Last post, I wrote about Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License (2014). Today, I want to continue looking at Knisley’s book, specifically as it relates to my continuing thoughts on the ways that travel and place connect us. Edvard Grieg once said, “Min mening er, at på samme måte som mennesket er individuelt og sosialt, slik er kunstneren både nasjonal og kosmopolitt!” (“My opinion is that, just as humans are both individual and social, so the artist is both national and cosmopolitan!”). While I have traveled in the United States, this past year I have traveled further and visited more countries than I ever have in my entire life. In total, I have been to seven countries and at least thirteen distinct cities.
My travels this year is what drew me to Knisley’s graphic travelogue, especially since she depicts Bergen in An Age of License. I first read Knisley back in the fall, after I had been in Bergen only a few months. Her drawings and descriptions of the city caught my attention then, and now as I get ready to leave, after spending eleven months in Bergen, they have taken on a form of nostalgia, even though I have not departed yet.
Numerous images in An Age of License draw my attention, and today, I just want to take a moment and look at some of these pages, discussing how they connect to my own experiences. The first image is a mixture of color and black and white. It shows a view outside of Knisley’s window. Within the image, we look out of the window onto a yellow house with a clay tile roof, something you see everywhere in Norway. I’ve come to associate these roofs with Norway, even though they are in Denmark and other countries as well. The bright colored buildings, coupled with the clay tin roofs and stones on top of chimneys, all bring me to Bergen. Whenever I see one, even elsewhere, I think of Bergen.
Along with this, Knisley’s image shows the bed in her hotel room. If you look, you will notice that there are two pillows and what appear to be two sheets. These sheets are in fact duvets. In the United States, we’re used to having sheets and comforters that cover the entire bed, no matter how many people sleep in that bed. Here, and elsewhere, there are duvets. Each person gets his or her own duvet, so no hogging the covers. This took some getting used to, but again, it is something that distinctly reminds me of Bergen.
Later, Knisley sketches her trip up Fløyfjellet (Mt. Fløyen), the mountain we look out upon from our balcony. She details going up the funicular, even pointing out that it costs her NOK 70 to ride it up to the top of Fløyen. Here, she points out that “The exchange rate is about $1 to 5Kr-Everything is v. expensive.” Since 2011, the exchange rate has greatly increased. When we arrived in August 2018, the rate hovered around $1 to NOK 8. However, at this moment in June 2019, the rate is about $1 to NOK 8.75.
Elsewhere, Knisley sells one of her books at the comics convention. A man comes up to her and asks, “Hvor mye koster detter?” (“How much is this?”), and she tells him NOK 100. In a footnote, she tells us, “Selling a book for 100 ANYTHING is a bit of a thrill, even though it’s only about $20.” When we first arrived in Bergen, we constantly checked the exchange rate, trying to determine how much money we were spending in US dollars. Everyone told us not to do this, due to the sticker shock of the items, but it’s easy to say but hard to do.
As the months went on, it got easier and easier to not thing about the exchange rate. For example, we went to street food festival in May. There, I bought three burgers and two drinks for myself and the kids. The burgers totaled about NOK 460. When we sat down, my wife asked why we got burgers when there were so many other options. She said she would wait to eat when we got home. After tasting a burger, she bought one. So, the total increased to NOK 600. After that, we ate desert (churros and ice cream), adding about another NOK 100 to the total. With the exchange rate, we basically spent about $100. This is why we never eat out. Even going to McDonald’s costs $40 or more for all four of us.
On top of Fløyen, Knisley takes out her sketchbook and draws her view, looking over the water towards Løvstakken and Damsgårdsfjellet, the two mountains behind our apartment. Looking at Knisley’s sketch, I see the bridge I cross to get to the university, the water I gaze upon every morning from my windows, and other landmarks of Bergen. This image, more than any other in An Age of License, causes me to, even now reminisce about our time in Norway. Just like Johan Christian Dahl did almost two hundred years earlier, Knisley depicts Bergen in the moment, the specific moment of 2011, a moment that, while not entirely the same as 2018-2019 (the foot bridge across Damsgårdssundet did not exist), mirrors my own view from atop Fløyen, a view that will always hold memories for me.
Along with all of this, Knisley traveled to Paris with Henrik. There, they stopped at the Pont Louis Philipe, a bridge crossing the Seine in Paris. There they look at “the hundred of locks attached to the bridge and inscribed with names of couples who placed them there as a symbol of the permanence of their bond.” In March 2019, I crossed the same bridge, early in the morning, and caught a glimpse of the sunrise rising over Paris. Knisley, Henrik, myself, and those who placed locks on the bridge, all walked the same ground. We all spent time at that exact spot, gazing at the locks, the river, the city. We all had thoughts, feelings, emotions. We all, as Walt Whitman puts it in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” becoming connected across time and space.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
Pondering this connection brings us together, it links us, not just physically but spiritually. It causes us to think about not just ourselves and those close to us but about those who have come before and who will follow. If we think about those individuals, why can’t we think about those around us? We need to become purposefully cosmopolitan. If we don’t, we become insular, overly nationalistic and cut off. National pride is important, and I do not think it is totally negative, but once that pride turns into isolation and fosters xenophobia, racism, and hate, nationalistic impulses become vile.
We are connected across man made borders. Our words, thoughts, and ideas know no borders. When I visited Klagenfurt, Austria, a city about 30 minutes from both the Slovenian border in one direction and the Italian border in another, the permeability of borders became crystal clear. Trying to learn some phrases to use during my time in Klagenfurt, I asked my host how to say goodbye. She told me that some people say it in German: “Auf wiedersehen.” A vast majority, though, say the Italian “Ciao.” Along with this, the university has signs at its entrance in German and Slovenian. These hybrid moments drive home the fact that people interact and share, learn and grow, meld and invent.
What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
If you enjoy what you read here at Interminable Rambling, think about making a contribution on our Patreon page.