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Friday, December 11, 2009

The solo tourist

OSLO, Dec. 11, 3:05P, local time

Today was the first day I buzzed around town without a guide, no fellow American at my side. Managed to navigate into town via the train, off to the hotel headquarters to pick up my ticket for tonight's concert and even back to the Stortinget -- the Norwegian Parliament building. Joined a private tour of the place, and to my surprise, the guides were a major leader in Norway's Progress Party and a member of the Norwegian Parliament. So think like a U.N. policy director giving you a tour of Congress with a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Cool, right? 

Kristian Norheim, the international secretary of the Progress Party, was quite patient and pretty solid in his English, as many Norwegians are. He studied political science for seven years here, and took in a year in Athens as well. In his current capacity, he's been in place roughly six years. He described the Progress Party as our equivalent of "moderate Democrats. Or Regan Democrats. Not Palin Republicans. Like Obama." There are other interpretations of  its politics. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to wade through Norwegian political issues to the extent to provide more learned analysis.

Bard Hoksrud was the parliament member. He is a relative newbie, only in office since 2005, with four-year terms. Hoksrud mentioned that sometimes the grind is tough, since he's quite far from home and has a little one at home with his wife.

Both shared how the nation at one time had been territory of both Sweden and Denmark before going its own way as a sovereign nation, complete with its own royal family. Indeed, the Nordic history is rich -- and bloody. "We were, how you say, 'Vikings. Barbarians,' years ago," Hoksrud said.

The Norwegian Parliament -- Stortinget, translating to "big council" -- sets in the midst of Oslo. It is a building of considerable architectural style and parts of it date back to the 19th century. The interiors are regal and striking. There is also a great emphasis on public art, as it adorns the interiors as well -- from portraits of kings past to paeans to industry and progress. 

So midway through our tour, the bell rang, and members were called into session to vote. And unlike the
Pennsylvania State Senate, the call actually meant a vote! While there is electronic voting, legislators stand to express rejection of a bill, sit to approve it. Each legislator has his or her own seat, arranged by county and then seniority within the cluster. Afterward, some of the ladies from Baltimore wanted to try out Hoksrud's seat, to see whether they enjoyed the feel of "power." 

Must have been infectious, because one butt after another was drawn to that seat. Maybe it's the royal bearings of the seat. I have to admit that Rosalind Seth (l.) looked pretty regal and ready to rock the house!

And I thought the Pennsylvania Legislature had ornate trappings!

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