I'm fortunate that I'll be on sabbatical in the fall. As a result, I've taken two drastic actions.

1) I died my hair blue. Well, technically, just a swath of my hair is blue, but it was still something I probably wouldn't do during the regular school year.

Kathee with Blue Hair
Kathee with Sabbatical Hair

2) I've moved back to Oslo. I'll be here on and off for a few months, escaping the heat, enjoying an urban environment, reconnecting with friends, studying Norwegian, and working on my project with very few distractions.

Although I've been back in Norway several times since living here, it feels different this time around. I suppose one of the differences is that most of my friends are on holiday for the month of July which means that I've been left to my own devices, to some extent. I've been reading a lot and started creating my sabbatical website today (I'll be working on a digital humanities project)--but every day, I make sure to take long walks, exploring both the immediate neighborhood and other parts of the city.

Today, my walk was incredible. I worked most of the day, so this evening, I decided to retrace my favorite walk from when I lived here: down Drammensveien and then along the fjord. However, when I got to the part of my walk where I usually turn back towards Aker Brygge, I decided instead to keep walking on Bygdøy peninsula, taking a path along the shore, then venturing into the more rural landscape complete with cow pastures. It was incredibly beautiful and I felt some regret that I hadn't taken these paths before.

Drammensveien and Bygdøy
Drammensveien and Bygdøy

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Recently, I traveled to Norway to attend the American Studies Association of Norway annual conference. This year, the organization worked with Fulbright Norway to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Roving Scholar program, the program that took me to Norway during the 2008-2009 academic year. At the conference, I was able to meet and reconnect with a number of former Rovers. Although our presentations at the conference focused on our scholarly interests, between presentations and at meals, we told stories about our roving. We shared how many visits we'd made, which cities we'd visited, and what we had talked about with students. In some cases, almost 20 years separated our experiences as Rovers, yet we could still connect on some level.

Moreover, we talked about future collaborations--in fact, last week at a conference I attend every year, I had dinner with one Rover, Laura Turchi and her husband Peter (and my wonderful friend Debbie--who merits her own entry--joined us, too) and we talked about organizing a panel for next year's National Council of Teachers of English conference.

There are many things I appreciate about my experience as a Fulbright scholar, but I didn't anticipate how, three and a half years later, this experience would continue to bring intelligent and thoughtful people into my life.

Watch the video I've linked above and help spread the word about Norway's Roving Scholar program.

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Sight: colorful homes, sparkling water in the fjord, electric cars getting charged, overcast skies.

Sound: ducks quacking, cars zooming, clicking of ski poles for skaters getting ready for the winter.

Smell: damp air, burnt coffee close to the coffee factory, sewage smell in a couple of spots.

Touch: cool air, light mist of rain.

Taste: bread and cheese at the end of my walk.

Today I attended a dance performance at the Oslo Opera House. I was intrigued by the description, a combination of Indian dance and music with Norwegian Black Metal. I bought a ticket, not quite sure what to expect.

Right from the start, the performance captured my attention. The narration explained that the Hindu call our current era "the time of darkness," a description that was echoed by the music of Vreid. The band members took the stage with their frenetic music, energizing the audience but also creating a serious, even somber tone. As two Indian dancers took the stage, there was a shift, but the shift was one of degree rather than tone. The dancers' movements, their use of their bare feet to drive the urgent rhythm of the music provided a continuation of the energy and chaos that the band had created. To this point, the performance was good, but with the emergence of Rukmini Chatterjee, the dancer who was also the choreographer, the performance took on layers of meaning that I didn't anticipate. Chatterjee is a mesmerizing presence; she communicates a strength and power that more than stood up to the driving rhythms of Vreid's music. Moreover, Chatterjee's facial expressions, which at times included eyes turned up so far that only the whites remained, reinforced the theme of darkness at the heart of this piece. Her strength combined with the anguish and pain that are part of both the ethos of heavy metal and the Hindu prophecies about the contemporary moment.

As the performance continued, I thought about the events of the last year in Norway, in which the issues of immigration and the shift to a more culturally diverse society have been key. Certainly one outcome of these challenges to Norwegian identity could be continued violence and conflict. And Questionings most definitely does not posit a "happily ever after" ending. Rather, it does what great art should do: provoke, challenge, and reveal. Yet, the piece also embodies the artistic and even philosophical shifts that can emerge from cultural collisions. As Norway deals with the aftermath of the events of June 22, 2011, it can live up to the stirring reaction of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg which drew from the traditions that have made Norway the home of the Nobel Peace Prize . . . or not. At least for me, that's what Questionings made me think about, in part, because it illustrated the ways that two strong cultures/traditions can be maintained side by side and even fused together in ways that don't lessen the power of either.

Chatterjee has a long relationship to Norway, according to her website, but she's from India and is a resident of Paris. Her work over the past decade has combined Indian dance with other types of music like flamenco and hip hop. I'm not sure what her intentions were in this collaboration, but, in my opinion, it was an incredible performance, one that I'll continue to think about.

