Journey through Hvasser

March 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve fallen behind in writing and rather than forcing myself to sit down and catch up, I find I unconsciously avoid it. I need to write because it helps me process my experience at the same time as keeping family and friends updated with what I am doing. My mom told me that the greatest thing about writing everything down is that I can look back several years from now and remember what I have gone through. I will recall to memory as much as I can and then ensure I keep up after this.

The weather for the past week and a half has been unequivocally stunning. Rain and snow have remained at bay and the sun glows all day long, rising at six and setting around eight. Though the temperature fluctuates from -3 to 2 degrees Celsius, the snowbank has almost completely melted away. Soon the rain will wash away the snow that prevails and we will have a bit of a wet season before we can head to the beach. I spend most of my days outside on lingering walks, studying the island or roaming in to town. Sometimes when my aunt has her days off we drive to the nearby island Hvasser and embark on a two-hour walk-hike along the coast. I wish my words could accurately justify how arrestingly beguiling this tour is. We begin traveling along the sandy beach and then up along the emerging lawns of the summer cottages. Norway has a 100-meter rule which states that all home and properties lines can only be built up to 100-meters from the shoreline. This rule makes it quite effortless to trace the shore, as well as admire the alluring white cottages and gardens that run along the beach.The water is a calm, translucent palate of blues. At some points it is shallow for at least 50 feet into the water and I find myself bewitched by the consideration of casting myself in and relishing the cool water and soft sand. Cool does not even begin to define just how cold the water is. I’m obliged to admit that upon watching movies where someone falls through ice into a stream or lake I’m quite critical about their lack of swimming abilities. This criticism undoubtedly results from the actuality that I’ve never felt the extreme cold of icy waters. To close our walks we stop at the beach and remove our shoes to wade ankle deep in the water. The first time I put my foot in, I felt a sharp pain of stabbing needles travel up through the inside of my leg. This odd muscular happening was followed by an exchange of extremely hot and cold sensations and then the complete inability to move my foot. Rather than enjoying a refreshing foot bath I was facing a momentary paralysis. It can be officially declared that I no longer doubt the effect of ice cold water on our muscular system. Until the summer sun heats up the sea, I will have to simply stare longingly at the clear waters. The beaches on the island are brief yet numerous, broken up by voluminous boulders and extensive wooden docks. The turf is a mixture of supple, dark sand and small stones and is littered with thousands of miniature shells. Since we are still in the transition from winter to spring there are sizable patches of snow coating portions of the sand. I find it amusing to walk along the beach in the radiating sunlight, stepping from snow to sand and sand to snow. The burly boulders construct towering walls along the beach and are framed by bulky piles of seaweed. My aunt tells me the seaweed is exceptionally nutritious for garden plants when dried and placed on the soil. We proceed up the coast through fields of yellow grass flattened by the weight of winter. The melted snow generates a system of small streams that travel down the hills and through the fields to the sea. We pass through a compact fishing village that boasts three main fishermen and an exquisite seafood restaurant. I remember coming here one of my summers to buy freshly caught and boiled shrimp from one of the boats. During those warm months this area is teaming with people but is now thoroughly vacant. We pass through the village onto a dirt road that runs through a neighborhood. Here, in what is technically considered the countryside, only the main road is paved. The roads that run off it to all the homes are made of deep brown soil and bits of loose gravel.  Our journey continues into a small forest where we are no longer walking on an chameleon ground of sand and snow but rather clambering up large boulders and cautiously traveling through the small crevices filled with ice and snow. I’m grateful this is a popular walk among the inhabitants of the island for their previous footprints alert me of where to take my next step, as well as where not to. Our path changes from snow-filled crevice to slow-flowing stream. In the summer months this path is dry and serves as the main walking path to the shoreline. The water is shallow and glitters in the sunlight that breaks through the bare branches looming overhead. As juvenile as it sounds, it feels as though we are on a sort of secret adventure.

