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Archive for December, 2008

What a bugger of a year. And if you’re not a native English speaker; don’t look it up in the dictionary. I had a group of students do that. In my efforts to avoid swearing in front of my students I had landed on that very word as a mild expletive, not counting on their Germanic tendency to want to get everything right and that they all marched off to look the word up in Leo. The result was that I had twenty enjoyable minutes of young men trying to explain the true meaning to me while blushing.

I woke up this morning to a white world. No, not snow, but a thick carpet of frost on everything in sight. Outside. -12C, which is a mere spring day in Siberia, but as Siberia is bottom of my list over places I wish to visit that is neither here nor there. I feel the cold quickly and simply looking at all that white frost made all my body hair stand on end and pretty much stole my will to live. It was very pretty, though. And then my mother sneezed and scared all the world’s birds and broke the spell and my will to live was completely extinguished.

The year started with my tenants in Edinburgh informing me that they wanted to move out. We were friends until then. The friendship did not end because they wanted to move, after all, flushing money down the toilet on rent year after year is not what a normal person wants to do. But my pettier nature thinks that when you rent from a friend at a very reasonable, below average, rate, you should at least treat the place as if you cared. At least a little.

My job was still quite new and I got the chance to travel as one of its perks. I have seen more of Europe this year than in the past decade. Hamburg, Coimbra, Tallinn, Paris. In addition to the usual places; Oslo, Edinburgh, London, and Vienna where I live. I totally love this side to my job, and luckily I also love the job and think I have great colleagues (I even like Ms Phobia) and hope EU will continue to sponsor us so we all have a job to go to for the foreseeable future. And I really don’t mind my boss’ show of Swedish patriotism in displaying a rather frightening postcard of the Swedish royal offspring in the office. I can live with that. Really, I can. After all, they are more glamorous than the Norwegian royal offspring which is more of the oafish kind.

In between travelling we also found time to look after various pets belonging to friends; Mischa, Alex and Livia’s dog and my favourite among our charges; Amy, Graham’s Golden Retriever; Lucy, Adrienne’s black mongrel; and Snowy who belongs to Howard and Kaki. In addition came three rats gerbils hamsters belonging to Tom — he had asked us to look after one and turned up with three. Neither of us were able to relate to the rats gerbils hamsters, but the dogs all gave us lots of joy and at times some major worries such as when Amy threw herself into the smelliest pool of mud in all of Prater, Lucy barred Mischa from the bedroom (the only time we have had two dogs at the same time) and Snowy refused to eat for days and almost vanished. Until I discovered that pancakes were the key to his heart. If I can buy a dog’s affection with pancakes I will do so.

Half way through the year I was given the devastating message that I had myomas in my uterus and would have to have a full hysterectomy. According to the plumber who diagnosed me. Humpty-dumpty reversed the death-sentence and said reassuringly that the experts at the AKH (Allgemeine Krankenhaus) had an assembly line approach to myomas and could whip them out in no time. Which they did, and I met a woman who had been given the same sentence and who, as a South African, I could communicate with. Which we did. Over copious glasses of wine and amidst lots of laughter that hurt the operation wounds and the trapped air that for some inexplicable reason seems to be pumped into the body during an operation and how come they can’t give you a quick squeeze before closing you up? Just thought I’d ask. At least I learned how to spell gynaecology.

Louise has become one of my closest friends. And sometimes I wonder how I would have got through the past few months without her. Because not all has been well in the Kevin and Ine paradise since we moved to the 4th district, and while convalescing at home after the op I split up with the love of my life. That is the all-time-low of this year. Frustrations that had built over a long period came to a head with the operation, an operation which made me question my entire life and my dreams and hopes.

Suffice it to say that Louise has become invaluable as a friend. And when Alex and Livia gave me Mischa he too became an invaluable support with his silent gentleness and cuddly presence. And Thomas, whose instincts seem unusually tuned in to the state of my mind. His ability to grab me by the scruff of the neck and either shake or hug me before I completely succumb to self pity has several times been my saving grace.