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I'm still reeling about the terrible news coming out of Norway right now. How could this have happened in such a peaceful nation? One of the only "new" presentations I ever developed while on Fulbright there was on violence in the U.S. Edvin Svela, a teacher of really wonderful students at Oslo Katedralskole, asked me to come in to talk with his students about this topic. The students had a lot of questions:

  • Why are guns so pervasive in the United States?
  • Why is it so easy to buy guns?
  • What is the rationale behind the death penalty? How can death be an appropriate sentence for anyone?
  • Why are a disproportionate number of those executed people of color?
  • Why is violence such an integral part of American identity?

These questions reveal how distant these students felt that violence was from their everyday lives. According to these students, in Norway, gun permits are granted only to hunters who have taken an intense course on gun use. They couldn't understand why anyone else would need a gun, nor could they understand how violent acts could be so embedded in a culture.

Their innocence is why I'm even more upset about what happened there. When I read last night that there were over 80 victims on Utøya, I was sick. I went to bed wishing that there was some way I could wake up to better news. I think about the wonderful students I worked with in Norway; I hope that none of them were on Utøya yesterday . . . I wish that no one had been there. I wish that nothing had happened at that camp.

I didn't have to tell the Kate students that violence is wrong, damaging, and too often cyclical. They already knew that, and I hope they still do. The worst outcome of the gunman's act could be more violence. I hope that Norway will maintain its more pacifist views as it moves through this difficult time--I hope that as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said: "You will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy and our idea for a better world."

Over the last few days, NRK has been broadcasting live footage of the Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline. I’d seen some of my Norwegian friends mention this on Facebook, but this morning, I finally got around to finding it online. The ship is almost to Lofoten, an archipelago I visited while I lived in Norway. I just checked my blog to see what I wrote about this trip . . . and it seems I didn’t write anything, I think because this was just the first part of a 10 day trip. So here’s a much belated entry about wonderful Lofoten.

I was invited to present in Stokmarknes and Melbu by an energetic teacher, Siri Johnsen, who had never before had a visit from a Roving Scholar. She was so enthusiastic about my trip—and about where she lived. Since I also had heard from many others how beautiful Lofoten was, I traveled there a few days early. On the advice of Maj-Britt, the travel agent for the Roving Scholars, I chose Svolvær, a small town known for its striking scenery, as my destination. Although it was late January when I arrived, there had been quite a bit of rain followed by freezing temperatures that left a thick coat of (melting) ice on the roads. The hotel I was staying at was about a 10 minute walk from the center of town—and in order to avoid the ice, I had to walk down the middle of the mostly empty road. As I was there during the off season, the whale watching trips and other tourist activities were closed. I spent a quiet few days there, taking photos of the spectacular scenery on long walks, reading, and walking into town to eat.

I then went to Stokmarknes to present. Siri had prepared the students for my visit, even inviting a local reporter, Vegard Bakkely (who wrote a story about me published in the local paper), to attend my presentations. I spent the day with a really nice group of students, talking about American culture. The students were funny and engaged—and I remember that they asked really good questions about the U.S. Later, they made a video about Norwegian food for me to share with American students. Speaking of food, I also enjoyed a delicious lunch with the Hadsel VGS teachers that featured whale and a traditional dinner with Siri, her American husband and another teacher that evening. Siri gave me a beautiful necklace that I still wear and love—and I think of my visit to her school every time I put it on.


I also presented in Melbu, a small fishing village south of Stokmarknes. One of the teachers arranged a last minute presentation with students at the ungdomskole, the only time I presented to younger students during my Fulbright year. This group, too, was delightful—they were energetic and funny . . . and so excited to have an American to talk with. Several of them walked me to my hotel afterwards and two emailed later to ask if I could find an American penpal for them. My stay in Melbu was especially memorable because I had been the only one at the hotel the night before. Even the hotel employees went home and left me alone, but they had returned in the morning to make breakfast for me. I also really enjoyed walking around the area thinking about the cod that is caught and dried there. Cod (baccalhau) was such an important dish to Portugal, another country I’ve lived in, that it was fascinating to see where it originates.

Lofoten is one of the most beautiful places in the world, I think. I hope to return some day.

Note: the first three pictures are from Svolvaer, the last from Melbu.

Long ski race
Long ski race

I've been feeling very nostalgic for Norway this weekend. A year ago, I went on an 8 day trip that culminated in spending the National Sami Day in Karasjok, the capital of Samiland in Norway. Karasjok was one of three places that I most wanted to visit while in Norway (the other two were the amazing town of Longyearbyen, home of the Global Seed Vault, and Kautokeino, the other big Sami town, which I wasn't able to visit). I emailed schools in both Karasjok and Kautokeino, hoping that they would invite me to present to their students. When Martin Pope, a teacher at Samisk VGS in Karasjok, invited me to come for the National Sami Day, I couldn't believe my good fortune! It meant adding two more days to an already long trip and traveling late at night in order to get to Karasjok for the festivities, but it was well worth it to be involved in the Sami celebration. Read about my trip here.

Dixie and one of the Sami students getting ready for a spark race
Dixie and one of the Sami students getting ready for a spark race

Buorre álbmotbeaivvi!