If you can talk with crowds and keep your
Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
--If, Rudyard Kipling
I am a candidate for Chair and Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad Norway. If you're an American expat in Norway, I ask for your consideration and vote. You can read my candidate statement here. If you register with Democrats Abroad by 15 February 2017, you'll receive a ballot via email. Thank you!
Last month, millions of women and our allies--people who love, respect and value us--rallied and marched in cities and towns around the world. Ask any one woman why she participated in the Women's March and you'll get a unique answer. We didn't agree on everything, but we do agree on this feminist principle: Women's rights are human rights.
Of course I showed up on a Saturday afternoon to remind the world that this is important. Of course I brought my husband and daughter. Of course I marched.
And, of course, there has been blow-back.
I understand a lot of it. People are indignant because they see this movement--the largest single populist demonstration in U.S. history--as a threat to the new President's agenda, which they support. People are offended by women dressed as vaginas or wearing "pussy hats." People are upset that pro-lifers were ostracized in some cities. And people are skeptical about what such a nebulous event accomplished or can accomplish in the long run.
This is part of my political philosophy that I want to wear right out in front:
I can say, "I understand" without saying, "I agree." And I can say, "I disagree," without saying, "I don't understand."
We're too quick in our speed-dating, Snapchat, 140-character culture to divide along these lines. These things shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Understanding comes with intelligence and experience. It does not require agreement. And it does keep the conversation going. Open mindedness is not gullibility, but we often act like it is. Easier to shun the thing we don't understand than to sit down and ask questions about it. Discernment takes too long.
A friend of mine is a national park ranger. Garrett and I, in his words, "disagree fairly extensively." But his post on Inauguration Weekend and the Women's March is important to me. Not because we agree. We don't. But because his perspective is unique, and his sincere love of history and respect for our government are admirable. He makes good points in this piece about the procedures around peaceful protests and the way security works, how demonstrators step on their cause when they fail to clean up after themselves, etc. And he reminds us of history's long view on both the march and the presidential campaign that gave rise to it. Best of all, Garrett presents his perspective in a way that doesn't entrench him on a specific side, and he doesn't close off debate by rejecting opposition. On the contrary.
He is trying to be understood. He is trying to understand.
Stuff changes so fast in Oslo. Many might think Norway remains old or stodgy or slow. Wrong. These days there's a revolution-a-minute when it comes to new enterprise. The level of education is high here. Norwegians are also overwhelmingly technologically literate and quick to embrace new tech as it comes. A couple of years ago, I wrote a short post on online grocery shopping in Oslo, highlighting a company we used exclusively at the time called Dagligvarerexpressen (Dex). It was one of only a couple options available at the time. Since then, several other delivery companies have popped up, so I thought it was time for an update here!
First of all, grocery delivery in Oslo has boomed, and there's a new, very successful kid in town. Kolonial.no showed up seemingly overnight and has taken the industry by storm. Already, it's absorbing up its competitors. I think this is partly because, unlike Dex and the rest, Kolonial.no's website is incredibly user-friendly, though not available in English.
We've used Kolonial.no, and they provide very good service. In partnership with Rema 1000, their selection continues to grow, which is nice, as we are attached to certain brands. Delivery fees in town begin at only 39 nok. (You can also pick up your order at one of thirty pick-points in the city for free.) When the delivery person arrived with my last order, she said she'd decided not to bring the greenbeans I ordered because they looked pretty bad. "Our produce is usually better," she said. Rather than tossing it in anyway and letting the customer sort it out, she was proactive about bringing only the best. The refund was automatic.
Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to interview Kolonial.no's cofounder, Karl Munthes-Haas, in September for Startup Guide Oslo. His story is fascinating, and you can read my full interview with him (along with several other exciting entrepreneurs) in the book. Here's one thing that stuck with me. When I asked what motivates him to come to work each day, building Kolonial.no into the number one grocery delivery company in Oslo, he said:
"I like that the value of the company is not just in the profit the company brings in, but also the benefit it provides to its consumers, above what they pay for. That's what motivates me. Let's say we do ten thousand deliveries in a week; that's at least ten thousand hours saved for the people who buy from us. Once the ball starts rolling, you get swallowed up in the responsibilities--employees to think about, orders that need to be filled, growth that needs to be done--but I think the underlying motivation is still creating value, which is good."
Karl's work ethic and vision for the company are inspiring and definitely in keeping with Scandinavian ideals about business and equality. It makes me feel good to support them.
"I want to work on climate change," says Paridhi Rustogi.
It's December 8, the first official day of Telenor Youth Forum 2016. At a hightop table in the Scandic hotel lobby, TYF delegates from India, Norway and Bangladesh lean in to talk about what's to come. Later in the day, they'll be broken into teams and assigned one of seventeen possible global goals. They've had no control over either of those steps. So, which global goal do they each want to work on? Most hedge. They're open minded. A challenge is a challenge, and the experience will be good no matter what. But Paridhi--an environmental engineer and a delegate from India--shakes her head.
"Climate change is what matters most to me." She is definitive.
Two other delegates gently challenge her choice--or, indeed, any choice at all-- especially in an opportune environment like TYF. Better to get something you're not as familiar with; you'll learn more that way.
"Hey, I thought this was a safe space," says Paridhi with a laugh.
Her fellow delegate from India, Sharad Vivek Sagar, answers, "A safe space isn't a comfort zone."
He's right. But I still give a little inner cheer later that day when the Climate Change team calls Paridhi's name. Hurrah for young people with resolve.
I blogged the whole four day event--the fun and games, Oslo by firelight and by rain, the Nobel Peace Prize reception and exhibit preview, the meetings with dignitaries, the hard hard work, and the final pitch competition--for the Telenor Youth Forum Blog. But a few things didn't fit there. A few moments I want to bottle up. Keep. Share.
The casserole dish in my hand felt suddenly heavy. In front of me were three long tables full of food: fried rice, potato cakes, shrimp rolls, toasted baguettes, quiches and hummus with vegetables. All homemade. All basically healthy and hearty. And here I was with a casserole dish of chocolate chip cookies.
It was FN Dag (UN Day for us English speakers), and the Hazelnut's barnehage had a celebration, complete with singing and food. The kids in her avdeling (class) wore pink face paint splashed across their cheeks and had their names on pink sashes across their cold weather parkdresses. We were supposed to bring food that represented our home country.
I dug into my "America stash" and finished off my last bag of Nestlé chocolate chips for the occasion. Because that's how much I love my daughter.
But once I was actually at the school, elbow to elbow with other parents arriving to drop off their food contributions, I felt a wave of self-consciousness break over me.
Did I really show up with the only dessert? Is that weird for an event like this? Were we asked not to bring desserts? Did I miss that in the translation of the notice from the barnehage? Were people opposed to giving sugar to the kids? Was this a Norwegian thing I just didn't understand yet? Would people see the little American flag next to my cookie casserole and roll their eyes? I might has well have brought a big sack of McDonald's burgers...
For the last two months, I have been swimming in the Oslo startup scene. It's an exciting place to be. Norway is poised to make the most of its status as one of the fastest growing hubs for innovation in Europe. There's wealth, education, competency and infrastructure aplenty here. Since 2011, a vibrant network of coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators and angel investors has developed in this fertile environment. And here's the book on all of it: Startup Guide Oslo.
I was honored when Startup Everywhere approached me about writing the sixth in their growing library of entrepreneurial handbooks. Startup Guide Oslo offers a comprehensive overview of the city for its current and would-be entrepreneurs. Everyone in the guide was selected via a nomination and voting process. In August and September, I raced all over the city interviewing the major players.
I had the chance to visit ten very different coworking spaces in town: 657 Oslo, Avd. Frysja, Bitraf, Fellesverkstedet, Gründergarasjen, The Factory, MESH, Oslo International Hub, Sentralen and SoCentral. You'll find insights (including practical stats like square meters, number of desks/offices, pricing) and beautiful interior photos in the book.
Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.
Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.
We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.
- In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
- In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.
Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!
Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.
We're the Camps. We camp. It's something we've done together since the beginning. Jonathan and I have pitched two-person tents in Yosemite and Grand Teton and Joshua Tree, as well as myriad other campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. When we moved to Norway, we brought all our camping gear along for the ride, including both our 3-season and 4-season North Face tents. In the last five years, we've camped out on Kvalvika Beach in Lofoten and in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's tallest mountain, but mostly we've stuck close to home, trekking not so very far into Oslomarka, the wilderness area surrounding the capital city. Having the marka so accessible is one of the reasons we love living in Oslo.
Two years ago this month, we traveled to Bodø in Nordland to chase the midnight sun. We rented a little fishing cabin to allow us to travel light. What we didn't know then was that the girl basking in the glow of midnattsola--slathered in bug repellant, signing the guest book tucked into a tall cairn at the lookout, and grinning victoriously at her husband--was a couple weeks pregnant. That was the last "camping" adventure we had before our daughter was born in April of 2015.
Last summer, camping couldn't have seemed more impossible.
Our little Cheeks McGee was a born screamer, and her mama's best coping mechanism was a controlled eating and sleeping schedule. The babe was six months old before we attempted putting her to bed anywhere except her own crib. That trip to Berlin proved she could be a champion overnight sleeper no matter where we went, but it was already October, and the window for camping in Norway had closed.
When my semester ended in May, I was craving some time in the woods. I hauled our camping bins up from the cellar and inspected the contents. If we wanted to pull off any camping trips this summer, there was much to be done and much to be acquired: a tent to accommodate three people; sleeping bag for the babe; a backpack-style carrier; a new first aid kit.
On top of that, it's been five years since we owned a car, so any camping trip here requires backpacking, as well. This was no problem in the old days. We tramped many, many miles with 20-25 lb packs. Now one of us would also be shouldering a growing toddler, along with her proper-care-and-feeding miscellany.
But I was determined we wouldn't miss another summer. It was time to go camping in Oslo with a baby!
- We started working out in the evenings after the baby was in bed, focusing on strength-training for our glutes, quads, hams, and calves, as well as core exercises.
- We researched tents and ended up buying an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3-person, purchased at Oslo Sportslager downtown. Adqequate brand selection; knowledgable staff. An employee allowed us to set up the tent we wanted in the store before we made our final decision.
- We tried on multiple backpack baby-carriers, ultimately borrowing a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 from a friend. In the weeks leading up to our camping adventure, we tried out the pack around our neighborhood and on a shorter hike. This worthwhile endeavor taught us lots of important things. Especially that my hips were impressively designed to bear children, both in the sense of birth and lugging the kid around later on. When the time came, I would carry the babe; my husband, devoid of hips, would carry almost everything else.
- We followed the weather forecast, watching for a dry week and weekend. Best weather website for Nowegian weather: yr.no.
- We made food plans and packing lists.
- We purchased bug repellant; natural stuff for the babe and her dad and DEET-heavy stuff for her sweet-blooded mama. Also bug-bite reliever. Also a bug-net for the backpack carrier, a last-minute panic-purchase that didn't get used once. All this I found at Chillout Travel in Grünerløkka. Fun little shop with lots of expensive gear, but also a campy cafe and a cozy basement spot to hole-up and plan an adventure.
- We pored over Den Norske Turistforening (DNT: Norwegian Trekking Association) website and maps, choosing our destination and route. Criteria included proximity to transportation and personal familiarity.
- We repeated to each other over and over that our bar for success on this outing would be low. Everyone comes out alive = We did it! No pressure.
The stars aligned two weeks ago. After several hot, dry days, there was sunshine in the forecast. All three of us were fit and healthy. Jonathan was in town. I was still on summer break. McGee hadn't yet begun barnehage. It was time.
Look for future posts this week on the hike itself, along with details about our destination (Skjennungen), and additional commentary on the gear we used. Spoiler alert: It was awesome! Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.
No single thought is more important than any other, at least at the outset.
The trees remain bare all over the city. From my chair on the third floor of the main library I can see across the city to the hills on the opposite side of the fjord, and it is all still black and gray and white. An overcast sky, mottled whites and grays, snagged by the lazy gray turns of seagulls. Spring is on the verge. Spring is tightly wound. Spring is kinetic. There is a paper cut on my thumb. The man beside me at the desk has neon green plugs stuffed deep into his ear canals to block out even the slight rufflings of pages, the scratch of pens, the gentle tapping of keyboards, the sniffing back of running noses, the gurgle of upturned water bottles, the muffled footsteps, the swish of closing doors, the whir of a distant printer, the whispered questions at the reference desk, the unzipping of backpacks. All white and gray noises--delightful sounds--of library life. The man with earplugs finds even these distracting. I don't envy him. And perhaps I am him, too. These sounds now populate this paragraph because I couldn't or wouldn't shut them out and focus on something else. But this is as it should be, perhaps, if I stick with my original thesis. In the moment, unguarded, open, no single thought is more important than any other.
My semester is drawing to a close. There are a few weeks left, but most of it will be dedicated to research and paper writing. Finals come in mid-May, but there's much to do before then. I find it easier now to sit someplace and focus on my assigned readings and writings. I find it easier to tap into that sacred vein where I keep my words and release them onto the page.
In the beginning--January--it was not like this.
Honestly, I felt a bit dead. When I tried to read, the stuff--plot, philosophy--couldn't find purchase in my mind. It was like throwing undercooked spaghetti at the kitchen wall and watching it bounce stupidly and disappointingly to the floor. It was like trying to eat something delicious with a no taste buds. Ash in my mouth. Not for the first time since my daughter was born, I began to wonder whether I would ever be the same again. Whether it would always be this new, numb way. Dread came in a flood and sat there, a stagnant pool. When I moved, everything felt heavy. Heart, hands, head. But I kept trying. And there were, occasionally, shudders and sparks that reminded me of my old self.
It was Whitman that got the gears moving again. A bilge pump. "The young mother and the old mother comprehend me."
It was Hemingway that said, "Don't worry. You have always written before."
In the fall, I had the honor of receiving an invitation to write an artist's profile for Brygg Magasin's debut all-English issue. Brygg is a big, beautiful magazine covering Scandinavian culture, with an emphasis on coffee. (Brygg is Norwegian for brew.) I opted to interview Kenneth Karlstad, a young, award-winning Norwegian filmmaker. We met at a cafė downtown and talked for a couple of hours, and I drank my first coffee. Ever. Because I wanted to stay true to Brygg's mission... and because I'm a 32-year-old mom of an infant, so, though she is a "good sleeper," I still desperately need caffeine.