Depression has still reared its ugly head and in November I did a “Britney” and cut my long hair short. The hairdresser had doubts about my sincerity — having doubts about my sanity would have been closer to the mark. But I have no regrets: someone who is depressed will try anything to shake the feeling, and that was just one attempt. There will be others. Such as when I get my new motorbike at the end of April. A clear sign of a mid-life crisis. If I’m going to have a crisis, I’m going to have one all the way.

Louise’s husband, Max, died in November. His prolonged illness is one of the things that has brought Louise and me closer together. Within an hour of meeting at the AKH we had told each other all the important things, and one thing she told me was about Max and how he had been in a coma for two-and-a-half years after a prophylactic shock from a wasp sting. Louise and I have emptied several bottles of wine together while laughing and crying over our miserable lives. I have a feeling we will continue to do this at regular intervals, and no, it was neither me finding a new flat or the flat finding me. It was Louise offering me the flat. We will soon be neighbours. And both be cuddling Mischa when we have bad days and need a complacent male. Poor boy; he has no idea what awaits him.

Splitting up has of course brought finances to the fore, and I can no longer afford to keep Cleo and complete her restoration. I had to go to London to hand over the rest of my money to Peter and make a few heartbreaking decisions, and while there I stayed with Colin who is dying from cancer. And isn’t this just about to turn into the most cheerful post you’ve ever read? Death and depression everywhere you look. Years don’t come much better than 2008 in that respect. But I did like Colin’s remark as I was on my way out to meet Richard, my depressed (…) fashion photographer friend. Colin looked me up and down, then he said: “You dress well. That should be in your epitaph. ‘She dressed well. All else was shit’.” I love my friends. They always know how to say the right thing and invariably make me feel better.

So now, on the eve of 2008, I sit in Ski, a place I never learned to love, or even particularly like, contemplating my life. It’s pitch black out, I can hear the odd pop of fire crackers, the news is on TV about the storm “Yngve” causing havoc to a small community up north. And about Israel bombing the Gaza strip to smithereens in revenge at Hamas firing rockets into Israel. So samme bloody procedure there as every year, then.

I wish me a vastly improved 2009. And if you need one too: Happy 2009! May things be nothing like 2008.

Eidsvoll, 20 December 2008. Norway as I know and sometimes didn't love it at all. But in general I'd say it's a pretty country. In the summer. When it's a bit lighter. Ok, I'll stop now. You get the picture. I suffer from SAD -- something to do with light deprivation. There's a lot of it here. Ask someone who knows and is feeling sorry for herself.

Eidsvoll, 20 December 2008. Norway as I know and sometimes didn't love it at all. But in general I'd say it's a pretty country. In the summer. When it's a bit lighter. Ok, I'll stop now. You get the picture. I suffer from SAD -- Seasonal affective disorder. There's a lot of it here. Ask someone who knows and is feeling sorry for herself.

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Max Manus, a deafening experience

The first thing Lone, my niece, asked me when I arrived was “har’u sett Max Manus filmen, eller?” (have you seen the Max Manus film?), which of course I hadn’t. I didn’t even know there was one. And I am sure my Norwegian friends are making shocked noises at this. Especially Petter who was in the film. (The poor man also had the dubious pleasure of directing the Ski-revue the year before me and gave me invaluable advice before I undertook that noble task myself.)

Max Manus was one of Norway’s top saboteurs during WWII and only just escaped the Gestapo in an eventful career of sabotage against the German occupying forces. Books have been written and a film has been made, and the film is clearly a must-see for all Norwegians who wish to call themselves — something to do with national pride and history and such. Apparently the anti-racism organisations had a hard time accepting the flying of the Swastika over the parliament for the filming of some of the scenes, but their comments seem a little silly considering the resulting film. They expressed worry about painful memories for those who could remember the war, even though a number of war veterans were involved in assuring the authenticity of the film and expressed no such worries. Trust those with no memories to protect the sensibilities of others.

We went to see the film. At the newish cinema complex at the newish shopping mall in the newish town centre. Theatre 1. Huge screen, lots of adverts not seen before by me. I’ve always had a special liking for being early enough to catch the commercials before the film. And the munching of popcorn, a tradition not taken up by the Norwegian audience. Possibly because of the unappetising smell.

