Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Løvstakken at last!

On the peak!
Ruth and I hiked up Løvstakken Sunday. Well, she acrobated up, and I crawled up. There were places where the ice was so smooth we literally had to butt-scootch along, encouraged by the friendly Norwegians who laughed with us on our way up.

We took a completely different route from the one I normally use, climbing beside a chirruping stream as the Sunday morning bells tolled below us. At points we hauled ourselves up by the tree branches, feet slipping on icy patches. Once, as I stood precariously on a frozen knoll, a dog bolted past me up the mountain, and with a joyous “Jesus Christ!” I wobbled down into the snow, laughing ruefully to the owner as she came up behind.

Towards the top of the mountain we reached the boulders that must be climbed using ropes. Only, all of the rock face was so icy, that we were really just rope-climbing—the boulders were irrelevant except as lessons in treachery. I’ve never had such good fellow-feeling with the Norwegians on the trail; everyone was helping everyone else and laughing as we fell.

Hanging onto trees for dear life
The peak of Løvstakken is magnificent. It offers a 360 view of Bergen from fjord to shining fjord, with mountains unfolding into the distance, and far off, the faint shimmering sheen of ocean. We took pictures mocking the Norway Fulbright poster, and ate the Trader Joe’s granola bars that we’d each been sent in care packages (love to home!), and hiked back along the ridge, which was even more slippery than the way up. At one point my feet swooshed out from under me, and resigned, I sailed down the mountain on my tush, pretty certain that I would end in a crush of snow at some point. A Norwegian asked us for directions, and Ruth explained that the trail meets up anyways. I really wish there was a special American language nobody could understand so I could have joked about how awesome it is that Norwegians ask us for trail directions!

Ice the whole way down
The fire alarm marshals came by, and surprise-knocked my hallway out for a demonstration on how turn off the fire alarm. Those of us too sleepy to realize who we were opening the door for, and kind enough to come, huddled into a small group around the alarm as they walked us through the procedure in obnoxiously slow English. Afterwards we stood in the hall in our socks talking, until finally I invited two of the women (Germany and Nepal) I’m friendly with back for tea. As we sipped and talked, I became uncomfortable. In our inevitable comparison of home to Bergen, Nepal mentioned her 12-house village and the 14 hours of electricity they get per day. Why did my friendly curiosity in Germany seem like anthropological sightseeing in Nepal?

Monday night, Ruth and Perle and I went to a class on salsa dancing. We were each completely ready to make idiots of ourselves, and so we had a lot of fun! And salsa dancing is much easier than I thought—now I surreptitiously salsa everywhere. One of the Fantoft Spanish guys is teaching, so everyone mumbles in Spanish under their breath as they dance-- he can't count in English, so neither do we. I love the joy in the movement, and the friendliness of passing from one partner to the next.

Today I found myself accidentally explaining Foucault’s History of Sexuality to my high schoolers because one asked if Shakespeare was gay. This after yesterday’s impromptu lesson on Butler and performativity in my master’s seminar. I really must remember not to upset their world paradigms too often.

Prospective students visited our English class today, bundling into the back of the classroom uncomfortably for a ten minutes display of Shakespearian invective on the part of our students (I set them to have “insult duels” after a fabulous beginning in which I shouted "George W. Bush, you pribbling yeasty guts-griping foot-licker, I thumb my nose at you!" at the picture of him Anita had taped to the wall). Then they asked questions, the first of which was “do you speak all in English all the time?” Anita answered, and then gestured to me and explained that I don't speak Norwegian. I smiled and, in Norwegian, said that sometimes we allow a bit of Norsk, bare for vanskelig sporsmal. My students all cracked up, as one. They find my accent hilarious. I explained to the visitors that that is a one-way street; they mock my Norsk, but I never laugh at their English. As the laughter settled, Sara repeated my American-accented phrase, and the class dissolved into laughter again. Still, I understood most of the questions that followed, about the demographics of the school and such. The thing that made me glow with warmth was seeing how my class came together, in the face of others, in a very closely-knit way yet still friendly way, so that their kindness spilled out for the visitors.

