If the days aren't icy, they're just plain cold. If the snow isn't falling, it's turning to to black slush in the streets. Either way, it's slippery. And the bleak days may not actually outnumber the gloriously sunny ones, but the short daylight hours make it feel like we're being shortchanged on sunshine. So, what to do?
I've got a few tips for surving a winter in Scandinavia:
#1 Get yourself a red umbrella!
Of all my tips, this one is the least serious, but the most fun. Last winter my umbrella was gray and busted. It took me a little while to figure out that, as I walked the streets of Oslo, my view from under the umbrella was impacting my world outlook. I traded up. No surprise, things look rosier with a bright, cheery, cherry red frame. Get a cute, colorful umbrella for those rainy, sleety days.
Believe it or not, I'm not the only expat in Norway who likes to blog about how cool and challenging this relocated life is. In fact, Norway has a very healthy, active population of expat bloggers. Before Jonathan and I decided to move overseas, I followed a handful of them religiously, not knowing then that I would one day join their ranks, providing daily, personal insight about life halfway around the world.
Only part my blog is dedicated to Norway and all its quirks. But there are several excellent all-Norway-all-the-time expat blogs that you should check out, too!
Not even mid-winter here in Norway, but we've already got guests lined up for summer. When Jonathan and I moved over in April of 2011, we weren't sure anyone would come see us in Oslo. After all, that's a long way to go, for Californians especially. It's expensive. And Norway, surprisingly enough, isn't high on the priority lists of most travelers. But last summer, we mananged to lure a couple of couples up into the Nordics. What a blast! We visited museums, ate delicious pastries, took lots of pictures, and generally goofed around. Memories! Best of all, we got to play a lot of Kubb, a tradition I hope to extend through Summer 2013 as more friends venture north to hang with us.
Left: Amy and me in full-on Kubb-box-model mode. We make it look like the best game ever. Who wouldn't want to play with us? Right: Amy and me in full-on gonna-kick-the-boys'-butts-at-Kubb mode. We make it look like the toughest game ever. Who wouldn't be afraid to play with us?
What is Kubb?
Our first summer in Oslo, we noticed groups of people engaged in some kind of stick-throwing game. On the palace grounds. At Frognerparken. On the banks of the fjord or beside small lakes in the Oslomarka. Throwing sticks at sticks. And while some might roll their eyes at such a juvenile-looking pasttime, Jonathan and I were gripped by curiosity.
The game turned out to be Kubb, a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks (kubbs) by throwing wooden sticks (klubbs) at them.
Braving temperatures of -15 C (5 F) today took some serious motivation. Oslo's Mathallen opened to much fanfare in October last year, boasting more than 33 gourmet food vendors. I've heard only excellent things about it since then. When a Facebook friend posted a picture of several small pies she'd purchased from a stall called Hello Good Pie, I knew I'd be making the trip. Pies and puns? Sorta my thing.
We bundled up against the cold and hopped on the #13 Trikk, stopping at Schous plass in Oslo's Grünerløkka neighborhood, walked three and a half blocks west, and followed the big signs to Mathallen.
Dozens of fresh, fragrant, foodie smells met us at the door. The hall is quite large. Spherical chandeliers hang from the vaulted, black ceiling. Visiting in the middle of the day on a Saturday may not have been the wisest decision. It was packed! So crowded, we found it tough to navigate between the stalls to figure out what our options were. Thankfully, I'd scrolled through the list of vendors on Mathallen's excellent website, so I knew what I was looking for.
Pies! Hello Good Pie offers varieties both sweet and savory, four or five inches in diameter. We ordered an eple crumble med rørosrømme (apple crumble with fresh sour cream) and a sjokolade og peanøtt (chocolate and peanut) to go!
Dear Mr. President,
I voted for you.
