Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Norway, two (2!) years ago last June...

(Sequel to Oxford, only a year—or two—late...)

We met my parents at Heathrow and exchanged stories. They had flow 3,000 miles from Yerevan and had brought some food from the Armenian market. We had a few things from Sainsbury's, but the Sainsbury's apricots, though a deep golden color, did not compare in flavor to the Armenian ones. I sampled the sheep cheese and flat bread my mom had brought. The cheese had a very definite animal flavor to it, tasting very much like the way a barn smells. An acquired taste, I guess, so I only had a small bit.

Why my parents were interested in watching the Queen's 80th birthday celebration instead of the World Cup, I have no idea. The England/Trinidad game was going to be on just exactly during our flight.

Grandma and grandpa could only get their seat assignments at the airport, and since the plane was full, they were not sitting together. Great! I jumped at the chance to get my own seat and mom sat with Greg and the kids. I had a wonderfully uneventful flight. As we were standing, about to disembark, the flight attendant announced the score as “nil nil.” Oh boy, the game should be over by now. Then, just as the line out started moving, another announcement: England had won 2 nil. Everyone cheers.

Luggage took awhile since mom's suitcase did not arrive. The airport was small and pleasant and we enjoyed the little glass windows in the floor that had tiny dioramas and scenes behind them. The guy at the baggage claim saw no reason to be concerned and thought the bags were still coming. But they didn't, so mom went to the customer service desk to find that her bag was still in Heathrow. It would arrive the next day.

We debated about the options to the hotel: bus v. train, and took the SAS bus in. Oslo struck me as a big, messy city. We had some difficulty getting the elevator to work with the security system. Tempers (especially mine) were short, the kid's bed was not made. Don't remember what we did for dinner, but probably picnicked in the room. I was tired.

Next morning we all gathered for breakfast, except mom whose stomach was not well. The sheep cheese. The rest of us set off for Akershus and the Viking Museum. At least that was the plan. The cousins were having a great time, but Kadin still couldn't walk. We finally told the rest of them to go ahead and Greg and Kadin and I could go at our own pace. We came across the Resistance Museum, and Greg and I enjoyed that. Kadin tolerates most things. Don't think we would have attempted that with Rees at all as it is a bit disturbing.

Decided to walk to another neighborhood that was billed as "hip" on the way to the Natural History museum and look for a grocery store for lunch on the way. No grocery, so we settled for a 7-11 type of deal of hotdogs and hot pockets. It was not a great lunch and cost us $40(!) We were now on Karl Johann's Gata, a walking street. We enjoyed the human statues there. The nearest bit of green was the lawn at the DomKirke so we stopped there to eat our sandwiches. There was some kind of protest about Afganistan going on, but we couldn't read the signs (in Norwegian) and just ate our lunch and Kadin used the outhouses. We walked a bit farther, towards the hip neighborhood and Natural History museum, but never made it. Just before getting back to the hotel, we found a grocery store. I bought more provisions, found a good calzone place, and that was dinner. Later we learned that our lunchtime picnic site protest was a hunger strike, of all things. How terrible of us!

The next morning we were off to the airport again and then Lillehammer with the tour group. Only Greg and the boys had just finished the 4th Harry Potter and had nothing else to read. We had about 20 minutes to find an English version of the 5th book before we got on the bus. Miraculously, we made it. We asked where there was a large bookstore and were directed to Karl Johann's Gata again. For the life of me, I couldn't understand the name of the bookstore. Finally, when we thought we were near it, we asked again. Then asked the name of the store. "Eeeaiirk" is what the reply sounded like, with about 5 syllables. Turns out, the store was called "Ark." They had the book. In English. Wow. Success.

We boarded the bus to the airport with tour guide Lisa Christine and driver Tor Arne. As Lisa said, no one in Norway has a middle name. Either they have one first name or two first names. I guess that because the selection of names is relatively small, you can be distinct with a distinct combination of names.

We got to know the airport very well this time. The plane was delayed, then the people joining our group took forever through customs, over 2 hours after they were scheduled to arrive. We snacked and amused ourselves as much as possible. We met Laurie and her two grandsons, Chris and Ian, who had flown in from Chicago that morning. They were very tired and jet lagged. I was glad that we were all over jet lag and able to wait in relative comfort. We finally all got on the bus after picking up two more grandmothers and their two granddaughters: Kay, Pauline, Sarah, and Natalie(?). Tor Arne made a wrong turn, and we detoured a bit before getting on the correct highway to Lillehammer. Lisa Christine and Tor Arne argued about which side of Lake Mjosa was the most beautiful: the "right" side or the "correct" side. Tor Arne was from Hamar on the East, "right" side, the seat of the bishop, and Lisa Christine was across from Hamar, on the West (left/correct) side. This was the bread basket of Norway with lots of farms.

