Archive for the ‘Arts & Culture’ Category

Just a quick link over from my goodreads.com account.

I may have mentioned before, the house where I’m staying has a fantastic library with many English-language books. I’m sort of overwhelmed because there are so many books here that are on my “to-read” list and many more I’ve added since arriving. I’ve started applying a rule for choosing: pick books that they have in both English and Norwegian. If’ they’ve got two copies, it must be good, right?

I recently finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I liked On Beauty better, maybe because of the academic setting and the central theme of long-term family relationships. But even still, reading White Teeth now, as I establish my life as an immigrant in a country caught up in anti-immigrant sentiment (although, show me a country doesn’t continually struggle with such things), some aspects of the book were particularly poignant.

Two quotes summed things up perfectly:

“But he knew other things. He knew that he, Millat, was a Paki no matter where he came from; that he smelt of curry; had no sexual identity; took other people’s jobs; or had no job and bummed off the state; or gave all the jobs to his relatives; that he could be a dentist or a shop-owner or a curry-shifter, but not a footballer or a film-maker; that he should go back to his own country; or stay here and earn his bloody keep; that he worshipped elephants and wore turbans; that no one who looked like Millat, or spoke like Millat, or felt like Millat, was ever on the news unless they had recently been murdered. In short, he knew he had no face in this country, no voice in the country, until the week before last when suddenly people like Millat were on every channel and every radio and every newspaper and they were angry, and Millat recognized the anger, thought it recognized him, and grabbed it with both hands.” (pp. 233-34)


“‘There are no words. The one I send home comes out a pukka Englishman, white suited, silly wig lawyer. The one I keep here is fully paid-up green bow-tie-wearing fundamentalist terrorist. I sometimes wonder why I bother,’ said Samad bitterly, betraying the English inflections of twenty years in the country, ‘I really do. These days, it feels to me like you make a devil’s pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started… but you mean to go back ! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers– who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained. Who would want to stay? But you have made a devil’s pact… it drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your children are unrecognizable, you belong nowhere… And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this beloning, it seems like some long, dirty lie… and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?” (pp.407-08)

An impactful (collection of) story(ies) about the social clashes between generations, classes, men and women/husbands and wives, science and religion, first and second generation immigrants, foreign-born and native-born, and the legacy of empire… with a little sexuality thrown in for good measure. No wonder Smith made such a big splash. This book was quite a remarkable undertaking and was, for the most part, successful, I think.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


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The beauty of the international academic lifestyle is not in the distance from friends and family. It is not in the intellectual stimulation and the chance to hobnob with the best and the brightest in one’s field (although this is surely not a downside). The beauty is in the chance to travel. Last year brought me Detroit, Marrakech, Houston and Atlanta (one of these is not like the other…). More recently? A European Association for Population Studies meeting in Vienna, Austria. As a demographer, I couldn’t help but notice that the average age of the out-and-about population was 65… but wow, what a beautiful city! Perhaps the most fascinating thing about it was that this place used to be the center of an empire! And now, they are left with so many magnificent buildings… and so few national and municipal offices to place in them. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that the Ministry of Silly Hats had some fabulous office behind one of the high-ceilinged, elegant façades!

At any rate… the meeting was fantastic, and professionally enriching and promising. The company proved to be the perfect combination of engaging and “rocking out.” And I was able to stick around for some nice touring after the meetings.

I offer you a (semi-) grand tour of the place and my people:

Stephansdom, the religious center of the city.

Hundertwassehaus, a mid-century example of imaginatively artistic public housing. Take note, Scandinavia!

“Pizza, Pasta, Schnitzel”– Only in Vienna!
"Pizza, Pasta, Schnitzel"-- Only in Vienna

I could never have believed that good food and drink could have been so inexpensive in Europe! From the 3€ half liters of wheat beer to the 6€ schnitzel to the 1.80€ wines… a frugal-man/woman’s paradise!
The happiest man in Wien

While impressive, in some cases the scenery paled in comparison to the glow of young love (Arieke and Maarten, engaged to be married in 2011!).
Hofburg, A&M

And of course my feminist cockles were warmed by the frequent reminders of the one, the only: Maria Theresa! The only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg.
Maria Theresa

But lest you (post-) modernists despair, Vienna does well to cater to the modern art aficionado as well. We saw a fantastic exhibit by the controversial Otto Muehl. What a risk to exhibit his work! I would have loved to be there at the opening to hear the apology letter read.
Museum Moderner Kunst & Kunsthalle

And in the spirit of radical artists, we also strolled by the Vienna Secession Building. Wiener Secession

On a sidenote, kick me for not taking photos of the Soviet monument (the Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee) on the Schwarzenbergplatz. Idiot idiot idiot. Well thank the internet for being such a good archive of photos. It certainly got my history nerve to itching.

