“Tell them stories. They need the truth you must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.”
Although I hardly remember the subject-matter of the trilogy “His Dark Materials” by Phillip Pullman, these words have been resounding in my mind ever since. I am a student indeed and I have spent one year of exchange in Bergen, Norway, receiving scholarship and support from my home university. I have nevertheless always had this feeling in my heart of hearts that it would be better both for me and the rest of the world if I did not simply complete a degree and then continue with some albeit decently paid but rather dull job, causing you slowly but surely cease believing in these unexpected plot twists of life leaving you slightly dizzy yet happiest you have ever been.
Oh and how afraid I was! Before departing to Bergen on January 4th 2018, the only thing I knew was that it was going to be one more story, hopefully a positive one.
As a rule, things always turn out the other way around than expected. I can admit that the majority of January I spent honestly, from the bottom of my heart hating everything, myself included. It was a strange, unfamiliar world, unwilling to accept a then 19-year-old girl with slightly insufficient skills and experience. Countless times have I wished to buy a one-way ticket back home where everything was familiar and simple, cursing myself for having made this decision. Yet straight roads do not make skillful drivers, right?
Somehow one semester extended into the second, and by the time I had to leave returning to Bergen was already on my bucket list. One might wonder what caused such a change in my attitude. I still have not found the answer myself, and what surprises me the most is that I did not notice when it actually happened. From advising others to avoid Bergen with its endless rain, incomprehensible dialect and where the possibilities to find job are between unlikely and impossible, to being proud of having lived there and inviting my friends because it is such a wondrous place to stay for a while.
Most likely it is not Bergen, but me who changed, yet this change could not have happened without Bergen. Besides its beautiful nature and architecture (I fell for those two from the first sight), this city provided me with a situation which at the beginning was a little too difficult but possible to cope with. I did not have or was not used to many things as I arrived there. No job and money, no real friends, I could hardly understand the language and find some cultural events (I was missing this so hard as I would have 4-6 contemporary dance classes a week in Lithuania). And so this is there all the stories come from.
A wide range of things happened, including laughter until you cannot breathe anymore, fear of starting a new job and noticing the self-improvement, happiness of receiving help or wise advice when you are desperately in need (and being the one who gives it, too), sleepless nights after gorgeous sunsets (it makes things even more wonderful as you only see the sun couple of times a month in winter), hiking the mountains, swimming in the North Sea, making a 100 minutes long outside performance (mind the rainy climate) and meeting people with who it feels you can enjoy the moments to the fullest. Undoubtedly after some time you go your own ways but someday these paths are about to cross again so you can continue form where you left and share these stories you have been saving for one another while being apart.
To tell the truth, my exchange experience in Norway caused some other experiences abroad that corroborated hypotheses I made while looking at the paintings exhibition in Kode museum in Bergen. There were many works depicting mountains, valleys and clouds one can only find in Scandinavian countries, yet a fair amount of artists were interested in Italy, too. Italian city squares packed with craftsmen, Italian peasants doing their chores, Italian lakes and forests, sunrises and sunsets, mountainous Italian landscape as seen through the second-floor window somewhere in Italy... I was staring at some of the paintings without blinking, until it felt like Bergen disappeared and I was standing somewhere in Italy instead, making my hypotheses about all of us being in search of these moments when we neither wish time to pass nor recall the past, when the present is enough.
And I have recently visited Italy indeed. Long story short, my hypotheses had been very lively since that day spent in the museum when it was raining in showers outside, encouraging me to plan an adventure in a sunny destination to have something to look forward to, so I ended up fleeing from Bergen to Greece in summertime, in October one of my summer job colleagues visited me in Norway and we decided that I should come to Italy in January 2019. It turned out that I actually managed to step into these canvas I could only stare at exactly one year ago.
Tell them true stories, so one day they are about to come check how much true your stories were. Considering all the gorgeous ancient things they have there, it is serious when Italian says “it is a beautiful city, different from the other places I had seen before“, addressing Bergen. A wide smile appears on my face as I am assured that my beloved city is now beloved by one more person, and that because of this city this person is now by my side.
We all have different ways of falling in love. Shortly after understanding how miserable my situation was, I had spent all 2018 overcoming Bergen – trying to cope with every problem, imperfection or difficulty I came across so that I could enjoy my stay there and would not have spent time in vain. There were days when I was thinking of Bergen nearly as of a living creature, which tries to ruin my life and for whom I need to prove that I am not a person you can mess with as I am strong, smart and determined enough. I could have never imagined that I was capable of so many various things, as well as I could not have dreamed that I would fall for Bergen so much, and for such a manifolds of reasons.
You are a part of one of my best stories, Bergen, I am glad I have met you.