Oslo waxed lilac overnight. Fat and elegantly bunched, they waited until we were asleep to arrive, to place themselves in the trees and bloom. Where one week ago there were only the wet, black branches and sharply-new green leaves of a tardy spring, suddenly blossoms appeared. Purple and white. Immaculate thousands of tiny petals. Each dense panicle of lilacs is a fractal; the blooms are four-lobed, radiating from a tubular base, arranged in pairs. Around them wave the simple, glaucous leaves of the lilac tree, outshined by the spring bounty.
It is evening, warmer than most expect it can be so far north. We walk below Uranienborg kirke, a proud, brick tower, built on a hill to catch the last of the light. Bells sound the ten o'clock hour. I raise my hand and lift a healthy panicle with my palm, then grasp it lightly and lower it to my nose and inhale. I recognize the sweet, yearning fragrance of syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, which floats along the avenues of Oslo each May.
Too late! There was no spring, really. Too fast! We blinked and the blooms had bogged the tree branches down so they swept the gutters. Don't love us too much! Norway's rainstorms will pound the pavements and rooftops, will pound the life out of these clusters of airy, papery flowers. Purple and white and mauve. In the aftermath, shriveled petals will litter the sidewalks, will dry, will die. There is no stopping this cycle. It will come to every leaf on every tree on this road. It will come for me, too. But with luck, I'll last longer than the lilacs.
I release the bundle of blooms, and the supple branch bounces back to its place above me. We walk on.
Kindle me! The digital edition of North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway is available for download.
Now, I assure you that you'd be hard pressed to find someone who better appreciates small, independent booksellers than me. I can spend hours perusing, reading, paging, running my hands along the shelves of colorful bindings. There's nothing better than finding a bookshop with a diverse and thoughtfully indexed inventory, a knowledgeable staff, a section dedicated to local authors... all things which are only available and enjoyable face to face. I try to support such small businesses whenever possible.
But I can't deny that it's a profound pleasure to have a book which is, in part, authored by me now available on Amazon!
I'm a spoiled child. Not only did my husband work from home this afternoon so he could take care of me after my traumatizing morning dentist appointment, but I got to spend a couple hours curled up with my best snuggle buddy.
Feeling sorry for me? You should be.
After all, I'm thirty years old, and until this year, I'd never had a cavity. Thanks to my Dad (Mr. Flossing-Every-Day-is-For-Sissies-So-Let's-Do-It-Twice-A-Day-And-In-The-Living-Room-So-As-To-Set-An-Example-For-The-Kids), I've practiced superior dental hygiene my entire life. And I put in that kind of effort specifically to avoid the trauma of the dentist's drill.
Now, my bid for dental perfection hasn't been easy.
When my baby teeth grew in, everything seemed all right at first, but then they wouldn't leave. While other kids got regular visits from the Tooth Fairy, my baby molars were digging in for the long haul. I had to get them removed manually by my dentist. Needles and Novocain; the whole nine yards. Problem solved, right? Hah! My adult teeth couldn't wait for the dentist to perform the extractions before they began squeezing in. No room? That didn't stop my teeth. They popped through the gums in all the wrong places, at weird angles, too. Snaggletoothed doesn't begin to describe me and my mouth back then. When I smiled, people cringed. Full-grown people with excellent manners. One grin from this gal and they headed for the hills.
The staff spoke very competent English, a relief at the end of each long day. They ordered taxis for us on two occasions, and were able to tell us how much our trip would cost in advance, to avoid taxi scams. Before our trip, the staff were also quick to assist us with the necessary paperwork for our visa applications. We corresponded several times on that issue, and every transaction was clear and polite.
The room rate was reasonable, especially considering how clean and modern the hotel turned out to be. I loved the red tiles and heated floor in the bathroom.
The first weekend in April must be the end of St. Petersburg's off-season, because the hotel seemed almost empty. Not that we minded. We enjoyed the delicious continental breakfast each morning, and ate in the restaurant for dinner on our last night. Our waiter's name was Vladimir (of course).
And now the icing on the cake...
