Discover more from The Best Newsletter
Today is another travel day as I leave Oslo, heading west to Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. Rather than taking a direct train across the country, though, I’m following a more scenic route that will take me through some of Norway’s famed fjords.
The 13-hour itinerary requires a sequence of tram to train to train to boat to bus to train. The weather hasn’t cooperated the past few days and the forecast is not great, but maybe I’ll get some luck.
…Chain Pizza I Had This Week
Peppe’s Pizza — Oslo, Norway
On my first full day in Oslo, I was strolling down the street when I walked by a restaurant called Peppe’s Pizza.
Now, anyone who knows anything about New Haven recognizes that this is an amusing sight indeed, because of the similarity in name to Pepe’s, the Elm City’s famed Wooster Street apizza place.
So with a chuckle, I took a photo of the exterior.
I was going to continue on my way, but then I looked at the time. It was 11:30 am. A little early for lunch, I thought, but I hadn’t eaten anything all day. And something inside me said I needed to check out this joint. So I went inside and got a table for one.
I opened the menu and found the story of Peppe’s Pizza explained on the first page. I started reading.
You know how in The Godfather, Michael was “hit by the thunderbolt” when he sees Apollonia for the first time? Well, while reading the history of Peppe’s Pizza, I had a thunderbolt moment.
The name Peppe’s, I learned, was no accident. In the late-1960s, a married couple named Louis and Anne Jordan decided that they were going to move from Connecticut to Norway, the homeland of Anne’s family.
Before making plans though, Louis expressed concern about how he would earn a living in their new country. Anne responded, “Honey, don’t you think Norwegians would love pizza?”
Louis thought they would. So what did he do? He got a job at Pepe’s in New Haven to learn everything he could about the pizza business.
When they were ready, the Jordans, with their three kids in tow, and $10,000 to their names, made the move. And in May 1970, they opened the first Peppe’s Pizza in Oslo — an homage to the New Haven original.
It’s hard to imagine, but when they opened that first shop, pizza was new in Norway. Needless to say, it was a huge hit. (Of course it was. It’s pizza. There’s nothing better in the world.)
The Jordans opened two more Peppe’s outposts in 1971, and today it’s an international chain with more than 70 restaurants in Norway alone, an empire inspired by Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in our humble Elm City.
I didn’t know any of this before I walked in, and because I can be a terrible pizza snob, I don’t think I would have entered had I known it was a popular chain. But as always, the pizza gods were with me that day.
(My Peppe’s Pizza review: Not terrible!)
…Museum I Visited This Week
Munch — Oslo, Norway
Everyone knows Edvard Munch from The Scream, his 1893 painting that’s among the most famous in history.
But the Norwegian artist created upwards of 30,000 works, most of which he bequeathed to the city of Oslo when he died in 1944.
A trove of those items is on display at the city’s Munch Museum, which opened in 2020.
My expectations for the museum weren’t high. Most of the lists I consulted of must-do Oslo attractions didn’t include it. If anything, Munch garnered a mention of “eh… if you have time, check it out.”
For me and my taste, anyway, the lists were wrong. I like looking at art (often prompting me to quote my college roommate, John: “Oh, that’s some good art”), but I’m not always moved by it. Munch’s work moved me.
I could cite several examples that touched me, but the one I can probably best explain is Despair.
This is something of an alternate version of The Scream.
You’ll immediately notice similarities — the crazy sky, the water below, the bridge, the two friends walking together, away from the person in the foreground.
But while the character in The Scream is expressing his terror outwardly, the character in Despair is deep inside his own head. So deep, in fact, that you can’t even tell if his eyes are open. It’s as if he’s looking at his fear and shame and anxiety from the inside.
As an introvert more likely to internalize my angst than shout it to the world, Despair hits me harder than The Scream does.
There is a lot of suffering in Munch’s work — death scenes, self-portraits about aging, pain as a consequence of love — but it’s not all darkness.
When I saw a version of his mural The Sun, measuring more than 14 feet high and 25 feet wide (plus its two companion works), I almost fell over. Then I teared up.
Overwhelming in scope, the painting makes the case that the sun is responsible for everything we see, feel, and are. In the face of such power and beauty, I certainly couldn’t argue with Munch.
