Monday, September 26, 2011

Toddlers in Puddles

September. The month of long reading, and long walks. So while I struggle up a mountain, I turn to watch the space between it and the next grow heavy with color, and sure enough something moves, turns, flashes a silver wing in the air. I pass through the days ever more uncertain of what is routine and what is startlingly beautiful. The rain has run the hills together now, and when I straggle up a creek, mud and leaves twine their way up my legs so I can settle on my back amid the stones as part of it, the creek swimming over me on its way downstream. The houses tucked into the valleys of Bergen are cinnamon and deep burgundy and auburn, and soon the trees will match them and I will not be able to see them through the Fall. Every day I am surprised by flower-filled cemetaries and duckponds and windy paths. When I open the door of my apartment, I smell the lingering aroma of hot chocolate, or blueberry-and-vanilla tea, from when last I was home. It will be hard, when I return, to explain what I love about this land. The color of the paint on the houses? The rain that blends everything together into one harmonious watercolor? The abundance of old stone churches? The pine groves and deep lakes and grumbly mountains curled up around my home? I think… I think I may have fallen in love with Norway.

International Fantoft moment: A friend was complaining about some guy who lives on the floor above. Another girl told her to look for something good in him, since “everyone has something good about them, you just have to focus on it. That’s what I do, I look for the good.”
“Ah, I zee. But I can’t do zat, I’m French.” Perfect response.

One of my students wandered into my writing workshop completely demoralized. He told me that he reads John Grisham, not Melville, and is baffled by the depth of the story. I couldn’t laugh at him, but it reminded me of one of my grandmother’s friends who, when he heard I was going to Norway to teach English, told me to start out teaching Ibsen and all that gender-friendly stuff to lure the Norwegians in, and then I could get to the good stuff, like Grisham.

Norwegian children are the most adorable kids I’ve ever met. They walk around stiffly in what look like spacesuits to protect them against the weather. Have you ever seen a toddler jumping in a puddle? Or trying to pick her nose through her mittens? Or a baby in a stroller that is so muffled with rain-proof coverings that all you can see are two little hands and a round face peering out through the gap in the plastic? I’ve become obsessed with these drooly little packages of cute, and am developing serious stalker abilities as I try to take pictures without freaking the parents out. Here are some of my cutest:

In an attempt to distract you from my stereotypically female posting of pictures of unknown babies on my blog, I’m going to offer a bit of social commentary to justify. Norway has babies everywhere. You can’t swim down the street without splashing out of the way for an oncoming baby carriage. The best part of my morning is watching the string of neon-swathed five year-olds that commute on the bybanen at the same time as me. Oh, oops. I’m still waxing poetic about Norwegian infant cuteness. Well, what I meant to speculate upon, was, why? Norway is having a baby boom right in the middle of a world recession. Usually, the better acces to education for women, the smaller the birth rate. But Norway, which is listed first on the United Nations gender index, is swimming in babies. They’re in strollers, strapped to their father’s backs, still swimming around in utero. Baby bumps abound. So why?

The answer, I think, is both old and modern. A traditional focus on the importance of family, which means that the Norwegian workday is shorter than anything an American would countenance, and that children occupy a position of supreme importance, insures that people keep having kids. And the amazing Norwegian social benefits that make it very easy to have a child (government health care, wonderful maternity and paternity leave, free education) keep people popping out the babies as well. Good. Hope that justifies my delight in cute babies.

Goofing off with apples and honey
I taught my cheder students a bit about Rosh Hashanah. As a segueway into discussing the sacrifice of Isaac, I tied a scarf around one kid’s eyes and had the rest of the boys give him directions around the classroom. One by one, they stumbled into desks, hands outstretched, as the rest of the boys gamboled about shouting conflicting directions. It was very easy to go from there to, “did you trust your friends? Who do you trust? Why? Would you trust them even if they told you to hurt someone you loved?” and from there into the strange inexplicability of akeidat Yitzchak. I have five boys in my class, ranging from 13 to 18, and though there's only five of them, they manage to be diverse in personality. The youngest and oldest are the serious ones, who contribute thoughtfully to our philosophical discussions, while the three middle boys show a greater appreciation for bashing each other’s shins into desks while blindfolded. We held a Rosh Hashanah seder, and they exlained to me that in Norwegian, pomegranate is “granateple” –apple grenade. Which I thought was hilarious until I realized that “pomegranate” is probably French for apple grenade.

