Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Telling Petra's Story

Roy Allgood and Petra with family in China
                 a few years before both parents died. 

  The Telling has a life of its own.

     The information I was given by Alt for Norge about my grandmother Oline Petra Staven (Johnsen) percolated for the entire trip back to the USA.  I kept coming up with different scenarios and multitudes of questions. What was the relationship between her and her great aunt?  What was she doing in Trondheim?  Where was the rest of her family? She was 18. Did she really steal and commit murder and how could she?-  my saint of a grandmother?  Why had she been pardoned by the King and how did she get to the USA? I was in a bit of a state of shock.

      I had gone to Norway with romantic ideas of bucolic poverty and was now faced with a very different picture. I remembered blathering on about how much at home I felt in Norway, about how I have been drawn to similar land and chosen to live my life in ways that are very Norwegian. Blah, blah, maybe DNA has memory....  And now I wondered if all the while, those of the crew who knew of my grandmother's crime were watching me, waiting for my murderous DNA to come through. I ruminated.  It is a long trip from Oslo to Portland.

      But most of all, I thought of my mother.  I had no idea how she would take this harrowing information. She is not a particularly sentimental woman, but still, this was her mother.  As soon as we were back in the States, I called my sister from the airport and told her. Her initial response was incredulousness, then she worried about my mother's response also.

     I had been gone almost 6 weeks and the trip home was grueling, so it was understandable that I did not want to talk right away. But I did tell my mother when she met me at the airport that I had found out some information about Petra that was "Big". I didn't smile.The next day, all I could think to do was give her my envelope and have her find out the same way as I had.  I told her how it had been given to me and watched her delve in.  She gave me imploring looks as she read and all I could do was nod and say, "Yes, I know."  When she was done, she was crying.  " Oh, the poor thing," she said, and I thought about how strange it must be to look back at the age of 83 and consider your mother as a young girl.  My mother has lived almost twice as long as her mother did.
      Then, as I watched, my mother pulled herself together, rearranging the image she had carried of her mother for most of her life - adding this key chapter to her mother's story. It did not take long.  Petra had spent her life devoted to others and now there was a reason.  My mother had to tell her sisters and called them. I wondered if Petra could have ever imagined that her children would discover her secret in their old age.

       In the following weeks, I shared this story with friends and family and found the responses interesting. It was almost a Rorshott test - each theory illuminating the inventor.  The aunt had been so mean she deserved to die; it was a mercy killing, an accident, there were accomplices.  The theories multiplied.

      We had many questions, so hired a researcher in Norway to dig for more answers.They came and they were dark. Pictures of the prison, a paltry visitor's record, a detailed description of the crime that was hard to bear.  Our imaginings of a mistreated young girl faded away.  It looked as if Petra had wanted money.  Times were hard.  My mother said, "Poverty does strange things to people."  We still struggled to accept and understand.

       I was the messenger and the liaison. I let the producers of Alt for Norge know that I had shared the information with my mother and that we were considering if we wanted to make Petra's story public.  My sister was angry. Like a true New Yorker, she was suspicious and felt we were being used by Alt for Norge. It was a good sensational story!  The tears, the shock, the drama!  I could imagine it in a bad tabloid.  Our grandmother the murderer.  So it became my job to convince my family that Norwegians are trustworthy, that the producers of Alt for Norge were respectful. They had given us veto power which was evidence of their integrity.

     I let my mother decide and she agreed to let Petra's story be told.  I was not surprised, my mother has never been one for secrets. But I think it was also that, in a strange way, my mother was even more proud of her mother than she had been before finding out about her crimes. Not only had Petra been a strong loving, giving person, she had become so after committing murder and spending 5 years in jail.  She must have carried that burden with her as she did her missionary work. She had had a harder life than we had ever imagined and redeemed herself.  I think this was what my mother wanted to share - a story of a young girl who made mistakes, paid for them, and changed.

