Oslo

Mack vs. Coke on Gressholmen, 30 August 2006

It was down the fjord from Oslo where Roald Amundsen heard the news that his American colleague Dr. Frederick Cook had claimed to be first at the North Pole. This news changed the course of polar history: Amundsen decided in secret to sail for Antarctica and engage in a furious race with Captain Robert Falcon Scott for priority at the South Pole. This race can be thought to have had its origins in the claims of first Cook and then Peary over when and whether they had reached the North Pole.

So as strange as it seems, one cannot properly understand the race to the South Pole without an intimate understanding of Oslo, Norway, and its connections to American polar history through the claims of Cook and Peary, and the direct Norwegian connections of American explorers like Walter Wellman and Evelyn Briggs Baldwin.

Soon after I arrived in the University of Oslo for a summer language course in 2004, I used free moments to walk throughout the city and beyond. From the university campus at Blindern to the high hedges of Sognveien on the very first evening to the statuary of Vigeland at Frognerparken the second, the endlessly elongated northern evening was a continuous source of joy, a quiet sensuality of cobblestones in a landscape sunlit nearly to midnight. It was hear that I came to understand Amundsen and Nansen and their connections to American polar exploration.

Olso today is a place of near-silence broken by the occasional motorized scooter shaded a world largely independent of the automobile. Elderly pensioners grappled up hills and walkways, walking stick in each hand, unyouthful knees more inconvenience than incapacitation. What voices one did hear were low and private, inward-turning contemplation entwined with multi-lingual literacy. Over the next six weeks, Oslo became my favorite city in the world, one I try to return to at least once every year.

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