So you think…?

Nano-opera: Carmen

This nano-opera comes to us from my Twitter friend, SAS expert Michael Tuchman (http://bit.ly/cnY8m8):
Carmen: Soldier doesn’t want to marry nice girl. He chases bad one. He gets cold feet. She dates hot celeb, so he kills her.

Expiration Date Soup

Many of my family and friends have gifts for foraging–recognizing all the funky greens, vegetables, mushrooms, and so forth in their habitats, and knowing when and how to harvest. I don’t have the gift–or rather, my repertoire is rather limited. I know cress, dandelions, and other basics, and most of the Rocky Mountain region edible berries, but that’s about it. I think I recognize some mushrooms, but then I remember the great care with which my biologist mother examines mushrooms (spore patterns and all), the most recent headlines about mushroom poisonings flood in, and I let braver souls have the harvest.

I do, however, have a gift for pantry and refrigerator scrounging. I remember with pride an ex remarking, “Wow. You’re really good at making whole meals out of nothing.” Where she saw an empty refrigerator, I saw enough odds and ends for a soup, a funky salad, a crossover stir-fry, or whatever.
Today’s lunch is a good example. I’m calling it “Expiration date soup.” I just threw together several quarts of a hearty, yummy miso soup using almost nothing but food that was supposedly due for the dump:
  • several quarts of water (nearly the only ingredient that was not expired)
  • two packets of bonito stock powder dating back to the Clinton administration (I also have ancient konbu and hana katsuo and I am not afraid to use them, but starting my dashi from scratch adds twenty minutes and some risk, which is not ideal for a quick lunch break from work)
  • the bottom of an ancient bag of wakame
  • the bottom of an ancient bag of black fungus
  • a tub of tofu that expired three months ago (but was unopened and fine), diced
  • a few sad cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • the dried-out sludge at the bottom of an ancient tub of red miso (I had to mince it and whisk it inside a strainer to get it to dissolve into my broth)
  • a slug of semi-ancient sesame oil
  • three eggs from an urban farmer friend of who knows what age, lightly mixed and stirred into the soup, off the flame (egg-drop soup style)
  • several shakes of sesame seed/bonito flakes/mystery ingredients “rice topping” stuff that I think I bought when I lived in Chicago, which is to say before 1994
I prepared the soup by dumping these things into a pot over a medium-high flame roughly in the order listed above, as I found them, and by the time I had everything in the pot, it was ready to eat.
Yummy. Probably not something any self-respecting Japanese chef would acknowledge as food, but I liked it, and I’m going to enjoy it for several more lunches.

Weather announcements and youthful indiscretions

Something I’ve found wonderfully amusing is that ever since Dad got on the email bandwagon in the mid 1990s, we Vangs (and in-laws) have received email nearly every weekday and often on the weekends that opens, invariably, with a weather report. Dad’s a farmer’s son, which probably has something to do with the obsession, and if not, then living in Grafton, ND for a few years and hearing all the farmers complain about the weather no matter what it was probably would have done the job. 
I find the Butte, MT weather reports particularly amusing since they often serve as a reminder to me that I’m probably experiencing some kind of weather, too. Left to my own devices, I could probably go weeks without noticing it. Other than deciding whether to grab a rain coat or a fleece vest before heading outside with the dogs, I’m clueless on the subject. It’s sunny and warm today, but I can’t for the life of me remember what yesterday was like. Did it hail? Or was that Tuesday? I have no idea. 
In my defense, SF Bay Area weather is considerably more boring than most places. I cracked up the day I was listening to KQED, the NPR affiliate station, and one of my favorite announcers said, “Weather today–mid 60s by the bay, warmer inland, with light breezes; warming to 70s midday, warmer inland, with cooler temperatures expected in the evening and lows in the 50s overnight. [Beat. Beat.] Gee, that’s a surprise. [Beat. Beat.] Traffic this morning is…”
It reminded me of something from my salad days…
One of the stranger-looking lines on my resume notes that I was an announcer at KFJM-FM, the University of North Dakota’s NPR affiliate station, the summer after college. 
We were required by law or by farm country morality or something to announce the weather several times an hour no matter what. You’d stop by the wire service machine and tear off a four-inch strip from the never-ending trivia printout spilling out of that thing, park it on your rack in the booth, and read off the usual bits at the prescribed times. Although it was only occasionally an interesting topic (I have an amusing story about the tornado warning emergency that I had to deal with the day I was also simultaneously running AM and FM, whose stations were on opposite ends of the building), it was a BIG DEAL and could not be skipped, ever. Unfortunately, I often forgot to grab the latest weather wire before heading back into the booth, since they were so damned boring, so on more than a few occasions, I actually just dug the hour-old strip out from under my pile of album covers and CD hoojies (technical term) and invented slight changes from whatever the weather used to be. I was shameless. As far as I know, my invented barometric pressures and wind speeds never hurt anybody, and my temperature guesses were probably within the margin of error of the actual readings and forecasts anyway. But my dad is probably still deeply disappointed by my ethical lapses in this area–if he even knew about them until now, that is.
He knows now. I hope he can cope. 
Perhaps I’m being cocky, but I don’t think the FCC is going to read this and revoke my license for it.
I was grateful for the weather wire a few times, though. Several times a month, you’re required by the FCC to do a test of the Emergency Broadcast System (that awful beeping thing with the stupid “this is a test, this is only a test” patter). Because KFJM operated both FM and AM stations, but only one of those stations had EBS hardware, you needed to take control of both stations to do the tests or actual EBS events. So that it’s somewhat graceful, you’d do these at very specific times with an agreed cue (“Time now, 2:14”) so that the AM station could plan its programming and announcements just so, so that your taking control from the FM booth could sound seamless. Meanwhile, on the FM side, I’d have to play my program down to the minute, also. 
Unfortunately, it turns out that the printed band-timings on LPs are frequently incorrect, and not by just a little bit. More than once I’d have a piece bottom out on me quite a bit ahead of schedule, and I’d have to vamp to fill the extra minute or three until the EBS break-in, or the satellite feed at the top of the hour, or whatever. There’s only so much detail you can read off about the piece we’ve just heard and the upcoming programming, and throwing in promo carts (those brief pre-recorded spots where Noah Adams invites you to listen to All Things Considered, blah blah blah) is surprisingly tricky and not something you generally want to have to do on the fly, and especially not when you’ve patched your board over to the EBS, and that channel just happens to be the channel that normally is used for the weird 8-track-tape-style thingy that plays the promo carts and would have to be repatched on the fly, too. 
So, when you suddenly find yourself with an entire minute to kill, nothing left to say about the music past or future, and way too many knobs and switches to deal with to play a cart while also trying to say something reasonable into the microphone, you do the only thing you can do: you read off the current and predicted temperatures, wind speeds, directions, barometric pressures and whether they’re rising or falling for every damned town in the entire upper Red River Valley, and you try not to slash your wrists. 
And you wonder how many farmers’ days you’ve just made. 
Is there anybody out there reading this now who would actually have cared? Anybody? Please use that  Comment button! 

