Nov 28, 2009

The "food packet"

Norway has a unique feature in its culture, and with it, a unique word: Matpakke. The word literally means "food package" and is the traditional Norwegian work lunch.

Norwegians have traditionally had four meals a day - breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper - of which three are made up of very plain, open-faced sandwiches. Only dinner is a hot meal. The open-faced sandwiches may have a slice of cheese, lunch meat or fish on them and are not to be confused with the sort of sandwich an American would make and put a lid on. Since there is no "lid" (top slice of bread) on a Norwegian sandwich, the solution is to slip a slice-sized square of waxed paper between the open-faced sandwiches. Then the stack is wrapped in a larger sheet of "matpapir" (literally, food paper, which feels and acts like a thicker version of baking paper), creating the easily recognized white package.

Part of the entertainment at work is watching how people handle the used food paper. The frugal stroke it smooth and fold it carefully for reuse. One co-worker twists his into a T-shape that then rests on the lip of his emptied glass of water until it gets tossed at the garbage can. Another makes a version of an origami box with hers before she throws it out. And of course, the crinkling the paper into a ball is a classic.

The Norwegian food package has produced a unique phrase for the typical commuter: Matpakkekjører (food package driver). The only thing sitting the passenger seat next to the driver alone in his car during rush hour, is, of course, the little white pack of slices of bread, meant to be devoured during a 30 minute break, most often between 11 am and 12 pm.

I am about to join this group of people, but being American I will use little plastic bags to put my food in, and my sandwiches will have lids on them, and entire meals in their own right. I also intend to add some lettuce and tomatoes and mustard and such to my lunch meat. I figure that 1.5 sandwiches (3 slices of bread) a day will be perfect.

Why, after over 25 years of buying my food in our excellent employee cafeteria am I now going to "brown-bag it", as an American would say? Well, we renovated our cafeteria and redid the whole menu. But now some things I could eat when my stomach wanted an "easy" day are gone. On those days, I'd eat three slices of bread, one with cheese, and two with jam. But now jam isn't offered any more, and because of an increased intolerance to lactose (something that happens to most people as they age, even those used to eating dairy products), I can't eat more than one slice of cheese a day at work. Odd, but if I have two slices of bread with cheese two days in a row, my stomach protests. So my alternatives are lunch meats or fish. Meat does not always appeal to me when I want to give my stomach a rest, and the fish offered at work is often smoked, which has never agreed with me. The salad bar is varied and tasty, but there, too, items I prefer not to eat get slipped in without me noticing until I taste it (I have requested a number of times that ingredients be listed). If I want to avoid those surprises, I end up with the world's most boring salads. And they no longer offer olive oil and vinegar as dressing; again, I don't know what the other dressings contain. And still, on those days where everything appeals, there is also the risk of eating a bit too much.

So, partly as an experiment, and partly out of frustration, I start eating my own sandwiches this coming week. Sourdough bread, ecological meat (no preservatives!), tasty mustard, and some veggies for decoration and variation, and I and my stomach should be quite happy. The biggest challenge will be in remembering to pack a lunch in the first place!

Nov 18, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Hamburger Alley

Wordless Wednesday In Norwegian: Nedre Hamburgersmauet

Nov 15, 2009

Faith in Jesus, interrupted

I have always been interested in Christianity. More specifically, I have always been interested in the answer to this question: Does Jesus save?

I have always struggled with having a faith in Jesus. My own family is made up of theists, but nobody ever bothered with the traditional religions. Grandma couldn't understand why anybody wanted a faith where you looked up at a bloody, half-naked man every Sunday (good ol' Catholics), and I couldn't understand how anybody could put their faith in a man who looked like a hippie (good ol' Protestants). So while Grandma and I both ended up deists (that's not a typo), we found our spiritual sustenance outside the mainstream.

Still, I've always had the question. Norway has a state religion. It allows for freedom of religion for everyone - except the nation itself and its monarch. The reigning monarch of Norway must be - according to the country's constitution - an Evangelical Lutheran, since the Evangelical Lutheran church is the offical church of Norway. (Denmark has a similar law, while Sweden voted a few years ago to separate state and church.) What this meant when I was a kid was that Christianity and church history were school subjects (nowadays, they teach about all religions). It's not as indoctrinating as it sounds; we were simply taught when our viking kings converted and killed any one who disagreed, how the church was organized and what it believed and why. (Good ol' Marin Luther.) We never prayed in school and nobody ever asked us if we believed in Jesus.

