So here I sit at 5:00 a.m. at gate 19 of the Bodø airport, viewing with skepticism the tail end of a tiny Widerøe plane that may be the one I am taking to Leknes forty-five minutes from now. I can see 3 windows, which means it has at least 6 seats. There are already three of us waiting in the transit lounge. With no assigned seats available, it could be a bit like a rush toward musical chairs once we are given the go ahead to board.
It is a very small plane. When was the last time you saw a man stand beneath an airplane wing and reach up manually to twirl the four-blade propeller? He sets it going like a languorous windmill, then releases something that looks like a very large rubber band. That’s our plane. Very small.
I get the mac airbook out of my purse because, although I am on the first stretch of a long writing adventure, I have forgotten a notebook. I did grab a bic pen before leaving the house and it is in my purse, but I have nothing to write on here but this computer.
Don’t worry, there are journals in my suitcase. Several of them. For different moods and purposes. There is the small paperback adorned with Van Gogh’s sunflowers that I bought at the National Gallery in London. The sleek brown paper jacketed one from the Japanese paper outlet in the Boston airport last August. The black hardback sketchbook that I bought over a decade ago in Madison, Wisconsin and carried from there to Hawaii; then from Hawaii to Bodø; then from Hestdalen to Lyngnes the cabin in which, for a few years, all the hytte gjester wrote short accounts of their stays and the children drew outlines of their outstretched hands. With its 500 blank pages it was going to provide for the long line of hyttebok entries that would be handed on to posterity, along with the idyllic piece of real estate that was the cabin.
The black sketchbook returned to Hestdalen via Galnåsmyra 18B when Trond sold the hytte and moved to Bergen last fall. I turned it upside down and began journaling in it from the back. I figure by the time I reach the pages where the hytte entries are, I will be ready to read them. For now I avoid anything more than a glance at them when I open the sketchbook to the right orientation: backward from the blank pages that would have been the end of the cabin’s story, toward the handful of pages that contain different renditions, in crayon and Mont Blanc ink, of a family’s last attempt to claim a common ground on the piece of paradise that was Lyngnes, the cabin at the foot of Steigtind.
Three journals are in my suitcase, each suited for a different kind of writing this weekend. It will be a long weekend. It is Wednesday morning and I will return by another tiny airplane on Sunday night. I hadn’t planned to stay so long, but there is no way out of Lofoten on a Saturday afternoon. No way out on a Sunday morning either. It was Friday night or never. But Friday night would have meant leaving in the middle of the Tett På, Roy Jacobsen in Conversation with Finn Stenstad, and before Ord for natten, Kjell Arild Pollestad interviewing Torgeir Bygstad about his translation of the Roman poet Catullus. Why go to the Reine Ord Festival, certainly why spend Thursday night there, if not to attend these Friday night events? Why go to the festival at all if you return by the last plane on Thursday, which will cause you to miss the opening ceremony. No, it isn’t easy to get out of Lofoten by air, but one look at the steely gray white-capped sea told me to avoid the ferry at all costs. So it is little propeller plane there and back, when little propeller planes are in operation.
Did I really have to leave the house at 4:30 this morning in order to arrive in time for the writing class with Vigdis Hjort, which starts at 5 p.m.? You bet. This time frame says something about how close to the end of the world Reine is. I will get to Leknes at 6:10 a.m., wait four and a half hours for the bus to Reine, during which time I will make my way to the bus stop which is a few kilometers away from the airport. Then I will proceed by bus for one and a half hours to Reine, where another walk of some kilometers will get me to the Rorbu. The process repeats in reverse on Sunday afternoon to catch the 9 p.m. flight back to Bodø.
I have learned the hard way (at JFK in 2003 when I almost missed Ben and Grace’s LA wedding) to keep an eye on the transit lounge. If I seem to be the only person waiting for a plane there could a mistake. Sure enough, the little propeller plane took off to Trondheim with the two men who were sitting here. It is now 5:32 and the area around me at gates 19 and 18 is empty. I walk past a hundred or so vacant chairs to find the display board. Yup, they have changed the gate to 16. But the waiting area at gate 16 and 17 is also empty. I take a seat close to the gate desk, find the chair is covered with cheese puff residue, and move to a seat in the next row. I just settle down with my airbook to continue writing as a woman in a disco-glow-yellow jacket appears at the desk.
