Take a Christmas Markets tour to find seasonal spirit
Emily C. Skaftun The Norwegian American
Nobody does Christmas like Europe. I learned that just a couple weeks ago while taking a badly timed—but magical—tour of “Christmas Markets of Europe.” A number of companies offer these kinds of tours, with varying itineraries through northern Europe and even Scandinavia, but the one I took, offered by Trafalgar, started in Vienna, Austria, and finished up in Lucerne, Switzerland, by way of Salzburg, Austria; Munich and Oberammergau, Germany; Innsbruck, Austria; and Lichtenstein. In the end I chose this one because it was a good value, while also seeming the most classically “Christmassy.” I mean, what’s more Christmassy than the Alps?
(Technically, I suppose the Middle East is more Christmassy, but that’s a whole ’nother article.)
Growing up, I didn’t always love Christmas. Shopping for a family of Norwegians was an annual challenge, Dad was a little bit Grinchy about the whole holiday, and sometimes our family gathering on Julaften felt so unchanging that it may as well have been scripted. Plus, I never liked lutefisk (I know, I’m sorry!), so I’d usually end up eating some ravioli or something for the main course. Bah humbug!
But there was always at least one thing I could count on: dessert. At the end of the evening, after opening all our presents from the family and julenissen, Tante Lise would brew some coffee, and we’d sit down around the most important part of the meal—karamellpudding (caramel custard).
Editor’s Notes: A message from Editor-in-chief Emily C. Skaftun
Sitting here in my office, a week into into November, it’s hard for me to believe that the holiday season is upon us again. It is, though. In my local Safeway, Halloween candy was shunted aside on Nov. 1, with candy canes taking its place. Starbucks holiday cups are out.
And so, the holiday onslaught begins, at least corporately.
I mean, here I am producing a large issue full of things you can buy, things you can wrap them with, ways to decorate the tree you’ll buy (or cut?) to put them under. They’re available online! They ship right to you!
And yet, there’s a part of me that wonders whether buying and shipping objects to give to everyone on our list is the ideal way to celebrate the holiday that is the very essence of hygge. It’s not a radical thought. Many have bemoaned the commercialization of the holiday. But what can we do?
To me, summer is for fiction. It’s a habit deeply ingrained by summer reading lists and reading of my own that, without school, I finally had time for. What are days at the beach or pool for, if not reading? Reading for pleasure, which for me means reading fiction. Continue reading “Fiction and empathy”→
Emily C. Skaftun The Norwegian American As is I’m sure old news by the time you’re reading this, the world having moved on to another outrageous scandal in the two weeks between my writing this and this issue of The Norwegian American arriving in your mailbox, the President of the United States may or may not have asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” about countries in Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador. Instead, he suggested that we could use more people from countries like Norway.
You’ve heard of Gustav Vigeland. One of Norway’s most famous artists, he’s the one behind the intriguing, bizarre sculptures in Oslo’s Frogner Park. The sculpture park is an absolute must-see on any visit to Norway’s capital, no matter how brief or, in my opinion, how many times you’ve been there before.
But you may not be aware of the other artistic Vigeland: Emanuel, Gustav’s younger brother. His mausoleum, tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Oslo’s northwest suburbs, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Continue reading “A tale of two Vigelands”→
In returning to my much-neglected blog, I found a post from last year languishing in drafts, a year-in-review for books I read in 2016. I didn’t finish that post or publish it, but it was an eye-opener for me. Here’s an excerpt:
I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into which authors I read this year, picking whatever was recommended and what I could get through library e-book loan and manage to read before it expired. In the end I completed 34 books, which is a disappointment. In my defense, some were long!
Of the 34, 23 were written by men. Also a disappointment.
Of the 34, only 3 were written by people of color (and two of these are Cixin Liu) (and also I should add that this is based off of VERY cursory research and I in no way intend to deny the potential non-white heritage of the 31 white-looking authors whose photos I googled).
See, nothing against white dudes, but I know there is more out there in speculative fiction (which is most of what I read), and these numbers are hardly representative of it. So I started 2017 with the goal of avoiding books written by white dudes. Not forever, right? But for the year. Maybe that would mean a glut of white dude books on my to-read shelf in 2018, but that was a risk I was willing to take.
For many years I thought the only way to make gifting possible for large groups was the Secret Santa approach. You know the drill: Everyone’s name goes into a hat and whichever name you pull out is who you buy a gift for. You hope your name got pulled by someone who has at least a vague sense of who you are and not that one coworker or family member who always gives bath salts. You know the one.
