Friday, March 31, 2006


I just returned from Bergen- quite possibly the most beautiful city in Europe if you manage to visit it during one of the three days out of the year when it isn't raining- like today. Apparently being surrounded by seven mountains does something to the weather. They literally have an annual rain festival. There are all sorts of ancient wood buildings downtown that have fire sprinklers on the outside of them (and the inside). You would think that with all that rain, they wouldn't need them.

Last night we had a special dinner for our clients and partners. I opted for the reindeer. I ate Rudolf, and he was quite tasty.

We had a bit of a scheduling fiasco that I won't go into at the moment, but as we were waiting, four other flights left for Stavanger. When we finally left, the flight back lasted maybe 25 minutes- which makes a three hour wait in the airport feel unacceptable. We had an amazing clear view of the coast on the way back to Stavanger.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

House Stalkers

After work we took a walk to the new house. It is probably less than five minutes away on foot, since we can take a rather direct route over the hill. If we drove, we would need to drive down, around, and up the hill, or drive by NATO, down, and around. Regardless, it would take longer than walking. I was surprised it is that close. We will need to keep a low profile- we can't be walking by every day.

Banjo Brothers

Aside from the cool name, they obviously are cool people. It isn't everyday that I receive an unsolicited offer to field test a set of waterproof panniers, or any products for that matter. As I stare out the window looking at more rain, thinking of riding in the rain yesterday, and rain the day before, and the day before, there is no decision. Of course I am interested. I have found that I am transporting more and more "stuff" to and from work- my workout gear, extra clothing for work, my laptop. In Minneapolis, my wife shuttled all the extras. As my bike napped in the shower room, I didn't even need a lock. Of course here locks appear to be optional- although coming from a city, I don't think I could bear the thought of leaving it unlocked at work.

The main issue I am having with rain is that my clothes don't fully dry during work. Since this is a blog, and you either know me or you don't, I will delve into the realm of "too much information." I have acquired a case of athlete's foot so bad that I am contemplating amputating a few toes. Actually, it is getting better already, but it is a hazard of wet socks. Of course I change socks for riding in the rain, but it seems hopeless keeping my feet dry. I have also learned that the true litmus test of how waterproof panniers are is how paper looks when it is removed. My maps are in very rough shape these days. So if you don't hear from me for a few days, it probably means the helicopters are searching for me.

Tomorrow I leave for Bergen for a few days. It is a beautiful city- that actually receives even more rain than Stavanger. We were sorting out the menu for a fancy feast after a conference we are sponsoring, and the restaurant actually serves whale meat. I think I will choose the reindyr, which sounds good unless you visualize a claymation Christmas special. Or maybe the elk? I am looking forward to this conference, and will feel more useful chaperoning our English business advisor- who speaks not a word of Norwegian.

See you on Friday evening....

Monday, March 27, 2006

Purchased a House

Our subterranean days our numbered. We had been house hunting since last week. Actually, we really were not looking for a free-standing house, as most that we could afford were located out in the sticks. Most people who pay under 3 million nok live in an apartment, a row house, or a side-by-side house. We really did not want a row house, as they often had monthly association fees- up to $1000US. We looked at a few free-standing homes, but they really didn't fit our criteria. Here is what we wanted: a view (this is Norway, after all), a garage (maybe half the homes even have them), 3 bedrooms (for room to grow as a family), and near a bus line for at least one of us. Car-free living is a dream. At least we can hope to be a single-car family. Fuel is so expensive that we chose to factor total cost of car ownership into the purchase price. The economy of vehicles is simple: homes appreciate, cars depreciate. We would much rather even half the amount of owning a second vehicle toward owning a more expensive home in the right neighborhood.