Well, getting back to the grandeur of the empire

…and back to the typically touristic photo genre. Upper Belvedere, W & J

And no trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to the Opera House.
Wiener Staatsoper

But I must admit… I missed it! I know, scandal!
Staatsoper Tour

Unfortunately, my flight home clashed with the State Opera House tour.
Staatsoper Tour, Backstage

So I ran off to the airport, while my friends toured the famous building. Back- and fore-stage! Staatsoper Tour

Staatsoper Tour
But I have sworn, hand-to-god, that I will make it back! Not just for a tour, but for an opera! A real life opera! And there are certainly some winners in the upcoming season… Indeed there are some chances yet.

Cheers, from Vienna!

(Ps- Please enjoy a few more photos on Flickr.)

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(Wow, this is getting out of control! I’ve been here since August, almost exactly a month! So here’s the final installment and some catch up…)

… And then I got on several planes and with a quick stop over in Atlanta for a work meeting I arrived in…

Welcome to Oslo!


I’ll be here through the winter to work on a chapter of my dissertation. It’s so fantastic to do all of this globe trotting for work! Of course there are a few minuses to go with the plusses (both of which I’ll detail as things go along), but all-in-all I’m super happy and excited to be here!

One thing you might have guessed, a fall/winter in Oslo means being away from Wooter for an extended period… AGAIN. Well, we’ve arranged for monthly visits and since Wout cannot help his awesomeness, he’s already booked one last minute weekend. So far, that all adds up to us seeing each other 4 out of 6 of my first weekends here. (The math may seem fuzzy there, but I’ll sort it out in the next post, promise.)

But back to the timeline… I arrived in Oslo on a Wednesday and Wouter arrived Thursday evening and we spent that first weekend exploring the city. I’d visited Oslo once before, but it was only a quick, 1-day stopover before launching into Norway in a Nutshell. There were loads of things left unexplored and Wouter and I definitely put a dent in the list. So enough yapping… on to some photos! (Click to see larger images/info; see the whole set on Flickr.)

Wouter & the Olsofjord Oslo Rådhus (City Hall), hideously awesome. Public Art: (S)LAUGHTER

Vigeland Sculpture Park Vigeland Sculpture Park Vigeland Sculpture Park Even the statues are impressed! Vigeland Sculpture Park Look, she's got a bum knee too! Inside the Oslo Opera House Inside the Oslo Opera House Oslo Opera House Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House

Welcome to Oslo!

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Sometimes fun comes at the expense of comfort. Take high heels, for instance. Or roller coasters. Or eating a lot of pie. Or aspects of my weekend.

On Sunday, Wouter and I went to see The New Pornographers play at Melkweg. The show was in the Oude Zaal (the Old Hall) which is the smallest hall at Melkweg. Rad, right? To see such an awesome, popular, rockin band in a venue so small that it is physically impossible to be more than 30 meters (yards, whatever) from the band? And the show wasn’t even sold out!? What’s wrong with the Amsterdamers that they don’t know genius when it’s playing live in their own city? And in a teeny tiny venue to boot?? They sounded fantastic. And they passed the Wooter Test, which is saying something as I had given him very little audio-preparation for this show.

The New Pornographers1

All of this said, there were some disappointments. No Neko Case. Big disappointment. (They played Madison, WI a few years ago without her too. I guess unless I manage to see a show in NYC or something, it’s too much to hope for that I’d see her play with the band.) Kathryn Calder stepped up to sing the female leads. She was very good, but still… sad face. They also picked up an extra female vocalist for backing (one who vaguely resembled Case– odd). Let me just add extra emphasis here: they needed two women to even get close to the sound that Case makes. Someday I’ll see her live, someday.

