|Jan/Feb 2017 Travel|
© 2016 Elizabeth P. Glixman
It is my belief that the hottest women do not realize their magnetism. They have an inner spirit of life, and its joy causes them to spend their time exploring each moment's possibilities to the exclusion of thoughts about how others perceive them.
When I first saw Sigrid Nordahl, she was staggering around on the deck of a rolling ship, trying to keep her balance on high-heeled shoes. Why she began a conversation and then fell on me and then got sick was matter of conjecture. But she seemed interested in why I was traveling.
I had begun this road trip with the idea of taking time to think about what to do with my life. I was no good as a mechanical engineer. After three years, I'd found no soul in machines. There had to be something in life that compelled a person to get up in the morning with a sense of exploration. If not that, what was there? There was no guarantee I'd find a unique purpose on the road in Europe, but I'd always thought a trip through foreign countries would give me insight about the direction to a meaningful life.
I had never expected to find the answer on a windswept beach in Denmark. I had never expected to tell my tale to a tipsy Scandinavian woman who had approached me with a mischievous smile.
I had begun that day feeling lonely as I walked near the town of Frederikshavn in northern Denmark. It was a gray afternoon, windy, the last day of October. My VW Beetle sat in an empty parking lot near a lighthouse marking the northern tip of the Jutland peninsula. I was doing my best to kill seven hours until my ten PM ferry to Larvik in Norway. From the looks of the choppy waters, I knew the crossing would be rough. I was frustrated the ferry didn't leave until night.
I'd been eating bread and Gouda cheese while sitting in the VW watching the turbulent sea. I'd started a letter to my mother. As I walked in the wind, I thought about how anxious I'd been when I arrived too late in foggy Hamburg to find a hotel and wound up dozing in the warm train station with homeless men until the police kicked us out around dawn. I thought a man was following me as I returned to my car amid intermittent moans from foghorns. Being alone in a city like Hamburg could be depressing through no fault of what the city had to offer. I'd taken a boat tour of the harbor and then walked in a park. There I took a photo of a black-coated, black-capped old man hunched on a stool while holding a long fishing pole over the inner harbor water. I'd once held a long pole from the shore of Laurel Lake, thinking about whether anyone but my sisters loved me and how I might transform a disastrous childhood into a meaningful life. If I became an old man sitting by the shore, it wouldn't be in a noisy city. Hamburg had sounded exotic in my guidebooks, but the moaning of its ominous fog horns had been an intrusive voice blocking any quiet thinking about life. I'd felt a compulsion to drive north almost immediately.
On this blustery beach I was wondering if I had any natural talent. What was I good at in grade school? I remembered how much I loved words and sentences then. I thought maybe I could become a writer and express ideas people would debate. A lot could be said for writers like Thoreau being remembered this long. And there was my connection with Thoreau because we both enjoyed climbing Mt. Monadnock a few miles from where I grew up. I knew Thoreau climbed Monadnock several times and recorded observations in his journal. I decided I should record my European observations.
I returned to the VW, glad to have a refuge from the wind, and found a notebook to serve as my European journal. If I became a writer, I thought I might avoid falling into Thoreau's mass of men who led lives of quiet desperation. On the other hand, I'd read how some writers spent each day in quiet desperation, searching for the perfect metaphor. I wondered how many desperation days Shakespeare spent before he came up with "the quality of mercy... droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath."
In high school English class, I'd had to recite Portia's soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice. Now, thanks to Louis, the chef who'd told me he recited dinner menus in his head to prolong sex, there it was in my mind: The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath... I had tried reciting "The Star-Spangled Banner" too, usually after Shakespeare, and that had given sex a patriotic flavor. Then there were times neither one of them worked, necessitating an expansion of the diversionary repertoire to things like the names of presidents. Thinking the name "John F. Kennedy" 30 times in a row was a good distraction, although once that thought process conjured up an image of Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe in bed together, which, unfortunately, exacerbated the feeling Louis said you had to suppress.
As I contemplated the barren beach and rough waters from my car, I smiled at a funny idea and said to a phantom audience, "The wind in Jutland is unconstrained. It bloweth as the rage of a Norse God upon a frigid sea." Then I wrote it in the journal.
