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Friday, August 8, 2014

Letting off the Happiness in Stankonia

In the past, I've been somewhat critical of the line-ups playing øyafest, Oslo's premier music festival (I'm not linking to it... go fish).

Of course, there were exceptions (2011 = Kanye, Fleet Foxes, Janelle Monáe, Explosions in the Sky, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes :D:D:D:D), but, generally, there haven't been a cluster of acts close to getting me to drop the inordinate fee to attend.

This year was shaping up to be more of the same (Queens of the Stone Age, The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, Todd Terje...), until the mid-March announcement.


That Outkast.

ATLiens and Aquemini Outkast.  As I'm sure most people know, Outkast, who hasn't released a new album in 8 years, is touring world-wide(ish) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their landmark debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.  Additionally, they're the third, most influential artistic entity on my life (The list: 5) Counting Crows; 4) Aldous Huxley; 3) Outkast; 2) Joseph Heller; 1) Oscar Wilde).
Sorry, Al... "Point Counter Point" was genius, but it isn't cooler than a Polar Bear's toenails

So, it was a must that I had to see them live (as I'd failed to do so during their hey-day for a myriad of reasons).  When the news of their initial tour was announced and it was confirmed that they'd only be playing festivals, I briefly dreamed that I'd get a chance to see them in Norway, but quickly laughed off the notion.

Why the hell would they come here?

Conversely, I started trying to combine a home trip with a close enough festival.  No dice.  I was set to return to the mid-atlantic in late July for my wedding (Oh yeah... Thanks!) and the only shows within an irrational, day drive were in June (Governor's Ball on my birthday, no less and Firefly).

I was bummed and figured it wasn't meant to be.

Alas, I was wrong.  Norway was right.  Or Outkast's management team saw an opportunity for silly lucrative paydays in Europe.  Whatever.  More dates were added and one happened to be Øyafestivalen.

They were booked for Thursday.

I received a day pass for Thursday as a birthday gift from the best sister-in-law on planet earth and I was set.

And then the day got even better.

One day, while looking over Øyafestivalen's craptastic, English site, I discovered that a new artist had been booked for their day.

Conor Oberst.

Now,  let me explain because I realize that name is a little bit more esoteric than Two Dope boyz in a Cadillac from the ATL.  Oberst is a lot of things, but one of them was the lead singer of a little outfit called Bright Eyes, the purveyors of indie rock/folk/emo/electronica.  Oberst/Bright Eyes have released a lot of albums, but, for me personally, their seven year run from 1998 (with the release of Letting Off the Happiness) to 2005 (concluding with the era-defining, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning).

Like Outkast, he was another artistic entity that meant a lot to me (slightly ahead of Robert Cormier and behind Chris Rock).

So yeah.  I was pretty stoked.

It was pretty epic.

Conor Oberst mostly played music off his brand new album, because, that's what solo artist do when they embark on new, artistic avenues.  Which, I didn't mind because his new album was more in the vein of indie folk that I like and not in the vein of some of his other, creative endeavours.  It was full of all the great songwriting that caused a major magazine to invoke the "Next Bob Dylan" moniker and, seemingly, backward, he sounds better in-person than he does on record.

As for the rest of the performance, well... it was coldly professional.

See, a lifetime of concert-going has caused me to create a three-tier rating system of performances...

Tier I:  "I'm counting down the minutes of the minimum set length requirement"... These are artists that are either not enthused to be on-stage or are having an off-day and not able to "fight through it".  I often say their performance comes off listless or like they're on City 43 of a 65-city tour.  This category was most exemplified by Fleet Foxes in 2011 at Øyafest and The Killers

Tier II:  "I've done this before.  In fact, I've done this so much, I don't know how to do anything else"... While the artist puts on a great show, everything feels stale/overly rehearsed.  Down to the "speaking bits in-between" songs.  I remember when we went to see Fun. and, while Nate Reuss, definitely went Jeff Bebe, but he could've been in Hamburg or Houston.  "When the plane was landing here in Oslo.  I thought.  'Man, if I could live anywhere else, I'd choose here... in Oslo, man!'".  Which, while it's a nice sentiment, could be said about anywhere.  There's nothing that personalises why he'd choose Oslo.  But, it's enough.  People go to concerts/shows for a performance, not always for that personal connection, especially with pop music.  