Speaking of neighborhoods, we love the neighborhood we are in. If we were not underground, we would love it even more. For some odd reason, this area wasn't developed until relatively recently- perhaps because this hill is located near NATO headquarters. Our present side of the hill is populated with every expensive homes, such as the one we rent an apartment in, and apartments. Apartments in Norway are actually units that people buy. There is almost no rental property to speak of, which is why we live underground in a firetrap.

Anway, we found this side-by-side on the other side of the hill. It had everything we were looking for. The floors could be redone- they were cheap laminate in several rooms, but aside from that it was in excellent shape. Actually, we both wanted to buy it before we even saw it in person- assuming the photos did it justice and it wasn't inhabited by a chain smoker. We toured it yesterday. It even had a room to store bikes. It is located on a dead end street at the top of the hill. To me, it seems more like a mountain- since my heartrate almost redlines when I climb halfway up on the side we currently live. The back yard is undeveloped park and walking trails. There is no through traffic. I don't know how we will make it in heavy snow or ice, but now isn't the time to worry about such things. The house is even positioned well for good sunlight.

We both liked the house. We left the showing and prepared our offer in the car. My plan was to bid above the asking price to psyche out any other potential bidders. We already knew how much the house across the street sold for last weekend, and we priced our bid accordingly. Lise's friend suggested we set the expiration time a few hours away, rather than 24 hours as the form stipulates. I submitted the bid to the realtor, who balked at the timeframe. I reminded him that it was above the asking price. He told me he would check with the owners later. We received a call saying the owners would not accept our 8pm timeline, but would extend it to 2pm today. I accepted those terms. I almost felt we should lower the offer, since it was contingent upon that timeline, but let it stand. We still had to work with these people.

We knew today was going to be a long day. Our offer was 9% over the asking price. Fifteen minutes before the final bids were due, I received a call that our offer had been met. It was now running at 10% over, with one more hour to go. Lise and I discussed it and planned to wait until 10 minutes before offers were due with a very slight increase. Lise handled the phone as I sat on my email at work. Lise took care of the bid, and the next ten minutes slipped by. We were later informed we had the house. I think we could live there the rest of our lives- which is a strange feeling. We will move sometime in late June. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Great House Hunter

We are turning into pros. We finally pulled the trigger and placed a bid today. I will withhold all details in a vain effort to avoid jinxing the deal. We impulsively toured another house AFTER we made an offer, and this proved to be a real surprise. It is located on the same bus route that I use, and it is huge. It has an apartment in the basement, a double garage, and a sizeable yard. Strangest of all is that we can afford it. The only thing it lacks is a view, but we can't have everything. At least we have a back up plan.

Then and Now

I really don't know when I will be in the US again. I would like to return for my class reunion over Labor Day weekend. I do not know how I will feel when I return. There are several things I miss about Minneapolis. I guess that is normal. It is compounded by the fact that we are still living in a tiny apartment, and I am still working on making new friends. Most of what I miss centers around the types of things that a metropolitan area of maybe 3 million people has to offer. Stavanger is a small town by comparison. But I can't get past the fact that it looks like we are living a better life here. I really miss the biking community of the Twin Cities. This part of the country is more mountain bike oriented. There does not appear to be the same sort of racing scene here either. But there is no point in me limiting my life's decisions based on bike racing- especially given my racing performance. I am guessing the Opus series will be starting up soon. I will really miss that. It was weekly and close to home- a race I am intimately familiar with. It is difficult to believe that in just two months, racers will be soaked with sweat as they go around Yellow Circle Drive over and over again. It is snowing again today.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What Is In Your iPod?

I feel like a kid again listening to SubFocus, E-Sassin, Pendulum, or even TeeBee. Good stuff.

Spring Ahead

Daylight savings begins in Norway tonight. I think the US still has a week to go. I biked to work daily, except Wednesday after we received another substantial snow. They maintain the bike routes very well here by salting, so I was able to bike the rest of the week. It was very cold, but I don't have far enough to ride for it to be a problem. This is as cold as it ever gets, so I think I can handle everything- but the ice.

