Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 In Retrospect

Now, at the end of the year, I guess it's natural to look back on what has happened. I think 2008 was a rather good and eventful year. Already in January I had a nice 40th anniversary with fun friends, and I also became an uncle to little Bo the same month. The late winter offered several social events, including café visits with good colleagues and Latin beauties. And in the spring one could enjoy musical experiences, exciting reading and relaxation in front of the telly. One of the highlights in this respect was the scolded, but always entertaining EuroSong.

Moreover I had, as always, a nice and fun class, and we made many interesting excursions. But at the same time a crazy boss killed the joy to such an extent that I finally had to make the bitter decision to find something else to do. I don't miss my work place, but I do miss all the great people. Consequently, at the beginning of my summer holiday I didn't know exactly what my future might be like, but this didn't prevent me from enjoying the summer in Oslo and having nice trips to Estonia and Greece.

Fortunately I landed on my feet in August, as I was offered a job at another Adult Education Centre, with equally nice students and colleagues, and moreover an administration in their right mind. Here I'm happy and hope to continue working next year as well. In my autumn holiday I went on a short trip to Paris, and I also got the chance to meet my brother and sister-in-law in Bergen - and not least: see little Bo for the very first time!

This autumn the new class and I have made several nice excursions, and I've also had many cultural experiences both downtown and at home, with a theatre card and the cable company's generous tv package, respectively.

Although my health is still ok, there have been some minor malfunctions this year, resulting in some small operations in my mouth and my eye. But I guess that's what you must expect when you've reached the 40-year mark...

Christmas has been nice and relaxing, with some pleasant get-togethers both before and after the festival itself. I wish all of you an eventful and fruitful New Year. See you in 2009!

Happy New Year!

The Fourth Element

Although modern science has long ago rejected the doctrine of the four elements, you don't have to be a Jungian to realize that this conception reflects ancient human archetypes. Particularly fascinating is the idea of the elements' connection with the bodily fluids, the seasons, and the humours. I suppose most people feel their blood fizzing sanguinely in spring, whereas the melancholy of the black bile tends to dominate their mood during the autumnal months.

Now that winter is at its darkest and coldest, however, another element and humour has taken over. The cold makes you turn towards the within and view your surroundings with a higher degree of distance and detachment. This, combined with an afterglow of the quiet bliss of the festive season, may evoke a sense of contemplative serenity. This is a time for walking in rimy cemeteries, listening to the Cocteau Twins at their most spectre-grey, and having crushes on pale girls with an inscrutible look and Eastern European features.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Childhood's Christmas

I hope the festive season has matched all your expectations. Although I had some nice, social get-togethers before and after the festival, I took it easy on Christmas Eve, cooking pork rib and watching the traditional Christmas programs on the telly.

Well into my adulthood I always felt that Christmas Eve was sheer bliss. Then nothing bad could happen. Our parents must have done a good job making us feel so happy and secure during this festival. Usually I liked withdrawing to my room from time to time, but on Christmas Eve I wanted to be with my family the whole day.

An ordinary Christmas Eve in my childhood home would usually start with the kids waking up at the crack of dawn and scuffing down to the Christmas tree in our living room to see if we'd got any "morning presents". And we always had. Usually it was a cartoon book intending to shorten the waiting period ever so slightly. Although we at that time had developed a healthy scepticism regarding the existence of Father Christmas, we still didn't understand how someone had managed to sneak these presents under the tree during the night without us noticing. And I still don't.

Around 9 the telly would start broadcasting animated films, something we'd been starved of the rest of the year. In the seventies that sort of stuff (with the exception of "proper" cartoons from the Eastern bloc) was frowned upon by the broadcast monopoly. But at Christmas time it was obviously ok going a bit wild, also in this respect.

Around noon we'd take the car, pick up Gran along the way, and go to the churchyard to put down garlands on Grandad's and our great-grandparents' graves. After returning home, Mum would fetch out the Christmas cakes: Fruit loaf, coriander cookies and ginger snaps. We'd watch Disney's traditional Christmas Parade, and - not least - Three Nuts For Cinderella. I don't know what it is about that movie, but every time I see it, I still get bitter-sweetly romantic. And still fall in love with Cinderella just as much as when I was twelve. It is a great movie. With humour, warmth, good actors, great costumes and wonderful music. And the loveliest lass in the world.

After Disney and Cinderella it would be about time for the Christmas dinner. We could smell a delicious fragrance of pork rib and sauerkraut from the kitchen. Then we'd sit down at the table and enjoy the lovely meal, so much and for so long that we eventually would almost burst. Around 8 it was finally time for the definite highlight of the day: The distribution of gifts. We'd sit down around the tree, close to the crackling fireplace. Mum would find a present under the tree and pass it on to the lucky recipient, who would unwrap it with the rest of us watching. Consequently, this ceremony could go on for hours, but that's precisely what made it such a unique experience. It was almost just as exciting to see what the others would get! Maybe this contributed to the basic attitude I've still got when presents are concerned: It really isn't the material value that matters, but rather the thought behind.

The remainder of the evening we'd relax together, and maybe potter around with the new stuff we'd got: Labyrinth games, Disney books, drawing pads... Usually there would be sufficient pastime for the whole holiday.

I know these Christmases will never come back, but the memories are still there. Along with the desire to recreate some of the joy, bliss and anticipation one experienced oneself during the Christmases of one's childhood.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Xmas Atmos

On Christmas Eve I ended up in front of the telly, filled up with pork ribs and aquavit. I had originally planned to watch a comedy or a talk show or something like that, but instead I started to watch the Roman-Catholic Midnight Mass. Earlier that evening I'd watched the movie about Narnia, so there was quite a lot of Jesus stuff going on that night. Luckily, it didn't spoil the Xmas atmos.