The path breaks out onto what looks like an open field but what is in fact a marsh covered with snow and a series of narrow wood planks to cross it. As we manage our way across the icy planks I notice various holes on the sides where peoples feet have made their way through the snow to the watery mush beneath. Only a few more steps through a packed collection of brush and trees and we reach our final destination, a beach area known as Lilleskagen. The terrain varies, as you can settle on the smooth sand or venture out on the boulders that spread into the sea. The boulders are known as Svaberg (Svah-bear-gg) in Norwegian and are a central trademark of the southern islands of Norway. Over the years, the icy winters have carved away at these exceptionally massive boulders forming a polished curved surface. Most of the time you are able to find a curve that perfectly hugs your body and supports your head and back. We rest for a while and spend a few moments taking in the warmth of the stone, supple lapping of the waves and crisp ocean breeze.

Last Tuesday, my aunt arranged for us to have lunch with one of her friends and her friend’s daughter Cecilie, who runs a horse stable near town. As I got out of the car I was bombarded by an extremely rambunctious and severely muscular Rottweiler. Had I not grown up with a Rottweiler, I think it would have been hard for me to distinguish the breed of this horse-dog because here it is illegal to cut off the tails of dogs when they are born. After experiencing that little bit of culture shock, I stumbled over to introduce myself to Cecilie. She was instantaneously genial and unreserved and I felt no form of discomfort. In addition to Cecilie were her three year old son Thomas, her mom Tina, her friend and friend’s baby son. Despite the cold, we sat down at a white wooden picnic table to enjoy a late breakfast. I’ve grown quite used to the cold here and significantly adjusted my tolerance. I used to avoid patio seating in L.A. when the temperature was in the sixties, yet here I was eating breakfast at a table nestled in the snow.

After breakfast I got an opportunity to experience horse training. Cecilie is a purely sensational trainer as she really understands the development and nature of horses. The horses responses to her calls were both immediate and affectionate. I spent several hours with her as she versed me in the basics of horse care and training tips. Its mentally satisfying to learn about a new subject, especially from such a qualified person. We did some chores around the barn: washing feed buckets, sweeping and measuring out hay for the next day. Cecilie treated me to a horseback ride, which ended up being a lot more humbling than I could have ever imagined it to be.

Last night as I was responding to some emails I heard the familiar sound of snow trucks passing on the main road. To put it plainly, they sound like low flying airplanes. I found it odd, considering the snow had almost completely melted, but I decided to investigate anyway. As I turned the door handle, the door swung open with a freezing gust of wind. I stood there in the doorway analyzing the night: unlit sky with a slight pink glow along the horizon audible through a torrent of wind streams, but no snow. When I woke this morning, I was taken aback by the pale grey glow that reflected off the ceiling; a glow that ordinarily resulted from the reflection of daylight off the snow. Sure enough, I looked out the window to find that the sky was unloading snow into the yard. Within eight hours of night, we were coated in half a meter of snowfall. It’s hard to believe that a couple days ago my Aunt and I savored lunch on the lawn and soaked in the sun for a few hours.

My 2-year-old second cousin Bendik is staying with us for a couple days and in order to tire him out for his nap, we decided to go out into the snow and dig a path to the main road. We spent half an hour getting dressed and Bendik had so many layers on that he was having trouble standing. We stepped into the snow while my aunt went to get ready and he lit up immediately. There is nothing like falling into two feet of fresh powder. Bendik and I found it so enjoyable that we proceeded to travel around the yard and fall into as many untouched spots as possible. At moments we simply lay there with the snowflakes falling on our face, laughing at the luxury and solace of the snow. Suddenly my phone rang and I was blown away by the sound of Christian’s voice on the other end. This was a phone call I had been expecting every day for almost a month. He told me that he was at the Munch museum in Oslo with his classmates and asked if we could see each other later today. Our conversation was punctuated by yells from Bendik who lay awkwardly in the snow piles, paralyzed with discomfort. As I attempted to release Bendik from the depths of the white prison, Christian and I arranged to speak later in the day when we could better lay out our plans. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen him and I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed him. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, even for your annoying younger brother.

