High Tea on the Norwegian Steppes

Like so many culs-de-sac in a row I finally board the train leaving for Oslo at 11:59am. The train leaves a minute early, which I find disconcerting. If you arrived at 11:58am you’d find the train just pulling away, and think of the despair you’d feel. But as they say you can’t shear the same sheep twice, so I settle into my seat, which isn’t actually my seat at all because my actual seat had a female in the seat next to it and I wanted a row all to myself.

Sort of a Yo Yo Ma kind of thing, although I’m not a cello player. Wish I was, but I’m not. I play the piano decently. I really like Chopin’s “Nocturnes,” (quotes his).

There is snow on the ground almost immediately upon leaving “Bergen” as we head further “inland.” I feel like a hippopotamus stuck in a wave pool, as they say, I don’t really know what to do with all the time. There’s a Chelsea football match that starts at 13:30 and if the WiFi is gut enough I’ll watch that, and if it’s not I’ll probably pop a snus in and start screaming at people.

I set out to explore my surroundings, like a decrepit Meriwether Lewis. In the dining car a cute girl with bleached blond hair sells me an English Breakfast “tea” for 34 kroner, or, USD $64.

“Like feeding bamboo to a panda, what?” I say to her.

“Sorry?” she says.

“Sorry, just an old military expression.”

“Is that where you lost your leg? In the war?”

I look down and indeed one of my legs is missing.

“No, it’s just asleep,” I say.

And then I wake up, and realize I’m still in my car, and someone is saying to me, “Sir, sir, you’re in my seat.”

So I move and they turn around.

“Sir, sir, you’re still in my seat.”

And then I wake up from THIS dream and realize ok, here I am, in car 6 seat 21, king’s gravy, what?

I buy another tea and this time it only costs 16 krone. Maybe if I buy another it will be 8, and then 4, and then 2, etc etc, until I’m cutting up kroner with a hacksaw.

The train stops in Voss and too many people get on. But I’m in the “lounge car,” or the “cafe car,” or whatever you want to call it. My tea is steeping and soon it will be a thick sludge of English Breakfast and honey and thwarted desire.

“What are you reading?” I say to the cafe girl when I get my tea refill.

She pouts. “I don’t know how to read. In Norway they don’t teach us.”

“Ouch,” I say, “Double-edged bread knife, that one, what?”

“Will you teach me to read?” Her eyes brighten.

“I can teach you to read Spanish,” I say. “Lost part of my hippocampus in the war. Can’t teach English no more.”

This strikes her as plausible, though to be fair she kind of zoned out after the word “I.”

After Voss the countryside completely opens up, and it reminds me of my days in the Sahara, albeit colder and greener and with more houses and vegetation and a fair amount of lakes and fjords. Language is the same though. Go inland far enough and all of the Norwegian, explicably, start speaking Berber. I wonder if this is golf country. I bet the cafe girl knows but I don’t want to bug her, so engrossed is she in looking at the pages of her book. You’ve got it upside down, I want to say to her, but fear it might make her feel bad. Would love to get my nine iron out.

What was my last night in Bergen like? It was like running on a treadmill and realizing you can’t turn it off. And if you step off there’s a good chance you’ll fall. I couldn’t sleep, that was the problem. Too much caffeine in the evening, and too much napping the day before. I nap like a Portuguese water dog, but without all the hip problems. Give me a nice flat surface and I’ll take a nap on it. In the war they called me “Count von Dreckens,” though not because of the napping. Actually in retrospect I’m not sure why they called me that.

It was a long war.

This is snowy, snowy country we’re traversing, and I didn’t bring my snow shoes, if you catch my drift. We stop in Udland because there’s a train coming in the opposite direction, though this could be all posturing, some kind of train conducter dick-swinging contest. Suddenly I have this strange feeling, it washes over me like a water cooler full of Gatorade, that I should be drinking green instead of black tea. I go to the cafe girl and say, “Excuse me, but this is a black tea.”

She looks confused.

“Didn’t you order a black tea?”

“Yes.”

What follows is about a 30-second standoff where we look at each other, unblinking.

Finally she says, “Did you want green tea?”

Amazing, this cafe girl. She can’t read books but she can read my cerebellum as if it were tattooed on my sternum.

I get my third black tea in a row. The price does not go down to eight kroner, which makes me what to throw a tantrum. But instead of throwing a tantrum I retreat to my seat, where I continue to gaze at the snow-covered steppes.

Like feeding lettuce to a box turtle, what?

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