   As the editing was being done, Alt for Norge sent us a draft of the scene of me reading from my brown envelope. Very strange to see those intense moments captured on film. My mother thought it was done respectfully and was satisfied. But now there were journalists calling and more decisions to be made. I made inquiries about the various papers and accepted interviews. If there was going to be media coverage, at least we might be able to skew the angle.  I spoke of the good life my grandmother had lived and the possiblity of change.

    It seems that the King's Pardon Petra received in 1914 had been one of many pardons given in honor of the Centennial celebration of the Norwegian Constitution. Thank you, Norway, for giving her a second chance. But she did not change her life alone. The prison chaplain helped her, she went to live with one of her sisters, and someone arranged and paid for her training as a nurse and her trip to the USA.  She had many helping hands along the way. It has made me more aware of our need to support each other.

      We had asked TV Norge to try and contact our Norwegian family and let them know about Petra's story. We did not want them embarrassed or surprised. Turns out that some of them knew about Petra, and had decided not to tell my aunt when she had visited.  They assumed that if Petra had not told her children, her secret should be respected. Secrets...  It makes sense that Petra did not tell her young children before she died, but my mother wonders if she ever would have.  There is so much we will never know.

       One of the strangest twists of this story came when one of our relatives contacted us. She has spent time researching Petra's story and is convinced that Petra was innocent! The death certificate was natural causes, there was no evidence of a struggle, no witnesses, and claims at the trial were conflicted. Petra confessed stealing a watch and then a receipt was found. The trial was very quick - an 18 year old had inherited the aunt's estate and there were those who contested it. Our relative believed Petra was unfairly accused.

         This new theory came as a surprise.  What an awful addition to our imaginings, that she might have spent years in jail for a crime she did not commit. What was even more surprising was our disbelief, we had come to accept Petra's guilt, constructing a narrative so as to understand. We will never know.  Since the show has been aired, a few viewers have contacted us with stories of Petra, pictures and hints of letters. We hope to learn more,  but it was so long ago, I am afraid we will never have all the pieces of this story. Yet to know something of the trials and tribulations of my grandmother's life has been a gift. Petra had been a vague ancestor to me and now she is a real person.  She never returned to Norway after she left, but I have returned for her.

     Thanks Alt for Norge!

     I guess that is all for now, but the circles created by being on this show continue to grow. I have made contact with many relatives and hope to return to Norway next year.  My cousin Bodil, has a dairy farm and has promised that I can milk a cow! Because of my discoveries about Petra, I have rekindled connections with my cousins here in the United States and we are talking about a family reunion. I am staying in touch with the other contestants from Alt for Norge and I predict that some of us will remain friends. Petra traveled to China and may have felt that she had left Norway behind, but she kept her Bunad. The world is a terribly small place.  I am proud to be a Norwegian-American!

Until next time!  Ha det bra!(I hope that's right!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


     Usually the contestant who is eliminated gets a final interview and hug from Henrietta, is given a book with family contact information, and then is whisked away.  It happens pretty fast.  You are no longer part of the gang.  I got my book and, looking out over the fjord, I was ready to go home. I had a lovely time.  My only regret was that I did not get up to Nord-Trondelag to see the part of Norway where my grandmother, Petra, lived and I did not get a brown envelope with information about her. I had hoped to discover a bit more, but then, what is there to find out about a 26 year old?  When my aunt Rita had visited in 1980, the relatives she met could tell her nothing about Petra. I would have to accept that I would never know more about her.

     Then the producer told me they had a problem. I had been eliminated and they were planning on giving me an envelope next week.  Would I be up for receiving it now and they would show it earlier in the episode? I felt like I got the biggest door prize ever!  Of course I would want to see my envelope!  It was then that they told me that the information that they found was very "sensitive" and that, if I did not want it made public, they would not include it in the show.  I had come to really like and respect the producer, Thor, and Eli, the director, and they looked so serious, it was rather disconcerting.  Had my grandmother been a Nazi sympathizer?  No, the timing was off.  She left in 1917. What had they found out about my grandmother or was it some other person in my history? So, with a lot of excitement and a bit of apprehension, I waited as they set up for me to receive and read my envelope.

