Friday, September 30, 2011

Norwegian Food

A lot of people in the US have asked me about Norwegian food.  First of all, it's very, very expensive.  A liter of milk, for example, costs about 14 kroner--that comes out to something like $10 a gallon.  A dozen eggs cost around $7.  Norwegians, though, have the highest standard of living in the world.  Apparently, this means they can afford their very expensive groceries.  And maybe $10 a gallon for milk is what it costs to treat the cows humanely and to pay the farmers, the distributors, and the grocery store workers a comfortable salary (that's what I tell myself whenever I have to pay for groceries, anyway).

Eating out is even more expensive--unbelievably expensive.  Just to give you an idea:  I saw an adboard last week for a "Big Double Beef" cheeseburger with fries and a drink at McDonald's for 99 kroner (more than $17)!  The price is even higher if you eat there rather than taking it to go.

A Similar Norwegian "Value Meal" Ad
So, naturally, we don't eat out much.  Davin occasionally gets wined and dined because of work-related activities, but we've only been out to eat once as a family here--we went to a pizza place to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.  It was worth it, though--it was good pizza, and we had a really nice time.

As far as what Norwegians "typically" eat, my experience is very limited.  We don't know any native Norwegians well enough to know what they usually eat when they're at home.  So my impressions mostly come from what's available at the grocery store.

But I have heard (and seen at Oscar's school) that a typical Norwegian breakfast, as well as a typical Norwegian lunch, consists of bread topped with butter/jam/cheese/meat/tomato/cucumber/etc.  Sandwiches here are usually open-faced--it's un-Norwegian to put a piece of bread on top:

It's okay to have multiple layers of bread; you just have to be careful not to finish with a bread layer.

Dinner is the main meal and often includes seafood.  Seafood is huge here.  Fresh, high-quality fish, shrimp, and oysters are easy to come by and not terribly expensive (relatively speaking).  Bergen has a world-famous fish market where you can find a huge variety of super-fresh seafood:

Dinner is usually served on the early side because, as I understand it, a fourth meal (kveltsmat - literally, "evening food") is standard here.  I'm not sure what this meal normally consists of, but I get the impression that it's more of a snack than a meal.   

The grocery stores here tend to be smaller, neighborhood shops.  Selection is definitely more limited than in American stores, with some exceptions.  When it comes to cheese and bread, for example, there are tons of options.  And they have a staggering selection of hot dogs (pølser).  The bread is really good, and usually sold in freshly baked, unsliced loaves.  Nearly every grocery store is equipped with a self-service electric bread slicer:

The Self-Service Bread Slicer:  One of my Favorite Things about Norway
Even though the grocery stores are small, we've been able to find most everything we're used to buying at home (or something roughly equivalent).  We are still looking for cheese sticks, maple syrup, and salted almonds, though.  But while I wasn't surprised that we couldn't find some of the foods that were staples for our family in the US, I definitely was surprised by some of the things that are staples here.  The following are all products that are extremely easy to come by in Norway (in fact, the first three are served to the children at Oscar's school every single day):

Liver Paste - There are tins with boys on them for boys and tins with girls on them for girls.
Caviar in a Tube
Brunost (Brown Cheese) - It has a caramel color AND a caramel flavor.
Reindeer Meat (Also Elk and Moose Meat)
Interesting, no?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Splendid Saturday

It was chilly in the morning, so we fired up the pellet stove for the first time.  It was really cozy and the kids were thrilled:

Right now is "National Science Week" (Forskningsdagene) in Norway, so there were science activities throughout the country this weekend.  Here in Bergen events included science lectures in the Downtown library, and an enormous tent was set up in the City Center full of experiments and science activities for kids.

Here, Jonah and Oscar are doing an experiment to help them understand how seashells are formed.

The kids were really impressed by a group of booths that focused on fiber.  The idea was to teach people about the benefits of a high-fiber diet, including the link between sufficient fiber intake and reduced rates of cancer.  One booth allowed them to make a trail mix out of things like oats, raisins, and different types of seeds and cereals.  When they were done making their mix, they presented their snack to be judged.  They'd get a thumbs-up sticker if they made a healthy, high-fiber mix, and a thumbs-down sticker if they didn't.  Sergio got a thumbs-up, but Jonah and Oscar had both filled their cups with Honey Smacks (or something like them), so they each got a big thumbs-down.

But the booth that impressed them was one that taught about the effects of fiber on poop.  It had platters of poop of varying consistencies (I don't think it was real, but I didn't want to investigate), as well as vials that contained various poopy aromas.  I didn't catch what we were supposed to be learning from the smelling portion of the display, but it sure was stinky!

Luckily, the poop display didn't spoil Oscar's appetite for Honey Smacks.
Later in the day we went to a birthday party for our friend Jill (one of Davin's colleagues in the Digital Culture Department at the University of Bergen):

I got to meet many of Davin's colleagues for the first time, and I had some good conversations with them.  The food was amazing (there was tons of it, and most of it was prepared by Jill's husband, Scott).  We all had a fantastic time. 