Kenneth was a great interview subject. Easy to talk to. Candid. Funny. And we were both pleased with how the piece came out.
In September, the Oslo Writers' League (OWL) launched its third annual anthology, These Twisted Roots. Our whole crew gathered in one of the beautiful halls at Deichmanns Biblioteket, the main library in town, and lots and lots of people showed up to support us! (Turns out offering beer and wine for sale in a gorgeous library really brings in the crowds.) Authors read. A choir sang (Dagsangerne på Sagene). We auctioned off the work of our resident illustrator, Evelinn Enoksen. And all proceeds from the sale of the book and the auction--roughly 17,000 kroner on the night--were donated to Redd Barna, Save the Children - Norway, and its work aiding Syrian refugees.
What a night! It's taken me six whole months to get over the excitement. Okay, okay. It's taken me six months to get my act together and post a blog about it. I'm writing this now with one eye on my busy, busy, busy nine-month-old daughter. She's everywhere, and she takes my brain with her for the ride.
Anyway, I'm proud and happy to say that "Invisibility," which is possibly the best short story I've every written, is one of the fine works available in These Twisted Roots. You can buy your copy today via Amazon, soft cover or Kindle, or via The Book Depository, which offers free international shipping.
A couple of photos from the night:
TOP: Deichmanns Biblioteket on the big night; MIDDLE: Me with my partners in crime and hilarity, the inimitable Zoë Harris and the incomparable Chelsea Ranger; BOTTOM: All the OWL authors and poets who could be present to celebrate. Such a great group!
If you're a writer in Oslo, you're welcome to join us. The Oslo Writers' League meets monthly in the basement of Deichmanns Biblioteket; but you can also join our Facebook group and lurk for a while until you're ready to take the next big step. We're already prepping for our 2016 anthology. Hope to see you there!
Those first four weeks after bringing the Hazelnut home from the hospital were some of the most overwhelming of my life. Scratch that. They were THE most overwhelming of my life. Exhausted, confused, desperate, frustrated, fearful, and utterly clueless about how to manage life with a newborn. I became the single neediest person on the planet.
My husband took his standard two weeks off after the birth. (His Norwegian papapermisjon will begin in January.) My mom flew in from California for two weeks. While I fed and changed and comforted my wailing baby daughter, they fed and changed and comforted me. Then my mom flew home, and Jonathan returned to work. And there I was, with a tiny baby who seemed to cry endlessly, angrily, and inconsolably.
Here I have to state for the record that I am exaggerating. I didn't know it at the time, but the Hazelnut's crying was absolutely within the normal range. Maybe three or four hours total during the day in the beginning, and never consecutive. Any little thing would set her off, which made it seem endless; the sound she made--frantic, earsplitting--made her seem angry; the fact that Jonathan and I apparently sucked at consoling her made her seem inconsolable.
After eight weeks, I'm happy to report that both of us now have a repertoire of baby-comforting moves. Rocking, bouncing, shushing, swaddling, patting, pacifying, dancing, singing, swinging... No single thing always works. No single thing works two days in a row, in fact. But something works. Every time. It might take five minutes or an hour and a half. It might need to be combined with something else. But she calms and, eventually, goes to sleep. She's done it every day, multiple times a day, for the last two months. This is something we have to keep reminding ourselves of, especially on those days when she fights off her nap, and it seems that she may never ever ever ever ever sleep again.
Thankfully, in my neediness, I was never alone. I've managed to surround myself with strong, savvy, sensitive women in Oslo over the last four years, and many of them are mamas already. When I was at my most lost and confused in those first weeks, my friends came through for me. The following are three products, introduced to me by my mama friends, which have saved my sleepy, weepy self over and over. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh delivered to me by three wise women.
On one especially rocky Saturday, the Hazelnut stayed awake for fifteen straight hours. I didn't know newborns could do that. She was exhausted and on edge the whole day. Jonathan and I were beyond fried as the screamy time stretched into the evening. Along the way, I posted something about our mini-hell on Facebook, thinking I was being self-deprecating. I wanted to tell the "truth," while hiding just how hard it was actually hitting me.
When the doorbell rang after 9pm, Jonathan and I stopped and stared at each other. We were zombies. Unshowered, dressed in pajamas from the night before, with spit-up covered burp cloths draped over our shoulders. The Hazelnut was weeping madly into Jonathan's chest. I picked up the intercom phone.
"Audrey? It's Maddie. I have wine. Let me up."
My neighbor, my hero. Maddie swept into our home that night with hugs for me, an offer to babysit, a bottle of wine, chocolate, chips and salsa, and some advice. Carry the baby, she said. Strap her to your chest. Like a bomb, I thought.
But baby-carrying, especially in the first three months of her life, was something I'd always intended to do. It's just that neither of the carriers I had (ErgoBaby360, Sakura Ring Sling) could be employed fast enough or comfortably enough to be convenient.
It was Maddie who told me about the stretchy Boba Wrap. She'd donated hers to the Oslo Sling Library, but she urged me to borrow it. So easy, she promised. And the Hazelnut would sleep in it. And I'd get my hands back.
All this sounded too good to be true, but I attended the next Sling Library meet-up and tried the Boba. Immediately I was in love. Tying it on is already second nature to me, and it takes a simple knot. Because the material is stretchy, it will continue to accommodate my growing daughter for months. The Hazelnut sleeps long and hard in the sling, both in our home and out on walks.
This week, I stopped in at Bæreglede in St. Hanshaugen to buy my own. I use it every day. My hands are more often free. My heart is lighter. And I owe this to Maddie.
Native Norwegians stood stranded at bus stops, boots deep in drifts of white, scratching their heads and wondering how they could have been so wrong. Within the last few weeks, optimistically, gravel has begun to disappear from the sidewalks. Clusters of crocuses were planted in boxes outside apartment buildings and storefronts. Usually, the Norwegians aren't so far off about the onset of spring, and I depend on them to let me know what's happening. (I'm a Californian. I don't know how to identify seasonal shifts. I got a pedicure yesterday.)
I had to dig my snow boots back out of my closet, reluctantly stuffing my sweet, little spring-pink toes deep into the shearling. I had to put on my parka again. Thankfully, after telling the Hazelnut to suck in, I was still able to zip it all the way up over my bump.
It happened. A miracle. Someone (other than me) woke up one day and realized that Oslo was sorely lacking in the Mexican Food department. Yes, there's Taco Republica near the river, one of my favorite Oslo restaurants, but the cost of two tiny (albeit delicious) tacos there will make you want to cry into your extremely expensive Corona. Absolutely worth the price on a special occasion, because the ingredients are incredibly fresh, and the corn tortillas will melt in your mouth. But for an everyday Mexican craving? Not realistic.
Enter El Camino.
Patterned after America's super-successful Chipotle chain, El Camino offers a streamlined, build-it-yourself menu: burrito, bowl, or tacos. Ingredients are fresh. Tortillas are made on-site. It's a fast, flavorful experience, and the cost is absolutely reasonable by Oslo standards.
It's Mother's Day in Norway. My first. Before becoming pregnant, I think I would have raised an eyebrow at a first-time pregnant woman celebrating the day. After all, I haven't had to do any of the classic tough mom things yet. Staying up all night hanging onto a screaming infant. Changing diapers. Cutting grapes in half. Tending to scraped knees. Telling hard truths at the right times. Forgiving endlessly. You know, the stuff that deserves a whole month of gratitude set beside on an institutional level. (But sure, we'll take a single day. No biggie.)
So can I call myself a mom yet? For the last 30 weeks, I've been making a person. Fingernails. Eyelashes. Earlobes. Heart. Brain. Uvula. Pinky toes. It'll be 10 more weeks before she's in the world and separate from me and begins requiring the classic mom stuff. But I am getting prepared.
Yesterday, we went to Bærums Verk for a childbirth class. It's been a rough week for Jonathan and me, but this thing was on the calendar, and I thought it would be good for us to get out of the house and into the bracing winter air.
We spent four hours learning from a pair of Norwegian jordmødre (midwives) about childbirth. The phases of labor, the pain, the breathing, the impossible strength and flexibility of the vagina, the way a baby spins in the birth canal, the role of the husband in support of his laboring wife. We watched a film of a water birth. We watched a doll manipulated through a plastic model of the bones of a woman's pelvis. We heard that babies emerge facing the floor, but that in a very small number of births, the baby will arrive facing the ceiling.
"These are called... um... star-lookers," said one of the jordmor.
Star-gazers, I thought. But it was an unnecessary correction. Here were two women, longtime midwives and advocates for mothers, leading an English-language class for foreign women in Norway and their partners. Their English may not have been perfect, but it more than sufficed for us, a collection of people from France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, India, England, Pakistan, and the United States.
I took copious notes. Both because that's what a perpetual student does in anything that even resembles a "class," and because it helped to keep my mind centered on the task at hand.
"It is a myth that a woman may begin pushing immediately at ten centimeters dilation; the baby must also have arrived at the pelvic floor. This can take several hours."
I've experienced a few Braxton Hicks contractions recently. Never painful, just strange and rigid. They pass quickly. It's a reminder that, though I'm not yet nervous about the birth, it's still coming. Overwhelming and brutal and entirely outside my control.
Furniture: What to Bring & What to Leave Behind
Remember that big city flats tend to be small. Unquestionably, we brought too much furniture. Because Jonathan's company relocated us, we took that opportunity to ship almost everything. While this may have been smart from a cost perspective at the time (buying new furniture in Norway, especially, is a steep proposition), we have since wondered about that choice.
Examples: We brought our massive TV from the U.S., which required that we also buy a large, expensive power supply. We've never even plugged in our game system. A pair of extra desks is now wedged into our basement storage. Lighting solutions for our apartment required different lamps, so the ones we brought are also tucked away. When we realized Jonathan's big, manly reclining chair didn't fit in our new flat, we sold it.
Of all the people Jonathan's company has relocated, we are (I believe) the only ones who transitioned with a container full of stuff. Everyone else sold what they had at home and bought new stuff when they arrived, or moved into furnished flats.
If we had it to do over again, I think we would have taken advantage of the relocation shipping container option, but would have pared down our personal inventory to the most important things: our bed set, our sofa, a couple of kitchen appliances (more on that later), etc.
What to Buy Before the Move
If you've been considering any big purchases (camping equipment, computer equipment, etc.), price check them in your destination country. If they're far more expensive, it may be worth springing for that stuff at home before everything moves over. For example, our best pre-relocation purchase was a high quality mattress.
One thing we wish we would have purchased before moving: downhill skis and boots for Jonathan. He's a strong skier; this is a skiing culture; the price of ski rental packages here is excruciatingly high! It's tough to maintain some of these more expensive hobbies over here. Do what you can to set yourselves up before you arrive.
Right now, the Norwegian krone is very weak against the dollar, for example. It was incredibly strong against the dollar when we were relocating back in 2011. So, this tip is really food for thought, rather than a timeless rule.
This popular post was feeling a bit like old news. I've written an update with multiple food delivery options here: Kolonial: Online Grocery Shopping in Oslo II (January 2016).
The only time I miss having a car is when I know it's time to shop for kitty litter. I've had more than my share of fun snafus when dragging those heavy boxes home from various shops around the city. Particularly on icy days like the ones we're enjoying in Oslo this January. Good news! We've found a solution: DEX.
Dagligvarexpressen (DEX) is an online grocery shopping service. This is something I know my American friends have been enjoying for a while (and DEX was established in 2008, so it's possible I'm just the last one to the virtual supermarket line here in Norway, too). It's a lifesaver.
Now, we only use DEX for kitty litter and cat food right now. The heavy stuff. The stuff we would have liked to be buying in bulk for years! Thinking diapers and some other baby stuff could be added to that list soon, too.
Here's how it works:
Go to dex.no...
- Fill your handlevogn with the goods you need (and they've got it all, including fresh produce)
- Select a day and window of time for the delivery to be scheduled
- Delivery charge is only 99 nok!
- Give them your address and place your order
- If you schedule your delivery before 2pm, they'll even deliver the same day! I've done that. Hugely satisfying.
It should be noted that items for sale on the website are more expensive than you'll find in stores. One reason why I haven't gone completely lazy with the shopping. Yet. Instead, we order a dozen boxes of wet cat food and a half dozen boxes of cat litter, and we call it good. Because the delivery comes all the way up our stairs to the door of our fifth floor apartment. And that, my friends, is priceless.
A real winter storm finally arrived on Norway's west coast this weekend. Snow piled up in Oslo. I love our city, and I can never decide when the streets look prettiest: blanketed in white, or full of yellow-leafed trees, or under the violet-skies of perpetual twilight, or filled with lilacs. At every turn of a season, I think I have the answer. Then I change my mind again.
Since sledding and cross-country skiing (the way I do it is dangerous even on the flat-n-straights) are out of the question for me this year, it would be easy to let the snow keep us inside. Thankfully, a double date for brunch with friends on Saturday morning got our weekend off on the right, snow-booted foot. The four of us spent a couple of hours laughing and gabbing and sampling the tasty, eclectic menu at our local creperie, Les Crêpes D'Elen. Located just off the 12 line in Frogner, I highly recommend this little place. Delicious food and a fun, French atmosphere, as well as a friendly staff.
After brunch, Jonathan and I wandered all over the city. We were on a quest: a rug for The Hazelnut's room. We've been nesting, and finding a rug that is pretty, soft, on-theme, and affordable in Norway has been close to impossible. It was still a good excuse to walk the snowy city streets.
Without anything to show for our wintery outing on Saturday, you'd think I wouldn't be pointing to this weekend with such pride. But we still had all of Sunday to be productive, and I'm pleased to say... we were!
As I launch into the writing of my third and final term paper of the Høst 2014 semester, it occurs to me that I never did share my reading lists with you, my readers, many of whom like lists of books almost as you enjoy the actual reading of the books themselves. I'm like that, too. Reviewing a soundly curated book list is like taking an imagination break and walking the stacks of a library of the mind. So, I thought I'd post a couple of the lists here for your pleasure/edification. (Course descriptions have been cribbed from the UiO website.)
Women Writing: Feminist Fiction in English (ENG 4363)
This is a course in English-language feminist fiction from the nineteenth and/or twentieth century. Students will study a selection of novels and/or short stories that focus on women's lives and reflect on what it means to be a woman and a feminist from various sexual, racial, class, and national perspectives. The course will consider the development and thematics of feminist fiction and its contribution to the development of new narrative techniques.