     I opened the envelope with a camera in front of me and Eli right behind asking me questions. There was a hand written letter to me written by an Alt for Norge staff member and Eli asked me to read it aloud. I have been a librarian and am good at reading ahead in my mind at the same time as I'm reading aloud, but when I got to the part about Petra being sentenced to jail, I just stopped. Wow! This was news. She had been sentenced to 15 years and pardoned after serving 5, all before she came to the USA.  I looked at the supporting information, but it was all in Norwegian.  The translation had not gotten into the envelope!  So I sat there thinking and wondering about what my grandmother might have done to get sent to jail, while someone ran back to the hotel to find the translation. Eli asked me questions as we waited. Did I have any idea of this?  NO.None.

     Finally, I was given the translation and we returned to shooting.  The page was a copy of the prison record with chaplain's notes. I read the crime - theft, arson and causing the death of her great aunt by suffocation with a counterpane. I was shocked. I think I said, "What the hell is a counterpane?"  I read that it happened in Trondheim; what was she doing in Trondheim?  Then there was a detail about a will and I was confused. What had been going on?  I had so many questions and few answers.  Then I read through the chaplain's notes, which were riveting.  Notes from visits over the 5 years Oline Petra (She changed her name!) was in prison. The chaplain noted how she cried and felt her life was "forfeit," of how she took solace in helping others, of how she came to embrace god.  It was almost too revealing of her inner torment.  That it was my grandmother made it both a gift and painful to read. I had wanted my grandmother to become more real and she had.  This is what I had come to Norway for, not games or contests or even scenery.  This was the true prize.

     Then I thought of my mother.  My mother who had lost her mother when she was just a child. My mother who had told me stories of her mother with such pride and love in her voice. My mother who had no idea that her mother had been convicted of killing someone and had spent time in jail when she was just 18.  I would have to go home and tell her, shattering her childhood image of her mother. That made me cry. I thought of my own son, almost 18, and wondered at this awful crime committed at such a young age.  I cried some more for Petra and her aunt.

      We wrapped up the camera shoot and they said they did not need an answer right away about whether they could use this scene.  I was glad of that as I wanted it to be OK with my mother. The shoot had taken so long that we would have dinner with the others, but they asked that I not share this story with the rest of the cast.  That was fine with me, I needed some time to digest this information.  But I did appreciate being able to say goodbye again. Hugs and photos and then, we were off. I wish them all well.

      Driving fast along the fjord to catch a ferry to Alesund, was the first time I missed driving. Wow!  I was going to be able to drive again soon. It was starting to sink in.  We stopped in Alesund and walked around. It was still light at midnight!  Overnight in a hotel, then a plane to Oslo where I had a day to explore on my own. I felt like a teen that has been set free by overbearing parents - sort of in shock.  I explored neighborhoods, shopped and found secondhand stores, bought lunch and ice cream and took pictures, reveling in being able to wander. Oslo seemed smaller than Portland and felt very comfortable.  I tried to enjoy this time and not to think, of being eliminated, of Petra, of going home. I would have time to figure it all out later.  It would take me more than 24 hours, but I was going home.

Episode 5 -Wonderbaums and Elimination

     Our next challenge is a collection of mini -challenges through out the town.  I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with these game like challenges as I was anticipating more outdoors type challenges.  I keep feeling like I am in some strange time warp acting out as an adult the sort of activities I did with my first graders.  You would think I would be glad not to have to climb a mountain, but I'm grumpy and have to fight my bad attitude. I really admire Jessica as she seems to be able to stay positive.  Maybe I should start meditating again!

     This challenge is a bit Russ-like, asking us to do silly things like eat a hotdog as quickly as possible (one of the things my husband really did not want to see me have to do for some reason).  Except for trying to kick a soccer ball past a goalie- (my goal was not to fall on my butt on camera!) all the challenges were timed. I think it is hysterical that I am doing this.  I have issues with time. Even as a child, I was nicknamed "turtle".  I was always the last in line - my attention wandering. I am always late and sometimes even get days mixed up.  And here I am, frantically counting seconds!  I try, I really do and actually find lots of wonderbaums, but not enough... Our team looses by a close margin.  We will go to an elimination round.  I am not happy, I would like to stay longer, but feel my commitment to being here slipping. Working for the team has kept me going. In an elimination round, I'm on my own.

