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December 5th, 2010

With the Bridge of Dreams behind us, we made port in Oslo, Norway, the Most Expensive City on Earth. Prior to winning that dubious distinction, it was a Viking capital, widely known as being Home of the Most Hats With Pointed Horns on Earth. Early in its history, it was also launching point for the Most Savage Coastal Raiders On Earth, winners of the coveted World Cup of Rape, Pillage, and Murder forty-three times between 799 AD and 1023 AD.

One might expect such a colorful history to make for an interesting city, and one would be right.

The early Vikings were masters of the sailing ship, and modern-day Osloians, or whatever it is you call natives of Oslo, are reluctant to give that tradition up. The harbor was crammed quite full of wooden sailing ships when we arrived.



I'm not quite sure what they made of our strange vessel of painted metal, and its lack of sailing-masts and oars and any other visible means of propulsion. I half expected to be greeted as some sort of strange seaborne god, arriving on the shores of the city in a magical floating hotel and casino that moved under its own power and levitated on water with the power of elfin magic alone.

What actually greeted me was this...oddly proportioned statue.



The sculptors of Norway have it all over the sculptors of Russia in that, it would seem, they have actually seen a real human breast up close, and are reasonably familiar with its general overall shape, size, position, and disposition.

What they would seem less acquainted with, however, is other particulars of human anatomy, in regards especially to things like hands and feet. Good Lord, I have not seen hands and feet that big since World of Warcraft. And I have a dwarf paladin, so I know disproportionate extremities when I see them.

She can crack walnuts with those toes, I reckon.

Right on the edge of the port is Akershus Castle, built on the edge of the water in the 1200s as defense against roving bands of maritime raiders. Quite why Norway, the source of the world's roving bands of maritime raiders, felt the need to defend against them is a detail that escapes your humble scribe.

The castle proper was under significant renovation when we arrived, and so looked nothing like its Wikipedia entry. I was able to visit part of the castle complex, though, which to my eye looked largely like a collection of stone houses behind a wall.



One of the main buildings of the fortress complex featured a stone wall bristling with a rather startling array of cannon, the better to...err, I don't know. I'd say "beat back ravening hordes of invading Vikings," but, well, you know.



And speaking of walls, the Norse were rather good at them, I must say.



This formidable twelve-foot wall of stone entirely surrounds the fort. It rendered the entire castle complex, and the city that the castle protected, virtually impregnable to attack from the time of its completion in the late 1200s all the way up through 1982, when advances in military technology led to the invention of the stepladder. Overnight, this once-awesome defensive structure was made obsolete. World powers shifted in the blink of an eye, as often happens with new, disruptive technologies, and the golden age of the Norwegian empire was irrevocably behind it.

The Norwegians do love their cannon, though. This one looks out over the wall toward the busy urban center of Oslo's downtown district.



If that office building ever declares war, man, Oslo will be ready.

The city reacted with more shock and less awe to our arrival than I might have preferred; it wasn't long, in fact, before those fearsome cannon swung 'round our way.



Initially, they demanded a million dollars and the head of Dick Cheney as ransom for our safe release. Hours of tense negotiations ensued, during which compromises were made on all sides. They finally agreed to accept a dozen old VHS tapes of "Knight Rider" episodes and a signed photograph of David Hasselhoff, which at the current exchange rates were worth approximately the same amount as their original demand. During our stay, the American dollar was so far in the crapper that a minute of Internet time in an Oslo internet cafe cost about $842.67, or a two-pence coin in British pounds sterling.

This is, it might be argued, not the right time for an American to be vacationing abroad. Seeing as how our itinerary included several stops behind the old iron curtain, though, one could say that there's a tradeoff between visiting during a time when the dollar's in the toilet but Americans are warmly welcomed with open arms, or a time when the dollar is invincible but Americans are warmly welcomed with firing squads. One takes what one can get.




There's nothing like being held for ransom and then squabbled over like the white meat on Thanksgiving's turkey that focuses the mind. There is also, it must be said, little good that can come of having one's mind focused on Knight Rider. There is a dirty little secret of Knight Rider, and I don't mean the one about how it jumped the shark with the Cylonesque talking car's evil twin. No, the dirty little secret of Knight Rider was that it was a children's show that nevertheless managed to run ads aimed at grown men.

But again I digress.

Crisis averted and safe passage assured, I ventured farther into Oslo, and soon stumbled upon the magnificent town hall near the center of town.



It is a brooding and majestic place, a fit center from which to rule a vast empire. You can tell by the horses. Horses engraved in stone always mean business.

