Monday, April 30, 2012

I Want to Have Your Babies

Preparing the Pig-icorn
This weekend was one long mix of melancholy and delight. Ruth, my best friend here in Bergen, left on Sunday because she has to be back in the States in time to train for Teach for America next year. We’ve kept each other going all year, and settled into a friendship that’s remarkable for not being simply circumstantial, but based on a lot of respect and a similar sense of humor. I was pretty determined not to let goodbyes get me down, and intentionally over-programmed to keep myself from drifting into pathetic nostalgia.

Friday afternoon Ruth threw her combination birthday-farewell party. It was old school. Pin the tail on the donkey (which, true to form, Perle and I played competitively), three-legged races, and burlap sack relays with the Klubb trash bags (Fergus shouting “save one for tonight!” and making me wonder how clean the klubb could be if one trash bag was enough for an entire night of drunken partying). We hung up our unicorn piñata, whose graceful form inclined rather more to the swinous family than to the equestrian, and took a few whacks at it. After sundry knockings down and re-lynchings, we let it sit on the floor and swung at it with mop handles in a vicious Kitty Genovese re-enactment. Then, as Andreas said, we feasted on its flesh.

The final product
Afterwards we decided to walk down to Gamlehaugen and chill by the fjord. I spent an entire hour talking to a Spanish guy I’d met only briefly before. Well, let’s be honest—in an hour’s conversation with a Spanish male, the other party doesn’t do much talking. He told me many things, among them his need for a flat screen tv so he can watch Avenger movies, his dislike of Norwegian women’s aggression in bars, and why he adopted the Irish name “Fergus” in place of his given “Francisco.”

This is what competitive Pin-the-tail-on-
the donkey looks like
As he discoursed, it struck me that I was having the weirdest sensation:  looking at another human being and being unable to understand them. Sure, I knew what his words meant, and got the general idea, but all of his vocal twitches, facial expressions, vocabulary modulations gave me none of the nuance that I receive from a nationality that I’m familiar with. I just couldn’t poke through to him. I wanted to massage his cheeks into American expressions, scratch at the thick rubbery plastic sheet that seemed to coat over and obscure the depth of meaning in his words as though it were a lottery ticket, snatch at his humor with more than one quizzical raised eyebrow. But I couldn’t get through to understanding.

Sunday morning the bybanen cut our goodbyes short, and in a blur of farewells Kyle and I boarded the bybanen without getting a proper moment of sadness. We met Martin and Cheri, the ocean bacteria Fulbrighter and his wife, and Sarah, the flautist Fulbrighter, at Danmarks Plass and headed up the north side of Løvstakken for a Sunday morning trek. It was a strange day for Bergen—not a cloud in the sky—and we made it to the peak with only one detour through the mud. The top boasted a 360 view of Bergen: the town center nestled down to the north, boats skimming away from it and disturbing the deep blue reflection on the water. Across the valley, Fløyen and Ulriken rose to the east, and we stared across and imagined we could see hikers on their peaks. To the south, across the stretch of fjord and then other mountains, we saw the faintest touch of white—Finse, and the glacier. And finally, to the west, was a strip of simple blue that was the North Sea, and eventually the Atlantic. Somehow, that was the direction we ended up sitting in, staring across homewards as we talked about how our year has changed us.

Got lost, ended up in Middle Earth
That afternoon at cheider I taught about the Holocaust. I’d meant to create a walk-through learning experience, starting with the boys in cheider hearing about the Nuremberg laws and giving them all stars to wear, then reading about Kristallnacht in the “newspaper” I’d created, fighting in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and, like Anne Frank, writing their journals in hiding. We’d end with a succinct yet essential description of the death camps, and then a discussion of the Whys and What ifs and How could its that must be processed after a Holocaust lesson. But Tal had broken his foot, and Ruben had a handball match, and when I called Ziv’s mother she gave me a very harried tale about how one of their cows was sick and they were in crisis mode, so it was just Benjamin and I. Unable to face sustaining all of the acting with just one student, I decided to just approach it straightforwardly. We sat and talked. We talked about the things he knew about the Holocaust, we read the diaries and testimony and poems I’d brought, and we discussed, inevitably, anti-Semitism in the modern age, and in his life.