That question would come up when we turned 14, the age of confirmation. After many summers of Bible summer camp[1], many Sundays of Sunday school because what else was there to do in the country, plus the aforementioned classes in school, I knew a lot about Christianity, but not much about faith. I was still baffled about how Jesus could save my soul and life, and knew of only one person in my tiny village who was so Christian she wore a cross but I never dared ask her anything. My whole approach to the matter was not aided by the language of the Bible (I still don't care for that whole the Lord this, the Lord that wording) nor by the rather unfortunate view I had of God Himself (strict, unforgiving). An episode when I was 10 (and I may have told this story before) shut the door on the church itself: School kids attend a Christmas mass before the school holiday starts, and at ours, a junior high choir sang some absolutely beautiful songs. You could hear the congregation sigh with pleasure. What we could not do, was applaud in the Lord's church, said our minister. Right then, I wanted nothing of a god who wouldn't let people show appreciation for each other, no matter where it was.

The church back then was pretty strict, still steeped in piety and stoicism. Nowadays, people do applaud at church concerts, whether the music is religious or secular. But it doesn't matter, because I still haven't figured out the whole Jesus thing. All my classmates and my best friend and my second cousin, were all confirmed. I remember asking my best friend about her motives for her confirmation. She said it was because she believed in God, but I saw the reaction she had to all the money and presents she got, and thought she had lied to me.

There are those who have said to me not to take it all so seriously. I do take it seriously, though, because faith matters to me. And, apparently, so does having the right faith. I'm not terribly worried about my soul; what I'm trying to work out is who's right. Do we die once and live forever as souls? Do we die once and that's it? Do we die many times and are reborn many times? Do we even have a soul?

The whole religious stuff aside, understanding Christianity as a major player in the development of Europe and western civilization helps understand other parts of western history. The reason there was still some order and cohesiveness in the former Roman empire after it fell, was the church. The church unified people, educated people, and helped form our modern justice system. However silly you think believing in a man in the sky is, you should nevertheless be aware of the role and history of the church as institution and governing body.

There is another question: How did an illiterate Jewish carpenter end up being the inspiration for today's western democracies? I have just finished reading Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman, and although Ehrman doesn't address my question, he does explore rather thoroughly what original Christians and Christianity was like, and how we've got the Bible all wrong. Ehrman focuses on the New Testament in this book, and all its discrepancies - some so irreconcilable that to acknowledge them would upset the church. Ehrman says this isn't necessarily the case; no matter who the historical Jesus was, it has no bearing on the faith itself. You can understand that there are huge contradictions between each of the gospels, and you can even know that several of the letters attributed to the apostles and to Paul were forgeries, and it won't matter to your actual faith in God or to the inspiration you can get from the Bible. Ehrman himself said studying the Bible from a historical point of view only made him no longer believe the Bible was inspired by God; it didn't make him lose faith. As a book inspired by people, the Bible has had incredible influence and staying power. And it has that right. It contains every human condition under the sun.

And I now know that I can choose whether or not to believe Jesus is the Son of God, or just another prophet, like the Muslims claim. The New Testament supports both views. There is no historical reason to believe that I must believe in this Jesus fellow to save my soul. I now know where (and when) the Catholic church got some of its theology from, so I won't sweat that particular question any more.

But I needed to get it answered. I have grown up surrounded by Christianity my whole life; it is the only mainstream religion I am in any way familiar with. So of course I have to ask myself, are the Christians right? Must I follow Jesus to be well not only now, but forever? I think the answer is "no", but the Bible does offer universal truths that people should follow (like the golden rule). However, being good to others doesn't depend on a faith in Jesus or in any theism.

Still, there is one question Ehrman raises, not as a main part of his book, but in his closing chapter, by way of explaining how he also ended up agnostic and no longer a practicing Christian (assuming I've understood him correctly): He couldn't work out the suffering part. No matter what he read, or what he was told, nothing could answer the question: Why does a benevolent god allow suffering? Upon hearing that (I have the audiobook version), it occurred to me that that was the question Buddha asked, too, and set about trying to answer.

So I find that although one question has been put to rest, I still have more exploring to do: Is there a god? What exactly is faith, anyway? Is it all really a delusion? Because I'm not entirely sure anymore. And it excites me.


