April 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
Welcome to a new chapter. One where you are really here, alone, in this city. One where you make your own days without relaying the day plan to someone else. One where this is becoming more and more of a reality. I’ve said goodbye to overstayed welcomes and restless isolation. No longer the fresh air of the south islands but the fresh air of the city by the sea, the air of opportunity and progress. On the trip up to Oslo from Tjøme this morning I caught myself recalling the thoughts I had when my cousin Ola first picked me up from the airport two months ago. I had experienced an attack of fear and anxiety and doubted suddenly whether or not this was a good idea. Now here I was, on my way to my new apartment in Oslo. Is this really possible? Have I really stumbled around in the unknown and found myself here? I’m not even in a state of shock because the comfort I feel here is so natural. I feel as though, out of all the places I could be in the world, this is where I am meant to be now, in this exact moment. I have yet to find a job, learn the language and enroll in school, yet I still feel such a sense of achievement. This finally feels real.
I’m sitting at a corner coffee shop on the opposite block of my apartment building. I’m so happy to finally be in the city, not to mention general civilization. The shop is quite large with many tables and counter seats and populated by a extremely diverse group of people. While ordering my drink I blanked out and had to tell the barista I didn’t understand what he had said. He immediately asked me where I was from and probed my response when I told him California. He told me that he was from San Diego and had moved here five years ago with his wife, adding that he didn’t move for “the surf and sandy beaches.” I couldn’t help but get excited at the chance to have a coherent conversation with a stranger. I’m finding that the deep level of the unfamiliar here is causing my heart to race at the slightest reminder of home. I was hardly aware of how much of my personality, my individual existence, was defined and symbolized by my language and culture. I am curious whether or not a firm understanding and acceptance of the language and culture here will allow me to again feel that same sense of identity.
I’ve absolutely fallen in love with my new neighborhood. It was quite lucky that we got this place the way we did. Christian and I spent days looking for apartments online, searching through and translating hundreds of ads and sending almost a hundred emails. All the places that were in our price range were simply studio apartments with only about 54 square feet of space. When responding to the ads we decided to double our chance by sending one request in Norwegian and another in English. While I only got a total of two responses for my detailed English e-mails, Christian got at least twelve for his one-liner Norwegian ones. In the end, most places turned us down because they claimed that the space was simply not large enough for two people. I found myself immensely frustrated with the fact that we were ready to pay and move in yet denied in defense of our own comfort. Now, I’m not quite familiar with the traditional layout of condos/apartments in the U.S. but the ones we’ve seen here are definitely interesting. Almost all the places we saw have heated floors and huge-wall size arrangements of windows. The heated floors are obviously for the snow season and I’m guessing that the large windows are to let in as much light as possible during the dark winter months. Most “kitchens” had a small counter top with a sink and two stove top rings and a cabinet system composed of several drawers and a small refrigerator. One of the biggest adjustments had to do with the bathrooms. Almost every place we looked at showed simply a mounted shower head as the shower; no curtain, no glass, no doors. The bathroom is essentially a large shower with a sink and toilet built in as the walls and floor are made with tile or marble. It will definitely be something to get used to.
After trudging through at least eight denials, I received a message from my cousin’s friend Nadine telling me that she decided to move out the following week and wanted to know if we were interested in renting her place. I screamed and accepted, without even seeing the place or learning any details about it. I was fully satisfied by the prospect of having a place to live and renting from someone we knew and would be able to communicate with.
We arranged for me to arrive in Oslo on Friday to meet with Nadine and look at the place. When arriving in the city center I got a text saying she would be a bit late because she was waiting for a doctor’s appointment. My map-quested directions from the bus terminal to the apartment were of no help. After getting completely disoriented and drained from dragging my suitcase around the center I gave up and hailed a cab. I’ve mentioned before how expensive things are here and cab rides are not excluded: it cost the equivalent of $20.00 for the four minute ride to the apartment building. I later found out that you are not supposed to tip the cab drivers because they charge so much in the first place. I headed out immediately to find a bank, since I needed to open an account and pay for the apartment. Stores here in Norway close extremely early and have even earlier closing hours in the summer. I was lucky to find one just around the corner but found out that it had already closed for the day, at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. I also found out that banks aren’t open at all on the weekends. I’ve got to train myself to be more efficient with my errands in the mornings if everything is going to be closing so early in the afternoon.
After finding a convenient posting spot against a concrete post, I gave Christian a call in order to relay the vibe of the neighborhood. I can tell he is frustrated with his inability to move down here at this moment and I advised him to enjoy as much of these last couple weeks as possible. My phone cut off mid-sentence and alerted me that my card was empty. Christian called me back and we finished our conversation as I made my way to the nearest 7-11. Here in Norway you are only charged for outgoing calls and messages which is lovely when you don’t make the calls. The 7-11’s here are much smaller than those in the U.S. and have more of a bakery feel to them. After purchasing a hundred kroner worth of Chess brand phone credit. I made my way to the corner coffee shop and ordered a large black coffee.