Along the column-flanked overhangs to the left and the right, rows of wood carvings remind us of what is to come during the Final Days, when a great darkness shall descend upon the earth.



This particular carving shows the winged serpent-beast Nidhogg gnawing one of the roots of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree. In his malice and evil, he tears perpetually at the root of all things, hoping to strike oil. Some say that if he succeeds, there will be a great calamity, with the lifeblood of Yggdrasil gushing out uncontained during three long months of wailing and suffering, with much hand-wringing and the fall of many tears, before finally being staunched by a combination of a gigantic cap positioned by remotely-controlled robotic servants and a relief well being drilled alongside the gashes of Nidhogg's enormous fangs. Afterward will come a Tribulation, in which a great king will be forced to give up his idyllic life of yacht racing and abdicate his throne in disgrace.

Others, of course, say that this is merely a fanciful tale told for the entertainment of children, and that nothing like this can ever really happen.

The Oslo town hall is richly decorated with statues and carvings. Im not sure of these geese are wrestling or having sex, but then, there have been times in my life when I was not sure if I was wrestling or having sex. When I was in high school, I had this crush on the girl next door, see, and she and I would often wrestle with one another...but I digress.



Or are they swans? The ornithology of waterfowl, like the distinction between wrestling and sex, is not one of my areas of expertise.

I do quite like the statue atop the building's facade, though.



The whole thing has a vaguely Stalinesque feel to it, or it would if Joseph Stalin hadn't been such a cob-faced prude.

The balcony is just lovely. From here, the Grammaton Clerics issue their edicts to the city's citizens, and it is to here that any citizen suspected of either emotion or artistic expression is taken in order to stand trial. And by "stand trial," I mean "get shot a whole bunch of times in dramatic slow motion by Christian Bale, but, y'know, back when he was cool, before he became a mincing, emotionally volatile momma's boy like he is now."

One day, my secret lair will have a balcony that looks just like this.

The main door to the town hall is decorated with this mural on its lintel.



It depicts, as near as I can puzzle out, two Masters of Capitalism, perhaps John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjöld, shaking hands to cement a deal, while all about them the machinery of commerce hums, guided by Adam Smith's hand toward a Utopian Worker's Paradise under the wise and benevolent rule of Kim Jong Il...though I may have my fairy tales mixed up. Whatever, I'm sure that whenever two guys shake hands, it's always good news for everyone else.

The door itself is also adorned with artwork, though done in a radically different style.



Here we see a brave knight, who represents the Tetragrammaton Council, battling with a great serpent, who represents the rapacious oil-seeking Nidhogg, while clad in a fetching military hat, which represents the wisdom of Ayn Rand shining like a beacon over Her disciples at Enron and Goldman-Sachs, with his sword, which represents his penis.

The town hall was closed the day I was in Oslo, which was very sad; I really wanted to see the machinery of Norse justice in action. As I ran around taking pictures, though, a woman cracked the door and watched me from the inside. I have no idea if she was armed or not.

The Norse love their severe, narrow balconies almost as much as they love their cannon.



One day, my secret lair will have...

No, screw that. One day, my secret lair will be this place. Only with, like, lasers and stuff. Because lasers are cool.

On the way back from the town hall, I found a curious bit of graffiti on the wall. I don't understand Norse graffiti.



It appears to my eyes to have been written by someone whose passion was as great as his grasp of English spelling and grammar was tenuous. Though to be fair, it's a bit surprising to see graffiti in any English, broken or no, in a city whose dominant language is nothing like English.

The strangest discovery in Oslo awaited my return to the ship. Nestled beneath a tree right on the edge of the port one finds, most unexpectedly, a giant stone statue of American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.



I didn't expect to see him sitting here, so far from home. It seems that, like many Americans, I am underinformed about our own glorious history, and about the role our past leaders have played in many other nations during their time upon the world stage.

But the Norse have not forgotten, oh no. They remember. They remember President Roosevelt's service to their nation, when he led the Norwegian Air Force against the armies of Napoleon during the Battle of the Bulge. They remember how he brought light on that dark day, using his powers to turn the tide of battle at the moment when all hope seemed lost.

And they remember, too, his promise to them and to all mankind, that he will return again, when the final battle of Ragnarök has begin and Odin has been slain by the great wolf Fenrir. They remember his pledge to rise once more, to take Odin's seat at the head of the gods and to battle the forces of evil for the salvation of all of us.

Oh yes, they remember.