Chapter  21

A vision of Hell in an Oslo tunnel

 I know I should spell Hell and Heaven with small h’s if I want to use English correctly, but for these words I prefer to use capital first letters. My idea is to distinguish the religious phenomenon Hell from the popular word hell (”helvete”), and God’s Heaven from the heaven above us.

            In the morning on Wednesday 30th of April I go to Oslo by car. I am to launch a sailing-boat which has been laid up for the winter at a yard in the bay of Bestumkilen. The story of the boat is a long story, and I shall no elaborate on it here. A friend from boyhood, Laffen, and I built the boat by our own hands in the early 1980’es. It is a fibre glass boat, 27 feet long, yellow like a ripe banana. It has been a good boat.

            I meet up with Laffen, whose real name is Olav Orud, at the yard. He is a sculptor by profession. He has taken the tarpaulin off the boat and rigged down the steel tubes that support the tarpaulin. He has also taken care to polish the hull. He is a punctilious person.

            The big forklift truck of the yard arrives. Our boat is lifted up, transported to the quay and set afloat. It floats like a cork. It still is a good boat   

            We load the tarpaulin and the tubes on my car and go to Laffen’s house in the artist colony of Ekely – where famous painter Edvard Munch once lived -  and unload the stuff. Then we go to to an engine shop at Bestumkilen and pick up our outboard engine, an 8 horsepower Yamaha, which has been stored at the shop during winter.

            We mount the outboard engine on the square stern of the sailboat. And – voila! – the engine starts with a puff of smoke. Rigging of the masts and sails we will do later. Now we steam off to the pier where the boat is to be moored during summer. The piers of Bestumkilen have been rearranged due to dredging works in the harbour. There is a confusion of the numbers of the docks of the pier. To mark the place where we shall dock, Laffen has in advance placed a bundle of yellow flowers at our docksite.   

            Our boat has never had a name, which has been a shame. I wanted to call it ”Hoang Ho” after the Yellow River in China, but Laffen thought this sounded to pretentious and far flung.

            We arrange the mooring lines.

            Laffen picks up the flowers. They are dandelions (”løvetann”). Their colour is much the same as the colour of coltsfoots (”hestehov”) , which flowers earlier in the spring. Laffen asks me if I remember the Latin name for coltsfoot.

             ”Didn’t your mother learn you the Latin name?” he asks.”I can’t remember it, but it is a well-sounding name.”

             ”Yes, my mother told me,” I say. ”And I do remember. Tussilago farfara is the Latin name.”

            ”Tussilago,” says Laffen thoughtfully. ”Pretty name. Perhaps we should call the boat ’Tussilago’ ?”

            ”It would have a double meaning, then,” I say. The Norwegian word ”tusseladd” means crazy old wretch. And even if the boat is not an old wretch, the owners are soon to be.

            We laugh at this.

            ” ’Tussilago’ it be,” I say. ”Not bad that it took us less than thirty years to find a name for the boat.”

            We laugh more.

            I say that I hope we will be able to use the boat more than we did last summer. After I got the cancer diagnosis on June 2nd 2007,  I did not feel I had the capacity for sailing. The summer of 2007 was my ”cancer summer”. I had to get accustomed to having the disease. I was busy writing my crime novel ”Mordet på Woldnes”, to keep my spirits up and divert my thoughts from the cancer. Every day I went to the nearby beach, Botnerbaugen, and swam in the sea, even if it was a cold and rainy summer. Sometimes when I saw a white sail on the waters of the Oslo Fjord, I missed sailing a bit. But not so much that I called Laffen and said that we should go for a trip in the boat..

            To tell the truth, I am a merchant marine sailor who never became much of a sailing-boat sailor. Sailing wasn’t my thing. Today I am more of a swimmer than a sailor.

            Laffen and I agree that we should make a plan for summer sailing. I say that I have to be going. I have to set off early to avoid the worst of the queues.  It is the day before May 1st, which is a public holiday in Norway. Many people will take a day off work on Friday  May 2nd and have an extended four day long weekend. Traffic out of Oslo may be heavy in the afternoon. But when I say good-bye to Laffen it is only two o’clock.