We rented a DVD last night. I am very annoyed that I couldn't play it because of region coding. I still have a US coded DVD player. What kind of idiotic scheme is this? For an extra 499nok I can buy a decent DVD player and have the best of both worlds. Region coding is a stupid as locking a cell phone. There is always a workaround- although in my case it means buying another player. There may be some way to hack the coding, but I am too lazy to bother. I really wish I knew what "they" were trying to accomplish.

Finally, I am starting to make plans to travel to India for work in April or early May. It looks like this will really happen. I need to send my passport in to the Indian consultate for a business visa. I might also be traveling to Indonesia or Malaysia during this trip. My boss offered that Lise could join me on this trip. We will see what develops. Travel to India is rather expensive, even from here. I just need to make sure I don't end up with hepatitis or malaria.

It is extraordinarily windy today- the kind that stands you right up when you try to bike against it. I rode the the gym to workout. I know it sounds a little odd, but the wind chill was very cold today. I really need to shed this winter weight.

Tomorrow we view our "dream house." It is located on the top of the hill we live on, on the other side. It overlooks the fjord and the valley into Forus. It is affordable- 3 bedrooms with a garage and a view. If it looks even half as good in person as in the photos, I am sure we will make an offer. The trouble is, there are very few properties in this size and price range- so there will likely be a bidding war. We are crossing our fingers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Finally Commuted to Work

Nothing much to report here other than the fact that I should have started this a month ago. Sub-freezing weather was no match for such a short distance. The only hitch to the ride was changing in a deserted hallway. It made sense at the time, and when I was getting ready to leave after work, a coworker changed in the same place- so I know I am not entirely crazy.

Monday, March 20, 2006

House Hunting, Norway Style

This is how you buy a house in Norway. You go to the bank and have a chat with a loan officer. Without signing anything, you are approved for 2.5 million nok- maybe more if you ask. Interest is around 3.35% and variable. Next, you look on the internet for houses. There is no buyer's agent. Rather, when you find the house you want to see, you go to the open house- which typically lasts for one hour on a Sunday through Wednesday. One hour. You can schedule a private showing. When you show up at a showing, there is a 50% chance the current owner will be there, which is simply weird. The realtor hands you a prospectus outlining the cost, and any association fees (if it is a townhouse). Not included in the price is sales tax of 2.5%. There isn't much property tax- maybe around $1000/year US- but not in all municipalities. If you are even remotely interested in a house, you sign a list with your name and number. If you are really interested, you place a bid. Once a bid is placed, everyone on the list is contacted for the opportunity to counter-offer.

That is the easy part. The hard part is finding a house in a nice neighborhood, with three bedrooms and some sort of garage, with a view, and on a bus line for at least one of us- at a price we can afford. We have already viewed maybe seven houses the past two days. We have decided to gut it out and wait for the perfect one. Oh, you can forget about yards. Some houses have a tiny patch or strip of grass, but they are rare. I am guessing I won't find anything with large trees- or a double garage. And what is particularly distressing is that no houses have air conditioning- meaning that I can expect this kind of weather all year.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Zero St. Patrick's Day

I don't like St. Patrick's Day- never have. I will probably open a can of worms here, but if someone really needs to feel "proud" about being Irish, doesn't that speak to some sort of problem? You don't see the Belarusians making a huge issue about their ethnicity. There may be local Cuban or Kazakhstani days, but people aren't getting completely inebriated over it, like it is a humiliation they must endure. The St. Patricks's Day drinking is so bad that Armed Forces Radio ran ads all day reminding soldiers there would still be beer available on the 18th.

I hated being in St. Paul on the 17th. You would have thought it was ground zero for Saint Patrick- that he founded the city or something. I am not Irish and I had no desire to pretend to be.

Funny thing about life in Norway is that I completely forgot about it. I was reminded by the radio, but there was no evidence at all that the Irish even existed.