This is where Conor Oberst fell.

He never took off his sunglasses.  He had the same routine for each song, wander over to another musician and play facing them.  Sing into the microphone while swaying slowly.  Finish the song.  Bow.  Take a long drink from one of his cups.  A short drink from the other.  A short sentence about the song.  Even his jumping and jamming riffs seemed pre-orchestrated.

Note.  This isn't a complaint.  Lord Knows that when I go to a show, I'm just hoping for a Tier II.  I think in order to become that big kind of band you need to string together your Tier II performances.

There's a reason why Mumford & Sons is bigger than Fleet Foxes.

It's just that, based on the nature of Conor Oberst's music, I figured he'd be more natural.  In fact, his only unscripted part of the show seemed to come toward the end when he blasted the organizers for not allowing his touring band their own set.  

What's a Tier III?

Well, that's what came next...

To kill the time before Outkast (Conor Oberst came on at 3:40, 'Kast wasn't due until 9:10), me and the wife went to see St. Lucia.

I've recently noted that the early-80s, soft rock/R&B/post-disco sound seems to be coming back with a vengeance and nowhere was it more evident than with Jean-Phillip Grobler, the South African-born Brooklynite who had only one speed.


Well, alright then.

Afterwards, it was food (awful... let's move on) and time for Janelle Monáe.

I'll say this about the lady from Atlanta with the odd hairdo, she is the definitely of a Tier III.

Back in 2011, before she became a superstar here, she forced an indifferent crowd waiting around for the Edward Sharpe set to become her fans.  Some of it was expert choreography (dancing and getting the crowd to get low and then jump up) and part of it was just her sheer cult of personality.  She pushed notes and teased others.  Suggestive looks were thrown into the crowd and random people were pulled on stage.  

It was pretty intense.

This time around, with her Electric Lady album having furthered her mythology, the crowd was all packed for her.  I'd say around 5-6,000.  

We were near the front and all around us, people were singing and dancing along.  It was almost like a religious experience.  She was even more magnetic than the prior time and threw caution and adherence to Norwegian rules aside and crowd surfed to end her night.

I enjoyed the set, but my mind was firmly focused on what was to come.

No pictures from here on out will be clear as I: suck at taking pictures, was using an iPhone, being consistently jostled from people packing forward, and maybe had tears clouding my vision.

I forced my way to the front and was promptly abandoned by the wife.  It was probably for the best because she wasn't comfortable boxing out to get/hold on to spacing in a crowd.  I was ready.

Which was good because they were late.  20 minutes to be exact.

But, after the delay, the exploded on to the stage powering through the first, five songs on their set list slowly gaining steam with each one... "B.O.B", "ATLiens", "Gasoline Dreams", "Skew it on the Bar-B", and "Rosa Parks". 

Andre3000 made his intentions/feelings plainly known.  He prowled the stage with sunglasses and a white wig delivering his lyrics while balancing on one foot in like a Warrior III pose and dressed in all black with a t-shirt that said "Loners get Lonely Too" and an oversized sales tag sticking off him that simply read "Sold Out".  Well, alright then.

Conversely, Big Boi was... well, here's the picture:

Yeah.  He was dressed for the occasion complete with an Atlanta Falcon hat.  Though, as usual, his effervescent presence and delivery made up for his famously more recluse partner.  It was clear which of the two was still actively performing and releasing music.

As for their sound, one of my concerns going in to this based on previous reviews, was shockingly true to recordings that had been laid down more than a decade prior to the show.  It sounded and felt like I had always imagined it would.  

I think the majority of the crowd felt the same.