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
- Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
- Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)
- Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
- Sarah Hall, Daughters of the North (2007)
- Helen Oyeyemi, Mr Fox (2011)
- Joyce Carol Oates, 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?' (1966) (available online)
This was my favorite reading list of the semester, and not because I'm a raging feminist, either. I simple responded well to the variety of voices. Every book was unique and uniquely suited to the aspect of Women's Writing we discussed that week. Mr. Fox was, far and away, the strangest, but being the most contemporary, that didn't surprise me. A Room of One's Own was the book I couldn't believe I hadn't encountered prior to this course (having graduated with my B.A. in English from UC Davis in 2006 and my M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University in 2012). And Wide Sargasso Sea is the book I'm not recommending to people who tell me their favorite classic was Jane Eyre.
Time & Money in the American Novel (ENG 4416)
Time and money are two of the main forces that shape human ends. Our conception of time has a profound impact on how we understand ourselves, and on how we draw the boundary between the possible and the unreasonable. In a similar fashion, our collective understanding of money exerts a sharp influence on how we order our personal and communal lives. This course will examine these two forces through the lens of literature. It will use the reading and analysis of a select group of American novels as a way of interrogating the links between time, money, and literature.
In this course, we will examine the ways in which novels work to naturalize or challenge social conceptions of time and money. More importantly, we will consider all the ways in which the reading of novels helps us reflect on the nature of time and money, and we will think about the way these reflections are connected to issues of race, sexuality, subjectivity, and community.
- Frank Norris, The Octopus
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Quest of the Silver Fleece
- James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
- Nella Larsen, Passing
- James T. Farrell, Judgment Day
- Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis
- Richard Powers, Gain
Honestly, I think this course needs to be renamed. Time, Money & Race in the American Novel would have been spot on. These were challenging texts, all. The Octopus was exceedingly long, but beautiful, and it was a perfect fit for the class. The Quest of the Silver Fleece is the book that will stick with me longest, I think, and I enjoyed writing my final paper on it. Here I'll admit that I did not read Judgment Day. I was in California for the class discussion and had already selected a different text as my qualifying essay topic, so I gave myself a break. And between the surreal Cosmopolis and the enigmatic Gain, I'd have to say that this was the most eclectic class reading list I've ever encountered.
Last night, we watched Valley Uprising, the latest in the Reel Rock Tour movie series, all about Yosemite Valley's climbing revolution. It made me want to get back on the wall again. Like, immediately. Like, if Jonathan said, "Let's move back to California and live close to Yosemite this time," I would have begun packing before he finished the sentence. That's not likely to happen, though, at least not for now. The movie was cool, full of wicked climbing footage and resonant musings on the evolution of the sport. If you're a climber, you should definitely check it out.
But this is not a post about climbing. Rather, I was reminded last night that one of the downsides of being a climber is what it does to your hands. For years, not only did I have to keep my nails cut down to the quick, but the chalk dried out my skin and my fingers were constantly scraped up, sometimes bloody. I didn't know what I was missing, really, because years of playing and coaching volleyball and basketball had also necessitated strong, quick, low maintenance hands. But since moving to Norway, I've had the luxury of growing my nails out on occasion (and one pleasant side effect of pregnancy happens to be healthier nails), which has made me think about nail polish for the first time in my life.
OPI has quickly become my favorite brand. It's awfully expensive here in Oslo (like everything else), so I don't get it often, but last weekend I acquired a new color from the Duty Free on the DFDS mini-cruise we took to Copenhagen. Why? Because their new Nordic Collection was so sparkly.
With colors like Going My Way or Norway? and Thank Glogg It's Friday and Do You Have This Color in Stock-holm? how could I resist?
I nabbed OPI With A Nice Finn-ish, a shiny gold. Sadly, because I haven't become the kind of grown-up who is dainty with her hands, I'm sure it will be chipped up like crazy before Christmas, but I don't mind. I'll just do it all over again in a couple of weeks. Because my last final paper will be due next Wednesday and then I'll be on winter break. Time to celebrate!
*A fun write-up on all the colors in the Nordic Collection can be found on The Polish Aholic Blog.
Turns out, there aren't that many maternity shopping options in Oslo. This is strange to me because the culture here is extremely supportive of pregnant women in every other capacity. Also, because women wait longer to have kids in Norway, the women shopping for these clothes are interested in looking sophisticated and purchasing high quality goods. The demand is there. But when my jeans starting getting a little tight around the tummy, I did some Google searching and discovered that--as one of my mama friends put it--I was pretty much stuck with H&M and online shopping.
That said, I remembered seeing a boutique in Majorstuen with a preggers silhouette on the sign, so I detoured there on my way home from class one day.
Svangerskapet is a great little shop. I spent about 45 minutes in there that day--not my original intention. All I really wanted was a simple belly band. It's something I'd needed for at least a week, but never got around to buying. Why? Let me see... Denial. I've been roughly the same size for fifteen years. My three and four-year-old jeans were making me feel nauseous whenever I sat down, but I refused to equate those two things. Also, when I went online to shop for an Ingrid & Isabel Bellaband, I was bummed to find that they don't ship internationally. Given their popularity, I'd guess that will change soon.
I live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I suppose there are many countries which have incredible landmarks and geographic features. The United States of America, my home, boasts 59 national parks, all of them spectacular in their own ways. Yellowstone is my favorite, followed closely by Yosemite and Grand Teton. I've also visited the Swiss Alps (and the Italian Alps), which take the breath away. Ireland's Dunloe Gap made me woozy with all the green, green, green. And I've stood stunned on the brink of the Blue Mountains in Australia. But Norway, even after all our travels, is special. This latest time lapse video from Rustad Media demonstrates that in high definition detail.
Yes, I've been to several of the places featured in this film. I've wandered among the sharp peaks of Lofoten and cruised the deep, placid fjords of Vestlandet, and hiked the snowfields in Midt-Norge, and walked above the clouds at Norway's highest point, Galdhøpiggen. But what I love most about this video is actually the way the cities and towns are woven into the narrative, too. Bright, gold lights flicker in the windows of snug, colorful buildings in these typical Norwegian towns. It's what I'll actually remember most if and when I leave this place one day: that among the wilderness, Norwegians have carved out the cosiest spots for themselves. As a resident of this place, I promise here and now never to take that for granted.
October is my favorite month, and this year, it's going to be an especially good one.
I'm finally in the swing of things as a new masters student in the English Literature program at the University of Oslo. Getting used to the class schedule took a few weeks. The assigned readings are a little overwhelming sometimes, but I'm interested in almost all of them. The school has a lovely campus, and the leaves in the trees and on the crawling vines have begun to change. The gold, red, and orange fluttering in the chilly autumn breeze makes me think of bouquets of sharpened pencils. It's a good season for learning.
My writing life remains active. I just taught my first creative writing workshop here in Oslo alongside my friend and fellow author, Zoë Harris. Eight students signed up to take our Writing A to Z: Creative Writing Basics class. They were diverse in their interests and backgrounds, and all of them displayed a core curiosity and creative spirit. We had fun sharing our insights about writing with the group--running writing exercises and teaching--and I hope we get a chance to do it again soon.
Tonight, several writer friends of mine will gather in my living room to put our pens to paper together. We've been meeting for three years now. Thanks to them, my life is even more full of words.
Journal entry from 20 July 2014:
This morning the wrinkles of our sweatshirts smell like pipe smoke and DEET. We left the hytte at 20:30, slathered in bug spray so that our cheeks shone in the late sunlight. Stopping to watch fish rise in the river--just a slip of dark, shiny head above the sparkling surface, then rings expanding to the shore--we found ourselves surrounded by a cloud of insects.
They hovered and glowed in the light, whirring and bobbing. It took me a moment to realize they were mosquitos. Enormous mosquitos. Their terrifying blood-sucking apparatus long and curved and visible. They appeared more like hummingbirds than insects. Thankfully, the spray kept them at bay.
We walked on up the road to the turnoff just before Rundvatnet, then up another steep fire road to its end. There we found no trail, but our object was the North-facing ride of Ostre Omasvarri (654 m), an understated hunch of a hill in this region of sharp-peaked giants. We turned and wandered in to the forest of birch--widely set from one another and branchlessly white down low, a departure from the forests of our Sierra home--which happens to be excellent for off-trail tramping and bushwhacking.
I'm proud to announce Writing A to Z: Creative Writing Basics, a one-day workshop in Oslo this September.
I'll be teaching alongside my friend and fellow writer, Zoë Harris, founder of the Oslo Writers League. For the purposes of this fun, introductory workshop, we'll focus on both the craft and the practicalities of starting out as a creative writer.
Participants will take part in exercises designed to stimulate creativity, and will also gain insight into the publishing industry. We will talk about ways to structure a productive, healthy writing life, as well as discuss different avenues in which to direct your writing energy. You'll have the chance to ask questions about your own work and may choose to share your writing in an introductory peer-critique session at the end of the day.
Date: Sunday, 28th September, 2014
Time: 9:30am - 4:00pm
Place: Sagene Samfunnshus, Kristiansandsgate 2, Oslo (Trinserud room)
Early-bird Price: 650 NOK (Book before August 31st)
Full Price: 750 NOK
Lunch, coffee, tea and fruit snacks are all included in the price.
Registration: Places are limited, so to secure your attendance, please email us to express your interest. You will then be sent an email with payment instructions.
For more information about the workshop--as well as bios for both Zoë and me--visit the Book Polishers website. We hope to see you there!
The next two minutes and thirty-one seconds will be the some of the most bizarre you've ever spent thinking about Oslo. GoPro cameras have enabled humans to make some pretty incredible videos. My favorite is, of course, Lions - The New Endangered Species? Lion group hug! This vid is less cool (how could it not be?), but more relevant to my blog. Watch as Eirik Helland Urke hops on a city bike and pedals around town. He swings past a number of sights mentioned in my post about jogging through the city yesterday, too. I love the way Stortinget looks!
If you're considering a visit to Oslo, I doubt this video will have much impact on your decision. But Oslo in Motion: 12,000 Photos in 5 Minutes might inspire you!
At six o'clock in the morning the streets of Oslo are almost empty. An overcast sky shades every corner, every park, every closed cafe patio gray. The light breeze is welcome after several consistently hot weeks. Leaves are still tightly bound to the branches of the full, green, summer trees. It's just me out there. Me and the city I call home.
I've never seen Oslo like this before. Oh, I've seen her empty. On Easter weekend. Or after catching the 1 a.m. train home from the airport, rolling our suitcases up the hill from National Theater. But never like this. Behind every closed door and Stengt sign comes the buzz of potential energy.
I am running. Downhill first. From Inkognitogata to Henrik Ibsens gate, through the heavy construction at Solli plass. Asphalt peeled back to reveal old tracks and new track. Rust at the joints. Workers in neon vests sip coffee. All this downhill is a gift to me. It's tough enough to motivate myself out of bed in the morning. To lace up my old sneakers (new shoes will be my reward for successfully completing the Oslo Half Marathon in September). My footsteps are quick and even.
Down Dokkveien to Aker Brygge. No cars on the road. I pass the Nobel Peace Center, cross Rådhusplassen. I am alone with the statues, the fountains. Fishy smells waft up from under the piers on the fjord. The bells in the brick towers don't chime. It's only been a mile. It's only been ten minutes. My breathing is more labored than it should be, but I'm used to that by now. It's the first mile and a half that's hardest for me. A breaking in. Breaking through the wall and finding a healthier part of my spirit.
I skirt the perimeter of Akershus Fortress. No cruise ship parked where I expect it, so the fjord view is open to me. Islands. Sailboats. Ferries. Rounding the corner, I see the Opera House. It is an iceberg. Pristine. Not a single person on the terraced roof. And faster than I expect, I am running along Operagata. Three men exit a beige sedan carrying musical instruments in bulky, black cases. Cyclists whip past me wearing black spandex, neon vests, helmets. They are on their way to work.
I am suddenly anxious. This is where my path will deviate from what I've run before. As a reluctant runner, I find blazing new trails joyless, even stressful. But this is a necessary part of my training. I'm piecing together the half marathon course one segment at a time. Nordenga Bridge rises ahead of me. I run up. It's another deal I make with myself. Never walk uphill unless I must, but if I run up, I get to breathe at the top. Not sure who enforces these rules. My subconscious?
I take the stairs at the far side of the bridge. Carefully. My knees wobble. Platous gate, then Tøyengata. This is what I"ve been preparing for. The new segment circles Oslo's Botanical Gardens, and that's a climb. For me. Seventy-odd feet in less than a mile. On race day, it'll be about Mile 10. I predicted it would crush my soul.
At a supermarket bakery in Bardufoss, Norway, Jonathan and I shared a baguette and waited for the pizza joint across the street to open at noon. The eating area at the Coop had quite a few tables inside. Older men chuckled and chatted in one corner, at a table which, I imagined, they've staked out for decades. I selected a table near the windows where we could people-watch.
A middle-aged man with shaggy blonde hair and glasses crossed the street toward the Coop. He wore a garish, oversized, Pac-Man sweater.
"Look," I said. "Inky, Pinky, Stinky, and Bob."
"Close," said Jonathan. "Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde."
On the black, metal lip of the window before us, a moth the size of my thumbnail flapped in vain against the glass. His antennae tested the air, full of fresh bakery smells--yeast, butter, cardamom--and the damp closeness of strangers escaping a light rain.
As we ate and triple-checked the bus schedule, the moth struggled and fell. Struggled and fell. Over and over again he was defeated by the window. A hanging basket of pink flowers suspended from an exterior hook beside the market's sliding double doors seemed to be his objective.
Jonathan offered me the last bite.
The moth slumped over--like a sailboat taking on too much water--and lay on its side. Still, the antennae twitched, if half-heartedly.
This spring, I was invited by Editor Michael Sandelson to write a series of pieces for The Foreigner, a website for Norwegian news in English. I accepted at once! After all, writing about life in Norway is already what I do for fun. Why not spread my reach a little?
So far I've authored three pieces for The Foreigner:
Alone on the 17th of May (May 2014)
Norway's Constitution Day arrived suddenly my first year, as international holidays do to those who aren't used to celebrating them. That was three years ago. Looking back now, I realize there'd been plenty of signs in the weeks leading up to it. Planter boxes suddenly overflowing with freshly planted tulips, their yellow heads the size of coffee mugs; and, of course, an onslaught of teenagers in cherry-red pants. But I'll get back to that. Continue Reading...