Surely during this trip I would find plenty to write about.
On the ferry I tried to ignore the crashing waves and rolling ship. Inside I had a chessboard set up on a bolted-down table, playing against an invisible opponent. First I moved a small wooden pawn on my side, then moved a pawn for my phantom opponent. If I concentrated on the game, I wouldn't get woozy. A small young woman with brown bangs almost hiding her eyes staggered up to me, trying to keep her balance on high-heeled shoes. She looked at me with a mischievous smile. She said, "Who is winning?"
I grinned and pointed to my phantom opponent. "He is."
"Are you American?"
"How did you know?"
"I thought British, Canadian, or American. But the British and Canadians wouldn't have a chess set. They travel very light, mostly just what fits in a medium backpack."
"I have a car, so... more luggage."
"What are you doing on this boat?"
"I'm going to visit my cousin in Oslo. What about you?"
"I'm on a shopping trip with a group. The boat brought a busload of us over in the morning. We had all day to shop and eat. Prices are better in Denmark. We save in purchases more than what it costs for the fare."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a reporter for a newspaper. What do you do?"
"I was a mechanical engineer before I quit to do some traveling."
The ship rolled, she lurched toward me, and I had to grab her so she didn't land on top of me. Her smile made me think her group had had a bit to drink with supper, and when she said thank you for catching her, I was more sure of her condition. I was glad to speak with a Norwegian who knew English, but soon she said she didn't feel well. So I escorted the woozy woman to a toilet and steadied her while she got sick. When she felt better, she said she lived in a small town south of Oslo called Drobak. She wrote down her address and phone number and said to come visit her if I had a chance while I was with my cousin in Oslo. I said I would. Then Sigrid Nordahl kissed my cheek and said goodbye. She headed for her bus, and I headed for my car.
I drove off the ferry and headed north. Oslo was about 70 miles, and I had to find my cousin's apartment on a street named Fururabben. I was thankful Ann had sent directions but felt guilty arriving after midnight. Ann and Henrik didn't seem to mind.
Ann was an American—my stepmother's oldest niece. I didn't know her well. She was my age, college-educated, and had been around. I thought she had met her Norwegian husband near Seattle at a mountain-climbing club while they were attending college. Now she was a housewife in a small apartment, raising a toddler named Trond. She already spoke Norwegian fluently.
Henrik was a beanpole with a thin face. His small eyes were set close to a long nose, and his mouth didn't open much when he spoke. By the time I got up in the morning, Henrik had left for work, his father's construction business, I thought.
Ann was small and athletic and usually attractive. But now Trond was fussing and Ann looked like she had run a marathon during the night. The last time I'd seen her in Boston, she'd had short hair, but now it was long and tied up in back with a comb. I suspected Henrik liked long hair. When Ann asked what I ate for breakfast, I said I'd eat what they ate. Big mistake. I wound up eating sardines and liver paste on whole wheat bread. Norwegians and sea lions eat really gross stuff.
Ann said the Vigeland sculpture garden was a must-see, because Gustav Vigeland had spent his whole life carving the statues. In a large park I found statues of naked men, women, and children, some in seemingly bizarre sexual acts. And one statue of a woman nursing a goat. Maybe Gustav had been sexually repressed. Vigeland's work lacked the beauty of a human body I'd seen in photographs of Michelangelo's sculptures. I went to my first art museum, the Munch Museum, and wondered if all Norwegian painters were as insane as Edvard Munch. No wonder my Humanities class had skipped Edvard Munch. Who wanted to look insanity in the face and see blood trickling down, or The Scream, which let insanity jump right off the canvas? I went to the Viking Ships Museum and saw skinny open boats that should never have been in the ocean. I thought the Viking's quest was just as insane as Edvard Munch's painting.
While I was doing all this sight-seeing, I kept wondering about Sigrid Nordahl. What kind of Norwegian was she? What kind of woman was she? Was she sexually repressed like Gustav? Crazy like Edvard Munch? An adventurous Viking? I thought the artists and adventurers represented historical Norway. Sigrid represented modern Norway. I should try to connect with her again.
