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persona-non-grata-novel-stephen-j-stirling-978-1-4621-1450-4Welcome to the official website of author Stephen J. Stirling and the book Shedding Light on the Dark Side: Defeating the Forces of Evil, A Guide for Youth and Young Adults, and the novel Persona non Grata, coming July 2014.

Persona non Grata
Paladin is way out of his depth! Sent to Crimea to bring a former student home, Paladin is soon embroiled in international conspiracy. Close calls and adventure are the norm in this thrilling tale! Find out more…

Persona Non Grata and the Mormon Milieu

As I speak to various audiences regarding Persona Non Grata, there is one question I always ask. “Does the influence of religion – specifically Mormonism – hamper the reader’s ability to enjoy a good tale of adventure and intrigue?”  Fair question.  In a day when religious prejudice is the last acceptable form of social bigotry, and the worn catch phrase ‘Separation of Church and/from State [– and Everything Else]’ has become a watchword of our times – it is reasonable to ask if references to religion are offensive to the literary consumer.

Persona Non Grata is the story of a Latter-day Saint seminary teacher who becomes embroiled in the imminent invasion of Crimea by Russian troops, while trying to rescue a former student from that outbreak of hostility.  Whether or not the treatment is religiously heavy handed, is an objective assessment best reserved to the reader. So far the critics and samplings of readers have received the book with overwhelming approval. But the jury is always out.

And I make no pretensions here. Persona Non Grata is written from a Latter-day Saint point of view.  Again, the hero of the story happens to be a Mormon. He could have been a Hasidic Jew, a Presbyterian deacon, or a Buddhist monk.  His unique point of view under any of those alternatives would invariably have changed the story.  And I’m sure the story would have been interesting.  My problem, or perhaps my advantage, was that I knew more about the Mormon culture than about Jews or Buddhists.

And that leads to my original question. Is there too much LDS culture in Persona Non Grata? Some people suggested that I ‘soft pedal’ the Mormon aspects of the book, or even write it from a Christian fundamentalist angle, completely eliminating any references to LDS issues or topics.  I preferred not to do that, and my reasoning was simple.  The world in which we live now enriches our lives with a wide range of cultural diversity – a diversity that shouldn’t flinch at a less than lethal exposure to various forms of worship.

Consider classic and contemporary literature — including books, plays, and feature films that have long been liberally laced with a colorful depth of religious tradition.  Jewish culture (exemplified in the writings of Chiam Potok or Leon Uris) has been a prominent fictional backdrop for years. Catholicism (typified through authors like Graham Green and G.H. Chesterton) has certainly occupied no less a conspicuous a setting in great literature and films.  Likewise Islam, Buddhism, or the religions of India have given a rich texture to many books and movies, all without apology.

My point. I believe that the Mormon tradition has the potential to offer just as rich a context to the creative arts.  The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is laden with a wealth of devotion, sacrifice, tragedy, and glory — the elements that give significance to living. The culture of everyday Mormonism continues to provide a way of life that offers meaning and purpose to its adherents, who now number in the millions.  Their beliefs and practices have earned them admiration as well as ridicule.  Who they are makes them stand out — and even appear peculiar.

But they are a powerful and unique part of world culture.  And their cultural message – like the message of Judaism or Catholicism – has something to contribute to a cosmopolitan world.  In an article featured through the Huffington Post, writer Stephen Mansfield, (who is by no means a ‘cheering section’ for the Mormons), offered this commentary on the much touted “Mormon Moment” – you know, when Latter-day Saints seemed to be popping up everywhere a couple of years ago.

“What most commentators did not understand was that their “Mormon Moment” was more than a moment, more than an accident, and more than a matter of pop culture and fame alone. The reality was–and is–that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached critical mass. It is not simply that a startling number of Mormons [from Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck to Stephanie Meyer, Katherine Heigl, and even Lindsey Stirling] have found their way onto America’s flat-screen TVs and so brought visibility to their religion. It is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached sufficient numbers–and has so permeated every level of American society on the strength of its religious value–that prominent politicians, authors, athletes, actors, newscasters, and even murderers are the natural result. . . Visible, influential Mormons aren’t outliers or exceptions. They are fruit of the organic growth of their religion.”