I had just sat down when Nadine called me to tell me she was home. I ordered another coffee and a chocolate crossant and made my way to the building. After she buzzed me in, I began lugging my bags up the marble staircases. I was so focused on effectively carrying my bags and ascending at a normal pace that I didn’t notice Nadine as she jumped down the steps ahead of me. We hit it off immediately and spent several hours talking over coffee. The apartment was stunningly perfect and Nadine’s hospitality could not have been any better. Since she will be living down the street at a colleagues apartment, she is leaving all the furniture, kitchenware, travel books, movies and TV. She then sweetened the deal by adding that she had not one, but two bikes she didn’t use and told me we could use them whenever we wanted. At one point I was so overwhelmed that I was simply at a loss of words and just kept shaking my head and smiling.
After sitting for a several hours, enjoying some white wine and talking about everything from travel to life in America, we decided that we would go out and grab a bite to eat in the city. Nadine told me that we could stay out longer and she could set up a sleeping arrangement for me in the living room so that I wouldn’t have to make my way to the outskirts of town to stay with my grandparents so late in the night. I felt so excited to experience the Friday night life of Oslo. By the time we were heading out the door it was already ten and with my experience with the early closing of the bank that afternoon, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find any place to eat.
We stopped at the corner convenience store, called Deli de Luca, apparently fashioned after a famous deli in the states. Luckily enough the store is open 24/7 and is perfect for late night needs. We purchased bus tickets from the cashier, since they are 12 kroner (about two dollars) cheaper than when you purchase them on the bus. I love the bus stops here because they have an electronic screen that tells you the bus number, destination and how long until it arrives. This feature because it will make it so much easier to figure out how to get around. Our bus wouldn’t be arriving for six minutes so we decided to walk to the next stop.
The brisk air felt refreshing as we walked and Nadine pointed out some key shops along the street. Occasionally we passed young girls in short dresses and heels, and I shivered in response to their obvious discomfort. The main street was bustling with a plethora of small cafes and bars and crowded with tables that flowed onto the sidewalks. After attempting several locations we settled on a packed tapas bar and maneuvered our way to the first empty bar seats. Our meal was amazing, consisting of a variety of small yet exquisite dishes. We spent several hours talking, observing the rising drunkenness of the surrounding bar inhabitants, and washing our meal down with glasses of chardonnay. I felt so much progress in this moment. Here I was in a new country, with a girl I’d just met, enjoying a typical night on the town. Almost as if nothing had really changed, just another night of bar hopping with a friend.
April 15, 2009 § Leave a comment
My latest wish in my experience here is that Norwegian were easier to translate to English. There are the obvious reasons for this of course, but one of the more latent dilemmas concerns cooking. Tonight, while reaching in the cabinet to find some salt, I came across a box with a picture of corn on it. I inspected the contents and noted it was a powdery, white substance. Not trusting my immediate assumptions I tried to define it using the dictionary, but had to enter the name online to discover that it was in fact corn flour. I figured that I would try some new cooking skills and make some homemade corn tortillas to complement my chicken dish. I poured some flour into a bowl and added hot water as the recipe demanded. I spent 10 minutes extremely frustrated with the chameleon consistency and difficulty stirring. I tasted the mix and finally realized it was cornstarch. I had just made the same “gak” playdough substance we used to play with in kindergarten. These translation skills of mine are sure to be a significant part of my success here.
I should also bring attention to my fabulous language skills. Today I had to go into the town center to visit the employment office and get a few groceries. I’ve learned in the last couple weeks that people respond in a more positive regard if you first attempt to speak Norwegian and then mumble your way into English. I’m assuming it is the humbling nature of this action that reduces the stress they feel when forced to speak English. I was successful in the employment office, as she aided me in registering as a jobseeker and explained how to search for jobs online. At the grocery store I was a little bit more clumsy in my verbal expression and shook my head in response to my amalgamation of Norwegian, Spanish and English. Since arriving here I’ve developed various speech impediments, including stuttering. I crave the day I can conduct an effective verbal transaction.