Digging-in (May 2014)
Each spring, the tenants in our Oslo apartment building come together for an afternoon of voluntary, community work. This is a dugnad, a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people join forces to spruce up their shared, public spaces. Like a barn-raising, but on a smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale. We'd been living in Norway only a month when our first dugnad notice showed up in our mailbox. At first we didn't know what to think of the typed, unsigned page requesting our presence on a Thursday afternoon in late April. Google Translate helped. Unfortunately, allusion to a small fine, owed if we chose to skip out on the dugnad, tainted the notification. We marked the date on our calendar and began to dread it. Continue Reading...
The Ski-in (April 2014)
Native Norwegians make cross-country skiing look like a glide-stepping walk in the park. As expats in Norway have heard a thousand times, this is because Norwegian babies are born with skis on. An atrocious thought, sure, but if you visit any cross-country trail in the Oslomarka on a sunny day, you'll see how plausible it is. Children as young as three zoom right by you: without poles; without fear. Only kids who are too young to walk get away with being too young to ski. I hopped on the cross-country skiing bandwagon with both feet, our first winter in Norway, and promptly slipped and fell into the snow. Continue Reading...
The Foreigner is a subscription-based website, but you can access a few articles each month without paying the fee, so please stop by and read these and let me know what you think. Hopefully you'll find something there that makes you want to stick around and/or check back more regularly.
Before moving to Norway, I did several things to prepare. I purchased books about the country and culture, fully utilizing Amazon's if-you-bought-this-you-might-also-like algorithms. I Googled around and came up with a list of expat bloggers living in Norway, dutifully combing their archives for insights into Norwegian life. There was never any way I would find it all, would be truly prepared. But no one was going to accuse me of not trying!
There is one resource I didn't come across at the time and now wish I had. Norway: A Handbook for New Residents (198 NOK) is a book by M. Michael Brady. He collected as much information as he could find about every conceivable topic important to someone living in Norway, and compiled it in a single book. First printed in 2005, I own the updated 2012 edition, and I cannot overstate how convenient and useful it is!
I do want to point out right away that Mr. Brady supplied me with a copy of this book for the purposes of my writing a review. This does not affect my personal take-away. All opinions expressed about Norway: A Handbook for New Residents are mine and absolutely sincere.
The Handbook is not warm or fuzzy. As the back cover states: "This is a book of facts taken from printed and online Norwegian resources and from country comparisons published by international agencies."
At almost 500-pages long, that's a lot of facts! But Brady has thoughtfully organized the tome, allowing three separate ways to track down the information you need quickly. First, the book is divided into an alphabetical list of chapters by overarching topics (e.g., Arriving and settling, Clothing and footwear, Foreigners, immigrants, minorities and integration, etc.). Then, individual subtopics are listed alphabetically within their relevant chapters. And finally, Brady has supplied two separate indexes by keyword, one in English and one in Norwegian.
When I say the Handbook is comprehensive, I mean it includes everything useful I can think of. From Second-hand shops to Halal meat, from instructions for Pant to an explanation of Julebord.
Chapter 23 is a timeline of Norway's history, from the first traces of human habitation (ca 9000 BC) to 2012, the year Norway passed a Constitutional amendment separating church and state. Chapter 6 (Church, religion and beliefs) breaks down the religious history of Norway's population, but also provides lists of Christian denominations in English and Norwegian, as well as phone numbers and links to churches, synagogues, and mosques within the country. Information on women's shelters for victims of domestic abuse can be found in Chapter 10 (Crime, wrongs, and countermeasures). Meanwhile, Chapter 25 (Housekeeping) diagrams the different widths of available light bulbs and explains municipal fees due for refuse collection and recycling.
On Tuesday night, the Oslo Writers' League launched its second annual anthology at Oslo's Litteraturhuset. I'm proud to announce that the event--which included a panel discussion, readings, and an art auction--raised almost 10,000 NOK for Utdanningshjelpen; this will provide more than three full years of education to scholarship recipients. All in all, a fun, successful evening!
Tammy Dobson Photography came away with some excellent photos...
Crammed as many OWLs on stage as possible. We're a colorful bunch!
You can pick up a copy of All the Ways Home on Amazon in the U.S., or the U.K., as well as The Book Depository. All profits go to Utdanningshjelpen. Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know how much you enjoyed the book!
Spring in Oslo tends to come fast, if late. Three weeks ago, as we left for our trip to California, I snapped a quick photo of our front walk. It was a few days before Easter, technically a full month since the first day of spring. Our hedges were almost absolutely bare. The limbs of our apple blossom trees remained naked and cold.
It had been a rough winter and, given that I hadn't been "home" to California in more than 18 months, I was thrilled to run down that path to the airport. Toward family and friends and sunshine and a pattern of mild, vague, evenly-pleasant seasons I've missed so much.
Yesterday, we came home. The one without quotation marks. And the scene had changed. A flurry of apple blossoms. A wave of brilliant green.
The forecast for the coming week is bleak and unstable. Cloudy and rainy. Fluctuating temperatures. I'm unsurprised. But yesterday was glorious. Yesterday it was spring. In Oslo, it comes late, but fast. Don't blink; you might miss it.
I'm very proud to announce that the Oslo Writers' League (formerly the Oslo International Writers' Group) will publish its second anthology this month. All the Ways Home is a multi-genre collection of pieces by members of our group. Short stories, essays, and poetry on two themes especially pertinent to expat life: Crossroads and Identity. Once again, all profits from sales of the book in print or digital form go to Utdanningshjelpen, a Norwegian volunteer organization that assists students in developing countries complete their secondary education through scholarship programs.
My nonfiction piece, Sinober, is included in the anthology, but that's not the only reason I'm excited about this book. The tenacious Zoë Harris, Editorial Director of Grimbold Books--the publisher--asked me to act as Poetry Editor for the collection. That was a treat! Also, my best friend, Cindy Lackey, was commissioned to do the cover art for the book. It was a rare pleasure to witness the inner workings of an artist's mind, and I love the way her concept turned out.
Finally, most exciting of all, we're doing another launch event! (Details on Facebook) And you're invited!
What: Book Launch, All the Ways Home
When: 20th of May, 2014 at 18:15
Where: Litteraturhuset in Oslo
Tickets: 90 NOK*/each -- Order Here
*All profits from the event also go to Utdanningshjelpen.
Join the Oslo Writers' League (OWL) for a panel discussion about the group, the book, and what it's like to be an English language writer in Oslo. (I will be on this panel!) The discussion will be moderated by writing coach Greta Solomon.
Other OWL members will perform readings from the book, and artist/illustrator Evelinn Enoksen will put up her original sketches from the 2013 anthology for auction on the night, all to raise funds for Utdanningshjelpen.
Attendance is limited, so book early to secure your seat!
Easter is weird*.
We Christians celebrate Easter as the day Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead, tossed off his shroud, rolled back his own tombstone and walked out into the world after three days of, well, death.
He spent the next forty days catching up with his followers, inviting them to touch his still-apparent wounds, and promising eternal life. Promises which came with a little more oomph now because he'd bounced back impressively from that brutal crucifixion.
To atheists, this celebration is ignorant and wrong. To Jews and Muslims, it's not wrong, just misplaced. And to agnostics... well, any excuse for a big lunch and bargain bags of Jelly Beans, am I right?
Which brings us to the other Easter. The one we do for the kids in America. Comedian Jim Gaffigan sums this up in 30 seconds. Obvious choices for a holiday rooted in resurrection: hardboiled eggs dyed bright colors and then hidden around a garden. Easter baskets filled with plastic grass. Chocolate kisses wrapped in pastel-colored foil, Jelly Beans, and Cadbury eggs. And all of it delivered overnight by Santa's bizarre, big-eared counterpart, the Easter Bunny.
But if you'd believe it, Easter in Norway is even weirder!
In the first place, Norway, a famously secular (or, at least, religiously skeptical) nation celebrates the heck out of Påske (Easter). Families fill their homes with the color yellow: yellow candles, yellow table cloths, wooden eggs painted yellow and suspended from doorframes with yellow ribbons. Then begins a season of holidays, the first being a five day weekend, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. This Påskeferie (Easter holiday) finds every true Norwegian out of town, usually up in the mountains at a family cabin for some last-of-the-season skiing. Oslo and the other big cities empty and shut down. It's possible that some of these people begin their Easter Sunday reading the resurrection story from their KJV Bibles. Some probably gather in country churches to participate in Lutheran liturgies. He is Risen indeed. But mostly they're skiing, eating Kvikk Lunsj bars and oranges, and reading crime novels.
That's right. Crime novels. Påskekrim (Easter Crime) is possibly the weirdest part of Easter season in Norway. Every bookstore puts up huge displays of thrillers and crime stories. Special crime series are produced for TV and radio. And, the weird-beyond-weird part, is the peculiar change made to the dairy section of your local grocer in the interests of Påskekrim.
Norway's policies and attitudes about immigration are increasingly complex. There is a deep, dark bias against certain immigrants--mostly Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and North African--and this is one of several reasons that a more conservative political party came to power during the last election. They are expected to crack down on immigration "abuse". But this same political party has also called for another kind of immigration reform, one which would encourage the immigration of skilled workers.
This led an engineer named Julien Bourrelle to put together a short, illustrated Guide til Nordmenn. He wanted to increase the awareness of the Norwegian government and empoyers when it comes to the needs of these foreign workers. Having been one himself (a Canadian in Norway), Bourrelle knows that socialization in Norway is complicated, not least because the emotions of the Nordmenn can't be taken at face value.
I'd say this drawing is fairly accurate, if only for a moment. It's easy to get the thaw started if you're consistently (or, um, persistently) warm and open yourself. (Or if you begin your relationship with a Norwegian when he or she has been drinking. Just don't expect them to remember what close friends you are the next day...)
Let's get one thing straight: I can count on one hand the "bad" experiences I've had with Norwegians in the last three years. My Norwegian friends are warm and funny, hospitable and helpful. That said, it's true that Norwegians tend to put up a stoic front. They come across as dispassionate, aloof, or removed. This fact is most clearly illustrated in the following scenario:
You'll be hard pressed to find a building more beautiful than the Oslo Opera House (Operahuset). It rises from the banks of the Oslo fjord--white and angular, sleek and graceful--reminiscent of an iceberg. On a sunny day, the windows sparkle.
Operahuset is a modern gem in a city full of Victorian buildings. Completed in 2007, the design was chosen in a blind competition of 350 entries. How perfect that the winner turned out to be legendary Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta.
Our first spring in Oslo, we attended the opera Peter Grimes. Here's a peek inside...
Last weekend, the road rose up to meet me! My flash fiction story "Roots" received the Irrgrønn Flash Fiction Award, and my win was announced at the Irrgrønn Festival of Contemporary Irish Literature.
Even on an ordinary day, there's nothing I like better than hanging around Oslo's Litteraturhuset. In past years, I've watched many wonderful authors read and speak there. From Ali Smith to Anna Funder to Jennifer Egan to John Irving. But I can confirm that it's even cooler to be the person standing on stage reading to the crowd.
Spring is coming. Allegedly. Right now, it feels like the worst winter I ever experienced in California: cold rain whipping against the windows, clouds so thick and so gray for so long you start to forget the sky was ever blue. In the interest of my own sanity, I thought I'd look for some proof of past springs here in the wild north.
Almost three years ago, Jonathan and I took a weekend trip to the historic old town of Fredrikstad, about an hour south of Oslo by train. As you can see, it was a bright, sunny day. (Proof!) A tourist's Scandinavian delight.
The Gamlebyen (Old Town) is the center of a fortress and has been impressively preserved. Rather than taking a small ferry across the river from the train station (couldn't find the docks!), we braved traffic and walked across the long, modern bridge. Soon enough, we were passing through the 16th century stone main gate and onto the cobbled streets of old Fredrikstad.
I came this close to letting a full month go by without a post here. I came this close to allowing my blog to become stagnant, to appear abandoned. Whew! Here I am again, just in time.
All kinds of excuses over here. Good ones, too. We were on vacation in Spain (which I'll blog soon, I promise), and then my best friend took a break from her first-time-expat-life in Malmö to visit us here in Oslo for a week, too. This was a treat for me! Cindy has been here once before, but this trip was a lot less touristy. She got to see a typical few days of life in Norway. It went something like this:
Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. (The little stick-dudes are awfully cute though, right?)
A typical day in Norwegian life actually includes things like parkas, snow on the rooftops, ice in the streets, brodder og pigger (and sometimes choosing not to wear this marvelous invention, which inevitably leads to falling on one's tush in the aforementioned icy streets). Also, stuffing your scarf into the sleeve of your parka when you stow it for the night, and mournfully rubbing your bruised flesh as you crawl into bed, pulling your individual down comforter up to your chin.
In case you hadn't guessed: I fell on the ice while my pal was in town. Embarrassing and painful. And I'll let it go when I have full range of motion in my right shoulder and thumb again. *whine*
But my typical days in Oslo also include work (writing and website/social media consulting), laundry, making dirty dishes clean again... temporarily, sweeping, grocery shopping, cooking. You know, domestic glamor.
That's right. In the middle of my third Norwegian winter, I'm ready to call myself a pro. (Which is a little ridiculous, but let's go with it anyway. It's my blog.) A couple of my closest friends recently moved from sunny, drought-addled California to Malmö, Sweden. In January. (What, are they nuts?) So, I thought I'd pass along some of my hard-earned California-expat-in-the-far-north wisdom and make their transition easier. Hopefully, it helps you, too!
Candles: Tapers, sticks, votives, pillars... you'll want them all. They fight the darkness and make life instantly more cozy. That said, cheap candles burn more quickly, so you'll want to begin paying attention to how much you're spending on candles in relation to how long they burn. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, for basically the whole month of December, I've got at least one candle glowing in my house. We've discovered that at least one Norwegian brand will burn three times longer than the rest, and though they are twice as expensive, we still save money in the end. (This took us two years to realize. Slow learners on the slow burners.)
Dry Skin: Holy Dead Flakes, Batman! Winter makes your skin dry out! Two things. Chapstick This is an easy sell for the ladies. Most of us have this on hand anyway. But our men aren't crazy about smearing waxy stuff on their lips, so the amount of chapping can be severe, particularly for lips uninitiated to the cold. This makes them a fraction less kissable. Unscented Burt's Bees chapstick works well for us. Carmex is also an option. Moisturizer I also recommend that you invest in some excellent moisturizer and add it to your routine every time you wash your face (and/or exfoliate). I use mine year-round, but that's addiction. Clinique Youth Surge with 15 SPF is my preference.