“Mostly people are just curious... they look at me as the expert on Judaism,” said this boy who says Kiddush every Friday night over non-kosher wine, and visits Israel regularly without speaking a word of Hebrew, and waited two hours in the rain with his family to walk through Anne Frank’s hide-out in Amsterdam before they returned to Norway where Judaism is nearly as obscured, as little noticed, as hidden, as she was. 

An auspicious date atop Løvstakken
“Mostly they don’t say mean things.” He paused. “I’ve never had to fight anybody,” he said. I nod and exude counselor-like understanding in my response, incredibly glad that I’ve gotten to know this kid and his brother and their buddies, glad to be able to glimpse their lives and trade thoughts through the tiny sections of our spheres that overlap.

Sunday night Inbar, one of the shlichot, came to sleep over before her family arrived in Bergen the next day. As we walked down to Gamlehaugen in the evening, our conversation inevitably swung around to Judaism. We talked about the judgmental nature of Jewish communities, and how nice it’s been to simply flow in Norway without fear of rumor. The high number of our friends who have decided to leave the faith, and break shabbat with an insistently triumphant delight. The degree to which our own practice has changed while in Norway, and whether we’ve become more or less careful with different aspects of halacha. Comparing the situations to which we’d be returning, we each envied the other, I her expansive Israeli community, she my close-knit North American community. As always, she expressed amazement at my ability to remain shomeret mitzvot in a city alone, and I smile modestly. I cannot explain to her how much easier it is than having company. 

Balloon Wars!
The sun has shone for three straight days. When I jogged Storetveitvannet this morning, I saw not a cloud in the lake. The streets of Bergen were filled with soon-to-be graduates in their russebukser, Bergenser snacking on their first ice cream of the season (I met up with a friend, Yael, who introduced me to the joy of softis—with Daim topping!), and shoppers cramming their kitchens full before everything closes tomorrow for Labor Day.

The ridiculous russebukse
Perle and I decided to make use of the leftover cream I’d made from Ruth’s party, and with Rachel, Sophie, and Marine, we had a picnic out on the lawn in front of my apartment. It was meant to be a strictly strawberries-and-cream affair, but the three French women were hungry, and so a loaf of crusty bread and a sausage made of pig’s blood brought all the way from France made an appearance, as well. Rachel tried it, but I begged off. There are times where keeping kosher is not just not irritating, it’s downright convenient.

American and French women make a fun pairing—we’re all pretty high-spirited, and ranged over some good conversational ground, fighting out the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair and slamming French and American music. At some point during the discussion, Sophie brought up the phrase that’s used to an attractive guy to let him know, jokingly, that he’s hot: “I want you to rape me.” !!! Perle and Marine assured us that it sounds much funnier in French, and tried to assuage my shock that that would ever be a joking way of expressing admiration. I tried to think of the American equivalent, and came up with, “I want to have your babies.” I was utterly surprised to see the French women startled by that. It’s too intimate, they said. Too personal. Right, I tried to explain, and that’s worse than violence how? We ended in a discussion of self-enforced gender oppression, and I left them waving and calling “bye, beeeyatch!” as I swung indoors. Sigh. Cultural exchange is wonderful.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What's the Opposite of Lazy?

Sunday was so beautiful, I felt inspired when I woke up and went for a jog around Tveitvannet. Then it was still so beautiful, I went for a hike up Ulriken. Then it was still so beautiful, I stayed up there. 
The rest of Bergen also hiking Ulriken

Priceless moment: Ruth asked if she could bring anything to dinner. Nope, I told her, I’m not making anything big deal-ish anyways, I’m not being... what’s the opposite of lazy? She shrugged. Then we looked at each other and laughed. Proud moment for Fulbright.

At the review session for the seminar on American itineraries in literature, Lene asked me to give an impromptu sum-up of the course. Because who doesn’t like expatiating at great length on short notice? Bare tull, I loved it. Finally got to tell all those Norwegians that America isn’t that bad. Got a few laughs, too, and maybe a bit of thought on starting their own Norwegian identity complication project—one of the students promised she’d be writing the next Tripmaster Monkey—so hopefully it wasn’t all babble to them. Sometimes I just want to take them by their quiet Norwegian throats and shake them into discussion. You’d think insulting Norwegian ability to integrate would do it, but nope.