Here’s a little something that should atone for the pictures of babies by its coolness—documentation of Norwegian graffiti (just for you, JJ). Hopefully I haven’t posted pictures of anything vulgar or inappropriate. I find it so much more vivid than the graffiti I’ve seen elsewhere.

Dunno what it is about "WC",
but it's scrawled everywhere

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ohio Invades Norway

I returned from a ramble to see a mechanical bull set up in a tent outside my apartment. A Norwegian waited outside soliciting riders. 
“No thanks,” I told him, “I’m from Ohio.” Judging by his puzzled expression, I probably should have explained it better, something about coming from the land of mechanical bulls and wanting to escape that in Norway, but I’m not sure it would have made any sense to anyone who hasn’t firsthand experienced the pig races and fried cool-aid of the Ohio State Fair. (I just found out, it’s international week at Fantoft. Norway is celebrating with mechanical bulls).
Kitkat bars in Norway come with hiking directions and a
map. I  love this country.
Anita finally told the high schoolers off for playing on facebook during class. Utter relief. Though she says blocking facebook has been discussed, and the authorities have decided it’s more important that the children learn to discipline themselves than that they not lose time right now on facebook. Interesting, and I wonder if it works. Definitely not the way it’s done in the US educational system (by the way, Shifra Zack, if you’re reading this in class, turn it off NOW!).

I’ve formed a clique in my Norwegian course. All my life, I’ve worked against cliques, and steadily wandered from group to group. But just this once, I’ve actively worked to create a clique, and man, do I see why they do it. I’ve effectively picked out and bonded together the others in the class who are also teaching at the university, and who happen to have nationalities with which I jive well. There’s the German teaching atmospheric dynamics, the Brit finishing his PhD in physics, the Slovenian/maybe-he’s-Slovakian-I-really-can’t-tell-the-difference who finished medical school and practiced as a doctor for six years before coming to Bergen to get his PhD in biology, and a German guy who’s really Japanese by ethnicity and wormed his way into the group by virtue of being hilarious. The five of us have scared off all of the exchange students in the class, and so we’re free to be as silly as we want (only in incredibly intelligent ways, of course).

The truth is, after teaching all week, it’s a relief to enter my Norwegian class (Norskkors) and shrug back into a student. I needn’t worry about whether students are engaged, or scared to speak, or slowly chewing up pages of the textbooks and spitting them out at the ceiling. I’m free to sit back and enjoy the ride of learning. I think the other graduate students in my group feel much the same way, and so there’s a certain lightsome hilarity in our interactions and a sense of colleague-hood in the courtesy with which we engage wholeheartedly in our teacher’s activities. 

I’m reading an easy book in Norwegian, and have a fairly good idea of what it’s about; so far, a son has waxed poetic about reuniting with his musician father for a good fifty pages. I catch myself phrasing things in Norwegian as I walk, and soon hope to write a post in basic Norwegian. It’s so cool to watch my brain wrap itself around another language. I’m especially sensitive to it because of teaching English, and having spent the past half a year improving my Hebrew hasn’t hurt, either. Jeg kan prøver å skriver bare på norsk nå, men den er veldig vanskelig; jeg ikke vet mange ord (note: Norwegian readers, please don’t laugh at my grammar!).

Rainbow by Ulriken
Today was a beautiful sunny day in Bergen. It rained, of course. While I was walking to class, it even hailed. But that’s a typical sunny day in Bergen. And it means… RAINBOWS! A splendid, enormous spray of colors arched over Ulriken as I came home.

