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!

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