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  • Stephen D'Agostino

The Next Outdoor Game Night is July 19

Greetings from Ulvik, Norway. It’s a town of about 1,200 people at the very end of Hardangerfjord. At 179 kilometers or 111 miles, it is the second longest fjord in the country. Getting to this beautiful place was an experience in itself. The drive included climbing above the tree line through a snow-splotched tundra and then descending down hills in which it was imperative to have my foot on the brake the whole way.

The journey also included many trips through tunnels that, to me, seemed like engineering marvels. The subterranean roads corkscrewed into the dark and the depths, making it feel as if I was on a roller coaster. When we emerged into the daylight, we were hundreds of feet below the point where we entered, staring up at vast granite cliffs that filled our whole field of vision. Then, it was back into another tunnel. This one had a rotary in it, and, surprise, we exited onto a beautiful suspension bridge uniting two sides of this fjord.

As recently as 10 years ago, the only way to go from one side of the fjord to the other was by boat.

Seeing Ulvik from a distance, I quickly understood what the town was about. With such a beautiful setting, clearly it relied on tourism. However, and somewhat surprisingly, perched on the steep hills were dozens of farms with row upon row of perfectly aligned fruit trees. This town and this region in southwestern Norway is an agricultural center, producing the majority of the country's apples.

Ulvik was the final place we visited in Norway. The first was Oslo, a beautiful and walkable city with some spectacular outdoor spaces, including the roof of the Opera House, which we visited—along with dozens of other people—every night to witness the sunset at around 10.30. The second stop was the Lofoten Islands, about 140 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Here, we stayed in a town that also had about 1,200 residents. During our stay, we never saw the sun set (truth be told, we hardly saw the sun). Being an early-to-bed kind of guy, I was completely thrown off. Several mornings at 12.30, I had to force myself to go to bed.

What struck me most about both of these remote places and just about everywhere we went in Norway is that nowhere was without cell service and internet access. Even in the tunnels, it was possible to make a phone call if one was so compelled. Wouldn’t it be nice if Vermont had such ubiquitous access to cell signals and high-speed internet? Or even service that was just half as far reaching?

Though the towns we passed through, especially in the Lofoten Islands, were not self-sufficient—most had no grocery stores or gas stations—they had a sense of community. Being in such a remote and rugged place, this togetherness felt like it would be necessary for one’s sanity and well-being, especially in those months when the sun never rises or the daylight hours are few. I can imagine houses lit to ward off the darkness and neighbors getting together for meals or to simply check in on each other.

That, I think, is the biggest take away for me when I visit Europe. It’s never “I.” It’s always “we.” At the Oslo Opera House, the guide told us that a for-profit company would never build such a grand place, nor would an orchestra, opera company, or ballet troupe that relies on subscription sales for its survival perform there. In Oslo and its surroundings, there just aren’t enough people to support the creative arts using that model. But the arts are a priority in this country, the guide said, so the people of Norway, through the government, built a place where anyone can enjoy the arts if they choose to go inside or their city if they choose to simply spend half an hour on the roof enjoying the sunset. Though sitting on the roof is free, patrons need to buy tickets for the performances. Though everything is expensive in Norway, ticket prices seemed reasonable.

Reading is not going to build an Opera House. Neither is Vermont. But we have our own little town to nourish and support. Maybe in some ways, it’s good that we can’t rely so easily on technology to communicate. After all, time we spend looking at a screen is time we don’t spend looking at each other, and time we spend on social media is some of the most anti-social time we have.

What we can do is spend time with our fellow residents, in person, at some town events. I’ve been teasing the Puddledock Park Parties for a couple of columns now, and there will be more on them coming soon to this space, as well as other places. These events will be promoted using the very same social media I spoke of above (it does have its benefits). There is also Game Night on July 19 at 6:30pm at Bartley Field. Even if you don’t want to play a game, you can be social with your friends and neighbors. You can share a meal with the potluck barbecue, share conversation, or simply share a wonderful night and a beautiful sunset. Just one that happens at a more reasonable hour.

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on July 11, 2019.

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