I didn't really look back into the crowd much for several reasons.  One, this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and I wanted to take in as much of it as possible.  Two, in newspapers, on message boards and having talked to all the people around me made a clearly indelible mark on me that their catalog outside of "Hey Ya!", "Roses", and "Ms. Jackson" would be new to a lot of the attendees.  Three, I didn't want #2 to ruin #1, which would've happened if people around me weren't as equally in to what was happening on stage as myself.

But it was ok.

I rapped along, virtually word-for-word, for everyone.  Before the show, I was pretty sure I was the biggest, Outkast fan in Norway.  Now, afterwards and after reading this embarrassing review in one of the major newspapers here (To save you non-Norwegians from too much Google Translate, the writer compares the bass to "hardcore sex"...), I'm positive of it.

The people around me kept looking and asking how I knew all the words (well, this is Norway... I was also the only black person not on stage within the few hundred or so around me).  My volume must've started coming out because both Big Boi and Andre3000 stopped in front of my multiple times motioning me to be louder (or possibly shut up) and holding the mic out to me.  Even Sleepy Brown (who looks EXACTLY the same), he came out to do an abbreviated version of "Spottieottiedopalicious" along with a few other hooks,  showed me love, tapping his chest and pointing at me.

Their DJ was on point and mad props must go to the "hardcore sex metaphor enducing" sound team for Øyafestivalen for a truly great sound job.  Their background singers were mainly for decoration as I really only heard them during the outro to the final song ("International Players Anthem").

Though, it was a night to remember and I'm sure Outkast gained some new fans and/or got others to look deeper into their catalog.

I walked out to the sound of drunk, Norwegian singing "I know you would like to think your shit does not stink, but it smells like Puuuuuu-puuuuuuuuu"

Well, you can't blame them for trying.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Game of Thrones: Westeros comes to Oslo

Please Note that this post contains some spoilers for those who haven't watched the first, four seasons of the HBO Series Game of Thrones.  In fact if you're not familiar with/a fan of the show and/or George R.R. Martin's book series "A Song of Ice and Fire", you should probably skip this entry.

I'm obsessed with it and was pretty pumped when it was announced that the traveling exhibit for the show was making a stop here in Oslo.  The news of the stop over in Norway was, in and of itself, big news.  All throughout the world, the exhibit, containing actual clothing, props, and other pieces from the show, was only hitting eight locations.  Oslo was only one of two in Europe (the other, oddly, was Belfast).

So yeah, big deal for Norway.

And, with the showcase running for five days, I decided to make the trek on Day 2 to see the behind-the-scenes of my current, favorite TV show (nothing will ever top The Wire).

I didn't make it in.

The doors opened at 10 and closed for the day at 8.  By 3, the line, which on the first day stretched for numerous, city blocks, had been cut-off for new entrants.


Fortunately, the next day was Monday and since I had nothing better to do, I tried my luck again.

It wasn't easy.

The expo was held at the old, Post Office headquarters of Oslo (conveniently named "PostHallen") and the line I found at my 10:20 arrival wrapped around the block.  Despite the spaciousness of the hall, it wasn't nearly large enough to safely hold the amount of people (early estimates put the first two days at over 50,000 visitors).  As a result, security and staff kept a strict tab on people entering and keeping the rest of us waiting.

And so we waited.

The above picture was taken twenty minutes after my arrival to the queue marking the point when I was able to just make out the entrance.  You can't see it from this picture, but it's up there.

It was two hours and twenty minutes away, to be exact.

But it was worth it.

And with that, I was loosed on a 30 minute odyssey to the magical land of Westeros.  I saw some of my old "friends" (RIP Rob Stark), sang along to "Rains of Castamere" as it was piped in with a real organ, and got to relive all the magical moments throughout the course of the show (there was even an interactive section that included this headgear and headphones that simulated the experience of climbing the wall at Castle Black).

It was more than I could've even imagined.

And, yes.

I got to sit upon the Iron Throne.


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Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day 2014

One of my favorite holidays is St. Patrick's Day.