            To go through Oslo from west to east, I have to pass through a three kilometre long car  tunnel called Festningstunnelen (The Castle Tunnel) because it is constructed in the rock underneath Akershus Festning (Akershus Castle). I do not expect that there will be a queue at the entrance to the tunnel. I am badly mistaken. It is not only a queue, it’s a total traffic jam.

            After I underwent the heart operation, I got a phobia for tunnels. I hyperventilated in tunnels. I was told by a doctor that is should  keep a paper bag, the kind bread is wrapped in, in the glove compartment of my car. When hyperventilating, I should breathe through the bag to reduce the intake of oxygen. So I did. The trick of the paper bag, and some good advice from my psychiatrist, solved the tunnel problem. Part of the cognitive theraphy has been to train myself to drive through tunnels.

            But I have avoided tunnels during rush hours. It is many years since I have been stuck in a tunnel in a traffic jam. The queue is moving very slowly. Inside the tunnel it comes to a standstill. I grab for my rucksack and find a box of tranquilizers. I swallow a Sobril pill. I find the paper bread-bag in the glove compartment and keep it ready, just in case.

            The queue moves ever so slowly.

            I get a vision that I am in Hell. It is a Hell which can be compared to Hell desribed by Dante in ”The Divine Comedy”. Here we are, human beings trapped underneath the surface of the earth, sitting inside metal boxes that spew out poisonous gases, unable to communicate with each other, our freedom of movement suddenly limited to nil. We are prisoners of the tunnel. The air is getting thicker. If there is any air?

            It is a capitalist Hell, the Hell of crazy consumerism. The explosive growth in car traffic during my lifetime has happened because the car monopolies wanted it to happen, and governments were to weak to stop it. We, the consumers, are to blame for our lack of resistance to the development. I own a car myself. My excuse for doing it is that I live in the countryside and am dependent on a car. My excuse for going to Oslo in the car on this particular day is that we needed the car – Laffen is a city dweller and has no car – to transport the tarpaulin, the steel tubes and the outboard engine.

            And here I am, suffocating inside the Hell tunnel. I try to breathe as normal as I can.

             Yes, there is some air. It is heavily polluted, but my lungs accept it. My mouth is dry. I find the water bottle I always bring with me and drink some water. But not too much. I don’t know when I have the next opportunity to take a pee.

            If there is a God who decides everything, why did he decide to let us humans produce millions – billions – of cars? Why did he let us construct car tunnels that trap us like rats? There can be no God with good will since this has happened.

            Festningstunnelen is a deep tunnel. I have been inside it for a quarter of an hour, or maybe twenty minutes, when I reach the bottom. I praise myself for not having started to panic. On the bottom the queue comes to a complete halt. No movement at all. The grey concrete walls of the tunnel seem to come closer to me, to collapse on me.    

            I stare at the walls. There is a slight movement of the queue. I almost crash into the car in front of me.

            But I do not panic. Slowly we move up from the bottom. A truck in front of me spews out a cloud of diesel gas. But I do not suffocate.

            I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

            Once I wrote that what is going to happen to the Universe when it comes to an end, is that the Universe shall come to the tunnel at the end of light.

            It is not such a bad metaphor. I have done some good writing, haven’t I? I have driven a car since I was a young soldier in the Royal Norwegian Navy. The Navy paid for my driving licence. I’ll manage to drive the last few hundred metres into daylight and fresh air. I’ll escape from this Hell.

            I do escape. I am so tense that my neck feels like it is made of grid iron. But I have escaped. Tomorrow I’ll be at Trefoldighetskirken. If I had been a Christian, I would use that opportunity to praise the Lord for saving me from tunnel Hell.

             I roll down the side window. There is still a queue. The air is so thick that it can be eaten with a spoon. But I am free.

             I drive slowly in the queue on the two-lane road along the Oslo Fjord. There is a breeze. The sun shines on the glittering sea. When I reach the motorway, the queue dissolves. I go faster than I normally do, driving at 120 in the 100 kilometre an hour zone (please, dear reader, dont’t report this to the police) keeping the window wide open.

             ”You are lucky to be alive,” I say to myself. ”And you should be glad that you do not believe in the existence of Hell.”

       Chapter  20

Chapter  22