[1]Funny story: We were unpacking upon arrival at a one-week Bible camp. A couple of loudmouths had already unpacked when I and a quiet, shy girl took our beds in the four-bed room. Nobody paid any attention to me, but the loudmouths noticed a lack with the fourth girl's packing. I thought it was the fact that there wasn't a single change of underwear in the girl's suitcase, but no. She was reamed into for forgetting her New Testament. As I recall, I never needed to use mine.

Nov 14, 2009


Comments here and there in the blog world, prompted the question about whether or not I had kept anything from childhood. The answer is no. Both times I left California (age 8 and age 20) for Norway, it never occurred to anyone in the family that it would be for an extended stay and so little was sorted or packed or stored.

The first time, we gave a lot of stuff away, and also had a yard sale. My memory from that time of my life is quite bad, so I don't know what happened to some things I had, like a stuffed snake I named Oscar, or a toy typewriter (yes, I had one of those). It didn't matter. It's not just in death you can't take it with you; you can't haul your whole life with you when traveling, either. But one thing did make the trip with me in 1969, clear across America in the back seat of my grandparents' blue 1964 Mercedes Benz 190D: My Raggedy Ann doll.

I have a vague recollection of my family buying her for me. I believe it was the toy department at Sear's, and she was one of the last toys I got before leaving California. She has been washed but the stains on her face acquired when she and I were both about 40 years younger will not come out. Her white apron went missing years ago. Her bangs, meant to fall on her forehead, have never cooperated, and therefore have always stuck up on her head.

I have never been a doll person, and I don't remember reading any Raggedy Ann stories. As a little girl, the only doll I truly enjoyed was Gumby, and second to that odd green figure, came Barbie. But Raggedy Ann (who shares a name with me) has the unique position of being the only doll to make the trip with me from our native USA all the way to Norway, where there is no Raggedy Ann. Grandma and Grandpa held onto her when I moved back to California at age 15, and so she now sits in my living room as part of the decor. Perhaps she isn't appropriate for an adult woman to display, but Raggedy Ann isn't a toy; she's a representative of a very special time in my life.

Next to Raggedy Ann on the photo is another item my grandparents hung onto: One of my earliest craft projects in Norwegian school. Fourth grade, if I remember correctly, and the color scheme is not one I would have chosen on my own. I had picked a few of the colors but didn't have enough yarn to do a whole pillow. My teacher then brought me some more colors, and I didn't think they'd look good together, but she arranged them for me. It is one of the few projects I completed in school, and it is also one of the few crafts projects I have always been pleased with. I still like the colors, and I'm still impressed with my teacher's choices. To this day, I can remember sitting in the classroom in the old schoolhouse on a gloomy, rainy day, yarn spread out before me and the teacher instructing me how to sew the simple pattern. Watching the stripes come to life as I worked delighted me.

Nov 10, 2009

This should have been written at 5 am

…because at 5 am I had all kinds of great ideas for a blog post today, and had several paragraphs ready in my head.

Can't remember a thing - not even what the topic was.

What's the point of waking up way too early if you can't use it for something good? I need to take my MacBook to bed with me from now on. If I'm going to keep waking up way before the alarm clock goes off, I may as well make good use of the time.

Watch this space. It'll either be brilliant (ha!) - or jus ajkfjiebu aehf zzzzzzzzzzz…

Nov 9, 2009

Royal angels and tweets

Lately, Princess Märtha Louise has been in the news because of her new book about angels, co-written with Elisabeth Samnøy, with whom the princess also runs an angel school with. I kid you not. The funny part is that the usually staid Norwegians are flocking to hear her speak and to buy her book. Nothing like a royal title to get you some free advertising. And sadly, that is exactly what is happening.

I like the princess. She has always struck me as a sweet, intelligent and stylish woman who nevertheless remained her own woman, in spite of the strictures that come with being a member of the Norwegian royal family. (She won't be queen because at the time she was born, the Norwegian constitution still held that only male heirs could inherit the throne, so it's her kid brother who is Crown Prince, and his daughter who is next in line now that the law has been changed.) And so she throws herself into a line of work that is far from mainstream or royal. The reaction to princess Märtha Louise's angel school is from some derisive, from some enthusiastic, and from most a shoulder shrug and a small roll of the eyes.

