Two miracles in fact.
The first miracle – the obvious one – was the painting of The Scream itself. Before me, no less!
Back in 1994, at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, two men broke into the National Gallery and stole The Scream right from the museum's very wall. These two bandits were so pleased with the ease of this crime that they added insult to injury by leaving a note that read:
"Thanks for the poor security."
Thankfully, the painting was recovered within three months, miraculously undamaged!
And as if The Scream couldn't possibility endure anymore excitement, 10 years later the painting was stolen . . . again! During daylight hours, no less!
On August 22nd, 2004, two masked gunmen rushed into Oslo's Munch Museum and made off with not only The Scream but another of Munch's painting called, Madonna. For two years, The Scream went missing. Suspects were arrested in connection with the theft, but The Scream and Madonna's whereabouts remained unknown. Worse, the city government of Oslo heard a rumor that the robbers had burnt and destroyed both paintings. The Munch Museum was closed for a cold ten months for a security overhaul. By 2006, the Norwegian Police recovered both of Munch's paintings in better-than-expected conditions. According to the reports, The Scream had moisture damage on the lower left corner, while Madonna suffered several tears on the right side of the painting as well as two holes in the Madonna's arm.
Wounded, survival victims no less.
Ines and I met when we were in the fifth grade in California. She and her family moved from Oslo, Norway to sunny Southern California when her dad was offered a possession to teach at CalTech. The very fact that she was from Norway, was cool in it of itself. I NEEDED to be her friend.
Sure enough, after moving our desks next to each other, attending the other's house for playdates or sleepovers and celebrating each other's birthdays, Ines and I grew as close as friends could be. She told me about Norway, the Viking Age that spread all across Scandinavia, but more importantly she told me about the snow.
From the way Ines described her home country to me – especially to a girl from Southern California – it sounded like an undiscovered Ice Kingdom. Diamond-paned windows with frosted glass, gusts of arctic air that made you breathless, snowcapped mountains that interrupted the painful bright blue sky. And because I had never seen snow before, I imagined the city of Oslo as a little wooden town nestled in a valley with a marshmallow blanket of white snow everywhere, and icicles hanging from the roofs.
Oh, and there was a big ice castle as well. You can't have an undiscovered Ice Kingdom without a fancy ice castle.
But there was also something else in the way that Ines recounted her tales about Norway to me. She spoke with passion about Oslo, she reminiscent about playing in the snow with her younger brother, Alek when they were younger. She told me how funny it was whenever she would throw rocks into the frozen lake outside her house, and listen to the sound the stones would make whenever they smashed through the ice.
"It sounds like a single fat drop of water echoing in a cathedral," she told me with a sigh.
It was obvious that Ines missed her undiscovered Ice Kingdom. I could imagine that if you're from a place where it snows a lot, a part of you misses the cold weather and glittering white of fresh new snow of the ground. This was something I learned after spending two years on the East Coast at Mount Holyoke – snow and all! When I was in London, I missed that feeling of wonderment when small white flurries gently summersault from the sky. To my disappointment, the most snow that I got when I was in London was at Somerset House, and it looked like someone had dropped a snow cone at my feet.
After four years of living in California, Ines broke the news to me that she and her family were moving back to Norway. Tearful goodbyes were exchanged, letters were written back and forth to each other – later upgraded to emails. Birthday care packages were sent, but it was a temporary fix to the missing hole I was feeling after Ines's departure.
Ironically, before I could tell Ines that I had gotten into Mount Holyoke, and was excited to see real snow for the first time, she wrote me first full of excitement.
"Guess what? I got into Stanford! I'm coming back to California!!!" She wrote me with several exclamation marks.
"That's great, I'm moving to Massachusetts," I responded.
So once again, we were separated from each other, but we kept writing to one another. I told her about the friends I made at Mount Holyoke, the adjustments I had to make, the confusion I felt whenever someone would say 'wicked' instead of just 'cool' or 'rad.' And I definitely told her about the snow.
"It's pretty cold," I wrote to her. "Is it always like this?"
"Let me put it to you this way," Ines wrote back. "I'm really enjoying the winter here in Palo Alto."
That's why on the day of Ines's birthday – and as soon as I was accepted into King's College London – I wrote on her Facebook wall: "It should be a crime not to see you after so many years." Followed by this photo:
That was exciting and everything, but I was more ecstatic over the fact that I would be reunited with my best friend after six years!
The Scream was finally going to be reunited with his home!
There was just one thing that I wasn't quite expecting.
Have you ever come across a picture of Munch's The Scream – either in person or just on the Internet – and wondered what the hell the main subject in the painting was screaming about?