Despite their animated, pop sound, I was surprised to find that the band member are not very lively on stage. Maybe they were having an off night, but it was strange and awkward. Apart from some cute stories from Calder about living in the Netherlands as a toddler, there was barely any chatter between songs– no commentary, no thank yous, no “this next song is.” Sometimes they even turned their backs on the audience. This didn’t come off as overtly rude– more like they were extremely uncomfortable on stage. The audience tried to cheer them up with woos and whistles, but to no avail. It was so bizarre: the high energy music juxtaposed with such incredible shyness.

The New Pornographers2

Things got notably worse 2/3 of the way through the show when the bassist broke a string. And apparently they didn’t bring any spares. And the opening band was no where to be found to offer up an extra bass (off exploring the coffee shops of Leidseplein, perhaps?). And it was as if this had never happened before! They all just looked at each other like… ‘Ummmm? What do we do now?’ Eventually and reluctantly they started playing again, short one bass string, and honestly it sounded fine. Great even! But the band didn’t look convinced.

As I said, overall the music was fantastic but the vibe of the show was confusing.

I assume they’ve continued to make music together for all of these years because they enjoy it. And their music is so much fun to listen to! (See below!) So it must be fun to make, right? And yet, as far as I could tell from Sunday’s performance, stage fright, awkwardness in the spotlight  and (jet lag-induced?) shyness runs rampant among the New Pornographers.

FOLLOW UP: I’ve done a little internet sleuthing and it seems to be a coin flip of whether you get a tight, high energy performance or a phoned in, day at the office sort of show. Indeed, when it’s “another day at the office,” reviewers echo my confusion over the disjunct between the band’s sound and their stage presence. But, no matter the energy, the overwhelming consensus is that the music is always outstanding! Agreed.

So now I’ll leave you with one last example of fun at the expense of comfort: apparently standing for several hours at the show was enough to set my knee back again. So much of this reporting was done from the couch on Monday. Still, the couch was comfortable, the show was worth it and by Tuesday I had mostly recovered! Woo!

The New Pornographers3

PS: Can someone teach me how to take better concert photos? These are so terrible! I guess a first step would be to get closer to the stage. And shoot with a reasonable camera. And ask the lights guy to bring up the lights a little, heh.

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I’m totally taken with the work of Dutch design duo Jantien Baas and Hester Worst. Their studio, Tas-ka, is based out of the Hauge and their work is based on the theme “House.” Perhaps it’s no wonder I’m into Tas-ka– House and Home have been on my mind of late as I begin to put my stamp on things around here (three spice racks and counting!).

The centerpiece of the collection are several patterns, screened onto fabric and made into various home goods and accessories. The “house” theme also is worked into items like bread boards, prints and brooches. I particularly like the tea-towels and tote bags, both available in a rainbow of colors. And they perfectly capture the look of a Dutch city from above–the red tile roofs, chimneys and occasional green space– in their print  “City.” Charming!

tas-ka tea towels Totes by Tas-Ka

City by Tas-Ka

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Back from my conference in Texas– very productive, saw some very interesting presentations and met up with colleagues from all over the world. I didn’t have much time for touring, but what I saw of Dallas was nice: had some tex-mex and visited the 6th Floor Museum.  The Museum chronicles the life and death of John F. Kennedy. It’s a bit embarrassing– I didn’t make the connection between the “Dallas” where my conference would be and the “Dallas” where JFK was shot and killed until our waitress recommend the museum as a must do.

I was amazed how iconic I found the Texas School Book Depository to be– I recognized it immediately, blocks away, as we walked toward the museum. And the grassy knoll! It’s just there, looking exactly the same as the photographs (although the grass wasn’t in great shape).  The museum was incredibly moving. The exhibit walks you through Kennedy’s life, the campaign, election, politics and crises of the first years of his presidency… and then all of a sudden the pace of the timeline slows and you are guided, frame-by-frame, through the events of that day: the news paper articles announcing the visit, the itinerary and purpose of the Texas trip, photos of the arrival in Dallas on Air Force One, invitations to galas, stills from that single, solitary film as they took the hair pin turn, passed the Book Depository and the knoll, JFK falling forward, Jackie crawling over the trunk of the car, speeding to the hospital, lay outs of the hospital, an original print out from the AP tele-text machine, and then suddenly you are standing in the corner where the gunman knelt and then shot and killed the President. Wow. To experience it minute by minute. Wow.