You won't be lonely or bored waiting for taxis in the lobby. Hanging on a wall dedicated to guest graffiti (who needs a guest book?), is the sexiest, most bizarre clock I've ever seen.
We tried to find a reference to this clock on the internet and couldn't, so I guess I should put a few of our search terms here for future Red Stars Hotel visitors. From now on, "performance artist paints clock backwards in shower video" or "crazy pink bikini girl paints shower clock video" should bring people here to me. Enjoy. She does this for 12 straight hours. I give you 51 seconds.
Never kiss your sweetheart on a drawbridge. If the two sides can pull apart, so can the two of you. On the other hand, sharing a kiss on a solid cast bridge will give you an extra dose of luck and longevity.
The Potseluev Bridge in St. Petersburg spans the Moyka River. Every bar on the bridge is covered with shiny padlocks. Like diamonds or fish scales, they catch the light when the sun pushes between the clouds. Inscribed on the locks are the names of lovebirds, the dates of their unions. Declarations of everlasting love in a variety of languages.
Driving along California's endless freeways you're bound to see a memorial. Heaps of fabric flowers, ragged under the hot sun, ragged in the windy backwash of speeding cars, clinging to chain link fences and sign posts. A simple cross. Faded plastic icons. Candles that can't hold a flame.
How long has it been there? This outpouring of love and grief.
In a moment, you're past it. Vaguely, you might think of the life or lives lost on that dusty spot, but there is no sense of eternal pain. No names. Though blood was spilled, the heat and wind make light of these things.
Should that be?
Last month, I turned one of the ten thousand gray corners in St. Petersburg and came upon The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. A bizarre beauty, the cathedral was erected to commemorate the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.
Under the rule of Alexander II, Russian serfdom was dissolved entirely, a progressive move that earned him the title Alexander the Liberator. But at the same time, his crackdown on the people of Poland was brutal. He began his reign with a speech in which he told Polish people across the Russian empire not to expect any freedom or equality in his eyes. This so-called "No Hope" speech fueled the fire leading to the January Uprising in 1863, ultimately suppressed by the Russian military after 18 months of fighting. The result? Hundreds of Poles were executed; thousands were exiled to Siberia.
Yet, everything in history depends upon one's point of view. In Finland, Alexander II is still regarded as "The Good Tsar."
On 1 March 1881, he stepped into his bullet-proof carriage, a gift from Napoleon, accompanied by an armed guard. Members of the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") movement waited in the crowds that lined the streets. The first bomb was tossed beneath the horses pulling the emperor's carriage. When Alexander emerged unhurt, a second bomber stepped forward and threw his package at the emperor's feet, crying out, "It is too early to thank God!"
Holland House and The Oslo International Writers' Group are proud to present the group's first anthology, North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway.
My nonfiction essay, Orientation, will appear alongside the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of seven of my talented fellow OIWG members:
The e-book will be available 17 May 2013, coinciding with Norway's Constitution Day festivities, and the paperback edition will be available in June. Best of all, book sale profits will go to Utdanningshjelpen, a Norwegian volunteer organisation which offers educational scholarships to children and young people in Kenya, Ghana, Mosambique, Ethiopia and Palestine.
Publication is an exciting time for every writer! The launch party for North of the Sun, South of the Moon is going to be a fabulous event, hosted by everyone's favorite American restaurant in Oslo, Café Fedora.
Date: 7th June 2013 at 7:00pm
Place: Café Fedora, Frognerveien 22, Oslo
Price: 200 NOK per person
Food and drinks are included in the ticket price, and you will also hear the authors give readings, have the opportunity to buy the book and/or donate directly to Utdanningshjelpen, as well as be in the running to win a signed copy of the book.
Tickets are limited, so if you're in town and want to support these fine, local writers, please buy yours today! Café Fedora's owners, Anthony and Nicole Juvera, in a typical bout of warmth and generosity, have made it possible for all tickets sold for the launch event to support the charity, too. In case I haven't made it clear before, you want to know these two people. They make Norway a better place.
The Oslo International Writers' Group is open to writers of all stripes in the Oslo area. We meet once a month. Find us on Facebook if you're interested in joining. We welcome your voice and point of view!