It’s the third night after. One of these light blue Scandinavian July nights. Oslo is full of flowers and candles. There has been a memorial march – between 150 00 and 200 000 people attended. That is more than one third of the city’s population. Each and every one of them were carrying flowers, and they have all left their flowers somewhere downtown. No one really wants to go home, people wander around, often stopping and hugging each other, even strangers do. «Do you need a hug?» asks a young girl walking beside me, as if she was asking «are you ok?»
Some – mainly young people- just stand on the pavements, crying. And on almost every corner there is a pile of flowers. The police cars are covered with them. The metal fences surrounding the ground zero are converted to walls of roses. It is so strange, so un-Norwegian, and at the same time so typical.
I feel like saying «You can’t imagine», and then it strikes me that a New Yorker probably can.
I think most of your Norwegian friends are not directly touched by the catastrophe. But we’re such a small country, it’s pure mathematic: Most of us will have someone one or two steps away: A class mate of a son or daughter, a neighbor´s relative, a friend’s friend.
As you know my office is almost just opposite the government buildings which were the epi-center of the explosion. I wasn’t there, I was in my car with Nanna on our way to the publishing house to pick up Helene, my second oldest, who holds a summer job at Cappelen’s. We had called and asked her to go out and wait for us on the corner. It was Friday afternoon, like lots of Oslo citizens we were planning to go out of the city for the weekend. When we were about 100 meters away, the explosion hit. It was like a giant hand took the car from underneath, shaking it.
It took a fraction of a second, and my home town was changed into something looking like a war zone. Broken glass everywhere. A huge cloud of dust came towards us, following the shock wave like a jinn. We were driving into it, we had no choice. Not only the government quarters, but almost every house surrounding them were damaged in some way. The deli on the corner where Helene was supposed to stand was completely wrecked, like something out of a disaster film. All over the place bleeding people were lying, hit by the glass from broken windows. The car stopped in the rubble just outside the government building.
Here is one of the strangest things that day: There was so little panic. Very few were running. No screaming. We were walking around, looking confused, bewildered, asking eachothers: «What IS this?» Helene had been two seconds late for the corner and came over to us, I just said «oh, there you are. Good». She is seven months pregnant.
When the police came, everyone moved, no protests, not the usual hesitation due to curiosity, as if we understood they had a difficult job to do, and we shouldn’t be in the way. The car was caught on the inside of the police line with two dogs inside. That’s the reason we had to hang around in the city for some hours. Strange, strange hours. The air full of police sirens and questions. The streets full of glass. The news full of confusion. We found an open cafe and had a beer. My newspaper called and asked me to write for their extra edition. I went home.
And then. Came the second wave. The news from the island.
The whole thing, the giant explosion, the destruction of the base of the civil society, the surreal process of turning Oslo into a parody of Gotham City or Berlin 1945 – it was only a cover-up. Or OK – maybe it was something more. Maybe a symbolic move. But it was not the important part. The important part was man-slaughter. The killing of 60-something young social democrats on a summer camp one hour’s drive outside Oslo.
I don’t know in what detail it has been described in American media. If you’ve heard about the youngsters swimming desperately, the few small overfilled boats picking them up, having to leave someone behind. The heartbreaking story of the young girl hiding under the dead body of her best friend. Stuff like that. Guess it’s impossible to describe anyway.
He didn’t kill himself after the deed, like people like that normally do. He gladly turned himself over to the police when they finally reached the island, after almost an hour, looking forward to the trial and the spreading of his book, a 1500 pages absurd and confused mixture of Mein Kampf, Eurabia visions and right wing stuff.
Dear Larry: I really wish you could have seen my city these days. So much is different, we are closer to each other, I am searching for a word to describe the atmosphere, and I can’t find anything better than «dignity». Like when the mayor, the king and the prime minister all gave the same message: We are going to meet this the only way we can: With more openness, more democracy, more trust. Or the young survivor who summed it up, still standing shivering with a blanket around her: When one man can have such a hate, imagine how much love we all can create.
As you see: I’m sentimental. We all are.
It’s the worst of times, it’s the best of times.
Thinking of you,