Then a few years ago I suddenly found myself in two groups whose holiday traditions included “white elephant” gift exchanges, and it blew my mind.
Filling in the method and madness behind Ed Egerdahl’s Norsk-Engelsk Kryssord Puzzles
Those who’ve been solving the crosswords a long time know a few tricks. First, look for a two-letter blank. In pencil, go ahead and write in the letters E and D. Now check the clue. Odds are it says something like “Norsk klasse skolebusssjåfør!”1 or “kryssord mester i sitt eget hode.”2Continue reading “Crossing words with a crossword EDitor”→
I want nothing more than to let this subject go for once and all, but I’m afraid I can’t resist getting in the last word on it first. We have received an unusual amount of angry messages about a recent article entitled “Today’s Islamophobia challenge,” an opinion article that I thought was pretty innocuous. It argues that the fear and hatred of our Muslim neighbors is overblown.
But over on Facebook I had people telling me that “Islam just wants to rule the world, but they still live in the Middle Ages so it won’t happen [camel emoji],” and “If they could stop killing people, that’d be great;” telling me to “Find better writers;” and asking whether the article was a paid advertisement. Continue reading “Is hate a Norwegian (-American) value?”→
Another year has gone by, as measured in Syttende Mais. In this issue in particular we celebrate Norway, country of our ancestry. Hipp hipp hurra for deg, Norge!
But then, this paper celebrates Norway in pretty much every issue, doesn’t it? It’s no secret that our position is pro-Norway, but in what’s being called the “post-truth” era, when “fake news” and “alternate facts” abound, I’ve been thinking a lot about when a newspaper’s attempt to remain primarily positive crosses the line into propaganda. Continue reading “Pride of country and journalistic integrity”→
From fancy glass to rugged stone, this Irish city has a long and surprisingly Nordic history
If the name of Waterford, Ireland, brings anything to mind, it’s most likely to evoke the high-end crystal that bears the name.
But an old Norse history lurks in the name Waterford, or Vadrarfjordr (Veðrafjǫrðr), which probably means “windy fjord,” or, as a plaque in the city proclaims, “haven from the windy sea.” Waterford is the only Irish city to retain its Viking place name. Continue reading “A Viking tour of Waterford, Ireland”→
Let’s face it: people of color have been treated badly in the United States since before it was a country. African slaves and Native Americans were literally treated as subhuman, and their forced labor and forced removal paved the way for the (until sometime very soon) predominantly white country that we currently live in. That’s just history.
In my mind, as a teenager, there was never a backup plan: I was going to a four-year college, and I was going right away. Anything else would have felt like abject failure.
I’ll admit that my views were a bit extreme, but they weren’t created in a vacuum. Our society is constantly telling us that the only way to get ahead is to go to a university and get a bachelor’s degree, then perhaps a master’s or even a PhD. Continue reading “Education isn’t one-size-fits-all”→
High in the Norwegian mountains is a legendary theatrical experience worth the journey
The curtain cannot rise because there is no curtain, no proscenium arch, nothing but grass and a beach flanked by two shaggy hillocks between us and Lake Gålåvatnet. We are gathered here in the Norwegian wilds outside Vinstra to go on a journey with a character called Peer Gynt. Continue reading “Peer Gynt at Gålå mixes fantasy with reality”→
You can see more than you think on a short trip to Norway’s capital—even while smelling the roses
With so much to see in a fascinating place like Oslo, you may think it best to budget a week or more in Norway’s capital city. I can’t argue with that thinking, of course, but the reality of traveling is that we can usually not spend as much time anywhere as we’d like (except for airports. We spend far too much time in those).
The first time I visited Oslo it was for one day, an afterthought squeezed in between uncooperative train and flight schedules. The second time I hoped would be more leisurely, but I ended up with just over two days! Still, one can see a lot in a short visit if properly armed and motivated. Continue reading “Two ways to rush through Oslo”→
I knew right away when I stepped off the plane that I’d made a mistake. Skirts and tank tops had no place in my luggage for this trip to Oslo and the Gudbrandsdalen valley in August.