Well, okay. Looking at The Scream the subject looks more horrified and shocked, than actually psychically yelling his lungs off in fright. Both his hands are like flippers, cupping both sides of his upside down pear-shaped head; and his mouth is opened in the shape of a slightly stretched zero. His face definitely reminds you off a that Halloween grim reaper mask from Wes Craven's Scream – interesting that even Ghostface had the same screaming expression as the subject in Munch's painting.
Who are these two figures and why is Munch's subject screaming at their approach?
But as soon as my plane landed at Sandefjord Torp Airport, the first person to greet me was Ines! I had imagined this day, being reunited with her after six long years. I was already crying at baggage claim with joy and excitement.
I was here. She was here. Together again . . . with her friend, Anna from Stanford.
Now, to be fair, Ines did give me a heads up a month after I finalized my plans to come out to Norway for New Years. She informed me that a third person would be staying at her house when I would arrive.
And to be straightforward, a part of me was a little bit crushed by this news.
I was looking forward to catching up with Ines – in Norway of all places! – then to receive a Facebook message from her explaining that one of her good friends from Stanford would be joining us as well.
"She's studying abroad in Germany next semester," I could hear her apologetic tone in her message. "I figured it would be easier for her to come and stay with my folks and I before she takes off for Berlin. After all, if she stays with my folks and I in Norway, it will help her get use to the time change, than if she stays in California and flies from there all the way to Europe."
As irritated as I was – not at Ines nor at her friend – but with the picture of the three of us having a meaningful conversation about our lives, I could absolutely understand Ines's actions.
If the roles were reversed, I would probably do the same thing.
Gladly, in fact.
While I was hoping for a one-on-one long week with Ines, (because I can be an extremely selfish person) I would also try my best to get along with Ines's Stanford friend (because I can also be an open-minded person if I try hard enough).
I just socialize differently.
Or at least when it comes to socializing with my best friend and her friend. In which case, I felt even more like The Scream – the reaction that the subject's face made, not the painting, this time – as the two figures in the background, Ines and Anna, I imagined, approached me.
But whatever would happened between Ines's Stanford friend and me, I refused let that cloud my excitement from the bigger picture: Ines, herself.
I reminded myself that when Ines walked with me out from Sandefjord Torp Airport, helped me load my luggage into the back of her car, and introduced me to her Stanford friend, Anna.
Here we were. The three of us. In Oslo, Norway.
But while Ines and her family provided me with the comforts of a homely environment, Ines also made sure I got the whole tourist experience as well. The three of us took the train into the heart of Oslo where Ines showed Anna and I the Oslo Opera House.
It was a huge square glass building made up of white granite. The roof of the building was angled to ground level, creating a plaza that invited pedestrians to walk up and witness the panoramic views of the Bjørvika, a borough in Oslo, the advertising building of Eniro Norge, and the fjords in the watery distance.
While my gloved fingers fumbled to plug my charging cord, in and out from my phone – while also silently praying to Steve Jobs to grant my phone a miracle and turn it back on – I saw Anna and Ines walking away together further along the rooftop.
For starters, I should just explain that I'm the type of person who appreciates having a strong network of friends. After graduating from a high school with 100 students – and 27 students in my graduating class – I've become really good at recognizing quickly which friends were loyal and solid anchors in my life, and which ones were just flippant, physical toxic things who were more concern about climbing the social ladder than getting an A+ on their chemistry homework. Unfortunately, I found myself in a hostile high school environment in which most – if not all – my classmates only cared about was being popular. So as you might already guess, there was a lot of third wheeling going around in my former high school class in regards to putting people off for the better more "sough-after" individuals.
And maybe it was because of this close-knit environment of backstabbers, gossipers and cliques that I had suffer throughout my four years of high school, that made me more aware that every now and then I would be the third wheel to every hangout that involved a trio. Scratch that. I am the queen of third wheels. If I was a motorcycle, I would be the big unattractive wheel in the front. In the British Monarchy, I would probably be Prince Harry to William and Kate. In Taylor Swift's Squad, I would be Lena Dunham. Which was why – because after all I am the Third Wheel Queen – I was uneasy to meet Anna at first. Even though since enrolling at Mount Holyoke, third wheeling for me has been a thing of the past, I always worry that I would one day find myself being the unnecessary third leg of a group again.
In which case, I suddenly felt less like The Scream and more like the less credible, third wheeling Madonna on the rooftop of the Oslo Opera House.
Outside, the streets of Oslo still had their Christmas decorations up and I suddenly felt like I was walking through a small village. Oslo, I learned, definitely gives you that feeling that although their storied legacy stretched back to the Viking era, Oslo never tossed out the old for the new. Though they reinvented themselves – via their architecture – the city remained just as charming as the nestled village in the valley that I had originally built up Norway in my mind.