It might be amusing to attend one of her weekend workshops and see if I can meet both the Princess and my guardian angel. Or maybe just save my money and amusement for someone else. That said, I still like the princess. I hope she is offering more than cheap thrills.

The heir to the throne is kid brother Crown Prince Haakon, and although some think he should shave (and at the time shouldn't have married a party girl with a son from a previous relationship), he is personable, intelligent and idealistic, and very much in love with Crown Princess Mette-Marit (former party girl). I like him, though I sometimes have trouble seeing him as our next king - and I wish he would shave. Mette-Marit and her son from a previous relationship seem to have adjusted to the weird fish bowl existence that royal life is. She made most of the nation quite skeptical and even a bit frustrated with the new generation of royals at the time she started dating Crown Prince Haakon, but she has proven herself worthy and capable of being the nation's Crown Princess. And like most Norwegians, I like that our royals sound like regular people (with the exception of them speaking of themselves in third person singulars) and behave like regular people.

Like many nowadays, our Crown Prince and Princess tweet, prefacing their tweets with KPM or KPH or KPP, depending on whether the tweet is from her or him or both (respectively). They also meet my standard for what I find interesting so I started to follow them.

What has me tickled is that they're following me back.

Nov 8, 2009

Slow food for the brain

I have noticed that with things like Twitter and Facebook, getting something off one's chest can be done in a few short sentences, and the immediacy and convenience (and lack of expectation of more than a paragraph) mean that more people "tweet" or post to Facebook rather than blog now.

I was hunting for some old information on my blog, when I found myself rereading some of my old posts. And I found that I missed writing. I missed blogging. I missed my voice. So I am trying to get back to posting more frequently (preferably daily), only to find a Paul Simon lyric running through my brain: "[…]why am I short of attention / Got a short little span of attention…"

Instead of a thought morphing into an exploration of an idea or experience over several paragraphs, it gets "tweeted" and left there, lost in a million other tweets or just on my page alone, dozens, quickly pushed out at the bottom and forgotten even by its author.

As delightful and as useful as Tweeter can be - and I do enjoy the challenge of microblogging and telling an entire story in 140 characters - there is something to be said for doing some actual thinking, researching and discovering, and then communicating it all without other limits than what the idea itself needs. The quick messaging encouraged by many social medias, including the cell phone, ends up being like fast food for the brain. Quick, easy, nothing that leaves a lasting impression.

Slow food for the brain is pondering, asking questions, chasing an idea, exploring what others think about the matter, analyzing and synthesizing, and digesting it all slowly through the keyboard and saved drafts, lingering over turns of phrases, surprising yourself with how you react to some piece of information. Those are the best mental meals. And you just can't have those in 140 characters or less.

Nov 7, 2009

Partying in purple paisley

It wasn't my night last night. The night belonged to two very nice co-workers who were both hired November 1 1984. 50 people enjoyed a lovely meal, speeches, entertainment, conversation, a bit of dancing and a lot of wine. But as their guest until about 2 am, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. And my outfit.

I tried on clothes on Wednesday, only to discover that I'd "outgrown" my favorite party clothes, and wasn't terribly thrilled with the alternative left me. I spent Thursday looking for alternatives. With the exception of the V-necks and lovely purples, there is little about the current fashion that attracts or suits me - or fits me (skinny jeans really are for the skinny-legged). And a bum shoulder also meant I couldn't even get some garments one. I did buy silver-colored leggings (or tights, as they are literally called in Norway - often misspelled as thights which also makes sense); I figured if I didn't like them, I could still use them for yoga.

To my surprise, the silver leggings looked good on me with an old purple blouse I had. Together with dressy sandals and heaps of jewelry, I had an outfit on Thursday that worked.

Until I woke up at 2 am Friday morning with my thoughts racing. That's when I realized that I may have to go back to my original alternative, because I wasn't entirely comfortable with the outfit I had put together. I plugged in an audio book and managed to silence my own brain by paying attention to someone else's. Eventually I got some sleep, but it was the wrong night to lose sleep since I was going to be up late later.

A quick dash back into the stores during office hours, and I found a tunic in a riot of purple colors and paisley patterns. It wasn't the sort of thing I wear at all, but it looked OK in the dressing room mirror. I bought black velvet leggings to wear with it, and it looked better than OK.

