Sep 30, 2008

Clueless in Dresden

First of all: My apologies to my readers. Before I left for my trip, I did no research or reading or buying of guide book. Truth is, I plumb forgot. Second of all: Apologies to myself. I felt left out, unprepared and extremely clueless, especially in Dresden. We had an excellent Swedish guide (which is par for the course on Norwegian tours - "Local guide speaks Scandinavian" meaning you'll get a Swede) who was an architect and in love with Dresden, and took us through some amazing neighborhoods, and all I got out of it was that last names ending in -witz are Sorb.

So I bumbled around in Dresden, me and my camera, and snapped a bunch of baroque buildings, but never felt awed. Isn't that weird? Look at these pictures from the complex called Zwinger! How can one not feel awe?

The guide took great pains to explain to us that the black is actually the oxidation of the naturally occurring iron in the sandstone. Me, I was amused by the naughty-looking Pan/Bacchus creature; it was the only thing that got me a bit interested. I kept waiting for myself to wake up. I enjoyed the long mural of former rulers of Dresden and Saxon (Sachsen), made up 25,000 tiles, and I enjoyed the typical Dresden scene, and the not-so-typical wedding cake-like newer buildings. But although they were fun to photograph, I wasn't moved.

Dresden (and Berlin) have been busily restoring and recreating their cities after the destruction of World War II (the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, made Dresden famous). Only the blackness of the sandstone reveals the true age of a building.

Just when I thought nothing in Dresden would impress me, I wandered into the Frauenkirche (Our Lady's Church).

The church was bombed, too, on February 13, but stood until February 15, when it finally collapsed from the damage. It took 13 years to rebuild the church, a reconstruction completed in 2006. They used some original sandstone, as you can see on the left.

The story I was told was that they found the melted gold from the cross, and this gold was given to an English goldsmith to refashion into a cross. It turned out that the goldsmith was the son of the pilot who had bombed the church in 1945. It's a nice story. It's a gorgeous cross. But nothing prepared me for the feel of the church itself. There was no photography allowed inside, more's the pity, because it was gorgeous inside, done up in soft colors, mostly pink, and unusually elaborate for a Protestant church. But when I walked in, I felt something for the first time in Dresden: I felt the love that had helped rebuild the church, mend old wounds and hatred, focus on a peaceful future, a prayer for such hate and destruction never happening again. Inside the Frauenkirche was the most wonderful space to be in in all of Dresden.

Sep 29, 2008

Meet Martin Luther

I do have more to tell - or show, really - from Dresden and the rest of my trip. I just sort of have to figure out how to pare down all the photos. And figure out what to say. The truth is that I have some gorgeous photos from Dresden - and nothing to say about the city. It - didn't move me. But Dresden matters, even in my story. Here's one reason:

You see, you can't go through Norwegian school or Norwegian life without thinking about Martin Luther at some point. His protest, nailed to a door in Wittenberg, started the reformation and forever changed Norway's Catholic churches to Protestant ones. The official state religion of Norway is Lutheran Evangelical. As a child in a Norwegian school, I had to take a religion history class (called Christianity class) which introduced us to his catechisms, the big and the little. I got good grades in that class, simply because I was able to pay attention and learn (most of the other kids hated that class). It never converted me, though - not that it was intended to. I question everything and prefer the sort of religion that tells you to just go live already because God is busy doing same. Can't say that's the message I ever got from the Lutherans, though I don't mind their work ethic.

So I just had to take the photo of Martin Luther's statue in Dresden. I also took a photo from behind. The meticulous recreation of the folds in his cape fascinate me.

Sep 27, 2008

From ocean to river

My trip to Berlin was enjoyable in part because I got to travel by train (through very beautiful scenery but impossible to get a good picture of)…

…and by ferry from Oslo down to Copenhagen (and home again from Kiel). I am used to thinking of international ferry trips from Bergen which have to cross the open and often mean North Sea, whether headed for Newcastle or Hirtshals (look 'em up). It finally dawned on me that the shelter of Denmark makes the ferry lines from Oslo down to the continent more comfortable. Here we are passing by the nuclear power plant Barsebäck, on Sweden's shore.

