Amundsen Og Jeg - Part 2
Tom Holloway, the librettist of the opera "South Pole", once lived in Norway. He writes about his last visit to Oslo, his liaison with Munch and Amundsen and the meeting with his former family-in-law for the first time after he left Norway. His story will be published in three parts.
A week or so ago I went back to Oslo for the first time since living there. It had been a number of years since I'd been there, and I didn't know what to expect. I had lived there during a former life. One that had been filled with highs and lows so stark, they are hard to describe. I was going back this time to go to the Fram museum and see Amundsen's ship, something I never did when I lived there. At least this was the excuse I was giving myself for going back, but what would it be like seeing this city again that had meant so much to me for such a brief period of my life?
Two days before I arrived, a foot of snow fell in a day. In late March.
I got off the plane and breathed in the cold, clean air that seems to energize you with its purity. The only other place I've ever experienced air like that of Norway is in Tasmania where I grew up, at the other extreme end of the world. There is clarity to the air in these places that is matched only by the brightness of the light of day. The sun blinds and the air invigorates.
As I stepped off the plane, snow covered everything. Huge, blackened piles of it sat at the edges of the runway, where it had been cleared. On the train in to the city... a peaceful, warm, quiet train... the landscape was blanketed in pure snow. It hung from trees and followed the contours of homes and cars.
As I stepped out of the train station in the city, there was another pile of collected, dirtied snow that had been cleared from a public square, and next to the pile of snow was the familiar sight of a statue of a bronze tiger, as big as ten men. It is there as the symbol of the city, something majestic but also something dangerous.
I wandered from there to my friend Brede's house. I hadn't seem him in two years, and once I was with him and his girlfriend Torunn, my trepidation started to fall away and Oslo immediately went about getting under my skin again.
Amundsen is an endlessly fascinating character. So much about him seems to be Good, with a capital 'G'. His story seems to be one to inspire all of us to be better people, to try harder to achieve things for ourselves and our common man. But of course this is not all his story encompasses.
It was a rainy day when I walked from the centre of the city, up over one of the hills surrounding Oslo, to visit my former brother-in-law and his family. I really didn't know what to expect and as I walked for an hour through the rain, I got nervous about what it would be like to see them all again. Would it be awkward? Would it bring back things I've worked so hard to get over?
The first thing I saw at the house was Lars' son at the window of their home. He was three when I left and is now eight. Would he even remember me? He was knocking on the window and waving with a big, broad smile on his face.
What followed was a lovely day. I had morning tea with Lars and his family before he very kindly drove me up to Amundsen's old home, a beautiful house called Uranienborg. On the way we stopped off to surprise my other former brother-in-law, Kjetil. He too seemed pleased to see me and jumped in the car with us to come along for the ride.
It was all so lovely and friendly. I wondered what I had been so worried about, but then of course I had been worried. How could I not?
Uranienborg is a lovely house. It sits isolated from its neighbours, right on the shore of the fjord. The house is ornate and proud; a contrast to the wintery forest surrounded it. The morning I was there, the grey-silver clouds reflected in the perfectly still water of the fjord. As Lars' son Christian played amongst the pebbles on the edge of the water, I looked out over the silent bay, thinking of the Fram sitting there waiting to begin its journey. Amundsen got his men on the boat and snuck out from Oslo at midnight. The world thought he was heading to the North Pole. He and he alone knew he was heading to the south.
The four of us, all men, wandered around the closed house, peering in windows and rattling locked doors, as if we'd turned up the day after Amundsen had gone, surprised by his absence, with not even a note left in explanation. Because of the weather, it felt like it could have been any time of day when we were there, and the silence of the still air meant all we had to listen to were our thoughts. There I was walking around this home, in this silence, with the people who had once been such an important part of my life.