Ruth and a friendly dog admire the view
After discussing sonnet 18 with the class, and accidentally using the phrase “hot shit” and making the class burst into laughter yet again (how else to explain Shakespeare’s opinion of his own writing in that sonnet?), I headed over to the university to sit in on a theory lecture my students have to take and watch one present on the concept of “the literary canon.” At one point he said, “A few years ago in the US, we had African American rights, and women’s rights…” I firmly expected him to say, “but those have vanished since then.” He just meant the struggle became public in those days.

They’re showing a Norwegian movie at the university tonight, so I’m heading back down there soon with a friend from my floor (Germany from tea). We're going to learn us some Norsk!

I received my invitation to the American ambassador's house for our February Fulbright seminar. Apparently, we're allowed to bring dates. If anyone's going to be in Oslo on the 16th, shoot me an email if you'd like to be arm candy.

Fulbright pose in front of our beautiful Bergen!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Magic Trek

bootlegged photos
I was in the 9C kitchen at Fantoft on Saturday night, and had a hilarious moment while meeting a Spanish guy. As I put my hand up to shake his, he said, “no. Cheek, cheek.”

“What?” I asked, as he zoomed his face towards mine and kissed either cheek. “Oh.” That’s how it’s done in Spain. My French friend, Perle, laughed, and showed me the French variation. I must admit that it bugged me a bit. That kind of forced intimacy with a stranger… Fergus explained that women and men kiss, women and women kiss, but only men shake hands. “And intersex folk?” I asked. Everyone laughed, and he said he’d ask. I guess I’m too wired to think about liminalities.

Bergen in the snow
But truthfully, who wants to kiss strangers? I don’t think it’s just my prudish American upbringing, or the fact that I was in Israel for six months before Europe and not allowed to really hang out with guys, let alone kiss them in greeting… It may just be my naturally reserved way of showing affection… But that’s not so, because I have no problem cuddling with my sisters and hugging my best friends, and I’ve become somewhat of a casual hugger while in Norway. As I sat there, pondering, I became much more aware of all of the touching going on. Of the guy next to me whose feet were propped up comfortably on my chair, of pats on the back to get my attention and the hug that my male friend gave me as he left. That hug was nice. Some guys just hug really well, and there’s a different quality to a good guy’s hug than a woman’s, something that says “I know we’re just friends but I will protect you if anything tries to attack, and I smell nice to boot.”

I’m down with that friendship hug. And with all the casual fist bumps and high fives and reassuring shoulder pats that come along with it. Because it says, “we don’t think too much about touching, we haven’t heightened physical contact into some sort of evil thing, we are natural and comfortable with our bodies and with other people’s” (wow, touching is doing a lot of talking here). There was something so nice about that room and its comfort with bodies moving amongst people I know. It’s the stranger’s kiss that freaks me out. God bless undemonstrative America.

I found a new trek in Bergen—Låndasfjell, the mountain in back of Fantoft, was hitherto unknown to me. Friday morning I slipped up it, shimmying along an icy path compacted into utter smoothness by a myriad of hikers. Finally I reached the peak with the sunrise, and looked out across the low grey and salmon and indigo clouds to where the sun sparkled on the fjords beyond reams of mountains. On either side of the pristinely white swath on which I stood pine trees thrust up into the sky, saluting the brilliant morning light. As I continued towards Ulriken, the path disappeared, and I was merely trumping through footprints in the snow, aiming towards the glowing spire atop Ulriken’s peak. Any sign of solitary runner or dog walker vanished. Great glassy malachite iced-in lakes sank in the snow on either side of me, and I was reminded of the pearly whorls on seashells. As I clambered through the glimmering, snow-silent winter, sun beating down on everything beneath me, I beamed to have forgotten my camera. I don’t know that I’ll ever find a morning as glorious as that again, and I was ecstatic to have it all to myself.