Pretty soon Tor Arne said something cheerily in Norwegian to Lisa Christine, she then cheerily said into the mic that we would be pulling over shortly because of engine difficulty. Just like the delays at the airport and the wrong turn, it all sounded so friendly and innocuous in this benign environment. Help would soon be on the way.

It was unusually hot. There was no shade and we had pulled over onto the tiniest of pull-outs, not the greatest or safest place on the busy highway. And we waited for the imminent help.

There were eight kids on the bus who were understandably restless. Without the air conditioning, the bus was like an oven. We all had to get out. Everyone but dad did. He stayed on the bus, as is his way, dressed in full suit.

Most of the kids dealt okay. The four Knuth boys found games to play that were reasonably safe. Ian and Chris did their own teenage sort of thing (game boy). The girl I’m calling Natalie wrote in her journal. Sarah was the most put out. For her and the older boys it had been a very long day indeed. "Why can't we go?" "This isn't fair." "I don't like this," and so on. Eventually we ransacked Tor Arne's store of beverages: water, Coke, Fanta, and sparkling apple juice. That raised morale a bit. I regretted not filling my water bottle for what was to be a short two-hour bus ride.

Finally, a German tour bus stopped to help. We had the fan belt we needed and they helped install it. Finally, finally. We were there for about 4 hours in the end. All I can say is that the acronym for the Norwegian Automobile Association/Forbunding—NAF—was more than accurate. We got on our way, then stopped at a gas station for water and fuel. Kevin discovered that he could get a kroner for each empty bottle from Tor Arne's stash. Excitement.

We arrived at the hotel in Lillehammar about 8pm for dinner. Luckily it was a buffet and luckily it was meant to be late. I was starving. I don't remember much of the evening except being exhausted and hungry and feeling like we had to take advantage in the morning of the pool and the miniature golf and the town and we only had a few hours. Whew! How to take advantage of all these luxuries?

Once again, we managed fine. We had a nice buffet breakfast. Julie and I walked down to Lillehammar center, though it was Sunday and everything was closed. We found a shop to buy some snacks and food for the trip to Brennabu (must be prepared, anything could happen…). Played a little mini golf on the disappointingly maintained course, and Greg went swimming with the boys. We met at Maihaugen, the open-air house museum, for lunch with my parents. Kadin was being a real pill and refused to walk anywhere. His foot did hurt and he was still limping, but what to do at the open-air museum? Fed up, I finally asked at the desk if they had a stroller or a wheelchair we could rent. They provided us with a wheelchair. Kadin happily rode in that.

There was a lot to see and not much time, it seemed to me. First we saw the inside exhibit of the history of Norway. It turned out to be really good. Starting with a cold ice cave it chronicled the ice ages up to the present. The kids enjoyed it and we learned a lot. Kadin related everything to the game Civilization (bronze age, iron age, etc.). I was glad we took the time to do that. Then we went outside to meet our tour guide. This was okay too and she explained things and let us into a house and told us about the customs and traditions. This was good to hear, but I felt we only got a taste. Soon it was time to get back on the bus. A new bus.

Something happened where Kadin went to the bathroom and took forever and we were really late and everyone on the bus was waiting for us and I felt rushed and guilty. We all rushed on the bus and drove to the ski jump. Lisa Christine told us we had only 20 minutes at the jump before we had to leave again for Brennabu on yet another bus. Rush, rush, rush, I was getting tired of this. I was determined to see some of the ski jump. I went down to the top of the lower jump with Rees and we walked very fast up again. Then I wanted to take the ski lift down. Finally we got word that Lisa Christine has miscalculated and we had an hour and 20 minutes. So we ended up at the bottom waiting and waiting.