Home. My husband and I moved to Norway from the United States for adventure, opportunity and the chance to try something new. We stay because, given our new perspective, it is difficult for us to believe that moving "home" would be in our best interest. Norway is consistently listed as one of the "happiest" and "best" places to live in the world. This is due to the country's high standard of living, access to higher education, national wealth, cleanliness, and independence. Children are healthier, better educated, and safer. We pay high taxes, but in return we receive tremendous benefits. Watching the vitriol of the last election from afar, I was ashamed. All that fighting, all those hard lines, all those promises, all that MONEY... and in return, what? I can't say Norway is a better country than the United States, but nor can I say that the U.S. is the best country in the world. And wouldn't you want to live and raise your family in the best country in the world? Please do what you can to make me want to come home.
Audrey Camp from Oslo, Norway
Four years ago, I was as idealistic as any other 25-year-old. Well, that doesn't mean much. Kids today become so jaded so quickly. Maybe I'll say it this way... Four years ago I was as idealistic as young Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, just before he ascended to the Presidency. The man wanted to bridge gaps, soothe the rancor of Washington, and accomplish lots of important stuff. In 2008, I liked his message, but I didn't vote for him. I believed he was too young and inexperienced to make headway in our white-haired White House, let alone the big, bad world of international relations. He won without my vote. And almost immediately, I was thrilled about that. Even in the face of a GOP machine intent on making him, young Barack Obama, a Democrat, fail in four years, whether or not that hurt our country, the man himself strove to meet his own ideals. Four years later, he earned my vote with guts, humility, and the overall optimism and decency of his party's platform.
I'm no longer a shiny-cheeked idealist, but neither, I'd guess, is President Obama. Yet, he seems to remain optimistic.
Dear Gun Rights Advocate:
Please stop waving your selectively-historical, emotional arguments in my Facebook. It's irresponsible. I'm referring, of course, to posts which are intended to promote our Second Amendment rights by referring to historical atrocities which, allegedly, bear some resemblance to what's about to go down in the United States.
The most recent I've seen is a tidbit titled A Little History to Think About...
A lengthy caption runs under a black and white photo of the carnage after the massacre at Wounded Knee in December of 1890. Dead bodies litter the snowy ground. The burned skeletons of empty teepees lean in the wind. Members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, perpetrators of the violence, walk through the scene, hats still on.
The 7th Cavalry ended the American Indian Wars by slaughtering the Lakota at Wounded Knee. Depending on where you get your information, the massacre may have started because one Lakota tribesman refused to give up his gun. And so, about 300 natives were killed, according to this Facebook post, in one of "the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history."
The person who wrote the inflammatory text accompanying this photo didn't sign his full name. (Once or twice he misspells Cavalry as Calvary. I suspect this is an accidental irony.) And he draws a bloody line of connection through the dots of history which begins in Biblical times, with Cain's murder of his brother Abel. What surprises me is not that the author roots his indignation and fear in religion, but where else he feels his greatest fear has been mirrored in the past. An excerpt:
"Evil exists all around us, but looking back at the historical record of the past 200 years, across the globe, where is 'evil' and 'malevolence' most often found? In the hands of those with the power, the governments. That greatest human tragedies on record and the largest loss of innocent human life can be attributed to governments. Who do the governments always target? 'Scapegoats' and 'enemies' within their own borders...but only after they have been disarmed to the point where they are no longer a threat. Ask any Native American, and they will tell you it was inferior technology and lack of arms that contributed to their demise. Ask any Armenian why it was so easy for the Turks to exterminate millions of them, and they will answer 'We were disarmed before it happened'. Ask any Jew what Hitler's first step prior to the mass murders of the Holocaust was- confiscation of firearms from the people."
This Facebook post has been shared more than 25,000 times. Talk about perpetuating a myth.
The thing is, dear Gun Rights Advocate, anyone who thinks there's a legitimate chance that our government is going to send in the cavalry to take away his guns really ought to be taking bigger steps to thwart them than pointing to pictures of the massacre at Wounded Knee. I'm willing to admit that a person's paranoia doesn't always make him wrong, but unless he's willing to leave the country to escape this impending/potential tyranny, and unless he actually thinks "1776 will commence again," I question his convictions.
Gun-owners in the United States are not the Jews before the Holocaust. That self-comparison is so ignorantly insensitive to the history of global antisemitism, it actually makes me ill. Nor are they the Native Americans about to lose their home and history to a far more powerful population of invaders.