Although I'm neither a Catholic nor particularly God-fearing, I must admit I did find this ceremony quite moving. To me, an ordinary Norwegian church service comes across as a rather dreary affair, with uncomfortable wooden benches, groaning organs and hymns slightly out of tune. Not much spiritual sublimity about that. The Catholics, on the other hand, are obviously much better at creating an aesthetic whole: In St Peter's Basilica there were candles, censers, angelic singing and (with the exception of Bernini's hideous Baroque columns) beautiful art. Regardless of faith or philosophy of life, it was also hard not to approve of the Pope's conspicuously inoffensive speech.

The tv cameras' various close-ups of remarkably photogenic worshippers also gave evidence of the fact that faith is still important to a huge amount of people around the world. Belonging to a world-embracing denomination with an almost 2000-year-long unbroken tradition, undoubtedly creates a unique sense of community. To be honest, our own national Mickey Mouse church appears pretty pathetic in comparison.

If you decide to relate to something as archaic as a religious institution in the first place, I guess you might just as well go for the most hardcore option. And in this context I guess there's nothing more hardcore than the Catholic Church. For better and worse. Although I'm still a tepid humanistic ethicist of sorts, this probably can't go on forever. It might very well happen that I on my deathbed as a 98-year-old will convert to Catholicism, before father O'Hara performs the last rites. If not before.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

From All Of Me To All Of You

As some of you know, I sometimes enjoy making my own cd's with my musical favourites. This can also be a fun and personal (and, not least, cheap) Christmas pressie. This Christmas some of my friends have received this year's TorgnyMix: "Klubbland (The Sound Of Sort Of Nowish)". But then I realized that I might just as well share this mix with all of you here on my blog (technology willing). Consider this a little Christmas gift. Hope you'll enjoy it, and

Have A Very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Glittering Green

Over the years you get more blasé. You get used to all the sense impressions surrounding you, and forget how much stronger all experiences affected you when you were younger. Sometimes I try to recollect some of this naïve amazement. For instance, something as trivial as children tv's In The Night Garden might evoke a spark of a memory of the fascination in objects that were flashing and turning...

Christmas is another example. With a bit of effort I can still remember how I as a child would absorb all the sense impressions of this festival: The green Christmas tree, the glittering balls, the shining lights. All that which I take for granted today was at that time something close to magical. Maybe one should try to keep some of this receptiveness also in one's older days.

Since there was so much fuss right before Christmas this year, I wasn't sure if I should get a Christmas tree at all. But on the day before Christmas Eve I still went for it, and now the tree is standing glittering green in my living room. It feels right.

Friday, 19 December 2008

I Spy With My Bloody Eye...

I've just been hospitalized! This came just as much a surprise for me as for anyone else. For someone who hasn't been through a proper hospitalization since his post-natal period, this was quite a new experience. Fortunately, one might say.

This is the story: The last couple of weeks I've noticed some minor but worrying visual anomalies, and on Wednesday after work I went to my doctor to have a check-up. He passed me on right away to the Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital, who in their turn decided to hospitalize me right there and then. I didn't even get a chance to go home to get my slippers and toothbrush! They suspected my retina might have collapsed - which even for a layman like myself didn't sound like great news.

Already the next day I was ready for surgery - even with general anaesthesia, yet another new experience: Breathe deeply in... That's it, we're done! Who would have thought that two hours would pass so quickly? On the other hand, I probably wasn't quite in my right mind afterwards. For instance, I insisted on conversing my Norwegian nurses in English...

Today my pirate patch was removed, and I must say that my eye doesn't look too good. Red, sore and swollen. But the doctor claimed that the surgery had been successful, and decided to discharge me. So, here I am once again back home.

Although I don't have much experience with our rather berated public health service, the experience I do have, have mostly been positive. And in this case things really ran smoothly. The doctor's on Wednesday, surgery on Thursday, discharge on Friday. All in less than 48 hours. Not bad at all.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Sweet Advent

The Christmas marzipan has arrived. Well, strictly speaking, it's been in the shops since September or thereabouts. And to tell you the truth, I'm not really that crazy about ordinary marzipan. It often gets a bit too sweet and a bit too dry for my taste. This, however, I didn't fully realize until I first experienced Schluckwerder's gigantic marzipan loaf in my early teens. Compared to domestic products it appeared a bit more"mature"; the chocolate being a bit darker, the marzipan a bit more bitter... And with its 400 g contest weight the chocolate layer got all the thicker, boosting the enjoyment even more.

However, it took a while before I found my regular supplier of Schlimmerwetter products. Often it was only obtainable in more exclusive shopping malls, where one loaf would cost a small fortune. But then I finally realized that our official supplier of junk and suspicious reduced rate products also carried Schlechterwoche's marzipan in their Christmas assortment. And at a much more competitive price. So off you go and get one! And enjoy.

* * *

Speaking of Advent: Oslo is really nice and Pre-Christmassy these days. Let's hope this will last at least until the Yuletide starts for real. Some months ago I published a little video of our capital in all its autumnal splendour. Now the many-coloured trees are all naked, and nature has totally changed its character. Another season has taken over. From melancholy to phlegm. But as the video below may suggest, Sagene can be just as beautiful in winter as in autumn. Only in a different way.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Hunger at Torshov

Being a scholar in literature it appears you're morally obliged to consider Knut Hamsun a poetic genius. I still remember a night on the town in my younger days, when I ended up sitting next to a guy who had heard that I was a literary student. Consequently, I had pretend I enjoyed listening to his panegyric descriptions of Hamsun's writings the rest of the night. (If you've forgotten how many nitwits there are around, try a night on the town!)