Though this work was likely inspired by Nietzsche’s theme of the sun’s cleansing power, Munch put his motivation more simply: “I saw the sun rise up above the cliffs — I painted the sun.”
…Movie Set in Oslo I Watched This Week
The Worst Person in the World (2021) — Directed by Joachim Trier
I watched the third film in Joachim Trier’s Oslo trilogy, The Worst Person in the World, on a rainy early morning in the Norwegian capital.
Part deconstructed rom-com, part statement on generational angst, the film also serves as a love letter to its home city, much like Woody Allen’s Manhattan (Allen’s work is an obvious influence on Trier). Seeing locations that were just a few steps away from my rented apartment’s door provided me with an added layer of romance as I watched.
The story follows a young woman named Julie (wonderfully played by Renate Reinsve, who won Best Actress at Cannes for this role) as she tries to figure out who she is and where she’s going while reckoning with our era’s overwhelming array of choices — and with climate change looming in the background as a threat to human existence.
What career should I pursue?
Who should I date?
How should I wear my hair?
Should I get married?
Should I have a child?
What’s the point of any of this?
The script is far too subtle to ask these questions directly, and we rarely see Julie consciously trying to work out the answers. At one point, she complains to her artist boyfriend, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), that he always wants to talk about feelings while she just wants to live in the feelings.
Though she doesn’t always articulate it, we do see Julie trying to understand why, as she puts it, “I never see anything through. I go from one thing to another.” This point of view informs the story’s structure, unfolding like chapters of an episodic novel.
At one point, Aksel, a Gen Xer in his mid-40s, lectures Julie, a millennial, on what life was like before the internet (i.e. we used to go to record stores to find music!).
His argument is that life was better when everything was analog and people were apt to commit to their decisions, while millennials, confronted by constant choice and digital ephemera in the internet age, “go from one thing to another.” Julie’s rebuttal, essentially, is, “I’m breaking up with you, old timer.”
As someone who had the internet barge down the doors of my adolescence, I can relate to both generations, both perspectives.
Like Aksel, I long for the analog days, too. (In fact, I recently walked into an Oslo record shop and browsed for a few minutes. But this was a pure act of nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake — why would I buy an LP or CD when I already have access to all of that music on my phone? Also, I don’t even own any machines that would play that kind of physical media.)
Like Julie, my adult life has often felt like a series of episodes chronicling my changes of addresses, jobs, and romantic partners. I feel some of the same ambivalence about the present and future that she does. Are these outcomes brought on by the insidious conveniences and limitless options of the digital age? I don’t know. Julie doesn’t either.
…Olympic Venue I Visited This Week
Holmenkollen Ski Jump — Oslo, Norway
Whenever I’m in an Olympic city, I try to visit whatever remaining stadium or venue still exists.
Last week, I said hello to Stadion in Stockholm, which hosted a variety of sports and events at the 1912 Olympic Games, including track & field, gymnastics, and the (sadly) defunct tug of war. It also hosted equestrian competitions in 1956 because of quarantine rules in Melbourne.
In Oslo, I checked out Bislett Stadium, which stands on the site of the figure skating and speed skating events from the 1952 Olympic Winter Games (the original stadium was demolished in 2004; the current version opened the following year).
One of the cool things about these two buildings is that they’re open to the public for recreational use. So if, for example, I had wanted to take a crack at breaking Hicham El Guerrouj’s Bislett Stadium record in the mile, I could have given it a go. (I decided to let him keep his mark of 3:44.90 for now.)
But certainly the most unusual stadium I visited on this trip was the ski jump at Holmenkollen, a towering edifice and one of the holiest sites in international skiing.
Just a short metro ride from the Oslo city center, Holmenkollen has been the site of official competitions since 1892.
In 1952, it hosted Olympic cross-country skiing and ski jumping events, though that ski jumping stadium was later torn down and replaced in 2010 by the current one.
Unfortunately, once I made the trek to the top on Wednesday afternoon, bad weather conditions obscured my views. As I stood there, I knew the landing area and stadium were below. But I could see nothing but fog.
So I smiled, imagining myself speeding down the icy track, two glorified popsicle sticks strapped to my feet, wind blasting my face, as I fly off into oblivion.