We went to Tromso, Norway to see the magic of the Northern Lights. It’s a small town with a population of slightly more than 70,000 people, located just north of the Arctic Circle. It was Sunday night, but we wanted to party. We heard the nightlife was vibrant in Tromso, owing to the spirited students at the local university. We pre-drank in our Airbnb, which was located on a steep, icy street. In the book-filled study, by the heat of the fire, we played guitar and drank Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. After our chests were warm from the drinking and singing, we headed for the nightclubs. We wore full snowsuits and even ski goggles, bundled against sub-zero temperatures. Norway welcomes skin-splintering colds, especially in Tromso, one of the country’s northernmost cities.
There’s something about the anonymity of travel that makes you feel invisible, invincible. The bars were empty since the students were on semester break, but we didn’t want to waste our buzz, so we took to the streets. Sprung loose on the wintry, dystopian landscape – just street lights and snow-sunken cars – we slid downhill on sheets of ice, using our boots as skates, and weaved through the empty streets leaving oblong footprints. We jumped into snowbanks, like children, becoming stuck on our backs and staring up at the frosted moon. Our outfits further shrouded our identity. Especially our goggles, which covered most of our face. From behind them, everything took on a slightly enhanced, cinematic look. In our bulky snowsuits, cozied against the cold, we looked like giant bowling balls. A police report might have read: men dressed in black outfits, all round, height inestimable due to constant movement, no reported eye or hair color.
Then, a car crash. A beat-up, two-door sedan, came screaming around a corner, skidding sideways, before finally slamming into the curb. Some action, we thought. We ducked between a row of diagonally parked cars on an adjacent street. Then we saw people with headsets. Then a cameraman. A director, too. It was a movie set.
They film at night, in order to make sure the streets are clear. That explains it. It must be cheap to film up here in Tromso, too. We wasted no time trying to disturb the moviemaking process. Tucked between the cars, just around the corner from the set, we shouted the name of my alias, a character dreamed up in case we encountered Tromso police: Marty Slaver. My friends call me Matty Silver, so Marty is my depraved doppelganger. He’s a drunken scoundrel with a checkered past, known for his barfights, womanizing, and irreverence for authority. “It’s me, Marty Slaver,” I screamed, hoping to hide my real name and confuse the filmmakers. When the barking didn’t bother them, we sprinted from sidewalk to sidewalk, crept around street corners, and poked our goggled faces mischievously into the frame. Heavily-clothed marauders parading in the empty night.
Before long, a production assistant approached us. It’s their job, ostensibly, to keep people like us from disturbing the set. “Excuse me,” said the PA, in a Norwegian accent. “The director would like you to stop.” It was a terribly polite request and not what we were looking for. We wanted our hellraising to inspire outrage, not Scandinavian niceties. Needless to say, it was an unsatisfying end to our scene. We slumped back through the Ghost Town toward our Airbnb.