Bus rides and Tønsberg

March 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

I think my toes might fall off. I’m rethinking how brilliant of an idea it was to wash all my socks at the same time. Normally the cottage is warm and comforting, but somehow I lack the knowledge of both the location and operation of all the space heaters. I’m extremely tempted to light a fire but I’ve already used half the wood and don’t want to use all of it before my Aunt returns from her trip to Sweden. So far, the best idea I’ve had is to light as many candles as I can and hope that the heat is sufficient to keep my toes attached.  That and possibly sealing all the windows and doors where the ice cold air seeps through.

Yesterday I made my way down to Tonsberg to visit with my cousin and her family. In order to do that I had to escape my isolation on the island and attack my first experience with the bus system. It’s amusing how fearful we can be of the unknown. Almost as if we aren’t good enough or strong enough to rise to the occasion. I’m fully aware that I am only speaking in reference to taking a bus ride. In my defense, I currently have no sense of direction, much less knowledge of how the public transportation system here works, and no effective means of establishing where I am at any point in time. I pictured myself either getting on the wrong bus or missing my stop, then calling my cousin and not even being able to pronounce where I was.

As the bus pulled up I glanced at the woman driving and rehearsed what I was going to say. I had a great start as the door opened from the opposite side of where the door handle was located and ended up whacking me in the face. I laughed at myself and said hi, then found myself in a certain state of shock as the driver responded, not as a woman, but as a man with a light blue eyes, a fake tan, and a long, highlighted perm. My payment was processed and my need to transfer explained, in English, and I shuffled into the first seat. As we roared through the fields of snow, I found myself alert to a familiar fluctuation of sounds behind me. I turned my head slightly and tried to grasp more of the sound over the groaning of the tires under my seat. My transfer stop popped up and the driver turned and ushered me off. It was then that I found the source of the familiar sounds, Americans. Norwegian is spoken like music, fluid and connected. Apparently, the tone of the English language is more jagged and broken, at least enough to stand out among the bouquet of sounds.

So here I was, stuck freezing at a bus stop with a typical Norwegian girl, the two Americans, a teenage boy dressed in true emo style, and a crazy lady in a tracksuit carrying a bag full of miscellaneous nothings and what appeared to be the better part of a vacuum. I wanted so badly for something about me or on me to momentarily appear familiar enough to attract and engage the Americans in conversation. The man looked at me every now and then, possibly acknowledging the expression of recognition of our common language in my face. The girl however was fully involved in her story and I found myself satisfied to simply witness her typical American phrases and slang. After a couple minutes of basking in my proximity to something reminiscent of home, I slipped on my iPod and selected John Legend’s new album. As I stared at the untouched snow bank ahead of me, memories I had flashed forward, as if to fill the blank space I zoned out on. How easily accessible our memories are when we are experiencing a transition in our lives. Perhaps our imaginations are more open to the unknown surroundings and as a result are more prone to replaying the past perceptions already lingering in our consciousness.

My stay at my cousin’s was both socially satisfying and soothing. I’m warmed by how quickly we picked up our relationship and how close and accepted I feel by her family. Each time I see them we delve further into deeper topics and I find myself learning a lot from them. I’m not sure if my feelings towards children in general have changed or if I’ve just unintentionally made an exception for her sons. They are so full of light and smiles and I thoroughly enjoy being around them. There is also an alluring quality children have here when they speak. It is as if the way Norwegian is physically spoken, the face expressions and formation of the mouth around the words, causes children to appear as miniature adults. At the same time, visiting at her house had confirmed that I have yet to develop the constant patience and never-ending energy necessary to raise children. For the moment, I will make do on the occasional interactions I have with my second cousins.