     Our family is wonderful and I'm even more homesick.  There is nothing like good food and friends around a table in a home. I corner Tore Andre and talk about school. This homestay makes it very clear how much  this experience as a contestant on a reality TV show is a strange bubble.  But I am here - in Norway. The view is beautiful and my Norwegian family is out there somewhere. I try to pull myself together.  I do appreciate that this show does not pit us against each other, though I feel the tension between us today. One of us will have to go home.

     The next day we have off while the other team gets a gondola ride to the top of the mountain. (I still feel sad that we did not get to visit Pulpit Rock in Stavanger).  Our team gets to do interviews. But first we are asked if we want to swim in the fjord on camera.  We all say, yes!  I loved jumping in the fjord and am up for doing it again, except.. I left my swimsuit at the hotel and it has been lost.  Not that I wanted to wear a swimsuit on camera.  So, I wear a shirt and underwear into the fjord.  Todd takes his suit off underwater and swings it around, yelling, "Naked in a fjord!"  Of course, we all have to follow.  Its a bit awkward with the shirt, but I get it off.  I am naked in a fjord. It feels good!

      We are having interviews at the edge of the fjord.  It is a beautiful day and we hang, waiting for our turn, reading, writing in journals.  I am restless.  I see a kayak slide past and run down to talk to the guy.  One of my dreams is to kayak in the fjords and I ask if there are any for rent.  I can't believe it, but the guy offers to let me use his kayak as soon as he is done.  He even gave me the combination to the lock on the boat house!!  I've done my interview and beg our keepers to let me go. Tusen takk!  I got at least an hour and a half in that kayak and found a peace I had been missing.  I was in Norway, in a kayak, in a fjord. Whatever happened next was OK.
     As I was putting the kayak away, I had the sort of interaction that I love when traveling in a strange country.  I realized that I was not strong enough to pick up this long sea kayak.  I tried moving it bit by bit, when an old man came by and helped me. He knew almost NO English and my Norwegian is awful, but we pantomimed and laughed.  He said I was strong; we laughed. He flexed his muscles; we laughed.  He pointed to the mountains and bleated like a goat.  I have no idea what he was trying to say, but he was so lovely, it was wonderful.  If this was one of my last days, it would be fine.

      The elimination challenge was really pretty easy and I only have myself to blame.  I lost my focus. It was another collection of stations with little challenges based on daily life. I should have aced them, but I didn't.  Instead I made a lot of errors.  Looking back, I can see that I was getting angry.

     The challenge had to be done by each contestant one at a time, with the rest of us waiting our turns.  I had gotten the last turn and waited in the hotel for a few hours.  It was a gorgeous day and I was in a dark hotel lobby, trying not to be nervous, but getting grumpy instead. I was getting claustrophobic and ready to bolt. I wanted to be in that kayak again.  I wanted to be outside without keepers - alone in nature.  I did not want to have to do a challenge on Alt for Norge.

      My inner curmudgeon won this contest. I raced through the challenge without really thinking - I just wanted it over.  And it was. When the results were announced, I was not surprised. To be honest, I was sort of relieved to be going home. I also felt that the others on my team deserved to stay and want to stay, more than me.  Alf's dedication to all things Norse is wonderfully sincere; Jessica is here for her family and to prove how strong she is: I'm not sure of Todd's motivation except we can all tell he plays to win and enjoys the entire process. I was here to explore Norway, to prove that I am still an adventurer, to give myself a break from things back home that are not working out, and to find out more about my grandmother. I am proud of being part of this show and have found a peace and strength in this land. I will definitely come back to Norway, but on my own terms.

Episode 5- Family!