Sure, the guy can write, but personally I find his neo-romantic descriptions of "the whisper of the blood and the plea of the shafts" more annoying than inspiring. It seems I've generally got a problem with the irrational behaviour of fictional characters. In a Shakespearean play or a Greek tragedy I suppose the protagonist's fatal flaws may generate some sort of sublime purification. But I must admit that I seldom experience a similar catharsis in more modern literature. People like Don Quixote, Emma Bovary or Willy Loman mostly make me want to say: GET A GRIP, MAN!

Now to the point: On Saturday I went to the Torshov theatre's staging of the novel Hunger, written by the aforementioned Nobel Laureate Hamsun. I remember reading it during my Nordic studies (being part of the required reading), but I don't think I even bothered finishing it. (>Gulp!< Does this mean that I'll lose my M.A.?) As always, the irrational behaviour of the protagonist sort of pissed me off. So, my expectations for this staging weren't the highest, either.

On the other hand, the Torshov theatre is the one stage in Oslo that has given me the most memorable theatrical experiences. This may have something to do with its setting: The hall is rather small, and the audience is seated in a semicircle around the stage. This creates a rather intimate connection between the actors and the audience, often resulting in an intentional interaction between the stage and the hall. (Sitting down in the first row at the Torshov theatre is at your own peril!) The surroundings also open up for many creative and experimental solutions: The actors run up and down the same stairs as the audience uses, and are now down at the stage, now up on the gallery. This often generates fascinating theatrical experiences.

The production of Hunger is no exception. The scenography is just a black wall with various doors and openings through which people and props enter and exit. The main prop, by the way, is the chalks with which the actors scribble signs and drawings onto the floor and the wall. Moreover, autumnal leaves, paper sheets and confetti occasionally fall down on the stage. Apart from that, the director has gone in for a rather minimalistic approach. Three actors play all the roles, and the protagonist's role is shared by all three of them, often creating the effect of a "three-headed troll".

It seems I like Hamsun much better at Torshov than in between two covers...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

My Treasury

When my brother and I sold our childhood home some years ago, there was unfortunately a limit to how much of our chattels we could take with us. Although burglars had already been so kind to remove most large and valuable parts of our household contents, we were still faced with the dilemma concerning what to do with all our shelf metres of books. Sure, our local huckster would probably offer us some coins for them, but knowing that he would then sell them at a sky-high profit, actually made giving most of them to friends and worthy causes feel more gratifying. Certain books with a particularly high sentimental value, however, I didn't have the heart to dispose of. For instance, I've still kept my precious Disney collection. It's now stowed away in my flat's innermost recesses. But at least it's there.

On Friday I dropped by my school's library, and totally unexpectedy I stumbled upon some books of which I also have many nice memories, but which I haven't seen for ages: A ten volume anthology from the fifties called Mitt skattkammer ("My Treasury"), containing a judicious selection of children's literature. These must have been among the very first books I ever read. I still remember the impression certain texts and illustrations made on me. Since the Treasury-series is also among the very few books that have survived my childhood home, I decided to take them out of their anonymous existence (behind the secluded Disney collection). So, this weekend I've revisited the green valley of my childhood, where the hobby horse becomes a real horse, where Lisa goes to Toyland, and where Bambo, the little negro boy, gets new trousers.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Brand, Blood & Babes

I've just watched the National Theatre's new staging of Ibsen's Brand. Keywords: Blood, violence and overproduction. But not at all as bad as it may sound. Despite my scepticism regarding "nifty ideas" in theatrical productions, I guess that's ok as long as they're somehow in concord with the original text.

At any rate, the director is obviously a creative and visionary guy. On entering the theatre hall I almost thought I'd got lost, because on stage they were already in the middle of something that looked like a spectacular and decadent disco show with glitter, glam and lightly dressed women. After a while the actual play begins, and they certainly haven't pulled their punches. The scenography resembles an inflatable amusement park castle, and the changes of scenery take place in daring metamorphoses in full view of the audience. The special effects may sometimes seem a bit over the top, but you certainly have to admire the desire and aptitude to create a different Brand.

The actors also made decent contributions. Unfortunately I was a bit distracted by a little doll in the chorus with an alluring manga face. But usually it didn't take long before some sex or violence made me once again, slightly reluctantly, focus on the actual play. All in all, a creative and imaginative staging I probably won't forget for some time.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Technical Oddities

A slightly delayed update: Recently my class had an excursion to the Technical Museum. The students walked among old machines, anatomic models, physical experiments, automobiles, aeroplanes and much more. They soon realized that many of the machines that are still in common use in their native countries, now are considered odd antiquities at our latitudes. That gave them a good laugh. They're generally a jolly bunch. It seems my all-time favourite class is always the one I'm having right now.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Flamenco On Friday

Torgny, that old geezer, occasionally needs something or someone to get him out of his comfy chair. In that respect, the initiative of getting a free pass to the theatre has been quite successful. Earlier I've also had outgoing friends who could lure me out on a bender, but after most of these became parents and family guys, a night on the town seems often like an almost insuperable project...

On Friday, however, I was invited to a flamenco show. I don't have any particular experience with this kind of music, but it's always fun to check out something new. True, I do have some mixed feelings about this sort of festivities. The dancers have an awkward tendency to urge the audience to join them on stage, and there's nothing else that makes me feel more like the whitest boy alive... A traumatic end-of-term party for Norwegian course students some years ago is still very vivid in my mind: The beautiful Ana Paula from Brazil was trying to make her teacher join her in a swinging samba, and I reacted like any professional teacher would do: By running out of the room in sheer panic! At Friday night's flamenco show I consequently seated myself at a reassuring distance from the dance floor.