We began the morning with a typical Norwegian breakfast, a style I have come to love. The center of the table is reserved for the multitude of options of which to satisfy your hunger. After selecting a base, anything from soft wheat bread to rye crackers, you choose a spread: strawberry preserves, ham and cheese cream, fish cream, or light mayo. Finally you finish with your toppings: fresh sliced ham, salami or turkey, swiss or sweet brown goat cheese, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, hard boiled egg, etc. I find it exciting to cut your bread slice up into small pieces and create a variety of different concoctions, the combinations are endless. All this is washed down with hot tea with milk or strong, black Norwegian coffee, which I have found to be so strong that it essentially feels as though you are sucking on a bunch of espresso beans. There is something very social about this method of eating. Consumers are constantly engaged as they reach for specific items and build their next bite.

In the afternoon we went to visit her cousin on her dad’s side. They have two young children as well and usually spend the weekends with each other, giving the children time to socialize and release all their energy. The adults sat inside drinking that amazing black coffee while the kids played outside in the snow. I thought to myself how convenient it is to live in this climate when you have children, as snow provides a free playground. After an hour or so the kids dragged us out to marvel at the tunnel system they had built. I promised myself that I would one day build a snow cave.

I’ve found, through my conversations with acquaintances here, that the language barrier is often a test of my self-esteem. A lot of times I find myself stopping to decipher whether the person I’m speaking with simply finds me boring or has no clue what I am saying and is therefore just nodding and smiling blankly in response.  Also, I feel an even deeper need to learn Norwegian faster; a feeling fueled by the guilt I feel for how my lack of language skills hinders general conversations. Anyone in my presence will speak English out of respect, regardless of whether or not the conversation is directed towards me. I wonder at the awkwardness they feel conversing with each other with their limited English vocabulary, when they could do so effectively in Norwegian. Sometimes I catch people, amidst a conversation in English, just staring at each other, hoping that whatever he or she said has made enough sense to the other.

My return trip on the bus was much more smooth, but equally entertaining. I found myself waiting at the bus stop with a young Norwegian man about my age. At first I didn’t find him too interesting; he was dressed normally and carrying several plastic bags full of what sounded like recycling. Then I glanced at his neck, specifically at the “Vatos Locos” tattoo inscribed in large letters under his jawline. I then noticed that he had a black eye, was drinking a Smirnoff, and the bags he carried were full of six packs of beer. I wish I’d had the gall, and ability, to inquire about the story behind that tattoo.

I’ve been asked a lot about my choice to move here. I usually respond with something along the lines of school and the general experience, whatever jumps into my head at that moment. I have a small notebook where I write down everything thats me laugh, quotes that inspire me and thoughts that I have. I find that, depending on the point in my life, I am drawn to different quotes in this book. As I read through it on the bus ride home today, I came across one with quite an alluring point. It follows in the category of the “why not?” response when inquired about my move.

“For believe me! The secret to harvesting the greatest abundance and the greatest enjoyment from existence is this: Live dangerously! Build you cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Be robbers and conquerers… you knowing ones! The time will soon be past when you could be content to live hidden in the forest like timid deer.”

-Friedrich Nietzche

We inherently suffer the fear of the unknown, the fear of change. Why not conquer this fear and throw ourselves out there? The worst thing that could happen is that the stories of our lives would be worth telling.

Planning begins…

March 12, 2009 § 2 Comments

The sun has come and gone. The snow is falling with force in every conceivable direction. I am home alone now until Monday, as my Aunt works several hours away and is only home for her days off. I was hoping to weather would stay decent so I could fill my alone time with long walks and reflection at the beach. Eventually I am going to have to make my way into town to get some groceries, but I will need to wait for the weather to improve enough for me to comfortably travel the hour walk to the store.