Putting disasters in perspective, or Our crappy economy isn’t so bad

[Note: I originally wrote this for my consultancy’s blog, where references to localization make more sense. You can read it here if you prefer: http://globalpragmatica.com/?p=62]

Many people are depressed these days, for many valid reasons. The economy is still a disaster. The localization industry is a mess in more ways than I can count. (I don’t think I’ll get much argument about that, but if anybody questions that, please leave a comment, and I’ll elucidate in a future blog post.) Many of us are out of work and have been for a frighteningly long time. Many of us are clinging to scaled-back jobs. Many of us are worried about how long the work we’re grateful to have will last.

When even the blue chip companies are slashing workforces and budgets and the banks themselves are declaring bankruptcy, we know our economy is a disaster.

Looking outside the devastated economy of the developed world, let’s consider the vastly greater struggles in the two-thirds world.

Terminology break! (T9Y break!) When people say “third world,” they mean “undeveloped or developing nations,” and these represent over two-thirds of the world’s population, so let’s stop saying that and say what we really mean: “two-thirds world.”

In the news today, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are believed dead after a major 7.0 earthquake hit, its epicenter right in the most populous part of an already fragile island. Most Haitians are black and live on less than US$1 a day. Putting this in perspective, fewer than 3000 people will killed in the horrifying 9/11 attacks. However, I fear that history will show the great failure of our humanity when the global public response to the crisis gets those metrics backwards.

Because I have spent several decades working in statistical software in various roles, I can’t help wanting to look at the desperation quantitatively. Here are some graphs that will probably startle most people—and I hope horrify many of you into taking some kind of action, today. Mind you, I’m expecting to startle and horrify even the well-educated, privileged, mostly white people in the developed world who have the means to read my blog.

First, let’s compare the death tolls from a handful of disasters that have filled our headlines in recent years. Before you look at the graph, which do you think was worse?

  • 9/11 terrorist attacks
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Indian Ocean tsunami
  • Haiti earthquake
  • 2008 Earthquakes in the People’s Republic of China

And how do you think the economies of these places compare?

First, the scale of the disasters. For my North American readers: remember how devastated you felt watching the TV coverage of 9/11 and of Hurricane Katrina, please.
deathToll

That’s right. The devastation of 9/11 and Katrina combined are trivial compared to any of the others.

Now let’s consider the economies of these places. Most of us know that USA’s wealth dwarfs that of most countries by most measures. A relevant measure for this situation would be the gross domestic product per capita–that is, the total economic output of each state or nation, divided by its number of people.

GDPs

We all know that New York is wealthier than Louisiana, but did you realize that the New York-Louisiana comparison is almost meaningless in the big picture? Even the difference between those two tall bars dwarfs the size of the bars in the two-thirds world nations!

So now let’s put those two ideas together: let’s look at the wealth in each place lined up with the scale of the disaster in each place, as measured by GDP per capita

abilityRecoverThis composition of the most massive bloodbaths in big red bars lining up directly with the meager economic means of each place in tiny green bars is the most devastating graph of all. The biggest disasters have taken place where people are least prepared to cope with them.

There are many ways to help, and of course there are many craven imbeciles who take this opportunity to scam the people of goodwill with fraudulent donation methods. Here are some ways that have been vetted and determined to be reliable: http://www.google.com/relief/haitiearthquake

Here are some flaws in my analysis that could distract nitpickers from the clarion call to our humanity:

  • My national and state GDP data are from different years and sources, and they’re probably inflation-adjusted differently.
  • I’m considering these events to have taken place in New York, Louisiana, Indonesia, China, and Haiti, where the most deaths occurred, although other states and nations were affected.
  • The costs of 9/11 and Katrina were borne nationally, but the victims were (mostly) local, so I considered the state economies instead of the national economy.
  • Estimates of the death tolls in the two-thirds world are always much fuzzier, because the poorer you are, the less likely you are to be accurately counted.
  • Estimates of the death toll in Haiti are wildly premature. Some sources say “hundreds of thousands,” and while they might mean “100,000 give or take a few 10,000,” a careful speaker would mean the far more frightening “100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000” by that description.
  • It’s a little weird to measure ability to recover by comparing the GDP per person to the number of persons dead. The dead people are dead, and no amount of money will help them. But the people left behind are living in economies that are more or less capable of recovering.
  • These data are confounded, if you consider that poorer nations have a lesser ability to build safety into their communities. Wealthier nations have higher survival rates in times of disaster because their buildings are sturdier, more of their citizens live in buildings in the first place, their bridges and roads and so on are more prevalent and higher quality, their emergency responders are more numerous and better-equipped and -funded, and on and on and on. The ways in which wealth mitigates disaster and the lack of wealth compounds disaster are numerous and heartbreaking.

