The road to Oslo

[Part three of a series. Earlier parts: one, two.]

In March this year, on an evening spent browsing through albums of recent trips abroad, we decided to travel north. A road trip through Scandinavia had been a recurring plan for some years now, and this Easter seemed just right to turn intention into reality.

We planned little. Two anchor points – Oslo and Bergen – were fixed and the rest we left open, to be decided when we got there. Guides on the Internet – unreliable, like so much else there – suggested not to miss the unmissable train ride between Oslo and Bergen, so I booked that too. It was, as it turned out, too much planning.

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If only I could write about Oslo

Since a week and a half I’ve been wrestling with the Oslo piece. The word processor tells me I have three thousand words; I think most of it is rubbish. An image from a nameless movie takes shape: a man is slumped over his desk, in front of a typewriter; crumpled pages are littered on the floor. That image carries a certain weight: physical traces of work done, of time spent. I do not have even that.

My first problem is with photographs of our trip. I cannot get them out of my head. The photographs bend the narrative around themselves, like gravity bends light, and soon they take over the narrative, making me write this or that episode about an image. I’ve had enough. I want to float free of gravity. Forget the photographs – there aren’t any in this piece. If you’re looking for an easy impression of Oslo, go elsewhere: Google some pictures, or visit Flickr.

My second difficulty is with tone. I do not know who is telling the story. Is it a tourist? A wanderer? A traveler? A historian? An academic? An observer? An enquirer? A poet? An adventurer? The choice – or choices – here will determine the tone, and influence the voice. Don’t be dismissive, this isn’t a small matter: your impression of Oslo depends on this choice. The tourist, you see, is superficial. The wanderer digs deeper, but is selective. The traveller is more holistic, comprehensive. The historian delves into the past. The academic spells out theories. The observer gives you details without judgement. The enquirer probes, analyses, passes judgement. The poet, purely instinctive, relies on images. The adventurer does, then speaks.
Continue reading “If only I could write about Oslo”