Playing with Legos with Jessie (Jill's Daughter)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Galata Tower, Istanbul.
I have just returned from Istanbul, where I have been for the last several days.  I presented a paper on electronic literature, technological change, and the critical use of database tools at ISEA.  The other panelists included Scott Rettberg, Maria Angel, Anna Gibbs, and Dene Grigar.  As far as academic conferences go, ISEA2011 was among the most exciting that I have ever attended.  In addition to preserving a sharp focus on artists and the arts, I found that the experience was enriched by a city in all of its dimensions that seemed intent to insert itself into my consciousness.  The academic papers were presented at Sabanci Towers while the gallery exhibitions and workshops took place at other sites (a chief sponsor of the event was Sabanci University, which has been endowed by the Sabanci Holding Company, hence the conference site).  It was my first time attending a conference with high security--metal detectors, x-ray machines, and a general security perimeter that insulated the world of the towers from the world that surrounds it.

Graffiti writing, some street in Istanbul.
To provide a bit more context, Istanbul is a city of over 13 million people, which is notable for the number of billionaires that live there and the large numbers of people living in poverty.  Beyond the income inequalities, Istanbul also shows the signs of tension that accompany the changes that are sweeping the globe.  As a historical meeting place for many cultures, Istanbul has an certain innate cosmopolitanism to it that has been produced by years of people trying to live their lives against the sweeping changes of imposed by the fickle hands of imperial ambition.  And, in a way, Istanbul today is not much different.  The forces of globalization march ever onward, but the people are very much concerned with going about their lives, trying to make their livings while finding time to be happy.

A view from Taksim Square.
In addition, Istanbul is notable for its history of religious and cultural pluralism.  Certainly, the number of mosques indicates that Istanbul clearly has a Muslim majority population.  But there are also many Christian churches in the city, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, etc.  In addition, there are a number of synagogues in the city.  And, though I didn't visit Hagia Sophia this time (I was there in 2003), it serves as a clear monument to the absurd travesty of politicized religious conflict. The current treatment of this historical monument shows a pragmatic, historical view of the site that seems to reflect the tolerance that prevails in the city.  All too often, back home, I hear people say things like, "People have been killing each other over religion for centuries," while ignoring examples that prove this is not destiny.  And, quite frankly, the little glimpses of religious tension that I experienced in the city had more to do with a general anxiety that religious extremists could chip away at Turkey's strong secular tradition.  Rather than seeing ancient conflict shaping up, I came away with the sense that religious fundamentalism is something of a contemporary phenomenon, and that older people, no matter how traditional their views might be, were not keen on the mix of politics and religion that seems to have emerged, promising to save us from the challenges of the 21st century.

Karen Casey.  Meditation WallISEA2011, Uncontainable: The World Is Everything That Is The Case.
In other words, my experiences at ISEA seemed to be something like experiencing the entire world in miniature.  The meeting of worlds: Europe and Asia.  Pre-Industrial, Industrial, Post-Industrial.  Rich history and rapid change.  Extremes of wealth and poverty.  Security and insecurity.  Tradition and innovation.  It was truly fantastic to try to think, with my head full of black tea and Turkish coffee, constantly drifting in and out of the ivory tower.  A surreal experience forged at the intersection of absolute realities.

Derya and Utku
But my time wasn't all just thinking about scholarly things.  I had the benefit of good company and fine art to help pull these thoughts into humane directions.  In the first case, I was spent a great deal of time with my old friend Derya and my new friend, her fiance, Utku.  They went out of their way, again and again, to show me all the best things about life in Istanbul.  They took me to their favorite restaurants, prepared some fine meals, escorted me to my events, took me to look at wedding dresses and provided warm hospitality to me.  More importantly, I had the opportunity to share a special moment in their lives, as they anticipate their future together, with all the hope and promise that entails.

Me touching Emergence at Uncontainable: Hyperstrata.
The art we enjoyed together as part of the ISEA exhibition provided a nice opportunity to share my interests with my friends, and to connect my thinking to the broader field of human experience.  While there were many worthy works exhibited as part of the events, I recall a singular experience with a piece that consisted of a giant orb that, when held, would pulse with your heartbeat.  Sean Montgomery's Emergence is a fairly simple work, however, I found it immediately captivating.  To see and hear my pulse produced an immediate affinity with the work, as it was operating on my internal rhythm.  Immediately, the piece made me want to move, then to attempt to alter my pulse.  But after this sort of narcissistic initial encounter, I was taken aback by the fact that other people were watching something that had seemed so personal.  I stepped back to watch as others interacted with the work, and in each case, I watched as they appeared to have a similar experience.  Except this time, as a spectator, I found myself wanting to dance to their heartbeats, and in some cases even doing so.  And I wasn't the only one.
On a Taksim sidestreet late at night.
When I had a second chance to place my hands on the orb, I was now looking outward from the center of the piece.  Watching the lights travel from the orb, out to the floor, into the crowd, and out into the world.  Though, of course, this is only a trick of the mind--after hours of walking through a city that seemed itself to throb and pulse, after reading lots of philosophy, enjoying the company of my sweet companions, struggling with the estranging effects of a confusing world, drinking too much coffee and too much wine--I imaged for a second that all of our hearts were beating at the same time, all thirteen million or so people in the city of Istanbul.  I saw, for a second, the glimmer of another world...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Children's Culture Weekend

Because this is "Children's Culture Weekend," there were free children's activities at the Bergen Art Museums.  The boys contributed to a huge work of public art.  They made bugs for a "garden" that will stretch up the front of the art museum in one direction and, in the other, all the way across the pond in Festplassen (an important landmark in the City Center).