In Oklahoma yesterday, a man named Ronald Clinton Lott was executed by lethal injection. He was convicted of raping and killing two elderly women in 1986 and 1987. He bound them, beat them, raped them, and suffocated them. Two old women who each lived alone. Evil exists in this world, and yesterday in Oklahoma, one evil flame was stamped out by our legal system.
Thankfully, they got the right guy. Ultimately. Another man, Robert Lee Miller, Jr., was originally tried and convicted of these exact crimes. By a jury of his peers. And sentenced to death. Miller spent more than ten years of his life on death row in Oklahoma and, had DNA technology not exonerated him in 1998, might have been the one eating Long John Silver's hush puppies dipped in ketchup a few hours before his last, long walk to the death chamber yesterday.
I wonder if capital punishment is only supported by those people who think they understand the value of human life. Their own. Someone else's. Anyone else's. It will never cease to amaze me how many Christians support the practice of capital punishment. They point to the Old Testament. (Just a fraction of it; the full thing is far too hoary and inconvenient.) It's as if Christians forget that their savior was executed. Unjustly.
And that was a good man who died at Calvary that day. Possibly the best man who ever walked the earth. Who among us believes he knows the value of that man? In money. Or in human soul count. Or in the amount of love his earth-bound mother had for him. Who among us believes he knows the value of his own life? Break down the body into pieces and sell it on the black market and you'll get a tally, all right. But you won't get the worth. I say this knowing (in a distant way) that evil exists in the world.
Two and a half years ago, a car bomb exploded less than a mile from my home in Oslo. The man* who set it off in front of the Prime Minister's office building, killing 8 people in the blast, proceeded to a small island north of the city and hunted down children at a summer camp. He used automatic weapons to massacre 69 people. Because the PM's political party was too liberal for his taste, too open and too tolerant. This man, a native Norwegian, hated the influx of Muslim immigrants to Norway so much he wanted to kill them.
At the end of that sad, bloody day, this terrorist allowed himself to be taken under arrest. I remember hearing that news and feeling the battle of emotions within me. What would I have preferred? A suicide? That the responding officers had killed the murderer where he stood?
There was never any way that the Norwegian government would kill this man. He knew that. It's his country. They're his laws. His rights. Norway doesn't use the death penalty. Not even in response to the worst civilian crime in the country's entire history.
Watching that smug, slick-haired, quasi-Nazi bastard sit in the courtroom over the next few months was excruciating. Watching him sentenced to a mere 21 years in a Norwegian prison (in a private, three-room suite of a cell, as the New York Times pointed out), the maximum sentence allowed under Norwegian law, made me physically ill.
Is that it?! Twenty-one years? You've got to be kidding me! The man belongs in hell, and it's time for us to send him there. Without further delay. Shoot him. Stab him. Burn him. Drown him. Hang him by the neck from a fucking yardarm. I don't care. But do it and do it fast. He's as guilty as sin. He admits the whole thing. He looked those children in the eye as murdered them. He wished he could have killed more. If we let him out when he's 53, he WILL do it again. The only way to stop him is to reach into his chest and crush his heart, once and for all.
These were my thoughts on the day of the sentence. These are my thoughts today, too. But I can't ignore a few important facts.
Even before learning the language, an expat must contend with the proper nouns of life in a new country. City names. Street names. Metro stop names.
Pronunciation, particularly in places which use grander alphabets than we're used to, can be a problem. Skøyenåsen, anyone? Nuances in accent and emphasis can also cause a problem. In California, I used to love watching non-Californians attempt names like Mission Viejo or Joaquin Murieta or even San Jose. (Which exit takes you to downtown San Joh-zy?) My own parents admit that, when they relocated to California from Illinois in the early '80s, they mispronounced Tuolumne Meadows for a while... Too-oh-LOOM-nay.
The inability to pronounce place names can be disorienting, but because it's a question of survival--you must know how to navigate your way to work, food, community, airport, and entertainment--as an expat, you do it. We did. Thanks to brunt force memorization, words like Stortinget, Jernbanetorget, and Frognerseteren entered our vernacular. Quickly, we knew where these places were and how to get there via the clean, efficient Oslo Metro. Nailed it.
Only later in our immersion did we realize that we were actually visiting Big Thing, Railway Market, and Frogner Farm. That's why I love this hilarious direct-translation map of the metro.
The next time you're in Oslo, make sure you visit some of my favorite places (on this list), including Spankfield, Son of Toe, Stretch, Hellfire, Stump, Breastfeed Farm, Funny Hillside, and Scary Laugh.
When Jonathan and I decided to move to Norway almost three years ago, we knew only a few things for certain:
- We'd be able to travel more.
- We'd need warmer clothes.
- And we'd likely never receive any visitors.
This last, we understood, because, unlike France or Italy or Switzerland, Norway just isn't one of those legendary, popular European destinations. Few non-Europeans can name any Scandinavian city other than the three big capitals. Even fewer could locate the capitals on a map without help. Plus, unlike Denmark, which shares a border with Germany, Sweden and Norway are just plain UP THERE. Oslo and Stockholm share roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. So, we resigned ourselves to our loneliness, determined to make new friends and buy plane tickets back to California as often as necessary to remain recognizable to our old crowd.
And then the unthinkable happened. People came.
Being a first time expat is a lot about being swept up in various excitements. Everything is new. Everything is beautiful. But culture shock is not only real, it's an important part of the expat experience and transition. Everything is a little scary, too. Everything is different. There's also the added complication of language, even when you begin to understand words and phrases in, say, Norwegian, that moment of necessary translation back to English costs you time and clarity. Actions as simple as grocery shopping or booking a dental appointment are suddenly more complex, and thus more time consuming. And then you have social norms which differ between countries. You think you're doing something normal (smiling at strangers on the street, for instance), and really you might as well be walking around wearing a sandwich-board that says 'I'm an American! Regard me with disdain!' Or you put on socks with a hole in them because they'll be hidden in your boots all day, so who cares, but then you enter a Scandinavian house and must remove your shoes at the entrance. Hello, Big Toe! It's happened.
Culture shock is real. It's important to recognize this curve up front, because culture shock is also not something you overcome in a week or a month or six months. Some would even argue that, for an expat, a perpetual outsider, culture shock never ends. The tremors simply become less shattering after a while. So the above wave continues endlessly, but appears shallower and shallower at every interval.
When you first arrive in your new home city, you'll be cruising on the same happy endorphins that make vacation so fun and memorable. Adrenaline will push you out the door and into the cold air in search of adventure. You'll take lots of photos, chronicle your neighborhood and the local harbor and the way your cats are adjusting (they sleep a lot, FYI). The honeymoon continues even as you contend with life's practicalities. Receiving your new residence permit will make you gleeful. Completing a grocery shopping trip and cooking a meal will make you want to take a bow. And along the way, you'll start believing that you're already adjusting to this new place. It will feel easy. Look at how well I navigate this tram line, you'll think. See how expertly I order coffee at the corner cafe. Nailed it!
Then one afternoon you'll be standing at a bus stop on your way to hunt down and buy a yellow onion for dinner, and a middle-aged woman in a fur-trimmed coat will approach you and begin speaking rapidly in Norwegian. She'll speak to you so directly and so quickly that you don't have time to do your standard Sorry-I-don't-yet-speak-your-language head duck and smile. Though you recognize her expression as friendly, her torrent of words will bounce off your high, surprised forehead and scatter across the pavement near the bus stop, around the feet of the other people waiting there, all of whom are, thankfully, ignoring you and the speed-talker completely. That's the Scandinavian way.
But the fur-trimmed woman will keep on going, and the longer she talks without taking a breath, the more you feel as though you're about to drown in the deluge. It occurs to you that, maybe, you'll recognize a word or two somewhere in the mix, just a scrap, and if you could grab onto it, you might be able to deduce the context and respond to her in English.
Then, as suddenly as she began, she is finished. Silence swells between you as her eyebrows raise inquisitively. You will gulp, preparing to explain that you've understood none of this, but before you can utter a sound, something registers on her face. Her perfectly lipsticked mouth settles into a grim line of acceptance and disappointment. She knows.
Standing before this woman, you are childlike. Illiterate. Dumb. You've wasted her time. She will snort her disapproval, loud enough to make the other people at the stop look up, and stride to the other end of the platform, as far away from you and your helpless, hopeless foreignness as she can get.
The bus will arrive then, larger and noisier than you remember past buses being. Doors will fold open. Passengers will disembark. New passengers will step into the body of the wheezing, red beast. Doors will unfold shut. The bus will rumble away. And you'll still be standing at the bus stop. Red-faced, confused and small.
You'll hurry home, worried that if you slow down for even a second, someone will reach out and tap your soldier and ask you for something else in that baffling language. When you're safely inside your apartment, you'll press your back to the closed door and shut your eyes, grateful for this space that is entirely your own. Grateful for the English language and its universality. After a moment, you'll compose yourself and walk deeper into your apartment, shedding your coat and shoes. You'll empty your pockets onto the bookcase in your front hall: keys, wallet, phone, and a reusable shopping bag, which will fail to trigger your memory. Only later, after watching several back to back episodes of Friends and checking Facebook to Like photos of your cousin's four-year-old daughter playing in a fountain in your old hometown, will you remember the yellow onion.
It takes a calling out like this one to draw the honeymoon to a close. A reminder that the new city and country aren't entirely allies in your cause of adventure. They have an adversarial side.
Bringing our cats with us from California to Norway wasn't a difficult decision, but it turned out to be an arduous process.
Three years ago, Jonathan was beginning his interviews with the Oslo software company he works for now. It felt like such a long-shot at the time. We didn't tell anybody, didn't research the transition process, didn't do anything remotely practical, actually. (Okay, I subscribed to a YouTube channel to learn Norwegian culture and basic language from this fabulous, funny chick.) But we didn't want to jinx anything, so...
What we ought to have done was look into what it would take to fly two adult cats, both of them on the chunky side, thirteen hours from San Francisco to Oslo. Because it's not simple. And it takes a LOT of time.
So, if you're potentially moving to Norway with your kitty, make sure you start preparing beforehand:
Microchip it real good.
This has to happen before anything else, because all records will be attached to the microchip ID number. In California, we discovered that Pet Food Express hosts a series of public veterinary care clinics offered by VIP PetCare, which was the simplest way to get our kitties chipped and vaccinated.
On the perfect Oslo day, the air is warm. The sun, up since 3:30am, swings slowly overhead. Trees sway gently in manicured rows. The air is sweet with the scent of freshly clipped lawns and flowers blooming in window-boxes. Today was just such a day. After writing at a nearby cafe for a couple of hours, my mind spinning with poetry, I decided to wander the streets of my beautiful neighborhood and catalogue its character... by way of Instagram!
Left: Reflections on a pink dress.
There are several excellent vintage clothing boutiques in Oslo. Of course, I'm not rating them as "excellent" based on my experience as a buyer. I couldn't possibly afford this stuff! But I do peruse when I can. Just to run my fingers over nude Chanel pumps. I yearn to be petite enough to fit into the sizes lining the racks along the wall, lace slip dresses and wool pea coats.
Right: Finally! The Norwegian strawberries are here!
Norwegians are crazy about their strawberries. It's one of the first things we learned when we moved her two years ago. All year round they brag about those strawberries. The best in the world. True? Well, aside from being tiny (compared to the monster, steroid-enhanced strawberries Californians are used to), Norwegian strawberries are absolutely wonderful. Bursts of sweet, tangy, red juice. Worth a try if you're ever here in the summertime.
Things will be quiet behind the red door for a few days. In April, I gave Jonathan his birthday gift of plane tickets to a dream destination, and now we finally get to realize that dream.
For the next ten days, we'll be trekking and tramping around the Lofoten Islands, Northern Norway's most dramatic and beautiful region, hunting for the famous Midnight Sun. (We may or may not actually see this phenomenon, as the weather is predicting a gray and drizzly ten days.) Either way, we'll be backpacking from tiny island town to tiny fishing village, bagging a few peaks and camping out amid some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I can't wait!
Off to cross over the Arctic Circle... See you on the other side!
Opening with one of the eternal sunsets for which Scandinavia is so well known, just behind Gustav Vigeland's infamously Angry Baby, this video from Kristian Larsen captures the true, modern personality of Oslo.
All the city's landmarks are here, from the Opera House to the Royal Palace to the City Hall. And there are some finer points, too, like the dandelion fountain at National Theater (my favorite) and the spinning iceberg sculpture in the water near Operahuset. These photos were captured over a two-week period in May of this year. When you see the city erupt in a flurry of flags and native costumes, you're seeing this year's 17 May celebration and parade. Jonathan and I are somewhere in that crowd, along with Madolyn Yuen, our guest that weekend.
Someday, when I leave this place, I will be glad to have this video as a souvenir. It bottles up some of Oslo's magic: colorful, clean, full of light, speed, and efficiency, but with time and space enough to stretch out and consider the ever-and-quickly-changing sky.
Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds.
This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.
On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.
Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.
And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.
I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!
I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.
I could smell smoke. Cigarettes, wood fires, weed. The music and rhythm of parties echoed up and down our street. A group of twenty young people gathered across the street. I leaned over the railing from my apartment balcony to see them. Smart phones twinkled in their hands. Their voices were animated, full of potential energy. Beers popped open. A boy tugged gently on the long, blond hair of a female companion. After a minute, they paired off and started snapping photos of themselves. I could imagine Facebook timelines refreshing all over the city, all over the world. Midsommers party-time!
Today, the sun rose at 3:54 a.m. Sunset won't come until 10:44 p.m. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. Here in Oslo, that adds up to 18 hours, 50 minutes, and 1 second of daylight. For the sake of comparison, my old hometown of Livermore will see a mere 14 hours, 51 minutes and 47 seconds of daylight today. This is one of the delights of living at the top of the world.
Last summer, Jonathan and I celebrated the solstice by hiking in the Oslomarka. We took the train out to Movatn station, an unmanned on the shores of a small lake. We disembarked at 10:15 p.m.; the train eased-then-flew off into the night. And we walked home.
(PHOTO: A nameless pond in the Oslomarka at 23:15 on 20 June 2012)
Four and a half days. That was all. And some of that time must be spent sleeping. Sleeping instead of laughing, embracing, catching-up. Three times Audrey counted it. Four and a half days. And tomorrow her guests would arrive.