The classic black dress in all its variations shows up at every party. Last night I got a lot of nice compliments from both men and women for my colorful choice. And I have to say I was quite pleased with having found something both fashionable and attractive - at my age and weight.

Still want to wear those silver leggings in public, though. I have a plan…

Nov 6, 2009

Giving up sex

Hah! I'll bet my blog post title made you take a second look! But I woudn't give up sex. No, it's the title of the song embedded below. In connection with the release this week of a rock-and-roll encyclopedia covering the last 50 years of music in Bergen (Bergen actually headed the rock-and-roll revolution in Norway back before my time), this blast from the past got some airtime. So not only was this band ("Blind Date") Norwegian, it was from Bergen! Yay! And I love the song - still.

Nov 5, 2009

Neither here nor there

Earlier this week, in a comment on my Halloween post, Protege asked me a question: Do I ever feel the urge to return to California for good, or do I feel Norwegian at this point? My answer was neither.

Although many people believe I am Norwegian, I'm not. Not even by blood. I am a mere transplant, who has had only one citizenship her entire life: American. My parents were both US citizens and so was my Norwegian grandpa - my mother's step-father. He became a naturalized citizen in 1950. I remember teasing him about having been a citizen only 10 years longer than I had. So I have never had dual citizenship nor an option for it.

Culturally, I'm a mix, having split my childhood between California and Norway. I share some common cultural memories with people my age in Norway, and I share some common cultural memories with people my age in California. In my mind, Star Trek sits next to Radio Luxembourg. Both stir up emotions in me and bring back years of growing up. The original Star Trek series has never been aired in Norway, and Radio Luxembourg was never broadcast in the US. In me, they occupy the same time and space.

I am not just bi-lingual. I am also bi-cultural. When I was younger, I wished there was an international passport for those of us who feel they belong in (and to) more than one nation. There are times now when I still wish for that.

Due to an American birth and family, I have never felt Norwegian. Due to my long years in Norway and assimilation here, I am no longer in sync with Americans in the US. I used to be homesick for the US. There are still places I would love to visit again, there, but if I were there, I'd miss Norway. The thing I missed the most about the US, was the food. So many favorites there just weren't available here. But you get used to going without, and then when they slowly appear in Norway as exotic imports (like canned pumpkin pie mix or maple syrup), they take the edge off the homesickness. In recent years, Arm & Hammer baking soda, cherry cola and root beer have appeared in my local grocery store. I bought Oreos one day. You know what? I can't take them any more. They still taste great, but they give me indigestion. And that is part of why I am no longer homesick.

Right up until 2005, which was when I took my first trip back to California since I left in 1981, I had this dream of America, much like an emigrant may have. When I went home to Norway, I felt neutral; the feeling I was leaving home wasn't so strong. I revisited in 2007. This time, though, I felt like a visitor the whole time, and when I got on the plane for Europe, I knew I was going home and that nothing tied me to the US any more.

The thing is, the country has changed in the over 25 years I've been on this side of the pond. It has become foreign to me - and I to it (which produced some awkward situations, with me asking in a perfect American accent the sort of questions foreigners ask). There are also developments in the US that I don't like - and developments in Norway that I do. Right now, as a regular worker drone for a big company, I am far better off in Norway than I would have been in California with a similar education and job skills. Over here, knowing English has been an advantage; I can't remember any time I needed my Norwegian in California. And over here I don't have to worry about health insurance or vacation or sick leave. Heck, I don't even have to worry about being fired!

Because I cannot vote in national elections in Norway, my interests tend to go back across the pond to the US. I have the right to vote in presidential elections there. Again, I'm not really 100 % one or the other. After all, I don't live under the effects of Congress' decisions.

Life is good for me here in Norway. And unless the Republicans get back on track, and the Democrats do too, and restore my beloved nation of birth to one that actually cares about regular people and upholding the Constitution, I'll take my chances in this godforsaken corner of the world. Norway has its own share of crooks and idiots, but at least its gap between those that have and those that have not is not the yawning divide America now has.

Nov 3, 2009


A warm "fohn" wind blew yesterday morning. A cold and wet wind blew yesterday afternoon, and I - who didn't have an umbrella - took the bus home.

Typical November weather. The wind comes in hard and sideways and dumps huge amounts of rain on you, also sideways. And it makes the darkening evening even darker.