The Beginnings of the Garden

The Path for the Garden Across the Pond

Festplassen Pond as it Usually Looks
 We also saw a gallery show about art and design through the ages.  It featured a lot of cool furniture:

Oscar said the chair Jonah's sitting in is "definitely Postmodern."

There was a hunt through the gallery for artworks depicting "fantasy figures."  This was "for inspiration" before we made our own fantasy figures out of clay:

We met up with some friends at Kunstlab -- a brand new and totally amazing art museum for children ("kunst" is the Norwegian word for "art").  They have tons of hands-on exhibits, including a hallway with pencils hanging from the ceiling where you can write all over the walls:

There was a reading room filled with a great collection of art books for children.  The kids liked looking at the books, but they loved climbing around in there even more.

Another room was filled entirely with ropes and nets for climbing.  Jonah and Oscar played in it for hours.  While they were in there, they made a new friend who could speak English (virtually all the adults in Norway speak English, but few of the kids do).  We all had a fantastic time.

Oscar and Jonah Drawing with their New Friend, Sahib

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Day at a Real Castle!

Håkon’s Hall, built by King Håkon Håkonsson as a royal residence and banqueting hall, is now 750 years old, so there was a huge celebration at the castle with lots of children's activities.

As we walked there from the bus stop, we passed a huge food festival in Bryggen (a very famous wharf and the oldest part of the city).  There was great food and tons of people.  Many of the vendors were giving out really delicious free samples (which is why, later, when Sergio threw up all over me on the bus [again], I was covered in a wide variety of fruits, sausages, and fine cheeses).

But the real excitement started when we reached Bergenhus Castle.  The kids watched knights sword fighting (in really impressive period costumes), then they got to do some sword fighting of their own (in much more humble costumes):

Jonah even got to participate in an organized battle (Sergio and Oscar weren't old enough):

First Jonah and the other young knights spent about 30 minutes improving their swordsmanship, learning to march in formation, and developing strategy.  Then a fierce battle ensued in which Jonah was lucky enough to be chosen to wield a spear, but unlucky enough to be quickly vanquished by his foes (after receiving three "battle wounds" from the opposing army, the defeated soldiers had to put their foam weapons on their heads and watch from the sidelines):

When I came over to snap this picture, Jonah told me, "Technically, Mom, I'm dead."
All three kids got a chance to use a bow and arrow.  Here's Sergio taking his turn:

We also got to explore INSIDE the castle.  First we looked around Håkon's Hall.  We learned that, in 1261, when the King's son Magnus Håkonsson Lagabøte married the Danish princess Ingeborg, 2000 guests were invited for a feast in this enormous hall.

This is the room where the King sat during banquets.
A calligrapher wrote the kids' names for them and explained that the room he was working in was used by actual Medieval scribes.  They would sit on the stone seats built into the window ledges and use the sunlight to work by.

The Calligrapher, Bas Vlam (with Scribes' Window in Background)

In the Scribes' Window

 We watched a wonderful performance and then climbed to the top of Rosenkrantz Tower.

The little specks to the left on top of the tower are Oscar, me, and Jonah.

A Closer View
This is a picture of Sergie on the other side of the little red door below us on the tower.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Barfing! Barfing! Barfing!

It all started at the aquarium on Monday.  Sergio, who had been healthy and happy all day, barfed his brains out in front of Northern Shrimp tank, and also threw up all over himself and me on the bus home.  He was up vomiting all night long.  Tuesday, he was feeling much better, but needed a lot of rest.  Wednesday night I starting puking MY guts out and was up so many times to vomit during the night that I finally pulled a mattress in front of the bathroom door.  I was still a disaster on Thursday, when poor Jonah started puking, too.  On Friday, we were no longer throwing up, but we were both feeling really wiped out.  I noticed that my belly was much smaller and less firm than it had been before my illness, and I was worried about the baby.  So I made an appointment with a midwife, even though I knew it wouldn't be covered by our insurance (it's through Siena Heights University, Davin's permanent employer, and because we're abroad, it only covers us for emergencies--prenatal care is not included) and I had no idea whether Norwegian healthcare would cover me.  It turns out Norwegian healthcare does cover me, both for prenatal care and for a hospital birth (Phew!).  And I've heard that that this the best place on Earth to have a baby.

The midwife was great.  She measured me and listened to the baby's heartbeat.  She said the heartbeat sounded good and I was measuring fine.  She thought I just needed to eat, drink, and rest, and my tummy would get big again.  I doubted it, but it turned out she was right--by Saturday night my stomach was almost like it was.  Just in time for poor, sweet Oscar to get miserably sick and throw up all night long.  But now we've all recovered.  And Davin is the last one standing...maybe you could say a little prayer for him.