We had dinner Tuesday night at my cousin Karoline’s house in Tonsberg. I really enjoyed seeing her and playing with her two sons. I sat with them a while and watched Dora the Explorer in Norwegian and English. I felt quite silly sitting there learning Norwegian at the same rate they were learning English. My ability to communicate has been reduced to the level of a six-year old.  Her husband came and rescued me at one point, ushering me to join the adults in the kitchen.

After dinner we sat and talked a bit about politics, the economy, and then my plans here. Karoline and her husband are both teachers and a wealth of information about the education system. We spent an hour looking up information on different sites and began mapping out my plan of attack. It seems that my track will take much less time than I thought. Here in Norway, you can apply to medical school as soon as you have taken the required courses in science and passed proficiency exams in both English and Norwegian. While it is nice that you don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree, the schools are extremely difficult to get into and take a couple years longer. Most Norwegians end up attending medical school in Poland, Denmark or Germany. The best part of everything is that the government pays for all the costs of school, including room and board, and gives a stipend to all the students. In addition to that, I can apply for numerous loans and scholarships that are extremely easy to get. I am so relieved by the fact that I can finish school without any debt and possibly not having to work. I haven’t known what its like to go to school without working since I was 14.

Now my full focus is on figuring out exactly when I need to apply to the schools. I will have to take a class in Norwegian first so I can pass the language exam. Most of the classes and booksare in English because the cost of translation is too high. After that I will apply to all the medical schools here in Norway… and possibly some others in Europe. I am so lucky that I have already taken all the science and math courses. My main worry through all of this is how well my medical license will travel to the U.S. in case I want to move back at one point. I should probably force myself to just focus on here and now and worry about those issues when they come up later.

Waking up to the Snow

March 10, 2009 § 3 Comments

I love being in the Norwegian countryside. Everything is so calm and beautiful. I had trouble sleeping last night as I am still a bit plagued by remnants of jet lag. At one point I woke to find myself overheating and covered in sweat, it’s great having hot flashes in your 20’s. There is a very small window in the loft cave my bed occupies. I felt around for the latch and after a few attempts was immediately refreshed by a burst of ice cold Norwegian air. After allowing it to bathe my face for a while I curled back into my nest of puffy, white comforters and oversized pillows. I lay there for maybe half an hour before falling back asleep, enjoying the gusts of cold air that managed to make it through the tiny window above my feet.

When morning finally came I lifted my eye mask to find that everything was covered with a fine layer of snow. There was no breeze so as the snow fell it settled comfortably on each and every twig and leaf of each tree. It was such a contrast from Oslo where the streets are covered in ice and footprints and the snow you see is dark with street pollution and dirt. I lay there for a moment enjoying the womblike comfort of my bed, which is just a queen-size triangle shape cut out of the wall along the slanted roof, full of thick comforters and framed by large, marshmallow pillows.

I made the bed, then undid the latch and cautiously made my way down the ladder-like stairs. A greeting from Tante Vibeke traveled through the kitchen from the living room and I entered to find her spread on her yoga mat by the fire. We talked for a few moments about how we slept and then about the snow. She said that she wanted to get a wider shovel that would make it easier to dig a way out to the road. I, being a California girl, was excited by the idea of shoveling the snow and decided to go out and clear at least a path to the car. It took me ten minutes to prepare myself for the chore and I learned that your gloves are the last thing you should put on.

I stepped out into the snowflakes with Alan Jackson singing in my wool covered ears. After an hour of successfully fighting through half a foot of snow and half a foot of ice, I was called in for breakfast. I haven’t had much of an appetite since I’ve been here. I don’t know if its because I’m still jet-lagged or because I’m either excited or nervous. I cleaned up after breakfast and we got ready to go out into town and get a big shovel.

There are some contrasts in Norway that I find very appealing. For instance, all residents have three garbage cans and the cities have large containers outside the apartment complexes. Each of these containers has a different use: one for paper, one for traditional waste, and the last for food, which is sorted and used for ecological benefits like soil or scraps for pigs. Norwegians are very, very conscientious when it comes to recycling. There are bins littering the main city, almost as many as there are trash cans. Also, at the tiny supermarkets there are machines that weigh, sort and process any glass bottles or cans you have. At the end, it prints out a receipt with an amount that you can redeem at the register or count towards your purchase.

