December 18, 2005

Trip to Oslo, the heart of darkness.

Just returned from a visit to Oslo. Highlights:

Bonded with the taxi driver who picked me up at the hotel. Turns out he likes fishing too. He pulled a notebook out of the glove box of the car and showed me the sketches he makes of flies he is planning to tie. He ties wet flies and fishes for salmon in the sea. He said his wife threw him out and that was good because it had given him more time to fish. (Here, a strong curse is to tell someone to 'go away to the woods!'). While the US is not fashionable among the PC elite here, its definitely more the rule than the exception that people light up when they hear you're from Minnesota (some have visited, and almost everyone has an aunt, uncle or cousin there.) I got to tell him where I was from because after hearing my impression of Norwegian (heavily influenced by Swedish and Danish) he asked me if I was from Iceland. It's strange, Danes and Swedes have also asked me that-- I apparently speak in muffled tones using out of the way scandinavian words, just like the Icelanders, plus I have a soft spot for Bobby Fischer.

Had dinner at the only restaurant in Norway that is listed in the Michelin guide (two stars). Good food! Truffles, duck, enthusiastic service. At one point we were served an eye-opening sorbet made from an obscure tropical citrus fruit, to cleanse the palate. It did the trick.

For those of you who are following the obscurata of Long Burn, yes, I had just been knocked flat by the stomach flu before leaving on this trip. Thankfully my stomach was back on its feet for the journey. The viruses, having had their way with the upper and lower intestines, moved on to the bronchii and trachea. Anyway, by focusing my chi, I was sometimes able to do a halfway decent impression of a healthy human.

The reason I was in Oslo was to serve as the opponent for the public defense of a PhD thesis. The Norwegians have a little ceremonial procession at the beginning of the defense. So, we were waiting in a little room behind the auditorium making small talk, me, the candidate, the chairman, the second opponent and the department administrator. The strangest feeling came over me when the chairman said that he had had to borrow a sportscoat for the ceremony: there were no old guys around, just us guys. The University is resting on our shoulders.

At the dinner after the defense I sat next to the candidate's parents who were pleased because last summer the candidate had announced that he knew where the fish were, and they took the boat out to a new place they had never fished before, and threw in their lines and immediately caught two big cod.


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