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It clicks

YOU can get in Dutch in a number of ways in our town. When our young grandson visited us for the first time, the two of us spent the better part of a day sampling some of them. These are the tourist attractions that have sprouted and flourished from our community's roots that stretch back some 150 years to the Netherlands.

The tulip gardens and the museums, the huge authentic imported windmill grinding away, the goodies shops with their ``babbelaar'' candy and bakery delicacy ``banket,'' the wood shoe factory where you can be fitted with a pair of clumsy ``klompen'' just your size and have your name burned into them -- we had a go at these and more.

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He took to everything except my suggestion that we have a Dutch lunch -- pea soup and pigs in the blanket. In a spirit of international accord we settled on nonethnic hamburgers with everything.

At supper I wondered if there was any one thing in the day that stood out above all the rest. ``What comes to your mind first?''

Without hesitation, and coming at me from an entirely unsuspected direction, he said, ``Everything was neat, but the really neatest was clicking the electric door locks on your new car.''

I was surprised, but I wouldn't allow myself to become exasperated. He was only six. Now, 20 years later, I realize I shouldn't have been surprised, either.

We recently returned, his grandmother and I, from an 11-day, 2,500-mile cruise through the fjords of Norway, and what I see first when I look back on it all is a mooring mast for the dirigible that Amundsen flew over the North Pole. First this ``click,'' and all the other memories surge.

This isn't a case of hero worship. I knew very little about this intrepid Norwegian explorer until I started reading about him after our trip. (I do have a bit of schoolboy's hero worship of Lawrence of Arabia, but I wouldn't give a nickel to see a palm tree where he tied his camel out of the hot desert sun.)

Nor do I have a thing for dirigibles. They're OK in their place -- at rest in a hangar, nuzzling a mooring mast, or cruising aloft -- but they mean nothing more to me than aerial views of baseball games and golf tournaments and other televised sports events.

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I was simply taken with the mooring mast, that's all.

Everyone knows about the fjords and rugged mountains and quaint fishing villages of Norway, even people who've never been there. That's all A-1 travelogue stuff.

But how many people know or care about the dirigible mooring mast away up there in the Arctic Circle where the coast of Norway doubles back toward Finland and Russia?

I certainly didn't, not until I got there. Even when I read the 30-word squib about it in the 96-page guidebook we all received when we boarded our ship at Bergen -- ``At Vadsoya, too, may be seen the mast to which Roald Amundsen's airship Norge was moored in 1926 and which was later used by Umberto Nobile in 1928'' -- I couldn't get excited.

I did mention it to a few people and got a ho-hum look if not the yawn. I wondered why the guidebook writer bothered to include it.

Perhaps that's what decided me to see it when we stopped briefly at Vadsoya early one cold, dreary morning in late May. Someone among us should show a little interest.

The town was barely awake when we went ashore with warnings not to wander far. While the other passengers stretched their legs by practically trotting to visit yet another church, I had only the mooring mast on my mind.

I'm so conditioned by our own fast-buck tourist economy I expected to see the tidy little downtown spattered with hype: ``Amundsen ate here,'' ``Olav's Drygoods, suppliers of earmuffs and mittens to the Norge,'' ``Last chance for gas before the bridge to the mooring mast.''

I saw nothing of the kind, nor did I see anyone on the nearly deserted streets who looked receptive to tourists at that hour.

Even our guide, whom I met coming out of a caf'e-newsstand with an Oslo newspaper under her arm, was no help. She didn't know anything about a mooring mast here. Obviously, not only had she not written the book, she hadn't even read it. Later I learned this was only her second trip.

Before I could turn to anyone else for directions, the ship sounded three blasts, sending us scurrying to the dock.

An inquisitive ship's officer, standing at the stern rail next to me while I was sweeping the horizon of Vadsoya with field glasses, asked if I was looking for anything in particular. When I told him, he turned my head toward the dingy, brown, bleak flats stretching away from town. And there it was.

At that distance the mooring mast could have been an oil derrick in southern Illinois or an abandoned early mock-up of the Eiffel Tower. But it clicked.

You'd think I'd be ashamed to admit this was the ``click'' of the trip for me, and at first I was.

But I wonder how many tourists and sightseers there are whose minds ``click'' to the commonplace first and then open wide to memories. We may have more electric-car-door-locks people in our midst than we suspect. William J. Murdoch

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