Arriving

Looking out of the plane window as we landed in Oslo, Felix said – ‘that’s not snow, that’s just salt from the sea.’ And on the train down to Halden, Antonia said cheerfully her favourite phrase: ‘hot daaay!’ ‘No,’ said Felix, ‘cold day!’ ‘Hot daaaay’, said Antonia. They giggled and giggled.

It is indeed cold. We went from 40 degrees in Adelaide to -13 here. Arriving home to a chilly house and having to dig the car out of the snow before we could drive to the shop to get milk (blessedly, the engine started first time) is not without its challenges. But the snow and the gentle sun are very pretty, in a somber sort of way. This morning as I dropped the kids at barnehage I looked over at the slow-motion sunrise and saw the most remarkable thing. The sun was not yet visible behind the white forest and fields, but what I can only describe as an orange spear of light, like a laser beam, was thrusting up from the snowy horizon into the clouds.

Back

I need to write some of this down before it fades. The flight back went very well, despite some anxiety about boarding passes in Kuala Lumpur airport. The kids slept well and played well and were generally agreeable, and did not get sick which was appreciated. I got some motion sickness tablets for Felix and who knows if he needs them or not but every other long haul flight over the past two years has ended in vomit, so I’ll definitely be packing them from now on. Felix was a little bored sitting around on the plane but he entertained himself admirably. I didn’t even have an ipad for him. He was absolutely gorgeous in the airports, insisting on walking himself and pulling his little suitcase, but quite happily going as fast as I asked him to in order to find our gate. In Doha airport by the time they announced boarding for families with small children and business class passengers, everyone else had already started queuing, so I decided to barge past them all. ‘Excuse me!’ I said. Felix piped up gleefully: ‘Coming through! We have a baby and a little guy, coming through!’

We were all so happy to see Michael again. We arrived at 7.30 in the morning and Felix did not stop talking all day, not even napping in the car on the way back to Halden, until he crashed into bed at 6pm. Antonia chuckled and wriggled whenever Michael looked at her, and when we went to our favourite cafe in the afternoon, was only interested in tasting Michael’s bun, not mine.

Driving into Halden felt so strange. Michael said it had felt strange to him to – in your mind are still all the roads and paths and light and routines of the place you have left, and you have to let them go and replace them with those of this place, but you are reluctant at first, you try to hold on. Norway has obliged by making it as easy as possible for me with a week of cold sunshine and frosted grass. Yesterday morning I looked out of the window and there were four young deer stepping carefully across our lawn.

Our friends are eager to see us. We feel welcomed. Felix has slotted back into barnehage life without a hiccup. I haven’t quite got enough winter things for Antonia to wear, but we are getting by. The days are light-filled. It was very clever of me to skip February.

When I walked in the door to our little house I thought – how is it possible to live in a house so small? It is perfectly possible, of course, and very lovely even, as long as you stay on top of all the cleaning and putting stuff away, so I have been attacking those things with gusto, making the small changes to our living space needed for a nearly seven month old baby instead of a three month one. An extra box of toys on the shelf instead of the box of changes of clothes we had down here before. The difference in Antonia and in the shape of our family after a space of three months is significant. She sits at the table with us now in her highchair. We need four glasses for water at dinner, so I pulled out a jug for water for us all, and it felt special. Antonia loves to drink water from a glass – she flaps her arms out wide with excitement, then grips the top of the glass and takes a couple of sips before blowing raspberries in it. Soon the novelty of all this will collapse into the every day, but I hope some of the specialness can stay.

36 hours later

We are back in chilly Norway. The house feels small. The snowy expanses were very beautiful when we came in to land. Felix was an absolute darling throughout the whole trip. He slept quite well and the rest of the time was cheerfully occupied observing and commenting on everything that went on. He loves planes. He loves airports. ‘Lady make it dark!’ he declared when they switched all the lights off for landing. When we finally arrived in Oslo after stopovers in Singapore and Frankfurt, he said ‘more plane! More in the big plane!’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘we’ve had enough of planes now.’ He looked out of the window. ‘More plane! Blue one!’ ‘Do you want to go in the blue plane?’ ‘Yeah!’ He was so excited when we got off the plane that he ran all the way to the luggage belts with only one crash. He was still talking about the planes on the train home.

Our good friends picked us up from the train station and cooked dinner for us, which was about the nicest welcome back imaginable. Felix finally and comprehensively conked out about an hour before we arrived in Halden, so we laid him down on their sofa and he didn’t make a sound.