Are you going to Leknes?
Yes. I put away the airbook and approach the counter. Hee hee, am I the only passenger? A something-is-wrong feeling falls over me, the one I always have when I arrive someplace ahead of schedule, i.e., on time.
Oh no! she chirps. There’s supposed to be another one around here someplace. Værsågod!
She glances at my boarding card and I pass through the exit doors as she gets on the intercom to lure the other passenger to the proper gate. I step onto the tarmac where a feisty wind whips my hair around my face, stylishly I hope, as I walk toward the flying machine with the sun glistening over the mountaintops and the pavement sleek with last night’s rain. I imagine this is how presidents and kings must feel when you see them on the evening news entering or leaving airplanes just like this, out in the open, instead of through those accordion tunnels that attach to the airplane with a rubber seal. I feel like I should turn and wave to the cameras as I step onto the aluminum stairway.
Three steps and I am in the cabin. A man who looks like he could be the pilot greets me. There is no rush, no musical chairs, the airplane is my oyster. I can choose any seat I want. I choose 2F, which puts me in direct line of the arctic wind tunneling in through the open door. As the steward passes by I venture to ask if he has a blanket, and am a bit surprised that he actually produces one, wrapped in sanitary plastic. He rips open the edge of the packaging and offers the blanket to me the way Humphrey Bogart might have offered a cigarette to Lauren Bacall. Then he does the next gentlemanly thing and pulls an accordion door shut across the open door to block the wind.
The other passenger arrives, a foreign looking young man in a sweatshirt. He finds a seat in the next to the last row at back of the plane across the aisle. He’s done this before, knows that he is expected to sit directly opposite me to balance the weight of the plane. We are off.
Where do you usually look during the safety demonstration of how to buckle a seatbelt, slip on a life jacket, and find the nearest emergency exit?
Where do you look if you are one of only two passengers this demonstration is intended to save in the not so unlikely event this tiny aircraft falls from the sky or misses the short runway?
Do you go on reading your book?
Do you look out your window at the sun rising over the mountain peaks?
Do you look out the opposite window and ponder the propeller whose slow laborious turns are making the airplane shudder?
Or do you give your polite attention to the humble steward, even look him in the eye and smile as he blows into the red tubes that will inflate your life vest should it not do so automatically? Will you do this so he does not have to feel embarrassed for performing safety pantomimes at the front of an airplane that is empty but for you at the front and the bloke at the back?
I had not quite come to terms with myself on this question when the plane began putt-putting down the runway and, against all laws of nature, we took off. I imagined us looking like a cartoon: a determined frown on the nose of the plane, the tail thumping against the ground as the machine lifts and roars.
The tiny plane roars.
Otherwise everything about the trip is normal, the same as it would be on a real airplane. The steward tours the aisle, looking to his left at me, to his right at the other guy, checking our tray positions and seatbelts. The captain comes on and greets us with temperatures and flying time. Informs us that refreshments are available for purchase. One thing is very unexpected: when the fasten seatbelt sign dings off the steward is on his feet offering small dark chocolates from a plastic bin. It’s one of the few times I’ve been given free food on a Norwegian airplane.
If you have ever thought that airplane lavatories are small, try to imagine one so small there is no room for a sink. Only a dispenser of handy-wipes on the wall next to the toilet paper. To the right of the toilet a wall-to-wall mirror you can hardly turn to see into, because the floor space is the width of your foot.
When we land the plane no longer looks so small. That is because the Leknes airport is like a toy, everything compromised to fit within reach like in a play kitchen. Here we have the all-in-one-security-control-cum-baggage-drop to the right of the single glass ticket window. To the left, a short conveyer belt where a little yellow light flashes signaling the arrival of two mailbags, a stack of newspapers and my suitcase.
My fellow passenger disembarked with nothing but a white envelope in his hand. I considered asking if he was heading to Reine, perhaps I could hitch a ride, but he walked with purposeful strides straight through the airport and out the other side. I gathered that he was not going to the Reine Ord Festival. If he were he would have a suitcase, though not necessarily as full as mine which is sporting an orange “heavy” tag like a medallion.