As I continued northward, I began to hit deeper snow. Sometimes I would skim along the crust, practically snowshoeing along, and then I’d suddenly fall in snow up to my knee and lurch forward against its cushioning. At one point, the footsteps vanished entirely, the light dusty layer of snow grazing the plain and, even as I took steps, filling them in with the wind. I pushed on towards Ulriken in unbroken peace, and found my path again. As I came down the path from Ulriken, I once more hit the well-trod trail. It was a sheet of ice. I began to ski down, sliding casually as though I were surfing. Then, I hit a bump. As I shimmied down on my tush, unable to stop or gain any traction, I was straight on trajectory for a woman walking her dog. She looked at my calmly, and stepped aside at the last moment as I barreled down. Ah, the calm of the Norwegian. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This Insubstantial Pageant Faded

We caught the northern lights in Bergen! Photo courtesy of Andreas

At the first cheider this year, we covered Tanach. The main bits, anyways. Created the world, argued over how to divvy up the Ten Commandments, and performed a skit about the drama in Melachim Alef. One of the boys kept calling the asaret hadibrot “the Ten Commitments”. Which sounds easier on the twenty-first century ear than “commandments”. Maybe we English-speakers should switch. Next up: building the Beit Hamikdash.

Thea, Odelia and I met up to write the Purim play the cheider kids will put on for the community. Maybe I’ve just watched one too many Purim spiels, but I basically wrote the whole thing, offering them options as we went like a Purim play buffet. Let’s be honest—this is Bergen’s second Purim play ever, so I don’t think we have to worry about repetition.

Walking home this afternoon, the fjord sparkling beside me and the snowy peaks of Bergen shifting shape as I passed them, I had the eerie thought that perhaps this entire year is simply a dream. That as I near spring, it will thaw, melt, dissolve into a dew, and wash away across the Atlantic. When I get home, I will tell people I’ve lived in Norway for a year, and that will mean precisely nothing to them. Or else a weird mash-up of skiing, Ibsen and knitted sweaters, that in fact merely danced around the periphery of my reality here without being the substance. How can I catch this in my hands and take it, palms cupped, back home to show everyone, without it running out between my fingers? How can I save it for myself? Wind strands of Norway into Grieg’s “Morning Song,” and tuck snippets into the souvenir troll I’m bringing back to sit on my desk as a paperweight, and forever change my midwestern “yeah” to a Scandinavian “ja”? Will that save Norway for me? Or memorizing driblets of poetry on fjord and fjell and stjern and sol, so my mind traces out its patterns whenever I doze off? Kansje jeg skål ikke forlate. 

What do you mean, David's the new king?
Killing Agag, king of Amalek. Dramatically.
Batsheva requesting that her son Solomon be king. Look at him hold that baby.
Bergen at night

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mother-Daughter Talk

My mother and I were interviewed for an article on mother-daughter Jewish feminists in Na'amat USA's magazine : here's the link. We're on the third page. Check it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Culture Clash: Extra Credit

Led my high school kids in a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia” today. I was prepping them for their shift to UK English next week. It was incredibly awesome that they just piped along after me; every time more evidence of my power over the class is shown, I get a huge impulse to abuse it by making them do something like lick the floor or kiss the goat (okay, camp holdovers). To curb the urge, I think we may start class every day for the next month with rounds of “Rule, Britannia.” That’s not too much like yanking puppets on a string, is it?

This was written on the bench at the Fantoft Bybanen 
stop. I checked it out, and surprisingly enough, 
it means “support Israel.” Take that, Bubby and Kim!