On this belated St. Patrick's Day post, I leave you with an Irish curse:

May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children
chase you so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can't find
you with a telescope.

Ex-Pat Tax Hell

The only good thing about living abroad at tax time is a freebie two month extension on my filing- June 15th. Other than that, the tax laws have been written by cryptologists. I can barely comprehend the quagmire I am about to step into. I have been able to determine that I will not owe Social Security taxes to the US- good news! I am contemplating considering my two months of unemployment in late 2005 to be "self-employment" with zero income so I can deduct a housing allowance. I am "fortunate" that I earned no income in Norway in 2005.

I seriously want to scream and bang my head against the wall after trying to decipher my tax obligations. There is no excuse for the arcane tax structure that lacks any sensical plain-English terminology or descriptions. It is like our efforts for obtaining a Green Card-- maybe if they didn't over-engineer the process, fewer people would enter illegally. And that is my point- if the US government wants my money so badly, why don't they make it easier for me to pay? My guess is that the accounting lobby has ensured their future survival by eliminating any easy track for "doing it yourself." Finally, to add insult to injury, I have moved to an almost communist nation where they take all our money anyway. Not really- but nobody in their right mind considers Norway to be a low-tax state.

Photo From Bremen

A coworker thought he was being rather clever when he asked me to walk by this billboard for a photo.

I am not famous for being well-oriented and knowing my way around unfamiliar environments. The transportation responsibilities for this trip fell on my shoulders. Frankly I was amazed that I could so easily find the car rental in Hamburg, navigate to CeBIT on a tight schedule for opening ceremonies in Hannover, and find the hotel in Bremen. Actually, there were two hotels from this chain located two blocks apart, and we initially stopped at the wrong one, but no big deal. We also extended the car rental from one day , to three days, to the full week. Herz was easy to work with in this regard. We initially planned to take the train each day. I cannot imagine what that would have been like. Also, having a car for as many as six of us ended up being cheaper than all those train tickets.

I found a much better version of the Town Musicians of Bremen. I think it is from the original Grimm tale.

