“Everyone in the place, except the waiter, was fat, some of them so fat that I kept having to look at them.“
“I use top-up cards because no Swedish phone company will let me open an account, I have too many late payments on my credit report. Nor will any bank lend me money to buy a house or a car. I have to pay everything in cash.”
“I lost my driver’s license over a year ago. I lose stuff all the time. Credit cards, passports, car keys, cash, books, bags, laptops. It doesn't worry me, they usually turn up eventually.”
“I lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. I should email The Times and explain the situation. Maybe they had a solution. But I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to tell them that I’d undertaken this great road-trip assignment across the U.S. without my license. They’d think I was a complete idiot.”
“These things happen often; in my experience they always turn out fine. There is a saying in Norway that he who loses money shall receive money, and I think that’s true, because when you lose things, it means you’re not on your guard, you’re not trying to control everything, you’re not being so anal all the time — and if you aren't, but allow yourself to be open to the world instead, then anything at all might come to you.”
“When I came back in, I went to the toilet. I hadn't gone since I arrived in America, so the result was significant. I wiped myself thoroughly, then flushed.”
“I didn't really enjoy talking to people that much, at least not to strangers, and the thought of spending the next five days in a car with someone I didn't know was a bit unsettling.”
“So what’s your plan?” he asked.
“I don’t really have a plan,” I said. “Drive up toward Minnesota, that’s all. And then maybe rent a car myself tomorrow or the day after. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“I’m a little shy,” I said. “I don’t usually talk very much. Just so you know what’s in store for you.”
“I don’t think you’re that untalkative,” he said. “But it’s fine with me. I can talk, and I can be quiet.”
We ate on in silence, he checked something out on his cellphone. Then he looked up at me.
“So your idea is to drive across America and write about it without talking to a single American?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That’ll be a challenge,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
“If what I had seen tonight — house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster — if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth.”
“I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within. When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.”
"Nowhere in the world has shared culture been a more imperative requirement than in America. More than 300 million people live here, and they had descended over the course of a very few generations from a huge number of disparate cultures, with different histories, ways of behavior, worldviews and experiential backgrounds. All of them, sooner or later, had been required to relinquish their old culture and enter the new one. That must be why the most striking thing about the United States was its sameness, that every place had the same hotels, the same restaurants, the same stores. And that must be why every American movie was made after the same template and why, in this sense, every movie expressed the same thing. And that must be why all these TVs were hanging on the walls, unwatched; they created an immediate sense of belonging, a feeling of home."
“When I saw Bergen and Bygstad, Flatråker, etc., I felt such a powerful longing that I could not hold my tears back,” Magnus wrote home from Grafton, N. D. back in 1928.
“It’s inconceivable” he writes, only to conceive it a few paragraphs down. “Leaving America and yet keeping it under watch would have turned the continent into a kind of vast human nature reserve, the people there following their own path of development, without knowing they were under observation.”
"When we continued north, I felt depressed. What Peter had said, about the burning cigarette being the most exciting thing to happen so far on our trip, was actually true. If this had been just any old trip, it wouldn't have mattered. But I was supposed to write something about this trip, and not only that, I was supposed to use this trip to grasp something essential about the U.S., perceive something with my foreign gaze that Americans couldn't see for themselves. Instead, I saw nothing. I experienced nothing."
"The statue of Jesus was obviously not the work of a modern caricaturist or intellectual, toying with the fundamentally childish nature of faith. It had been made, I assumed, in a sincere attempt to represent what is finest and most important in the world. Over the course of the past two days, I had seen many images of Jesus, all of them cartoonish stereotypes, yet they must have been genuine expressions of something many people considered deeply significant.”
“The contrast with, say, Russia, was striking: Had I been driving there, I would have come across a very different caliber of representations of Christ, given the nation’s many monasteries, churches and thousand-year-old tradition of icon painting. Throw Dostoyevsky into the bargain, and Russian Orthodox Christianity becomes something you could spend your entire life studying, because it seems so close — with its notions of guilt, grace and redemption — to the enigma of existence itself, touching the core of what it is to be human.
How do you compare that to a billboard with a line drawing of a good-natured, bearded man and a phone number to dial for salvation?”
“I gloated a little over that thought as we drove north through the empty, darkening woods, until it struck me how wrong I was. The depth of American religion lay not in visual art, not in representation but, obviously, in music. I had some gospel records at home; some of the recordings were from the 1920s, and their raw force, their fervor, heartfelt and ecstatic at the same time, was like a fire, brutal yet beautiful, no less exquisite than a Russian Orthodox icon."
"When I woke up the next morning, I had an anxiety attack. I lay there for a long time, staring out at the empty room. The last thing I could remember was that I had gotten into an elevator. I had no recollection of seeing the room before. Everything was terrible, everything was diseased and I was a ridiculous, laughable character. Oh, God, what an idiot I was.
I had talked.
To total strangers, I had babbled away. With no dignity whatsoever, happy and enthusiastic over every little thing. I had given compliments! My eyes had filled up with tears at my own human warmth and goodness.
Oh, Jesus, was I an idiot."
"It felt odd, getting so close to a man whom I had met for the first time a few hours ago, who was so American in everything he said and did. And yet somehow I felt as if I knew him. Why the feeling of intimacy? Because our grandfathers were brothers?"
“…there was nothing about Bob Dylan to remind one of a statue, nothing about his music or his role had become rigid or clearly defined, no final form enclosed him. In fact, it was as if he weren't really a person at all, but had somehow dissolved into his music. His old songs were constantly in motion, and the new songs emerged from the same stream. As he traveled around, permanently on tour, you couldn’t tell what came from him and what belonged to the American song tradition; he was just playing the music.”
“All writers, artists and musicians know the feeling: when you disappear into what you are doing, lose yourself in it and are no longer aware that you exist, while at the same time the feeling of existing is profound and total and what you make is never better. Work created in this state really shouldn't be published in the artist’s name, because it has been created precisely by the artist’s nonpersonal, nonindividual, selfless side. Bob Dylan is the master of the selfless self, the king of the not-one’s-one, a deeply paradoxical figure who lived and breathed the music of this deeply paradoxical country.”
“Eight Goths and twenty-two Norwegians upon a journey of discovery from Vinland westward. We had a camp by two skerries one day’s journey north of this stone. We were out fishing one day. When we returned home we found ten men red with blood and dead.
Ave Virgo Maria, save us from evil. Have ten men by the sea to look after our vessel, fourteen days’ journey from this island. Year 1362.”
"I loved it not only because I had finally seen something in the United States that Humbert and Lolita could have seen — a fabulous entry for Nabokov’s catalog of American monuments, wonders and reconstructions — but also because it struck me that the image of reality that this particular reconstruction presented was, in a curious way, absolutely true.
It was liberating to see how small and insignificant each separate part of this history was, compared with our notions about its grandness. It felt liberating, because that is what the world is really like, full of insignificant trifles that we use to blunder on as best we can, one by one, whether we happen to be 19th-century immigrants building a log cabin in some forest glade, cold and miserable, longing to sit motionless for a few hours in front of the fire; or a local museum director in a Norwegian children’s sweater; or a crafty Swede, carving runes into a stone and burying it in a field in an attempt to change world history. Or for that matter, an inept Norwegian writer who has spent 10 days on assignment in the U.S. without discovering anything, apart from this."