Lisa Christine said her goodbyes and we were joined by the mother-in-law of our host at Brennabu, an outdoor education center. She would be our guide on the drive. She was very interesting. She had been the original owner of Brennabu, and now it was run by her son and his wife, Elizabeth. The drive was longish and I worried again that it might turn out to be much longer than planned. I always refilled my water bottle at this point. Bjorn was our driver from Valdres, the region we were going to. We stopped briefly to see some petroglyphs along a river of Alg (moose). Got to Brennabu and it was wonderful. Not a sort of deteriorating elegance like the Lillehammer hotel, but a charming, clean, Scandinavian feel. We were served dinner, a whole fish, I believe, but I managed to find something to eat. I was ready to settle in, only to discover that I had left my camera on the bus. Ughh. Bjorn, would we see you again?

We explored our new accommodations and the boys quickly became the “troll patrol,” hunting trolls and chasing them away. We found a “Speise stue,” the eating room; a “Piese stue,” a meeting room in the attic; the “Corner stue,” Corner room; and the “Torkerrom,” or drying room. Drying rooms are a very important part of a Norwegian house.

Turns out this was the perfect way for everyone to be together, have a Norwegian experience, and also have lots of fun. We didn’t have to decide what to do and we didn’t have to decide where to eat. It was beautiful and relaxing. A quick summary of activities:

Day One
We hiked to some boulders to do some rock climbing. Canoeing on the lake after lunch.

Day Two
Rock polishing and horseback riding.

Day Three
A drive in the bus with Bjorn (camera returned, yea!) to see fjords and glaciers and an awe-inspiring thousand-year-old stave church, all the while accompanied by the music of Peer Gynt.

Day Four
Archery and midsommar games.

Day Five
Open-air museum in nearby town.

In addition to the owners and their parents, I most vividly remember Ardun, our indefatigable leader who would entertain the children and “groundups” alike, and Anne, the cook who made the most wonderful berry jams. We were able to visit Ann’s house and her amazing weaving studio where in the winter she wove fabric into traditional patterns to be sewn into traditional dress. And we also got to tour her family’s traditional summer farm, where they took the livestock to new pasture up higher on the mountains.

I took a hike one afternoon with Greg and Julie, startled a European moose (Alg), and it was gone in a flash. And I remember the stunning drive back from the glacier, the miles and miles of mossy landscape well above treeline, both haunting and inviting.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The finder

(From just about a year ago...)

I am obsessed with finding things. I want to know where things are. I will search relentlessly for things. I hate not knowing where things are.

I don't think the kids get this. I think they have learned to be afraid of telling me they can't find something. I will ask them over and over again what they were doing when they lost it, ask them to retrace their steps. I will ask them to clean up. I will lead them on an intense search. I don't see how they can be so uninterested, remember so little about what they were doing. They probably can't stand how determined and single minded I become. "I can't find it, but don't tell mom," I imagine them saying.

If the tape is missing from the kitchen drawer, I'll say, "Did anybody use the tape?" More often than not, "no one" will have used it, there are no recollections whatsoever. Utter blankness. And then I, who have never touched the tape, haven't seen it used, have no consciousness (sub or otherwise) about it whatsoever, will go and find it, clearly used, and then come the revelatory nods, the "a ha's" and "oh yeah's" like a miracle has occurred. Wow, what do you know, it has appeared, out of thin air. Oh yes, you are right, I did take it to make a paper hat. I remember—now.

This summer I was struck by just how good I am at finding things when the dad of one of Rees' friends called to ask if his son had left his gecko fleece jacket at our house. He couldn't find it and they were leaving on a trip. No, I hadn't seen the fleece, I didn't think it was at our house, but I would have a look.

I was pretty sure I would have noticed it if it was here. But I wanted to help him, so I thought back to the last time this friend had been over. I thought about the weather and if he would have likely brought a fleece. I remembered a cool day that week and remembered his mom saying he was going over early to another friend's house. I mentioned this other friend to the dad. He thought a minute and then said, "Oh yeah, I see it now, I put it on his backpack when he was going out that day, then he decided not to take it and I put it back in the closet, just where it should be. I didn't think to look there."

I think I should start a finding business. I hadn't touched the fleece, I had no idea where it was, it didn't involve me in any way, but I helped him find it. There has got to be good money in this.

Update 7/14/08: I have started making the effort to notice when the kids do find things. "You're the finder!" I'll proclaim. Cheers all around. And, just to reward myself (because nobody seems to value this skill as much as I do) when I find something, I'll let my zeal spill over not into a "see, I told you..." tirade, but instead: "I'm the finder, Mama's the finder!" It seems to be raising the interest in finding things around here. Finally.