We drove from Copenhagen down to the end of Falsen, and from there took a ferry to Rostock, in Germany. Rostock would have been in the former East-Germany (DDR). It was already late in the afternoon and we didn't arrive in Dresden until around 8:30 pm. To the hotel's credit, we were served a delicious, fresh and hot dinner.

The next day we were on a bus tour of Dresden in the morning, and our guide had us stop on the banks of the river Elbe. Yes, there is a river somewhere in the following photos:

The wide and beautiful meadow we were standing on functions as a flood barrier. The Elbe was one of the rivers that went over its banks during the flooding in 2002.

As you look across the Elbe at what look like incredibly grand homes, but at the time they were built were considered modest (that decadent 18th century…), you can get a feel for what attracted so many artists to the area during the early 1800's. These close-ups show the variation in building style (one was inspired by English Tudor) and their vineyards. The funny blue stuff is probably some kind of plastic covering.

Oh, OK. You want to see some actual water. Fine. Here's one view of the river Elbe while we were still "in town":

And here is the view from our hotel, which was "in town", too, but outside the inner "altstadt" - the old city. We were about 4 km farther west by a different bend in the river, still in "altstadt" but no longer the inner one:

We were right near a rowing club, and several of us thought the river looked very inviting.

Sep 25, 2008

When it's good to be a Norwegian

One of my regular diets is Fail Blog and recently it gave me a really good laugh:

Now, if that guy were Norwegian, he could be a proud man, because the Norwegian alphabet runs from A to Å (not Z):

Sep 24, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Warmth

Wordless Wednesday
Warming hands in the Fretheim hotel in Flåm.

Sep 22, 2008

In the old east

Well, I'm back - back from a one week tour of the former East Germany, of the cities of Dresden and (East) Berlin. I stepped off the train from Oslo just an hour ago, so I'm still digesting the trip. I have never travelled to that part of Germany before, and also didn't read up on anything before I went. I'm sure I missed a few things because of my lack of knowledge, but I enjoyed my trip and I did take lots of pictures, like this sign post in Berlin:

So stay tuned, my dear readers. More travelogue coming up in the days ahead!

Sep 21, 2008

Please ask at next window

A couple of times people have asked me what it takes to move to Norway. Besides a plane ticket, I have no idea.

One of my childhood memories involves visiting all sorts of pawn shops and the like with my grandparents in search of old-fashioned steamer trunks. Big, solid black trunks that open up like a wardrobe when stood on end. Drawers on one side and a big open space on the other. I can still remember the pale green lining. My grandparents found three and shipped their drapes, silverware, books and knick-knacks in them. Their intention was to retire in Spain and they were taking their home with them.

Bringing me along for what was to be a summer vacation changed their plans - and my life.

I did go back to California, and my first job after high school involved using a computer.

Steamer trunks and computers. They both are the reason why, when I returned to Norway in 1981, I got a job immediately because Norway needed data entry operators, and with it, the prized document "Offer of Employment" which I was told to take the alien office. Back then, that was in an old building a block from Bergen's courthouse, and one old man worked behind its aged wooden counter.

I slapped my dark blue US passport on the counter, and said in my perfect Bergen accent that I was seeking a work and residency permit. The man behind the counter looked at the foreign passport, at me, then behind me to a non-existent line (oh, how times have changed), then back to me. It was apparent that I had confused him.

"Is that yours?" he asked, pointing to my passport. (Norwegian passports are red.) I said it was. Then I explained that I had gone to school in Norway as a child.

He nodded. He'd already found my "person number" (the Norwegian answer to a Social Security number). "You get your old number back," he said.

My old number.

And that, my dear foreign friends, is why I am the last person to ask about relocating to Norway. I never went through the same hoops other immigrants have to go through, so I don't even know what the hoops are.