     For our first challenge we are taken to a huge ugly industrial building that sits right at the edge of the fjord.  Obviously, their zoning does not consider aesthetics.  I presume this factory is a major employer.  It turns out to be a Pizza factory - yes - lets go for cultural dissonance - frozen pizza is terribly popular in Norway.  We are given a taste and, in my opinion, its really bad frozen pizza!!
     We are told our teams and I think this is the first time our two most competitive guys, Todd and Austin, are on different teams. This might be interesting! The challenge is to design and make a pizza which will be judged by locals.  Each team has a table of ingredients, including the strange giant crackers that are the pizza crusts. A gas oven is perched at the edge of the fjord, waiting for our pies.  After not as much waiting as usual, we put on our hair nets...
      My team has Todd, Alf, Jessica and me.  We check the ingredients provided and quickly decide on a surf and turf theme. I think we work well together, decisions get made, the pizzas come together, there is a bit of hesitation about Jessica's idea of sour cream spooned on at the end, but I agree its interesting and the others acquiesce. Both teams finish making four of the same pizza - enough to feed 60+ judges. We put them in the oven.
     Its then that we notice that the majority of the crowd that has formed to "judge" the pizzas are young enough that I am sure they are skipping school.  We start to worry. If we had know we were cooking for teens, we might have designed a different pizza. Ours has a "Rosemal design of red and yellow peppers" - not exactly what a hungry teen cares about or even notices. Actually, if we think about how much we disliked the Grandiose we tried, we might have designed a different pizza...
    We wait for the pizzas to cook and then, hear a yell - "the pizzas!"  The half cooked pizzas are sliding down the back of the oven. It seems the oven is not level and has been vibrating - enough to shake the pies at the top to the back of the rack and down....  We scramble to salvage them and find that the three that have fallen belong to our team - we have one left.  We are in shock.  The directors huddle and decide to send most of the crowd home. They choose a small group to judge - It will be a one-on-one pizza contest!  Each vote will mean a lot.
     There are three catagories, Creativity, Looks and Taste.We win on Creativity, but not on the others and so we loose this challenge. This is the not the first time I see the ugly side of competition as a team tries to accept a loss, but this time it is very clear.  Austin - the male model - has a bevy of young Norwegians clustered around him and our team mutters about the impartiality of the "judges".  Even though we are in a beautiful place, it does not feel good.
     The theme for this week is "Norwegian daily life" so we are asked to pack one bag and each team is brought to the driveway of a home in Stranda.  A local Norwegian family has volunteered to have us stay in their home for a few nights.  Having been a host for many exchange students, I know how much of an awkward  disruption foreign visitors can be. But it can also be a wonderful bridging of cultures and that seemed to be how our hosts welcomed us. Even with cameras following.

    Vebjorn and Merete Skog and their children Tore Andre and Hanne make me feel at home - which makes me think of my home and husband and children. It is wonderful and painful at the same time.  We cook dinner with cameras recording and it feels strange to be in a house instead of a hotel. Tore Andre reminds me so much of my son, it hurts.  I find I missed cooking and I even enjoy doing the dishes. I also find myself trying not to like their dog too much as it reminds me of own dog.  I miss home!

 We watch some television - Tore Andre has seen Alf on another Norwegian show and we watch as Alf leads an offering to a God.   The Skogs are lovely and a bit nervous. I know I can make a fool of myself on camera, yet it will barely be seen in the USA, but this is a small town. They are stepping out of their comfort zone and I appreciate that.  I expect to see Tore Andre or Hanne on my doorstep someday and they will be more than welcome!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Episode 5- Stranda