I thought I had planned so carefully. The weather forecast showed some rain for my trip, but temperatures in the 60s—not my preferred beach weather, but not so dissimilar from the old school “summer” Seattle had been experiencing. I packed the sort of clothes I’d been wearing. I very carefully prepared a special clothing plan for an outdoor event in the mountains: long underwear, a wool sweater to be acquired in Norway, and waterproof outer layers. It’s the mountains, yes, but it’s still summer, I thought. How cold could it be? Continue reading “Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær?”→
And now here I am, at the main event! Today has been a treat so far, and the show will start in about half an hour. It has been raining off and on, but it’s currently off and I hope it stays that way. The sun even poked its head out for a second or two. I am wearing a redonculous amount of clothing–five layers under a rain shell, and a silly hat on top, and the possibility for even more with two ponchos and a wool blanket on loan. Right now (prior to showtime) I am quite comfortable. Continue reading “Peer Gynt”→
On our way from Lillehammer to a medieval farm turned boutique hotel, we stopped at the stave church at Ringbu, which is much more impressive than the Maihaugen specimen. It’s real! Perhaps the theme of the day is Real v. Unreal. Because now I am here at Sygard Grytting, which though much smaller than Maihaugen, is the real thing. I will be sleeping in a small dark unheated room under a giant sheepskin cover. For the full medieval pilgrim experience. Continue reading “Beyond Lillehammer”→
Wednesday: another morning, another breakfast, another stab at reading the Norwegian news. Ironically, in the time zone confusion of travel I lost my duolingo streak, which was 70-something days. It’s well and truly lost now, as I feel like my language acquisition brain-power is better spent on human interaction and real-life reading while in Norway. I shudder to think how much work it will be to turn everything gold again when I go back to duolingo. I never did catch up from the last time the app updated and decided that I needed to relearn virtually everything. Continue reading “To Gudbrandsdalen!”→
On my first full day in Norway, after shrieking and giggling through an uneven shower, I had my first hotel breakfast. I well remember the first breakfast I ever had in Norway, at my father’s cousins’ house. They set quite a table with bread and cheese and veggies and fish and a number of other things. I also remember setting down to lunch and finding the exact same assortment of foods. Ha! Continue reading “Oslo: Another whirlwind”→
My welcome to Norway was a little rocky, as traveling tends to be. Work on the train tracks meant that I needed a buss rather than a tog to get to Oslo, then I had to pull my epically large suitcase through a growing rain the few blocks to the Grand Hotel, where they weren’t ready for me. I must have looked like a drowned rat by that time—my rumpled travel clothes declassing the incredible historic building—because they set me up at the bar while I waited. Continue reading “Arrival in Norway: Tourist stumbles”→
I haven’t been back to the mother country—or is it the father country, if it’s my father who’s from it?—since taking the job as Editor of America’s only Norwegian newspaper. Two and a half years, a full one and a half years longer than some people thought the paper would even exist! I’ve learned an enormous amount about Norway in that time, obviously. And even more about who I am. Continue reading “Return to the Father Land”→
The dayjob does keep me from writing as much fiction as I’d like, but sometimes it’s awesome too. Like when one of my AMAZING readers/writers who happens to be an expert on postcards (like, an actual book-writing expert) sends me some samples of exaggerated postcards. Imagine the stories . . .
Last fall an article started to go around, written almost exactly a year ago for Matador Network, called “10 untranslatable Norwegian terms” (matadornetwork.com/notebook/10-untranslatable-norwegian-terms). A quick search will turn up many such lists, all with different words and terms, in basically every language you can think of.
Lately a thing has been going around social media: a map of the U.S. called “States I’ve Visited.” Visited states turn a vibrant pink, bragging to all Facebook friends how well traveled one is. It’s a digital, national version of a gift we recommended last Christmas, a map of the world you can scratch off to show where you’ve been.
I think these things are fun, and I’ve even given the physical versions to a couple of people as gifts. But I must confess I have a hard time filling them out for myself. My hesitation comes from an uncertainty about what it means to have been to a place. Continue reading “Have we been there yet?”→
Ancient yet modern, safe yet violent, Israel is a land of contradictions
Since returning from a hastily planned trip to Israel this summer, everyone’s been asking me how it was. Did I have fun? And I don’t entirely know how to answer. Many of the experiences one has in Israel can’t be filed neatly under the heading of “fun,” but it is definitely a trip worth taking.
Then it was Saturday again, and again nothing was open. We slept in, for once, and headed to the Old City. I got us lost, like a moron, and a man gave us directions and then extorted us for “donations.” There is a culture in the crowded tourist sites of what I almost want to call harassment—aggressive deal-making or outright panhandling. This is not my favorite thing, and I’ll be happy to have a rest from it when we get home.