My data sources:

The analysis was my own, and I prepared all the graphs using JMP’s Graph Builder.

Wagnertuben available for rentals, with or without players

Fellow San Francisco Bay Area freelance hornist Alicia Telford and I own a matched set of four historic Wagnertuben that are available for rental, with or without players. 


Our tuben are a matched set of Alexanders picked out by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1952, during the Fritz Reiner era. We have a pair of single B-flat tuben and a pair of single F tuben. They were the CSO’s main set of tuben for several decades. In 1988, the CSO sold the set to the Dallas Symphony, who used them through 1999. That’s when we bought them. 

Since then, our tuben have appeared with the Marin Symphony, Santa Rosa Symphony, San Jose Symphony, Berkeley Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Pacific Symphony, Symphony Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz Symphony, and many others. Renter either arranges local pickup or pays two-way shipping costs; we provide shipping boxes and include tube stands, valve oil, pencil clips, and so on. 

Wagnertuben are traditionally played by horn players, but even horn players need to spend some time with them to master the instruments and be able to play them at the same high professional level they expect of themselves on horn. Therefore, when we rent out our Wagnertuben, we try to arrange a monthlong rental, so that your players have time to work with them, practice Kopprasch etudes, get used to the transpositions, and otherwise master them. 

We can also supply experienced professional players along with the tube rental as needed. For local rentals with your own players, we offer coaching sessions with your hornists. For a moderate hourly rate, we will introduce the fundamentals, field questions, help players get comfortable holding and tuning the instruments, and generally get your players up to speed fast. There are many tricky aspects to playing Wagnertube well,  and having played just about all the Wagnertube repertoire ourselves, we know what you’re up against and can get you going fast.  

We recommend using one of your usual horn mouthpieces, but be sure to try all of your favorite mouthpieces; you might find that your second-favorite mouthpiece for horn is actually the better one for Wagnertube. What I like best is a Lawson F680 with a B23G-730 rim, but that’s an unusually large mouthpiece. Many players might prefer a Lawson F660 or F670 with a 695-sized or 705-sized rim in the contour of their choice. 

Smørgåsbord Step 14: Make meatballs

Two years ago, we started blogging about how to throw a smørgåsbord in several thousand easy lessons, and recently a loyal smørgåsbord attendee, our good friend Katja, asked me where to find the meatball recipe on the blog.

Well, the sad truth is that we never quite got that far in our smørgåsbord blog. Meatballs are always something we make either that day or the day before, when we’re just too swamped to do any journalism. But it’s a great recipe, so herewith, Norwegian meatballs!

“Not Swedish meatballs?” I hear you gasp.

Nope, Norwegian meatballs. These are the meatballs that came down to me from my grandparents and great-grandparents, and they’re Norwegian, not Swedish. They’re probably not too different, though–it’s not like the border between the two countries kept food traditions on each side. If they’re different than your Swedish meatball recipe, it’s probably because they’re also different from other Norwegian meatball recipes, and you’ll probably find a Norwegian version of your Swedish meatball recipe, too, if you look hard enough.

That said, we did have a Norwegian vs. Swedish meatballs contest one year, because V is Swedish, and her recipe is different from mine. Still, it probably would have been more accurate to call it Vang’s vs. Williams’s. If you’re curious, the big differences are that mine use a mixer and heavier spicing, and hers use cream.

This is an amalgam of Beatrice Ojakaangas’ recipe and what I remember from my gramma’s recipe. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe, so certainly you should free to mess around with it, resting assured that nothing will go too terribly wrong. The recipe is for a massive party-sized batch, and since my measurements are vague anyway, you shouldn’t have any trouble scaling it down. It’s more of an approach than a recipe, really. 

Norwegian Meatballs, jultide smørgåsbord edition

Start with a very large mixing bowl. This batch feeds several dozen people at a smørgåsbord, or probably a large family as the main attraction of a normal meal. I usually double or triple it, depending on how many people we’re expecting. When in doubt, go larger; we have rarely had leftovers.

Preheat oven to 400˚F.  

  • 2 c breadcrumbs (I use matzoh meal, or I buzz actual matzohs up in my Cuisinart; a gluten-free alternative is to buzz up dried shiitakes and then rehydrate them in hot water)
  • 2 c milk

Let stand. Add:

  • 2 large onions, minced (coarsely chop, then use the Cuisinart)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-1/2 t salt
  • 3/4 t nutmeg
  • 3/4 t allspice
  • 1/3 t cloves
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork

Using an electric hand-held mixer (or a gigantic stand mixer), beat at high speed until light and fluffy. The idea is that you’re stretching the fats around everything else, and the result is cohesive, tender meatballs instead of tough meatballs that fall apart. 