We finished up with Native Americans today, reading the short story “An Indian Princess”. While making my rounds during their group discussions, I stumbled onto a fascinating conversation. Four of the girls were talking about whether it’s okay to open a conversation with a stranger about their identity. What made it so interesting is only one is originally Norwegian. The other three are Russian, Somalian, and Chinese. The Russian was adamant that questions about identity lead to identity-reduction, while the Norwegian simply couldn’t understand it and the Chinese kid mediated and the Somalian smiled quietly and nodded occasionally in agreement with the Russian. I was really pleased with their frustration as they tried to get through to each other –how often do you get kids who care that much about something like this? Carefully, I worked them around to a point where they could understand each other’s point of view, and left them to hash it out.

I’ve been planning the lessons for this semester, and am a bit giddy at the thought of it all. I get to teach Victorian English! Of course we’re starting with Shakespeare, and I’m afraid I’m going to shock Anita, who has conservative plans—she wants them to memorize sonnet 18 and read through some Hamlet, but I want to give them a choice of sonnets, and make a speech contest with Marc Anthony’s “honorable men” and Henry V’s “once more unto the breach” and John of Gaunt’s “scepter’d isle”, and have them shout Shakespearean insults across the classroom (thank you, Guinan), and offer Stoppard’s R&G are Dead as extra credit for the Hamlet. There’s no point in simply boring them with Shakespeare when we can get them excited about Him and give them a taste that will send them gasping for more for the rest of their lives. Oh I can’t wait for Tennyson and the Brontes!

Chilling at UiB
I got the semester’s first batch of journal entries back from my high schoolers. My Uttøya survivor wrote a very penetrating poem processing her thoughts, which I’m going to put at the bottom of this post. Another totally psyched me out—they were supposed to simply describe an object, and she described this present her mom had gotten her that “feels good, better than using your fingers, no matter who they belong to.” She strung me along until I was absolutely freaked out about how to respond, and then delivered the clincher in the last line—it was a head massager called “orgasmatron”.

Was chatting with a friend of mine at UiB who is trying to figure out what he wants to do after he finishes the last possible year of stipended education the government offers him (he’s on his 7th now, one more to go). He’s originally from Stavanger, and completely torn about whether to return there, or stay in Bergen, because of his roots in both places. His dilemma seemed so comic to my American sensibilities. Since leaving my homeplace Ohio, I’ve lived in Elqana, Maryland, Jerusalem, and Bergen, and will spend next year in Toronto before returning to an as-of-yet-unknown city in the US (unless I fall in love with Toronto; I am a Canadian citizen). Fearing to start fresh, or overdeveloped nostalgia for past connections, simply seems silly to the American who makes friends casually and then moves on. I’ve picked up precious relationships and valuable cultural insights in each of those places, but am quite content to keep only the best and relegate the rest to a part of my history. The Norwegian attachment seems deeper, less fickle.

Haven’t had a chance to post for quite a while—busy with the start of term and friends’ visits. Just going to add on to the end of this post.

THIS is how great Norway is
I TA’ed my first master’s seminar this past week. The professor began explaining American lit in terms of the word “multicultural.” Everyone in the class seemed fairly interested, but I think I was the only one having my mind blown as my American identity shifted and twisted. She uprooted the English settlers myth I’ve always known, talking about Spaniards and Russians meeting in the middle of the continent and trying to decide how to divide it between north and south!

To start my high schoolers off with the UK, I decided to hold a trivia contest about the UK in the class (which countries are included in the “British Isles”? What is the meaning of “bangers and mash”? etc). They became verrry un-Norwegianly competitive. We finished with a Riverdance contest, which several of them were weirdly skilled at.

Anita has decided that some of them are too stressed by the journals that I assign them every week, and so we are moving it to every other. I was distressed by her decision, because I remember those weekly writing assignments as one of the best, most productive parts of my high school experience. When Anita made the announcement, I noticed, aside from part of the class’ gasp of relief, disappointment on several faces, but most prominently on that of the best writer in the class. I approached her after, and she told me that she was upset. She loved the writing. I said we’d work something out, maybe journals every week for extra credit. She jumped at the suggestion. But Anita didn’t.

“Great, excellent! It would be so good if the ones who wanted to kept writing every week. But I don’t think I can give them extra credit. It’s okay though, it’ll filter down into their grade because their writing will improve.” Surprised, I asked why we couldn’t award extra credit.