Of course, none of this means the Mormons are going to take over the nation or the planet.  Not even Mansfield contemplates that paranoid possibility in the world you and I live in.  What he does suggest is that Latter-day Saints are achieving some prominence on the national scene, and have something to offer America – and the world.  And that should be no more religiously threatening than a stroll through the Deli Kosher aisle or an accidental close encounter with a televangelist while surfing on cable.

So, what I would like to know from you is this:  In your opinion can Mormonism be allowed to serve as an acceptable cultural context in standard fiction?  I believe it is time for the culture of the Latter-day Saints to take its place as a milieu in mainstream fiction.  I tried to establish that kind of backdrop in Persona Non Grata – to provide a unique picture of a basically religious character, without ramming that religion down anyone’s throat.

I hope that this aspect of Persona Non Grata served as a springboard and not as a barrier to your ability to lose yourself in a good book.  May my audience of America – and the world — continue to read and enjoy the international adventures of Paladin Smith.

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A HORRIFIC VISION OF THE NIGHT THAT BECAME A REALITY

In writing Persona Non Grata, I do not claim to have experienced a vision or spiritual premonition regarding the Russian invasion of Crimea.  But the phenomenon of genuine prophecy does have its precedents.  Outside of the Scriptures and modern revelation, the following true story is one of my favorites.  I condensed it from an article entitled, “A DREAM THAT SHOOK THE WORLD.”

It was Sunday night, August 25th, 1893, and Byron Somes was sleeping off a binge in his office at the Boston Globe.  It was not a tranquil sleep.  A horrific nightmare had tormented his slumber. Watching from mid-air in his dream, Somes had witnessed a catastrophe of monumental proportions.  The earth shook, mountains tumbled into the ocean, waves heaped themselves beyond their bounds, and then an immense explosion erupted from the depths of hell as thousands of screaming voices were silenced forever.  Somes burst awake from his troubled sleep and sat, breathlessly pondering the vision he had just experienced.  In his mind he could still hear the cries of those doomed mortals on that little tropical island as they sought vainly to escape from the fiery fate that engulfed them.  But it was just a dream.

Somes has the presence of mind to jot down the details of the dream while they were fresh in his mind.  Who knows?  Maybe he could use them in the future as feature material on some dull news day.  He marked the notes as “important” – put them on his desk and went home.

Somes did not report for work the next day but someone found the notes on his desk and misinterpreted them as the details of a story.  The notes did coincide with recent seismological disturbances that were puzzling experts.  Fragmentary reports were filtering in with regard to a large earthquake on the island of Krakatoa, located between Java and Sumatra.  In a day of slow communications there was no more information that.  But it was enough.  The next day the Boston Globe ran an excellent story based on the notes Somes had jotted down.  Other papers picked up on the scoop that had been printed by the Globe and in a short time, one man’s dream had been translated into a widespread news story.

When his employers found Somes, demanding more details and more copy, he broke down and admitted that his ‘report’ was nothing more than notes of a nightmare.  The hapless reporter was summarily fired while the editors of the metropolitan daily prepared a humiliating public apology for printing a dream as though it were factual news.

But before the Globe could make its confession, huge waves began to pound the California coastline and the telegraphed reports of a few eyewitness survivors began to trickle over the telegraph wires.  On August 25th, the volcano on island of Krakatoa had begun to rumble, showering the island with boulders.  Bridges fell, roads became impassable, and ships scurried out to sea to avoid the cannonading. Undersea explosions churned the waters, and volcano after volcano – fifteen in all — joined the violence in a thunderous chorus. Then suddenly there was an explosion so vast that it defied description.  The island of Krakatoa had disintegrated in one cataclysmic blast that sent earthshocks and air waves around the globe. The sound of the eruption was heard 3,000 miles away.  Tidal waves killed tens of thousands of persons.  And more than 11 cubic miles of debris was spewed into the atmosphere. There had been nothing like it in the annals of modern history.

