Cruise Journal, Part I



Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve written you many journals from Norway in recent years. Why? Have I bought an igloo in the north of that country? No. I’ve been attending the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights conference, and I wrote a book centered in Norway. (Peace, They Say, a history of the Nobel Peace Prize.)

Well, I’ve been back again — because National Review cruised there. So, here comes another journal from Norway — not so much a Norwegian journal as a cruise journal. A cruise journal with some Norway in it.

Like . . .

There are 193 members of the United Nations. I’m sure I’ve been to fewer than half those countries. But I’m pretty sure of this: There is not a more beautiful country than Norway.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about Mozart conducting. And I said (something like), “No one has ever conducted Mozart better than Szell.” And a fellow critic, the next time he saw me, slammed me with, “So, no one’s as good as Szell, huh?”

No, that’s not what I said. I said no one was better — which I believe. Similarly, there are no doubt countries as beautiful as Norway. I could name a few. (The one I’m in now, Austria.) But more beautiful? I really doubt it.

On the stage of our ship, we have a conversation with Allen West. I say, “You can call him Colonel, or you can call him Congressman” (or Allen). I prefer Colonel. I’m more impressed by that title.

At some point in our hour, I ask him about military spending: Many Americans want it reduced, including some on the right. West remembers our days of the “hollowed out” military. He had to serve in it.

What does he say of those who think we can get along with less? For one thing, “They’ve never been shot at.”

He says a lot more, of course, on this and many other topics. I wish I had a transcript for you . . .

John Sununu says something I like a lot (I’m speaking of the former governor, not his son the former senator): A party that has been losing does not have the luxury of much internal bickering — to say nothing of civil war. The Republican party needs unity.

Then again, theres a lot to argue about — with the Left, sure, but within the Right, loosely defined, too.

I recall something William Safire once wrote: “I know how to spell ‘Sununu.’ I just don’t know when to stop.” And David Pryce-Jones, who knows everything, informs me that, in Arabic, “sununu” is the name of a bird — the swallow.

I talk with a longtime cruiser of ours, who grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her parents were Finnish. Many in that community spoke a mixture of the two languages — “Finnglish.”

When we get to Bergen, it’s raining cats and dogs. I mean, a sustained, unrelieved downpour. A reader of ours who lives in this city, and grew up in it, e-mails me, “Sorry about the rain, but it’s how we roll.” Very idiomatic English, this Norwegian speaks. Many of them do.

I come to learn, Bergen is the rainiest city in Norway — and it’s a rainy country anyway. Apparently, Seattle is practically San Diego by comparison.

Grieg’s home is called Troldhaugen, and it’s almost a shrine in the musical world. I don’t visit during this stop; I visited a couple of years ago.

I know a lady who visited in the early ’70s, I believe. Then, you could play Grieg’s piano, which she did. (One of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, of course.) These days, the piano’s roped off. But I imagine if you sweet-talked a docent . . .


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