After a while the flamenco trio entered the stage and got going with fiery guitars, husky singing and - not least - flamenco dancing with an awful lot of gestures and gesticulations. All the same, I can't say I got really carried away. Despite lots of stomping, clapping and anguished face expressions, it still didn't seem quite authentic. Especially not when the impassioned "Latin" flamenco dancer is called Tonje and was a familiar face in the reading hall at the University of Oslo in the 90s... I guess flamenco isn't really my cup of tea in any case. If I want to listen to Spanish music that I don't like, I might just as well stay at home listening to the Gypsy Kings records that I don't have...

During the last twenty years or so most of my acquaintances have been pedagogues and philologians. My escort on the flamenco night, however, is a schooled singer, and at the café I also bumped into another friend who is a professional pianist. Surrounded by singing, playing and dancing acquaintances it almost felt as if I'd entered a bohemian artist joint or something. I wouldn't have been surprised if Rimbaud and Toulouse-Lautrec had joined us and offered a round of absinth...

In any case, this was an interesting, cultural and slightly different Friday night. Besides, my tv decoder has got recorder functions, so I can watch the Friday Night Golden Row whenever I want anyway. Ha-ha!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Musical Oxymoron

Bergen in October. The Brothers are moping in front of the radio. Suddenly comes a song along that we haven't heard before. A rather rock'n'rolley tune with deep, droning guitars, a bit like 70's hard rock with a hint of prog. Hm, what's this, then? A man and a woman take vocal turns. A duet, or rather a duel? The male vocalist reminds us a bit of Jack White, but it doesn't really sound like neither The White Stripes nor The Raconteurs. And who's the woman? She sounds like a real rock chick. I envision some half crazy Janis Joplin-style songstress, with piercings and tattoos everywhere...

Finally the song's over, and the dj outroduces the song: "Another Way To Die", performed - sure enough - by Jack White and... What? Did we hear that correctly? Did he really say Alicia Keys?! The R&B-chick with those incredibly slow ballads and that incessant piano plunking?! Was that cool and wicked rock'n'roll voice really hers?! Mother, give me the sun! The world is out of joint! My brain is short-circuiting in a logical Moebius loop! What will come next? Dimmu Borgir featuring Mariah Carey?

Well, at any rate, respect to Alicia! It seems like she's more versatile than you might have thought.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Quadruple Booking

As I've said before, life's like a bottle of ketchup! After a long period with hardly any social or cultural events worth mentioning, it all suddenly goes off with a bang - all within one weekend! On both Friday and Saturday the offers came one after the other, making me, as it were, quadruple-booked.

On Friday my present colleagues had decided to go out for the monthly "paycheck meal", but the very same evening I had also been invited to a mezzo-soprano recital. Such occasions cause dilemmas and difficult decisions. The turnout to the paycheck meal was pretty poor, so I eventually found myself in the company of three women in the prime of their lives. But the food was tasty and the company was nice. I felt bad about having to renounce the concert, though.

A similar dilemma occured on Saturday. I was suddenly informed that my previous colleagues were also planning to go out that weekend, but I had already got myself a ticket to the National Theatre's staging of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. So, it looked like I would have to give up one of the events once again. But luckily, the people at Smedstua have a strong stamina. Right after the play I got a message telling me that the party was still going strong. So off I went to the place where the bunch had gathered. Although Friday night's Skullerud dinner had been nice enough, I guess I enjoyed hanging out with my ex-colleagues on Saturday even more.

So, contrary to expectation I managed to squeeze in three out of four events in my all of a sudden so tight schedule, and I'm quite pleased about that. It turned out to be a pleasurable and not least eventful weekend!

PS. The staging of An Enemy of the People was all right, I suppose, but it didn't enthuse me half as much as the Ulven play did. I do have a problem with all these unmotivated "nifty ideas". Why on earth should the whole cast be tap dancing through a whole scene?!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

An Ordinary Day In Hell

Sorry about the depressing title. Things aren't quite as bad as they might seem. The case is that I've finally started using my V.I.P. card at the National Theatre, and An Ordinary Day in Hell (En vanlig dag i helvete) is simply the play I watched tonight, after its premièring (and even having its original performance) yesterday.

Despite its title (and the fact that it deals with fun stuff like the absurdity of life and the inevitability of death), it was still an entertaining, fascinating and partly humorous production. The scenography was simple: Some trunks, some chairs, a snow-covered stage. On stage seven actors, performing texts by Norwegian poet Tor Ulven. "Performing" in the best sense of the word, because this is far from dry declamation. The actors have no defined "roles", but act out from the texts in an interplay that often is both physical and sensual (without just becoming "nifty ideas").

For me the play was also an interesting encounter with Ulven's authorship, and a reminder of why I hardly read books any more. Because this is how good literature should be before I'd bother spending time reading it. In comparison most of today's best-selling "authors" appear as the dilettants they are...

Monday, 10 November 2008

It'll End In Tears

And right THERE set the autumn depression in. My mood may be slightly affected by having been a bit under the weather lately (though not to the extent to call in sick with a clear conscience). Moreover, today the Oslo weather was particularly cold and wet and unpleasant. Normally, I tend to like rainy weather, but not the nasty November drops I experienced this morning.

When I decided to tidy my flat the other day, I came across some letters and cards that had heaped up over the years, many of which were sweet and often touching greetings from people I hardly see any more. Nice, but also a bit sad. I'm particularly thinking of some weird, confused, but also lovely ex-students. Wonder how they're doing now?

Reports about a new Rwanda on its way don't do much to liven up one's spirits, either, and this morning we were told that Miriam Makeba has sung her last song. (R.I.P. Mama Africa.) Hm, I think it's about time to blow the dust off my old This Mortal Coil records...