As the newswires brought in the real story, hour by hour, the amazing accuracy of Byron Somes account became evident.  He suddenly found himself in the good graces of his employer again.  The Globe, not surprisingly, declined at the time to reveal the fascinating story behind the story.  But the truth would eventually be known – that in a remarkable dream, reporter Byron Somes witnessed the volcanic destruction of Krakatoa, an island halfway around the world, as it was about to happen.  A dream which accidentally became the news story of the decade.

–from Stranger than Science, by Frank Edwards,                                                                                            p.32-33

Just a reminder that world events have been foretold before – in the strangest of ways.  Persona Non Grata is one of those literary anomalies.  The historic prediction of an occurrence which took the world by surprise – amidst a world of happenings which continue to surprise us.

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THE FICTION THAT CAME TRUE

Like the Russian – Crimean invasion, the most renown maritime disaster of all time also lays claim to the notoriety of having been foretold by the fiction of its time.  Here’s the story.

“A floating palace sailed from Southampton in 1898 on her maiden voyage.  It was the largest and grandest liner ever built, and rich passengers savored its luxury as they journeyed to the United States.  But the ship never reached its destination: Its hull was ripped open by an iceberg, and it sank with a heavy loss of life.

“That liner existed only on paper, [and] in the imagination of a novelist named Morgan Robertson.  The name he gave to his fictional ship was the Titan, and the book’s title was Futility.

“Both the fiction and the futility were to turn into terrifying fact. Fourteen years later a real luxury liner set out on a similar maiden voyage.  It too was laden with rich passengers.  It too rammed an iceberg and sank; and, as in Robertson’s novel, the loss of life was fearful because there were not enough lifeboats.  It was the night of April 14, 1912.  The ship was the RMS Titanic.

“In many other ways. . . the Titan of Robertson’s novel was a near duplicate of the Titanic.  They were roughly the same size, had the same speed ad the same carrying capacity. . . Both were ‘unsinkable.’  And both sank in exactly the same spot in the North Atlantic.

“But the strange coincidences do not end there.  The famous journalist W.T. Stead published, in 1892, a short story that [also] proved to be a preview of the Titanic disaster.  Stead was a spiritualist: He was also one of the 1,513 passengers who died when the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the ocean.”

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, p.406

I told you!  Amazing!  Tomorrow, one more Persona Non Grata-like world event will bear witness that time and fate are governed by coincidence.  But then again, I don’t believe in coincidence, do you?

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FATEFUL FORECAST

Persona Non Grata’s prediction of the Russian invasion of Crimea was impressive by any measure.  But it is not the first time a world event has been mysteriously foretold.

In 1964, paranormal author, Frank Edwards reported this story.

“In Owensville, Indiana, the citizens were puzzled one winter morning to find a cryptic message painted in huge letters on the sidewalk in front of the public grade school. The message said simply: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

People commented on the message.  But they never knew who put it there – or why.  It was really nothing to get excited about at the time it occurred; for the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor never took place until two years later. . . to the day.”

                                                                                                                           Strange World, p.120

Well, what do you think?  Weird!  But I told you it has happened before.  We’ll have more tomorrow.

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JOURNEY’S END — LEIPZIG

This was our last soothing ride on the slumber bus.  When we awoke in Leipzig on Saturday morning we were greeted with the news that the night was not so relaxing for our entire company.  While both busses arrived at the venue destination without incident, the eighteen wheeler carrying the stage, costumes, props, most of the instruments, as well as the lighting and sound equipment veered off the road and flipped over en route.  The drivers had escaped without serious injury.  But no one had any idea how damaged the trailer’s contents would be – or even when it would arrive.