April 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
The snow has been ushered away by a rich layer of sea fog and occasional night rain shower. The beginning of spring emerges in the form of deep green lawns and colonies of small white and blue flowers. Yesterday we made our statement against the possibility of another snowstorm by setting up the garden furniture in the middle of the thriving backyard. Living in an area with such a great contrast between the seasons has caused me to develop such a deep appreciation for the warmth of the sun and the breezes that don’t instantly freeze the primary layers of your skin. After months of confinement to the house by the brutal winter and stalking darkness, Norwegians jump at the first sign of sunlight. I must remind you that this point does not quite qualify as “warm” by Californian standards as the temperature still runs only slightly above freezing. Still, after the unforgiving winters, the chance to wear just one sweater, rather than three or four at a time, is nothing short of delightful. So here I sit, legs propped up on the white wooden picnic table, soothing sounds of Ray Lamontagne filling the air, sketchbook in my lap and lingering notes of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom from my chai tea on my lips. The day is warm and still, save for the occasional ocean breeze and buzzing of various insects in the flower beds. I’m working on allowing myself to savor this moment, this point in my life where I have no awareness of time or date, this moment where that doesn’t matter. This is not an opportunity that is shared with us very often and we must do all we can to enjoy it. The day will soon come when I can trudge through anxious days and wrestle with restless nights.
The Norwegian bee is so massive it sounds like a faraway lawn mower as it flies around fighting the air and the pull of gravity. It’s wings are awkwardly small in comparison and look as though they might pop off and float away at the slightest breeze. As a result, it is so ineffective in it’s movements that, when able to gain any altitude, it simply ends up in a repeated body slam contest with the sides of the house. Occasionally it combines it’s need to find food and it’s flight skills and manages to land on a flower. By land I mean crush, as the delicate bud is slammed to the ground instantly by the sheer magnitude of the bee, the same interaction you’d imagine between a hippo and a straw. I feel a bit sad for the small flowers as they have just recently escaped the wrath of the snow only to be abused by the awkwardly monstrous bee.
I feel as though my life here is suspended in time. In a parallel world I am at work, trying to settle in a new living situation after the repossession of our last house, stressing out about exams in Bio, Calc and O. Chem and worrying about getting enough shifts to survive this month’s bills. I feel anxious and guilty for not continuing that life, as if I’m not following the rules, yet I have an equal level of excitement for the life I will build here. I think we have a certain fear that once we create a life somewhere it is the one we have to live. I’ve always believed that you have to follow your gut and do what makes you happy. Obviously, we have to be smart about the decisions we make, not simply throw it all to the wind, but we will never know our true strength unless we push ourselves.
When I look out the window, I still can’t believe that I am looking at Norway. And all that stands between this view now and looking out the window at Los Angeles is a split second decision I made four months ago. I could have coward at the idea and continued on without ever giving it a second thought. But once I uttered that single agreeing phrase the whole course of my life changed, as if it had never before been written. We think we know what will happen tomorrow or a year from now. We think we can work today to ensure those plans and determine where we end up. But in the end, there is no such control. No matter how strong the feeling, we are never prisoners of our future.
April 4, 2009 § Leave a comment
I always expected that this ultimate rewriting of my life would stir up some potluck of emotions, but I continued to take my smooth arrival for granted. Despite the fact that I am only 21, I feel as though my life is rushing by me, as though my time has come and gone. It’s quite an odd anxiety I dance with. I’m finally approaching that moment where you have to choose a path in your life and stick with it. Then I find myself cringing in fear at the idea of picking a direction that would only result in regret and longing for the lost years. I can’t stay here forever, suspended in this crossroads decision, but the horror of making a choice is too powerful to move me. When I moved to Los Angeles I had no real grasp of how to exist in the real world. I felt almost as I do now, but I figured out how to survive and prospered greatly from my knowledge. Then I haphazardly decide to subject myself to the arduous process all over again, yet this time in a different country with entirely different language, customs and standards. At the time, the thought of moving was a psychological saving grace, but in this moment, I struggle to unearth a conceivable strand of logic from the decision. Obviously time goes on and these feelings will one day morph into pride and accomplishment, but as I sit here now, alone in my thoughts, the light of that hope is hard to detect.
Following days of blindly searching the internet and struggling through awkward phone calls, I have formed a sort of plan for the upcoming months. Now that Christian has his new computer, we are able to communicate through Skype. As we sit at our computers we have our call boxes open so we can see each other, essentially hanging out online. This facilitates easy plan making as we can throw out random ideas and thoughts we have as they come to us. Christian is done with school May 9th, which means that we must find an apartment, as well as jobs, within the next month. In a country where we don’t speak the language or have working knowledge of rental and employment systems. We have been successful, however, when it comes to the direction we need to head in for school. The Universities in Norway have a plethora of master’s programs taught in English, but up until that point all degrees are in Norwegian. Christian has yet to complete his Bachelor’s degree and I am a couple courses short of what is required for the master’s program. Rather than enrolling immediately in academic courses, we will spend the next year working full-time, hopefully, and taking Norwegian classes. Now all we need is a place to live and jobs that accept employees who speak English.