Monday, June 18, 2012

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

What I’ve learned this year:

·      How to cook pizza on a stovetop
·      To identify a person’s nationality by appearance, accent, and flirtation style
·      To ski
·      That I need to live near mountains
·      The tension between the beauty of belonging and the cruelty of exclusion
·      When to say “takk for maten, “takk for meg,” and “takk for sist”
·      The glaciers are shrinking
·      Several systems of grading, none of which achieve perfect objectivity
·      How to be Jewish without a community or rabbi
·      How wonderful it is to be Jewish without a community or rabbi
·      Enough Norwegian to be on the cusp of fluency
·      Contentment
·      The rudiments of salsa dancing
·      The pros and cons of an egalitarian education system
·      Rain is relative
·      A new way to express the ugly duckling adage: even willow goblins blossom into lushness
·      Germans are intellectual, Italians playful, Russians depressed, the Irish mischievous, and the Spanish will grab your butt without warning
·      Those birds I thought so beautiful at the start of the year are magpies, and therefore evil
·      “American” is a tricky term, subject to many conditions and emendations
·      To look on each little hindrance as a jest and each great one as the foreshadowing of victory
·      That I never want to stop teaching, and must never stop learning, so that I always have something to teach

A part of me worries that this is it; I’ve just had the best year of my life and nothing will ever beat this. Then I remember that I get to keep going, taking this year with me, and my mood lightens and breaks into elation.

Takk to all who made this year wonderful. Bergen is the most vakkert, nydelig, koselig city in the world, and I already long to come back. Ha det bra, Bergen. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Pictures from last week:

On the ferry
Surveying the terrain
Can you see me up at the top?

Naomi exulting in her first fjord
Chilling on Preikestolen
Picking a good spot to build my farm and live forever
Yoga poses!
On top of the world...
How much do you like Bergen?

Yoga on top of Floyen
My kids can bake! See the WJ? It's for "writing journal." Love.
Me and the bakers
I only cried AFTER this picture

Nordnes at sunset

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Kind of Town Is This?

An interesting email found its way to me last week: Rav Schrader, the head of Nishmat’s post-college program when I studied there, emailed to say a friend of his would be in town. We emailed back and forth a bit about where to find kosher bread and how there’s no eruv, and ever happy to play chabad, I invited David, a professor of early childhood education from Efrat, who was in Bergen for a conference, over for Shabbat lunch.

It turned out to be a delightful lunch. He’s writing a book on male preschool teachers, and he asked my two musical friends (Sarah the Fulbright flautist and Victoria the Norwegian-American violinist visiting from Oslo) about gender differences in music. We talked at length about music, Norwegian gender trends, Judaism in Norway, and whether he had become a professor of early childhood education to avoid the stigma of being a male early childhood educator (my question—can’t you smell the impertinence of it?). I had a little crisis right at the beginning when I asked him to make kiddush. Since all I knew about him was his friendship with Rav Schrader, I suspected he’d be more comfortable making kiddush than hearing mine. But I wondered if I was betraying my own principles and abilities—after all, I’ve been making kiddush for myself all year. And then he developed the conversation onto gender grounds and I started kicking myself mentally! Just goes to show, you never know a person until you know what the subject of their book is.

Afterwards Sarah and David and I walked up to the Stavkirke for a little poke around its architecture. The rest of Shabbat was a hazy, rainy blur of books and sleep. It will be rather nice, in its own little way, to make havdalah on Saturday night again.

Sunday dawned gray but dry, so I went for a run and came in past Storetveitkirke just as the first drops were falling. And then began the packing… I’d like to say it was epic, but it wasn’t. I like to pack. It appeals to my OCD. My suitcases each have a bit of extra space. No worries… more room for chocolate! I did my last Fantoft laundry, cursed out the dryer for the last time, helped the last feckless newcomer with the machines’ Norwegian instructions, and collected a big pile of goodies for Ida, next year’s Bergen ETA.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy politician who has been under house arrest for fifteen years, spoke on the Torgallmennigen. Her first recognition was from Bergen, so it was fitting that she return here to speak.

I found the town square filling up, the wings of the street crushed with masses of humanity and the center in front of the stage filled solid. We had to wait to hear from Kyi—her introduction took longer than her speech. Finally, the roar from those lucky enough to be standing center told us she’d mounted the platform. A very proper British accent floated over the heads of the crowd.

She praised Bergen for its diversity. “You Norwegians have taken people who are not Norwegian to your bosom. You have sheltered my Burmese people, and people from all around the world.” While the crowd roared its agreement with this nice sentiment, I filed away discomfort with the assumptions she was making about whether one people has the power to protect another for later digestion.