I’m not sure if anyone really understands the effort that goes into one of Lindsey’s concerts.  (I know I didn’t.)  The set up and testing takes all day – and that’s when the equipment is all in operating condition.  When the truck did arrive, battered and crushed from its ordeal, there was no time to evaluate and replace the equipment, let alone set it up.  Tonight was going to be an interesting show.

Just to unwind, the on-stage talent took a walk in the nearby park on Lake Auensee.  We went with them.  Taking a stroll with Lindsey and the rest of this team is an adventure.  We tried to feed the ducks, but they didn’t respond to us much because we didn’t speak German.  At noontime, everyone returned to the venue to see what could be salvaged and refit of the show.

This left Diane and I to entertain ourselves on our own on this, our final day in Germany.  After our escapades in Hamburg, we were reluctant to wander too far off the beaten path in Leipzig.  So we took a sauntered leisurely through the streets of this corner of town, leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind us to ensure that we could find our way back.  It was a simple day.  Narrow, winding streets, lush undergrowth off the roadsides, and a little Lutheran church – Gnadenkirche — dating back to the 12th century.

We came back early for meet and greet, and to reserve for ourselves a place, standing in the center of the balcony, amidst the throngs that were arriving early for Lindsey’s concert.  What they saw there in Haus Auensee was a spectacle in itself.  Without costumes, without stage set, using rented sound equipment, a bare minimum of lights, and borrowed instruments, and salvaging a few props from the wrecked truck, Lindsey Stirling and company put on a show that no one who saw it should ever forget.  Stev-o and Pete danced their hearts out, Gavi and Drew played with all the energy they had, and Lindsey gave the performance of her life – leaping and twirling in a pieced together costume and playing her reliable ‘Excalibur’ with flawless intensity.  It was a miracle of a show, highlighting that indefinable quality of “showmanship” that separates a mere presentation of talent from a true work of art.  Lindsey has that quality.

As the crew packed up to go that night and the caravan prepared to proceed on to Poland, it was time for Diane and I to say good-bye.  Erich, the tour manager, had taken good care of us. He’s good at it.  The tour “Dad”, he takes good care of Lindsey.  They all take good care of Lindsey, watching over her like a family of big brothers – (and one sister, McKenzie).  The bus drove us to our hotel on the outskirts of the Leipzig airport.  Everyone climbed out to bid us farewell, with hugs, smiles and a tear or two.  I’ve got to think they were glad to get rid of these two vagabond roadies who latched onto the 2014 Lindsey Stirling European Tour.  But they gave no sign of it.  Everyone had been so kind.  It was a great vacation – the experience of a lifetime.

We slept well, but without the now familiar reverberation of the bus and her wheels on the pavement to massage us in our slumber.  In the morning we were greeted by a waiting taxi and dropped off at the airport where, a short time later, we began our day-long journey home.  We followed the sunset for 15 hours, so it never got dark as we hopped from Leipzig to Frankfurt to Los Angeles, and finally home to Phoenix.

As we traveled I sighed with mingled contentment and exhaustion.  Every holiday must come to an end.  And a small sincere part of me was glad to be getting home and anxious to return to the seminary classroom on Monday.  But, closing my eyes, another portion of me still strolled the cobble-paved streets of old Europe, or climbed the rocks on the frozen cliffs of Norway.  Fond memories enveloped me – images of bewildered travelers delightedly embraced in the friendship of kind strangers, of quiet moments sitting in hallowed halls of worship, bathed in the Spirit of God, and of two parents, standing in the midst amidst the cheering crowd of a rock concert, chanting with the fans the name of their favorite superstar.  Thank you everyone for a great adventure.

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LOST IN HAMBURG

We left Copenhagen after midnight and spent a long night traveling by bus and ferry southward. In the morning we woke up in Hamburg, Germany, inland on the Elba River.

Diane and I received a carefully articulated list of directions from Jan Sven to the interesting sights of the City.  After a short walk through the streets, our course carried us by train to the center of town at Jungfernstieg, where we planned to catch local tourist transportation to see the city.  We managed to catch the double-decker Stadtrundfahrt to get the panoramic view of Hamburg.