Then the rumble started. And there was no way back.

Misunderstand me correctly here. The film was fantastic. Truly awesome, and really hard to sit through because of the reality of it. I hate torture and killing, even the mere threat makes my stomach turn. But my big problem is that there is nothing wrong with my hearing. Not a thing. I can hear. Sometimes it is a little selective, but there is otherwise not a thing wrong with it. And that makes me wonder; are all others more or less deaf…? Because this experience could easily compete with an AC/DC concert for volume.

I seem to remember that my last visit to a cinema was pretty similar. Great film but I came out of it with a three-day tinnitus. And that is not really my idea of a good time. So I pulled the corners of my scarf out and stuffed them in my ears, effectively drowning out the noise of the surrounding sweet-wrappers while making the screams of the gunshots and the kaboom!s of the explosions almost bearable to my eardrums. Sure I looked stupid. But if that is the price I have to pay to retain my hearing, so be it! I am on a mission. If you see a small, middle aged woman with her ears full of scarf, it’s me demonstrating against having noise forced upon me.

Just like last time (I think it was Moulin Rouge, so not exactly recent) I swore not to go to another cinema again — EVER — as I have no intention of giving money to people who actually cause me pain for no apparent reason and no fault of my own.

This is why I don’t give money to my mother whose no-prior-warning sneezing causes near heart-attack to those in the vicinity several times per day. I’m amazed there have been no complaints from peaceful neighbouring towns and villages.

I hope I escape the country before my hearing is permanently damaged and that Mischa has not taken up barking in my absence.

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The unbearable sadness of Skeidar

After a few days of overeating and general idleness I finally ventured out into the freezing mist of the small town where my parents live. I refer to it in such distant terms as I only joined them here for about six months when they decided to move before I made my escape to more civilised parts. That would be Oslo. I never managed to feel part of the community in spite of being hailed “the Ski-girl” by the local paper when I once directed the local revue.

But today I finally decided to leave the safety of my parents’ house and wander down the road towards the town centre. On my way there I walked past Skeidar, a furniture store over three storeys full of ugly furniture, lamps and various other junk.

I had to go in. I thought I could gather some inspiration, get some ideas for when I move at the end of January. I have found — or did it find me? — a new place to live that will save me some money and even get me more space. So ideas must be gathered.

It was a sad experience. It’s the only Skeidar I have visited, and it has not tempted me to seek out any of their other branches. In the store I found the staff friendly and willing enough, if somewhat uninspired themselves, but the store… could hardly be more soulless, dully lit, the furniture more randomly set up with more poorly thought out detailing.

Next floor. Beds and bedrooms. Bleak lighting, beds that generally gave a shoddy look advertised as “superkupp” but still with prices that only served to confirm that Norwegians are generally being ripped off at every turn. As for inspiration — I wouldn’t want to die in one of those beds. I don’t even think I would be able to contemplate suicide from sheer depression.

Next floor — the tat-floor. Sometimes it is possible to find the odd little gem in between, but no such luck this time. They could advertise the Christmas decorations at 50% all they wanted, the tasteless light chains and pretend traditional decorations were not worth it at 50% or as a “kjempekupp”. And the messy setup that only served to stop you from getting between the piles of junk made it even more difficult to spot “gems”. I trust there were none.

My attempt to say thanks and auf wiedersehen fell on deaf ears and I wandered back out into a misty sunset at three-ish. I had another few reasons to stay in Vienna. Better tat, longer days, cheaper booze.

I think I’m homesick…

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And this is how we do it in Norway

For the first time EVER I was able to join an event I have been invited to for years now. This time I happened to arrive in the afternoon before it. At the airport. With not quite enough time to go all the way to my parents’ house before the party, but too early not to be the first guest. Always a dilemma, that.

I sent Brynjar an e-mail asking how to get there (I had asked someone else ho had said it was “easy”, but that didn’t tell me if it was easy in a northerly or southerly direction) and if he minded me being early and looking as if I was about to move in with my suitcase and all. He happily replied “No problem, it’s easy (seems to be the new catchphrase) and gave me detailed instructions for how to get to where he could pick me up, as that was the easy way to do it. EASY!