It has nothing to do with the actual reasons for the holiday (which, thanks to some irish friends, I was wised up to in 2005), but, like many other Americans, the many newer ideas.

However, the day is still important.

While, in Ireland, it started as a dry, religious observance, throughout various US cities, the day is a way for people of Irish descent to show solidarity (the 19th and early 20th century weren't exactly good times for Irish immigrants to the US).  Plus, with almost four times the number of people of Irish ethnic descent in America than in Ireland, the culture meaning of 17th of March has evolved.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a difference.  One amplified for any American wanting to join in an American-style celebration abroad.

When I was a student in Belgium, I got together with a few friends and we threw our own party with the Irish students there.  It was a pretty easy concept to convey to attendees unfamiliar with the holiday.  Wear green.  Get Drunk.

However, in Norway, it's a little more difficult (obvious reason: Alcohol prices are much higher;  less discussed reason:  Cultural proclivity isn't a regular occurrence here).  But not impossible.

Two days ago, the Norwegian Irish Society held their annual, St. Patrick's Day parade.  With about 621 Irish citizens in Norway, I wasn't sure what to expect.

It was entertaining and different.

Unfortunately, my camera died about five minutes before the parade came pouring down Karl Johans Gate.

In most major cities in America, a St. Patrick's Day parade lasts about three to four hours with floats and various civic groups marching.  I often joke that it's not St. Patrick's Day until I see surly policemen and drunk, fat guys trying not to fall off the back of a flatbed.  Maybe even a fire truck for good measure.

In Oslo, this wasn't the case.

While Karl Johans Gate is typically "pedestrian only" (That didn't stop the VG car from zipping down) it is one of the busiest streets in the city.  This past Saturday, as usual, it was filled with people as the parade made its way down the cobbled walkway.

Leading the way were three policemen on horses clearing a path.

They were followed by two people with the above "Oslo St. Patrick's Day Association" banner, a guy holding a large, Norwegian flag, a woman holding a smaller, Irish flag, and a series of people holding various, Irish regional flags.  The grand marshal was waving to everyone as he walked amongst the group in, what I imagine, was a costume resembling the day's namesake.  They were followed by a drum and bagpipe ensemble which was immediately followed by what was a colourful combination of Irish-Norwegians, Irish immigrants, and random people who were trying to get across Karl Johans Gate/figure out what was going on/looking for their guide group.  The rear was brought up by a marching band.

The whole thing was over in 10 minutes.

The parade continued down to Universitetgata plass where a nice ceremony took place (though, healthy portions were in Norwegian because Oslo).  The highlight was the short speech by a high ranking Irish minister who flew in specifically for the celebration and to address the crowd.  His remarks seemed slightly confused, but energetic which would be the best way to summarize the day's events.

Outside of this, my two highlights were said high ranking Irish minister's car arriving somewhat behind the beginning of the ceremony and almost crashing into one of the police horses and a Orchestra group, who was attempting to perform a recital behind the National Theater, pretty much having their whole set crushed by the "celebration".  Hats off to whomever scheduled their musical ensemble on the day Oslo has one of its two parades.

Oh, afterwards, our social club went out drinking because, even when you're in a new country, some traditions must always be followed.


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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By:Larm 2014

Music is the closest we're ever going to get to speaking in pictures no matter how many emojis and Snapchats come along.

This is just an irrefutable fact of life.

But these pictures, alone, don't really mean anything without a deeper context.  Anyone with even a bit of talent can tell you a story, but it only matters if it helps you recognize your own.

It's the reason why, every year, countless acts like Ace of Base and Imagine Dragons (I couldn't help myself) cycle through the cultural spectrum, washing out some time shortly after their arrival.  While other bands can survive years, even decades (How this explains The Offspring is unclear).

That's not to say that pop music is without merit (I love many pop songs!  There are times one just wants to dance) or that it can't take on a deeper meaning, but that, in and of itself, isn't its inherent purpose.

