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.