"That's the Grand Hotel," Ines informed me as she points to a building with a classical architectural style that reminded me of a toned down version of a palace. It had a white granite facade with a clock tower smacked dab in the middle. "That's where all the winners for the Nobel Peace Prize come to stay to accept their award."
"You mean Obama has stayed at that hotel?" I asked her, suddenly really excited.
"Yeah," Ines said as we continued walking down main street toward the Royal Palace. "But I personally believe that the only reason why they awarded Obama with the Peace Prize was because they needed an excuse to have Obama come and stay at their hotel."
Interestingly enough, as the three of us walked all the way up the main street, I noticed that the Grand Hotel was situated between the Norwegian Parliament building, the National Theatre, Oslo University and the Royal Palace – which we were walking toward right now.
I found it so odd that a building established for hosting the most important people of world who have made it their lifelong dedication to spread the word of peace, was within close vicinity to one building that promoted the encouragement of education, another building that was primarily erected for the entertainment in the arts, a third building nearby that passed the laws of the land and finally, crowning the top of the hill that Anna, Ines and I were hiking up to, was the building that housed the mandate of heaven.
Probably the most famous hotel in London I could think of was the Savoy, located on The Strand once you crossed over Waterloo Bridge. The theater district was stationed on the West Side of London, a good 10 minute walk if you left directly from the hotel. Luckily though, you would be nearby both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery which – depending on which direction you take – would be a 4 minute walk if you took Charing Cross Road, or a 5 minute walk if you left from Leicester Square to St. Martin's Street. And even though if you stood in the middle of Trafalgar Square and saw Big Ben and Parliament, that would be a long 15 minute walk – 12 if you ran through every cross walk. Then there was Buckingham Palace, and honest to God it is the farthest building between Parliament and the National Gallery. To get there – at least from Trafalgar Square – you have to go through the stone archway that leads you straight down to the Royal Mall (AKA: THE LONGEST GODDAMN ROAD IN ALL OF LONDON!) I don't know what genius decided to build Buckingham Palace away from all of centralized London – probably the Royal family I'm guessing – but it was as if Buckingham Palace was just "too cool" to associate itself with the other momentous buildings and landmarks in the area.
Then again, the Royal Family and Parliament haven't always seen eye to eye (Magna Carta, anyone?) so I guess if Parliament were to ever establish itself nearby Buckingham Palace, they would be the world's worst neighbors to the Royal Family. The Ned Flanders of neighbors, I would assume. Which is why I theorized that in order for Buckingham Palace to distance itself from all things political in Parliament, weird theatrical nonsense from the West End, and suave pretentious tourists from the Savoy, they created the Royal Mall as a way to distance themselves from their annoying neighbors. With the exception of the National Gallery of course. The Royal Family's portraits are there after all so they need the Gallery to be nearby every now and then to check to see how their portraits are hanging.
As if the Mall wasn't enough to emphasize the distance Buckingham Palace wants to keep between itself and all things London, they also have St. James's Park. A tranquil place that tricks tourists into renting out deckchairs – as they do in every Royal Park in London – and watch pelicans bother the swans in the lake. More so, Buckingham Palace also has a large iron gate that encircles the entire palace. "Keep away," Buckingham Palace seems to tell everyone in London. "I'm way too good for you."
But here, in front of the Royal Palace of Norway, is entirely different. Yes, the Royal Palace is placed on top of a small hill that is free-standing from the other famous buildings down on either side at the base of the street; but there is no park blockading it's path, no Royal Mall that forces you to walk 20 minutes to reach a cold iron gate that separates you from the palace.
It looked independent, but stood as part of the city. Whereas Buckingham Palace was gated off and seemed almost out of place in the middle of London. The Royal Palace's front facade had the same neoclassical architecture that reflected the stuccoed brick north face of the White House. It was an H-shaped building with a temple front supported by a row of pillars. But where as the White House had more of a Palladian design with a central block to make the building more circular, the Royal Palace of Oslo had two great flanking wings, three stories high on either side.
What I liked the most about the palace, was that it was a friendly shade of cake batter yellow, a color that matched the other light and fun dessert shade buildings within the city of Oslo. Better yet, the yellow of the palace looked even brighter against white the snow on the ground.
"I hate the color," Anna said when we stopped to take our pictures in front of the palace.
"Oh I disagree," I said, keeping my voice light. "I think it's charming."
I did, mostly because Buckingham Palace was just so gray and stoney that it was finally a relief to see a Royal Palace that actually looked like it was trying to have a little fun. Though the Royal Palace stood high on a hill, it was third wheeling a little bit, yet the palace was third wheeling in style, as if it it was trying to be Oslo's equal, not superior. Unlike, Buckingham Palace.