I started my high schoolers on journals today. They groaned at the workload, and five minutes later were intent on writing. There’s something so provocative about writing for one person, baring your soul to your teacher and getting a chance to tell your half of the story. Teaching can be very one-sided, with the instructor getting to share all of their self while the students dutifully lap it up. But journals bridge that gap and let the student make their case to the teacher, shout “here I am! Whole and quirky and alive!” I can’t wait to see what they’ve written, and establish a rapport of genuine conversation with my students. And hopefully some of them will find it addictive, and delicious, and not be able to stop, until six years later they find themselves journaling across blogspot for their entire acquaintance to see. If only.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hiking in the Rain

On top of Ulriken: sopping wet

Sunday some friends and I, buoyed by the favorable weather report, decided to try to hike Ulriken, Bergen’s tallest mountain. We planned to hike up Ulriken, around to Rundemanen, and down Fløyen. It’s a hike that has been described to us as taking variously 3 hours, 5 hours, or 8 hours, so we packed lunches and a little extra food, and set off. Of course, as we began the ascent, the drizzle turned into an all-out downpour. It turns out that when there’s only a 30% chance of rain in Bergen, the weather website calls that merely “cloudy,” because without shifting the values somewhat it would probably never get to use the sunny icon.

Mimi, who’s done Ulriken before, led us up the steep path. We clambered over the rocks that made the path, between which ran the rivulets of a steadily growing stream. Towards the top, the path became sheer rock, decorated by a slippery railing that had broken free of the ground in some places to sway dangerously when grabbed. Below us spread the valley, with Gamlehausen and Fantoft, and beyond the mountain across the way, Løvstakken, we could see the fjord spreading between islands and fingers of land.

The top of the mountain felt possessed. Rain gusted in my face so strongly it felt like pebbles blowing against my cheeks. The wind pushed against us as though it had some personal investment in our loss of balance. Yet even so, Bergen shimmered beautifully through the rain beneath us as though the weather was merely an accessory.

We ran to the café at the peak, gratefully shedding our sopping gear and warming hands around hot chocolate and stomachs with real chocolate. I have a sneaking suspicion that as the dark rises (we’re losing 20 minutes of sunlight a week, now), Norwegian diets will incline steadily more and more to the chocolate variety. I’m a fan. After waiting for the rain to die down, we conferred and decided to descend Ulriken by a different path, leaving the hike to Fløyen for another day.

Happy even in the rain
As we skipped from rock to rock, those in hiking boots quickly outstripping the poor souls slogging down in sneakers, we passed quaint red huts, and mountain lakes that were filled to over-brimming with rain runoff. We speculated about our friends back home. It is properly characteristic of each country that on a rainy Sunday, Americans will hole up on the sofa watching sports with snacks in front of them, while Norwegians all bundle up and march up mountains. It exemplifies the poverty gap in American: the poor eat fatty food and watch the wealthy stay fit, while in Norway everyone’s pretty equal and hikes regardless of class. There is an upside to the American propensity to huddle warmly indoors like cattle. One of the reasons I love hiking in the States is the solitude that it brings. When I trudge up a mountain, I don’t want to see anyone, not even adorable Norwegian babies staring solemnly down at me as they bounce in their father’s backpacks, nor hot French guys that attach themselves to our group for the hike down. But Norway is nowhere near as spacious as the US, and trails are crowded.

Making lunch today, I realized that my diet has adapted itself completely to Norwegian food. For breakfast, I eat muesli and yogurt (much of the Norwegian diet is hiking food). My matpakke at lunch usually consists of sandwiches with Norwegian salmon and Norwegian cucumber inside. Dinner, for the past fortnight, has generally meant soup. Usually lentil, for its protein and heartiness, or leek-carrot-potato, for yumminess and the cheaper Norwegian-grown vegetables. I’m going through tea at such an alarming rate that, at this pace, I’ll have to start placing bulk orders with Twinings. 

Even with the Norwegian food, my body has declared war on Norway. In much the same way that I, when entering a new country, like to sample the local cuisine, upon realizing it was in Norway my immune system hit the floor to allow my body a chance to sample the local germs. Translation: miserably sniffly, a headache to beat Virginia Woolf’s, and throat so scratchy that I sound like a bad joke of someone imitating a sexy voice. Worst of all, I have to teach Emily Dickinson tomorrow. Hermit ladies who wrote riddle-poetry deserve no place in the let’s-make-America-interesting-to-foreigners curriculum. I think I will go drown my sorrows in more tea.  