Then, she announced the importance of a balance between freedom and security. Yes, honored Lady. You figure that one out, the world ends right now with a blast of trumpets and the flutter of angel wings.

She ended by asking a question about why the Bergensk care so very much about the world around them. “What kind of town is this,” she said, “that produces people like this?” Yes, I affirmed silently in my mind. You asked the right question. What kind of town is this, that produces people like this? This is Bergen. And we are happy to see you today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Six Out of Seven

Bergen has seven mountains, and as of yesterday, I have hiked six of them. Of course, I scramble up Ulriken nearly every third day, and Løvstakken at least once a week, so I don’t think that I’ve been lacking in my attentions to them. But Damsgårdfjell has evaded me time and time again, and with only three days left in Bergen, one of which is Shabbat, and my suitcases lying untouched in my closet (actually, they’re completely ungettable—I have to take my shelves out in order to get the suitcases), I doubt I’ll have time.

Thursday morning Sarah and I tackled Lyderhorn, Bergen’s most westward mountain. It was also the least lovely of those I’ve hiked so far. The hike began behind an industrial dock, and we spent at least half an hour on cement before the path turned to proper rock and dirt and mountains scrambling. The view showed us the sea and the airport that I’ll be heading out of so very soon. On the peak we found a mad clutch of Norwegian schoolchildren, jumping chaotically in every direction. We decided to leave quickly. But we never found the trail down.

 That was a good dangler, right? You’re sitting there reading and wondering if I’m actually still on top of the mountain, dictating my blog posts by phone to a compliant sister-secretary. Nope. We bush-wacked our way through prickles and branches, slid down a few sheer rock faces, stepped deep into oozy mud disguised as land by moss, and after lots of hard work, came out on the wrong side of the mountain, across from a beautiful cemetery. We lingered there a bit, reading the names (I would love to give one of my children a Norwegian name, maybe Lars or Halvor or Astrid), and then headed back to the city.

That evening I went over to Yael’s and Birgitte’s to say bye, and we ended up going to the Løvstakken farm to buy eggs. Have you ever seen fresh eggs? Did you know that they come in different shapes and colors, and even, in the case of calcium deficiency, shapes? My friends showed me the Løvstakken owl in his crook of the tree. Or maybe they showed me to him. He regarded us every bit as solemnly as we did him, and turned his head to watch us as we moved.

The weather forecast says this is to be my last sunny day in Bergen. I woke up early to take full advantage, and, with heavy heart, climbed Landåsfjell up to Ulriken and around to the stony path down one last time. I heard bells and saw sheep grazing by one of the lakes at the top. How do they get them up there, I wonder? The sheer breathtaking beauty of every crag and pristine coldness of each lake gives me a small sharp pain when I realize I must leave it. How joyous, to simply move through beauty and accept it as the norm instead of having to hoard and hoard against return to ugliness.

While hiking down, my conscious mind busy with pre-nostalgia, another part of my brain got away from me and made up this hiking ditty. Normally I wouldn’t share, but since most of you won’t understand it, and the Norwegians are too nice to say anything other than “flink!” here goes:

Nå skal, nå skal, nå skal vi gå på tur,
Nå skal, nå skal, nå skal vi gå på tur.

Gå oss opp eller gå oss ned,
Vi gå oss altid å finne oss fred.

Og så, nå skal, nå skal vi gå på tur.

Eller gå vi ved fjord, eller gå vi ved fjell,
Å spise brødskive er viktigst del,

Og så, nå skal, nå skal vi gå på tur.

Å gå på tur kan er lit vanskelig,
Men utsikten er altid veldig nydelig,
Og å sovne i hytta er meste koselige,

Og så, nå skal, nå skal vi gå på tur.

I should be completely forlegen about putting this online, but one needs a rhythm when hiking, and most people aren’t bashful about the weird things their minds get up to while they’re absent, so why should I be? 

In the afternoon I ran a slew of errands in town and then came to Katten for the teacher’s goodbye fest. I sat with the youngest teachers, a sweet and hesitant crew that I’ve made friends with over the course of the year. We talked in between speeches and flower-offerings and songs (they all chimed in on an old folk song about strawberries that turn into boys that turn into memories), and then headed back to our teacher’s cabin to chill with the beer Anita had brought, and finally I said goodbye to everyone in a hearty farewell and came home to prepare for my last Shabbat in Bergen.

I gave Anita thank-you flowers, though her I'll see again before I leave