Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some things are as expected

And here I am on the move again. Currently writing from the train from Newcastle to Stirling in the UK. I arrived in Newcastle last night, having come to visit a friend I had not seen for a few years. After a day I am now on the way to a conference in Stirling, which justifies traveling through Scotland and Britain mid week.  I had never been here (the only place I had been in the UK was London) and it has been much as I heard it would be.

Arriving in Edinburgh yesterday was amazing... 6pm, the sun's last rays shining on the old buildings and I was impressed. And then I saw the castle, and all the gardens dotted with daffodils and I was in awe. It is indeed as pretty as my friends had told me. On the train to Newcastle I saw the ocean but I first could not believe it, I never knew I was so close to the sea. (Google maps quickly fixed that geographic blunder.) The cliffs, the waves splashing, rocks, fresh new grass, the occasional sheep and the sky weighing down by heavy clouds were all beautiful, just like in so many novels I read.

In Newcastle my friend met me at the train station and we headed to a pub for a bite. Soup of the day and a pint of ale were my choice. The food was bad and the beer was great... guess some stereotypes do hold up. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


For the last few months A. and I have been discussing our plans for the 2nd half of 2011 and 2012. A. wants to do a dual degree with a university in Brazil (he would then get one MBA from the school in Paris and another from the school in Brazil) which would start in August 2011 and go until April 2012. So I started looking for jobs in Brazil. In January I got an offer for a job, which was not good enough, ensuing a grueling negotiation. Finally, after many phone calls, tons of emails and lot's of stress I finally got the offer I wanted this past Wed! I was on a high: the job I wanted, in Brazil and in the mean time A. got accepted for the dual degree at the university he wanted. So he is coming to Oslo for a whole month in May and then we are moving to Brazil in July!!

Next step was to tell my current boss, which is really nice and had some good plans for me. Last week we were at a workshop with 8 other researchers in Barcelona, organized by my boss and I felt it was inconsiderate to blow the news right in the middle of it all (despite seeing my pile of work increasing as he delegated some medium term responsibilities to me). I sat on it for a few days until Saturday, the last day of the workshop, when I finally told him. He got upset, but he said he understood. Whew! One more hurdle overcome... Brazil here we go!

Sunday flew to Paris, met A. and had an amazing night out in town. We were both happy that things had fallen in place, that we were both getting what we wanted. Despite my job and A.'s school being in different cities, 1 hour flight apart from each other, his classes would be only Thurs through Sat and being able to afford low cost flights weekly was one of the reasons for me to negotiate better pay.

And then the bomb hit yesterday, when the school in Brazil sent A. a list of required documents (new ones, as a new law got passed recently which requires international students enrolling in a Masters program in Brazil to present these documents). There are about 6 documents and among them are transcripts, diploma and official syllabus for all the classes he took in undergrad, all these documents have to have an official stamp from the university, then have to be signed by the ministry of foreign affairs in India, before finally being hand delivered to the Brazilian embassy in Delhi for legalization. Not only is the amount of bureaucracy crazy, the cost is considerable, but there is just not enough time to do all this. Both Brazil and India are bureaucratic countries, with their own sense of bureaucracies, which makes this almost impossible. We had a similar process to get our marriage registered at the Brazilian embassy in Oslo: it took 2 months and we would not want to do it again.

So what does this mean? A. was accepted for a dual degree or an exchange program. He is saying he will take the exchange program then. This means he would have classes in Paris through the end of July (where he could have been doing an internship instead... but since he thought he'd be in Brazil he didn't look for any and now it is too late). He would then go to Brazil for 4 months, having classes 5 days a week at the same university he wants and then he would be done. This means that we would continue the weekend meetings we have now and hoping that he finds a job closer to me once he finishes. It will make it harder to network with Brazilian companies (MBAs are all about networking) so let's see... I, in turn, am wondering whether sticking to my current job in Norway (where I could negotiate to work 4 months in Brazil) isn't a better option...
For now the air has gone out of the balloon (Brazilian saying).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Easy Indian cooking

Lately I have been talking to some other Brazilians married to Indians and usually the topic that springs up is food. So I decided to share the easiest South Indian recipe I know, which is also error proof and can be changed in so many variations that it solves my cooking needs about 80% of the time (especially when time is short and cooking is not the priority). It is a basic curry recipe that I learned partly from my MIL (early on, through A.'s translation and questions for her), partly from my favorite Indian cooking website  and my favorite South Indian cookbook (which comes with many pictures to help explain what you should be doing). Anyway, here goes the recipe:

Aloo curry/fry 

4 tbsp oil
1/2 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp black gram
3-4 red dried chillies (and/or some green chillies)
8-10 curry leaves (optional, don't fret if you don't find it)

1 or 2 of the following:

     - 1/2 tbsp cumin seed
     - 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste (or natural)
     - 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
     - 1 pinch asafoetida

6 cooked, peeled and cut potatoes
1/2 tbsp turmeric powder
1/3 tbsp chilli powder (more or less depending on taste)
Salt to taste

How to prepare:
Heat the oil in a pan, and add one spice at a time in the order above. Let the previous one brown (but not burn) before adding the next. Then add the potatoes, turmeric, chilli powder, and salt. Let the potato fry a bit, turning frequently (if necessary add some water or some oil). Ta-da! 
Serve with rice.
That's is!  