Frankly, there isn’t much of old Hamburg to see.  As Nazi Germany’s major port, it became a prime target of destruction during the Second World War. The Allied bombers were very effective.  About all that was left of the original city was the Speicherstadt – the old storage warehouses down beside the harbor, and a small cramped district of brick structures nearby.  Diane and I took a leisurely walk around the area and ate at the Haus Der Bretagne, looking forward to some genuine “Hamburger” cuisine.  The food was delicious, but, of course, “The House of Brittany” was a creperie, serving the fare of Northern France.  So much for sampling the German culture.

When time came for us to return, the language barrier itself made it difficult to retrace our steps.  Everyone we met was very nice, but very few of them spoke English.  It took us a while to find our way back to the train station in Jungfernstieg, where we wandered for what seemed like an hour to relocate the express that would take us back to Littenkamp, where we had started from.

We were extremely grateful when we stumbled back into the Sporthalle on the outskirts of Hamburg, where Lindsey was performing in the evening.  It was a magnificent venue, and had to be.  That night we reserved a place on the platform where the lighting and sound crews were poised to run the show.  They were the best seats in the house – where we were surrounded by more than 6,000 enthusiastic fans who came to witness the spectacle of Lindsey Stirling, the Hip Hop Violinist.  It was the largest live audience of her career.  What a triumph.  What a night.

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WANDERING THE CAPITOL of DENMARK IN SEARCH OF A DANISH

After the concert in Oslo, the entire crew was pretty tired.  Obviously, no one was more exhausted than Lindsey.  Diane and I were well worn ourselves.  It was good to crawl into my little berth on the bus again and to be soothed to sleep by the soft rumble of the engine and the rocking of the wheels on the road.

It was a several hours’ overland drive south to Copenhagen, so it was a good rest.  I struggled up in the middle of the night – as had become my custom – to shuffle to the front of the bus, gaze out the huge front windshield, and visit briefly with Jan Sven.  But I quickly got tired again and traipsed back to bed.

In the morning we were in fabled Copenhagen with a day at our disposal to see the sights.  Jan Sven was kind enough to give us some walking directions into the center of town.  We wandered far further than two little Americans should be allowed to go by themselves.  But we followed our directions closely until we discovered Tivoli Gardens, (the 1840’s amusement park that was the inspiration for Disneyland).  With perfect timing we discovered that the park had closed for the summer.  But luckily, the gardens were reopening – tomorrow.  Diane took a picture of me standing outside the front gate.  We will add it to the photos of other theme parks I have been unable to get into.

tivoli8

Ducking out of the pedestrian traffic, we found a run-down little part of town — a perfect preservation of the Old World, with cobbled streets under our feet and window boxes filled with flowers high overhead.  When we emerged from the crowded streets of little shops and homes we found ourselves looking up at the object of our travels – The Church of Our Lady.  (Everyone had told me I just had to see the statue of the ‘Little Mermaid’ in Copenhagen Harbor.  But I had seen the movie.  I was far more anxious to see something else.

134px-Thorvaldsen_Christus

Torvaldsen’s ‘Christus’ sculpted in 1838 is considered by many to be “the most perfect statue of Christ in the world.”  I’ve admired it all my life and longed to see it for years.  I never thought I would have the opportunity.  Standing at the altar end of the chapel and flanked by statues of the twelve apostles standing along the walls, it was one of the most reverently magnificent images I have ever beheld.  We stayed until the church clock rang at 4.

As we made our way through the streets back to the venue, we searched vigilantly for a Danish – after all we were in Denmark.  We finally discovered some, bought everything that looked good and hurried back to Falconer Salen by the time the events of the evening began to take place.  We sat with the fans in the center front of the balcony with a perfect view of the stage.

Lindsey’s performance never gets old.  It is a delight to see it again and again.

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SNAPSHOTS of a STARK PARADISE

A view of the Geiranger Fjord from the top of the mountain.