A certain man had a donkey, which had carried the corn-sacks to the mill indefatigably for many a long year; but his strength was going, and he was growing more and more unfit for work. Then his master began to consider how he might best save his keep; but the donkey, seeing that no good wind was blowing, ran away and set out on the road to Bremen. “There,” he thought, “I can surely be town-musician.” When he had walked some distance, he found a hound lying on the road, gasping like one who had run till he was tired. “What are you gasping so for, you big fellow?” asked the donkey.
“Ah,” replied the hound, “as I am old, and daily grow weaker, and no longer can hunt, my master wanted to kill me, so I took to flight; but now how am I to earn my bread?”
“I tell you what,” said the donkey, “I am going to Bremen, and shall be town-musician there; go with me and engage yourself also as a musician. I will play the lute, and you shall beat the kettledrum.”
The hound agreed, and on they went.
Before long they came to a cat, sitting on the path, with a face like three rainy days! “Now then, old shaver, what has gone askew with you?” asked the donkey.
“Who can be merry when his neck is in danger?” answered the cat. “Because I am now getting old, and my teeth are worn to stumps, and I prefer to sit by the fire and spin, rather than hunt about after mice, my mistress wanted to drown me, so I ran away. But now good advice is scarce. Where am I to go?”
“Go with us to Bremen. You understand night-music, you can be a town-musician.”
The cat thought well of it, and went with them. After this the three fugitives came to a farm-yard, where the cock was sitting upon the gate, crowing with all his might. “Your crow goes through and through one,” said the donkey. “What is the matter?”
“I have been foretelling fine weather, because it is the day on which Our Lady washes the Christ-child’s little shirts, and wants to dry them,” said the cock; “but guests are coming for Sunday, so the housewife has no pity, and has told the cook that she intends to eat me in the soup to-morrow, and this evening I am to have my head cut off. Now I am crowing at full pitch while I can.”
“Ah, but red-comb,” said the donkey, “you had better come away with us. We are going to Bremen; you can find something better than death everywhere: you have a good voice, and if we make music together it must have some quality!”
The cock agreed to this plan, and all four went on together. They could not, however, reach the city of Bremen in one day, and in the evening they came to a forest where they meant to pass the night. The donkey and the hound laid themselves down under a large tree, the cat and the cock settled themselves in the branches; but the cock flew right to the top, where he was most safe. Before he went to sleep he looked round on all four sides, and thought he saw in the distance a little spark burning; so he called out to his companions that there must be a house not far off, for he saw a light. The donkey said, “If so, we had better get up and go on, for the shelter here is bad.” The hound thought that a few bones with some meat on would do him good too!
So they made their way to the place where the light was, and soon saw it shine brighter and grow larger, until they came to a well-lighted robber’s house. The donkey, as the biggest, went to the window and looked in.
“What do you see, my grey-horse?” asked the cock. “What do I see?” answered the donkey; “a table covered with good things to eat and drink, and robbers sitting at it enjoying themselves.”
“That would be the sort of thing for us,” said the cock. “Yes, yes; ah, how I wish we were there!” said the donkey.
Then the animals took counsel together how they should manage to drive away the robbers, and at last they thought of a plan. The donkey was to place himself with his fore-feet upon the window-ledge, the hound was to jump on the donkey’s back, the cat was to climb upon the dog, and lastly the cock was to fly up and perch upon the head of the cat.
When this was done, at a given signal, they began to perform their music together: the donkey brayed, the hound barked, the cat mewed, and the cock crowed; then they burst through the window into the room, so that the glass clattered! At this horrible din, the robbers sprang up, thinking no otherwise than that a ghost had come in, and fled in a great fright out into the forest. The four companions now sat down at the table, well content with what was left, and ate as if they were going to fast for a month.
As soon as the four minstrels had done, they put out the light, and each sought for himself a sleeping-place according to his nature and to what suited him. The donkey laid himself down upon some straw in the yard, the hound behind the door, the cat upon the hearth near the warm ashes, and the cock perched himself upon a beam of the roof; and being tired from their long walk, they soon went to sleep.
When it was past midnight, and the robbers saw from afar that the light was no longer burning in their house, and all appeared quiet, the captain said, “We ought not to have let ourselves be frightened out of our wits;” and ordered one of them to go and examine the house.
The messenger finding all still, went into the kitchen to light a candle, and, taking the glistening fiery eyes of the cat for live coals, he held a lucifer-match to them to light it. But the cat did not understand the joke, and flew in his face, spitting and scratching. He was dreadfully frightened, and ran to the back-door, but the dog, who lay there sprang up and bit his leg; and as he ran across the yard by the straw-heap, the donkey gave him a smart kick with its hind foot. The cock, too, who had been awakened by the noise, and had become lively, cried down from the beam, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”
Then the robber ran back as fast as he could to his captain, and said, “Ah, there is a horrible witch sitting in the house, who spat on me and scratched my face with her long claws; and by the door stands a man with a knife, who stabbed me in the leg; and in the yard there lies a black monster, who beat me with a wooden club; and above, upon the roof, sits the judge, who called out, ‘Bring the rogue here to me!’ so I got away as well as I could.”
After this the robbers did not trust themselves in the house again; but it suited the four musicians of Bremen so well that they did not care to leave it any more. And the mouth of him who last told this story is still warm.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Odds and Ends

Last night we went to a party. It was the birthday of a good friend of my wife (from high school)- who just happens to be married to my new office mate. It was at a handball clubhouse on a lake near downtown. We bused there, not knowing how we would make it home, since the buses stop running at 8pm on that route. It was a very cool party and we met some very interesting people, including a couple of doctors who were recently married. She was from Malaysia and recently moved here. We traded notes on being newly transplanted in Norway. We stayed much later than we expected, and enjoyed an expensive taxi ride home. Considering how many people were at the party, there were very few cars in the parking lot- maybe one car for every pregnant woman who attended.

