Monday, September 28, 2009

Pretty, Pretty Stockholm

I saw a man smoking a corncob pipe today. Didn’t Frosty the Snowman smoke a corncob pipe? The man looked quite content in his wool cap, vest, and pipe as he walked along Katarinavagen toward the old city here in Stockholm. I am visiting my friend Micke, a friend I met in Zambia, who has a lovely apartment in a rather sheik part of the city. He is an artist, so it is full of interesting things. It is the kind of apartment that has new details to observe in every nook and cranny. I like it.

Micke was rather blasé about the Gamla Stans, the old part of the city, but there is good reason to be impressed by the charming cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and old homes. Last night we went to a church service in a quaint wooden church, architecturally known as “Norse romantic.” I felt quite at home in the service despite the fact that I do not speak Swedish. The service began at sunset and the church was packed with people, surprising here in Sweden where so few people consider themselves religious. The warm candlelight and simple piano music created a meditative space, but the mild-mannered priest who wore jeans and red tennis shoes under his alb and collar was especially charming.

Fall is an exquisite time of year. The leaves, all yellow and red and green, cling to their branches as they bask in the golden light of September. I am such a romantic, but I suppose it is especially easy to be romantic this time of year.

Here are a couple of observations I have made in the last week here in beautiful Scandinavia: One, tights are in right now. Green tights, black tights, brown tights. Tights are all the rage. Tights and boots. I am doing my best to fit in with my little gray, wool jacket and navy scarf, but I don’t have the sexy Scandinavian look mastered. I think I need to drop 20 pounds and pick up a smoking habit. Two, I do not feel like a freakshow here as a 31 year-old single woman. In the U.S. approximately 90% of my friends are married and while this is delightful, sometimes I feel quite abnormal. Here most people are single at 31, so I feel young and fun and very, very normal. This is refreshing.

Tonight we will go for dinner in a little cottage belonging to Micke’s girlfriend. As I write this Micke is sitting next to me writing an email while mindlessly humming a tune that is quite cheerful. We human beings are so quirky. Wishing you well, wherever this note finds you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Norway in a Nutshell

Today I rose early to catch a train from Bergen on the Western coast of Norway to a little town called Myrdal where I began a bus/train/boat tour of one of the dramatic fjords in the area. A fjord is an exceptionally long inlet from the ocean that winds its way inland (check out a map of Norway and you’ll get it). The mountains were carved up long ago and tower alongside the fjords where seals and porpoises and other sea creatures live. The boat ride was stunning—literally impossible to capture in words or in pictures just how magnificent. On the train we climbed about 3000 feet and were surrounded by desolate stone and ice and endless waterfalls. I was surprised to see homes in this land where trees cannot survive. More and more homes cluster in growing villages as you make your way toward Oslo. Eventually ski slopes (without snow now in late September) dot the hillsides while bright yellow and burnt red leaves add to the drama.

About 5 million people live in Norway, nearly the same as the population of Denmark, but Norway is a massive country in comparison to tiny Denmark. Today I traveled with a nice Swede, a teacher from a small city in the South. He and I had a long conversation about my love life, shared our mutual disdain for poorly written popular novels (we bonded in our mutual snobbery), and he told me all about life as a Jew in Sweden. These are the kinds of intimate conversations you can find yourself in with fellow travelers. A dumb Australian said to my MARRIED traveling companion, “If you play your cards right, mate, you may find yourself another wife in this girl.” What? Weird. That guy was weird.

In Bergen I stayed with the family of my friend Kristin, a woman I met in Zambia last year. For the next few days I will be in Oslo and will spend time with 5 different Norwegians I met while living in Zambia. I have been shown wonderful hospitality thus far and every day has been restorative to my soul in its own way. There is something so nourishing about knowing new people and cultures, new lands and sights and smells.

Clearly, vacation is going well.

One last thing: you can buy troll figurines and little gnomes in tourist shops all over Norway. I never really understood this before. Why the obsession with stories of goblins and trolls, Norway? Well, after traveling through the dramatic stone mountains today it makes more sense to me. If you are surrounded by all of these massive granite mountains, it seems fitting that magical creatures should live among them.

I’ll let you know if I spot one.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Road Again...