Most of my life is sought seeking music that helps define how I view myself/life/memories/existence.

Which is a slightly pretentious way of saying that attending a musical festival can provide both experiences.

Last week, I attended By:Larm, a week-long mixture of conferences and concerts that's billed as the Nordic answer to South by Southwest.

Saturday, I found myself en route to Youngstorget, the epicentre of the scene.  Here's a retro running diary of the experience.

7:15 - Walking through the drizzling rain I had the sinking feeling that I should've probably gotten to the festival sooner

7:40 - Sure enough, upon arriving at the main entry, I'm instructed by a grinning, security guard that the two block long line that I was trying to avoid is, in fact, the line to turn my ticket into an all-access wristband

7:48 - To my (and mostly everyone's chagrin), the people looking to purchase wristbands are fast-tracked into a shorter queue (with an overhang to protect them from the rain!) while us pre-purchasers are left to wait

7:55 - I meet a group of girls who travelled all the way from Kristiansand to attend the festival and they share their whiskey and beer with me because music festival.

7:59 - I get my wristband.  The first act I want to see (First Aid Kit) starts in one minute at Senstrum Scene, about five minutes away :(

8:03 - My running was totally unnecessary as the Swedish sister duo hadn't come on yet.  The place was full, which felt even more packed as the upper gallery area was closed, and ready for the music.  However, this was the time for which the Nordic Music Prize was being presented.  I'd seen the words "Nordic Music Prize" on the schedule, but assumed it was part of the billing and that the breakthrough artists had won an award previously awarded.

They hadn't.

The award presentation was happening now.  It was one award and the presenter was already in mid-speech (being done in Norwegian because Swedes and Danes can mostly understand and no one cares about the Finnish).

8:10 - The award is handed to a motley crew of guys who look both confused and high.  The crowd applauds in a purely "Good job, now get the hell off the stage!" way.  First Aid Kit time!

8:11 - Apparently, there's more awards as another presenter saunters on stage.  The crowd is has moved from "unsettled anticipation" to "outright derision".  This guy, with a haircut that screams "BBC extra" and an outfit that's trying too hard to be anti-establishment and just looks cheap, better be funny or they'll devour him

8:15 - He's not funny.  Bad.  He's rambling and isn't speaking in Norwegian (broken english?).  Really Bad.  He's trying to start-up a powerpoint presentation and is experiencing technical difficulties.  A riot may break out.

8:24 - I'm outside and on my way to Revolver because a)  I didn't want to be a witness/involved in a melee caused by the deprivation of pop indie folk and b) One of the more talked about bands (Dråpe) was starting at 8:30 at a venue that was slightly larger than my apartment and I wanted to make sure I was in before they started.

8:27 - Just in and without any time to spare as they're already on stage and  finished their warm-ups.  I think I'll get a beer.  74 kroners/$12.33/9€!?!?  I'm sipping this very slowly.

8:29 - They start their set

8:31 - They're amazing

8:43 - Like, really, really amazing

8:50 - When you hear something that is amazing, it usually knocks you on your butt due to: its talent (think to the first time you heard a great diva's voice), its depth (this album!!!), or just being beyond anything you ever heard before that moment.

These are examples of life-changing music.

You judge other things by the standard they set.

However, there's another type of amazing that doesn't blow you away, but draws you in.  It's like a huge vacuum and it transports you into a world, the world the artist is creating, and it holds up a mirror where you can see your own memories even though they've already happened and this experience is presently happening.  Dråpe transplanted me back to the first, two summer vacations of my college years.  It was wonderful, and chilling, and sad all at the same time (bittersweet, I suppose).  It made me long for and miss memories that never occurred.

9:15 - Their set had ended about ten minutes earlier, but I was still buzzing.  The next group (Lint) was setting up, which mostly just consisted of the guitarists shuffling around on stage, awkwardly, and strumming a few chords on their guitars and the keyboardists shooting dirty looks to the engineer behind me at the back of the room.