A view of the Geiranger Fjord from our mountain top location while filming for the “Dragon Age” music video.  The barely visible village of the same name nestles beneath towering cliffs at the tip of the glacial fjord in the distance.

IMG_0147Lindsey Stirling performs at the edge of the fjord while an octocopter captures an aerial shot.

IMG_0133Lindsey, director and camera crew on location on the frigid shores of Geirangerfjiorden.  Note how warmly everyone is bundled up — except for the performing violinist/dragon slayer.

THE GLACIAL AMPHITHEATER

I’ve been cold in my life.  I lived in the midst of the Wasatch Mountains in Provo, Utah, I spent a winter in the suburbs of Chicago braving the blistering gusts off Lake Michigan, and I spent six months of my life on the shores of the Straits of Magellan south of Patagonia.  But I have never been as cold as I was on the day I stood in freezing blast of wind that pelted into me on the mountain top of Dalsnibba.

The weather conditions took us all by surprise.  Lindsey knew she was doing a video shoot on a mountain peak for a game called “Dragon Age”. But she hadn’t been forewarned of this.  None of us were. However, our guide and protector, Havard had been here before. Part of the Norwegian expedition which reconquered Antarctica in 2012, Havard was well prepared for harsh climate with a full store of winter gloves, hats and parkas in the back of his SUV, and  plenty of survival skills which were to be life savers.

Diane and I perfectly acclimated to the mild weather of Norway.

Diane and I perfectly acclimated to the mild weather of Norway.

Lindsey, of course, carried on like a trooper.  After the initial shock, (and an opportunity to thaw briefly in the motor home which accompanied the crew), Lindsey accepted the inevitable and submitted without complaint.

By the time she had finished with makeup and costuming, the film crew was ready.  And I should point out that while everyone else on the location were wrapped snugly in parkas, ski caps and face masks.  Lindsey, by contrast, wore leggings and a light shirt, without any protection for her hands or face — running along the mountain cliffs and playing her violin while bracing herself against the icy winds which constantly threatened to blow her into the valley below.

It was only the efforts or Havard that kept Lindsey from freezing to death – and from tumbling off the mountain. He and another big Norwegian, Shel, (who played the part of the Inquisitor) became her protectors.  In a certain sense Havard became the decision maker in the shoot.  Eventually, no one did much without Havard’s approval.  Leadership can be a random element.  It so often simple falls on the shoulders of he who is prepared to bear it.

After every shot, Havard was there with a parka and a set of gloves for Lindsey, as well as a survival bag to protect her from the elements.  (It was actually quite toasty inside. I tried it.)  When her hands got too exposed to the cold he zipped down his jacket, and while I held the violin and bow, Lindsey thrust her hands into his armpits.  Wow!  (She tried it on me first.  It was a jolt to the nervous system, but certainly warmed up her fingers to play again.)  Havard became the indispensable man on the shoot.  He was the key to our sub-zero, wind-chill survival.

Though the shoot began in the morning, the sun hung in the sky at the level of late afternoon throughout the day, until it grew weary and dipped below the horizon.  We had filmed several set ups at three locations and were exhausted as we wound our way down the mountain to the the hotel in tiny Geiranger.

The next morning we were back on location, filming the establishing shots with Lindsey from the frozen crags just above the Geirangerfjord,  Once again, it was incredibly early, and incredibly cold, but everyone did their part until the director said, “That’s a wrap.”  They really were an extremely efficient crew and the material they shot was awesome.

The moment the film was declared “in the can”, Lindsey, Diane and I hurried to the waiting motor home and made our hurried way the several hundred miles to Oslo.  We were already running late.  Twisting our way southeast, we passed through some of the most beautiful farmland I have ever seen, marked by sod-roofed homes and lush green sheep fields, clinging to the verdant hills of central Norway.  Gradually, the lush countryside gave way to signs of denser civilization as we neared the nerve-center of the nation.