Friday, September 16, 2011


Norwegian flags at the harbor near Bergenhus

My high schoolers finished writing the poems they’d started on the theme of carpe diem, and read them to the class, while standing on the teacher’s desk (they’d just watched Dead Poets Society, how could I not?). Only one kid hit his head on the light. Only one kid dropped the f-bomb in his poem. Overall, a successful educational endeavor. Especially for A, who hadn’t been in class when we started the poems because she’d been helping with the current elections. She’s the girl who lost two close friends in Utøya, and when I explained to her what the students were doing, she started to write her own poem. And wrote, and wrote… I couldn’t stop her. She crafted stanza after stanza about the difficulty of escape, and the importance of looking forward. The furiousness of her writing was interrupted only by periodic questions about whether something made sense, or wanting to show me what she had so far. I let her keep pumping out the poetry; why not use writing as therapy? I think the intensity of being part of this girl’s healing may be the highlight of my teaching here in Norway.
Graffiti at the bybanen station at Fantoft

All of the students were given laptops by the school, which they’re meant to use in class as well as at home. I find this ridiculous. Anita may not notice the facebook tabs hidden on the screen when she walks around, but I’m too young not to be clued into their clever evasive tactics. These kids are in high school: many of them are not yet old enough to embrace learning on their own. They still need external discipline. Also, facebook is my generation’s addictive drug. Allowing them to use it in school just exacerbates the problem. This is probably the gist of the campaign I’m about to begin to get the rector’s permission to block access to facebook on the school network. Any suggestions on additional points I should make?

A group of my adult students discussed 9/11 conspiracy theories on Thursday. They talked about the metal girders not being hot enough to burn, or bend that much, and how strange it was that the buildings went straight down, and that planes can’t knock down buildings… listening to them clogged my mind. What were they suggesting? That Bush killed all those people because he wanted to invade Iraq? That martians really orchestrated the whole thing? As much confusion as there may be about events and reactions afterward, so many people were killed on that day—how can you react in any way but sorrow? To be fair, I’ve been surprised by the sympathy of most Norwegians’ to the 9/11 anniversary. Many of them remember exactly where they were when they heard, and how visceral their reactions were. I hadn’t realized it resounded across the world to that extent.

We did a unit on baseball in my adult class. At one point, the students turned to me for clarity about the rules of the game. I had no clue. Bad American!

The fish market
As I was walking around explaining points in the baseball story, one of my students lured me into an argument about the superiority of rationality. Having just finished Coetzee’s Lives of the Animals, I was reluctant to grant too much credibility to my student’s insistence that everything comes down to rationality. The idea that of course rationality determines that rationality is paramount, it’s acting in its own interests, tickled my postmodern-sensitive brain that cannot help but politicize everything, and gave me just enough pause to argue with this guy.

I’m beginning to rephrase simple statements into Norwegian. My vocabulary and comfort with the syntax is growing in leaps and bounds, but I still can’t speak it. It’s the pronunciation. Anita started laughing when I asked, “hvordan går du?” –how do you walk? Instead of “hvordan går det?” –how’s it going? And I can’t even hear the difference between the numbers 7 and 20; both sound like “shoe” to my American ear. 27 sounds like “shoeshoe.” My Slovenian neighbor in the class tried to explain that one is more of a “ch” sound, but I simply cannot hear it, and wonder if I’m doomed to forever make mathematical mistakes.

Chilling at Fantoft: there are lots of nationalities in that room!
Learning Norwegian names for other language mostly involves adding “esk” onto the end: Engelsk, Dansk, Hebresk. The colonization of language involved in renaming countries in one’s own tongue still bothers me in Norwegian as much as it did in Hebrew or English: why don’t we call each country what they call themselves? United States of America, Norge, and Eretz Yisrael. Then we’d also become accustomed to some of the sounds in foreign languages, and hearing Mandarin for the first time wouldn’t be such a shock. Just a thought.