You could melt butter in a hot skillet and fry the meatballs, but when you’re making this big a batch, it’s much easier to oven-fry them. When you pan-fry them, it’s boring to wait for one pan at a time, but it’s hard to keep up with more than one pan at a time. If you get the slightest behind, the result is a tremendous amount of smoke, and even an 1800 cfm vent won’t be able to keep up with it. This means that your smoke alarm is going to start blaring and keep blaring, your security service is going to phone you, you’re going to have to open every window, and still you’re going to be dealing with a smoke alarm for quite some time. You’ll have to explain to the security people that your house really isn’t on fire, even though the alarm won’t stop, and they’ll only dimly understand why meatballs are a perfectly sensible explanation for the problem. Meanwhile, dealing with windows and alarms and phones will cause you to burn at least half a pan’s worth. Ask me how I know this. 
To oven fry them, lightly oil (or spray Pam-like substances on) 3-4 large jelly roll pans or similar. You definitely need a pan with a lip, because these puppies express. Using a small ice cream scoop, several spoons, your hands, or whatever, make small meatballs, say 1″ diameter. Squish them into tight rolls on the pans. Roast 10-15 minutes until nicely browned and firm. Use a large, stiff spatula to lift them from pans into a crockpot (or large stockpot). Scrape and drain any drippings into a large saucepan that you have standing by. Repeat until done. Once done, use a scant amount of beef stock (see below) to deglaze the pans into that saucepan of drippings. 
Next, make gravy: 
  1. Have healthy pinches of all the meatball spices (see above) mixed and standing by. 
  2. Heat about 3-4 c beef broth to a boil and then hold at a gentle simmer. (I use a high-quality beef stock base, but bouillion would probably do the job)
  3. Bring drippings and 2 sticks butter in the large saucepan almost to a sizzle, over high heat. 
  4. Slowly stir in 1-1/2 c (or more) of flour and your spice mixture. Ideally you will have made lefse earlier and saved all the browned flour that you brushed off the lefse griddles and lefse. If not, you might consider browning the flour in a separate pan in advance of this step. My grandmother swore that browning the flour is crucial, but I’m not sure I agree. My aunt learned that the answer to the question, “How long do you brown the flour?” is “Until the smoke alarm goes off.”
  5. You’re making a roux. Cook and stir continuously with a large, long-handled whisk, until what you’re seeing is a dark, shiny, smooth glop. You might need to add more butter or more flour to reach the perfect balance. Making roux is a bit of an art; you might want to learn more about it before attempting this recipe. Be careful, because making roux is also a self-burning hazard. 
  6. Once your roux is beautiful and perfect, slowly start dribbling the hot beef stock into the roux, whisking furiously. The goal is to end up with gravy, not roux-lumps in broth, and this requires slow, steady addition of nearly-boiling liquid to the roux. When you’ve gotten at least a third of the broth into the roux, you can switch directions and dribble the roux-mixture into the rest of the stock, continuing to whisk furiously—again, this is because you want to make gravy instead of roux-lumps in broth. 
  7. Once all the roux and broth are combined, continue to cook while stirring until the gravy is clear and smooth. The goal is to cook out any starches, and the way to tell is you’re done yet is by tasting it. If you taste flour or feel flouriness, keep going. When it’s smooth, rich, beefy, and yummy, you’re done. 

Pour the gravy over the meatballs in the crockpot or large stockpot. If serving immediately, heat through and call people to the table. If serving the next day, cover, refrigerate, and turn the stockpot on high about two hours before serving time. 

If you try this recipe, be sure to leave a comment here about how it works out for you. I hope you enjoy it! 

I need help

It was starting to feel this way around here yesterday.

I’d finally had it with my AppleTV STILL trying to finish syncing less than 20gb from the night several months ago that my friend Noel helped me mess with channels, realized that 2 of my 3 Expresses were not 802.11n (or whatever that number is) capable, and reconfigured it as a WDS with two remotes and told me to put my oldest Express in my briefcase to use in hotels. It was better but obviously my AppleTV’s inability to sync a lousy two seasons of “Mad Men” in two months demonstrated that it still had serious problems.

So finally I did two days of seriously geeking out on wifi networking, even downgrading two base stations’ firmware to 7.3.1 and playing with KisMac for several hours to determine exactly what all my neighbors have going on with their wifi networks. (Most are running Cisco routers on the default channel 6 with WPA encryption, and only half have bothered to hide their easily-guessed ssid names. One has something like a dozen devices attached to his network, so despite inferences clearly available from this email, I am not the neighborhood’s worst geek. And FWIW, KisMac is one scary-ass powerful piece of open source software. With a few more days of KisMac monitoring I could be the evil neighbor who announces “all your base stations are belong to us” and then reconfigures everybody’s networks to be more secure and to use different channels for less interference with each other. Really, it would be a public service! And it would be more convenient for me when I need to Google something from my iPhone while walking the dog! Please explain these things to the public defender assigned to my case.)

When none of this improves anything, I finally break down and RTFM.

Apple’s “Designing AirPort networks” reveals that WDS was a bad idea, because it pretty much forces everything to use the slow 802.11b/g protocol. For 802.11n you’re supposed to use Airport Utility’s much-simpler checkboxes to configure your boxes to extend and join networks.

The doc explains dual radio mode on p48, which was 47 pages further into the details of how wifi works than I’ve ever wanted to get before, and that idea was the ticket. So the new plan is this: run my main base station (the Time Capsule in my office), the music room’s Airport Express station, our laptops, and the AppleTV on a primary network that is 5Ghz only. Run Ethernet from the Time Capsule to another Airport Express in the office, and use that as a bridge to broadcast a second, differently-named 2.4Ghz network with another Airport Express remote upstairs on the channel KisMac revealed to be least busy for benefit of my iPhone and guests with older laptops! Ten minutes and very few mistakes later, I’m done. Problems solved! AppleTV finished syncing!

Only took me two and a half months! Let’s hear it for RTFM being within the first ten things you try to troubleshoot computer problems instead of being what you do when ten weeks of Googling and futzing doesn’t produce results!

So I see this comic this morning while lying in bed and playing with my iPhone, because several friends have posted this web comic’s link to FaceBook. That’s when I realize that if I explain all these things to my friends, they will help me get help. They will know that it’s time to send me away for a while…

But make sure I figure out why Victoria’s laptop isn’t joining the new network before you do… I probably need to delete her Airport preferences, then repair permissions, restart, empty caches, zap her PRAM, upgrade to Leopard, and upgrade my base stations back to 7.3.2…

Hmmm, time to wrap this up–I have to get out of bed and get to work now…

Leadpipes and statues and boats, oh my!