Six and a half hours after our departure we arrived in Oslo, just in time for Lindsey’s media interviews, a sound check, and her waiting guests at meet and greet.  The concert at the Sentrum was crowded and warm.  Diane and I sat alone in the balcony and enjoyed the show from another angle.  It was fascinating for me to ponder where we had been in the past two days.  Visiting Norway had been one of the great adventures of my life.

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THROUGH THE FJORDS OF NORWAY

“What are we doing tomorrow, Lindsey?”

“Well, I agreed to do a video shoot up in Norway.  Do you want to come or would you rather relax for the day?”

Duh!

No sooner was the Stockholm show over than the three of us were whisked out of the building into a waiting car which took us to a hotel by the airport.  (Lindsey didn’t even get the chance to see her fans afterwards, which she always enjoys.)  Apparently, Lindsey was under instructions to get a good night’s rest.  The next day was to be an exhausting one.  As it was we only got a few hours’ sleep at the hotel before we had to catch a shuttle to the airport before dawn.  There we bumped around before we found our check in gate at desk 7/8, which was very much like Harry Potter’s platform nine and three quarters.  It didn’t exist.  We did eventually find our flight agent and the pilot waiting for us.  They greeted us, took our bags and hustled past security and then escorted us to our aircraft – a Citation Bravo, waiting on a distant corner of the airfield.  There are certain advantages to flying on a private jet – the first being that if you happen to be late the plane will generally not take off without you.

Other perks are equally awesome.  There were three passengers on the plane – Lindsey, Diane and I — in addition to the pilot and the co-pilot (who also served as the stewardess).  So there was plenty of leg room and arm room.  There was also an entire basket of chocolates and plenty of non-alcoholic stuff to drink.  Best of all, I left my bag in the aisle, (not, I point out safely stowed under the seat in front of me).  And no one came around at take-off and told me to unrecline my seat or return my tray to its full, upright position.  It was way cool!

As we lifted off from the runway I also realized this was to be one of the smoothest flights I ever took.  The trip northwest to the coast of Norway was to last about an hour and a half.  It was an incredible leap over almost 500 miles of semi-wilderness terrain.

When we arrived in Alesund above the 60th parallel it was still dark.  But as we disembarked, there was already a car parked beside the plane waiting for us.  From the driver’s seat stepped a big, blond-haired Norwegian, Havard.  Little did we know, Havard was not only our driver and guide through this excursion, but our protector as well.

He took our bags and tucked them into the trunk and then offered us breakfast – yogurt, fruit and granola bars he’s picked up before he arrived.  He apologized for not providing us with a warm meal, but explained that he had three and a half hours of driving to do and we had to hurry.  We drove from the Alesund Airport and from craggy island to island through several subterranean tunnels, frequently going underground (and under water) for several minutes at a time, until we finally emerged into the light of day and our long, beautiful drive through the fjords of Norway.  It was the most pristine, breathtaking journey of my life, weaving in and out of the narrow glacial inlets, dwarfed by steep cliffs towering above us.  The forbidding magnificence of the scenery was accented by the deep blue water which stretched before us for miles, accented by the mountain walls of rich, lush greenery.

We stopped in a tiny village on the Sunnylvsfjord to catch a small ferry to the other side. Havard invited me to climb from the truck and gave me a tour of the ferry and a panorama of the fjord from the bow of the boat.  It was absolutely freezing.  There was a harsh barrier which protected this splendor from the abuse of men and the twenty-first century.  The landscape grew all the more breathtaking to me.

We drove about a half hour more, through the hills and beyond the line of verdant foliage, where the stark mountains and patches of ice and snow gave the setting another kind of beauty.  We wound down into a deep valley to the town of Geiranger, and then up into the mountains on the other side.  Finally we reached the top and parked where the film crew waited.

We expected it to be cold.  We knew the temperature was below zero.  What we did not expect was the 30-40 mph winds which pelted us as we opened the car doors.  This was a day on a mountain top which would never be forgotten.

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