I bought lefse for the first time, and man, is it disgusting. The blandest thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s a Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes, and meant to be eaten with something tasty rolled up inside of it. Of course, I bought a package on the run and munched it while walking, which doesn’t do it full justice, so I’m going to try it again with butter and cinnamon handy. On the scale of Norwegian foods, it falls waaaay below fresh salmon and brunøst. Hmm. I think that may be it for Norwegian cuisine. Because no way am I trying lutefisk: not even the Norwegians like it.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Sunday, Ruth (the other Fulbrighter at Fantoft) and I were planning to hike, but Bergen unleashed angry rain interspersed with sunny skies, so instead we decided to explore old Bergen.

A man was carving a giant fish
We walked down the Bryggen, bashing umbrellas against other passersby. On the wharf, tents were set up for the Bergen Food Festival. The smell of cider, waffles, and sausages wafted towards us on gusts of rain. Peddlers hawked jars of preserves and snips of lox on crackers. One stand selling lefse made me salivate. Enormous wheels of moldy-rinded cheese scared me off dairy for life.

As we walked towards the Bergenhus, an old fortress from the 13th century, we bumped into children dressed as medieval Europeans. Little boys wore armor and stubbed swords into people’s backs, and little girls carefully picked up their velvet gowns, revealing suspiciously modern rubber rain boots beneath.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is named after governor Rosenkrantz, from the 1500’s. We started at the guard room, and wound our way up narrow stone staircases and through tiny passages. The dungeon was properly dungeon-like and sent me reeling out of it with claustrophobia clenching my body into panic. The governor had the nicest room, even nicer than the chapel or the king’s bedroom. Perhaps the builders figured that neither of the latter would sleep in the tower as often as Rosenkrantz. 

View from Rosenkrantz Tower
This week I taught Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” drawing links for my students with the current political situation in America. What would Thoreau have said about the US government today? The students’ responses saddened me. America has degenerated, and they know is. It’s not that I think we should all espouse Thoreau’s ideal –he seemed an unrealistic, uncompromising, ill-mannered sort of man—but America is so very far from the individualistic, non-materialistic  vision that he had. Still, I made excellent use of Thoreau’s “corporations have no conscience” quote to introduce Mitt Romney, and we spoke of the debt crisis in August with Thoreau’s ideas in mind.

The “rain warning” on the weather website has officially changed into a “flood warning.” Now I might have to row my way to school each day. I can picture everyone on the bybanen taking out their ski poles and helping prod us along.  

Went to the Bergen Art museum. It’s housed in three buildings: Modern, 19th century Norwegian, and everything else. I dashed through the modern, imagining my grandparents’ comments (Kim really doesn’t like those arrangements of neon lines. And one can see his point). One diptych struck me as cool: a painting of a group of doctors standing together whose white coats merged into a blob, above which their faces still held personality, and a painting of a group of businessmen standing together whose black suits merged into a blob, above which their faces also remained distinct. It seems such a good way of representing both the individuality of the modern man as well as the way in which certain professions can blend you into anonymous authority.

The building with 19th century Norwegian art was right up my alley. I fell in love with Dahl’s månescapes; he makes the moon glimmer behind the clouds as though they’re just haze on the canvas. Munch’s Evening on Karl Johan Street hit me with all the unpleasant anxiety that he’s so good at. Being able to see the original and compare it to Karl Johan when I was there two weeks ago was kind of stupendous. The “everything else” building was a mix of inspiring old Norwegian and nauseating modern.

This boat was ACTUALLY used on
Pirates of the Caribbean! And
parked at the wharf! How cool!
I realized that Thursdays I spend most of my day dashing from church to church. Exit Bergen Katedralskole, nod to the cathedral beside it, and set my sights to Johanneskirk, the big red spire obstructing my view of the Humanities Faculty building across town. I’m thinking of asking someone to hook up zip lines between the spires. It would cut my rainy-day commutes in half.

It really hit me I’m in Norway the other day. I went onto the nefesh b’nefesh site, but before I could enter it, a screen popped up saying, “NBN is not currently organizing flights from Norway at this time.” Firstly, how scary is it that the web knows where my computer is? (And yours, too—I can check what countries my blog viewers are in). Secondly, wow am I outside of the stream.

This weekend is supposed to be gloriously sunny. Expect pics of the Ulriken to Fløiyen trail. I’ll finally get a chance to hike it! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memory

Ten years later, so much has changed. The Washington Post has Cartoons about 9/11 through the years that capture the the essence of post 9/111 America much better than I could: I can't remember a world without fear of terror and all the accompanying accoutrements.


Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb---
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing --- nothing at all.
-Archibald MacLeish

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Life is Average

“Okay, let’s talk about bibliographies,” I told my writing workshop at UiB. “Are you guys used to MLA, or do you use something else?”
Mostly nods, some blank stares.
One guy raised his hand.
“Are you talking about My Life is Average?”

Finally, Saturday night,  I began to regret my college sobriety. Oh, I drank a bit in college –the occasional classy glass of wine with a friend (Shoshi I miss you!), or half a cup of beer at a friend’s birthday, and of course that one time when Ellen borrowed OJ from our RA to celebrate after I’d defended my thesis, but for the most part I watched as my friends got drunk and toasted me. Yet Saturday night, as I nursed a bloody finger, I thought I’d have done better to have drank a little more and mocked a little less.

Connection between bloody fingers and beer? Well, after a few weeks of using orange juice for Kiddush, I’ve decided to branch out. I went for cider last week, but this week, having consumed considerably more beer in the past month than I’m used to (three whole glasses) and begun to like the taste, I decided to try beer. Probably even the hardiest drinker from the States would have also forgotten about Norway’s puritanical alcohol laws and attempted to buy their six-pack after 8. I returned for a morning alcohol purchase. Digressive question: does this lead to morning drunkenness among Norwegians? Anyhow, I bought my beers, but used the last of my cider for kiddush. Then, Saturday evening, after chilling at a friend’s apartment where everyone was pre-partying before a rave at the Bunker (also called the Cave, the local party spot in the forest seems to have many names), I came back to try a beer for havdalah. And realized I don’t possess a bottle opener.

Now, everywhere I go, I go fully equipped; with my swiss army knife I feel like a boy scout. But I checked, and it doesn’t have a beer opener. Maybe they figured boy scouts don’t need them. Anyhow, I remembered once seeing an enterprising friend open a beer with a piece of paper folded many times, and decided to try it. Which ended with my middle finger bleeding and bandaged (after all, I am prepared for all normal emergencies). I finally opened the beer, cleverly utilizing a wine opener to pry the lid off. And scared my sister on skype, when she saw me chugging the last of the bottle. Well.

I met the board of the Bergen Jewish community. They’re all Israeli, all working people who shake hands heavily and sound so… Israeli. The rabbi, Joav, flew in from Oslo to speak about the start of cheider. He advertised for a seminar in Oslo for their kids to come to, and interestingly, their first question was about security. And, also interestingly, he had a really good answer: nobody knows exactly when or where the seminar is except the people running it—the kids are taken out of Oslo to somewhere nearby for the weekend, with security. Wow. After having received such friendly responses from the people here who are slowly figuring out that I’m Jewish, it shocked me to remember that the number one concern for Jewish parents in Europe has to be their kids’ safety. 

The Bergen weather forecast site has a caution symbol on it for tomorrow, with something that seems to translate into “really heavy rain.” As Bergen always has really heavy rain, I’m not sure what to expect, but I’ve started to build an ark. And my neighbor wants me to get it out of his driveway.  

So far, September has held true to its promise

September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace... 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Smartsocks and Sighs

I LOVE my rain boots. I haven’t taken them off in three days.

I LOVE my thick woolen Smartsocks. I haven’t taken them off in three weeks. I’m going to thrill my dad by asking him to buy me more (he gets a weird joy out of sock purchases).

I LOVE the Norwegian custom of taking off one’s shoes when you enter a house. Combine thick socks with the hard floors that every Norwegian has, and every single day is like Risky Business.

Bergen in the rain: view from Fløyen
Have you ever tried to explain American slang to people who call the restroom, the “toilet”? I wrote a list of the words for “bathroom” on the board today, in order of politeness:

Ladies’ or Gents’ room
The Facilities (facetious)
A pit stop
The can

I have a fun job.