Blondes & Brunettes

Not that I watch the telly all weekend. Well, come to think of it - I do! But that's beside the point. On Friday night I found myself watching one of Norway's most popular talk shows. One of their guests was French-Columbian Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently liberated after six years as a captive of the FARC guerilla. An impressive woman radiating calm and dignity (even when the host wouldn't respect her plea not to discuss specific details about her captivity).

I was particularly fascinated by her eyes, showing the serenity and indulgence of a madonna. Ok, I've always had a weak spot for brown eyes, but still. Sometimes you can just sense that someone has a particularly strong and kind personality. You spot it in Ingrid Betancourt, you spot it in Aung San Suu Kyi, and probably in a handful others too. Eyes truly are the mirrors of the soul. In an ocean of mediocrities, meeting such people is always an alleviation.

Later on in the program two other women appeared - "football widows" of players on two competing soccer teams. (Apparently, the national cup final took place this weekend.) They were both Norwegian, blond and in a sense good-looking girls, but compared to the charisma of the previous guest they fell through completely. (As a matter of fact, the comparison is probably rather unfair.) In the continual fight between blondes and brunettes, the latter definitely carried the day. Even on away ground.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Trick Or Treat

Lock all your doors and stay inside.
The haunting's upon us all tonight.
A FRIGHTFUL HALLOWE'EN to everyone! >:-)

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The World Is A Stage

Autumn has been nice so far, but I know this won't last forever. November is knocking at the door, one of my least favourite months, when the colourful leaves of high autumn disappear and the trees instead turn naked and bleak. This is a time for melancholy and tedium, unless one has some social, romantic or cultural stimuli to fall back on.

That's why I in my wisdom have decided to add some cultural spice to my life. I have just bought a six-month pass to the National Theatre. It wasn't cheap, but according to my calculations I only have to go to four or five plays before it pays off. To me that seems like a good deal. There are eight different plays on only in November. Besides, this is a good incentive to making my leisure time slightly more inspirational. Hopefully this might also lift this blog's cultural standard, beyond music videos and Disney magazines... I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Les Rythmes Digitales

As you know, I've got a slight fetish for (good) music videos. Sound and vision may jointly generate an evocative synergy effect. That's why MTV was one of my favourite channels in the 80s and 90s. At that time MTV was still Music Television. Due to its present crap reality show programming, however, it's lost all interest and relevance as far as I'm concerned.

When my cable company recently offered a digital update, I got access to several new tv channels, including the national channel The Voice - which, contrary to MTV, has kept a pure musical profile. For a moment I thought my video watching heyday might be in for a renaissance, but then it turned out that the channel's base is exclusively hip hop and r'n'b. And honestly, who needs more of that?

By the way, what's the deal with redefining musical genres like that? As we all know, rhythm & blues is supposed to be performed by a 70-year-old African American, preferably with bitter memories from the cotton fields. In other words: by John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. If Beyoncé is r'n'b, then Scooter is jazz!

I had originally decided to settle for the 30 tv channels in my new basic package, but then I discovered the cable company's various "theme packages", and the possibility to get six more (interesting looking) music channels was simply too tempting! So, now I've got access to four of MTV's additional niche channels: the redundantly entitled MTV Music (the Coldplay Channel), MTV Hits (the Rihanna Channel), MTV Dance (the Kylie Channel), and MTV 2 (the Green Day Channel).

I had great expectations for the last two channels in particular, as electronica and alternative are probably the musical genres closest to my heart these days. But to be honest, I found their musical profiles conspicuously mainstream. Definitely not particularly progressive and underground. I guess that's ok, but the "Hm, what's this, then?"-effect usually fails to occur.

However, the musical package contains two more channels as well: VH1 og VH1 Classic, and I guess it's primarily these that save the day. Whereas the MTV channels are pretty short-sighted on what's hot and cool and in the now, VH1 has a much more historical (you might say nostalgic) perspective, offering surprises from the early 60s until today. The Smiths follow Roxy Music follow The Ronettes. Quite good, actually.

Incidentally, my new digital life has made me seriously consider purchasing a nice, big flat screen. True, my finances recently suffered a severe blow, with a historic tax shock and an equally disastrous bill from the plumber. On the other hand, the expenses for a new plasma tv would be mere pocket fluff in comparison. Indisputable Torgny logic.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Dinosaurs Are Coming

It's funny. Every time I get a new class, this is my favourite. I guess that's because 99% of those you meet in this profession are nice and fun people. Such a fact fortifies your faith in humanity.

Recently we visited The Museum of Natural History and The Botanic Garden. Nice to get away from the classroom once in a while. The "Scent Garden" was popular, especially among the ladies, who could watch, smell and taste spices and herbs they often recognized from their own homeland. We also visited the Zoological and Geological Museums, with stuffed animals from all over the world, and - um... - a lot of rocks, respectively. At the pic we're at the Department of Paleontology, blissfully ignorant of the ravenous Tyrannosaur right behind us.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Have A Safe Trip To Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!

My brother and sister-in-law are presently on their way to a Celtic principality known for its glens, male choirs and bzrr cnsnnt cmbntions. There they're going to be godparents for a Norvago-Cymric poppet. Their travel planning was at its most intensive during my visit at their place a week ago, and I soon realized that such a project requires laborious logistics for a family with kids.

Ever since my first visit to the British isles 30 years ago, I've been fascinated by these ancient cultures far west in the ocean. Their druids, eisteddfods and enigmatic stone circles are all enveloped in a mist of mystery from the dawn of ages. And their language is practically Elvish...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Autumnal Fireworks

Autumn is here with full force. I can't remember having seen trees so amazingly colourful before. At least not since mid-October last year. I'm attaching a little clip I shot from the bus on my way home earlier today. Looks nice, doesn't it?