Yes it is heavy. Full of provisions for the 5 days. Fruit, peanut butter, fresh bread, tins of peppered mackerel, freeze-dried tortellini, a pot of honey, tea, muffins, pretzels…; the aforementioned journals, jewels and rings to accommodate any mood or outfit, one pair of shoes, a rain jacket, thirty exam papers to grade, Overalt bor det folk, poems by Thomas Marco Blatt, Jean Paul Sartre’s Words, three books on writing, my rune stones and some clothes. Nah, I don’t think the guy with the envelope is going to the Reine Ord Festival.
A postman has fetched the newspapers and mailbags, and sits down with his hands behind his head waiting for something to come out of the storage room. I figure he is local and ask him if he knows where to catch a bus. He thinks hard, hesitates, then says:
That’s way downtown.
Can I walk there?
I see he is making a polite effort to avoid giving me the once over as he considers the distance to the bus station in terms of my person.
A good twenty-minute walk. Who knows what time they open, he adds, shaking his head. It is clear he considers this beyond my capability.
In the back of my mind I am hopeful that his bleak rundown of the situation will result in him offering me a ride into town in the mail truck. Instead he nods toward the ticket counter-cum-baggage-drop-cum-security-control. Ask him. There is no “him” at the security-check-in-multi-post, but on the other side of the security area there is a group of chairs that seem to serve as a café-cum-boarding-gate. I do not dare to walk through the unattended security scanner with my steel-heeled shoes and liquid toiletries. I sit down, fish out my airbook and go back to writing this. It is, after all, not yet 7 a.m. and the bus leaves at 10:45. Even if I do end up walking to town I have about four hours to do it in.
A three woman washing crew has arrived. One passes in front of me, unscrewing a bottle of fizzy water as she marches up to a potted plant and empties the contents into the soil. She returns to rummaging through plastic bags and another woman carries a half empty bottle of water up to the plant with the same mission. Once is odd, twice is weird. What kind of plant care have these women been trained in? Then I see that the bottles are from the bin in front of security. They could contain gasoline! Nitroglycerin! Too dangerous to allow through security, but the two green plants that adorn this Lilliputian airport apparently thrive on them.
The only people I see who are not obviously engaged in earning a living from the airport are a little old lady and little old man who sit chatting right inside the door to the airport, legs and arms crossed, relaxing. There is a suitcase parked next to them. Are they waiting to leave the airport like I am? They are not going through the ticket office/baggage drop/security control. Are they waiting for someone to arrive by plane? If so, why the suitcase? Either way, they might be heading into town and could offer me a ride to the bus stop.
Excuse me, are you from around here?
They glance at each other and grin as if here it is again, the question that has followed them through a lifetime and which they still don’t know how to answer. (Sort of like when someone asks me where I come from.) They say something to the effect of being from a different Lofoten hamlet but they come here occasionally, usually only when they are leaving.
I am not sure if that means they are going into town or not.
I play dumb, ponder aloud if buses indeed ever stop at the airport, and where are the taxis? They look out the window and assure me that there is a sign attached to the side of the airport that sports a drawing of both a bus and a taxi.
I thank them and try my luck with the one remaining washerwoman who has been humming a melodic tune while mopping the bathroom.
Do you know where the buses pick up? I’m going to Reine, you see.
She waddles over to the window of the ticket counter on which a bus schedule is taped. I know this document. I have spent hours poring over it on the Internet, trying with my best travel-agent-skills to coordinate a connection between planes and buses and boats on this archipelago. So when she says the bus leaves at 8:50 I know she is wrong. There was no bus before 10:45.
Are you sure that is the bus to Reine?
Oh yes, she nods.
It doesn’t say Reine.
It’s the same direction.
What about this one that says Reine? I point out the bus to Å. Does it come to the airport or do I need to get it downtown? If so, how does one get downtown?
It seems the question has never arisen in her mind before, but she is able to pass through security with impunity and get The Man.
That’s a kilometer! he says in a grave voice, shaking his head. Should we call you a cab?
A kilometer? What am I an invalid? Isn’t it a kilometer I walk to school everyday?
My suitcase has wheels. Just point me in the right direction please.
It is now 7:40. I retrieve my jacket and gloves from the suitcase, make a trip to the potty and head out the door where the washerwoman, now sweeping the steps, repeats The Man’s directions.
Just follow the road down the hill and around to the right. The main road. Well there is only one road. You’ll see a bakery. It opens at 7.
I thank her and look around for the ramp. Will I have to carry my 23 kilo suitcase DOWN the stairs? She points to the wall where two sharp 90-degree turns will lead me onto a wheelchair ramp. She is still sweeping as I pass by her again.
