Par­ty­ing with the en­gi­neers in Nor­way

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

As­plen­did week in Nor­way and now it’s good to be back home, driv­ing around town in my old beat-up Volvo and lis­ten­ing to The Drifters. Nor­way is a land of bi­cy­cles and pub­lic tran­sit, lean healthy lon­g­legged peo­ple strid­ing up into the hills, but I love my car where I can add a bass vo­cal to “At night the stars they put on a show for free, and, dar­ling, you can share it all with me.”

It was Mid­sum­mer Day in Oslo. I went to my friends’ house for din­ner. The ta­bles were set out on the lawn un­der the lin­den trees, the best china, crys­tal, linen, no pa­per nap­kins, though my friend is an en­gi­neer, not a ty­coon. The wine was opened, shrimp and olives and salad came out at 8 and lamb and pota­toes around 10 and the cus­tardy cakes just be­fore mid­night and then cof­fee and cognac and the tee­to­talled Amer­i­can sat among happy Nor­we­gians un­der a glow­ing sky at 2 a.m., no­body want­ing to leave.

I like Nor­we­gians. They’re dig­ni­fied, self-ef­fac­ing, end­lessly kind, they talk slow so you can butt in, and they’re funny in a dry way. They like Mark Twain. I tried to steal a line of his at din­ner: “I’ve lived through some ter­ri­ble things in my life, some of which ac­tu­ally hap­pened.” And they rec­og­nized it was his. I said it when they asked about Trump, not that they are in the dark about him: They see him as a lu­natic, all the more dan­ger­ous for be­ing in­dif­fer­ent. They are prag­ma­tists and be­lieve there is a time to orate and de­bate, and then you set­tle down and try to make things work. A can­di­date for the Folket­ing who promised to make Nor­way great again would be an ob­ject of ridicule. Let God be the judge of great­ness, your job is to ed­u­cate chil­dren, do busi­ness, feed and doc­tor peo­ple, deal with the real world, look for the least worst out­come.

A fancy din­ner party un­der the sum­mer sky, two young men across from me, en­gi­neers, talk­ing about sus­tain­able fish farm­ing. Re­cy­cling au­to­mo­bile wind­shields. Wind power. A woman next to me who knew about wind power and the cost-ben­e­fit of en­ergy-ef­fi­cient ar­chi­tec­ture. It’s good for an old English ma­jor to hear this, all these young peo­ple ex­cited about solv­ing prob­lems.

Back in col­lege days, my co­horts and I looked down on en­gi­neers. They wore plaid shirts with plas­tic pocket pro­tec­tors and combed their hair with hair oil. We dressed like vagabonds and wrote un­in­tel­li­gi­ble sto­ries and ex­haled cig­a­rette smoke very stylishly and were cool, which they were not. And now, decades later, we look around at a dig­i­tal world that they de­signed, lap­tops, Google, Facebook, and a gizmo the size of a skinny sand­wich that is tele­phone, video cam­era, com­pass, en­cy­clo­pe­dia, weather mon­i­tor, news­pa­per, calendar, pin­ball ma­chine, flash­light, and hun­dreds of apps. And what did we do with our lives? We cre­ated lit­tle blips and blats of sen­si­bil­ity, like hang­ing wind chimes out in the woods.

Too late I learn that peo­ple who dress up as rad­i­cals turn out to be show­men. The real rad­i­cals are the ones who love to work puz­zles and solve prob­lems and that in­cludes a lot of short-haired peo­ple in Sears Roe­buck out­fits.

Some­one had made song­sheets and we sang in the twi­light, Nor­we­gian songs, plus “The Times They Are AChangin’,” “For­ever Young,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Sum­mer­time.”

A man said wist­fully, “We used to build a big bon­fire at Mid­sum­mer and then we thought it set a bad ex­am­ple for the chil­dren, what with air qual­ity and all.”

I caught a ride down­town and walked down to the har­bor around 3:30. Some cafes were still bustling, peo­ple out walk­ing, an ac­cor­dion in the dis­tance, houses with lit win­dows on the slopes over the city. I had come to Oslo on a ship and there it was, lights burn­ing bright. I went up the gang­plank and sailed to Rot­ter­dam in the morn­ing, took a fast train to Brus­sels, and a very fast one — 180 mph — to Lon­don and flew home. My car started right up and I drove to the of­fice as The Drifters sang, “Baby, don’t you know I love you so? Can’t you feel it when we touch?”

I’m sorry we are mes­mer­ized by a mere show­man but glad there are prob­lem-solvers at work out there, and mean­while we cer­tainly have given the world some fine songs. Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good-look­ing and if the moun­tains should tum­ble into the sea, I won’t shed a tear, dar­ling, if you save the last dance for me. Gar­ri­son Keil­lor is an au­thor, en­ter­tainer and former host of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion.”

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