Another thing I love is the traffic lights. No there are no fun new colors like blue or purple, but the light change sequence is different. Rather than switching immediately from red to green like they do in the U.S., they flash from red, to red and yellow, and then to green. It is nice because it prepares the drivers to begin moving, which they may need since the driving conditions are so much more strenuous. I find it less stressful, less like a race to get going.

Tjome is a small island off the southern coast of Norway. During the winter seasons, the population is small and homes vacant as many Norwegians have escaped to more ideal climates. There are currently around 6,000 people living here, but the number jumps to 60,000 when the summer months hit. Tjome boasts a town called Verdens Ende, literally meaning “the world’s end”, which is a very popular destination when the sun in high and the weather warm. There is a small fishing harbor there along with a horse barn for riding lessons. Most visitors come to lay on the large boulders that have smoothed out over time and extend like giant stepping stones almost a quarter mile into the sea. These boulders retain the heat of the sun throughout the summer and are perfectly complimented by the soft breeze that jumps off the surrounding water.

But here now in the winter, it is almost completely isolated. I go for a long walk in the afternoons and head into the main town. I’ve set-up my Norwegian lessons on my iPod and practice them for the first hour. I’m thankful for the lack of people because I’m not sure how comfortable I would be blurting out random Norwegian grammar as they passed by. On the way back home, for the second hour, I allow myself to listen to my country songs and take in the landscape. Whether it’s simply because its a new place or the change in my life, I feel a new appreciation for smaller things. I notice now the waterfalls formed by melted snow that fall off the walls of boulders and how the branches on the trees only grow in one direction, towards the sun, as if they are reaching for the light. I take pictures of all the things that make me think or the scenes that take my breath away. I feel so in tune with my existence in the moment, with all the senses I experience and all the feelings and thoughts I have. Over the last couple days, the sky has cleared and the temperature risen enough to begin melting the snow. While I enjoy the feeling that we are getting closer to spring, the ice layer that results from the snow is not the most pleasant surface to walk on.

I’m still having trouble sleeping. I spend at least four hours a night rolling around trying to find some resting point. My mind is my worst enemy. I thought the anxiety would escape me once I got here but I’ve come to believe that it has simply settled in my unconscious. When I lay at night I am plagued by the most bizarre thoughts. I wonder what I am doing here and think of all the things I forgot to do before I left. Then I begin to feel stressed about my plans and irritated that its going to be harder to make progress when I don’t know the language here. I never could have imagined that not knowing how to speak Norwegian well would have been such a large issue. I must have thought that either everyone here spoke perfect english or that I would all of a sudden be fluent. It’s even harder when the things around you make you feel like you are back in the U.S. The products are still the same packaging, the T.V. shows are simply spin-offs and the music played in stores are all the top songs back home. But then everything is unfamiliar. Sometimes I feel reborn and other times as though I’ve just lost my memory and have to relearn everything.

I miss having friends and meaningless conversations with random people I meet throughout the day. I miss knowing where I am and how to get where I want to go. I miss my family and knowing what they are doing. But in the end, this is where I am supposed to be. I just heard word from my old roommate that the house I was living in is being foreclosed and now they all have to find a new place to live by the end of the month. As soon as I heard the news I was stunned by the thoughts of how I would have had to manage everything if I was still there. When you move on to a new chapter in your life and see the chapter you left crumbling behind you, you can’t help but feel a deep sense of relief and purpose. I’m still scared, still lonely, and still have a sense of restlessness, but this is the right path for me. There is a quote that I love, from a Disney movie nonetheless, about the importance of living your life. I’ve read this quote over and over again at times when I needed to believe that these huge changes would be the best ones I ever make.

