Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bits and pieces

I keep learning new things about Oslo the longer I live here. I attended a short Memorial Day tribute on Monday morning organized by the American Embassy to honor American soldiers who died defending the liberties we enjoy, which was one of the remarks made by the Lutheran minister who officiated at the ceremony. The tribute was held at the US Memorial site at the Vestre Gravlund cemetery, which has many different memorial sites to honor soldiers from different countries who died on Norwegian soil during World War II. This is something I never knew about before. There are memorials to honor British, Dutch, Russian and Polish soldiers who fought and died then. I looked at the ages of some of the Dutch soldiers buried in the cemetery, and it struck me how young some of them were. It is sad to think that they never had the chance to live a full life and somehow that makes their sacrifice all the more poignant. I’ve lived here twenty years and I never knew about the Memorial Day tribute before. The ‘new and improved’ American embassy is responsible for that. They are now sending out newsletters to American citizens via email to share little bits and pieces of information with us. I think it is about time.

Oslo is a beautiful city when the sun shines—the parks, the buildings, the gardens and the trees. I tend to like the parks and buildings that were built many years ago. The city sparkles in the summertime and it really is the best time to visit as a tourist unless you love the winter, which I do not. Summer days are long and it takes a long time for the light to fade from the sky, whereas winter days are short, gray, cold and dark. It is not unusual in the wintertime for it to be dark already at 3:30 pm. It is dark when we wake up and go to work and dark when we leave work. It does not surprise me that light is important in this country. Despite the emphasis on environmental issues and energy concerns, turning lights on and keeping them on is characteristic of homes and businesses alike. I believe this has to do with the dark winters. Light is something you long for after the darkness of winter. My first few winters here were difficult in that sense. I had to adjust to shorter days and I was incredibly tired most of the time. Many foreigners suffer from mild depressions when they first live here. But I remember NY winters too, and they were also something to just get through on the way to spring and summer. I think the only thing I really enjoy about winter is the fact that Christmas is a part of it. Once Christmas is over I want spring to come.

I have begun to notice that some of the money that has been spent to refurbish the city of Oslo in the past few years has been money well-spent for the most part—especially as pertains to the new gardens to replace asphalted areas, and new parks. It surprises me that such decisions were made at all, considering the current focus on balanced budgets and using as little money as possible. Not all of the new apartment buildings are particularly nice however—many of them look like monstrosities and you have to wonder how it feels to live in them. I prefer more classic architecture to modern architecture. The emphasis of modern architecture on maximizing space, on cost efficient solutions and such things is admirable in one sense but does not necessarily lead to good feelings about living or working in those buildings. The hospital I work in is a good example—it is new, modern, efficient and functional, all of which contribute to making work a more pleasant occupation for those working in the modern labs. However, I miss the old hospital that we moved from in 2000, not necessarily the building in which I worked, but the hospital and the grounds generally. That old hospital was not as efficiently set up, the buildings were old, things didn’t function as they should have all the time, but offices were larger, you could open the windows, there was more space, the grounds were lovely with gardens and trees, and the overall feeling was more ‘generous’. I don’t know if people understand what I mean by that, but I have literally been in buildings that are so space-efficient that I want to run out of them (and I have done so on several occasions) into the fresh air. They have that type of effect upon me. The more space-efficient buildings get, the more claustrophobic I feel. That feeling of being in an airtight, sealed building is not a good feeling. The feeling of having enough living and working space is what I mean by ‘generous’. I know all the arguments against that type of generosity in architecture—it costs too much money to build those types of buildings now. But it is too bad nonetheless, and it indicative of the type of society that we have become—a stingy society preoccupied with money, cost efficiency, functionality, packing as many people as possible into apartment and office buildings, and getting rid of as much ‘unused’ space as possible. For example, all of the new apartment buildings along the Akerselva river will end up choking the life out of the river which is something that I hope will not happen, but I cannot see how it will not happen if the building doesn’t stop. We need the green areas in the city. They are what help us breathe. And that is true for any city.

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