"All right, I can see that," Anna said nodding to me.
During the first couple of days in Norway, Anna was growing on me. We talked nonstop about all sorts of things, including her excitement to be abroad for a semester in Germany.
"If you ever find yourself in Germany for your second semester," Anna said to me at the train station. "Hit me up, you're more than welcomed to come and stay with me."
I told her the same thing if she ever came by to London.
It was here that Ines showed Anna and I the wall where The Scream was mounted. There was already a line of people in front of us waiting their turn to take their pictures as they mirrored the same shocked expression of the main subject in the painting. The painting itself was encased in a laminated glass box with four iron rods in each corner, bolting the glass against the museum's wall. I could only guess it was just in case there was another attempt to rob the museum of Munch's painting. Third time's the charm! Although from the security that the museum had placed all over The Scream, the chances of that happening, were nonexistent.
As we waited in line to take our picture with The Scream, I looked directly across from where I was standing and saw Munch's other painting, Madonna. Madonna too had the same shatterproof glass encasing that The Scream had, yet nobody bothered to line up and strike the same dream-like ecstasy pose as the subject in the painting.
I remembered when the story broke of The Scream's second disappearance in 2004. It was back when Brian Williams was actually truthful when he reported his stories on ABC's Nightly News, and when his tie collection actually motivated my Dad to go out and buy new ties for his suits for work. But from what I remember from that Nightly News story, was the fact that when Brian Williams began the story, he only focused on the disappearance of The Scream and not Madonna. He said, "[The Scream] by Evard Munch was brazenly walked out the door of a Norway Museum today along with another work by the artist . . ." He didn't even bother to name Munch's other artwork, let alone address it as a painting.
In The Guardian the author goes into great detail of why The Scream was a visionary masterpiece, starting the story by chronicling Munch's written accounts of feeling "a great scream piercing the world" and how that led to the creation of The Scream. But of course the author adds, "They broke the frames off The Scream and the other stolen painting - Munch's darkly sensual Madonna." Where were Munch's written accounts for his inspiration of the blood red halo that surrounded the Madonna's head in his painting? Was "darkly sensual" the only adjectives to describe Madonna rather than analyzing the pain and terror the subject in The Scream was feeling?
Essentially, if nobody on the news nor in the papers elaborated on the equal priceless importance of Madonna to The Scream, then what was the point of standing in line and taking a picture with the third wheel of stolen artwork, when you could just take a picture with the star of the show?
After all The Scream went through when he was stolen the first time, a part of me likes to believe that the second time he was kidnapped, he at least had someone to keep him company. Personifying Madonna this time, I bet she didn't understand what was happening to her. And in my hearts of hearts she was probably more terrified of this kidnapping than Mr. Scream. But at least Mr. Scream had survived his first kidnapping, and would do his best to help Ms. Madonna out through their hostage situation. At least when they were stolen they had each other. Better yet, they were kin made by the same man, which probably made their chances of survival even more important.
Yet, when they were both finally rescued, The Scream got all the praise. Everyone was glad that The Scream had been returned in one piece. Madonna was just third wheeling while The Scream had his moment in the spotlight. Both were returned to their rightful homes. At least the museum saw the worth in preserving Madonna in the same shatterproof glass that The Scream was enclosed in.
Just like Buckingham Palace gating itself off from the rest of the London community, The Scream and Madonna would be separated from the world by a wall. To be looked through but never near enough to be close to its beauty.
It was at that moment when I realized that I had built my own glass case/iron gate around myself from Ines and Anna. I didn't want to separate myself from everyone else like Buckingham Palace, The Scream nor Madonna. I wanted to be a part of this group. I wanted to be one with Ines and accept Anna as a friend. I wanted to be like the Royal Palace: open, fun and welcoming.
I wouldn't allow myself to be third wheeled because, the truth was, there were going to be times when Anna would sometimes would feel like the third wheel, herself. In the next few days leading up to New Years, I predicted that there would be something that I would say to Ines – regarding things back in Pasadena, or our acquaintances from middle school – and Anna would be the odd one out. In consequence, there were going to be things Anna would say to Ines – regarding things back at Stanford, or the classes they were enrolled in – that I just wasn't going to get it.
I had to be okay with that.
After all, Ines was our friend. She was the one that we were connected to. Anna and I were essentially The Scream and Madonna. Ines was Munch, our dear friend who shaped us into the people we were today.
And here we were in Norway, her home, as her friends and guests.
Who knew when we would get another chance to pose with The Scream in Oslo, Norway with her?