I finally washed the car at the Statoil down the street. It is actually cheaper than in the US, where there are all sorts of water usage taxes. I then went on a nice bike ride in the 40 degree temperatures. I really need to get in shape. All this restaurant food has taken a toll on me. I forgot to mention that back in Bremen we ate at the same nice Italian restaurant each night, until the last night we had the ill-advised idea of trying a Mexican restaurant. When will I learn? Mexican food in Europe is terrible. It just doesn't work. Tappas is alright, as are every other ethnicity- but Mexican is best prepared by Mexicans. Anyway, enough ice has melted that I should be able to bike to work next week.

Next we looked at buying a house. We already met with the bank last week. I found that I could have a Visa card- despite what the last two bankers said, or rather lied about. I was worked up that we would pull our money out and bank elsewhere if I couldn't have a cash card with a Visa logo so I could use it abroad and in parking ramps. I had been given very lame reasons why I was not eligible in the past- which was odd considering who easily I received a credit card from a competing bank. We met with a very nice banker who only spoke Norwegian, but she spoke so clearly that she was rather easy to understand. We will be able to borrow as much as we need- so we should be able to find something livable. We are fortunate that we have already been through the house buying process in the US, since I think it helps us structure our search. An interesting aspect about buying in Norway is that they buyer does not use an agent. Sellers agents take a much smaller commission. Of course there is a 2.5% sales tax on homes. Another oddity is that some townhouses sell with a secondary maintenance loan- so if you buy the house, you also buy the balance on the loan to fix the roof or whatever. Those townhouses tend to sell for less.

A typical 2 -3 bedroom side by side or "apartment" in the 80-100 square meter range tends to run around 1.7 to 2 million nok. We could purchase a full house way out in Klepp or Time for the same money, but then we would need to own a second car, pay for a ton of gas, and spend a lot of time in traffic. Norwegians tend to pay more for houses and spend less on extensions of the living or dining rooms- in other words, going out to eat or out for drinks or coffee is far less common. People entertain more at home. Many people have space to sit a dozen people in their dining rooms. My preference is something easily accessible with a view- even at the expense of giving up some room. This is a beautiful country- I need a view- mountains, ocean, or fjords... I am not picky. Last time we were house hunting, I dreaded it. This time I can't wait. We start tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Drinking a Carlsberg in Copenhagen

I will soon boycott Carlsberg, now that I know it is the Budweiser of Europe, but it will do in a pinch- like another two hour wait in an airport. Funny thing about travel in Europe is I spend more time in airports than actually flying anywhere. I had a 40 minute flight from Hamburg. The drive from Hannover was not my usual pushing the redline commute that Bremen was- there are far too many huge trucks. There are laws against them passing in certain areas, resulting in convoys miles long. Hamburg has the hugest shipyards imaginable. They are cartoonish in dimensions. I am sure there is some link going back to the Hanseatic League days, but I wouldn't know about such things. There are ships with these containers hanging off at impossible angles, and miles and miles of shipping crates stacked up like legos. There is also a strange long tunnel under the Elbe or other such river in Hamburg. Then of course there is the funny name. I am not even home, and in checking my email, I see that I am asked to return in a few days. I am OK with that, but I would rather have made it home before thinking about leaving again. I doubt it would be overnight this time.

A few oddities about the trip- when I checked out, I was charged for a few "premium movies." The hotel had a ridiculous setup where if you even turned to the movie channels, you were billed for watching them. The fact that I comprehend no German did nothing to help my argument.

When I returned the rental car, I witnessed the most efficient check-in system ever. They also went over the car with a fine-toothed comb, looking for damage.