So he picked me up from the station in his wife’s car. The second car, often referred to as a “konebil” in a slightly derogatory tone as belonging to the little wife, is usually inferior to the first car. This one was not. In any way. And in order to show me just how not inferior he suddenly headed into a field at breakneck speed and skidded around rattling the contents of the car around as much as is possible in an icy and snowy Norwegian field. And that’s quite a lot.

More than 80 people had RSVPd their presence. A nice mixture of adults and kids. And they were all seated. On proper, matching seats, all with their own crockery and cutlery and glasses and I can honestly say I will never own that many glasses, plates or knives and forks and will always resort to single-use stuff as horrid as that is but of course it’s higly unlikely that I will ever invite that many people or have room for that many people regardless. Unless I win the lottery which I have heard is equally highly unlikely.

But Brynjar and his wife Olaug have space.

Your standard Norwegian dining room.

Your standard Norwegian dining room. With view of standard Norwegian landscape.

They also have various trophies on the walls as a warning to all.

The neighbours dropped by unexpectedly. Here they are.

The neighbours dropped by unexpectedly.

No, seriously: they are the kind of people who generally think that problems solve themselves, so if twice the number of people turn up to what they expected, they simply see it as the way things should be and invite all in. And those guests? They don’t even need entertaining or food. They brought their own food and were their own entertainers with opera singers and concert pianists among them, as well as children who were eager performers and not even remotely shy and I wish I could have stayed for the full three days that Brynjar was threatening us all with. In spite of all the fur hats in the basement. Ok, so Olaug has her own design studio there. She designs things in fur. Her things are now so popular she has had to find a factory in China to produce stuff. And she also sells design furniture that she gets produced in Poland, something to do with a Polish au pair they once had, I think. And this is why her car had to be of the more powerful kind as she keeps driving to Poland finding heavy things that have to be transported to the frozen north for resale. Don’t ask. I’m not the expert here. Here’s the web-page if you’re interested: www.landmarks.no

I do find the concept of peeling an animal to wear its fur not entirely appealing, if you get my drift, but have less problems with sheepskin products since one at least tends to use the entire animal — it seems less wasteful. In my little mind. But Olaug’s designs are impressive nonetheless, even if she didn’t gain a new customer in me.

It seems I went a little off the beaten track here.

Point is, it was fantastic seeing so many people again after so many years. I went to uni with many of them, worked for the same student organisations, but never expected to keep in touch with any of them. And I mean that. Any. Just didn’t expect it as I was the one who took off to other countries, changed  my life into that of a nomad and stopped being reliable. More European than Norwegian. Guess that accounts for my fur-aversion. Very little need for fur on the continent. Did I just start back in on that fur thing again? Get over it, girl! I’m just not at ease with that whole lumberjack/back-to-nature/skiing-and-shooting/wearing-of-furhats and eating of moose carcasses slow-roasted on a pit in the giant-sized fire place kind of thing that people seem to like here. Just don’t get it. Don’t get it at all. Thank Ned Sukhvinder was there. He, as an Indian Sikh, stood for vegetarian food and poignant Indian/Norwegian observations to keep things in the right perspective.

How many fishes and loaves fed how many people, again?

How many fishes and loaves fed how many people, again? The chandelier is for candles only, btw. I want one! It would fit really well into my nomadic lifestyle.

I got a lift back to Oslo with Hanne, a girl I appeared in a TV show with all those years ago, imaginatively enough called “The Show”, and with Sukhvinder and Anne making apt remarks from the backseat it’s a wonder we made it to Oslo at all. On meeting my dad at Oslo Central Station, Sukhvinder jumped out of the car and engulfed my dad in a bear hug the like of which he has never before experienced — he still talks about it.

But now I’ve spent enough time quipping about this. It’s time for more overeating and Christmas ales and Fanny & Alexander is on TV (same procedure as every year). And it’s cold and foggy and dark out (this is why I left, I seem to remember — that darkness thing. Well, one reason, anyway.), so TV, food and drink seem reasonable to me. While I wait for my niece to turn up with her new digital camera so she can scare me with how much better she is at this whole photography thing than me.