While working my high schoolers through some poems, we navigated the multiple reasons a person can sigh (because, you know, no doubt I’ll be telling this with a sigh ages and ages hence… but why?). I made each kid act out their suggestions, and the room was in stitches as each gave lovelorn sighs, or regretful sighs, or disappointed sighs… the classroom boomed with twenty high schoolers all ballooning out the world’s teenage grief through angsty lungs. I also gave them my mnemonic for iambic meter, which runs, “I tried-- to tell --the tea--cher to -- shut up.” They intoned it enthusiastically, clapping their hands at all the right parts. Then they started writing their own poems, on themes we’d seen in the poems we studied. Some are quite ambitious, and I’m hoping to get them to share next class.

 Masculinity Studies and Hemingway at their finest...
I’ve met more of the literature grad students. They’re a fun, chummy group that seem to spend most of their time chatting on the couches outside the graduate reading room, instead of at their desks researching. They’re all very deer-in-the-headlights about their theses. One’s doing something on hiphop, another analyzing linguistics in Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, a third looking at differences between Eastern and Western literature in the States in the 19th century.  Of course, the guy I spoke to most in depth-ly (not a word, but the permissiveness of Norwegians towards any neologism I feel like creating has me completely heady and flexing the English language in any direction I can make it go in. In fact, I’ll probably return to the States speaking some variant of English that is so far removed from the original, nobody will be able to understand me except my sisters, who don’t require actual verbal communication to know what I’m thinking) is writing a thesis on masculinity and Hemingway, which figures because while writing my honors thesis, I got stuck for a peer review with the guy writing on masculinity and Hemingway (you guys are both writing on Americans, right? And, you know, gender is the same no matter your perspective—basically noticing that it’s there means that you belong in the same peer review group), which makes me wonder if I’ll ever escape, or if guys looking to emulate drunken misogynists will follow me for the rest of my life (sorry for the dizzying use of parentheses in this sentence, won’t happen again, I promise).

All of the American literature profs went out for dinner. We talked about American politics, department politics, and wine. At one point, one of the profs looked up at the ceiling, and mused, “I really like these lamps… even if they’re phallic.” The apology for appreciating phallic interior design made me choke on my food. Let’s be honest, when you’re an English prof, everything is phallic. She’d have to throw her Gerard-Manley-Hopkins-labeled man-pen away, or preferably jam it into V.S. Naipaul’s face, to rid herself of all phallic surroundings. Bitter? No, not much—I don’t really care if Naipaul thinks women can’t write, because let’s face it, neither can he. But it really bit to read Hopkins’ opinion of female authorship, and assumption of the pen as a male instrument. Made me want to head to where the green swell is in the havens dumb and shout “asshole” to the stormless skies.

Of course, I need to keep track of the fact that while I’m teaching English and disseminating the glories of the language of Whitman and Woolf to young minds, I’m also learning Norwegian. My first trip to the library, I eyed the Ibsen section longingly. Since then I’ve set more realistic goals, like being able to understand the graffiti in the English Department bathroom by December.

My first Norwegian class was both easy and daunting. The words are so easy to remember. At least half of them are cognates. But their pronunciation is an entirely different matter. An entire classroom of foreigners saying “ooooh” and “iyuu” and “ø” sounds towards the teacher, our lips pursed in ridiculous emulation of hers, is hard to take seriously. Still, I’m hoping to be able to eavesdrop on unwitting Norwegian colleagues by the middle of January. You’ll know when I’ve become fluent; I’ll blog a bit in Norwegian for fun.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Daily Living: Pictureful

The bridge to Fantoft
Everything's been a blur since I returned from Oslo. Lots of catching up to do. And that includes hiking and meeting new friends, of course.
I went on a hike with a bunch of the foreigners at Fantoft. Occasionally, Norwegians in spandex ran past us. Norwegians are always wearing spandex. I'm not sure if it's because the amount of time they spend not running up mountains is just so much less than the time they do, that it makes sense to never change, or if they just think it looks good.

We couldn't see the top of the mountain from the bottom, and once we hit the peak, looking over the side of the cliff yielded only white fog. I kept thinking that beneath us, Someone was shuffling around the town of Bergen, and when we went back down, everything would be in a different place. Lucky that God lacks my sense of humor (though probably everyone who was in the earthquake last week would beg to differ). Anyhow, the pine trees and lichen-y rocks outlined against the swirling mist (you could see it move!) made the mud in my boots more than worth it.

