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


  1. Isn't "WC" bathroom? Or am I mixing my euro- abbreviations? Maybe its a gang? Does Norway have any? And that brings me to the crime rate... Are you surprised?

  2. Hey, I do not have zis typical french accent ! >< *well, just a little*
    But, even after all these months, I just cannot bear him. Maybe it's physical.
    You know, French are supposed to seduce everyone. But I'll tell you that... That's absolutly, purely, sincerely, and honestly a "cliché".
    If there is someone I don't wanna seduce in the entire world, it's him.

    *for the overstatement, you've to blame my spanish blood for that ;)*

  3. Ha! Perle, I was going back thru my blog looking for a quote, and I finally saw this! Hilarious! Especially since the way you feel about him is so strong that you wouldn't seduce him.. nothing quite says hate like no inclination to seduce.
    Can't wait to see you tomorrow at tea!