It is a windy, rainy night here in Bergen on the western coast of Norway. I am crawling into bed late after a long, leisurely dinner with a lovely Norwegian family who was eager to talk politics, culture, and food (as to be expected when new friends come to town). When I was living in Zambia I met a collection of Norwegian friends (pics and stories can be found in my "Ramblings from Zambia" archive) and the family of my friend Kristin is hosting me for the next couple of days.

For the last five days I have been traipsing around Copenhagen and Southern Sweden with my cousins and we have packed in as much sight-seeing as possible. My cousin Katherine is a secondary-school teacher in Denmark and I was invited to come and lecture in 4 classes, introducing the students to "Religion in America." At first I thought I was going to be a zoo animal on display (U.S. religion is bewildering to our Danish friends), but we quickly found lots to talk and laugh about as we shared our cultures with one another. I love teaching and teaching high school students is especially fantastic. I love that freshly picked apples are set out on the dining table of the teacher's lounge. I love that students call their teachers by their first name. I am fascinated by the fact that most of these students know next to nothing about religion. I love the rolling hills of rural Denmark, the canals around Copenhagen, the fresh bread and cheese and tea... but I am saying nothing unique here. Everyone loves these things about Europe.

There is lots more to share, but I am weary, so a few pictures will have to do for now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Pronouns

In times of transitions, all pronouns come into question. What was once "we" or "us" becomes "me" and "you." What was once "ours" becomes "yours" or "mine." Transitions invite us to reflect on our identity and I think this is a good thing. To dust off who we are, on occasion, can help us to live courageously if we are treading dangerously near cowardice. Today is my last Wednesday living in New York and soon all of the committees I work with will no longer be "my" committees, but they will belong to others. New pronouns will be in order. And so goes life.

Life is good and rich if we let ourselves see it that way and that is how I see it today. It is a cool, gray day here in the city and for some bizarre reason I am filled with hope. Perhaps it is because there are adventures on the horizon. I am sad to leave New York, but a new season in a new city with new friends is right around the corner. Even more strange, at the moment I feel hopeful about love. A friend reminded me of this poem and I share it with you because it is just plain beautiful. I figure, if Neruda wrote it, it must exist, a love like this must exist. And one blessed day, perhaps I will savor it myself. A day when the lonely pronouns cease to exist.

Sonnet 17

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

-Pablo Neruda

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Home sweet... erh... boxes?

It was a beautiful day today. Woke up early, opened up the windows, and decided to get to it: time to pack up. I move to Philadelphia next weekend, but won't have much time for packing during the week.

Yesterday was fan-tas-tic. Got my haircut in a Ukrainian neighborhood on the lower east side, walked over to the Village to pick up some coffee beans from Israel that friends have been raving about (seems like a cool gift for my cousins who I will be visiting in Denmark in a couple of weeks), ate Thai food for lunch, walked through Chinatown and Little Italy on my way to the Brooklyn Bridge (sharpie in hand for some very necessary graffiti) and then ended up in the financial district for kicks. I am trying to soak up as much of this town as possible-- trying to memorize it. I love that within a few square miles you can literally encounter people from every corner of the globe.

The house is looking sparse. Most everything is now packed up and it feels good to look at my pile of boxes and know that in 31 years I have really not accumulated all that much stuff. Yes, yes, yes, I am a typical American woman with plenty of shoes and clothes (embarrassing, really), but all in all, not too much to tie me down. I like this.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The weather is a'changin'

It looked like fall today. The sky was a beautiful blue, the trees are still green and lush, but something has shifted. The light looked different all day, more golden. It is no longer summer. The mornings and evenings are crisp and the humidity has disappeared. I love this time of year. I have missed autumn for the last two years (Southern Africa has different seasons and fall is not one of them), so I can hardly wait for pumpkins, hot apple cider, a tromp through the woods atop brown crunchy leaves, and eventually waking to frosty mornings.

On Sunday our softball team played in the championship game. Softball became a highlight of the summer. I love team sports and softball is full of camaraderie. I loved leaning into a chain link fence and cheering on new friends, learning new skills and lingo, and going out to the dive bar afterward for beers. The team is full of good-hearted people. I will miss heading to Central Park to play with this eclectic crew.