The best part of this recipe is that you can substitute the potatoes for many other veggies and it is also the base for many rice recipes. Here are some ideas and the pairings with the optional spices (the ones marked pick 1-2 of that group):
- Cabbage: ginger garlic and cumin (and a little coriander) (no need to cook the veggies beforehand, but it takes a longer time to cook than the other veggies)
- Brinjal (eggplan): ginger garlic paste and asafoetida (no need to cook the veggies beforehand)
- Zucchini (my own invention!): cumin and coriander (no need to cook the veggies beforehand)
- Green bell peppers: cumin and coriander
- Green beans: ginger garlic and cumin

I'm sure you can also try mixing the veggies, but A. is a purist in this sense and likes to have them separate. :P

To make carrot rice for example, substitute the cooked potatoes for 3 raw grated carrots, and prepare the "curry" accordingly. Then mix to 2 (small) cups of freshly cooked rice.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Brazilian wedding, part 2

If you have not read part I, you can read it here.

The new job (in Rio) and the distance made it hard to help out on the wedding planning. On the other hand I admit I was not picky and did not have (strong) opinions about decorations, etc. I really wanted something simple, just to mark the day. My mom on the other hand, had great views of what the day should be like, so decorations, color of napkins, centerpieces, etc became much more of a topic. And then there were several situations in which she'd ask me something and I'd ask back: "Is this necessary?". Her reply was always "Well, so-and-so had it at their wedding and it is considered appropriate." At the end the she did a great job!


Getting ready.

The location was my mom's front yard, under a beautiful big tree and the time for the ceremony was 11:30am. The big day started off with the breakfast and shortly after the hairdresser coming over to do my makeup. Friends started arriving around 10:30 and it was nice to chat a bit while getting ready. A. also got ready (obviously much faster and was really worried... at least that's what everyone told me :o). The menu for the wedding was a big barbecue with lot's of salads and appetizers. We also had vegetarian options, but I promised A. I'd make some sambar, so I was running out of the dressing room to the kitchen every once in a while to check on it (it was a huge pot - about 5 liters or 1.2 gallons - so I was worried the bottom would burn).

A. waiting for me.

In Brazil instead of brides maids and best man each person in the couple chooses a couple as their godparents. These couples are usually good friends of the bride and/or groom or an older couple of family friends. I picked a favorite professor from my undergrad whom I always visit when I go to Brazil and A. picked a couple of friends of ours from the USA who were coming to our wedding. Since none of his family made it to Brazil it was very nice for him to have some fellow foreigners.

Sometime during the ceremony.

Finally at 11:30 the ceremony began. A. was standing by the altar as I walked in with my brothers. Overall it was a relatively quick service and soon the fun part started. The barbecue was great. It was amazing to see so many friends that I had not seen for such a long time.

Ring exchange.

The barbecue was a huge success. Also, following Brazilian aversion to having an ending time to parties we partied hard. At some point A. was thrown into the pool... and then suddenly all guys were thrown in one at a time...

A. in the crucial moment: not a tradition and not planned... spontaneity I guess.

As it got dark we made a campfire and the people that were still around sat and chatted. It was quite nice. At this point (somewhere around 8pm) people started getting hungry again (the catering left at 6pm) so I went inside and heated the huge pot of sambar that was left over and made some fresh rice. Sambar was a huge success this time despite being a bit spicy for most. I think I finally went o bed around midnight... not bad for a party that started more than 12 hours earlier!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


After 2 full weeks in Oslo I am now off to travel again. First stop is Paris, to spend the weekend with A. I arrived late last night after a pit-stop to get him some pizza on the way. Today was spent cooking and cleaning... not that nice but necessary tasks.

I'm coming back to Oslo on Monday, spending 2 days in there and then traveling to Barcelona for meetings from Wednesday until Saturday. Sunday I'm off to Paris again for 2 days, packing in some time with A. before heading off on Tuesday to Newcastle (UK). I'll meet a friend there and then go to Stirling (3 hours by train from Newcastle) for a conference. And then hurrying back to Oslo in time for the arrival of 2 elementary school friend whom I have not seen for 7 years (and before that we met 13 years earlier) that will spend the weekend here in Oslo.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Spooky request

I guess this is what happens when you live in a small far off country...