Inspired by the autumnal weather I recently decided to get myself a new jacket. This turned out to be easier said than done, though. Don't they carry good, decent duffle coats any more? My jacket hunt gradually drove me away from the usual shops to stores with a slightly more exclusive air. This, however, only made me feel provoked. I don't know what's worst: Charging 5000 kroner for a mere garment, or actually being willing to pay such an amount. Maybe a financial crisis was just what this country needed right now?

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Bo In Bergen

Eight months ago I became an uncle for the first time, but unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to meet my little nephew. Last week, however, I finally got a chance to go to Bergen to visit my brother, my sister-in-law, and - not least - little Bo.

Now, I'm not among those who find babies cute no matter what. To tell you the truth, I think quite a few of them are pretty ugly (and stupid). Not Bo, though. Although I don't know exactly what my sister-in-law looked like as a baby, to me little Bobster looks exactly like his dad at the same age. A promising fact. Besides, the little fellow seems to have a great interest in music - apparently, his favourites are The Beatles (whereas he's not too crazy about Beck).

Although his parents suggested that he was in a slightly bad mood during my stay, to me he seemed both cheerful and pretty easy to deal with. (If bringing up kids is as easy as that, what the hell am I waiting for? It's basically just a matter of finding a suitable uterus to impregnate...) During my stay in Bergen there was also time for quite a lot of brøderbund (family lingo for "fraternization"). Which is always nice.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A French Visit - For Better And Worse

Last week I had my Autumn break, and had decided to spend it in la belle Paris. It's a lovely city, and I was looking forward to pleasant visits to parks, museums and boulevards. The day before my departure, however, I was starting to sense a disquieting grumble in my jaw, which I (rightly) suspected might have something to do with my sialolithiasis some months earlier. It's tempting to say "That's typical!", but the truth is I've always managed to stay quite healthy during my previous travels. Until this trip to Paris, that is. (Ok, I know personal stories about one's diseases seldom are interesting for anyone else, but I still think it deserves a mention in this little travelogue. Let me reassure you that it'll get nicer later on. So, please bear over with me.)

When I landed in Paris on Monday afternoon, the pains were getting stronger, and my cheek had puffed up beyond recognition. After all, I've never felt like a genuine freak. Clubfoot and hunchback isn't quite me. But right then I looked like I suffered from a curious hybrid of mumps and struma. Chewing and swallowing caused great pains (I might just as well have swallowed razor blades!), so I was reluctant to eat anything at all (while at the same time realizing that refraining from all kinds of nourishment might also result in certain unwanted side effects. Such as starving to death).

Consequently, on my first full day in Paris I felt as blue as an Yves Klein painting. I was sleepy and hungry, my cheek was aching, and I probably had a hint of fever as well. By then I'd decided to see a doctor, and after a lot of back and forth, I finally got an appointment at a medical centre. This too turned out to be very far from a sheer pleasure. If I'd thought that I mastered the French language reasonably well until then, now was the time for a reality check. My attempts to stutter some explanatory phrases to the receptionists resulted in some even more incomprehensible babble in return. I could almost see them roll their eyes thinking "Mon Dieu! Can't that guy say anything else than 'Comment'?!" (Incidentally, this experience gave me a new respect for my students back home. Even the poorest of these come across as linguistic geniuses compared to my pathetic performance in Paris.)

Finally I was called in to the office of Monsieur le docteur. Both doctors and Frenchmen are known for their arrogance, so you can imagine the result when they're both combined. Of course, the good doctor spoke exclusively French like everyone else, while I was trying to nod in the right places to avoid fatal misunderstandings and faulty diagnoses. Finally, however, he did come up with a diagnosis (an infection in the surgical scar) and wrote a prescription for antibiotics. By the way, the only person showing some indulgence with my deconstruction of the French language was actually the cute, Chinese girl at the pharmacy. Maybe because she had some experience with the troubles of language acquisition herself? The next days were much more pleasurable. My fever, infection and elephant-man looks gradually regressed, and my mood got much better. Eating solid food was still painful, so unfortunately I didn't get a chance to enjoy that many truffles, foies gras and poached pigeons. But luckily it hadn't been my intention to make this stay "A Journey in Food and Wine" anyway.

So, apart from all this, what did I do in Paris? Well, on Tuesday (in addition to seeing the doctor) I spent some time walking around in Parc Monceau, my favourite park. Already twenty years ago, after just having returned from a legendary visit to the French capital, I wrote a little ditty about a romantic rendez-vous in this very park (unfortunately not based on any personal experience): He meets Her on a bench while reading a French newspaper (hence the lovely couplet: "We were hit by Cupid's arrow/And I soon forgot Figaro"...). I also strolled around in the borough of Invalide, admiring fashionable art nouveau blocks of flats, and not least the most characteristic Parisian symbol of them all - the Eiffel tower.

On Wednesday, my second and final full day in Paris, I had a pretty action-packed program: First walking in the artistic quarters of Montmartre, including a visit to the characteristic basilica of Sacré-Cœur. Then I went down to Île de la Cité to admire another famous Parisian church: Notre-Dame. From there I went on a nice boat trip on the Seine, past all the famous sites along the river. In the afternoon I visited the architectonic monstrosity called the Pompidou Centre, with its huge collection of modern art. Inspiring and stimulating. After a rather unsuccessful attempt to consume a three-course dish, I strolled along Champs-Élysées for a while before returning to my room at the hotel and concluding my cultural day in front of the telly and the art channel ARTE, accompanied by a cognac from the bottom shelf. A nice rounding off of a stay that fortunately got more pleasurable after a while.

The day after I returned to Norway and Bergen, visiting my brother and sister-in-law - and not least my little nephew Bo for the very first time. But that's another story.

