This is the text to the composition “nine miles down” by Mig Living, read by me. It’s my favorite aquatic poem.
This is the text to the composition “nine miles down” by Mig Living, read by me. It’s my favorite aquatic poem.
For five months, Norway was my home. I travelled to the far North, to Tromsø, to eat ice cream above the Arctic Circle and watch the green Northern Lights twist and turn, I travelled to København to be disappointed by how small the little mermaid really is, and I travelled to Stockholm for cheap beer and coffee. But for most of the time, I lived in Oslo.
On Friday afternoon I was being instructed in menial receptionist work, when the news on the law firm’s posh flatscreen made my mouth drop in a rather unprofessional manner. explosion in Oslo, it said. after some time, the police attribute the explosion to a bomb. in the governmental quarters, the PM is fine. the buildings didn’t seem familiar at the time. little by little, more information surfaced. people were going crazy with anger, fear, and plain amazement on facebook. amazement at how this could happen in the most peaceful city we’d known. a city I’d gotten lost in, drunk, in the middle of the night, and the only person I’d come across was an Afghan taxi driver who offered to drive me home for free (and did).
Then I saw pictures of a friend who had been to Oslo just one day before the attack. pictures that showed said governmental buildings that were targeted. and that’s when my mouth really dropped- and I, too, finally became really angry and scared. it’s only that they’re so ugly you don’t usually notice them when you go by them every day like I did- so close to the university.
Norway is probably the only country in the world where the acts by a right-wing conservative are considered “anti-establishment”.
I am confident Norway will show the world ways to counter these acts of terrorism it has never seen before. ways that will still make me proud of having called Norway my home for a semester. there’s a reason the Norwegian flag is the only one I own.
The police spends a long time with the family in the next compartment. I can only hear, not see it- though I’m itching to see what it’s doing. But I don’t want to draw attention to myself. The family’s accent sounds African, and they’re loud. Compared to my compartment, consisting only of a company of two: me, typing frantically, trying to finish as much as possible of my DiplomandInnenseminararbeit before I arrive; I keep getting distracted by the landscape, and thunderstorms. And a guy dressed in white. I try to ask him if he knows how I can make more light, first in German, to be polite, even though he looks foreign. Something I learned in Norway. Then in English, because he doesn’t seem to understand. He shakes his head and remains silent. I try to ask him which language he speaks, where he’s from. Chinese, he finally says, in German. Nothing else. I point to the flimsy light above my head, and he finds the switch to illuminate the whole compartment. It had been getting dark. Awesome. Xie-xie, I mumble. He figures out what I mean and smiles.
The family’s accent sounds African, and they’re loud. There’s at least one child, and a loud mother figure. Apparently no baby, thank god. The police’s English is bad. Sie spricht eh deutsch, another passenger says. Randomly switching between English and German, the police wants to see her passport, visa, etc. These are her children? Where is she going? The police is loud, and it sounds mean. The way you’d imagine it to. When the family is loud, it sounds different. Like fufu with peanut soup, to make the cliché complete. Apparently they check out.
Of course the Chinese guy doesn’t understand the police when they come to check if we’re- what? I don’t know, it doesn’t tell us, and I know I’m not. It takes me forever to find my driver’s license, but the police is still busy with Chinese guy’s papers. His train ticket and some card. It can’t coax a passport out of him. So they look at his ticket with a special magnifying glass. It’s also interested in my birth place. Seemingly incoherent syllables. Yeah it’s in Japan, my mom worked there for a while. Apparently no rotten eggs in our compartment either. Except, now Chinese guy took off his shoes. And it kinda stinks. Where you go? Bologna. I’m surprised. Apparently he does know some words. Student? No, holiday.
We don’t talk more than that. But he reminds me of another Asian I met, on the night train to Venice a few years ago. Or was it Lyon? He was a teacher “at home”, but now he’s going to France to his mom, where he will earn more with menial work. But first- he takes a trip around Europe. I’m amazed. So work migrants are people. And they go on trips, too. For breakfast he shares a sandwich with me, with eggs and ketchup. The combination seems super-weird to me at the time, but I think I had something like that a few years later in Indonesia.
The family’s kids are bumping into the partitions. But I don’t want to sleep too much this night anyway, at least the police seems to think we are dangerous cargo.