Sep 19, 2008

Rifling through the issues

My high school history teacher told us that even if we had nothing to vote for, we always had something to vote against. At least in the US, with two parties constantly stealing the show, that's how it works. It's a little harder to vote against in European politics where you have anywhere from five to 25 party choices.

So, I hope my absentee ballot shows up soon, because I know who to vote against this election. For that reason, too, I have no need to pay attention to the hoopla that is a US presidential election, because I already have my mind made up while not being invested in any one candidate.

What I find amusing is how Americans react to the Republican vice-presidential candidate's relationship with moose: Sarah Palin shoots them.

Surprisingy, Norway has the same number of firearms per capita that the US. Most of these firearms are rifles and belong to hunters or Army reservists.

Norwegians are realistic enough and still close enough to the way of the land that they understand that hunting pretty little Bambis tick-carrying deer is doing the gorgeous creatures a favor: Either feed several families of humans, or face death by traffic or starvation. And that last is far crueler than being served with cream sauce and wild mushrooms. Since we humans love wiping out things like wolves, we need to step into the predatory animals' role and help keep prey animal populations from getting so large, they end up doing harm to themselves.

So if you want me to be upset with Sarah Palin, do not wave your arms while yelling, "She hunts!"

Seriously. Venison is delicious.

Sep 17, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Camper art

Wordless Wednesday
This odd pornographic art exhibit was on display in Voss last Friday.

Sep 16, 2008

Me? Boss lady?

Ah, departmental getaways with good company, laughter, music, alcohol, dancing with my boss. So I popped the question: What will it take for me to get a managerial position?

We were having a little heart-to-heart which led to our talking about who to fill our boss's shoes when he retires in a couple of years. I said that I thought E or S could, but then I asked myself why suggest those two? Why not suggest myself?

I can't believe I actually asked that (or even thought it), but my boss was positive. The thought had occurred to him, too. He told me to keep up what I'd been doing this past half year or so (behavior-wise).

I brought it up because I am wondering where to go next. I'm busy working on an intention list, as suggested by "Harmonic Wealth". My intention is to be manager by age 50. That gives me about two years.

So a seed has been planted. Let's see if it sprouts.

Sep 14, 2008

Norwegians in a nutshell

Our little division at work had a weekend getaway to Flåm, which is at one end of the old Flåm Railway, which takes you through a beautiful and dramatic valley. It is part of the Norway in a Nutshell round trip, which is very popular and well worth the money, and includes a boat trip to Gudvangen, in the UNESCO World Heritage fjord Nærøyfjord.


The train in Flåm

We took the ferry from Flåm to Gudvangen, too, but it was a heck of a cold boat trip! Although the weather was great, this time of year, the sun hadn't cleared the mountains when we entered Nærøyfjord. I was somewhat prepared for the cold, fortunately.


In the Aurland fjord, I was fascinated by the shadows on the hillside

You turn a corner, and enter Naeroy fjord

Almost to Gudvangen

The evening before we'd headed to a new microbrewery, Ægir, in Flåm. Whatever their darkest ale was, it was delicious. You could also get a sampler tray of six beers.


The outside of the microbrewery

We got our drinks and settled in, that is to say, we scared off the other guests very quickly, to my amusement. Because when Norwegians drink, they get loud and laugh a lot. And they'll sing. And end every song with "SKÅL"! And get louder. And laugh harder. And sing some more. And there were 28 of us doing that.

I can understand why the shorts-and-backpack bunch got up and left, but they did miss out on a bit of Norwegian culture.

Next time, dear tourist, don't leave. Hang around and watch these normally buttoned-up people loosen up and smile at everyone, especially if they're singing (if they're having a loud discussion, it's soccer and you don't want to go there). You may even catch some old Norwegian folk tunes with a typically Scandinavian 5/4 beat and an odd little sadness to them, even when sung cheerfully.

Sep 12, 2008

H0102

In the US, apartments have numbers or maybe letters. Sometimes they have fractions. So you could get an address like 123 South Street, Apt. C, or 321 North Street, #33 1/2, or good ol' 678 West Avenue, #202.