Rachel and Ruth over-enthusiastic
For the past week, we’ve been building a paper mache unicorn for Ruth’s birthday/goodbye party. I insisted on a paper mache bat as well, because nothing’s so meta as killing a paper mache unicorn with a paper mache bat. Plus, this way you get candy no matter what. And more exposure time to flour glue.

Yom HaAtzmaut evening, the Israeli community organized karaoke and an Israeli dinner for everyone. Racheli, the BA shlicha, and Revital, the Israeli consulate, flew in from Oslo with falafel. The karaoke was hilarious—Odelia and Na’ama got really into it, and mostly it was a mass of us singing together, taking turns on the mike and belching out all our favorites. Na’ama kept shouting, “afilu Chana makirah hashir hazeh!” when she was trying to get wallflowers to join in. Because, you see, I am the Americani. Anyhow it was lots of fun, and as Revital pointed out, the kind of crazy that takes Norwegians five drinks to achieve, Israelis can do sober. And these Israelis were not sober.
Kyle, the paper mache master, showing how

My adult class got into a great argument about youth crime, which allowed some of them to talk about the gangs they’d been in as teens, and why they’d joined. Some fascinating personal stuff came out, though mostly I was awash in wonderment at how tame Norwegian gangs are compared to the messes we get up to in the States. Interestingly, Norway has an incredibly high weapon-to-person ratio, and yet one of the lowest weapon-related crime rates. So much for gun control.

Now we're pros
While explaining how to write a thesis to my high schoolers, I repeated the Norwegian word Anita gave me for talking without evidence, something that sounded like “synsing” (Elise? Jonas? What was it?). The whole class laughed, and humorously fed up with the way they always mock my pronunciation, I finally stuck it to them. I told them to repeat after me: “We were very wary when the things were very scary ‘cause we worried they were varied when they were really very wearied.” It’s about the meanest thing you can do to Norwegians, who have trouble differentiating v from w when they talk, and also don’t have a natural ‘th’ in their language. The class attempted it valiantly, in a rumble of laughter, but couldn’t do it. I told them when they had it down they could go back to laughing at my Norwegian. Delicious moment. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunset Treks

The dock at Tveitevannet

I went for a post-kiddush walk Friday night. There were police questioning a car in front of the king’s gate, but they didn’t seem to mind anyone entering. I made up my mind to stroll with purpose, and they looked at me, but didn’t say a word. I made a circle of Gamlehaugen, waved at two guys that I couldn’t identify through the gathering dusk (they’d waved first, so I guess I must have known them), and then climbed down the rocks to sit and muse by the fjord for awhile. I slipped my hand into the water. It seemed quite warm. Soon I’ll be able to swim in it. Then I realized that my breath was coming out a mist from the cold. Yet I was comfortable, in only a skirt, leggings, tank top, and hoodie. Something’s off with my internal thermal system—or else my temperature has always best fitted this climate.

Upon returning to Fantoft I used my shabbat key for the first time. Two entire picnic tables—one full of Asian students, the other the vortex of a group of Muslim women—fell silent and watched me struggle to use the key without taking it off my skirt’s belt. It’s great to feel so absurd that even other minorities stop to watch. As I stepped inside with relief, a guy came in from the back door. I nodded as I passed him on my way up the stairs, but he called to me in a slight accent, “not taking the elevator?”

Tveitevannet with Ulriken behind it
“I live on the first floor,” I told him. He looked quite nice, even though he had engineered his hair to stick up on top.

“Too bad,” he smiled. I half-smiled back and continued up the stairs, thinking about all the moments this year when I’ve walked away from suggestions of flirtation and wondering if I’m now totally out of practice.

Shabbat morning dawned misty, cloudy, and sunny. Glorious weather. I took my regular shabbat walk up Landås and found a path up Ulriken I’d never seen before. Last time I was in this part of the mountains, the snow had come up to my hips, and I’d slogged through in fear of messing up the ski tracks.