9:18 - Now, alone on stage, the keyboardists is signalling what seems to be "turn my microphone up" (the engineer shares this sentiment with a person standing next to him who I assume is the band's personal sound man).  Knobs are turned, sliders slid, and lights flicker.  More dirty looks ensue

9:23 - After the previous cycle repeats itself numerous times with more frowning and head shaking, the engineer leaves the "booth" and goes up to the stage.  The personal sound guy makes a handful of minor tweaks  to the various sound modules in his steed.  On stage, I watch as the keyboardists and the engineer go through a litany of everything that could possibly be out of whack.  I hate to prejudge a group, but these dudes better be amazing with this guy acting like Scott Stapp.

9:31 - The rest of the group has come back out, except for the keyboardists because of course.

9:36 - The place is PACKED!!  Their set has just started.

9:41 - They're pretty good, but make me miss the late 90s post/alt rock.  I had the overwhelming desire to go home and listen to Clarity

9:53 - I didn't go home, but to Rockfeller to listen to Zhala who, it sounds like is finishing up as I'm in line to get in because every venue now has block long lines.

I ended the night listening to Ine Hoem at my original stop (Sentrum) because it still had space (which is a loose way to describe standing outside the main area and listening to music without seeing the stage).  Honestly, it might not have mattered where I was or who was on stage as my head was still ringing from Dråpe.

In fact, it still is.


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Friday, February 14, 2014

SMAK 2014

Last Friday, I went to a food festival trade-show in nearby Lillestrom.

I boarded the train and was off.

A ticket that makes sense only to NSB employees
Taking the train in Norway is like an adventure within an adventure, especially if you take the local (which I did) as opposed to the express (the express stops at Lillestrom and then the Airport).  
Picturesque Lillestrom 

Said adventure results from the number of stops required to reach the destination.  While the Express goes straight to Lillestrom, the local makes somewhere between 9 and 2034983298575 stops before arriving in the neighboring "kommune", a couple dozen of miles/kilometers away.

Some of the stops were quaint suburbs and some had motorcycle clubs associated with violence and death.  Fun times.

Now, the festival.

As a condition of my admission to the festival for free (sans the $45 entrance fee!), I have to blog about it.  

I'm not a food blogger so I'll just talk about all the funny things that happened accompanied by pictures!

"Find your booth"!  (Sadly, this was only meant literally and not figuratively)
 After leaving the train station, I was presented with two options.  Take a left and end up in "Downtown" (I did this after the trade-show… the less said, the better) or take a right and go to the "trade-show" area.  I imagined SMAK 2014 was probably to the right and, after seeing the area's goofiest looking Steak House and THON hotel, I was right!

The above picture was what greeted me outside the facility where the Trade Shows were held.  I'd described the outside facade as "reappropriated warehouse chic".

Inside, I got my "credentials" and started walking around.  My broken Norwegian didn't really play and I wasn't getting any headway at the first, two booths I stopped (I started in the trade-show area for kitchen appliances to test out my method of interaction to determine what would be most effective… i.e. get me the most free things).

After a few, more booths, I realized that if I portrayed myself as an American blogger writing about scandinavian culture who knew nothing about the nordics, I was believed, not asked any follow-up questions (like "Where can I read what you write?", "How can the failing newspaper industry afford to send someone galavanting through Europe?", "Why are you using an iPad as a camera?"), and offered more items than the rest of the public.

I have this guy to thank.

Anyway, I decided to start with dessert.

Here are the highlights:

This was like Strawberry whipped cream with strawberry sauce!

These are the guys that committed the strawberry-on-strawberry food porn
Stabburet was awesome.  In addition to that Strawberry^2 dessert, I also tried some Orange sherbet and their new vanilla… Meh.

But that Strawberry was the truth!

I didn't try these because they looked like they tasted like plastic, but they were pretty!

Soooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooood
 The next stop was Kulinar Is (which I'd been calling Kolboton Is because, as you can see, that's where it's made).

They got my attention now.