Dag to i Oslo began with the promised better strategy at breakfast. I started on the hot side but unfortunately found that the pølser weren’t as good as the day before and the weird thick pancake things were definitely some kind of fiskekake–not bad, though. The potatoes were hot and yummy, but the egg-sausage scramble was awful. Mom came up with smørbrod combo she likes quite well, putting both Jarlsberg and gjetost together on a sandwich with a slice of ham or whatever. Seems weird to me, since Jarlsberg is tangy and savory and gjetost is sweet and gooey, but it works for her. (Today she finally tried a piece of bread with gjetost on one half and just butter on the other, with two kinds of jam going in halves the other direction, for a cunning sampler mosaic. She says the orange marmalade on gjetost quarter was best.) Once again we each assembled an extra smørbrod to smuggle out in Mom’s spare ziploc bag for a free lunch on the go. (Today we spotted a sign in the breakfast buffet saying we’d be welcome to make a lunch packet for 85kr/person, about $12. We smuggled once more instead. We have a perfect record going, after all!)

After breakfast, I called Dan the horn maker and made an appointment to go out to his shop in Stabekk. I was on a mission to pick up a new leadpipe for my friend Alicia. He kindly met us at the train stop and walked us to the shop on a tricky walking path through the houses, which saved us a ton of time. I tried both leadpipe options and quickly decided with Mom’s agreement that the one Alicia was leaning toward was indeed the better choice. Dan advised us on how to get to our next destination, walked us to the bus top, and promised to meet us at our last destination for the day with a finished leadpipe. (Leadpipes start life as straight chunks of tapered brass tubing, and after you choose one, it has to be filled with pitch, bent into shape, cut to the right final length for your horn, and have a ferrule added to reinforce the first six inches or so against bending, banging, and other calamities. It’s an hour or two of work, and we didn’t feel like sitting around wasting our limited Oslo time any more than he probably felt like having a bunch of old women watching over his shoulders. Plus I’ve been there and done that–I spent a whole weekend at Kendall Bett’s Lawson Horns shop last winter, and although it was fascinating, I didn’t think the rerun would be.)

We took the #38 bus to Olav Kyrres plasse, changed to the #20 bus (or maybe those numbers are the other way around), and accidentally rode it past our intended Vigelandparken stop to Frognerstadium or something like that one stop further. Fortunately the stops aren’t that far apart so it wasn’t any big deal to walk back to where we meant to get off. We arrived at the park gate a few minutes later needing a restroom stop but were confounded by a 5kr coinbox to get in (about 75 cents). Fortunately there was a cafe next door where we could get change. I feel rude going into businesses just to ask for change, so I decided to buy a something for 15kr with my 20kr coin so I’d get 5kr change instead. Unfortunately, either the price was marked wrong or the clerk made a mistake, because he charged me 20kr for the ice cream bar I’d chosen, so then I had to ask him to give me two coins for my 10kr coin. He gave me a knowing grin along with the coins. Oh, well–I tried.

Here’s a weird tangent: I couldn’t think of the name “ice cream bar” so I asked Mom, who said when she first got to college in Minnesota she was confused by her classmates’ excitement about having Cheerios at a welcome picnic. She coudln’t figure out why the oaty breakfast cereal would be such a big deal at a picnic for college students, but when she got there she found a pile of ice cream bars branded “Cheerios.” Seems like a trademark-protection problem to me!

Our business done, we strolled into the park. It was quite cold out, so we were wearing out ski caps and gloves and still shivering a bit, and we were eating an ice cream bar. Are we snow-belt natives or what? I was a tiny bit proud of us for that.

Vigelandparken is an incredible and overwhelming thing. It’s a huge park with sidewalks spoking out from a central “monolith” sculpture zone and a whole mess more sculpture along the main axis from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock, and another piece out at 3 o’clock. In the outer zone it’s mostly bronze figures, and the inner zone is all granite figures. Wrought iron gates along the way also feature silhouettes of figures. All the figures are nude, male and female, every age from infant to geezer, always touching each other or interacting with each other somehow, many tangled together as if in ballet poses or love making or cuddling or comforting, occasionally in an unrealistic way, like the man with babies all around him, in his arms, flying out from him at various directions, one hovering in air above a foot that appears to be lifting it up from the ground the way a talented hackysack player might lift a grounded sack with his foot. There are some animals–dogs, wolves, bears I remember–and a few puzzlng ones with skeletons. The central “monolith” features a huge granite obelisk carved with a ginormous stack of entangled nude people. What these sculptures all have in common is that the figures are real-people looking, usually both muscular and hefty (no scrawny ones or fashion model or body builder magazine lean ones, even though most are clearly muscular and strong), and they’re all nude. No matter what combination of ages and genders appear together and in what apparent situation or relationship, there is a joyful, connected, sexual energy in their interactions. It’s not smutty or perverse, though–it’s human and joyful and real. There are penises and breasts all over the place, and there is no way these would appear in a public park in the US, but it all comes across somehow as very wholesome and affirming. Somehow in making every set of figures overtly sexual he has deemphasized sexuality from the charged, controversial thing that it is (at least in contemporary American society) back to the natural, everyday, lifelong thing that we know it really is. It’s fascinating, liberating, and comforting all at once.

I promise to add some photos to illustrate these points when we get back home and I have a little more time.

We then walked over to the Vigelandmuseum, which is a massive building the city of Oslo gave him to live and work in for the rest of his career, in exchange for his current and all future work belonging to the city, most in the massive sculpture park. Stroke of civic genius! The building is now a museum displaying more sculpture, clay models, sketches, tools, displays explaining how he worked and how models were converted to granite sculptures by teams of stone carvers, and so on. Even the smaller-scale models are mammoth and imposing. Even knowing he had an at times huge crew, it boggles the mind to imagine how one man created so much, let alone such creative, beautiful, thought-provoking, and technically impressive stuff.