I took on my first baby-sitting job so that Ann and Henrik could go to a dinner party. They dressed up and let me take a photo of them. The moment they were out the door, Trond plopped down on the hallway floor and began the Edvard Munch scream. I tried not to panic. I didn't want him to scream until blood spilled from his eyes. I slid my car keys to him across a polished wood floor. He looked at the keys and stopped screaming. He picked up the keys. I kept watching that he didn't put the keys near his mouth. I didn't want to have to tell Ann and Henrik that I couldn't leave until we got my car keys out of Trond's stomach.
On a cold, drizzly day, I took Trond for a walk to give Ann a breather. I held my small umbrella over us and held his hand. He liked walking but wasn't too steady yet. Trond became tired, so I picked him up and held him against my chest with my right arm while shifting the umbrella to the left hand. A bit awkward, but I'd gotten an iron-fisted grip on him. Suddenly I was slipping on a muddy place and going down. I threw the umbrella aside and pitched backwards while gripping Trond with both hands. Splat! I landed on my back. Trond looked into my eyes from his seat on my stomach. He giggled. Maybe I should have done the Edvard Munch scream, but Trond thought sitting on my stomach while my back was soaking up cold muck was a fun game. No sense telling him I didn't usually hold babies and small kids for this very reason. At the apartment Ann laughed at my muddy back and said I'd make a good parent. I said I'd make a bad one.
I started thinking I shouldn't leave Oslo without contacting Sigrid Nordahl and exploring her invitation. I gave Ann the scrap of paper on which Sigrid had written her address and phone number. Ann spoke on the phone in Norwegian, reached Sigrid, and handed me the phone. Sigrid said to come for dinner the next evening.
The next afternoon I drove south to Drobak, a small town overlooking the Oslo fiord. Sigrid's cottage sat near the top of a hill along with other small houses with a peaceful view of the fiord. She met me at the door, without the high heels this time.
I walked inside and saw a violin hanging from a light knotty-pine wall along with a drawing of an old woman sitting alone by her hearth and her spinning wheel. Was that how Sigrid saw herself? A woman alone? Her living room had an oversize easy chair, a brown-covered mattress sofa with books stacked at one end, and a vase of wilted flowers on a small coffee table.
We talked and drank wine while she cooked dinner. Although she wasn't woozy this time, she still had the mischievous grin, or maybe it was an enigmatic smile. I couldn't tell. Despite her ordinary looks and disheveled bangs hanging down her forehead, she had one of the most beautiful mouths I'd ever seen.
She didn't wear seductive clothes, although the black fishnet pantyhose might have been sexy if she'd been wearing a shorter skirt. Hers ended just above the knees. Her burgundy turtleneck sweater seemed conservative Norwegian.
She said, "You were kind to stay with me on the boat when I was sick."
"With the boat rolling like that, I was afraid you'd fall off those high-heeled shoes."
"It was silly to wear them. I usually only wear them when I have to cover a public meeting for the paper."
"Do you like working for a newspaper?"
"I do, even though there's nothing too exciting in a small town."
She was not wearing any shoes now, just padding around in her pantyhose. I said, "You don't seem like the high-heel type."
She cocked her head to one side. "What type do you think I am?"
Thinking about the violin on her wall, I said, "Maybe a musician."
"What personality does a musician have?"
"Usually cerebral and sexy in a way that's tied more to emotion than to clothes."
"Hmmm. That's a nice compliment."
"Why did you kiss me on the boat?"
"I think because I was feeling a bit silly and thought you were cute."
"You have a beautiful mouth and smile."
"Maybe we can have a more meaningful kiss before the evening is done."
"You might be disappointed. We can't make love. I'm having my period."
I thought a candid woman was a surprise. Intriguing, too. I guessed I could be candid, too. I said, "Even without intercourse there are many other ways to make love."
She said, "Hmmm."
After supper she curled into her big easy chair, watching me across the room as I thumbed through her books to see if any were in English. I was not really thinking about the books. I was thinking about how I always had this dilemma about who would make the first move. Her saying "hmmm" didn't necessarily mean she agreed that we should try alternative ways of lovemaking.
What should I do? The lights were on. Should I leave them on? Maybe a candid woman didn't care about the lights. I moved behind her easy chair, touched her forehead, and smoothed her bangs aside. I kissed her forehead.