These are pictures of my two favorite walks: Tveitvannet lake, and Fantoft church. Usually end up at one or the other in the evenings, or for my morning jog. 

Fantoft Cemetery

The lake is my favorite place to watch the sun set.

Pizza in a pan! Was thinking about buying a small
 toaster oven, but now that I can do this, no need.
Soup preparations. So my mom
doesn't think all I eat is pizza.

I got my college students back for comparing Benjamin Franklin to Hugh Hefner. They were going on and on about pushy Americans, and one of them said, “yeah, Americans love the spotlight, and being on TV, and Norwegians are more quiet, more laidback.” Ah, I responded, is that why Norwegians all watch American TV? Took a minute, and then they all laughed ruefully. If you won’t go on TV yourself, people, stop blaming Americans for hogging the spotlight!

On living alone: I’ve had some of the best roommates anyone could ever wish for (love you Jord, Julia, Sara, EllenTalia and AbbyRena (two of them came in pairs)), but having my own apartment rocks. I can fill up every available bit of wall space with scraps of Tennyson, wash the counters every day without feeling neurotic, and buy eggs without worrying they’ll end up with little faces on them. I have been nattering to myself more than normal, but I see that as an upside—occasionally I say interesting things.

Eva, Naomi and I on the Fløibannen
The downside of my apartment: my window faces straight into the gym. Which at first I saw as an advantage—I wake up to the view of athletic Norwegian men lifting weights. But today, as I wound down from a little impromptu dance-off with myself (I was listening to the Glee soundtrack. Oh, the shame!), I saw two fit descendants of Norse gods pressed against the window of the gym, cheering me on. It’s not the first time I’ve been caught dancing when I thought nobody was watching, but this is worse—they know where I live. Eeek.

People say Norwegians are shy, but so far I haven’t seen any of it. That, or my being an American breaks all the rules. At the bus stop, I asked a guy where the bus schedule was. He showed me, and we both sat down with our books. Thirty seconds later, he tentatively asked, “where are you from?” The States, I said, and he was off. He was from Moss, and para glides (I must come down to Moss and para glide), and learned English from TV, and thinks British accents are stuffy, and is he pronouncing “better” right, and he’s been to California, and… fortunately my bus drove up then and I could escape from the excessive friendliness of Norwegians.
We found a troll in the mountains

Speaking of Norwegian guys, I finally figured out why my neighbor Nikolai keeps backing away from my door into the hallway. And it isn’t yichud, as my unreasonable mind keeps whispering. Crazily enough, it’s simple politeness. Finally, today, he knocked and my hands were so messy with the dough I was kneading that I just yelled, “come in” and kicked the door open with my foot. Slowly, his head peered around the doorway. “Come in?” he asked. “Yep,” I said—I could not go out into the hallway with my dough, even if it would make him more comfortable. Five seconds later he was twirling around on my swivel chair in his socks, grinning. I’m starting to think of Norwegian guys as huge puppies—Golden Retrievers that run up mountains every day and just need a bit of petting before they begin to shower affection on you.

The official pictures of the Norwegian Fulbright contingent (contingent, not contingency) for 2011-2012 are up on facebook. Here’s what we look like:
 There are some amazing people buried in that pile of prestige!

Adorable Norwegian Cars!
I keep going on long walks here. Every time I head off in a new direction, I discover a new lake, or creek, or mountain path. Even the streets here are so quaint that I relish each new bit of mental map that I’ve filled in. There's one cobblestone road near the university that has basketball hoops in the middle of it. You know, in case the urge to play basketball on a cobblestone court suddenly takes you.

Chilling in the park

Had an amazing lesson with my adult class today. We were explaining the differences between American and British English, and Anita and I went through words until we were almost in an accent face-off. Finally I put on a British accent and said, “yah, I know, we British think we’re so posh, and sound so clever with our accents, that we don't actually have to say anything intelligent at all. Bloody brilliant, innit?” America won hands down. 

Bergen at sunset
P.S. The “today”s mentioned in this post are all from different days. When I wrote each, it was "today".