I'm being dramatic, and I'm cheating a little, too. There's nothing terrible about having one's best friends in Oslo for four and a half days, except that it's less than five and a half or six and a half days. I'm stealing O. Henry's drama to make you understand, dear reader, how much I worried that four and a half days wouldn't be enough. One hundred and eight hours. Selfishly, I wanted a full week, but four and a half days would have to do.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.
Or suck it up.
I did the latter. And then planned, planned, planned all the stuff we would do, the places we would go, and the people we would see during those 108 hours. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Life may well be made up of "sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating," but smiles certainly held their own while Cindy and Brad were in Oslo with us.
At left, you'll see what we wound up doing for the majority of that time. Besiding. Morning, noon, night (or what passes for night during summer in Norway), we were beside one another. At meals. Playing games. Exploring the city. I could reach out and touch my friend's elbow, feel her wrap her arm around my waist. Nothing went according to anybody's real plan. Brad and Cin were nursing colds. Jonathan ordered fish on his pizza. The tourist info office moved since last summer, so I had my guests break the law by riding public transportation before we actually bought the passes to do it! But all of it was done besiding. Which made it perfect.
Don't overplan your next visit to Oslo with friends. I've got a recipe for one Basically Epic Week in Oslo:
Photo: Jonathan and I had our best California buds in town with us this week, so they got to attend the launch party on Friday. A huge treat for me! See more photos from the party at the end of this post.
North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway is the first anthology published by the Oslo International Writers' Group, and now you can own it in paperback! The following is the introduction to the book, which I was honored to co-author with OIWG's founder, Zoë Harris:
At sixty-six degrees north, there is an invisible line drawn around the globe. The line passes through only eight countries: Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the United States (Alaska), Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. This is the Arctic Circle, a perforation between the Land of the Midnight Sun and everything below it, places where the sun will always set, at least for a breath. Such is the mysticism of the Far North. Polar bears lumber across the icescapes of Svalbard under endless daylight from April to August. More populated areas above the Arctic Circle also enjoy these "white nights", where a girl with a book can read the fine print from dusk to dawn without ever flipping a light switch.
It is an exotic concept. But, as always, there's a dark side.
The Land of the Midnight Sun cannot escape the inevitable Noon Moon. Twenty-four hours of daylight in the summertime; twenty-four hours of darkness in the wintertime. To cope, residents of Norway put up black-out curtains just to fall asleep in July. In January, light box therapy helps some fend of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We know two seasons: summer and winter; celebration and survival. These are things to which only people who have lived in-country year-round can attest, an invisible line which binds us together.
When the Oslo International Writers' Group (OIWG) formed in early 2012, the initial aim was camaraderie: to create a network of writers who could share and critique work, discuss writing as only writers can, and support one another in what can often be a rather lonely pursuit. Soon it became evident that the talent and ambition of this set of writers warranted a project, some kind of collective effort to showcase our work to the outside world.
Before we moved, I made sure to read several expat blogs written by people residing in Oslo. Talking to people (or reading the writing of people) with boots on the ground is the best way to gain understanding of the day-to-day stuff in a faraway city. Since moving to Norway, I've been contacted several times by strangers with questions about our decision to expatriate, about our life here, and about Norwegian culture. I like getting those emails and messages, and I do my best to answer their questions succinctly and honestly. In case you, dear reader, have similar questions, I thought I'd post one such email exchange.
I received this one after my photo appeared on the NPR politics page just before the 2012 presidential election. Please be patient with the grammar and spelling issues. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to "clean" it up. The sincerity and curiosity are what matter.
Hello, my name is Chris [removed]. I currently live in South Carolina. I was viewing inauguration postcards on NPR and came across yours. I was very amazed at what you said, and it drew some interest in regards to you living in Norway.
The reason I am emailing you is because I was curious about the quality of life there compared to here in the US. I have been trying hard to make changes in my life as far as living and in my daughter's life such as eating more organic foods, depending less on "medicine" and using herbal products, and breaking away from the "TV" hypnosis. I am very concerned about the education in this state because every year it gets worse, and no one is held accountable. If the schools make the required scores on the tests, then they are doing good, but when you ask some of the kids how to figure out what 2 x2 is and why is it 4, you get weird stares or "I don't know" responses. After reading about how you said about the quality of education, it really got me interested.
Basically, I would like to know how to get information to research the possibilities to move to Norway or other countries that are like Norway. Living here in the US lately is disheartening; many don't fight for change, they just go along with what mainstream media pumps into their minds. I just want the best for my daughter, and not worry that she, too, will have to break her back and burn herself out just to live a peaceful life.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I appreciate any guidance or information you can provide.
After taking a few days to consider Chris's complex and comprehensive questions, I responded.
Oslo waxed lilac overnight. Fat and elegantly bunched, they waited until we were asleep to arrive, to place themselves in the trees and bloom. Where one week ago there were only the wet, black branches and sharply-new green leaves of a tardy spring, suddenly blossoms appeared. Purple and white. Immaculate thousands of tiny petals. Each dense panicle of lilacs is a fractal; the blooms are four-lobed, radiating from a tubular base, arranged in pairs. Around them wave the simple, glaucous leaves of the lilac tree, outshined by the spring bounty.
It is evening, warmer than most expect it can be so far north. We walk below Uranienborg kirke, a proud, brick tower, built on a hill to catch the last of the light. Bells sound the ten o'clock hour. I raise my hand and lift a healthy panicle with my palm, then grasp it lightly and lower it to my nose and inhale. I recognize the sweet, yearning fragrance of syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, which floats along the avenues of Oslo each May.
Too late! There was no spring, really. Too fast! We blinked and the blooms had bogged the tree branches down so they swept the gutters. Don't love us too much! Norway's rainstorms will pound the pavements and rooftops, will pound the life out of these clusters of airy, papery flowers. Purple and white and mauve. In the aftermath, shriveled petals will litter the sidewalks, will dry, will die. There is no stopping this cycle. It will come to every leaf on every tree on this road. It will come for me, too. But with luck, I'll last longer than the lilacs.
I release the bundle of blooms, and the supple branch bounces back to its place above me. We walk on.
Kindle me! The digital edition of North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway is available for download.
Now, I assure you that you'd be hard pressed to find someone who better appreciates small, independent booksellers than me. I can spend hours perusing, reading, paging, running my hands along the shelves of colorful bindings. There's nothing better than finding a bookshop with a diverse and thoughtfully indexed inventory, a knowledgeable staff, a section dedicated to local authors... all things which are only available and enjoyable face to face. I try to support such small businesses whenever possible.
But I can't deny that it's a profound pleasure to have a book which is, in part, authored by me now available on Amazon!
Holland House and The Oslo International Writers' Group are proud to present the group's first anthology, North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway.
My nonfiction essay, Orientation, will appear alongside the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of seven of my talented fellow OIWG members:
The e-book will be available 17 May 2013, coinciding with Norway's Constitution Day festivities, and the paperback edition will be available in June. Best of all, book sale profits will go to Utdanningshjelpen, a Norwegian volunteer organisation which offers educational scholarships to children and young people in Kenya, Ghana, Mosambique, Ethiopia and Palestine.
Publication is an exciting time for every writer! The launch party for North of the Sun, South of the Moon is going to be a fabulous event, hosted by everyone's favorite American restaurant in Oslo, Café Fedora.
Date: 7th June 2013 at 7:00pm
Place: Café Fedora, Frognerveien 22, Oslo
Price: 200 NOK per person
Food and drinks are included in the ticket price, and you will also hear the authors give readings, have the opportunity to buy the book and/or donate directly to Utdanningshjelpen, as well as be in the running to win a signed copy of the book.
Tickets are limited, so if you're in town and want to support these fine, local writers, please buy yours today! Café Fedora's owners, Anthony and Nicole Juvera, in a typical bout of warmth and generosity, have made it possible for all tickets sold for the launch event to support the charity, too. In case I haven't made it clear before, you want to know these two people. They make Norway a better place.
The Oslo International Writers' Group is open to writers of all stripes in the Oslo area. We meet once a month. Find us on Facebook if you're interested in joining. We welcome your voice and point of view!
Each spring, the tenants in our apartment building in Oslo come together for an afternoon of unpaid, voluntary, organized community work.
This is a dugnad, a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people, in this case neighbors, join forces to spruce up their public, shared spaces. In my opinion, this is a beautiful concept, like a barn-raising, but on a much smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale.
As it was our third time at this rodeo, Jonathan and I knew the important stuff: where the box of gloves and cleaning supplies is kept, that we should bring our own ladder and paper towels, etc. Stuff we hadn't a clue about the first year. Some people trimmed trees and hedges, some scraped the weeds from between the stones on our walkway. Jonathan and I raked leaves (and cigarette butts) on the front lawns, then completed the task we look forward to each year: cleaning the front door.
We have this beautiful door on our building. Lots of burnished wood and glass. Together, Jonathan and I scrubbed and squeegied the thing until it shined. One of our neighbors called it "Jonathan's Masterpiece." I didn't mind. It was Jonathan who risked his life on the rickety ladder to reach the high spots!
My favorite thing about dugnad is that it gives us the chance to meet our neighbors. Classically, Norwegians aren't the most overtly friendly people, especially within apartment buildings. The joke is that you could pass your neighbor on the steps in your building for 20 years without getting so much as a hello, but if you ran into the same guy on the ski trails outside of town, he'd hail you down and chat you silly. That's only partially our experience in Oslo. A couple of our neighbors know us by name; everyone makes a point to say hello. But the spirit of the dugnad sparks teamwork and breeds organic conversation. Plus, there's always someone new to meet, and that's a pleasure.
The main reason so many dugnads happen this time of year is in preparation for Syttende Mai (17 May), the big national day celebration. We all want our buildings to sparkle as we celebrate Norway's independence. At the same time, I like to think we're celebrating that a country like Norway, one which puts such a premium on teamwork and equanimity, thrives in the world today.
More on Dugnad from other Oslo bloggers:
It's a Dugnad! via Northern Natterings
The Dugnad: A Big Community Clean Up via A New Life in Norway
Dugnad via My Feelings For Snow
Warning: This video is probably not work safe. It's crude and rude and unbelievably hilarious.
Last week, I blogged about the Russian language and how it threw me during our recent trip to St. Petersburg. I did have a positive revelation, though. Suddenly, Norwegian looked comfortingly familiar to this happy expat. And that made me want to share this very amusing video. It's a couple of years old now, but please enjoy. It's occasionally vulgar, so be prepared, but know it will also be educational. Now you'll understand how to pronounce the Norwegian alphabet's three extra vowels. In fact, you may never be able to forget the pronunciation because it will henceforth be burned into your brain.
It took less than a minute after the plane landed on the tarmac in St. Petersburg for me to realize that this vacation was going to be drastically different than the rest. All I had to do was get through passport control. I froze. My eyes flicked wildly from wall to wall. Where were they? My beloved letters?! How could there be so many signs, but not a single recognizable word?
такси. банк. цветы. аренда автомобиля.
Until that moment, I had considered myself well-traveled. I had sixteen countries under my belt, most of them in Europe, and I was used to breezing through airports without a hiccup on my way into town. Not because I'm multilingual (far from it), but because I've got a basic hold on several languages. My years of French class in high school and college are a useful foundation, but it's simpler than that:
Take the English alphabet, throw in a couple extra letters, sprinkle a few accent marks on top, and you've got French, Italian, Spanish, German, Norwegian, and the rest of the European languages.
Except Russian, Greek, and the like.
On Sunday, City of Oslo, VisitOSLO, and Ruter hosted Turist i Egen By, an annual event which, in English, translates to Tourist in Your Own City. Free Oslo Passes for everyone! I'm a huge fan of the Oslo Pass, and I always recommend it to people visiting for more than two or three days, because it includes access to most of the major museums here in Oslo, as well as access to all public transportation (buses, trams, trains, ferries).
The Turist i Egen By event appeared to be a HUGE success. It was one of the most crowded afternoons I've ever seen in the city. The line to board the ferry to Bygdøy wrapped across Rådhusplassen to the Nobel Peace Center and beyond. And since we've been to so many museums, galleries, and other exhibits here already, Jonathan and I decided to tour Oslo's City Hall instead.
Rådhuset is a very distinct building, with its twin brick towers. It was completed in 1950, 19 years after construction began. Construction was postponed during WWII, when Oslo fell under Nazi occupation. The drama of the city hall comes from more than the monolithic structure--intricate murals and powerful statues, each full of symbolism, cover the walls, inside and out.
Last year, Canadian Travel Website Cheapflights commissioned me to write an Insider's Guide to Oslo for them. I've found my calling. Researching restaurants (eating out) and researching bars (drinking beer) and researching museums was a good gig.
Along the way, I wrote a little more than necessary for their purposes. Imagine that. So, I thought I'd put my full descriptions here on my blog for all my readers. To begin... What are some cool places to eat in Olso?
Lots of cool, bizarre statues in Oslo...
Clockwise from Top Left: A creepy smile on the steps outside the new museum buildings at the far end of Tjuvholmen, designed by Renzo Piano, which now house the Astrup Fearnley Modern Art exhibition; Oslo's Beaver Statue, unnamed, sits outside a print shop on Dronning Mauds gate. A tad random, yes. And do beavers actually sit on their tails like that?; The Cat Lady is one of four figures decorating an otherwise standard fountain fixture outside an office building in Lysaker; The Tiger paces outside Oslo Central Station and greets new visitors!
The Tiger is definitely my favorite of these four. He was a gift to the city on its 1000-year anniversary in the year 2000. According to VisitOslo.com, he is probably the city's most-photographed inhabitant.
In his poem "Sidste Sang" from 1870, Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson describes a fight between a horse and a tiger. The tiger represents the dangerous city, and the horse is the safe countryside. Since then, Oslo has sometimes been called Tigerstaden, or The Tiger City. Parts of the Tiger have been rubbed shiny by tourists... the tail, nose, ears, and, of course, testicles. Because sophistication takes a hike when faced with a 4.5-meter long bronze tiger.
Last year I blogged a bit about the statue of WWII Norwegian resistance leader Gunnar Fridtjof Thurmann Sønsteby at Solli plass.
What's your favorite statue in Oslo?
Cabin fever. It sets in after one too many days or weeks or months indoors. Oslo is a beautiful, fun city, full of things to do and see. But this year, the snow is taking its sweet time in retreat, which means a few of the spring things I look forward to must wait a bit longer. For instance, walking around the beaches at Bygdøy, a large peninsula to the west of Oslo. Bygdøy holds many of the city's most popular attractions, including the Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Holocaust Center, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum.
