Art critic Peter Schjeldahl once compared looking at Edvard Munch’s paintings to “listening to an album of a certain blues or rock song that, once upon a time, changed my life. I can’t hear the songs, as I can’t see the Munch images, without recalling earlier states of my soul, as if to listen or to look were, beyond nostalgia, an exercise in autobiography. Each song, each image, reminds me of myself.”

I was thinking about this around 4 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning as I walked back to the Hotel Munch after an evening out in Oslo. I’d met some lovely people who’d taken me to a country music club to listen to a band called the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, and then to a rock club where a heavy metal cover band played… More…

The dingy waiting area at gate 25 in Tromso, Norway, with its stained cloth seats and strewn candy wrappers, could be anywhere. Except for the signs in both Norwegian and Russian. And if the passengers waiting to board aren’t suited up in collars and pinstripes, then many of them are bundled up in all-weather jackets emblazoned with the logo of StatoilHydro, the huge Norwegian oil and gas conglomerate.

I’m the last to board and opt for the middle seat in the back row, bookended on either side by empty seats. Two men in slacks and collared shirts occupy the windows. “Best seat on the plane,” the man to my left says, somewhat flirtatiously. I soon learn he’s a Slovenian living in Athens and ask him what a person living on the Mediterranean would be doing on a flight to Hammerfest, 600 miles above the Arctic Circle. He responds by rubbing… More…