It’s just there beyond the green, she says, meaning the dark forest in the opposite direction of where she has told me to follow the road. But there is no shortcut, you’ll have to follow the road around and then double back.
No problem! I smile with a wave and trundle the suitcase away, feeling like Dorothy heading down the yellow brick road
If the rain doesn’t come you’ll be fine! she shouts with an encouraging smile.
Rain? To my right, over the fjord, I can glimpse sun and blue sky. To the left, as if skewered onto the tops of the mountains, are peppery granular clouds. They are far away. It won’t rain.
Anyway I have a raincoat on.
I proceed down the road, which is downhill, luckily, because 23 kilo plus my purse with the mac airbook, is a lot for one wrist to pull. In case Washerwoman, The Man, and Little old couple are watching, I wait until I am out of sight of the airport to switch arms. Ok, I can tell it is going to be a rather long walk, but this is Norway. People walk. If my feet end up hurting what’s new? My feet have hurt for years. Probably the last time my feet didn’t hurt was when I was fourteen years old. I notice there are very light drops of rain falling, but take courage from the fact that the cars that pass me do not have their wipers on. It can’t be raining much.
I have just reached the bottom of the hill and am about to switch arms again when I sense the approach of a vehicle behind me. It is a white bus the size of a reclining skyscraper. TOUR BUS is written across the top. It is moving slowly, but to match my pace it stops with a loud release of hydraulic pressure. The driver regards me through the door with a mixture of concern and amazement on his face. I nod at him and smile to signal that I know what I am doing.
He opens the door. Wha the—
I’m going to Reine! I say. I mean to the bus station to get the bus to Reine. Then just to confirm that I have gotten my facts straight I add, It leaves at 10:45!
That’s right, he says. I suppose I can take you there. I don’t usually go there. Get on in.
By “there” I believe he means the bus station, not Reine, which is an hour and a half away. For a brief insane moment I want to say, No that’s okay, I am enjoying the walk! but it’s really raining now. I have been trying to bum a free ride all morning and now a luxury bus will drive me to the bus station free of charge. At least I think it’s free. I decide not to ask him if he is going to charge me as I heave the suitcase onto the first step of the bus. He reaches out instinctively as if expecting me to fall backwards onto the street.
It’s okay, I chirp. I’ve got it. The second step. The third step. Thanks a lot! I settle into the front most seat and try to catch my breath. Behind me two rows of blue velour upholstered seats stretch back as far as the eye can see. As the bus crawls forward the driver says he is really supposed to be going to Stamsund.
I have no idea where anything is around here, I offer jovially, balancing the suitcase on top of my feet. I just got here from Bodø! I’m going to Reine!
Was there anyone else on that plane?
Yup, one other guy.
I decide not to mention the white envelope and purposeful stride, nor the fact that the guy looked like an Arab, which would have made that flight even more absurd for freighting two foreigners at the crack of dawn to an airport from which there is no visible transportation out.
When the bus takes a right in a roundabout I am alarmed.
They told me to follow the road straight into town! I would have gotten lost here! The driver just shakes his head and repeats that he really is on his way to Stamsund.
The man has not just done me a favor, he has saved me from disastrous folly. Trying to walk a kilometer from the airport! With a suitcase! In the rain! In high heels! On a road that would have led me directly into the Lofoten wilderness!
The driver stops the giant white bus at a zebra crossing and points out the “bus station” which is what is known most places as a sheltered bus stop. There is the bakery that The Man said opened at seven. It has four tables, fresh cinnamon rolls, coffee and I am the only customer.
Do you have Internet? I ask the proprietor who definitely was the prototype for the father of Dennis the Menace. Same black glasses, same side part, same sharp nose and lanky frame. He looks at me and says he has Telephone Net.
You can try that. I’ve seen people sitting here using their computers so there must be some kind of net, he says.
It’s okay, I can use my computer without the net. I smile at him.
He looks bewildered by that concept.
Without the net I can focus on what I’m doing, I say. He blinks and retreats into a back room. Which is writing, I say out loud as I unwind the cord for my airbook. Writing, I say. I’m writing.
Don’t need the net. Need to focus. Three and a half hours until the bus comes. Maybe I can get this written before I get to the fishing cabin.
THEN I can get on the Internet!