I am tired. I have to work the next few days, since our India contact is still in town, and I have many things to coordinate with him. All I want is to be home.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Town Musicians of Bremen

I see this depicted in signs everywhere, so I wikied to learn more about its origin. I discovered the coolest of fables:

The Town Musicians of Bremen is a fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, all mistreated by their masters, leave them and meet in a desolate place. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners.

On the way to Bremen, they see a lighted cottage; they look inside and see four robbers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. Standing on each other's backs, they decide to perform for the men in hopes of gaining food. Their 'music' has an unanticipated effect; the men run for their lives, not knowing what the strange sound is. The animals take possession of the house, eat a good meal, and settle in for the evening.

Later that night, the thieves return and send one of their number in to investigate. It is dark, and he sees the eyes of the cat shining in the darkness. He reaches over to light his candle, thinking he sees the coals of the fire. Things happen in quick succession; the cat swipes his face with her claws, the donkey kicks him, the dog bites him, and the rooster chases him out the door, screaming. He tells his companions that he was beset by monsters - a horrible witch who scratched him with her long nails (the cat), a giant who clubbed him (the donkey), and worst of all, a terrible demon who screamed in his ear. The thieves abandon the cottage to the strange creatures who have taken it, where the animals live happily for the rest of their days.

This fable has a straightforward meaning: The four animals (in pictures depicted as standing atop each other) represent the classes of the citizenry, their masters the feudal regents of the time. Bremen as a free trader's town, was their natural goal for living without masters.


I am getting used to this crazy lifestyle. CeBIT is starting to feel normal. The hotel breakfast is an incredible start to the day. I have discovered that while I don't like being a passenger in a high speed car, it becomes very comfortable to drive at 160-180kmh after a little practice. Anything slower and other cars pull out in front of me to pass other cars. I wouldn't want to drive much more faster in this Mazda minivan. I don't know how I can adjust to driving back in Norway where the limit is 90kmh, but I am very ready to return home.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Autobahn= Massive Deja Vu

We are now renting a car and commuting between Bremen and Hannover in Germany for CeBIT. Germany is cool, except for all the Germans- but that, as is CeBIT are a different story that will be told at a later time. I have limited internet at the hotel- I can't log on to blog, but I can Skype. Go figure. Anyway, a few observations about the autobahn. They are the most perfectly designed freeways in the world. Are interstates are a mess compared to these. Secondly, who are these people that pass me like I am standing still when I am driving at 160 km/hr? At these speeds, the rental car feels like it is getting ready to take off. There are huge trucks driving half that speed- and things happen very fast. Finally, why is it that I am OK when I am driving as fast as I want, but very nervous when a coworker is behind the wheel? Actually, it has been snowing daily, so speeds have been reasonable. Anyway, back to work.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Vasaloppet on NRK

This morning I watched the beginning of the vassalopet from Sweden. After the elites take start, something like 14,000 "regular people" race in a huge mass of humanity- acres of skiers as far as the eye could see (via television). Crazy stuff.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Feeling at Home

I have never felt deja vu anywhere in Norway. Ever. I don’t want to become all cosmic and strange on this issue. I guess I am just making an observation. It is like being engrossed in a project so long that you can’t remember the last time you went to the bathroom- except I can't remember my last deja vu. It doesn’t really matter- it isn't like loosing my sense of smell or sight, but it is something that makes me curious.

No short anecdote begins with ”when I was young,” but when I was a kid, we lived in a neighborhood with mature trees in a post-war house until I was six. It was a Mayberry neighborhood in a Mayberry small town. I remember a vaguely global awareness as I would dig holes in the front yard in an attempt to tunnel to China. I remember warm sunny summer days lying in the grass, staring at the clouds as they made animal shapes. I had a fascination with the contrails left by planes, high and tiny 6 miles above me. I wondered where they were going, where they were coming from. I lived in fly-over land- smack dab in the middle of the continent, as far away from an ocean as anywhere on the planet. I loved life in that neighborhood. Perhaps it had something to do with my age. Five or six years old was a wonderful time. There is virtually no stress from school, peers, parents, or life. The social issues of school start young, but five or six was clear sailing.