     We all pile in the bus again for another week's adventure.  We have plotted on maps where we think our ancestors were from and there are a few of us from Trondheim and above.  We speculate that if we were going that far, we would fly, so we must be going somewhere else.  I am a bit disappointed.  I have found Namdalsteid on a map and put a red mark around the town.  The map has no topographical markings and I wonder if the area has mountains or rolling hills?  I know there had been a farm named Staven or AAgaard and wonder if it was still there.  I wonder how I would feel seeing the land where my grandmother had lived?  Alf got choked up telling us about the sign saying Herigstad, but then he cries easily.  I'm a harder nut.
    It is interesting though, how much I have been thinking of my grandmother.  Growing up, I honestly didn't think much of her. My mother was an orphan and that was, from a child's point of view, actually pretty cool to tell people. She had a few stories of her mother, but nothing of Norway.  All the stories I ever heard about my mother's growing up revolved around China, which makes sense - that is where she was born and lived until they returned to the USA, just before her parents died.
     My mother has always been a person who does not look back much and so, neither did I.  My grandmother, Petra was just a name and a few pictures; who needs another generation?  Then I had children and my mother became their grandmother and is such an important influence in their lives that I began to realize what I never had - a grandmother. A woman who left Norway when she was 26, then went to China, had 5 children and ran a school, must have been quite a character. Traveling through this gorgeous countryside, I tried to imagine Petra living here.  I built a picture in my mind of a bucolic life, hard, but lovely, and wondered why she had left.
     The bus follows the same route north and west - past Lillhammer towards Lom.  It almost feels like we are experiencing a Norwegian version of Ground Hog Day until, passing the Stave church again, we take a different road out of Lom.  I check the map - we are heading north! Isolated, cut off from our daily lives and our immediate families, the idea of a Norwegian family, a family that we did not know, but is waiting for us, has begun to take on increased significance. It looks on the map that we are heading towards More og Romstal - which is where Stephanie said her family was from. Is there an envelope that she will not receive? Its really too bad any of us have to be eliminated...
      The drive takes 10 hours!!  It only takes 13 hours to fly to China!!! I can't believe I am doing this!
 We go off on small roads, past farms and fields.  At one farm a group has gathered and they are wearing bunads!!!  Is it a wedding or other special celebration or do people just wear bunads here?  We go through some tunnels and some of the gang try to hold their breath.  It is too long.  These tunnels make me uncomfortable. Its silly as I go through tunnels in Portland all the time, but here - - there are too many and too long and they just feel - wrong.  I think of oil paying to cut through rock - a time warped geological rock/paper/scissors. Maybe I had some romantic ideal of Norway and have to let it go.

      Soon after the tunnel, we skirt the edge of a steep slope and look out over water - a fjord.  The view is gorgeous! Classic snow topped mountains dropping steeply down to water.  Following the fjord we wind our way down to the town of Stranda where we stop at the (the one and only) hotel. We are home for Episode 5.
     After checking in our rooms, a few of us put on suits and jump in the fjord.  I've been in colder water, but not by much.  That tingly feeling,  euphemistically referred to as "bracing" or "refreshing."  is really all your nerve endings and your peripheral tissue going into shock. Damm, it felt good!  Especially when followed by a swim in a warm pool!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

17th of May!

Gratulerer Med Dagen!

      We are staying in the Grand Hotel!  My roomie is Tara and we get to spread out in our large lovely room. We have been told to leave our rooms unlocked and to expect a surprise in the morning.  We hope it will be bunads!!  A camera crew wakes us and follow as we get up to find bunads hanging in our room with notes.  Yes!!! We ooh and aahh; this is so much fun - even barely dressed.    
     Our major-domo mama, Brita, is from the same region as Tara and about the same size, so has lent her own bunad.  It is lovely with lots of embroidery and a cute hat and - a waist.  Mine is a rental from the region of Hollingsdal (?) and is a bit of a tent.  The plus side is that I will not have to suck it in, the con side is that it is not very flattering.  If I was 6 months pregnant, no one would notice!  But it does have gorgeous embroidery , pockets and velcro (the front panel attaches with velcro - I am tempted to do a strip tease just to hear the sound). But then there is another layer, and then the shirt and then the woolen tights.....  Another plus is the amount of bling;  I have more jewelry than anyone else. The outfit reminds me of old Norse aprons with chains and keys hanging from the buckles and echoes my research on the Norse in Greenland. Fitting!
     The rest of the cast come in to show off and its like Halloween and the Prom all rolled into one. We are so excited, this is living history!!!  In my opinion, the men look better than the women.  Regal, princely, stately. Johnathan wins the unusual award with an outfit that screams ethnic Nordic/Germanic/ Storybook character and he looks great!  I don't think the other guys could have pulled it off.