Unwittingly, Jonathan and I stumbled across the perfect reprieve from Oslo's cold, dark winter last weekend. We took the T-Bane (Metro) east from the city center to the Toyen station. There we visited The Munch Museum first, a real treat! Lunched there at the café. Then we decided to talk a short winter walk.
Another cluster of buildings caught our eye, in particular, two greenhouses. The windows were completely fogged up, but we peered through them anyway. Last year I learned how my mind craves the color green after a few months of white snow on bare, black branches, gray streets, and grayer slush piled at the corners. With nose almost flat to the greenhouse glass, I could feel myself yearning for the lush green leaves, vines, and branches I could just make out within.
"It is possible to go inside," said a Norwegian woman who had appeared beside me. "And it IS very nice."
She knew we were Americans. Standing on our tip-toes and drooling must have given us away.
It turned out that we'd wandered into the Oslo Botanical Garden. Under snow, it's tough to tell! The greenhouses, Palmhuset (The Palm House) and Victoriahuset (The Victoria House), part of the garden exhibit, are open six days a week, including Sundays, and are free to the public.
Four versions of Vampire, produced in various years
The exhibit is unique in that it focuses on more than Munch's paintings. He dabbled in photography, lithography, and even home movies with some of the first movie cameras. He was also one of the few artists to explore personal duplication of his own masterpieces. Four versions of The Vampire. Dozens of replications of The Scream.
In this 2011 documentary, four American Christian dudes travel all over Europe asking (pretty self-indulgent) questions about (high school level) theology and what it means to really (no, really dude) follow Jesus.
Now, these are four quintessential American-Christian-college guys. I feel like I know them, like I've talked to all of them... in youth groups, church lobbies, Campus Crusade gatherings, youth conferences, Christian concerts. Oh man. It's actually weirder than that. I feel like I was programmed to be able to find these guys in a crowd, to separate them from the herd, to stamp them with the possible-future-mate stamp that all Christian girls are given at birth. Clean cut, hyper masculine, endearingly naive (shallow), bashfully sensitive. Cracking jokes and dealing cliches like cards on the table.
But I'd love to know who said, "Finally, a Christian film that doesn't hold back." Because if these guys aren't holding back, then they've honest-to-God got NOTHING going on behind those beautiful, smiling faces.
Winding their way from London to Barcelona to Rome (by accidental way of Geneva) to Budapest--you get the idea--the guys prompt themselves with the staple topics of any college small group: sex, alcohol, identity, fasting, giving to people in need. At the high point, they actually do GIVE to people in need. At the low point, they happen upon a nude beach (with actual hot people on it!) and decide this is the way God is telling them what to discuss that week.
It's like God punched us in the face...
What should we do this weekend? The classic question.
The Oslo Music Festival -- June 2011
Living in a city like Oslo is great because there's always something to do. Unfortunately, as an expat, it can be tough to know what all (or any) of the options are. If you don't read the language... if you haven't found an active group to join. But there IS an answer to this question.
The Events List
This "non-profit, community service intended for individuals of the English speaking community in and around Oslo" takes the form of a weekly email that lists as many events--tours, concerts, art installations, festivals--as possible taking place in the coming week.
Living so far north, we feel the darkness and cold a little deeper and a little longer than most. I don't have much room to complain, seeing as I live in Oslo, possibly the mildest Scandinavian city, weather-wise. But somehow I can't help it. Once the holidays are done, once the carolers are quiet, once the presents are open, once the plate of cookies is only a plate of crumbs... I find myself a little bummed. All that's left is to find something else to anticipate.
These itchy feet of mine want to move. Now, not all these trips are planned. Some are still mostly dreams. But if dreams can't fill a girl's sails with wind once in a while, what's the point of maintaining her imagination for almost 30 years?
Boston, Mass., USA
Yes, I've been there a few times now, but Boston is a great city, and this year it will host the annual AWP conference. I'll be in attendance, seeking wisdom from writers I admire, and seeking quality time with some of the wonderful writers I graduated with last June.