I literally hijacked their booth by eating about a dozen, different samplings of their ice cream (all was magical and delicious, but, as previously stated, I have a special affinity for Strawberry).

Confession time.  Food-wise, America does a lot of things great, in fact, better than any place I have been.  However, ice cream isn't one of them.  I discovered that sad truth when I lived in Belgium.

So is true in Norway.  Kulinar Is, like countless places in France and Belgium, is better than Baskin-Robbins, DQ, Friendly's, Haagen Dais, Ben & Jerry's, Good Humor, or the countless mom and pop shops I've been, too (yes, even you, Sugarland).

But don't get it twisted.  I'd still rather have the Apple Pie from Cold Stone Cremery any day of the week.

Moving on, I started eating animals like a vegetarian breaking bad.

Here are some of the highlights of that tour de force:

As I've said countless times in other posts, the standards for meat production and animal living conditions are significantly higher in Norway as not only compared to the US, but the rest of the world.

Does that make the meat taste better?  Some times.  The best tools in the hands of someone not prepared to use them the best aren't going to make great work.  Seasoning is still a new concept in my new home and so, the results can be hit or miss.

No place evidenced this better than the awful, panini booth that I stopped at first.  I don't want to put them on blast, but I'd advise against any non-Norwegian ethnic food here unless or yelp said otherwise.

That poor taste was quickly rectified with Røroskjøtt AS.

Their meat was tender, tasty, and, surprisingly, large in size (one always assumes that the food here is smaller).  Quite the pleasure to enjoy.

The next booth I stopped at was surprisingly empty.  They were a whole seller that provided whole chicken breasts and nuggets to restaurants and airlines in the area.  As part of a new campaign, they were offering chicken sausage.

And boy, was it delicious!

The guy running the booth nervously watched me munching on the sausage which made me feel kind of weird, but didn't stop me from eating seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths.  Finally, he asked if I enjoyed it and I was like "uh, yeah."

Then, he said "I have a confession to make about it"

I was quietly preparing myself for the following revelations:

"It is made from halal meat"

"Oh." I replied.  Then asked for sixths.  As-salamu alaykum

Before I finished, I decided to go to the beer, wine, and liquor section.  I was denied entry because my credentials weren't VIP.  My attempts at charming my way in fell flat as the security guard didn't understand english (or was very good at pretending she didn't understand english).

Fortunately, there were a few places that served intoxicants that were outside the designated area.  Why?  Because Norwegians like talking alcohol (like Jay-Z likes talking money).

This was something blue and tasty, but mainly cool looking!  The actual booth was an advert for dry ice cooling elements that didn't leak deadly gasses into your drink.  

Then came the highlight, my stop at Nogne Ø.  There I not only got two try litters of their awesome beer (Brown Ale and Global Pale Ale), but they also had some dried, reindeer with cranberry syrup that went excellent with the Pale Ale.

Highlight of the trip.

Confession Time #2:  For the past year, Nogne ø has been my third, favorite brewery in the world (Behind - Anchor Steam and Heavy Seas)


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Friday, January 31, 2014

So this is winter...

Eighteen days.  Eighteen, straight days.

It's been eighteen, straight days of snow here in Oslo.

That's 1 followed by an 8 (I just want to make sure you understand, sorry for the overkill).

I no longer live in a city in Norway.  I live on a mound of snow where walking down the street has become a human version of Mouse Trap.  Yes, if a building has a red sign out in front that says "takrasfare" (Roof landslides), then it's your own fault if you get hit/hurt from said "roof landslides'.  No litigation, no recourse.  They did put the sign out.

So, now, the first, obvious question.

"Why are you surprised that it's snowing so much?"

I'm surprised because that's a lot of snow.  I didn't even think it snowed this much in Greenland (which, contrary to my belief isn't full of a bunch of broke, white people listening to John Mellencamp records, but with like Inuits… who knew?) or Antarctica, let alone a major city hundreds of miles from the arctic circle (I bring up "major city" because the concentration of all the things that make a city a city tend to make cities warmer and, in case you're scoring at home, Oslo is 600 km/327 miles south of the arctic circle.  The same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska).