It turns out that such a simple idea for identifying individual units without needing names is a good idea - and not implemented everywhere. Like in Norway.

I have been in a few high rises that use apartment numbers, but that's so you know which button to push to get buzzed in. In low buildings like mine (4 stories, 3-4 entries a building, 6-12 units per entry), there are no apartment numbers. You cannot be anonymous. You have to put your name on the door.

You still need a name on the door, but now Norway has found that it is useful to be able to identify apartments independently of whichever name(s) are attached to it (an issue common in a country where so many co-habitat without marrying or taking the husband's last name). And now they've made it mandatory; it has to be on the deed, too.

The Norwegian IRS sent me a letter about the requirement of apartment ID, with a sticker that goes on the doorjamb somewhere, and optionally on the mailbox. If I didn't know my number (I didn't because the original paperwork from 10 years ago is whoknowswhere), I had to call the government map agency. That, after a lengthy wait, turned out to be one of the nicest phone conversations I've had in a long while. The man who took my call had the right mix of humor, friendliness and efficiency.

So I am now registered with H (residential floor) 01 (first floor) 02 (second door on landing). Stickers are on their way in the mail.

Sep 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 2 - Super collider logo

Wordless Wednesday

I'm sure you've seen the Google logo for the super collider already. I'm reposting because in one way, it is historical.

Wordless Wednesday - Church wall, Voss

Wordless Wednesday

Sep 8, 2008

Architecture pr0n

I sometimes wonder if I should have become an architect, even though my spacial abilities are not much (in spite of getting an "A" in geometry). One of my favorite waste of times secret joys is to surf the 'net looking for cool houses. I am especially fond of Spanish style homes (which are typical of California) and Bauhaus cubes. (Whadyamean they have nothing in common? They have me in common!) One architect I admire is Frank Lloyd Wright. I am also fascinated by earthships, because I love the idea of environment-friendly architecture. Treehugger often has buildings (and furniture and interiors) that turn me on. ;-)

My fascination extends even to RVs - and just because it's pr0n, I surf the luxury models. I am fascinated by the efficiency and creativity designed into a small space to make it a full-featured residence. Boats hold a similar fascination for the same reason. Not so much yachts, because they can deliberately build roomy. But efficient cabin design onboard a ship or in the cockpit of a small day-cruiser also impresses me. For that reason I am also tickled by multi-purpose or especially practical furniture.

Then there are the seemingly completely impractical designs. However, I love those, too, simply because I love that a building must not be a square. Today's inspiration (via Arkitekturnytt.no) is Littlehampton's East Beach Café, which reminds some locals of driftwood. Some architecture actually needs people to make it work, as exemplified by Oslo's new opera house: It comes alive because its roof has become a new public mall.

Sep 6, 2008

Putting myself back in class, as it were

I find myself hungry for knowledge, but unsure about what to read to get said knowledge. I surf blogs looking for someone who "speaks" to me, without much success. Now I'm surfing the podcasts at iTunes and am trying out iTunes U.

I love listening to good speakers, people who present coherent thoughts in complete sentences with multi-syllabic words, and who are able to present their case and address any rebuttals without getting personal, off-topic or shallow. It is a nice change of pace from the talking heads on TV, and far more educational.

It's funny what I find interesting: "Saturday Morning Physics" strikes me the way I've heard shoe stores strike more typical women. I look at the list of topics, like "String Theory: What is It Good for" and "The Music of Quantum Physics" and get all goose-bumpy about it.

There is something about listening to a voice (or watching someone speak), about hearing something explained with the intention of the listener learning something from it. It reminds me of the more exhilarating aspects of school - those moments when you actually learned something, when a connection was made, the lightbulb came on and something made sense. Often, that lightbulb came with a feeling, a shiver of joy from learning.