You can get to Bygdøy by bus, ferry, or bike. Trails and roads criss-cross the peninsula, making it easy to explore by foot. In the spring, the lilacs begin to bloom and the birches waver greenly in the crisp, cold breeze. Exploring the coast means tramping across beaches of the tiniest seashells and coming upon harbors full of bobbing boats on sky-soft sea.
It's that time of year again. Snow is thick in the hills outside the city, looking almost exactly like the kind of tree limb-burdened winter scene people think of when they think of Norway. But the sun is up. Days are eleven and a half hours long already, and spring hasn't even begun. That's the magic. Sun on snow. And up on the hill, visible from deep within the city, is the curved launch of Holmenkollen's metal spine, Oslo's famous ski jump.
This weekend, the city will be swarming with people intent on Holmenkollen, competitors and spectators, excited about the Holmenkollen FIS World Cup Nordic.
"You are American? Yesterday, Martin Sheen was here."
The waiter placed our drinks on the table and looked up to gauge our reaction to the name drop. Despite the non sequitur, neither of us flinched.
"Martin Sheen. You know... the American actor. West Wing."
I'm not really one for name dropping. (Hard to believe, right, since I blogged meeting my favorite author, Pam Houston, for the very first time at AWP in Boston!) But it wasn't fair to make the nice man squirm like that.
So I said, "Sure. Martin Sheen. I loved him in Gettysburg." And Jonathan said something slightly snarky like, "Not quite as exciting as Charlie Sheen." Which made me laugh, but the waiter was on a mission.
"Martin Sheen. The nicest man! Handshakes for the whole staff."
Addendum: "Actor/activist Martin Sheen and I flew to Oslo, Norway to speak at the civic forum before the conference, sponsored by The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons... before an excited crowd of 900 people in downtown Oslo." via Huffington Post
This happened on our second visit to the legendary Engebret Cafe, located just to the east of Akershus Fortress. It is Oslo's oldest restaurant, opened in 1857, and, as proved by Mr. Sheen, it attracts luminaries from around the world. Without reservations, I worried we were being optimistic about showing up on the cafe's doorstep, even late on a Tuesday evening. But while the restaurant was full, the bar was empty.
It took me ten minutes to jog from the Russian Embassy in Oslo down Drammensveien to the nearest Joker market and withdraw the cash. I'd expected the cost of two Russian Tourist Visas to run about 630 NOK ($110), based on what I'd read several times on the consulate website. Standing before the cashier at the embassy, my heart had stopped when she did the math and said the total: 1980 NOK ($345).
"I don't have that much with me," I'd said. My cheeks began to flame.
She shook her head and held the calculator up for me to see. As though I didn't trust her math. Which I didn't. After making sure that they weren't charging me for express processing, and that it was merely my non-EU citizenship that cost so much, I asked:
"Do you accept card?"
It was clear she didn't understand me. I repeated myself in broken Norwegian. She responded by reaching up to tap her long, purple fingernail on the window of bullet-proof glass between us, just behind a sign which read, in three languages: We do not accept bank cards. Cash only. Exact change.
Well, I thought, this is it. I knew something was going to go horribly wrong, and it's happening.
All morning I'd dreaded this appointment. Something about walking into the Russian Embassy just seemed wrong, shady, or dangerous. I blame Hollywood. The Russians have been our go-to on-screen villains for ages. Our nuclear opponents. Hard-liners with their fingers on too many big red buttons. I know this isn't true today. I grew up in the years after President Reagan said, "Tear down this wall!"
Yet, there are shades of darkness that remain in the real world. One need only look at Russia's recent crackdown on the civil rights of gays and lesbians, or their censure of freedom of speech and expression in the Pussy Riot incident, or their ban on American adoptions of Russian children. These are things I don't agree with, and they're only the ones existing above the surface. What will I find when I venture behind the metaphorical culture wall that remains?
Standing on Russian soil at the embassy, I felt vulnerable. To what? Human trafficking? Communism? The rampant road rage that makes dashboard cameras so popular among Russian drivers? I shook off the dread. There had to be a solution to this problem.
I showed the embassy cashier the bills I had with me, less than half the amount needed, and shrugged.
She leaned down to speak into the microphone on her side of the glass. A speaker about the size of a Kleenex box was mounted on the wall at face-height and made her instructions sound like she was rattling back a take-out order at the In-n-Out drive thru.
"You go out," she said, her Russian accent tugging at the corners of every word. "Out, along street. Get money from minibank."
"I can come back here?" I asked, beginning to gather my things. I'd waited in line for over an hour already and didn't want to take another number.
"Yes. You go out, come back here." Then she raised her wrist to show me the face of her watch and tapped it vigorously. There wasn't much time left. The office would close at 12:30.
I waited for her to slide my paperwork and passports back to me.
"We keep," she said.
I shook my head the way you do when you get out of the pool to clear your ear canals of water.
"We keep. You go. Come back."
"No," I said. "I don't want to leave my passports."
Oslo always tops the list of most expensive cities in the world. So, visitors probably expect to pay a little more for a cup of coffee here.
The above info graphic from Bloomberg News illustrates the cost of, specifically, a 16 ounce cup of Starbucks coffee in cities all over the world. It's supposed to demonstrate Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), explained in detail in the Wall Street Journal's piece: On Currencies, What's Fair is Hard to Say.
Before that $9.83 price tag makes you do a spit take, let me point out a couple of the graph's weak points:
The sunniest, warmest day yet this year turned snow to slush, pushed the ice flows around in the fjord, and made me yearn for a sweet treat. Take one bottle of Coca-Cola from the Folkmuseet cafe plus one snowball, and what do you get?
Positive temperatures for highs all this week. Here's hoping spring has truly arrived! (It seems a little too good to be true...)
When Jonathan took the day off work on Friday, neither of us knew what we were going to do with that extra free time together. Unfortunately, we're not practiced enough with the cross-country skiing gear to pull off a last-minute run anywhere. So, it was up to me to choose something. I poked around Visit Oslo first because I would rather live like a tourist in my own city than be cool, in-the-know, and bored at home.
Turned out, the game plan for the day was easily settled once I came across a couple of bowling alleys in town. One we've passed many times because it's at Solli plass, just down the street from us. Solli Bowling.
And time marches on. This cool photo, taken from the heart of Oslo back in the 1880s (when it was still Christiania), looks from Stortinget (the Parliament buildings) down Karl Johns gate toward Det Kongelige slot (the Royal Palance).
It was originally shared by Visit Oslo on Facebook, a feed I definitely recommend following before you do visit or move to Oslo. When asked to point out what has changed in the last 130 years, commenters mentioned:
- The tram line no longer runs down this main thoroughfare.
- This was taken long before the existence of Deli de Luca.
- In the summertime, the trees lining Karl Johan are so tall and full, they would obstruct this particular view of the palace.
- "Lasagna-drawn carriages and streetcars." (You read that right. Sadly, it's a joke referencing "Burger Gate," a recently terrifying revelation about European food.)
Though founded in 1048, when compared with other European capitals, Oslo seems quite new. This is both because the nation of Norway wasn't sovereign until the 20th century, and because a number of fires in the city destroyed so many medieval structures. Most buildings standing in the city today were built after 1850 (the royal palace was completed in 1849), but there are a few notable exceptions, most located in Oslo's Gamlebyen (Old Town):
Asker is an affluent suburb of Oslo. It's where Crown Prince Haakon and his family have their home. The city is known for its many beaches and wooded trails, as well as shopping options and beautiful churches. We went to check out the Galleri Trafo.
The gallery opened in 2006 and, according to the VisitAsker website, "has rapidly become an important location for Norwegian and International contemporary art." Housed in an old brick factory building adjacent to the Asker train station, the gallery includes three separate viewing areas on the first floor and one additional exhibit hall on the third.
As we stomped the snow off our boots at the entrance, I asked the lady at the desk for two tickets. She looked puzzled. Turns out the gallery is open for free to the public! Exhibitions change periodically, but the gallery's website seems to be fairly up-to-date.
In Kunsthallen (The Art Hall), we examined a series of contemporary landscapes by Norwegian artist Espen Røise. I stood in front of the focal piece for a long time, taking in the color and movement, the choice of shape. As the artist notes on the website, "Everything I do in my studio has its beginnings in the time I spend in nature, the landscape that touches me."
Unfortunately, I couldn't remain soothed by these large, abstract paintings. From behind the wall at the far end of the room came a blood-curdling scream! Someone gasping for breath, panting, crying. Jonathan and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and walked toward the sounds.
It was a day of Romance with a capital R:
- Roses (Not a dozen. Apparently Norwegian blomster shops sell them in bunches of ten or fifteen!)
- Root beer floats (with real A&W root beer, which made this expat very happy!)
- Reservations at Pizza da Mimmo
- Roman Holiday
This about sums it up. And if you need some help deciphering my gift to Jonathan (paper airplane? really?), don't forget to check out my Paperman Valentine.
Remember... this faux holiday is Ridiculous. Participate in Romance year-Round. It's more fun that way!
In Norway, winter is all about the cross-country skiing, a sport embraced by most of these healthy, active people.
Last year, Jonathan and I hopped on the cross-skiing bandwagon with both feet. And promptly slipped and fell into the snow with a big, wet, surprisingly-bone-jarring thwump! It's tougher than it looks, and the Norwegians do make it look easy. Of course, the big joke in Norway is that Norwegian babies are born with skis on. I'll give you a second to rid your mind of that image, but don't scoff. Head out to any set of cross-country tracks in the Oslomarka on a sunny day, and you'll see children as young as three glide right by you. Fast. Without poles. Without fear. Only the kids who are too young to walk get away with being too young to ski, and they get the best of this deal, let me tell you. Why can't I ride in one of these fancy contraptions? Mush, Mom. Mush!
Did you know that waxing your skis is an art form? Yeah, we didn't either. Jonathan read up on it, asked Norwegians about it, and practiced, practiced, practiced. But it isn't just the technique that counts. You also have to gauge the weather appropriately and run to the sports store to buy wax in the appropriate temperature category. If you use the wrong wax, the snow will ignore it completely. It will laugh at you meanly as you slide backwards down a shallow hill, in slow motion, feeling the pity of the Norwegians as they pass you. Oh, and you have to get to the store fast because, well, the Norwegians have a sixth sense for snow and will clean the place out of the 'right' wax before you're even out of bed in the morning.
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.
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.
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.
Most years, Jonathan and I have put up our Christmas tree on or around December 1st. This Christmas season has been different. I've been in California for four of the last six weeks. The first trip was for pleasure; the second was to celebrate the life of Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson, a wonderful man, who passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. Jonathan and I were fortunate to make it home for the memorial service. While we were in California, we helped decorate two Christmas trees, but it wasn't the same. I couldn't wait to get back to our flat here in Oslo and make it all piney and glowy.
Yesterday we walked a couple of blocks to the nearest tree seller. This one only opened on 14 December; last year, because we wanted our tree earlier, we took Trikk 13 out toward CC Vest (a mall) to get a tree. Riding on a tram with a tree was a new experience! We were happy to skip that ritual this year, though, as the season has been much colder and there's a LOT more ice on the ground.
We spotted this year's tree right away! A little sparse, but beautifully proportioned. A nice, straight trunk. A rich shade of green. How much does a Christmas tree cost in Norway? Ours, just under 2 meters tall, cost 450 NOK ($80), including netting. We think they might be cheaper outside the city.
My manly husband carried it home and hauled it up the four flights of stairs to our place. He set it up in the tree stand while I made cocoa. Then, with When Harry Met Sally on in the background (I don't know why I think of it as a Christmas movie, but I totally do!), we began to decorate.
Before his alarm sounds in the morning, I sometimes get up and push it back by a few minutes. He wakes then to my shuffling in the dark room. Even with the shades up, the bedroom remains dark; dawn come so late this time of year. I crawl back under the covers and wrap my arms around him. Waking is much easier on the system this way, quiet and tender. We talk in whispers about the oncoming day. How many meetings does he have? What will I write? Skin hot, breath stale, sleep crumbs deep in the corners of our eyes. The sheets on our bed are ill-fitting because we skimped on them at IKEA rather than hauling an extra set home from the U.S. in our luggage. The cats mew outside the door, hungry and bored. Sleet slides down the gabled windows, only visible when a car's headlights reflect through it. Temperatures hover just above freezing. When the alarm goes off this time, he's already awake, rises and shuts it off. Ditto the fan. The hollow beside me in the bed goes cold quickly. While he showers, I go to the kitchen and brew his coffee in a to-go cup. Half a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of milk. While he dresses for the day, I help him gather the winter necessities: wool socks, cashmere scarf, gloves. I take his earmuffs and clasp them onto the plastic coffee cup so that they become warm, then transfer them over his ears. Because I don't own a bathrobe, I wear a thick sweater and a green blanket wrapped around my hips like a sarong. I ask if he likes my outfit. He says it's impressive how I make do, how I somehow survive. I hope he takes the hint and plans to get me a robe for Christmas. I worry that he will take it a step too far and order a Snuggie or a Slanket or something equally uncouth. Perhaps a One Piece, so I can truly be a Norwegian. He likes the way I do his scarf, halved, with the ends tucked back through the bend. As he pats across his chest and hips, feeling his pockets for keys, phone, badge, and pen, I make sure the scarf is high across the back of his neck. His hair is still damp from the shower. I worry he might freeze. But the true cold of winter, the blue dive into below-freezing temps, hasn't happened yet. A dip is scheduled at the end of the day. We keep the weather tab open on our computer all the times--an oracle to consult before we walk out the door. Before he leaves, I go to the front room and turn on the red paper star hanging in the circle window so that it glows. If he crosses the street and looks back, I want him to see how cozy our home is. Just a reminder. Our winter days run together this way, a dark ribbon of layered clothing and other survival routines. Weekends are for adventures, if we can coax ourselves out the door and into the chill. Evenings are quiet and spent in recovery. I cook. We eat. We talk. We laugh aloud at episodes of The Daily Show, Modern Family, The Office. Sometimes he asks me to read aloud to him, something I love to do. If he has a late evening conference call, I am in bed before him, reading and ignoring the cats as they scamper laps around the apartment. When he joins me, he plants kisses in my hair.
Do you ever feel nostalgic about the present? On Friday, this not-as-of-yet nostalgia overwhelmed me. It was a clear day; the chilly wind smacked my cheeks red and wrang tears from my eyes. The tears weren't attached to anything, unstemmed, like the dry leaves that skittered on the sidewalks around me. But if I paused and thought, there were a million things I could give the tears over to. Distance from my family, the troubles of a friend, the fading of youth, buried griefs, the painful quickness of time.