“When King Lear dies in Act 5, you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written ‘He dies”. That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is: He dies. It took Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with ‘he dies.”? And yet, every time I read those two words I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know its only natural to be sad, and not because of the words ‘he dies’ but because of the life we saw prior to the words. I’ve lived all 5 of my acts, and I’m not asking you to be happy that I must go, I am only asking you that you turn the page, continue reading, and let the next story begin. And if anyone ever asks what became of me, you relate my life, in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest ‘he died’.”

I want my life to have this same sense of wonder and glory. This is how I know that I am taking the right step. If we don’t push ourselves, we will never truly know the greatness we are capable of 🙂

Welcome to Tjøme!

March 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

I arrived in Tjome on Friday after spending the day with Ola in Oslo. He and I covered all the major sights: the famous botanical gardens (whatever was above the snow at least), the Munch Museum (The Scream was back in its place), the new Opera House, King’s Castle and Parliament. The part of Oslo that exists outside of the “immigrant slums” is quite beautiful and enjoyable to walk through. We spent several hours traveling around, browsing through shops and stopping to take pictures of the sights. The best part of the experience was that I finally felt Ola was my cousin. We were able to joke around a lot and talk about different parts of our lives and thoughts. I’m really happy to reestablish these relationships. Life is short and family is one of the only constants we get. We might as well do all we can to ensure it remains that way.

We arrived back at his apartment and realized I had to catch the train to Tjome in only 45 minutes. After throwing our winter clothes back on, we flew down the stairs and out the door to catch the bus that ran by his house. Since I was taking the train to Tjome by myself, I had to leave two of my suitcases behind. This did not mean however that I only took a few things, but rather as much as I could possibly fit into my mid-sized suitcase and small carrier bag. The bus was extremely crowded, despite the fact that it was three buses connected in one. We jumped on the last cab and Ola stopped me when I went to pay, saying that no one checked and it didn’t matter.

The train station was overflowing with people and we were counting down to the last minute as we ran through the terminals to the platform. Ola lugged my overweight bag onto the train and then jumped off immediately as it began to move. Then I was alone again. I trekked through four narrow cabins, a more arduous experience than it was worth, as I slammed people with my bags and maneuvered through piles of suitcases, without any way of communicating an apology or need to get through. Finally, I found the first and only empty seat, coincidentally next to quite an attractive man. By then I was miserable, covered in sweat underneath my two ski jackets and nervous about how I was going to get my bag into the overhead compartment. I asked him if the seat was taken and he replied with a surprised expression that it wasn’t. I thanked him with relief and stopped to build up my strength to lift the bag. He offered to help me and I politely refused, my female American independence you might call it, and I joked that I would be fine as long as I didn’t drop it on him. I tried once unsuccessfully and he smiled and took it from me. I’m pretty sure there is nothing more awkward than starting small talk with a person, the conversation dying off, and you knowing you then have to spend a long period of time next to him without any escape. Though awkward, the ride was visually stunning and gave me a sense of peace and calm.

After an hour and a half, the train conductor announced Tonsberg as the next stop. I immediately got up to confront my 100 lb suitcase, since the attractive man had gotten off a few stops before me. I survived unscathed and jumped off onto the cobblestone dock to meet Vibeke. She hasn’t aged since the last time I saw her. I felt excited, but a little nervous about whether or not we would get along or have anything to talk about. One the long drive to her house, she said that all she wanted to do was light a fire and have a glass of red wine, a combination I wouldn’t contest. We had to stop by the market to pick up from fruit and meat. This one was much more similar to those in the U.S. and I felt a slight itch of homesickness.

Day Three in Oslo

March 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

It is four in the afternoon, the sky still grey, and it snowed a bit last night. I know this because all of a sudden my jet-lag kicked in and I didn’t fall asleep until after six in the morning. The weather is at a weird stage right now. It’s cold enough for it to snow but at the same time the snow on the ground is melting. It all ends up forming this thick layer of ice on the sidewalks.