“Because it would put pressure on the ones who didn’t do it—they would feel bad.” Um, well, but then maybe they would do it? Which is good, right? And how can you not reward the ones who do put in the extra work? And why shouldn’t extra credit be used both as a motivator and as a reward? And aaaah, I don’t understand this system! Finally, Anita said, “it’s okay, I understand, you have the American perspective here.” Well yeah, since the Norwegian perspective seems to be lowering the bar instead of pushing others ahead, I’m happy to own the American perspective on this one. I’m just so frustrated—Anita is a really great teacher, but why isn’t she willing to push her students on this? In fact, I think the journals add a degree of discipline and demand that might have been missing from the class otherwise. Well. Just wait. When I rule my own school... or kingdom...

Crocheting on the bybanen: the closest
I get to a kippa
Tomorrow’s my first cheider this semester. I’m going to discuss how the nation's origins in slavery was meant to teach sympathy with others who are oppressed, have the kids divvy up the ten commandments into chunks for a debate, and then research and build the beit hamikdash and role play with it (you’re the king, you’re the prophet, you’re the priest, you’re the invading army… go!).

This evening I went out for coffee with a visiting friend from high school. A woman came over to take an extra chair from our table, and then looked at my buddy's kippa and said, “shalom!” She had worked on a kibbutz twenty years ago. I think I really miss out not having a way to flaunt my Jewishness.

Just something cool: I was skyping with a friend of mine from home, whose birthday is one day and 69 years earlier than mine, and she mentioned that she just got a new walker. It’s Burberry. I want to be like her when I grow up.

My student's poem:

Sure you can ask me a personal question

Oh, so you see my button?
Yes, I'm in AUF
If I was there?
Yeah, I’m okay, I guess.

No, I’m not a communist.
No, I don’t want revolution.
Yes, I’m a feminist.
Because women are burned in India,
the women of Iran get stoned to death
and here I am doing whatever I want to do.
No, I don't hate men.
Yes, I believe in equality.

So you know someone that know someone
that knows someone that was there?
Yeah, sure you know how it feels.
Yeah, you’ve read the news.
Yes, he’s a monster.

You feel like you can relate to me?
You feel sorry for me?
Yeah, it was awful.
It’s hard to imagine, I know.
No, I love life.

Yes, I cry myself to sleep.
Do you want to shake my hand?
You feel better now?
Do you feel like it’s you duty as a Norwegian
to ask me all these questions?
Sure, I'm okay.
It’s a part of my identity now.

If I get tired?
I’ll make it.
Yeah, that’s what most people tell me.
I want to live, not just survive.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nerds, you say? Intellektuelle badasser, sier vi.

With my high schoolers
 Well, teaching is starting up again and I’m rushing from orientation to orientation. I already started at Katten last week. We’re finishing up with Native Americans, and just to trick my students I gave the ones who finished their classwork early an article on Nacerima culture. It’s all about a society in which people are convinced their bodies are ugly and prone to disease, and the terrifying and ridiculous lengths they go to, performing painful superstitious procedures to keep themselves fit. Of course, at the end, one of the kids (both of whose parents are professors of anthropology, so she had a head start) began to figure out something was up, but nobody’s cottoned on yet to the fact that “Nacerima” is “American” backwards.