Obviously none of these are my pictures of
Tveitevannet, but breathtaking nonetheless, eh?
By the time I reached the top, I was parched. I found one of the streams that courses down the mountain, and limited myself to ten gulps. Figure that what I was drinking is probably as pure as American tap water. In fact, it’s probably the stuff that Americans buy bottled.As the sun set, I finished The Wasp Factory, which had riveted me all afternoon until the overly explicit ending (the surprise was great, but why spell out every little bit of Freudian mush you learned in college?), and went for a stroll around Tveitvannet. The layers of sunset settled softly around the mountains. Near me, I heard a whoosh as a duck plowed into the lake. Ripples fanned out behind it, politely crisscrossing one after the other: first-you-now-me-now-you-now-me. The reflection of sky turned from blushing azure into a more serious blue, and the lights at Montana twinkled on as though the Bergenser were accomplices in the pulchritude of the evening, trying to turn it all into a painting to be captured in the impressionist brushstrokes of Tveitvannet. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The End is Perilously Near

Yesterday was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I peeled a sticker that said “Yizkor: Remember” off a folder of mine and stuck it to my sweater, forgetting about it until one of my high schoolers asked me about it. All of a sudden I was extemporaneously holding a Yom Hashoah assembly. I started out saying this was in memory of the Holocaust, and telling them that in Israel the air raid sirens go off and everyone in the entire country stands in silence for five minutes, and all of a sudden my voice was cracking a bit and I was talking about the importance of never again, not as victim, perpetrator, or bystander, and that when we say that we must think of Rwanda and the Congo as well, and never remain silent when people are targeted based on their color, sexuality, abilities, beliefs. Especially remember that this week in Norway. As I said that, A, who’s been glued to her laptop the entire week, unable to tear herself from Breivik’s trial, looked up briefly, her continuously furrowed brow peaking even further and then flipping back to her laptop. As I wound down, nobody spoke. “Oh, oops,” I thought to myself. “I guess we’re having a moment of silence.” I looked down, then up fiercely at the wall ahead of me (walking out of Auschwitz, the survivor with us had said “komemiyut” and I took it as an order) and silently counted out the seconds in this classroom with Norwegians.

After I broke the silence, numerous hands were raised, all wishing to tell me about the same thing. On May 17, when the parade passes Mohlenpris, it stops for a moment of silence outside the houses of the Jews who were deported from Bergen. That they do so fifty years after any recognizable Jewish community has lived in Bergen astounds me; that my students know about it warms the very cockles of my heart. Dear students, you do not need to scramble to prove yourselves innocent and sympathetic. Nobody can blame you. And I look at you and think of how you strive for goodness and wish the world could know you too.

As daylight stretches and my brain tells me that 7 pm is really 4 pm, sefirat Haomer gets more difficult. I’m still counting with a brachah, but pretty soon I’ll have to stay up until the wee hours of the morn if I want to say it at night. Dreading Shavuot.

I sent in my final Fulbright report, thanking the Norway office for their kick-ass help and suggesting improvements. I’m also in constant contact with Ida, next year’s Bergen ETA. I’m realizing the huge advantage of having someone to follow—all the questions she’s asking me, about how to apply for Norwegian classes, where to live, what kind of phone to get, the advice to bring something Trader Joesy for Anita— I had to find out the hard way.

Where I live. Aka, why I don't want to leave.

Wrapping things up here has me realizing I should probably start focusing on Toronto. Read the literature they’ve sent me, check the classes available, maybe join one of those online chats (dear god no). But I’m dreading it. I email Ida with such glee, such excitement about Bergen... it’s hard to turn my thoughts Toronto-wards. I don’t want to live somewhere ugly, with nasty sweaty summers and shlumpy leering North American men and big-city Judaism. I don’t want to leave my students to the tender mercies of their next year’s teachers when they’re so much better off under my tough love discipline. I don’t want to be so far from the wonders of Europe. I’m not done exploring yet. So for now, I’m just going to keep repeating to myself the mantra of “literature. Literature. Literature with intelligent native speakers who will shock my thoughts into newness. And it will be wonderful.” I’ll deal with the rest as it comes.