From there we caught the #30 bus back down to Olav Kyrres plasse, changed to the #20, and rode down to the Norge folkmuseum in Bygdøy. We arrived at 2:45 and were informed the indoor attractions all closed at 3, but we were welcome to walk around outside until 6pm. We hurried, therefore, to the main attractions–a stave kirke from the 1200s and a farm village from following centuries called Setesdahl. We arrived at the stavekirke in time to hear a lengthy description and explanation along with a group on a guided tour. Stavekirker are built on huge posts (staves) at four corners and more huge posts at corners of an exterior wall. The weight of the elaborate roof of many slopes is carried on the interior staves and also transferred diagonally down to the exterior staves much like flying buttresses, except that the exterior staves are also surrounded by walls, creating a covered pathway all around the church that is in between outside and inside. I found a book in the gift shop that had many explanations for this, including: it made a place for people to wait for services to begin, for the unbaptized to be near but not in the church, for the observant to “walk circles” around the church, which apparently was an early ages ritual to mark importance and ownership, and so on. Interestingly, many of the farm houses also had this same basic architecture (though much simpler, of course) including the exterior surrounding compartment. I’m assuming this was used for many of the same purposes and perhaps also for livestock, but I’ll need to research that.

Finally we walked a few blocks to the Vikingskipsmuseum, which houses four big Viking ships and numerous smaller boats and artifacts. They were huge. One thing that impressed both of us is how much extra effort they put into carving elaborate, beautiful decorations on their boats, their furniture, even their barns. Is this the product of a long winter? A society so prosperous that it has excess time on its hands? A slave economy? Superstitions? Praise? Probably a bunch of all of the above.

Meanwhile, we’d texted Dan to let him know we’d arrived there, and he texted back that he’d be there in half an hour. We’d arrived 15 minutes before closing, so we had close to 15 minutes standing in the parking lot freezing to death, but we were rewarded with a ride back to our hotel in a nice warm car instead of numerous changes of bus and subway. We got to experience a little slice of normal life in Oslo sitting in mild rush-hour traffic, too. It wasn’t too bad, but you could definitely see how it could get bad and be frustrating without too much more traffic.

After dropping our stuff and the new leadpipe in the hotel and having a glass (okay, plastic cup) of wine, we set off on foot for dinner. We looked for an Italian restaurant we’d found on Google maps (neither of us were in the mood for julebord menyen) but couldn’t find it. After a long circular route we ended up back at an Ethiopian place near the hotel. We had a delicious but shockingly expensive meal of kitfo lebleb and doro tibs. I also had a beer, and I think our tab was around $75. Prices like these are pretty much how it goes, though–we have yet to find a cheap meal in Norway.

Back at the hotel, we both fell asleep within half an hour. This time Mom slept soundly most of the night, but I woke up around 2 and stayed awake until about 6, then finally fell asleep in time to be groggy for breakfast. I spent most of the time tapping away at the computer, chatting about the home fires with Victoria, chatting about art criticism with Meg in Massachusetts, reading lots of newspapers, answering a bunch of email, and so on.

Our adventure continues in the next installment, which shall discuss “Norway in a Nutshell,” our scenic trip by train, train, boat, bus, and train to Bergen by way of Flåm, Gudvangen, and Voss.

Oslo and the collective unconscious

It’s Wednesday morning here.

Mom and I both slept abysmally Monday night, though Mom better than I did. I think I got maybe 5 hours total. We both gave up around 1:30am and had a wine break, and then Mom got back to sleep by 2:30ish and slept most of the rest of the night. I slept maybe an hour, then woke up again and read news on my iPhone most of the rest of the night. I finally fell back asleep around 6am and was extremely groggy when Mom got me up at 9am.

We had a pretty good breakfast in the hotel (Hotel Anker, a short walk north of Oslo Sentralstasjon on Storgata). I needed a better strategy, though. I started at one end of the buffet and took small amounts of everything that looked good, and when my plate was full, I discovered stuff that looked even better. Net result was a huge breakfast. Lousy coffee, as you might expect, but a wonderful selection of sliced meats and cheeses, whole grain breads, knikkebrøder, gjetost, syltetøy (the latter I feel obligated to eat in honor of our Siamese kitties of the same names), soft- and hard-boiled eggs, herring (nei, takk!), and so on. Mediocre machine jus (eple, lemon, orange–anyone need translation?). Lots of milk and that yogurty-liquid stuff that I haven’t yet worked up the courage to try. Decent tea bag selection.

And then I discovered the hot food! They had roasted potatoes (not hot, unfortunately), several kinds of pølse (little hot-doggy-looking sausages conveniently chopped into beanie-weanie-sized bites), and a very funky looking thing that I have yet to figure out. It looked like a small, fat pancake, but the texture was chewy and the flavor was decidedly savory. If I were in Japan, I’d have decided it was a fish cake, but it didn’t taste fishy. I wonder if it’s some kind of potato sausage? It was good, whatever it was. Today I’ll start in this part of the line.

Since I clearly had too much food, I decided to do a frugal traveler move and assemble a little smørbrod (literally means “buttered bread” but practically speaking it’s the national lunsj, an open-faced sandwich of whatever you like on buttered bread) for lunsj on the go. Mom decided that was a good idea and followed suit.

(If anyone’s curious about my horrible spelling, I’m taking up Nikki’s challenge to keep mixing up my languages and throwing in lots of Norwegian words as I go.)

