves she finds in her new surroundings. Let me just say that you need only watch the mojo unfold on Norwegian dance floors to recognize why the movie didn't have Julia Stiles end up in Norway. Dancing here seems to be serious business, but it's the business of the gawky unbridled joy of ten year olds have when they stay up too late at a slumber party. It's just plain life-affirming.
Another thing I like about Norway are the churches. Like many travelers I enjoy visiting churches wherever I am. You can usually tell something about the national temperament of a place by how and where people choose to worship. Churches in Norway are a matter of national pride, with road signage clearly pointing the way to any you might happen to drive by. Old or new, each I've seen has been well cared for, and worth the visit. Many of them, like the old church in Borgund, are insanely lovely, but even the more humble structures may win a place in your heart with their well-cared for grounds and cemeteries. Just a short drive up the hill from where I'm staying there is a comparatively newer church called Haug Kirke. As is the case with many Norwegian churches, watering cans and planting tools are conveniently situated near each water-filled concrete cisterns. Nearly every grave marker has meticulously cared for plantings. I smiled to think of my own dead Norwegian relatives, thinking few things would make them rest in peace more than knowing someone is still taking care of the yard.
Borgund Stave Church
Watering cans at Haug church
Another winning aspect of Norwegian churches are the "church ships, old wooden ship models that are often hung from old church ceilings. When it comes to church ships, I say bring them on. Bring on a whole armada so there will be enough to carry us all back to wherever we came from, when the time is right. I'm in no hurry to leave but whenever I reach the end of the road, forget about the long lines at airports or train stations. Just cremate me with a wooden boat. And maybe leave some change in my pockets or on my eyes, even though I hope there isn't a cover charge.
A church ship floating in the firmament