Aug 27, 2006

Last month I watched jackass penguins nesting in the dunes near Cape Town, South Africa. Today, I'm standing at Europe's northernmost point. 71°10`21". Nordkapp.

The dots connect in nearly a straight line: one degree of longitude, over 105 of latitude.

I'm standing tall. Abnormally tall. At least eight inches taller than normal, in fact, because I'm perched on a boulder, pretending to be big sister ...

All Norway fans behind me, which is a good thing, really. Despite the scenery's splendor, the extreme society's serenity, the sense and sensibility, I chafe here.

Italy. I blame Italy. Live there and you'll never respect a crosswalk – or anything it stands for – again.

Own a motorino and your soul is lost.

That country turned my rebellious streak into an art form, dragged in three Germans to write critical essays about it, then went on summer holiday for six weeks and couldn't be bothered to read the reviews.

Nonetheless, bits of Norway will bring me back:

  • Deckside yoga above the Arctic Circle, where the islands splay like submissive dogs.
  • A fire of bjork branches inside a lavo, the traditional pole-and-canvas tent of the Sami, the reindeer people of the polar region.
  • My Norwegian 7-11 coffee loyalty card with all the bean stamps centered in the appropriate boxes.
  • Trondheim's bicycle lift – the only one in the world. For a good reason too.
  • Dude in a knit Viking cap, complete with sock-puppet-style horns.
  • Reindeer on a second-story-patio. Now that's comedy.
  • The Cold War ghosts of Kirkenes, four kilometers from the Russian border. The town's original name was Pisselvnes (Piss River Headland) until inhabitants built a church in 1862.
  • The doughty ships of the Norsemen. In the same city as the Kon-Tiki, no less.

But my heart's back aboard the Fram, probably stuck in some ancient creosote. Surfing icebergs, the wooden polarship has been farther north and south than any other surface vessel. Now it bulges, ovoid, in an Oslo A-frame museum.

"Fram" means "forward". Or, as Hobbes the Abused 4-H Llama would have it, "gooooooooooo."

Ironically, we restless travel writers are still here. Edward and I climb onto the bridge, lace our limbs through the railings, and simply sit for an hour, at least. We ruin a lot of tourists' insincere snapshots and don't care much.

Fridtjof Nansen took her across the Arctic Ocean. Otto Sverdrup sailed into the unknown northwest of Greenland aboard the Fram. Later Roald Amundsen snuck her across the equator on his sly South Pole bid (diverting more than 12,000 miles, now that's chutzpah).

"Imagine three years aboard, surrounded by ice," I muse, thinking of the first expedition's long drift. "You would have memorized every nailhead, every harmonic of every line in every wind."

Ed laughs. "Yeah, you'd do great, judging from a week on the Nordnorge."

"No, no," I insist. "The coastal voyage is floating, the Fram is forward."

And then I understand what I need, what I've flailed at these last few months: lunching in Bosnia, riding elephants in Zimbabwe, dodging coastal brown bears in Alaska.


Fram, fram, fram.


We buy tin mugs, replicas, one each and one for our friend's newborn.

Eventually, we send it with this note: "This cup is from the Fram, the ship that has been further north and south than any other ship in history. The word 'fram' means 'go forth,' and we think that means the entire world is a huge playground, and all you have to do is go out and play, be attentive, and it will reward you endlessly."

And our friend replies: "I have decided to frame your postcard and put it in Selina's room. It's that magical to me. You two are beyond ... beyond...."

She probably meant "sane" there, but never mind.


Fram, fram, fram.


  1. Reading your writing is dangerous because it makes me want to immediately ditch home and go travelling again.

    That Trondheim bike lift looks pretty cool ... I need one of those to help me get to work every morning. (Note: no, there's no steep hill between me and work, I'm just lazy).

    "... the entire world is a huge playground, and all you have to do is go out and play, be attentive, and it will reward you endlessly."

    Beautifully put.

  2. Anonymous6:37 AM

    I love to read about your travels. It makes you think of all the adventures you plan before life boggs you down. Keep it up and thanks .

  3. Edward wrote the postcard, though it's a sentiment we share.

    Dingobear, the bike lift seemigly required the strength, balance and elan of an Olympic gymnast. I'm not sure it would add to any commute...

  4. Anonymous Dreamer,
    Here's hoping you find some excitement among everyday life, even if you can't fram over the horizon.

    That's the real challenge, for me, at least: how to stay engaged at home.

    I try to push outside my comfort zones and, well, surprise myself.

    (This philosophy leads to some dating pratfalls, however. You HAVE been warned.)

    When I feel glum, I reread this passage from "Road Angels" by Kent Nerburn:

    “I've watched the light go out of too many of my friends’ eyes as their lives turned from a crazy garden of weeds and wildflowers to a well-manicured lawn. I’m not ready for that yet. I need ‘bears behind trees’ – surprises in life that are bigger than a plugged sewer line or an unexpected finance charge on my credit card ... If I don’t have them, my life becomes just a long-term maintenance project.”

  5. I do feel terribly sorry for Selina, who is going to grow up with a framed postcard on her wall that's signed "edward and the wrong castleman."

    Her first words are probably going to be, "Mommy, who are these freaks?"

  6. "The Wrong Castleman"...

    You know, I'd make that my byline, if it didn't require so much explaining.

  7. Oh yes, for the record, we gave baby a BOWL, not a loving cup...

    How I managed to forget this, I can't explain. Too much road-time...


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