Hmm, I was going to post the above, but I think I should be honest. After all, if I can’t tell the truth to my six billion friends on the internet, who can I talk to? After actually buying the last leg of my ticket home last night, from DC to Cbus, I spiraled. Way down. Everybody has their crap days. Today, I accomplished:

To be fair, laundry here takes four hours. I also watched every back episode of the Daily Show that I’ve missed over the past month. This became useful multi-tasking when I used my computer fan to dry my socks. I also taught myself the lyrics to Ka Er Du Redd For and played a drinking game while reading Obama’s Audacity of Hope where every time he predicted something that has actually happened over the past four years, I took another spoonful of ice cream. And, lest you be wondering, I don’t eat Norwegian ice cream. This is 60 kroner Ben and Jerry’s I’m snacking on. Just a little something to remind myself of why I should want to go home. Mostly for the ice cream. And let’s be honest, nothing beats walking to the grocery store in your pj’s and buying a pint. It’s something every well-adjusted person should do every few months just to give the world the middle finger and remind pathetic people that everybody has moments when they like to pretend they’re pathetic. I also bought strawberries.  It wasn’t such a bad day.

P.S. I also had a nice conversation with the handyman. I couldn’t find a good place to fit this into the blog post, but shout out to Marik. Aaaaand, that’s Friday. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shabbat Just Got a Whole Lot Better

A lot of you responded about my shabbat key problem, and I just wanted to let you know, a regular key is en route! I was meant to have a meeting with the housing officer tonight, and before I could say anything, he said, "all right, yes, well, we've decided to give you a key." I was very relieved and thankful. Although also surprised at the ease with which he about-faced.

On returning home I checked my email and found a response from the Rektor's office-- apparently his secretary had rather a long talk with the housing officer after receiving my plea for help. Mystery solved. And shabbat is going to be much more pleasant than it would have otherwise. Here's to keeping the faith!

Påske Egg and Spring

It’s been gorgeous in Bergen since I returned, so this morning I went for a run around Teitvannet that seemed surreal in its beauty—somehow I kept telling myself this wasn’t real, it’s too much sunlit-mountain-shadowed-water-lapping beauty for reality.
Spring in Nygårdsparken!
I had the high schoolers on my own today. I’d missed them over Spring Break. We were studying Britain’s youth crime problem today, so I split them into groups to simulate different characters and have debates. They’re so adorable; even when they’re in small groups they raise their hands. Well, not their hands. They hold up two fingers in the sign that means peace to me. It’s quite cute, as though all over the classroom kids are furiously waving in favor of hippy love.

At the end, some of the most intrepid students stood to debate before the class. One of them was engaged in passionate invective when he said, “and kids shouldn’t give a shit about school anyways!” The whole class erupted. “You mean should give a shit,” some shouted, and others, “you mean shouldn’t not give a shit, right?” Basically a lot of shit was thrown around the class before they’d sorted it out satisfactorily.

I asked them to do me a favor and take a picture for some friends of mine who just got engaged, and they absolutely loved the idea. I can’t properly explain their adorably eager, serious cuteness, but maybe this picture will help.

Anita left me a Norwegian Easter egg on my desk. They’re enormous things that you fill with candy and then give anyone, not just kids, adults too. Did I tell you how much I love this country? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Days in Oslo

Wednesday I spent 22 hours in Bergen, cramming in three classes and a brisk several hour debriefing with Ruth (I was in London and she’s going to Nice for a week, so we needed to catch up very quickly). Wednesday night, I took the overnight train to Oslo for the second days of Passover. I arrived at the shlichot’s apartment exhausted and spent most of Thursday alternately trying to prepare lessons and dozing. Racheli and Inbar must have thought me a zombie, but we’re good enough friends by now that they laughed and declared the couch mine for the day.

Thursday night we ate at the Melchiors’ (chief rabbi of Norway). Man, can Norwegians talk about fish. Liat incautiously served a mixture of lox and egg salad for appetizers, which served as the catalyst. The two couples there described the entire catching, packing, and shipping process, and just when I thought we’d safely got our salmon off to Amsterdam, the discussion veered to how to eat it. Dumb Norwegians! Put it in a tube like toothpaste. Problem solved. 

We walked home with Sara, one of the Israeli-Norwegian Jews our age in Oslo. She’s one of the guards at the Jewish community center (actually the one who interrogated me and nearly made me cry the first time I came) and always has a more practical, or perhaps I should say, less forgiving perspective than mine. We got into a heated argument about mercy vs. pity vs. justice that I think scared Racheli in its intensity but Inbar found hilariously puzzling in its complexity of English terms. Anyhow, hers is an opinionated intelligence that I appreciate all the more for spending a year with smart people who won’t share their ideas. You know. All of Scandinavia.