     We gather in the lobby and wait, then finally go outside and see... bunads!  Everywhere.  Norwegians actually wear bunads! Coming from a culture that has shallow roots and being a daughter of a wandering  orphan, this identification of place is both attractive and very strange. I have always felt like an outsider and, though often envious of those that "belong", I am suspicious of the boundaries that we mark between us. It is too easy, I think, for regionalism to lead to nationalism and nationalism to lead to conflict.
     But Norwegians have reason to be proud.  They have a beautiful country, a forward Constitution, a history of open-mindedness and courage, and now, stability and oil.  Who could ask for more?  I raise my Norwegian flag and walk towards the palace. I am 1/4 Norwegian!
     TV Norge has a place set aside for us near the Palace. We wait as a crowd gathers and then hear the sound of bands.  As we wait, it strikes me how small this country is, on this national celebration the crowd seems barely as large as one in Portland for a jazz festival or a gay pride celebration. But the enthusiasm is palpable.  The bands pass by, dancers stop and perform and then the King and family come out on the balcony.  I grew up in Washington, DC the USA capitol, and I think I have a sense of power and politics, but seeing a King waving to his people - was something new.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale and was terribly aware of how much I am an American.
      Before the parade is over, we have to leave, weaving through the crowd to a waiting bus and then to lunch. I do not envy the other team.  They each had to pack their things this morning in anticipation that they might lose the elimination challenge and have to leave.  We raise our glasses and skol : Gratulerer Med Dagen! We all made it to the 17th of May.

     From lunch, we walk to a park and the other team is spirited away to be told - on camera - what their challenge will be.  We are told also - they will have to give speeches about the 17th of May.  I feel for them, as I know most people hate to give public speeches, but I am also jealous, as, for some warped reason, I love to speak in public. I am sure I would rock at this challenge.  Instead, our team joins a school picnic, standing in line for potato races, and bean bag throws, buying sweets at the baked goods stand.  It is obvious that Todd misses his girls as he interacts with the children around us.
     Finally, it is time for the speeches.  Dana goes first and I'm impressed- he is fiery and proud.  Johnathan is a sincerely enthused professor, Alf's speech is heartfelt and mirrors his grounded integrity, Amy dares to speak of tolerance and the current shootings and trial. They are all good, but I am not the judge, it will be two members of the Sorting -or Parliment - who will send someone home.
     We wait and take pictures.  Then it happens, so quickly it almost comes as a surprise - the judges have opinions and Dana will go home.  This one hurts, somehow more than the others.  Dana has been the bad boy in the back of the class - throwing spit balls and annoying our keepers.  We need him to remind us that the Emperor has no clothes. Tara - who has bonded with him- is in tears. It is hard to see him go. We will all miss him.
     The 18th of May is Jessica's birthday and she has wanted to be here to celebrate and she is!  We all go out to a club, to drink and dance, then go back to the hotel.  I don't know what it is - maybe the music, but I am feeling old again - with the sense that I am watching my children or the ghosts of my younger self.  I need to go to bed, read a bit and drink my whiskey alone. Most of them go out again and have a memorable time. Jessica has her birthday bash! Alf has a great tale of a woman dancing with him and putting his beards in her mouth!  C.J., for some reason, ends up sleeping in a hallway of the Grand Hotel. He looks awful the next day.
       Before we give up our bunads, we go to the roof of the Grand Hotel.  The night before Todd had introduced a song idea - a Bunad rap and we had all feverishly, drunkenly, written lyrics, laughing and cheering as we worked the beat.  Seems he had talked the director into filming us, so we scramble, writing down what we remember and then perform it - doing only two takes.  Its a winner!!!
     Now that we are done shooting scenes, it is time to leave the Grand Hotel.  We pack and move to another hotel, then have a day off in Oslo.  I like Oslo.  Its an easy town to explore.  I walk in the morning to the waterfront and the castle and then Johnathan and I take the bus to the Folkmuseum and wander among houses from various centuries.A lovely afternoon.  I always hoped I would get to Norway and here I am!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oslo! Episode 4