I didn't discover until I was an adult why I hated November as a child. I usually notice stuff, including stuff other people don't notice, but the autumns of my childhood are a mystery to me. I can't remember what they were like. Except for November.

As an adult, however, I have solved the mystery. I simply hadn't had the sense to appreciate the brilliant colors of fall: The stunning golds and reds and yellows, that arrive slowly and leave so quickly. All I remembered was that one month where there was no color at all: November.

November was just gray. Gray skies. Gray ground. Gray leaves. Gray trees. Gray weather. Gray, gray, gray. No wonder it drove me nuts!

November is still gray but I can be more patient with it now. I have the sense now to pay attention to the changing of the leaves and enjoy every hue. I also know that by December we'll be putting advent lights in our windows, creating little beacons of solace in all the gray. And then comes the solstice and Christmas!

Although January, too, can be gray like November, it nevertheless is the start of a new year, and of lengthening days, and it is filled with thoughts of the future. Even for some animals: I've seen magpies in January checking out potential twigs for their spring nest-building.

November is here. I'll deal. Happily.

Nov 2, 2009

Halloween: It lost something in translation

I can barely remember childhood Christmases or Easters. One Christmas stands out because it was the last before I moved to Norway at age 8; one Easter stands out because we ended up spending the day in the ER getting stitches put into my sister's forehead.

The holiday I remember best is Halloween. I always went as a witch, all in black with a pointy hat. I had no interest for skeletons or ghosts or vampires, and to this day I disdain any girl who shows up dressed as a princess. You know, looking pretty in pink. What's scary about that???

I was lucky: I had family members who could sew. One Halloween I had a gorgeous outfit because it was decorated with red tulle and sequins, and I wore a domino mask. I may not have been a scary witch but I was certainly no princess!

Carving pumpkins is a lot of fun, too. Sort of the grown-up version of playing with mud pies (oh, and don't throw the pumpkins innards down the kitchen sink; it'll clog) - and then you get to be creative.

One of my more adult Halloweens in California had me wearing a troll costume we'd made for a play our youth group had put on for our local Sons of Norway lodge. My then-boyfriend wore his, too. He was 6'4" (193 cm), and at one point we opened the door to a pair of sisters. My boyfriend started out with his head under my arm, but then he slowly stood up to his full height. The two girls screamed and fled in terror. I hollered after them if they didn't want any candy, and we heard from way down the block one little girl yell to the other, "Don't you want the candy?" The braver one came back. We didn't mean to scare them so, and did say so, but my goodness, did that whole episode symbolize what can be fun about Halloween!

So when the custom slowly started here in Norway a good decade ago, I happily opened my door to the first trick-or-treaters - only to be absolutely dismayed at the cheap, store-bought costumes. No effort made to make oneself look the scariest or the most convincing. I was so disappointed in how only the commercial side of the holiday had made it across the Atlantic that I stopped opening my door. Then the Norwegian kids egged my windows. I never experienced that, either, in the US, so it was another disappointment. They'd not only imported the plastic parts, but also the nasty parts.

Where's the effort to out-scare each other and run around being something you're not for one night? It's supposed to be a kids' holiday, one where we grown-ups take a backseat and let the children have safe fun playing spooky dress-up. I remember delighting in being dressed up with the other kids, and hopefully being scared by some grown-up (in a good way), but mainly intent on being the one who scares. The kids here put on whatever costume is popular this season, and ring a doorbell to get candy and that's it.

It's just not the same. And that's why I choose not to celebrate it here.

Nov 1, 2009

The war that never ends

In an attempt to escape Halloween (I'll talk about that later) yesterday, I went to a theater play. "Operasjon Almenrausch" (sorry, little info in English) was more like a live docudrama, and what a great way to tell a story! Extremely clever staging, with the action taking place all over and the audience seated in the middle of the floor and in the middle of the action. The director defines the play as an audiovisual hearing. The actors didn't act anything out; they (and the audience) were told they could never recreate the terror, so just tell the story; just answer the questions. And they did, backed up by vintage film footage and actual recorded interviews from the people involved.

The play was about a couple of unsung war heroes. Norwegian resistance folk who were never invited to ride in any ticker-tape parade nor given a memorial plaque or any medals. Why? Because they were communists. No matter what they had sacrificed on behalf of their country during five years of occupation, most were labelled as traitors afterwards. A huge, nasty conspiracy by all the "good" people.