Michael, the kid who’s going to be rabbi of Norway someday, was in town for pesach. Jewish Oslo is not that big, and we were placed next to each other at every meal. No doubt our hosts thought we’d find it interesting to talk to each other, since they had no clue how much he raised my hackles when we first met in Israel. But after two days of chag, familiarity bred, well, a lessening of antagonism. Still, I think he’s better equipped to be king of Norway than rabbi.

Raheli, Inbar and I henna'ing it up. Because, why not?
After chag we launched into fast-forward mode and zoomed to the grocery to prep for Mimouna. Inbar set to work pounding the dough for the moflettot, and all the Israelis clustered around a laptop, choosing Sephardi songs so we could ululate our way through our post-pesach nosh fest. Finally I went to sleep in the wee hours of the morn, my belly distended with all kinds of chametz yums.

Three hours later I woke to catch my train back to Bergen. Before we started, a Thai family of three moved around the train, looking at seats. I was sitting in a cluster of four facing each other, so I offered to switch and let them all sit together, adding that we’d probably have to switch back when the train filled up in the mountains. They were grateful, and when the mom asked where I was from, and I said America, she nodded and smiled as though that explained something.

As the conductor came by, and then other passengers looking for their seats, I realized I was trying to protect this family. I worried they would cringe before the conductor (what do I know of the Thai personality? Or whether there is one?) or that he and the Norwegian passengers would say “ugh, foreigners,” and I wanted to use my American-ness as a buttress. But it soon became clear that the family was very confident, very self-sufficient, and as I relaxed, I thought, “ah, they’re just like my family.” Then I woke up from my half-doze with a start as I realized that what I meant was, they have the confidence born of money. They travel, they move through the world with ease, because they know that their buck (penger? Thai currency?) will fix it all. Yikes. What heinous classism. I’ll worry about it when I wake up.

Oh, and the whole stretch from Ustaoset to Myrdal is winter wonderland. I forgot, seesawing between Bergen and Oslo as I do, that Norway is actually a cold country. Probably snow here means it’s raining in Bergen.

Hope you’re laughing, Te. This one's for you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Little Leisurely Idol-Worship in London

Ruth, this pose is for you

Monday evening, I flew in over London, listening to the mother behind me excitedly point out the London Eye to her child and trying to match the sights below to their enthusiasm. We ploughed through the clouds, and I wondered if swathes of empty space between heavy cloud cover always indicate an airport below. The sun set in watercolor splendor ahead of us, tinting the massive stretch of metallic city beneath us with mellow hues, and lighting up my first view of the Thames.

For the first minute in the airport, I delighted in being in an English-speaking country. What a conscious relief, to no longer have to strain to understand or ever feel outside of a conversation. Then I passed through customs and realized I couldn’t understand a single thing the people behind me were saying. British accents can be just as daunting as Bergensk.

We are our own totem pole
Throughout my trip, I stayed with British friends of mine from my year in seminary. It’s funny to see them with the same personalities, only five years more mature. One of the things I notice is the confidence they all have, confidence born of belonging securely to one place. They are so certain of their spot. They have not left their home to wander the world and seek their fortune. And the lucky buggers! I don’t think they quite grasp how awesome it is to have GROWN UP IN LONDON! They could literally walk around the city, Dickens in hand, and read the proper parts at the proper places.

Trafalgar Square
Tuesday I did a quick brush-through of the main parts of London. We skimmed the British museum (what an impressive mass of stolen goods! And how fortuitous (or un) that I should begin reading Said’s Orientalism over chag!), Covent Garden with its Easter Egg exhibit, Trafalgar square for a picnic lunch, dipped through the National Gallery (Elana: hey, that’s famous! Wait, that one’s famous too! –Yes, yes, Elana, they’re pretty much ALL famous. That’s why they’re in the National Gallery), saw St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace, stopped in a Starbucks where OF COURSE I ran into and struck up a conversation in a guy wearing a Buckeyes hat who’d grown up in Columbus long ago, and ended at Westminster on a bridge over the Thames. Pretty much London with ADD, but a good overview of the whole.

