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Trip 6 -- Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland

Message 2: Trondheim to Savonlinna

Date: 13 Jul 2002 09:21:16 -0000 
From: seth@sethweinstein.com (Seth Weinstein) 
Subject: Scandinavia update #2: Trondheim to Savonlinna 

Last week brought a couple of "noteworthy" musical adventures. First, at the summer home of Edvard Grieg, near Bergen, I learned some odd bits of information about the Norwegian composer: that he married his cousin; that on the first page of the score of his only symphony he wrote, "Never to be performed"; and that, as a schoolboy in Bergen, he would stand in the rain on the way to school, as the teachers would usually send him home for arriving drenched. It rains three out of four days in Bergen, so that happened often.

Then, in a manor on the outskirts of the exceptionally friendly city of Trondheim, I visited the fantastic Ringve Museum, which contains the private musical-instrument collection of the estate's former owner. In addition to traditional Norwegian instruments such as the hardanger fiddle (different from a violin in that the neck terminates in a horse's head and there are sympathetic strings), the museum included specimens from around the world. Some of my favorites were the cecelium, a sort of cello-accordion hybrid (it was fingered like a cello but the sound was made manually using bellows); the dudy, a three-part Czech bagpipe in which two "pipes" resembled trumpets and one resembled a violin; and Paul von Jankˇ's piano, whose rearranged keys were designed to make the piano easier to play quickly. Like alternatives to the QWERTY (also acceptable in Scrabble) typewriter keyboard, it never caught on. Also of note at Ringve was that I ran into a cabaret singer I recently performed with in New York City.

In the tiny, picturesque town of ┼ on Norway's Lofoten islands, I learned everything I could ever want to know about stockfish: how the cod are dried for months before being exported (mostly) to Italy; how the heads are shipped off to Nigeria; and how dried stockfish has five times the nutritional value of fresh cod. They sell the stuff at an African grocery 10 blocks from my Manhattan apartment, so now I seek a good recipe - the Norwegian habit of soaking it for 12 days seems rather imprudent.

From Lofoten I sailed to Troms° aboard the Hurtigruten coastal steamer, a renowned trip that begins in Bergen and takes seven days to reach Kirkenes in the far north near the Russian border, calling at around three dozen ports along the way. I was aboard for only 16 hours, but the experience was electrifying: Upon entering the ship, I checked in at a hotel-like, computer-laden reception area; I took the elevator up to the G-deck lounge, which had a panoramic view of the open sea; and I slept the night on an extremely comfortable leather sofa in one of the other lounges - and all the while music from _Titanic_ played in my head. (No, the musical, for those of you who might think I've seen the movie.)

Finally I made it to Nordkapp, the northernmost point in continental Europe, at about 71 degrees north latitude. It had been foggy all day, but on my arrival in the late evening, there was a clear view down 300-meter cliffs to the Arctic Ocean sprawling below. Then there was a sort of reverse sunrise, as the sun began to descend from behind the clouds; and just a few minutes before midnight, the clouds separated, leaving the sun to cast its midnight glow, creating all sorts of blue hues to the east, and eventually leading to a halo effect, with the sun's rays spreading shower-like in all directions below. And with all those coinciding changes, it was easy to believe that there perhaps really was something mystical about this place.

Then it was on to Finland, where I spent time in Inari, the principal town in a region largely populated by the Sami (the more-or-less indigenous, traditionally nomadic, reindeer-herding people of the area). My first Finnish meal, in what is virtually the only eatery in Inari, was one of the house specialties, a most bizarre time- and space-transcending concoction: reindeer-peach-onion pizza.


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