One reason for my desire to learn more is that there are things happening in the world that I would like to understand better. The quantum physics stuff is really a hobby thing, but the interest exists in part because of stuff like the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?". Other topics I find I want to understand better include economics and the history of the Middle East (oil, actually). I want to know what the background is for current conflicts, or at least know more that the evening news or the local newspaper with a photo taking up 3/4 of the page will tell me.

Sometimes I think I live in the best of times. No, I always think that, actually. Imagine, with a computer and an iPod, I can have access to information for free right in my own home, hear great talks, learn new things - and even get the dishes done! A whole library at my fingertips and the freedom to choose. I'm getting goosebumps again.

Sep 4, 2008

Gray, no way! (And yay!)

Tim's comment that the color of the wild roses on yesterday's post was soothing, got me thinking. The more I looked at the brilliant magenta of the roses, the more I realized that although the color is strong, it does not agitate. And that got me thinking about some other colors.

There is some major rebuilding going on at work, opening up our office space to more cramped actual work areas by the windows, and with café-like socializing areas near the window-less entry area into each floor. This week, the temporary walls in the first floor came down and we have all had a chance to get a sneak preview of our new work space.

All I saw were gray walls. And I felt like panicking.

I guess each of us not only has a favorite color, but also a loathed color. When I take those personality tests based on which color you pick first and last, I always pick gray last. It comes after colors like brown, green and orange. Though I own some gray clothes, it is not a color I want to see in large chunks, like on walls. I simply cannot understand why anyone would want gray walls.

On Monday, as I stared into the gray of our refurbished first floor, punctuated by bright red and orange, I discovered to my surprise that it started to hurt to see all that gray.

Today I happened to take another peek at the first floor. All white. Stark, snowy, brilliant white. I was relieved. I don't have worry about my sanity or being forced to get another job because of a color choice. Whew!

Sep 1, 2008

That morning routine thingy

Do you ever catch yourself thinking somebody else's habit sounds at best uninteresting, only to find yourself with the exact same habit somewhere down the road? As the Norwegians say, that's meeting yourself at the door. And I have done just that.

Several years ago, another single co-worker told me about his morning routine, of setting the breakfast table and lighting a candle to enjoy his morning coffee and newspaper by. So guess what I've been doing lately? Yeah, I light a candle, and have breakfast and wait for the morning paper. OK, not quite the same routine, but pretty close.

I wrote earlier about needing morning routines and as I went about waking up to my alarm clock, reading a daily meditation, getting up and turning the radio on in the kitchen, preparing a bowl of oatmeal and a soft-boiled egg, and lighting the candle, it dawned (no pun intended) on me that I had a morning routine. So for about 45 minutes I listen to the news, maybe thumb through the newspaper (I can't read and listen at the same time), and eat well. The rest of the routine is to wash and dress and do my hair and make-up. I found myself ready to leave the house at 7:45 am today. Whoo! Now to keep that routine going.

I notice I wake up earlier on the weekends, meaning my body has gotten used to a 6 am alarm, so I have achieved that routine, which helps. I know 6 am sounds early, but I need that sort of time in the morning. I can't rush through breakfast and I seem to take longer in the bathroom than I used to. There is a corresponding evening routine: I try to avoid screens an hour before going to bed, I shower in the evening but not right before bedtime, and I allow myself time to read in bed. I prefer to be in bed by 10 pm. A comment on avoiding screens: Sitting at the computer just before bedtime makes me wide awake, same thing with playing Sudoku on my PDA. Watching TV just before bedtime is not as bad as computer use, but it must be light fare; no "C.S.I.", for example, but "America's Funniest Home Videos" works fine. Ideally, I should be winding down by washing off my make-up, taking my vitamins, doing my dishes - that sort of thing.

I may have to start adding more candles to my breakfast table. All summer long, I can do dishes in the evening or read the newspaper in the morning without turning on any lights. Last night, at around 8:30 pm, I went to do my dishes and discovered I had to turn the lights on. Well, I can live with that. What'll be harder is getting up in total darkness in the morning and walking to work in that same darkness. Oh, well. After the dark season comes another light one.