She tilted her head back and closed her eyes.
I kissed her eyelids, then came around to the front and kissed her lips. She uncurled her legs so I could lean closer. Our bodies touched and moved a little, and then a little more.
Sigrid whooshed suddenly and stopped moving.
I loved kissing this woman with the beautiful mouth and caressing places on her face and neck that made her smile. I loved that she enjoyed alternative lovemaking and its silent waves of emotion.
As we played our game throughout the night, Sigrid whooshed periodically. It was about four AM when she said, "Would you do me a favor? It would be kind of you if neighbors didn't see you coming out of my cottage in the morning."
"Of course. I come from a small town, too. It's always good to avoid gossip."
"I'm glad you understand. When do you leave Oslo?"
"I leave for Stockholm tomorrow. Then Copenhagen and south to Switzerland. I'm planning to ski in the Alps."
She said, "Send me a postcard from the Alps."
We kissed goodbye just inside her front door. I walked to the car and saw just the faintest dawn light and an outline of the fiord.
I returned to Oslo and parked opposite the harbor. I observed a sailing ship with three tall masts. I watched another gray day emerge. November weather in Oslo was lousy, but Sigrid had enlightened me with all her orgasms. I remembered the college coed who had insinuated verbally and through a lack of response to kisses and other stimulation that she couldn't have an orgasm, which had put a damper on any thoughts of lovemaking. Sigrid, on the other hand, was a mild-mannered reporter by day and a Superwoman by night when she put on the fishnet stockings and drank a little wine. I took my journal from my glove compartment and jotted down a few notes about our evening of play. If Sigrid kept a journal, maybe she was making notes about me. He was a cute American who held me when I was sick on the boat...
I returned to Ann's apartment and found her sick in bed. She couldn't eat, so I made my own breakfast of sardines and liver paste on whole wheat bread. Although it went down easier, there was still something perverse about fish for breakfast. I cleaned up their apartment, took Trond for a walk, and cooked supper later.
In the morning, Ann felt better but seemed depressed. I left for Stockholm and thought about Ann's situation as I drove. I could see why she missed the States and her family there. She seemed glad for an American visitor, yet too dragged out to enjoy the company. Norway seemed to be a land of low salaries, high cost of living, bad weather, and people who were so reserved they bordered on being unfriendly. Ann had said that Henrik's parents would not have sanctioned my presence in their apartment if they'd known about it. Maybe true love made a woman more likely to cope with life in a foreign country.
But Norway had one thing that was exceedingly beautiful—a treasure I would keep close in my memory. This cold land had perhaps the hottest woman in Scandinavia.
I had to abandon my thoughts about Norwegians when I crossed into Sweden. The damn Swedes drove on the left-hand side of the road. If I didn't focus on the road, my VW Bug would be exterminated.
Ann had given me the name of a Swedish student to call when I reached Stockholm, a young man who had stayed with her family when he'd visited the States. I called Hans Tholander, and we met at a university building. He was leaving Stockholm for the weekend to visit his parents. No invitation to his house. He made a phone call and found a pension where I could stay. He seemed barely civil and said to call him after the weekend. I sensed he had no intention of introducing me to any hot Swedish women.
The pension was immaculate, but the elderly landlady was brusque. I felt lonely wandering in a city where I was chilled by freezing rain. I found a warm movie theater with the film Doctor Zhivago in English. Julie Christy and Omar Sharif were wonderful lovers, but they were doomed. I should have tried to find a comedy although, like Norway, I wasn't sure Sweden had any comedy. Nobody laughed on Stockholm's streets, where I saw sullen, long-haired boys and blonde girls in short skirts designed to make them seem hot. The public bathhouse where I went to experience my first sauna was quiet except for men scrubbing the hell out of their skin with stiff brushes. I tried washing and brushing before the sauna, thinking when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Big mistake. The feeling of being ultra clean was negated by the pain of the raw skin.
I returned to the pension and read in my guidebook about a popular international hostel in Copenhagen where many traveling students stayed. This sounded better than waiting for Hans Tholander to return. The laconic Hans had been a wasted contact, and I'd made a mistake isolating myself in a pension with a grumpy landlady.
I slept better with a pragmatic decision under my belt. I left for Copenhagen early in the morning.