If you poisoned a city’s water reservoir nowadays, only healthy people in healthy cities would be affected: otherwise, cities’ water is already poisoned and dirty enough, and people have to buy water in bottles in order not to get sick- or everyone lives off bottled vitamin water and diet soda anyway.
Where are you from, I ask the three women in my compartment. The train came to a halt about two stations before Bologna, and stayed there. Some problem with the electricity cables/ wires. Cut? I don’t mind if it takes forever, my hostel only opens at 10 and the first friend I’m meeting at 4.30. So I have time, time I’d rather not spend loitering at the train station because parks are not even open yet.
I’m from the United States, she is from Hamburg, and she is from the Philippines. We’re visiting our sister in Italy. Sounds awesome. What I really wanted to now is what language they speak. Rather than one of those persons who have to classify the people around them according to nationality/ country of origin, I’m a language geek. For hours I’ve been trying to figure out what language it could possibly be- I came as far as “something Asian”. Some words reminded me faintly of Indonesian, but not completely. Tagalog crossed my mind. Do they speak that in the Philippines? They look so important and busy on their laptop, or are sleeping. I don’t want to disturb them. Also, the other new compartment mate has come back. She seems to be Italian, since that seems to be pretty much the only language she speaks, and she got on at the last station. Go figure, just to get stuck for hours.
Great, now the platform TV I’ve been watching ads on for the last half hour is breaking up, too. Welcome to Italy… Nice ads, though. Not so bad considering Berlusconi owns the media, or something. What kind of a name is Silvio anyway?!
The moon looks the part of a huge golden cheese. Amazing! I’ve never seen a moon like it, and it’s already 5.30. Shouldn’t the sun be rising? Also, I think we’re going back the way we came from. I’m confused.
The landscape looks Italian, so we haven’t gone back all the way to Austria yet. Grape vines on the fields, low flat houses that look Terracotta-ish, those long kinda bushy trees.
Even though it’s considerably lighter 6 minutes later, the moon’s still cheesy.
I went to the Dürer-Cranach-Holbein exhibition yesterday. The German Portrait around 1500. the cashier was too bored to care I had forgotten my student ID and gave me the discount, I probably should have said I was under 18 and gotten in for free. the security guard was too bored to care about my bottle of water- seemingly a symbol of museum terrorism, otherwise. up the grand stairs and past the huge antique statues of men clad only with oddly shaped leaves, reminiscing about the time I got into a giggle-fight with my sister so intense my gum fell onto said grand stairs. I guess only tourists treat the place as reverently as they should. running in circles with my mom to find first the toilet, then the actual exhibition. then, wandering around inside, staring in awe and confusion at the oddly organized pictures: yes, they had numbers, which served as the occasional reference in some of the explanatory notes on the wall, but whose sequence did not adhere to any standard numerical systems. so, confused by the order and the pictures themselves. the artists weren’t only the three mentioned, rather talented and well-known painters, but a lot of others too, some or actually most even nameless “Swabian painter around 16th century”- maybe they didn’t have enough good pictures and had to fill the blank walls? dürer’s nice, obviously- a real master, of course they only had portraits and no rabbits. the others really just served the purpose of showing how good dürer was, compared to his contemporaries. amazingly talented, apparently. also, most people at that time seemed to be cross-eyed, and extremely ugly. by accident we landed in the churchy section, altarpieces and the like. my mom enjoyed looking at the jewelry they made after the portraits in the shop. nice pearls, and some stones. I am so not paying there next time.
maybe 11. it gets dark this early in Austria.
at night, I am alone. it’s peaceful. I sit next to the street, lean away from the fence. when I look up, the stars are immense. are they the same I see in Oslo on a cloudless night?
the wind is warm, and it turns the meeky, nondescript tree from across the street into a centuries-old olive tree in Greece.
or rather, a small city on a fjord.
the city, sans nuages. the days Oslo it’s sunny, it’s gorgeous. sitting on the grass-covered walls of the fortress, looking over the finest parts of Oslo and the fjord with it’s little islands with their little summer homes, hearing the ships tooting, never mind the “grass” having turned to hay and still being a bit damp after a long winter. there’s nothing an Indonesian sarong couldn’t fix there.