Now we are home and the fire is burning. It is hard to say goodbye to the beautiful light-filled love-filled days in Adelaide. Having a toddler to supervise on the long journey back, I haven’t had a lot of time to dwell on it. And here I must hit the ground running. I have a Norwegian test on Wednesday and another one next Monday; I’m back at work on Tuesday, and on Thursday I have four hours of tutoring at Oslo University, with some preparation still needed. (I’m tutoring an introduction to British literature subject this semester, which is exciting.) When this crazy fortnight is done and dusted, I have a meeting about some other possibilities for the autumn. I take a deep breath. I will do my best.

On the way

Well, we’ve left. We’ve made it to LA. I am so, so grateful we have two nights here before flying onto Norway. Felix did pretty well on the plane and slept for more than half the trip. There were several spare seats so due to Michael’s forward planning we managed to sneak the car-seat on, which made all the difference. It would have been uncomfortable for both of us if Felix had had to sleep on my lap all the way – he’s such a big little guy now! I’m also glad I’m still breastfeeding, it really helped to keep him happy. Everyone on the flight was pretty impressed with him; someone told me ‘ your baby was divine!’ He had a fabulous time exploring Sydney airport before the flight, and entertained everyone by crawling around everywhere and climbing on the baggage trolleys. As we disembarked in LA, he said ‘bye bye’ to all the passengers. I’m still pretty wrecked, but we have a day to recover before the final legs (LA – New York, New York – Oslo). And the longest flight is over already, hurrah.

Vertigo and veggie burgers

We went to Sweden yesterday, home of all good things. Or, at least, affordable groceries. We bought six kilos of couscous, at half the price we would have paid in Norway. A huge bag of red peppers. An equally huge bag of fat sweet potatoes. (A craving for sweet potatoes on Friday led to us staring sadly at the tiny shriveled mouldy dregs masquerading as vegetables in our local supermarket.) Snow peas. Frozen spinach. Halumi cheese. Several cans of tuna. And two small boxes of veggie burgers. (Although veggie burgers have the privilege of existing in Sweden – we have never seen any here – they are not cheap.)

I felt a bit strange this week. There are too many balls in the air, or, to swap metaphors, I’m standing on the brink of too many things. Too many possible pathways, tangling outwards. Too many places demanding attention, both near and distant. Too many words to be written. Too many people to be – I fear if I commit to one, I will lose the others. I fear if I step down one path, the others will be barred forever. Which, of course, is not the case, and nothing is to be gained by standing still.

Last night we went to a bbq and watched the sun set over the fortress. And today we ate veggie burgers and teriyaki mushrooms and lompe bread for lunch, and they were just marvellous. And today the sun is shining, madly, brightly, and we will ride our bikes past the glittery lakes. The many words that need to be written will be written, one by one. I will not hover on the brink forever. I will jump. Again and again and again.

New header

Couldn’t have the poor frozen ducks any more. I wonder if the harbour is thawed yet. I got back from the states yesterday morning, stayed with my cousin in London last night, and am off to Australia tonight. America was awesome. I’ll tell you about it soon…

An eventful journey

Today we explored a windy Monaco. (I mean windy as in lots of wind – but I guess the streets are windy as in curvy too.) There are extremely posh Christmas decorations. The buildings are a strange mix of extravagant and tumble-down. A miniature apartment will cost you two million euros.

There are steps and elevators everywhere. Driving (and helping whoever is driving avoid crashing into cars or pavements or the walls of the underground car park) is terrifying. Locals park their cars on footpaths, half a centimetre away from stone walls and the cars behind them. But the sun shone brilliantly and from the window of our warm apartment it looked positively summery.

Getting here was another matter altogether. We drove up from Barcelona, setting off at about half past four on boxing day, planning to get half way. (What were we doing in Barcelona, I hear you say – cheap flights.) It rained and rained. The motorway was closed because of snow, and we were re-routed around the coast. We drove slowly, taking comfort in the caravan of other re-routed traffic. As we descended into a seaside town, I looked down at the fierce white waves through the blackness. The ocean’s going crazy, I said. We drove lower and lower, towards the sea foam. The road was on a cliff above the sea, but the waves were reaching it. Traffic slowed to a snail’s pace. I was afraid. It was a different fear from a customary – oh this is a bit hairy but we’ll be ok. It felt like there was a small but undeniable possibility that things could go badly wrong. A wave buffeted my window. I decided that being swept out to sea in a little car would not be my preferred way to go. And then another wave, huge, hovered above us before smashing down and completely engulfing the car. The car didn’t budge, but we couldn’t see a thing. When it cleared, we inched forward. Shortly after this we reached the town centre, and it was clear that the worst weather had already passed. The beach and the roads were covered in rubble. Two telescope machines – you know the ones you put money in and then you can look out to sea – were completely smashed. The police directed us onwards, upwards, towards snowy roads that snaked around the cliffs.