Audrey and Jonathan enjoying the fall colors at Akershus, 30 October 2011.
Such feelings are the terrain of the season. The trees and bushes which have, for so many months, flourished with health around us, now exhale brightly for the last time this year. The colors of fall spark something in me, memories and regrets. Last year, when Oslo was new to us, I walked Jonathan home from work, more than four miles, many times. (Sometimes I took the train with him in the mornings and walked or jogged home on my own.) But this year I've neglected the practice. For no reason. After only a year, I began taking it all for granted.
From nearly every window in our flat, you can see a tall, copper steeple. Uranienborgkirke (Uranienborg Church) is one of my favorite fixtures in the city, and it's surrounded by a lovely park which goes dazzlingly yellow every autumn.
I thought I'd have a LOT more time to run out and take photos of the gorgeous fall colors in Oslo. Last year, the weather was deceptively warm and dry. Snow didn't show up until after Christmas. Jonathan and I wandered around our new hometown wearing sweaters and gloves into November. Norway was suckering me in. This year, I've got a hunch, will be very different. Much more "the norm." But then yesterday, a snow flurry came blowing in out of a literally clear blue sky. As I don't want to feel that I missed fall entirely, I thought I'd put up some of the most beautiful pictures we took last year at this time (30 Oct 2011).
Oslo's National Gallery may not be the Louvre, but I enjoy visiting it for many reasons. That's just one of them. The gallery is on Universitetsgata, just a couple of blocks from the palace grounds, and holds the country's largest public collection of paintings and sculptures.
While the museum does diplay works by masters like Picasso, Cezanne, and Manet, there is a special emphasis on Norwegian artists like Edvard Munch. One version of Munch's most famous work, 'The Scream' is on display. Translated as 'Skrik' (pronounced shriek) in Norwegian, the painting was stolen from the museum in 1994 and recovered after several months. (The version of 'Scream' at the Munch Museum in Oslo was stolen in 2004, along with the artist's 'Madonna,' and both were recovered two years later.)
Det Kongelige Slott -- Oslo's Royal Palace
Oslo, Norway. My home these days, and a great place to visit! Jonathan and I vacationed here about a year before we moved over, and were dazzled by everything the country had to offer in the summertime. Since then, I've lived through (and enjoyed!) a Norwegian winter, too. I'm even looking forward to my second.
Bærums Verk, Norrway around Chistmastime
When Cheapflights.ca approached me about writing a travel guide to Oslo, I jumped at the chance. My city has so much fun stuff to offer all year round. Visit the Cheapflights website to read my travel guide. It includes:
- 5 Great Restaurants in Oslo
- 5 Bars and Taverns in Oslo
- 5 Fun Winter Activities in Oslo
- 5 Must-See Monuments, Museums or Galleries in Oslo
- 5 Day-Trips Outside of Oslo
The Freia sign on Karl Johans gate in Downtown Oslo
Holmenkollen Ski Jump -- Oslo, Norway
Looking for something spooky this Halloween season? Windowshopping after dark in Oslo might just suffice.
Near the corner of Uranienborgveien and Parkveien, across the street from Nomaden, the travel bookstore, is a storefront marked Kunst Handel, Norwegian for art dealer. In the daytime, it would be easy to walk past without taking so much as a sidelong glance at the windows there. You might see the bright corners of gilded-gold picture frames or sculptures high on pedestals. In a blink you're past it. But if you stop to look again, if after night falls the lights inside catch your eye and hold it, you'll find yourself swept into a strange world. Try, if you dare, to imagine the feverish brain which conceived of this bizarre collection.
King Gander was shot dead cleanly through the eye by a hunter at the lake who had no idea the geese were organized enough to have a king. The jewels in his crown dazzled the hunter through her scope. What a prize, thought she. What a trophy! The gunshot startled the flock and sent them scooting, panic-stricken across the top of the lake and then up into the sky. Behind them floated the body of their leader. The hunter's retreiver, Princess, splashed into the water, paddled out a few meters, and hauled the plump goose by the neck to the shore. The hunter knelt on the rocks and realized King Gander's crown was gone; it had probably tumbled from his head when the bullet tore through his eye and sunk into the dark lake water. No matter, thought the hunter, giving Princess's ears a scratch. When I stuff him, I will have his eye replaced, and I will replace his crown, as well.
In Oslo, no two buildings are alike. Walking through the neighborhoods, you'll see many a tourist craning his neck up to stare at the Neo-Classical, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture. (Many locals are used to the beauty and history on every corner, but not I!) Most recognizable are the ornate moldings wrapping around each floor, the light, happy colors, and the distinct style of each individual building. I have my favorites, of course, but then again, I'm always happening upon a new corner of the city, something else to love.
While housesitting for a friend today, I noticed how lovely the city looked through her windows.
If you have the opportunity to visit Oslo, make sure you leave time for a long walk. The city is safe, clean, and charming at every turn. Don't forget to look up! And if you live here already, don't forget to look out!
If you're sitting around on a Saturday afternoon or a summer evening and wondering what's free to do in Oslo, I've got an idea for you. Totally random. Totally Norwegian.
Pay a visit to the Holmenkollen Troll!
Take the Number 1 Metro line up to the Holmenkollen stop. From there it's a bit of a walk uphill, but the way is well-marked. Even if you've visited the ski jump before, you may not have swung out to visit the troll. He sits in a cluster of pines facing the jump, and only when you get up close do you find he has a little friend, too.
"A troll am I. Big and tall. I sing in one of my songs. For I am big and tall. When you see me sitting at Gratishaugen, I measure almost 7 meters. Big and tall may sound dangerous, but that's not the case. I am a good troll. It is the famous Norwegian sculptor Nils Aas, who brought me here. I am made of concrete, and I guess I do look a lot like the trolls you'll find in the Norwegian folk tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe."
Wave goodbye to the troll and stroll down the road a bit to give your inner child another thrill at Himalaya Park. Several fun obstacles and playground-style installments on the low ropes course are available for your use and pleasure. A rope wall, a hideout, a balance beam, a swinging bridge. It's full of pulleys and ropes, and it's free! (At least, it was the last couple times we wandered through it.)
I suppose this is really meant for families with kids, but... I don't have a kid; I have a husband with an active inner child. (Which means I'm rarely bored in Oslo!) Enjoy!
Like bouldering, but on buildings. It's one of the many things we tried this summer, if briefly.
My best friend and Ya-Ya, Amy, visited us in Oslo with her husband, Jeff, at the beginning of June. We did a bunch of fun stuff together. I loved playing tour guide in my city!
One of the best things about Ames and Jeff is their spontaneity. We're spontaneous people, too, so the four of us have a very special brand of fun. On their last night, Jeff took us running out the door, down the stairs, into the street, and down a block to the local French school. There, we set about climbing the large retaining wall that runs the length of the playground. I'm so happy I grabbed the camera while everyone else was collecting their climbing shoes and chalk bags.
Eventually, Jonathan and Jeff pieced together a pretty nifty traverse from one end of the wall to the other. As they "worked," several people wandered by us in the street. One stopped to take an iPhone photo of the crazy Americans on the wall. Another asked where we were from and, as he walked away, called back over his shoulder, "Rest in peace, California!" (We're reasonably sure he meant "Take it easy," but it's the thought that counts.)
When Ames and Jeff boarded the train back to the airport the next day, I'll admit I cried a little. There are few people in this world who know me the way Amy does. She is a piece of home; and she'd brought that feeling all the way across a world to me. And while I may have been instrumental in showing them the nooks and crannies of Oslo, building memories they will carry with them the rest of their lives, they also gave a gift back to me: I will never see the schoolyard walls in my neighborhood the same way ever again. Walking the few blocks to the market or the post office or Solli plass will always be a little more special because that wall holds a secret route, one navigated by fingers and toes, and has held the chalk echoes of our movements alone.
My place is currently cluttered with camping and climbing gear. Coiled ropes, tents, sleeping bags, camp stove. A full backpack's worth of dirty clothes takes up most of the floor in my bathroom. This is the aftermath of a five-day camping trip in the Jotenheim region of Norway, about 5 hours north of Oslo. We rolled back into town on Sunday evening, and I was too exhausted to do much about it right away. Funny how the mess doesn't clean itself up. Funnier how I always wish it would.
I spent the morning organizing things, but only seemed to displace the chaos. To give myself a break, I decided to walk downtown and grab lunch. Just a date with me. The girl who stopped counting her most recent mosquito bites at fifteen; the girl with the massive blister on the back of her heel after hiking across a glacier to the top of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's highest mountain. Not pretty or fun or flirty... but in desperate need of a slow walk in the sunshine, you know, to begin the healing.
It worked. Summer may have gotten off to a slow start in Oslo this year (so much rain!), but as we close out the last week of August, I have to say, we're getting some pretty perfect weather. Oslo is beautiful city anyway, but in the sunshine it takes my breath away.
I ate lunch (Max Burger) on a bench near the statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Akershus Fortress. Aker Brygge, the main harbor, bustled below me. Cruise ships came and went. People stood in line for tickets. The number 12 tram clattered around the corner, packed with tourists. An accordionist collected coins in an upturned cap on the cobbled stone. I used all my napkins to wipe the burger's special sauce off my chin. Slowly, but very slowly, my city-girl-ness returned to me.
Partly it was listening to the myriad languages spoken around me as I walked back toward National Theater to catch my tram home. Partly it was the way the sunlight warmed the crown of my head and spread down to my shoulders, forcing me to pull up my long sleeves and expose my pale wrists to the sky. Partly it was the bird calls and the ship horns. But mostly it was the music.
In the summertime, the changing of the palace guard in Oslo includes a march from Akershus, down Karl Johans gate, and all the way up the hill to the palace grounds. Three policemen on horseback lead the mini-parade; then comes the band. I love the way the red stripes on their pant legs catch the sunlight as they stride out from the cover of shadows.
A while later, the band took their places in the small pavilion near the National Theater and played a short concert. I reluctantly ran for my tram as they finished a brassy rendition of Hello, Dolly! So, bridge that gap, fellas. Find me an empty lap, fellas!
Home again, I surveyed the gear and laundry and dishes with rejuvenated eyes.
Somewhere a hurricane is thrashing the levees of a gun-shy city. Somewhere delegates loyal to Ron Paul are calling out the so-called tyranny of the Republican party. Somewhere my nephew is playing a game with the man who will likely become his stepfather. Somewhere a woman of God is losing her religion. Somewhere a book is burning. Somewhere a hiker with a broken leg waits trembling in the blue-white crevasse of a glacier. And here at home there is a Kindle with a half-read Ann Patchett novel to be finished, and a tall, icy can of apple cider to be drunk. And music is playing behind it all.
Recently, my friend Anna asked me to review an anthology which included an essay of hers. It is important to note that I take book reviewing seriously, especially when I'm allowed more than 140 characters in which to share my opinion. Remember that I am part of this book's target audience as a current expat, but I remain in all other ways as unbiased as possible. I hope those of you who are also current expats or are planning to move to another country soon will find my review especially useful. Make no mistake, this is a textbook-style tome and not a quick read, but it is an important book for those who appreciate the globally nomadic lifestyle.
Below is a copy of what appears in the Amazon customer reviews section for the essay collection titled Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids.
To steal an artful phrase by Anna Maria Moore, one author in this remarkable essay collection, the volume itself is "a collection of... passports...filled with stamps blurred by hands thumbing through them in customs offices" around the globe.
Here, the editors have successfully combined personal essays and scholarly articles from Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) and other Global Nomads to form a guidebook of sorts. This guidebook teaches and explains life lived in a globally-mobile sense: multiple cultures, multiple languages, frequent departures and separations. To live this way presents a complex set of challenges, and one byproduct is often a sense of alienation. The collection helps answer the questions: Where is home when your country isn't your country? Who are your people when no one around you has lived as you have lived?
It also helps explain the tax and toll struggling with this question can take on the psyche. For example, in my favorite scholarly essay in the collection, Memory, Language, and Identity: The Search for Self, Liliana Meneses explains that memories imprint based on the language associated with them; communicating in a language other than his mother tongue, a multilingual person might be unable to recall or recount early life events. The admirable adaptability of Third Culture Kids as adults is a direct result of this challenging upbringing. As Moore explains it, after four decades and five continents, she has become "a wild strawberry plant."
It is early afternoon, pleasantly warm, and I am lying on my blanket in the grass at Frognerparken, the largest city park in Oslo. My pale legs and arms are bare to the sun. It warms me. I can feel it pouring brightly over the crown of my hair, especially hot at the part. I have spent the last hour flat on my stomach, turning the pages of my book, lost in the rhythmless warble of children on the nearby playground, the buzz of bicycle tires, the click of tourist cameras, and the chirping of birds. Having been in Oslo a full month I can now say fairly that this is one of my favorite spots in the city.
The park is vast and green, criss-crossed by walking paths. Playgrounds and public pools dot the perimeter. Tour buses park in the nearest lot, just outside the main gate, their occupants, eager to see the statues, have long since scattered across the lawns and up the steps.
Within Frognerparken is Vigeland Sculpture Park, including 80 acres of grassy space and more than 200 bronze and granite sculptures, all by Gustav Vigeland. The Norwegian sculptor donated these statues to the city and park in return for receiving a free studio space in Oslo. Upon entering the broad iron main gate at the southeast end of the park, visitors can walk straight down the main path across a 100 meter bridge lined with the statues, all nudes. They are gray and polished to a shine at every curve. The figures dance, embrace, wrestle, make love, and die, all along the bridge, all around a grand fountain, all leading to the main attraction: The Monolith Plateau. The monolith rises more than 14 meters into the air, appearing as a totem that includes 121 human figures entwined and clambering toward heaven.
Tourists cross the bridge with their cameras extended, gaping at the methodically spaced figures. The nudes are bulky, voluptuous, arching their backs and whipping their hair. They sit with their backs to one another or toss their children in the air or throw women over their shoulders and stalk back to their caves.
A man in a red ball cap waves his long-lensed camera at his two preteen children, exhorting them to mimic the comic drama of two grappling statues. The son obliges, giving his sister's hair a tug. She responds by putting him in a chokehold just before the camera flashes. Though the position isn't exactly accurate, they've captured the essence, Vigeland's playfully wry view of the Human Condition.