This morning I spent some time looking out the window, watching people tend to their cars. One guy arrived fully armed with a pick and high tech wiper blades and passed a couple desperately trying to get their car out of the snow. I watched them use everything from towels underneath the tires, him pushing from the front, and their friend towing from the back. Quite a different experience than being able to jump in your car and go. I have to stop and appreciate the ease of using a car in L.A.

Ola left for work around nine and I didn’t wake until eleven or so. Since then I’ve been relaxing at the apartment and watching movies. I had considered going for a long walk around Oslo but felt a little uncomfortable being somewhere where I don’t know the language or layout.

Things are obscenely expensive! The trashy magazines like US or InTouch are the equivalent of ten dollars. I went to buy one to remind me of home and then freaked when I calculated the price. I’ll be here long enough to site-see so I’m pretty content hanging out at home and avoiding getting mugged or spending what little money I have.

I had been hoping to see my grandparents today but my Bestepappa said they had dinner plans. Bestemamma answered the phone and didn’t know who I was. I’m wondering if she doesn’t recognize my name or just doesn’t even remember that I exist. Bestepappa was a pleasure to talk to. His voice has gotten older but his humor is still the same. He said they were really looking forward to seeing me and I’m hoping I can visit next week while Tante Vibeke is away at work.

Yesterday I ended up going with Ola to the central station where he jumped on the train to work. I spent a couple hours walking around the malls there. All the shops sold the same things you’d find in the U.S. and played all the top music listened to in the states. I had to keep assuring myself this was not home. I got a pay-as-you-go cell phone. I couldn’t figure how to change it to English, so at least I am learning a little Norwegian. I purchased a Norwegian language program and plan on studying it thoroughly. I really loathe not being able to communicate effectively with people.

People are very pushy here in Oslo. Ola said that everyone is pretty much into their own world and they don’t interact unless they need too. I noticed this most when getting onto the escalators in the mall. You could be about to step on and suddenly get knocked over by someone going a slightly faster pace than you. The couple of times I held doors open for people they seemed a bit surprised.

When Ola came home around ten we went to grab a bite to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant on the corner. I am enjoying spending time with him. Conversations are smooth, though sometimes one of us might need a little more help understanding what the other is attempting to say.

Tomorrow Ola has the day off and we are planning on exploring Oslo before I catch the train to Tjome. I’m excited to get to my Aunt’s house because it will make me feel more settled. I have to keep fighting the anxious feelings that rise every now and then; to teach myself to slow down and take things as they come to me.

Second day in Oslo

March 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

Noon here and the sky is still grey. I woke up around ten and lay for half an hour waiting for the swelling of my eyes to pass. I glanced out the window and thought to myself, “I’m in Oslo…” I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not in California anymore. It doesn’t help that I’m not jet-lagged at all. I’m beginning to wish that my body felt some sort of remorse or resistance to the move. Maybe it’s just a sign that this was the right decision, that I belong in a time zone nine hours ahead of the one I’ve lived in the last 15 years of my life.

Ola and I had an enjoyable breakfast: freshly baked wheat rolls with a spread of various meat and vegetable toppings, fruit tea and smoothies. I enjoy the meals because they are small yet elegant. It reminds me of how my mom always makes every bite of her food satisfy both taste and visual appeal. At the same time I grow irritated with our meals because I read the food labels to practice my Norwegian and am told by Ola that they are in Swedish. The languages are so similar and so vastly different at the same time.

I feel I am learning to appreciate life in a different way. There is no feeling of stress or a rush to seize the day. But then again, I’ve only been here for 24 hours. Ola has work this afternoon and will take the train with me so I can visit my grandparents. I’m a little nervous to see them. Ola said our grandmother’s Alzheimer’s has gotten very bad over the last several years. I am confident she will have no idea who I am. Depending in how you look at it, this is either disconcerting or liberating, as it removes any pressure to prove yourself.

Where Am I?

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