the atmosphere. people don’t seem afraid here, and even though i unfortunately don’t know a lot about Norwegian politics, I’m dreading going back to the society I came from, which seems pervaded with fear of made-up or ridiculously inflated problems. no seeping here.
my life. I’ve changed here. gotten the bloated perception I can do anything I want, with the caveat, I only have to want the right things.
what I will take home with me from Oslo: brown cheese. yes, most definitely. I know we started off on the wrong foot, me thinking I was buying actual cheese and all, really good deal at the 10kr-marked, and then it turned out- the “cheese” was sweet. I came around. it just has to be eaten with jam and waffles. Norwegian. the language. even though I don’t speak it as fluently as my other languages, I’m willing to continue trying. I’m just charmed by how sweetly they will sing “heihei” at you, and that “bye” is “ha det bra”- mach’s gut (roughly, take care, more literally, do well, have a good time, etc.). inspiration and passion, which might fade pretty quickly seen as I’ll be swamped with work on arrival, but right now I can still feel it, and I’ve found my passion in refugee law. det var det.
there are different types of pride.
for one, there is group pride: gay pride, or national pride, or something like that. group pride like gay pride, as I see it, consist in being proud of having accomplished something alone or in a group, having overcome hardship and fear, and celebrating it together. showing compassion and support. national pride for me was always a bad thing. go figure, the nationalities I am ethnically closest to being Austrian and US-American. you can’t be proud of a nationality- it’s nothing you’ve accomplished yourself, and it’s bad because it’s nationalistic and uniformist. being here in Norway, things are a little different: I honestly get why people are proud to be Norwegian, and I don’t condemn that feeling. sometimes I find myself wishing I was Norwegian, just to have something to be proud of.
then we come to special connotations of this word which are better expressed in German: stolz and Hochmut. I prefer to consider stolz as in saying to someone, “Ich bin stolz auf dich”- I’m proud of you. To me, this implies: I’m proud of what you’ve done, of what you’ve achieved, of what you’ve overcome. The noun Stolz itself is trickier, it leans more in the direction of Hochmut- as in “Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall”- pride comes before a fall (hey, I didn’t know that proverb existed in that same form in English, but dict.cc says it does).
Ich bin stolz auf dich is furthermore about one person saying it to another- now Ich bin stolz auf mich would open up whole new ethical catholic territory. Is it right to be proud of oneself? Why not, if it means being proud of something you’ve accomplished, achieved, overcome, just as much as you would be proud of someone else doing the same things. It’s good to treat yourself as a good person. and it’s ok to be proud of yourself- as long as it’s not hochmütig, belittling others. just make yourself the size you are, and feel good with it.
I just booked my flight home. I’m going home, and I’m sad. sad to go home to a country where people or entire parts of society are excluded from public discussions; sad to go home to a country where critical thinking isn’t celebrated but suppressed, where ministers and governments are changed more often than the ordinary citizen’s socks. sad to go back to this depressing atmosphere of hopelessness where all creativity is suppressed. and so inspired and motivated to change that! I want my country to fill me with well-deserved pride, not shame. and I want to do my part to achieve that. I don’t want to see Austria become more repressive every day.
this morning, I woke up to my roommate’s exasperated “why are your meatballs on the table?”, which made me jump out of bed at a speed reserved for fires and free ice cream. I found my recently bought 1000g bag of meatballs gutted on the kitchen table. the same kitchen table that daily refutes the idea of communism actually working for longer than half a day.
not just any meatballs, either. Ikea meatballs! the best, and proudly ordered and paid for in Norwegian. side dish in spe to my simple diet of spinach and quinoa, they were to be the highlight of my next few weeks. and now, defrosted on the table by some *** who was too drunk even to pop them in the oven. I won’t miss this part of the experience- I prefer dorms with locks on the fridge & freezer. now my roommates are all getting free meatballs- since I didn’t want them to go bad and did not exactly feel up to the feat of consuming about 30,000 calories for breakfast.
on the other hand, and speaking of calories, I hopscotched with a cow two days ago to earn my free ben & jerry’s. yes, they give away free ben & jerry’s about twice a week here. and no, they don’t just give it away, they make you work for it. and if you don’t flick the stone in the right square, go again as often as you must! because that coffee coffee buzz buzz caramel chew chew may be gratis, aber nicht umsonst.
(cows -> meatballs or ice cream?)