I got my yearbook from Katten. My favorite bit was the slogan: Nerds, you say? Intellektuelle badasser sier vi. Yeah! My high schoolers are the coolest class—they all dressed up as hippies for their class picture. Adorable. There was a list of top reasons to attend Katten, and “lærerne er koselige” –roughly translated as “the teachers are cozy” was on it. You know, right above “Asiatiske jenter.” Asian chicks. On the last page were the pictures of two students who died at Uttøya and the words “vi minnes” – we remember. It’s heart-wrenching to see their names and then the years 1990-2011, and 1993-2011. No high school yearbook should have that.
Explaining the difference between
realism, regionalism, and naturalism
I have big plans for this semester. Besides my regular writing workshop, I’m TAing a master’s seminar in American travel itineraries: we’re ranging from Mary Rowlandson’s captivity (gosh, I’m so glad God wrote a whole book about suffering before He plunged me into mine so I’d have something to read while Indians oppress me) to Absalom, Absalom! (damn those snotty Yankees) to something called Tripmaster Monkey that I’ve never read before. I’m also in discussions with one of the librarians about starting a real writing center for the university… hopefully, with the full force of the Eng dept and humanities library to back me, I’ll be able to take on the Authorities. I have an upcoming lunch with the Rektor (equivalent of the university president) in February, and want to have my whole pitch ready by then.

I’m also figuring out what classes to audit this semester. Right now I’m signed up for a geology course, digital cultures, Scandinavian Government: the Welfare System and Gender, and Scandinavian 20th C Literature. And, of course, Norwegian. My Norwegian’s been growing by leaps and bounds. While my friends from the States were here, an old Norwegian guy accosted us while we were out on a walk, and was really impressed with my skills—he told Michele she should take lessons from me. Yeah!
All excited about Of Mice and Men

I’m planning lessons for cheider this semester, as well. I chose Jewish history as the theme, after vetting some options with my boys. I think I’m going to have them each create their own time line book throughout the course of the semester, as well as have to research and present a period. That way they get stuff to take away from the course, and personal investment. It’s fun being completely in charge of a class—I love getting to plan every little bit, from semester course to individual lesson plans. Makes it come together more holistically.

I finally got my Canadian passport off to the States, and am just praying that all the pieces of it come together. Of course, now that that's done I have to apply for a frikort, and start learning megillah for purim, and prep my Fulbright presentation at our seminar in February. Plus I owe the guy who teaches salsa dancing here at Fantoft a favor (he helped me move a couch) and will now be taking salsa lessons. But compared to Canada, that's a piece of cake.

P.S. If you didn't see them, make sure to check out pictures of my magnificent fjord trip with friends!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Photo-blogging Friends

Two of my friends from the University of Maryland came to visit for a week. They're both big picture-takers, so instead of writing a blog about all the fun exploring we did, I'm just going to put up the photos with captions.
On the bybanen
Mocking Vikings in the Torgallmenningen
Testudo!!! School spirit.

At the aquarium

Petting sea urchins. Right before the aquarium worker with dreadlocks came over and asked, "atem Yisraelim?" Used Zev's kippa to flush out all the Israelis in Bergen.

The fjord at the tip of the City Sentrum

On the Fløybanen
At the top of Fløyen
Me pointing to where I live. Zev missing the angle entirely. Fantoft is much farther to the left.

Playing with Trolls
You want me to crawl in where?
Playing in the barnehage lekeplass
Zev loved Norsk food: fish-in-a-tube and wasa crackers
Trying to hold Hedwig. But it just looks like I'm punching an owl.
Just cute
Pointing to where they think they are
(Zev's in Bergen, but Michele's in Stockholm)
Quote by Ibsen!
For Ima
Their position the whole trip
Snow in the country's center

Signpost at Myrdal
Who says Norwegians aren't friendly? Some guy jumped into our picture

Don't fall off!
Queen of the Mountain. Until Zev climbed up and pushed me off.
Being ridiculous. Swordfight with icicles. 

On the Flåmsbana. Required quota of Asian tourists in the background. 

Kjosfossen Waterfall

Helping out a friend
On the boat

Yes, I live in the most magnificent place in the world
There were small communities tucked into the folds in the mountains beside the fjord. At one outpost, we stopped to pick a guy up. He didn't understand much English, and when I tried my Norwegian on him (it's been getting better and I've been using it a lot lately), we just kept missing each other's meaning. But I told myself he's got an obscure mountain dialect, so no worries!

Moonrise on the fjord

 Vi elsker Norge!