We moved across town to a new subdivision. We lived on the edge of town, on Sixth street- which was also practically downtown. It is one of the many paradoxes of small town living. The new neighborhood was reputed to be one of the last tobacco fields in Iowa. At any rate, there were no trees in our new neighborhood for a number of years. We lived on a corner lot with nothing around us- a house on the prairie.

I attended a private university that was founded in 1881 or something like that. It had a campus full of oak trees, and old vine covered buildings (except for the new, air-conditioned buildings of the business and law schools). I felt very at home, until I graduated- at which point I had no use for living there anymore. After school I moved to Minneapolis. Again, I felt very at home. Where Manhattan has canyons of tall buildings and corridors of row houses, Minneapolis is a summer network of tree-lined tunnels. From the air it almost looks like a forest. Eventually we purchased a house in southwest, which was another Mayberry neighborhood with huge old trees.

Everything up to this point was Midwest living at its finest. Harsh winters and hot humid summers in a region no foreign tourist dare venture. Within this familiar environment, my life was full of déjà vu moments. Perhaps the sameness of everything promotes such feeling. No matter where in the US, there are the same stores and restaurants, the same cable channels, the same songs on the radio. In the Midwest, there are few geographical markers to break things up. Cities are mostly just huge sprawling grids of roads and new buildings on a flat plain. If I closed my eyes late at night on a hot summer night, I could easily envision the land before it was encroached upon by the sort of humans who preferred to build permanent structures.

Living here is sometimes strange. I am sitting on the sofa we had in Minneapolis, with our two cars lounging about, watching a commercial for the Pink Panther movie- sitting in a little bubble of American entertainment. Next a commercial for the new Jonas Fjeld CD and 4 megabit broadband connections, followed by a Norwegian Loreal commercial, then some artsy commercial for Nokia cell phones. As soon as I step outside, I realize I am on a huge hill, overlooking a fjord with mountains in the background. Geography is much more in my face. This clearly isn’t Minnesota. This house is built into solid rock. I fully experience gravity when returning home from the bus stop. It is like a science fiction movie where someone slips into a paralell universe that isn’t quite the same. Certain bits and pieces are jarringly out of place.

Back to déjà vu - I don’t believe it means anything “real” in the sense of having any precognition or that I have experienced something before in a previous lifetime, but still, it is an oddly comforting feeling. It makes a place feel more familiar than it really is. I seriously wonder how long it will be until I experience a genuine moment here. I know this is the right place for me to be. Of course, another thing to consider is that it could easily be as foreign for me to live in Florida, or Texas, or the Southwest- perhaps more foreign? And I miss huge old trees more than anything right now. There are a few pine trees in view across the street, but none in this yard. I told Lise before we moved that I wanted a house with big old trees. This means we can probably never live on a treeless island, but I won’t rule out a summer home.

I leave for Germany Wednesday for 8 or 9 days. I don’t think I’ll be able to survive that long on a 20kg baggage weight limit. I hear that their TV is dubbed and we won’t have internet at our hotel. I am guessing that home will feel more like home than ever after this trip.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Norwegian for "not a bad beer." Reminds me of the microbrews of the Twin Cities region. Strange what a flashback a beer taste can cause. I love their product design.


Swedish Rape tobacco. To keep kids from stealing it, you take the card to the cashier.

Don't brush your teeth with caviar. Personally, I won't eat any "food" that comes in a tube.

Black Boy White Pepper. Need I say more?

Beware of horses on the bike trail. Be more aware of the manure they leave behind. This photo was taken well before the recent snow that still covers everything.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


My driver's license arrived today. It expires in 2068. I am not making this up. I was told it was a lifetime license, but I guess they were wrong.