Monday, 29 September 2008

And That's Not All!

It seems Oslo's cultural authorities aren't lazing about these days. On Thursday I and many others walked along the riverside in the glimmer of a thousand torches. And the next day the council arranged a Culture Night, with an open house at various museums/other buildings, concerts, guided tours, movie shows, exhibitions, boat trips, fireworks and lots more, all until midnight. Me, I attended both improtheatre and a two-hour guided tour through the centre of Oslo. Plus a visit at the Freemasons' grandiose - some might say pompous - premises. They'd stowed away all their skeletons and coffins, though. Yet another great initiative from the borough council, although it's a pity they offer so many exciting activities all at once. After all, there's a limit how much you can do during only one night.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

By the River at Equinox

In the heart of Oslo floats the secluded Aker River past ashes, parks and old mills. Sometimes I walk through this peaceful part of the town on my way down to the city centre. Around the autumnal equinox there's a "torch walk" along the river: All electric lights are turned off, and instead thousands of torches are lit along the footpath. I was one of many people walking along the river on Thursday night. An evocative, almost mysterious, experience, with several cultural acts along the way: Glockenspiel, avantgarde theatre, pump organ rock'n'roll, choirs, brass bands and much more. The arrangement is initiated by the districs along the river. Great arrangement, districts along the river!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Digital Magic

My housing cooperative recently made a so-called "favourable deal" with the cable company, entailing more than 30 digital tv channels (and twice as many radio stations) for the residents - all for free! Last week the cable guy called at my flat to hand over the digital decoder, and also to push umpteen extra channels (which weren't quite as free, of course). But I made it clear that my time for watching telly is, after all, not unlimited.

There was, however, one offer I couldn't refuse: a decoder with pausing and recording functions. Although I do already have a VCR, the programming often feels a tad too cumbersome for me to bother. But now that it all can be done just by pressing one key, I no longer need to be torn between going out with my friends, or staying at home to watch my favourite programs on Friday night. I can have my cake and eat it too!

The only snag is the fact that "the razor sharp picture quality" doesn't fully come into its own on my ugly, bumpy 21 inch from the Jurassic period. Whereas other electronic gadgets tend to break down as soon as you've bought them, my trusty Blaupunkt has kept it going for more than 20 years! German quality is a great thing, but it would be nice soon to be able to convert to a 42 inch plasma tv...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Evening Prayer

Dear God.
Please never let me start writing contributions to the local paper signed "an everyday life philosopher"...

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Heaven and Hell

The most observant among you may have discovered my somewhat ambivalent relationship as regards my former employer. By all means, my students have all been very sweet, and my colleagues too. But after three years under the rabid regime of a raving lunatic, I finally decided to seek my fortune somewhere else.

For a guy generally preferring what's safe to what's uncertain, I suppose a decision like this may seem a bit out of character... If I'd been living in Germany in the 30s, I'm not at all sure if I would have gone all the way, running away from The Third Reich. I'm not even convinced if I will renounce my citizenship even if our pseudo-Fascist Progressive Party should ever get to power (god forbid!).

The schizocracy at my former workplace, however, was the last straw. This is a place where Kafka, Stalin and Machiavelli would all feel as snug as a bug. The teachers are treated as a necessary nuisance, and the students merely as a source of income. An obstinate administration is continuously initiating new, unrealistic projects for which the teachers see no need, and in which the students have no interest. But this, of course, is irrelevant as long as the municipality bigwigs get the impression our local madwoman in the attic is the cleverest girl in the class... As an employee you have to choose between licking your boss' arse, having a nervous breakdown, or finding another job. In this respect, I suppose I've chosen the least of three evils...

After the summer break I was fortunate enough to get a new job at another Adult Education Centre. The difference between the two places is like night and day. At my new workplace the admin actually appear to have certain human features, and seem genuinely interested in the well-being of their students and staff. In general there's a much more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere at my present workplace. Flexible leaders generate happy employees, tyrannic bosses the opposite. For the first time in several years I've experienced loud, heartfelt laughs at our meetings! I'm not sure if my colleagues fully realize how fortunate they actually are...

Thursday, 11 September 2008

California Dreamin'

As we all know, Facebook gives us a chance to stay in touch with present friends - and to reestablish contacts with old ones. This is all good, but not entirely without risks. Recently I came across the profile of a young lady I haven't been in touch with for ages. In retrospect, most of my ex'es seem just so 90s, but in this specific case I must admit it felt a bit weird "seeing" her again seven years later. Memories were evoked - and contrary to the memories of certain other old flames, these were exclusively of a pleasant kind. I was even blessed with some sweet dreams the very same night. But at the same time I also realize there's no point in cutting up scars that have almost healed. The memories and the dreams will suffice. And sneaking a peek at Facebook from time to time.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Electronic Avenue

Like most lads I have a thing for electronic gadgets. It goes without saying that it's much more fun getting a new iPod or Nintendo than buying boring stuff like food and clothes. The problem with gizmos like that, however, is their tendency to break down, resulting in unexpected and unwanted expenditures.

This is something I've experienced recently on several occasions. For instance, my computer has been acting up quite a bit lately. And after a rough encounter with mother earth a while ago, my digital camera didn't work anymore. Last week I also discovered that the sound on my mp3 player had got really weird and fuzzy.