The second, less-obvious question.

"So, uh, what's that like?"

It's what I'd imagine living in a snow globe (sans the shaking) or being stuck in "Frozen" must be like.  The snow is constantly falling but, judging by the picnic table in our back garden, doesn't seem to be accumulating as much as one would imagine.  On the sidewalks, which are constantly shovelled (the plow business in Oslo is like the sun tan lotion business in Miami), there is about 8 inches (20 centimetres) and the roads tend to just be a finely, compact layer of snow with worn to the surface tire marks.  In some spots, the drifts are over 6 feet deep (1.83 meters), but you're not going to be walking and just disappear from view (take relief, mothers).  Though, the ice (which, surprisingly isn't that bad) claims victims on the regular.

The thing that makes the snow the worst is the weekend.

You have to really, REALLY want to go outside because it's such an elaborate process.  "Do I have warm enough clothes on?", "Do I have the right shoes on that won't leave my feet wet and cold?", "Will I flip out if these pants are damaged by salt, barnevogn wheels, old man shoe spikes?"

Important questions of our time.

But, when you're sitting inside and the fireplace is roaring and you found that perfect Spotify playlist from the Browse feature, it's pretty beautiful.

Well, until you have to go outside again.

Then it just sucks.


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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Major Minority at Minor Majority

The Norwegian band, Minor Majority, had their first concert in two years on Saturday to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough album Up for You and I.  

Naturally, I went.

For anyone who didn't click the link above, Minor Majority sounds like a less self-serious, Norwegian (with english lyrics) answer to The Decemberists with the fan base of a Dave Matthews Band.

So, yes, the show was packed and plenty of fun.

Full Disclosure.  They're my second, favorite Norwegian musical act only behind Kings of Convenience so I'm a little biased.

However, despite a cold, lead singer Pål Angelskår brought all the melancholy and longing to every song off the 2004 effort, including my second, favorite song by them (Ok, here's my favorite).  The others played their instruments with a type of passion and care that is present in well-studied bandmates who enjoy each other.  Some old dude even stumbled up on stage and played a helluva harmonica solo.

It was the kind of performance that reminds you why you fell in love with the band and would leave a new listener wondering why the 8,000 people around them were so turnt up.

Speaking of the 8,000 people, just as I've noted in the past and one would expect, I was like the only spot of color in the crowd.

(Btw, I'm not picking on Norway with the whole race thing… Nothing will ever compare to attending a 96.3% white campus during the height of The Chapelle Show.  I haven't gotten to a place where I can talk about that yet)

Anyway, yeah… It wasn't that awkward at first, because, it's dark and not everyone could see what I could see (or would notice until they stared at me long enough).  But, soon after we had gotten there, the house lights came on as the opening act was shuffling off-stage.

Then, the stares came.

We were in the general admission area which meant we were amongst about half of the capacity crowd packed tightly in a standing room only open space.  So, there was a decent cluster of people around us.  Again, nothing that happened bothered me (not even getting hit with two, empty wine juice boxes… I was actually more impressed that people were able to sneak that in.  Speaking of sneaking in, this group in front of us smuggled a bottle of champagne.  Impressive stuff), its just that I'm aware of it.

In a way, it was a microcosm of my whole life.  I've always been one of a few black people in every, non-family setting (except for my seasons playing and coaching basketball).  I'm use to it and it feels normal to me, which I'm sure is due to some, sub-conscious coping mechanism (If you think I'm exaggerating, imagine if, for every day of your life, the majority of people you interact with are of a different race or ethnic background).  In fact, I'm so cool with it, I live in a country where I'm like a vast minority (Black American Males in Norway: Approx. 10) and I've stopped ticking off the places where I'm the only black person (this blog post, notwithstanding).

I totally and whole heartedly enjoy my life, it's just that some times, I can become painfully, self-aware and it can be a disjointing view.


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