We finally arrived at the Tower of David, and wandered through the pretty unimpressive exhibit until we ran into Ken and Nori. Together we went back over the stations of the cross, which were hard to find. Ken bought a map of them and they were still hard to find. Continue reading “Israel in summer, part 7: The trip winds down”→
The next day we first stopped at Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The site was used by a sect that was really, really into bathing. We saw the actual scrolls the previous day, of course, in the museum. This was just more ruins. It was very hot out there, at least 100. I hate to say it, but it was basically too hot to care about ruins, especially when you hate your tour guide. He was bossy and uninformative and apparently very concerned about being sued if someone fell.
We began our “new city” day at the Israel Museum, which had many more exhibits than we were able to see. One of the most striking is a big model of the Old City, but it also contains the Dead Sea Scrolls, strange sculptures, and antiquities like mosaics, Egyptian stuff, and Roman glass. I would have like to spend more time there.
Our first stop in Jerusalem was at Rachel’s Tomb, which is down a long, unpromising street of high concrete walls built to protect the Jewish and Christian worshippers from attacks. I didn’t go inside. It looked like there was little to see and I was unclear on the garb required and made very uncomfortable by the whole thing. This felt like a genuine, still-in-use religious site, and my secular tourism felt unwelcome.
Our first morning in the Golan Heights started in Gallilee at the Mount. The Church of the Beatitudes commemorates all the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount. It has a nice view of the Sea of Gallilee and it’s very pretty, though not very old. It was built in 1938. Combine the newness of it with the religiousness of it, and this wouldn’t have made my must-see list. But Mom seemed to appreciate it.
In the morning our tour started. Our group is really small—there’s the Texans, two women from NY, Mary the blond and Randi, the odd couple of Nori and Ken, and Sadira, master of scarf-wearing. Our tour guide/driver, Tomer, is much more mellow than whoever picked us up from the airport, thank the stars.
We started at Ceaserea, where the ruins are impressive in the way of all ruins. The amphitheater is still used for shows, which seems really cool. On the other end, restaurants nestle among the ruins. I would have enjoyed visiting them if we’d been there without the group. We also stopped at a section of aqueduct on the beach, which was very pretty with the blue Mediterranean behind.
I joke that we are trying to visit all the “I” countries—Iceland, Israel, etc. It’s not true, of course. We’re in no hurry to see Iraq or Iran, despite the lovely things I’ve heard about the city of Tehran.
Sparklers are okay, but I always crave big fireworks on Independence Day.
I have high expectations for the Fourth of July, which were instilled in me before I can even remember properly by perfect celebrations at my childhood best friend’s farmor’s.
Farmor lived next door to them in a beautiful house on a lily-pad-choked pond almost entirely encircled by houses in Seattle’s north end. Together with my friend’s three siblings, I spent many a summer day in that pond called a lake, swimming and diving off farmor’s dock and even fishing, but for some reason the Fourth was special. I suspect that reason was FIREWORKS. Continue reading “Are you feeling independent today?”→
1. The king is super punctual. I don’t know if the trains run on time in Norway, but the king certainly does. I was given a fairly detailed press schedule ahead of time, with some non-standard times (7:29 p.m.?). I was thinking of it as more of an estimate, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t dead accurate.
It’s been a while since I worked in education (teaching composition to mostly indifferent first-year college students), and even longer since I was a student in the full-time sense, so today when I think about education I think about language. You see, about a year ago, having begun work at something called the Norwegian American Weekly, I started learning Norwegian.
I recently took a week off to visit Iceland. Iceland in winter. We’d been to the country before, right around the summer solstice, and loved it. So part of the impetus for this trip was to see how we felt about the place when it wasn’t summer—when it was covered in ice, and when the sun barely made an appearance. Continue reading “Fire & ice: winter tours in Iceland”→
On day six we got back into the car for the “golden circle.” The first stop was Þingvellir, which is apparently the continental divide between North America and Europe. A big crack in the earth. Many trolls watching from the rocks. Very cold and slippery.
Day four was our all-day Lake Mývatn “Game of Thrones” tour. Our guide, Sandra, was terrific. We didn’t see any of the GOT sites advertised on the tour’s site–not the wall (which is of course not a real thing, though we’d imagined sections of it used for filming), not the “love cave”–and that was a little disappointing, but the day could not have been any better. We had fabulous weather, and the light was unbelievable pretty much all day. I took many shots with the borrowed fancy camera I had, boring shots of fabulous clouds, none of which capture the reality of it.