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Trying it on for size

I bought this needle-repellent (sure) Christmas tree rug from Hofer the other week. A few days ago I popped it on the floor where I wanted to have my tree if I were having one and then turned my back for a second. In that second a furry Christmas bush magically appeared in the middle of the rug. Does he no longer want Moby Dick?
Mischa impersonating Christmas tree. Or bush. Or something. And if he keeps his eyes tightly closed I may not see him.

Mischa impersonating Christmas tree. Or bush. Or something. And if he keeps his eyes tightly closed I may not see him. But of course, while he keeps them shut I could decorate him with lots of lights and other festive things.

I am, of course, not getting a tree this year. Apart from being hideously overpriced, there is a strange thing about the way the sales are regulated here. They all go on sale at the same time all over the city. And that is in the middle of December. If you, for any reason, want a tree early, you can just suck it. YOU WILL BEHAVE AND FOLLOW THE VIENNESE RULES AND REGULATIONS. Danke. Here one must have contacts if one wants to go outside the regulation celebrations. I am yet flummoxed about the nature of these contacts but think it involves Cunning Plans, someone named Ernst, a lot of tapping of the side of the nose, slight eye twitching and discrete nodding. And it must be rounded off with the Viennese shrug.

Anyway, I wanted to get a tree early to get some enjoyment out of it before heading for the distant north, that place where Santa comes from (DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME HE IS FROM FINLAND! HE IS NOT! NOTNOTNOT!), but as I didn’t know an Ernst I could not hatch a Cunning Plan to get a tree early and was duty bound to follow the regulation celebrations, and so I decided on one last act of wild defiance and settled for no tree at all.

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Miiischaaaa!!! Nooooooo!!!!!

So. Mischa found his Christmas present. And ate it. Yes, that is what it was for, but he was supposed to get it for Christmas.

It was a Parma ham bone.

He loved it.

At least now I know what he would like for Christmas. And New Years. And every other day of the year, thank you.

PS Yes, I’ve introduced a holiday theme while I decide on a new theme and new masthead. Hang in there. I’m thinking. And Caroline; thank you for the e-mail! Will reply soon.

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London 19th – 22nd November

This post has been a dreadfully long time coming for reasons such as fatigue, general tiredness, amnesia and just plain that I need twice the amount of time available to me per day in order to get anything done at all. But here it is. My brief visit to London in November.

On the morning of leaving for London after a too-short night’s sleep I dragged myself out of bed in my usual pre-travel nervous state — scatty, unconcentrated, checking that I had my passport, Oyster card and various bits of paper as well as the trillions of cigarettes that Colin had ordered (which took up half of my tiny suitcase) over and over. And again.

I fell asleep as we were about to land at Heathrow Terminal 2. Not great timing, just adding to my general state of sluggishness. But the sun was shining in Old Blighty (sic.), and getting from the plane to the centre of London with the Piccadilly line proved a doddle. Not only that, the guy who cut in front of me on the escalators apologised when I thumped him with my handbag and I suddenly felt at home.

Not a flattering "fashion" in London either.

Not a flattering "fashion" in London either.

Rather than hang out in the horrid Haringey (there are at least four spellings of that name — oh, and beware, those links are to two separate cases of child abuse resulting in death) I hopped off at Holborn and promptly marched off in the wrong direction, returning to reality only when I found myself on the steps of Bush House (BBC). I did an about-turn and spotted a branch of my bank which was exactly what I needed as I had to get a large sum of cash to hand over to my mechanic. In Austria I have not yet reached the stage where I can comfortably hold a conversation with a cashier, but there I found myself face to face with a fun and chirpy young lady — the feeling of home flooded over me again.

I had so dreaded this trip. It was forced out of the necessity to deal with Cleo, to see her, photograph her and hand over all that aforementioned money to Peter and his team for the restoration work they have done on her. And now I can’t afford to keep her. Now that I’m down to just one income the first thing that has to go is the most expensive “hobby” I have ever had — being an MG-owner — the next thing will be my wonderful flat in Vienna. It is eating up more than half my wages in rent each month. But chin-up old girl! I shall find Cleo a wonderful new owner with a large heart and an even larger wallet, and then I shall tackle the living situation. Where there’s a will and all that.