We finally set off on foot for Sentralstasjon to pick up our “Norway in a Nutshell” tickets for later in the week, and then to the tourist information desk to pick up our Oslokorter (Oslo cards), which get us transportation and admission to just about everything for two days at a reasonable price. It was probably 11:30 by the time we had all that sorted, and then we continued on foot down Karl Johann’s Gate for a walking tour of the central Oslo shopping district. We passed by the cathedral dome, enshrouded in plastic (or fish skin? see below) and closed for extensive renovations, alas, but Mom spotted a fun photo op: a neon sign in the building next door reading, “Cathedral restaurant bar” and proving for any who still doubted that lutefisk Lutheranism is a much happier version of Christianity than some.

After taking a few pictures of the royal palace, we turned north and walked to the Cultural History Museum. We decided only to look at the Norway-specific exhibits, one on early to Viking times, and another on polar life. Both were fascinating. Lots of the usual archaeological treasures, of course, but with some fun discoveries. I particularly enjoyed seeing the little metal critter in the shape of a moose and pointed out to Mom, “Look, they even had a travel mus!” in reference to a quip of Jane’s years back about a tiny stuffed moose we saw in a gift shop being a convenient travel-sized moose. We had a good chuckle about that and then read the description–this was a weight! Commerce was so important to them that not only did they have all kinds of balance scales and weights and measures, they even took the time to make their weights into fun moose shapes! Gotta love those Vikings.

A little further on we saw displays of Viking-era jewelry (that would be “jewellery” på norsk), and although they were clearly early, primitive pieces (we’re talking bronze and iron ages, after all), we both thought some of the items were surprisingly attractive. Mom and I talked about how maybe Carl Jung was onto something with his idea of the collective unconscious, because we both found these works to be viscerally appealing. (We’re Norwegian-German, in case you’re confused.) You wouldn’t think much of that, necessarily, except that we’ve recently seen much fancier stuff from earlier periods in China, Korea, Japan, and Afghanistan–on Saturday we went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco–and although lots of it was undeniably pretty and much fancier, more elaborate, and technically advanced than the Viking stuff, we both liked the Viking stuff a lot better. Go figure.

In the Arctic/Antarctic exhibition, we saw still more cool stuff including an early raincoat stitched together from a bazillion panels of what we later learned was fish skin–translucent and strangely modern-looking–and we both particularly liked the Sami clothing and preprosterously fancy hats. We wondered what purpose such elaborate hats served, and I suggested that perhaps they were inspired by their reindeer-friends’ antlers. A taxidermified reindeer in the exhibit was indeed quite cute, and shorter than we expected–kind of large dog-sized–but pictures showed larger ones, too.

I admired the early kayaks, very little changed from the one I use today except for the materials and colors.

We then walked around the block to the Nasjionalgalleriet (sp?), another free museum with some really nice paintings. Gee, there’s an impressive bit of art criticism for you! Once again I pondered my “collective unconscious” notion, because numerous painters of similar era and technique to more famous ones captured my fancy more–e.g. the JMWHMSPinafore Turner guy whose gloomy landscapes fill the Tate Britain in London leave me completely cold, but a Norwegian dude who was clearly his contemporary did technically similar paintings that I just liked a whole lot more. Mom agrees.

Of course, Munch’s paintings are the main reason to visit the Nasjionalgalleriet, and they didn’t disappoint me even on second viewing (I saw them when I was here in 1998). There’s something about his stuff that just speaks to me, I guess. Mom liked them, too, but commented that she couldn’t see hanging them on her walls where she had to look at them every day–she’s not into people paintings as much as scenery. Her remark made me realize that a huge share of the paintings we were seeing in the gallery (not just the Munch room) had people in them–even the landscapes. Mom says those are appealing, though, because they’re not about the people so much as the situation. I kind of agree with her when it comes to portraits–unless there’s something about portraits that give me a glimpse of daily life (“oh, so that’s what it looked like inside their houses!” and so on), I move quickly.

From there we walked toward Akerbrygge while eating our purloined smørbroder, stopping along the way to check out Heimen Husflid in the Hotel Bondeheimen on a tip from Ruth. Good tip! Lots of gorgeous sweaters and all kinds of other stuff. I drooled over some thick felt slippers and some elk-hide-and-mystery-fur slippers, but they started around $100/pair, so I decided I could survive without them. We found quite a few gorgeous sweaters, but none in the needed sizes. A few blocks further on, though, we popped into UniQue, another sweater-heavy joint, and parted with a bunch of our money. By this time it was getting darned cold out, so we both got hats to match our sweaters, and within half an hour, we were both wearing our new hats. I think today I’ll probably be wearing my new sweater, too, because although it’s only 32ish out, it’s COLD and snowing, and I’ve gotten wimpy after 14 years in California.

We tried to check out the Norge Hjemmefrontmuseum (Norwegian resistance museum), but it had closed at 4 and it was now almost 5, so we strolled around a bit of the Akerhus Festning (fortress), but it was quite dark by now (only 4:30pm) and the wet and sometimes icy cobbles seemed a bit treacherous, so we cut that short and proceeded on our way toward Akerbrygge. There was a big village of tents selling Christmas stuff, so we walked through and poked into a few tents.

Then we continued to Akerbrygge and decided fairly quickly that it was time for warm indoors and dinner. We settled on Albertine Cafe, where we shared half a liter of Barbera, Mom got a red wine-braised lammeskank with potato puree and lemon-thyme saus, and I had a venison stew (hjortegryte! what a great name!) also red-wined braised on potato puree with loganberries. Yum! A basket of yummy ciabatta-like olive bread further tempted us from our supposedly gluten-free diets. Yeah, right–not here!

After nearly falling asleep in our plates, we decided to hike back to the hotel, taking a slightly different route through the town center, and by 8:30 we were both falling asleep over our books. I slept solidly until about 3, when I gave up and poured some juleøl and resumed my book. Mom had been mostly awake since about 1, so she also gave up, got up, poured some wine and resumed her reading. We were up for an or so and then both went back to sleep. I slept pretty well until the phone vibrated around 5, and then I was up for good. Mom says she slept fitfully, but I know she got a lot more sleep than I did after our reading break.