World War II in Norway wasn't about soldiers and pilots and sailors moving in masses on foreign fronts, like it was for the US. The war here was a quiet occupation by polite but brutal Germans, and was fought by regular people, often with no military experience, whose main weapon was the Norwegian landscape itself and their own knowledge of it. Though Norway did have a military, run by the Norwegian government from its exile in London, most of the Norwegians affected by and involved in the war and the occupation were civilians. My own maternal grandfather was torpedoed a number of times - while serving on civilian ships.

The whole staging lasted less than two hours. During the brief break after the show itself and a panel discussion to start afterwards, I happen to talk to a couple. The wife told me her father had served in the Norwegian marines. I didn't think to ask if perhaps his ship had protected the convoys my grandfather sailed in.

The play had a special interest for the folks in Bergen: The story revolves around two men: the Bergen communist leader Peder Furubotn and the resistance man Samuel Titlestad, also from Bergen. Furubotn ignored instructions from Moscow and insisted that the communists demonstrate against faciscism. In Bergen, he managed to accomplish that. After the occupation, the fight to keep Norway non-fascist went underground and now Titlestad joined Furubotn. Both Titlestad and his wife were in the resistance.

Bergen's favorite author, Gunnar Staalesen, is best known for his mystery novels about the Bergen private detective Varg Veum. Staalesen also wrote a fictionalized trilogy about Bergen's history through the 20th century, and I remember how he dwelled on the labor movement and the communists during his chapters about the 1930's. (Staalesen is a darned good read, by the way.) What I didn't know was that he had befriended the son of the Titlestads in his teen years. Their story colored Staalesen's outlook, and also their son's, who became a historian. Now 62, the younger Titlestad sat in the panel next to Staalesen and talked about how history gets fudged too much. Yes, history is written by the victor, but in some cases, we're not just talking point of view; we're talking outright lies.

Norway has always been a nation of good, honest people and a government to match. One could forgive a few foibles and injustices; it was war, people were hurting, confused, etc. Take your pick. But in recent years, other stories have surfaced. Sometimes a Norwegian girl would fall for a German soldier; that could cost her her life. It certainly cost her her friends and her family. But who really paid the price? The children. To this day, the Norwegian government has not apologized for labeling them all retards and putting them in institutions. They seem comfortable with letting the children take the blame for their parents' actions. The now-adult children spent the start of this century fighting for redress. And while it may not have been appropriate to sympathize with them when I was young, now we do. And rightly so.

Speaking of which: Earlier this year, an unknown hero from the day of occupation itself, April 9 1940, was vindicated and awarded years after his death, when correspondence was found telling the truth about the man's heroic act to help get the prime minister and his cabinet out of Oslo. Who lied about the man's heroism? A respected member of the cabinet, Trygve Lie. A man whose name I grew up reading in history books and respecting because he was the first secretary-general of the United Nations.

But the dirty deeds that are being made known all these decades later, are not the main reason I feel like writing about my experience last night. No, it's the spirit of community shared with the others I meet in Norway, by virtue of having had a grandfather in the thick of things in the war, of having grown up in a landscape dotted with solid, German bunkers, and the little hints in the family: "Don't talk to so-and-so about the war; he was on the wrong side." Meaning, so-and-so had sympathized with the Nazis. When I think back, I'm amazed Grandpa didn't turn out bitter or angry. But I think he knew only too well what starts wars, and there'd been enough pain.

I sat next to a woman during the panel discussions, one who just had to whisper comments in my ear. It turned out that her father had also been in the resistance with Titlestad and Furubotn. The young family had to move to Sweden, and her father came and went - much to her mother's dismay - while the children remained oblivious to what Dad was actually up to. She was now 76 and eagerly telling her story to her grandchildren and anybody else who would listen. The occupation has been one of the most intense experiences the Norwegian people have ever had, and it still affects and defines them.

To me, it is important to keep talking about the war, to share these stories. The scariest thing about World War II is that I don't know what I would have done if my current government demanded I think a certain way and betray my neighbors. I do believe the US approached a similar behavior with its Patriot Act. And to my horror, nobody stopped it. And nobody stopped George W. Bush's preemptive strike on Poland Iraq.

If your own government doesn't say no, what can a regular citizen do? And that sticky question is exactly what faced many people in Europe 70 years ago.