      For most of us May 17th has been a short term goal - we wanted to make it to this celebration of the Constitution. We want to wear Bunads - we hope we get to Russe. Jessica wants to be here for her birthday. Johnathan is almost vibrating.  It is almost time.
     Back in the Oslo suburbs we try not to think about how close we are to downtown Oslo.  We have a day off.  Jessica and I watch women's handball on TV - Denmark vs. Hungary- wow!  (It seems like a neat sport - why don't we have this in the USA?)  We go to a Mall and get to go shopping and bowling.  Everything is very expensive!!  Poor C.J. has been losing clothes in the laundry and is appalled that he is paying $40 US for basic underwear.
     We discover a store devoted to Bunads and Jonathan is terribly excited.  Its there that I realize that the silver pin I brought , which I thought was middle-eastern, is actually Norwegian!  Wow!  Sort of gives me chills - I have tons of pins and chose this one to bring - the pin wanted to come back to Norway.
     We have been away almost a month now. I am beginning to miss home, my husband, my son, my dog.  Its funny what I miss.  I miss classical music and quiet.  I miss being in charge of my time and walking the dog.  I miss privacy and working in my garden.  I miss vegetables!  Lord, I crave a good salad!  But I am here and want to stay as long as I can, so push those thoughts away.
     We get to take a train for our entrance into Oslo - thank goodness they take our luggage so we don't have to lug it around.  I feel very conspicuous on the train as we are so loud, while the Norwegians are terribly quiet. Cameras are waiting, of course, and follow us through the streets as we enter the city.  Oslo is smaller than I had expected, but definitely a vibrant city -classic European mix of old and new.  Very clean and full of sculptures and flowers!
       We head towards the Palace and are told the first challenge will be a scavenger hunt.  We are given clues, a camera, a map and transit passes. We get to explore the city! I feel like I am doing one of my own elementary school activities.

     This is the first time I am on a team with Todd, Tara and Austin - who are the most obviously competitive of our group. I am hopeful of success!  Sure enough, they start to strategise ASAP.  These guys play to win and it is clear my job will just be to keep up. Turns out I am right.  They "power walk" everywhere and I'm glad that I am in somewhat decent shape and don't embarrass myself.  CJ and the crew are smokers and are left huffing and puffing.  We have asked people on the street and mapped out the clues - everyone is pumped and confident - we speed between clues and make great time. When we get to the last clue, at the Grand Hotel, I'm very tired.
       Then we wait...  sequestered in a back room.
We presume we are first, but have no idea.  Finally, we get to join with the other team for results.  We have made one error - which will cost us a lot of time.  We did not pay close enough attention to the clues! We are sure we have lost. But we did take the subway instead of the tram and it turns out we were much faster and win.  We are surprised, but happy. We are closer to staying another week.
     The next day, we are all still hoping for a Russ challenge - some folks have even "practiced" drinking w/o hands, etc..  So when we are brought to a table in the middle of a main thoroughfare and see it is covered with musical instruments, I can feel the disappointment.  We will be street musicians!!!  I can honestly say that this was my least favorite challenge.  Now, as anyone who watches the show can tell, I do not mind making a fool of myself, but this was demoralizing.
     We quickly learned that Norwegians do not like loud or obnoxious or TV cameras - so we are left with making spectacles of ourselves and begging.  It is not pretty and does not feel good. We do not have much "musical" talent, so are desperate.  Austin has taken his shirt off, Tara is giving kisses - we are almost wandering into the crowd, pushing the boundaries of where we have been told to stay.  But we actually make money - I think people are curious and maybe, hopefully entertained. Either that or they pity us!
     After lots of waiting, we are told the results - one team made much more than the other and it is us!  It seems the other team depended on Amy who danced and Dana who played music - they actually were street artists and got much less than we did.  Amy becomes very upset and it turns out that someone on the street insulted her for dancing in public. She shared something she loves and is proud of and gets called names. It feels very yucky and we are all glad this challenge is over!  With experiences like this, it is hard to remember why I am here.  But tomorrow is the 17th of May - that is something special to look forward to.