The Copenhagen hostel was my salvation. I met Ilan Joffe, an Israeli civil engineer who hoped to find work. Ilan and a traveling Dutch student joined me for a tour of the Carlsberg brewery. At the end of the tour we drank free beer. If we'd returned here in various disguises, we could probably have had Carlsberg beer for lunch every day. But we ate a big, cheap lunch in a cafeteria and, at the end of the day, bought pastries from coin-operated machines in the doorways of pastry shops. Eating pastries in the evenings with others at the hostel was fun. I heard about everyone's travels and what motivated individuals to hit the road. I got tips on exotic places.
My guidebook said you could visit the place where they made Cherry Herring brandy, and I knew from my drinking days that cherry brandy was one of the ingredients in a seductive drink called a Singapore Sling. I convinced Ilan Joffe and the Dutch student that we should go there. I drove us to the listed address and stopped the VW in a narrow alley outside a wall and a wooden gate preventing any view of the other side.
I said, "This can't be the place."
Ilan Joffe said, "Why don't you press the buzzer next to the gate?"
I got out and pressed the buzzer. I waited. A plump man in a well-fitted gray suit opened a small door embedded in the gate. I explained our interest in the Cherry Herring factory. He said welcome and opened the gate so I could drive into a courtyard surrounded by old brick buildings.
The plump man escorted us through dark attics mostly filled with huge oak barrels. Then he led us to a sitting room and said, "Let's have some Singapore Slings." A well-dressed woman with a warm smile often characteristic of hot women brought in a fancy pitcher and poured the red liquid into large goblets. The plump man then opened a cigar box and held it in front of each of us. I didn't smoke, but... the host always feels better when you accept the gift. Soon we were puffing cigars and sipping the sweet-tasting concoctions. The plump man used to live in the States. He wanted to know the latest.
I said America was still a gunslinger country, that President Kennedy's assassination was a sad chapter in a society where violence was so prevalent. We talked about lighter subjects and laughed.
The well-dressed woman brought another pitcher and carefully refilled our large goblets. I thought the trouble with drinking too much was it made you talk when you should be listening.
The world was becoming fuzzy, and I knew we had to leave before bad things started happening. We thanked the plump man for his hospitality. Ilan Joffe, the Dutchman, and I were laughing hysterically as I sped through the streets of Copenhagen. Another problem with being drunk was thinking you could swerve around other cars as if you were invincible. The hostel gave us a place to sober up, but not until we'd spent more time there laughing at any moronic thing that popped into our heads.
The next day I drove Ilan Joffe to a few companies where he dropped off his résumé. Ilan was clean-cut and soft-spoken. He looked professional in his dark suit. He believed there might be an opportunity for a civil engineer. I told him to keep trying. We did some sightseeing and visited Copenhagen's famous Little Mermaid, which is a bronze sculpture on the shore of the old port district of Nyhavn. I had Ilan use my camera to photograph me with my left hand resting on the Mermaid's right thigh. I thought it was probably the most intimate I'd get with a hot Danish woman, because I needed to leave the cold rain behind and head for sunny Switzerland. The Danes were good-natured, as if you could be intimate with them even without seductive drinks.
I left Copenhagen with two American girls who'd posted a notice on the bulletin board that they needed a ride to Hannover in Germany. I said, "We can probably make it to Hannover by evening." They said they'd stay at the youth hostel in Hannover and why didn't I stay overnight there, too. I said I was 26 and probably too old for youth hostels. They said only the youth hostels in Bavaria had an age limit. In Hannover, I purchased a membership in the International Youth Hostel Association. I also had to buy a sheet sleeping bag because the hostels didn't provide sheets. These two things would allow me to stay in youth hostels throughout Europe. I could stop worrying where I'd find a cheap place to sleep each night.
I thought the only problem with youth hostels was the tendency to gravitate toward other travelers there instead of trying to find interesting natives. My mind flicked often to Sigrid Nordahl—her sweet smile, candid nature, and willingness to show that she was, to me, the hottest woman in Scandinavia. Someone once said, "Sexiness is about being an individual and having conviction about what that is." I suppose this was the quality I'd seen in Sigrid.
(Some names have been changed for privacy consideration.)