Oct 28, 2009

Meat market and other memories

Wednesday's photo was taken from a bus stop at one of Bergen's main intersections, between our historic, Hanseatic wharf "Bryggen" and our open-air fish market. In the comments, Alice asked me what the building in the middle was, and this was my reply:

The building in the middle with the stepped gable used to be our meat market. We shopped there when I was a kid, ropes of sausages and whole sides of beef or mutton hanging all over, and a contrasting black and white tiled floor (which is still there).

The tiles are large, and on a diagonal. Today, the meat market houses a café and a few delicatessens. What used to be the city's main delicatessen (with jerkied reindeer meat and innumerable types of cheese) in the basement, is now part of the restaurant chain "Egon" (oddly, the traffic isn't that disturbing when you sit in the outdoor part). But when I was a kid, and going to the city was a project, with lists of which stores to hit where, and therefore also planning where to park the car, the meat market contained meat. And butchers.

Back then, there were stalls on one side of the building where they'd chop and carve meat and on the other long side were the sausage machines, and down the full length of the building between was that graphic floor, creating quite the contrast. We didn't wander much in the bulding; it was a work place. Customers waiting inside the entrance by a counter. From there, I could see into a few of the nearest stalls. All over, ropes of sausages and whole sides of beef, pork or mutton hung from hooks or wires. Sometimes, one of the butchers would see the little girl waiting with her folks, and offer a piece of sausage. I usually turned the offer down. It wasn't the sight of a man in a bloodied, white butcher's gown that made me not want to eat anything; it was the smell. Raw meat just doesn't smell as good as cooked, you see.

BTW, Wednesday's photos shows several preserved buildings, as declared by the directorate for cultural heritage. What looks like a quaint tourist attraction is actually where I live and do all the modern things of life, including visiting a therapist. The one I saw had an office in the red and yellow building on the right of the photo. I discussed what was bothering me under slanted ceilings and on crooked floors. The owners of the building want to redo the insides, but it turns out that they can't without destroying the outside: It is a fake stucco facade. The building is actually all wood. Many buildings in Bergen are; the stucco fronts are meant to be firewalls. Sometimes preservation renders a building useless, and there are only so many museum pieces a city can handle, in my opinion.

Speaking of museums: On the other side of the meat market stands a crooked red building. It isn't just my camera lens distorting it; it really does lean. It is the Hanseatic museum, and inside it still smells of dried cod. Some of these buildings are suffering from the traffic that passes them; neither the dust kicked up nor the vibrations through the ground do aging buildings any good. Our medieval St. Mary's church is now closed for repairs after being hammered by modern life a little too long. I last walked by her Saturday, on my way to get my hair cut (that's why I was at the bus stop; I was on my home). The church was covered in blue tarp.

Behind St. Mary's (Mariakirken, in Norwegian) runs what used to be the main road into town from the north, and Bergen's oldest street: Øvregaten, a two-laned cobblestoned street. Its original name was Stretet (from Latin's "strata" - you know, street), later changed to Upper Street (Øvregaten) when the wharf was expanded out into the bay, making room for a road along the waterfront. Øvregaten is where my hairdresser currently has his salon, in the row of typical Bergen wooden houses on the street's upper side, facing the lower side with its park-like area (actually, a fire-break) along the rear of the famous row of wooden wharf buildings that have made UNESCO's world heritage list. I walk on antique cobblestones and pay with plastic. You know, that sums up life in Bergen pretty darned good.

Øvregaten has an older memory for me: Because it used to be one of the main roads into downtown Bergen from the north, we often drove it on our carefully planned Saturday forays into town. When I was a kid, we lived 21 km (13 miles) north of Bergen. We had a two-lane "highway" into town except for the last stretch past our house, which was a one-lane country road where drivers would on many occasions find themselves tailgating the neighbor's flock of sheep. Since Norwegians don't dock the tails on their sheep, I have images of dancing tails in front of a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament as one of my childhood memories. Anyway, those 13 miles (sheep notwithstanding) took us almost an hour to drive. The two-lane road had too many twists and turns to make it a smooth, speedy drive. This was one reason why we planned our city trips: Getting there took time and concentration. We knew when we had arrived, though. The car would get noisy and shake a bit: We were driving on cobblestones.

Thanks for wandering around with me, in both space and time.

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