Anyway. I stayed with Colin. He is not well. And that’s the understatement of the year. He is dying from cancer. And he was supposed to be dead about a year ago, according to the god-like death-sentence his doctor handed him. I am fully convinced doctors do that in order take bets on who is the most accurate fortune-teller. Morbid people. But Colin is still here. Each time I see him he is a little thinner, his features more marked, the pain more evident. But his intensity, his controlled(-ish) anger and many opinions (he even beats me) — the stuff that makes him him — is unchanged, almost bigger, as if to take up the space left by his shrinking outline. And his voice is the same. I love his voice. Rich, deep, sonorous, in spite of the many cigarettes.

At Colin’s I quickly went back to my old habit of downing cup after cup of strong, black tea with milk, draining my blood of iron. But I was powerless to resist the taste of this potent “builder’s tea” made using teabags that has nearly twice the amount of tea of the ones you get elsewhere in Europe, fine, black powder, which gives a black, non-transparent brew which requires milk simply to ensure your survival. And using the hard London water makes it even more potent. I love the taste. But it gave me headaches. Sitting in Colin’s nicotine-stained living room with a headache inducing cup of tea I suddenly spotted a fox casually crossing the busy road outside, not even remotely fazed by the traffic. It’s so London with all these foxes. I was reminded of the family of foxes we had playing in the garden at night in Leytonstone. They were picked off one by one by the cars in Whipps Cross Road. Such a charming place to live, that was.

Peter, my mechanic, came around in a stunning, old, white Mercedes belonging to one of his customers to take me round to the garage to have a look at Cleo and settle our accounts. I nearly cried. She was so beautiful. All black and shiny, no more rust, various parts replaced because they had indeed rusted through. So now the main part of the restoration work is done and that’s the end of the line for me. I took lots of pictures and will be building a “for sale” web-page for her. Peter was as proud as if she had been his own car and stated “at least now she is in really good condition”. I guess there is some consolation in that. Though I fail to see it at the moment.

On my second day in London I went a little overboard in my spending spree. I’ve been looking for some party shoes with killer-heels for months now, but having small feet it’s hard to find anything that fits. So I went to Neal Street near Covent Garden where they have the. best. shoes. ever. and there — right there! was a beautiful pair of shiny shoes in bright red! And they fit perfectly. They also fit perfectly in black… So not just money forked out on Cleo, but also on me.

Went to see Gerard, the guy who introduced me and Kevin. After the obligatory Irish jokes told through Gerard’s Irishly gritted teeth followed by raucous laughs he strung me up on the wall and threw darts at me to find out why I’m splitting with Kevin. Since a lot of our conversation had been about how good Kevin is as a director and friend and his wit and humour and so on and so forth I guess I had merely managed to add to the confusion. Why would I split with my “Lebensmensch”?

Day three and I’d had enough. The constant presence of London’s eight million people, the noise which never let up, the cold. It just got to me. And I wanted to go home. To Vienna. To Christmas markets. To Glühwein, to Mischa. To warm houses and herbal tea and Nashmarkt and new friends and old friends. Home.

But first I went to Prince George in Parkholme Road to see Richard who is a depressed and wonderfully mad fashion photographer who has insisted on getting my kit off in front of his camera for years. Fat chance. NOT going to happen. But at least I had the pickled egg I have dreamt of for months and got to observe Richard being totally bowled over by a beautiful, blonde government scientist both he and I were convinced worked in the fashion industry until she opened her mouth and actually sounded intelligent. And didn’t use the word “dahhling”. And refrained from air-kissing.

And that pretty much sums it up. Colin and I didn’t go into any major details about me and Kevin. On my last morning with him he spent about four hours on the phone with his son (of which I was gracefully granted twenty minutes) and then I tottered off to the Piccadilly line where I sat for the usual hour and a half reading and thinking and admiring the big butts of the hipster-wearing part of the London population. It could put you off your food for life.

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