“So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?”
– Somewhere Only We Know, Keane
I’ve tried. Tried very hard to find a minimalist photo I have taken the past few days during my brief time in Cairo, but nothing about this vibrant ancient city is “minimal”. It is saturated to its very core with millennia of history and culture (let’s take this term as we know it and not try to anthropologize or problematize it, just for this post); the buildings whisper to you with its charming old Moorish arches and minarets; the streets are jam-packed with honking cars and reckless pedestrians and street sellers, and let’s not even talk about the bazaars, which are never short of fascinating trinkets and ornaments to entice you with. I must confess that I myself have fallen victim to antique-shopping at the Khan El-Khalili (which we simply call “Hussein”, after the masjid close by named as such), where one can find antique oriental lamps and every imaginable item from the past few centuries on sale here.
All this excitement the city offers clearly gave me a hard time finding anything close to “minimalist” that I managed to capture, but not that I’m complaining of course; this in fact gave me good reason to rummage through my photo archives once again, this time to photos from my travels around Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) earlier this summer. Scandinavia feels like a completely different world from Egypt; the land feels so vast and unpopulated and unnaturally clean — all the things one might find a bit difficult to describe Egypt with.
After finding myself painfully bored in Oslo I decided to get out of town to see the fjords and all the nature Norway reportedly has to offer. I got on a 6 a.m. train from the Central Station and embarked on an 18-hour day trip around what turned out to be only a small portion of Norway covering Finse, Myrdal, Flåm, Gudvangen, Voss, then back to Oslo. This trip took me on trains, a bus and a boat, and though I was traveling solo, there was nothing boring about the trip. It was actually nice to have some time to myself to think as we sailed through the vast waters between the magnificent fjords, take some nice pictures to cherish the memory later on, and to bask myself in the wonders of His creations.
During my travels at this time, especially while on the train from Oslo to Myrdal which took a very scenic route through the snowy mountains reaching close to 1,200 feet above sea level, I found isolated houses (or cottages? cabins?) dispersed throughout the mountain, seemingly arbitrarily placed in the middle of nowhere, as pictured in the photos above, taken from my train window after passing Finse. Of course, these houses could simply be storage cabins for some are much, much smaller than the ones pictured here, but assuming these are indeed “summer cottages”, I imagine the owner would come here for a very minimal vacation, looking for some time alone with the spouse/partner and the dog and nothing else but nature.
This trio would spend the broad hours of daylight hiking or cycling outside, returning home to cook a meal (together) in the fireplace which doubles as the stove since there isn’t one in the “kitchen”. After all the dishes have been cleaned and empty tummies filled (including the dog’s), they would then settle into some warm clothes and spend a couple of hours reading (one, a Haruki Murakami piece, and the other, a nonfiction biographical work on a contemporary presidential figure, perhaps Margaret Thatcher or even Obama, take your pick) by the fireside in silence, content with the warmth from the fire (for I have found that Scandinavian summers are in fact never truly “warm”) and each other’s presence.
The night never truly ends, for its arrival never even came. By the time they tuck into bed — or super-thermal sleeping bags, which they have taken with them on many hiking and mountain-climbing trips to as far as Nepal — it would be midnight, but still quite bright outside. Never mind; eyes closed, they dream away into the night, for tomorrow will be a brand new day. In the morning they would wake up to the never-setting sun, sit together huddled in their sleeping bags at the wooden bench outside the cabin, and discuss which territories to explore as they hold on to their warm morning coffee and breathe in the pristine, fresh mountain air. Secretly, they lament that their time at the cabin always feels short, for tomorrow it is time to take the train back to Oslo or Bergen or whichever metropolitan city they live and work in, where it is time to get back to business.
The isolation (and the freezing temperatures in the winter) of living here brought so many questions to my mind, but this minimal lifestyle also made me ask:
- Who owns that piece of land? And how would one acquire one with such a desirable location?
- What’s the house address, if there is one?
- If you’re throwing a house party, what would you ask your guests to put in their GPS search bar?
- I’m guessing the postman probably doesn’t travel this far on a weekly basis?
Too many questions, no time to answer at all. Which is why I’ve resolved that there will be a next time in Norway for me, and there is nothing more I would love to do than to rent a cottage in the countryside and drink from the clear blue streams straight from the cup of my hand and wake up to a glorious view of the sun rising from behind the mountains.