A Handsome Bergen for a Busker, Day 1

The train ride to Bergen from Oslo was billed as one of the most spectacular in Europe and while I have little to compare it to, it certainly didnt disappoint. I took a nap for the first three hours on Bengt’s assurances that I’d miss nothing and became alert just in time to see 4 hours of epic. Or as Sam might say, super dish towel. Norway seems a whole country of Yosemite, the granite rises on either end side of the tracks strongly reminiscent of half dome or the squamish chief, except multiplied endlessly. Most of the faces were quite sheer – strong evidence of glacial activity – and a profusion of deep green trees of a variety that if Brent read this blog he could identify blanketing all the more level bits. The train often followed streams or rivers or mesatop like stretches and took long stops (5 to 10 minutes) along the way. I froze my ass off whenever I stepped out (which worries me for the immediate future a bit) but it was certainly worth it. Though the sky was entirely clouded over in an immutable grey, the blanket was thin enough that this rather lent the day a strange, ethereal glow. Not unlike the morning I spent with Ben at the Lost Rocks in California. And the taste of the air was truly wonderful.

Upon arriving I walked through the rain (the prediction “You’re going to Bergen? Bring and umbrella!” proving quite true) to Madame Felle and met with my couchsurfing host, Ranveig, who Id messaged only two nights previously. We sat about in her living room while I relearned songs and generally relaxed before heading off to watch Spain dominate Germany at her brother’s place across the harbor. On a happy coincidence he had just signed up for couchsurfing and so I managed to snipe him for the rest of my planned stay in Bergen.


A beautiful ring of light on the harbor.

So today (7.8.10) I headed straight for the pedestrian plaza, Torgallmenningen, in the center of town. I found the place sonically dominated by an abyssmal brass band who had quite a crowd and at the other end two female violinists who played at about a Suzuki 4 level. Yes Im being disparaging and elitist but meh. I asked this pair about busking rules and they directed me to the nearby police office, where I registered to busk for three months, anywhere in Bergen, one hour max in any one location. When I returned to Torgallmenningen the Brass band was mercifully taking a break and the girls had vanished. I set up my pitch near the harbour.

Owing to the previous day’s relaxation and practice I was able to sing quite a few songs that were heretofore rusty. I knew instantly that Bergen was going to be much better than Oslo when two somewhat heavyset girls tipped me (both of them!) before finding seats across from me to listen. The vibe was completely different. When I smiled at the parents of lingering children, theyd usually give some small tip to the child to toss in my case. I decided to sing exclusively happy, fast music to test my theories on mood. By the end of the day I determined that its better that I like my music because people can tell, somehow, and since I dont like happy music, in general, its not a particularly wholesome marriage. The other memorable moments from the pitch: a middle aged black man who reminded me strikingly of Junebug in his dress and demeanor passed back and forth and tipping his immaculate white hat at me, a tour group that passed a few times gave me all of €0.50, a couple alternated between making out and watching for most of the set, a kind eyed young man stayed and smiled. At this pitch I also decided to debut High and Dry, to a very warm reception.

After a longish break during which my sinuses obstinately reminded me of their existence, I played a short pitch in a tunnel leading to the bus station. Like Kaisaniemi in Helsinki, this was a perfect pitch for me. I knew this as soon as I started the rather appropriate Sound of Silence and was tipped generously by a group of high school girls. The acoustics in there are excellent. The one downfall of the space is that it seems favored by skateboarders and cyclists, who make quite a racket. My scratchy throat only lasted about twenty minutes but that was enough to do reasonably well – as in Helsinki the tips werent often but large when they came – one nice man cut through a surge of bikes passing by to tip me and a couple sent their child running back to tip me after I finished Hey There Delilah.

My final pitch was largely a fail. I tried once more at Torgallmenningen, but the wind and cold largely prevented me from having any success. When I arrived I had to wait out this terrible terrible flautist who breathed in all the wrong places, played almost everything staccatto and most high notes a touch flat – the simple melodies of Fly Me to the Moon, etc. Poor thing. After my first song, a girl came out of the shop behind me and asked “Not to be rude, youre very good! but its very confusing in the shop with our music and you… could you move down a little.” How could I not be super obliging after such graciousness? I wandered about a bit trying to decide where to set up and a set of girls made the decision for me. They requested me to “sing them something,” settled on How Great is Our God, laughing away as if it was rather ironic, but I silenced them very satisfactorily when I started singing. They didnt tip as they walked sheepishly off and I perservered to very slow tips for forty minutes (one of these tips coming from a set of Japanese girls Id met on the train).

On my return to Ranveig’s flat I inhaled a mountain of pasta and watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (one of her mind bogglingly bigger than David’s collection of DVDs) as I ate and she dozed off on the other couch – quite curiously the exact model that Im rather familar sleeping on – the loveseat from Ikea that I retained from the senior suite.

Earnings: 188 Nok + €0.50, 2.2 hours
Song of the Day: Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

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