The first stop was back to Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods. Much prettier in the daylight, and with the sun rising behind it…
On day two we got up early for the hotel’s fairly epic breakfast, then fought a crowd of other people who had purchased the same cheap deal as us for cabs to the Reykjavík airport (a view of which I had from my window). I really feel this transportation should have been included, since it was a bit of a logistical issue getting so many people there. The airport is tiny, with zero security. It took about a minute to get us checked in, and Darin’s lack of a passport was no issue.
Oddly, it was my idea to visit this northern country in the dead of winter. A special popped up somewhere: airfare, hotel, etc. for a reasonable rate. I sent it to Bunny and Crow, who are as crazy as we are. “Who’s up for Iceland in January?” They were. So were their friends, Chris and Mer, and since we’d all traveled before, if only as far as Las Vegas, it seemed a perfect plan: three couples, all of whom had been to Iceland before. Never in the winter.
How’s that for a sensational headline? But according to some, Ragnarok, the “Viking apocalypse” is due on Feb. 22. The countdown began when the horn of Heimdallr was blown on Nov. 14th in York. According to legend the god himself would have blown the horn to warn that the end was a mere 100 days away. At which point, theoretically, the Vikings would have thrown the biggest party the world had ever seen.
Putting aside the question of who decided it was a good idea to blow Gjallarhorn, I have a few problems with this.
November 16, 2013
It was our last day in Cuba, and thanks to Air Cubana’s multi-hour delay, we had some time. We set out with no real plan. We walked toward the capitol, which is the same as ours but a little bigger, with palm trees and classic cars surrounding it. It looks like a bizarro world set piece–it could be the US capitol after some serious climate change, or in an alternate reality.
The capitol building as seen from taxi #2.
We also saw the whole building or two that constitute Chinatown, and the bar where Hemingway drank. The most famous one anyway–Husband and I have a theory that any bar of a certain age can make the claim that Hemingway drank there. I was also told that there’s a bar down the street advertising the fact that Hemingway didn’t drink there, but we didn’t pass that one. At any rate, this is purportedly the bar where Hemingway invented the daiquiri, though the idea of him sipping a daiquiri doesn’t compute in my head any more than does his bidet.
Today was our visit to Trinidad, a town that apparently was the highlight of the trip for many. I feel like we failed at seeing the town properly. Husband was ill again and stayed behind. The rest of us went and wandered the
town, but we had no agenda or plan or even map and so just wandered around buying things. Trinidad is famous for its weaving. We thought we had less time than we really did, so we aborted a mission to climb a tower, and just sort of hung around. Another of Trinidad’s claims to fame is its stone streets (not cobblestone, stone), which are definitely a throwback.
I feel I must take a brief break from my navel-gazing travel blogging to say something about Nelson Mandela. I am no student of history, especially recent history. I can’t claim to know much more about Mandela than what I’ve read in the last day or so since learning of his death. But even that is enough to give me pause.
History is, as we all know, written from the winners’ perspective. This places Mandela’s legacy into an odd category. He lived long enough to become one of the “winners,” universally acclaimed as a force for good and a moral person. But as many have pointed out, the US didn’t remove him from our terrorist list until 2008. Why? Among other things, Mandela refused to renounce violence as a method of seeking justice. Therefore, from certain perspectives, he was a terrorist.
The definition of a terrorist is, of course, completely dependent on perspective. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The British thought of our founding fathers as terrorists, and with good reason! But no one is the villain of his or her own story. So who else might we be erroneously demonizing? It’s a tough question.
I saw some of this while in Cuba. Growing up in the US, I was of course taught that Fidel Castro was an evil man. In Cuba, he’s a revolutionary. Here he’s a rebel, and a tyrant. Now, a week in Cuba doesn’t make me an expert, but while people there do seem to prefer Raul, I didn’t get the sense that anyone felt crushed under Fidel’s iron fist (as my American education led me to expect). It is possible that there’s so little freedom there that no one felt safe enough to criticize the regime, er, government. But it is also possible that people really do support the country birthed by his revolution. Perspective.
In order to accept Mandela into the pantheon of winners, the other winners are already trying to shape his legacy, erasing the violence and claiming that they were behind him all the way. Let us not forget that the truth is more complex than that.