Fortunately, both the latter cases had a happy ending. I was dreading an extensive and expensive repair of my f**ked-up camera, but the service guy just did a few secret moves with his magic fingers, and - hey presto! - the camera was as good as new! And this weekend I had a similar experience with my crappy sound mp3 player. The repairman soon localized the problem in my ancient headphones (a bit embarrassing, really...), and then threw in a brand new pair for free. People often complain about overpaid and underachieving craftsmen, but not so in these cases. Thank you, Elkjøp!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Wind and Waves

As we're entering the month of September, this also means that autumn is on its way. From all accounts, my late August dip will be the last one this year. This afternoon the wind seemed somewhat - um - windier than before, and throughout the evening dark clouds have gathered above my house. No doubt an indication of what's to come...

Speaking of wind and waves: Personally I think the description of the effects of the various wind forces in the Beaufort scale has a lyrical power of its own. Take for instance this lovely haiku, based in its entirety on the definition of fresh gale:

moderately high waves
with breaking crests forming spindrift

streaks of foam

If this ain't poetry, then nothing is...

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Stronghold of Evil

In a valley far away was a kingdom whose people once had been happy. But this was before the Evil Queen had come to power. With a gaze that could turn a man into stone, and a voice that could freeze blood into ice, she had turned her people into flickering, fearful shadows. At the court she was feared and despised by everyone. You see, the Queen wasn't only the most wicked of the wicked, she was also the falsest of the false. With a voice as sweet as honey she would crawl around her unsuspecting victim, before she'd suddenly strike and spread her icy venom into the poor soul's veins...

At night those few who dared to approach would see one lit window in her otherwise darkened castle, glowing like a red, evil eye into the night. This was the window of the Queen's study, where she made all her malign plans of how to subjugate her subjects. Under their ruler the once so happy people had become increasingly colder and harder at heart. Their only rescue lay in escaping from the valley, getting out of reach of the evil and falseness of their Queen...

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Active Sunday ®

Sundays can easily become a grey zone: The weekend will soon be over, and you reluctantly start to realize that another week is on its way. But now that I've just started another working year (and at another workplace), I've decided to try to give my Sundays a little bit more substance than before.

Today has been a good start. True, I can't claim that I got up at cockrow. (As always, Saturday night got ridiculously late...) But in the afternoon I went for a nice and long walk in the woods. Afterwards I taught my nice private students for the first time after a long summer break. And in the evening I went to one of the islands and had a refreshing swim while the sun was setting in the fjord. 24 August may very well be my personal swimming record. (When summer lasts as long as it does this year, it would be a shame not to make use of it.) Hopefully all these activities and the fresh sea air will give me a good night's... zzzzzzzz...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Medical Update

My overall health condition still seems to be pretty good; I haven't been to a hospital for ages (touch wood!). Maybe that's why I got so nervous when my dentist in late winter discovered a mysterious anomaly in my jaw, and - to be on the safe side - sent me to the local hospital, where I went through an exhaustive check-up, including a scanning in one of their scary CT monsters. (Leaving the hospital, I felt ten times worse than when I got there...)

As the doctor had suggested there might be something sinister at large, I naturally wanted to know the results as soon as possible. But winter and spring passed, and I still hadn't heard any more from them. When summer holiday started, I decided to show up in person to stress them about the results. Only to discover they'd actually been ready for months! I'm not sure if this unnecessary mental torment was due to poor information from the hospital or just me being slow in the uptake. Probably both. At any rate, my annoyment soon gave way for the relief about the fact that it turned out to be a totally innocent case of sialolithiasis.

I got an appointment for surgery, and today I've finally got rid of the little bugger. Not a sheer pleasure, I might add... A whole bunch of medics were messing around in my mouth for god knows how long. Finally it all was over, and I could once again walk out into the afternoon sun - a bit dizzy and exhausted - but primarily relieved. No more sialolithiasis for sincerely yours.

Friday, 15 August 2008

A Greek Odyssey

My summer holiday got a bit back-heavy this year, with two visits abroad during the last three weeks. I've already mentioned my trip to Estonia, and last week I returned from a one-week stay in Athens.

There's something magical about this city. It's a unique experience walking in the dry heat among its ancient temple ruins, the air filled with sweet and spicy scents of plants of which I hardly know the names. You can potter around in the old town Plaka's labyrinthine network of alleys and side streets, listening to the café chatter in a language with an unbroken line back to Socrates and Sophocles, the very foundation of the western civilization. And in the evenings: the muffled sound of laughter and bouzouki music under colourful lamps at secluded tavernas, surrounded by the incessant singing of the cicadas. Maybe you'd like to sit down to watch the local beauties, who suddenly look like the daughters of Aphrodite (especially after a few ouzos). And above it all towers a floodlit Acropolis. The ancient gods have never fully abandoned Athens.

I also got time for some excursions outside the Greek capital, including a trip to the Peloponnesian peninsula, with famous buildings like the outdoor theatre at Epidauros (known for its remarkable acoustics) and Agamemnon's ancient citadel in Mycenae. Excursions like this give you a chance to refresh half-forgotten knowledge about the Homeric epics, ancient mythology, linear B and much more.

Greece has always been a nation of navigators, so a visit would not be complete without a trip to the sea. Consequently, I also ventured on a one-day cruise to the isles of Poros, Hydra and Aegina, walking around in picturesque streets among white houses with characteristic blue shutters, and enjoying a refreshing dive into the almost unrealistically blue waves of the Saronic Gulf.

Incidentally, the visit to one of the islands got more dramatic than I'd bargained for. The combination of adventurousness and a lacking sense of direction may have unfortunate consequences. On my way back to embark the ship before its departure, I got totally lost in the local village. After a breathless run up and down cobblestone alleys and dead-end streets (with a gnawing feeling I was running in the wrong direction), I finally found myself by the ferry landing just a couple of minutes before they cast off. I must have been favoured by the gods that day...

All in all, this trip was a great conclusion of my summer holiday, and with the memories of my Greek odyssey I'm now (almost) ready to face autumn and everyday life...