Well, back to the present day– I was very grateful that I had scheduled another week in WI after the conference. Most of my European colleagues are stranded in Texas or in their connecting cities until further notice. Oh man, how terrible for so many stranded travelers! I’m so thankful I have a comfortable and homey place to stay. And poor Iceland! It’s surely been a tough couple of years for them.

This whole air-travel debacle is really enhancing the sense of distance between Amsterdam and me. I am not feeling very optimistic about my return trip next week. But even more so I realize how dependent I am on the ability to quickly travel between the United States and Europe. So many of my family, friends and work colleagues are here in the US! And an increasing proportion of my family, friends and work colleagues are in Europe. The decision to divide my life with an ocean was very much contingent upon easy air-travel. And clearly that is not something to take for granted.

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This week (again, back dating! Sorry!) Wouter took (most of) a week off from work. Originally we had hoped to visit some far off exotic land like the Canary Islands, Egypt or Brussels. But, as it turns out, far off exotic lands are either expensive or just as cold and wintery as Amsterdam, so we decided to stick around here. But to make it seem like more of a vacation we’re trying to be tourists in our home city.

First order of business– buy a museum year card. These cards give you entrance to more than 400 museums all over the Netherlands. And at 40 Euro, they are a steal– especially if you consider that single one day entrance passes to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum alone will run you 26.50!

We confirmed that the Van Gogh Museum sold the cards, so we hopped on our bikes to Museumplein. Although we planned to go to FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam), the ticket sales woman handed us two passes to the Van Gogh with our brand new cards. Huh, why not.

I’ve toured the Van Gogh before (paying full (exorbitantly high) price), so we tried out the special Gauguin exhibit. I was really amped for this exhibit because I really am fascinated by the relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin. VG was totally ga-ga for Gauguin, desperately trying to lure him to his little painting hide away in Arles in the South of France. And in their 9 weeks together they produced some fantastically beautiful work! But then again, it seems like the two couldn’t stand each other, each feeding off of the other’s depression– Gauguin attempting suicide and Van Gogh losing an ear. What a pair!

I also find Gauguin’s fascination with travels and foreign cultures intriguing. He never settled down for very long. Not to discount his commitment to pushing the art world past Impressionism, it amazes me that someone could become so famous for skipping around the world, painting a picture now and then when they need some cash. More than that, I am baffled how some people feel perfectly comfortable with such a rootless, unstructured life-style. I’m a planner. I like things in neat little boxes. On most days I refuse to leave the house if the destination is unknown and my time not metered out in nice 30-minute blocks. And here is Paul Gauguin. As far as I could tell from the exhibit, he hung around Europe for a while until he wracked up enough debt. Then he scurried off to Panama, Martinique, Polynesia– moving whenever he got bored or faced financial difficulties. Really!? I’m just trying to imagine that– ‘Hm, I can’t really get things sorted here in Europe so I’ll hop a flight to the South Pacific!’ While part of my discomfort is probably just jealousy, I can’t imagine doing anything that dramatic without a clear plan. I wish I could, but I can’t.

…but wait… here I am, a newly official resident of the Netherlands and *totally* without a plan!


Ok, before this turns into an existential crisis, let’s move on.

Our next museum visit was to the Mauritshuis, the Royal Picture Gallery in the Hague. What a phenomenal collection of Dutch art. To briefly sum up, the Dutch painters seemed to be enthusiastic about dark scenes, crude village scenes (can you spot the guy “dropping trou” in the background? It’s like “Where’s Waldo?”), drinking, flowers, cityscapes, seascapes, tall ships and gigantic cows (this sucker is 2.3 x 3.4 meters!). The Mauritshuis also a sizable collection of Rembrant and Vermeer (sizable in terms of proportion of total paintings, in this case) — it was a thrill to see View of Delft in person. The up-close details were marvelous.

A good start with the Museumjaarkaartjes– halfway to paid off in one week! (And afterall, keeping track of such things is the Dutch way…)

Spring springs in Den HaagSpring has sprung in the Netherlands!

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