St. Paul's
That night Talia took me up to Primrose Hill, above Regents Park, and we got to look out over the city. Humorously, its skyline is less impressive than New York’s. Because the height of buildings must be uniform, it presents less of a scramble of shapes and contours. Yet the distance it stretched out around us, far as the eye could see, was even more impressive.

Wednesday I headed out on my own to St. Paul’s Cathedral, for a literary walking tour through Shakespeare and Dickens’ London. The people I asked for directions were also on the tour, and funnily enough, were Midwesterners visiting their daughter who had been an English major, done a Fulbright ETA in Thailand, and was now studying Gender and Development in London. So yeah, we clicked. And raced each other to answer the questions the tour guide asked about

Monday, April 2, 2012

July and January Clash

It was settled, the expedition bound to take place. The wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night’s darkness and a day’s sail, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallize and transfix the moment up which its gloom or radiance rests...

Today I fly to London. I have seen it before, many times, in lugubrious Dickensian gloom and Woolfian larks and charged with inquisitive Doyleian energy, but this will be my first chance to observe it firsthand, my own footsteps the echoes I hear on the pavement. I am, well, happy. I have endowed the picture of a policeman, on the newspaper I’m using to cover my table before pesach, with heavenly bliss. It is fringed with joy.

This past week has been a whirlwind. My favorite student quotes of the week:

So, Kyle set his camera on self-timer and came leaping across the mud. He
posed right in front of Ruth, which is why I'm cracking up in this picture.
“After he had constiplated for a while, he responded with a different answer.” I had to pretend to constiplate my bellybutton so she couldn’t see the grin crack across my face.

“This was a time when people were abdonding their children in large numbers.” Those poor, abdonded children!

“He practices Muslim.” Just like I practice piano?

Not so much funny as eeeek,  but funny because the sweetest girl in the world, who would be horrified if she understood her own meaning, wrote it: “Then came the third wave, when  white women discovered that there was a whole group of colored women oppressed. Now white women, yellow women, and black women work together in feminism.” Yes. Yes we do.

At the Bergen Museum
To offset the giggle-prompters are those earth-shattering moments when I’m astounded by the characters of my students. One of the adults started talking to me about his life during break on Thursday. He volunteers to speak to and encourage drug addicts going through rehab, and wants eventually to open up a center of his own. As I looked at the huge tattoos writhing down the muscles of his arm, his blunt broken nose, his shaven head, and listen to him speak ever so gently about how he wishes to take his own experiences and use them to help others, I’m bowled over by his honesty. This man is not pretending to be anything he isn’t. I ask him, and he says he wouldn’t change anything. His experiences brought him to this point. I think of the tremendous strength that lies hidden behind all his muscles, un-guessed-at by most observers, and when I stand up to teach again, it’s with a touch more deference than before.

My high schoolers had a lesson on multiculturalism. I tried to complicate identity for them. To explain that nationality and ethnicity aren’t monolithic. Americans worried about Mexican cultural invasion make up a myth of American identity that hearkens back to England, but England just declared tikki masala an official dish. Can American identity in fact mean purely openness and immigrant status?  What the hell is identity, anyways? I got into it with one of my favorite adult students, an agnostic philosopher of Sami descent. He was all for universalism, until I suggested that maybe the lack of identity in Norway is what precipitates their own inability to understand other people’s identities. And that identity is what gives rise to culture, art, values... pretty much everything worth having. He thought about it for awhile, and then shot up at the end of class to offer Hegelian synthesis as a solution.

The weekend was lovely. On shabbat, Ruth and Kyle came by to rescue me from my apartment. They’re good friends. From Friday until today, Bergen has been January clashing with July. Right now the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and snow is whirling down in thick spirals. The mountains are both snow-capped and lushly, Springily, green. Ruth and Kyle and I went on a beautiful hike up Landås and over to Ulriken. Ruth had a “cocktail party” because she bought some good gin in the duty-free on the way back from Berlin, and we played Norwegian card games with more or less success. I’m really going to miss these guys when I go back Stateside.

Okay! That’s all until I return from London! Halvor, one of my high schoolers, asked if I’d bring him back something back from Harrods. Gotta love that kind of chutzpah.

Har en godt paske and Pesach kasher v’sameach l’kulam!