We kept passing abandoned cars stuck in the snow. Again the worst had passed, and we travelled on without a problem. The motorway was still closed. The third time we tried to rejoin it, we had to negotiate our way through a traffic jam of cars that wanted to go the other way (the road toward Spain was shut). Finally, we made it on to a near-deserted motorway. On the other side, a long, silent line of at least one hundred lorries had decided to call it a night.

Looking at the bright blue sea, you’d never know.

Walled Cities

I finished reading the most beautiful novel the other day. Gatty’s Tale, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I first realised what a lovely writer he was when I read his translations of Norse Myths, and I vowed to get hold of his King Arthur trilogy. I did, and have read the first one so far, and loved it. Gatty’s Tale is a spin-off from that – a thirteenth-century girl joins a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

There it was!

Jerusalem!

At once Gatty reined in.

There it was, waiting for her.

No need to ask. She recognised it like a home from which, long ago, she had strayed. Its contours were her own heart’s and mind’s contours. She felt like a little girl again. No need to say anything.

The Holy City, golden, grew out of the gentle slopes on which it sat. Or was it the other way round? Did the Holy City, Gatty wondered, come down from God, out of heaven? And did the hillslopes and the valleys and everything else on the earth grow out of it?

All that stood between the pilgrims and the golden domes, the clustered towers and columns and walls was one last shallow valley, dark with olive groves.

I read this on the train, on a very tedious journey from Stansted Airport up to Bingley. Finish the damn thesis, I told myself glumly as I stood in the cold in Peterborough station, waiting for a train that didn’t come, you’ve got to stop doing this. I ended up catching a train up to York, and then another train to Leeds, and then another train to Bingley.

As I waited in York station, I thought about how usually I would feel very sad just to be there. I lived in York for three years. I loved it. It was home. I met Michael there. We lived together in the sweetest little house. We cycled everywhere – to the shops, to the pubs, to the wonderful Baroque concerts with two pound tickets for students. I did my masters there. I finished my novel there. I started my PhD. I would walk on the stone walls, and hang out in my favourite bookshop (now sadly closed). Every time I returned there, after being away, as the taxi swung past the walls and the gates to the city, I would feel a tangible surge of at-homeness. It was so sad to leave.

But – this time I didn’t feel sad. I felt content, in myself. I have a new home now. I am building a new home.

And then, on the train, I read about Gatty in Jerusalem. And my heart surged. I have been there – the centre of the world, as they thought in the Middle Ages. I have stood inside this other walled city. Michael had a two month scholarship to be in Israel, and I went to visit him, and we went to Jerusalem together.

Like Gatty, I had heard about it all my life. The Bible was a big part of my childhood and my early adulthood – I have read the stories over and over. My parents went to Jerusalem when Mum was pregnant with me. Dad bought a little statue of Moses, which has sat in the corner of the lounge room all my life. My Mum bought a big brown coat, like a monk’s cloak, which I wore for a while as a teenager. And there I was, again, the centre of the world.

For Gatty, part of her has always been in Jerusalem, and part of her will always be there. And when she prays inside the church of the Holy Sepulchre – that mazelike, burrow-like place where I too have stood – she prays for all her friends and family at home, for those who could not come to Jerusalem and never will, but when she prays they are there anyway, with her, safe inside the walled city.

And I don’t quite know what I’m trying to say, but I like that idea – of being together even when you’re not together, of being at home even when you’re far away. And there, on the train, between York and Leeds, the journey was a burden no longer, and I gripped the novel firmly, with tears in my eyes.

My achievements for the day

Five big boxes, expertly packed and labeled, ready to be sent off to Norway. 100kg that I don’t have to think about when I move house next month. Yippee! I also ticked off a long list of odd jobs I’d been avoiding for ages. So a successful day all round, and tomorrow I can get back to thinking about the PhD.