It’s 9:15 now, and we’re both showered and dressed, so we’re going to head down to frøkost and try to improve our strategy from yesterday.

Breakfast in SFO, dinner and breakfast on LH, lunch in FRA, dinner in OSL

Mom and I flew to Oslo yesterday and today, hence the complicated meal plan. Our flight took off early Sunday afternoon from SFO, where we killed time with brunch at Andale–Mom had yummy chili verde and I had a pretty good burrito carne asada.

We flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt, and I am trying to figure out how it is that American airlines are all going bankrupt and can’t afford to give us meals or drinks, but Lufthansa can provide two decent hot meals and lots of wine and booze on basically the same ticket pricing structure. Dinner was pretty decent–I had pasta with mushrooms and marinara, and Mom had some kind of chicken rice dish. We both got edible rolls, okay salad with good dressing, and a tiny triangle of chocolate cake with whipped cream and a strawberry. There were good Ritter chocolates available in the galley overnight when I went up to get us drinks. For breakfast we had another good roll, an omelet that wasn’t great (when are eggs ever good in an airplane?) but was at least a lot better than some of the eggs I’ve had in United Business lately, and fruit salad just like every other airplane fruit salad: red grapes and pieces of underripe melon; oh, well. But still–two hot meals and plenty of free alcohol, on a route that United would have given us one hot meal, one disgusting breakfast snack, and drinks for $5.

We had lunch in the Senator Lounge at Frankfurt airport, which has a pretty nice buffet, including Frankfurters, chicken meatballs and Shanghai noodles, a funky tuna salad, some beautiful Christmas breads that I didn’t try, some serviceable minestrone (perfectly good but not a knockout like some German airport lounge soups I’ve had), olives, After lunch I enjoyed a campari-gin-bitter lemon and some Jelly Bellies. I wish we could buy bitter lemon in the States. Maybe I can figure out how to make it, now that I’ve got a CO2 tank and am not afraid to use it.

The unhappy part of our stay in Frankfurt was that my new AT&T mobile account didn’t seem to include international roaming after all–the guy I talked to when I switched said I was all set, but that turned out not to be the case. This wouldn’t be that big a deal, except that I needed to check my email and voicemail right away to find out whether I had an appointment with a natural horn or not. It turns out I didn’t. But what I had to go through to get AT&T to fix things is absurd. Since my phone didn’t work, I couldn’t use it to call them. I can’t remember the last time I saw a pay phone anywhere, so that meant I had to buy an hour of wifi and $10 of Skype credit so that I could use Skype and wifi to phone home, whereupon I reached an agent who said I’d have to call back after 7am Eastern when a certain department opened up–which was when we were boarding our flight to Oslo. In the end I couldn’t get it all straightened out until we got to the hotel, where I connected on the free wifi and again used Skype to call AT&T. Naturally just as we were getting things working, the call dropped and I had to call in AGAIN and finally got things working–and got the news that it’s $1.29 a minute for anything, including receiving but not answering calls, receiving voicemails, or actually receiving or placing calls. It’s highway robbery. Of course, when getting or missing a call means getting or missing a gig that pays $100ish or more, it’s worth it, and calculations like that are why wireless companies get away with charging so darned much. Argh!

Back to food, it was a good thing we ate in the airport, because SAS charged for everything on the connection to Oslo, with prices starting around three euros for coffee or soda. We were happy to pass.

We landed in Oslo at 3:45, collected our bags, got cash and airport express tickets, and were in downtown Oslo by 4:30. Our first order of business was to pick up our train tickets, which was only partially successful. Now that I’ve got email access again, though, I’ve got the various confirmation numbers I’ll need to get the rest of them. After that we searched out a vinmonopolet (literally “wine monopoly”–other than weak beer, all alcohol in Norway is sold by the state) and picked up some provisions for our hotel room so that we’ll be equipped to cope with any jet lag, and as I type this Mom and I are enjoying a lovely, fruity juleakevitt by Linie. Since we were tired and only vaguely hungry, we ate supper in “Erwin’s spiseri” right in the same food court.

So for our first Norwegian meal, Mom had “husets kremefisksuppe” or the house special cream fish soup, which we both thought was quite yummy. I had the “julelunsj tallerken” or “Christmas lunch plate” (I think) of gravet laks and sweet mustard sauce (yum), pickled herring (ick), a slice of ham, a slice of brie, a pile of the most iodine-y bay shrimp I’ve had in a long time, bread and butter, and a mound of–of all things–Waldorf salad. The Waldorf salad was good but I think it’s the first time I’ve had Waldorf salad since I was in the hospital with pneumonia during second grade. Somehow I remember eating a lot of Waldorf salad in that hospital, and for me it’s a dish lost to time. It’s kind of a perfect Norwegian salad, though–white, bland, sweet, and everything from a can. “Except the apples,” Mom pointed out, but I can’t say that I found any apples in there. I washed it all down with a pretty good juleøl (dark Christmas ale) by Ringnes.

After dinner, we walked the rest of the way to our hotel, which isn’t fancy but seems decent enough and has free wifi.

In electronics sadness, somehow I managed to erase everything from my iPod before we left, so I couldn’t do language immersion learning by zoning out to Norwegian podcasts during the long flights as I’d hoped. Not exactly tragic, but how on earth did I do that, and how will I make sure I never do that again? Fortunately we had decent movies on the long flight: “Happy Go Lucky,” a diverting but pointless Mike Leigh film (someone please enlighten me if there was a plot) and “Nanny Diaries,” which wasn’t as good as the book but was entertaining enough.

I’m still a little stuck on the Sunday NYT crossword but I’m not ready to give up and seek help from Rex Parker’s blog yet.