A few weeks ago I got a weird email. Someone googled "I live in Oslo" and my blog popped up. She then emailed me asking me to take a picture of a gravestone in an old cemetery in Oslo. She said she lives in the UK and was writing a piece on the person and wanted to know what was written on their gravestone. Ok... but I am no big fan of cemeteries and usually steer as far from them as I can. Plus... someone sending you an email asking you to go to a graveyard sounded a bit spooky and crazy at the same time.

The "location",

I did consider not going... or even not answering the email. My instinct reaction towards cemeteries is somewhat like hospitals. Not fear, but I'm most uncomfortable in these places. On the other hand, if someone asks you a favor and it is not too difficult to fulfill it, why not make someone's day? Curiosity got the best of me and I replied to the email. The next email gave some info about the person... that he was Polar explorer. Ok... a bit better than looking for the grave of a killer or who knows whom.

The cemetery is located about 20 minutes walking from my house and yesterday was a beautiful day... great for some walking. The sky was clear, air was crisp (yeah, we are still hovering around 0oC/32oF) and the snow on the ground is starting to melt. I also knew there was no way that I would go to the cemetery in the dark so I was lucky to get off work early enough (and not miss the train) to get to the cemetery with the sun setting. Found the tombstone, took pictures (many as I was not sure what she wanted to see on it and was definitely not coming back any time soon...) and headed home. And today I got a nice email with a big thanks!

And you, gotten any weird requests lately?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Personal attachments

I've always found it interesting to assess who you "click" with. This is harder to do with people you've known for a long time, but moving around is a great experiment in your likeability of others and your clickability. Let me explain what I mean...

Let's consider likeability the more superficial of these two terms. Likeability has to do with meeting someone you think is nice, a good person to hang out with, a potential friend. You can like someone but they might not like you that much in return. Like a girl I met a while back who texted me 6 times in a day (a few days after we met) to ask if we would go out a week later... I was just not that interested in blocking my time that far in advance.

Clickability on the other hand is much deeper. When you click you know that you will be great friends, regardless of the short time since you've met. Clicking happens fast and is also more rare. I remember a now great friend with whom I got a 4 hour car ride back from a conference. She did not know me so she asked a 3rd girl to come with us. Poor girl... she had to listen to us talking non-stop for hours! As if catching up after a long time... I think people can even click on chat conversations, although there is a bigger chance of erring there. But when you click it also seems that reciprocity is high... rarely do you click with someone and the other person doesn't (at least when considering only friendships... love distorts impressions ;o). The other great point is that this perception is lasting: no matter how long it's been since you last spoke, it never takes much effort to pick up from where you left.

But moving around makes you leave these great friends behind... of course you might find others, but this is a good argument to settle :P That is... unless your friends move around as much as you do, in which case it is not surprising you clicked in the first place!

Friday, March 11, 2011

What world is this?

Indians come with natural earplugs, I'd bet on it!  How can you not be overwhelmed with the sounds and noises of traffic in India? On one of A.'s trips to Brazil, after missing his connection out of Atlanta and having to stick around the airport for 24 hours waiting (to see if any flight to Brazil would have an empty seat for him), he finally arrived in Fortaleza a day and a half later than expected. We stayed at a little hotel in the city and as it was a Sunday, the neighbors were having the usual loud barbecue in their backyard. This meant VERY loud music. As A. installed himself in the hammock in the porch of our hotel to sleep a bit he said:
"Could you give me something to cover my eyes? This light is bothering me...."
"Sure, but what about the blaring music??"
"What music? ... Oh, no, it's ok."
That's when my theory of earplugs and Indians came into being and it has still to find a situation in which it does not hold... Until...

Only in India. (more great pics from the same blog here)

When I first arrived in Norway an Indian guy I met told me a story of how he jumped when he heard a honk in Oslo. This lead to much laughing as Indians and honking seem to go together. Many months later...

This morning I was walking to the train station and rushing, as is usual, since I refuse to set the alarm even a few minutes earlier than is extremely necessary for me to jump out of bed. I cross a street without looking twice to see if there are cars coming (in Oslo they always stop for pedestrians and there was even a 1 block traffic jam, so cars were already slow) and then, just as I reach the other side I hear it It makes me turn my head in the direction of a familiar though long forgotten sound: a honk! Some cab driver, unaware of unwritten rules of noiseless traffic actually honked to make the car in front of him move ahead a few meters! I instantly remembered the story of the Indian guy and smiled: in most other places on Earth I would have ignored a honk but this is indeed a different world...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Battling expectations

I decided to take up cross country skiing. I even bought my own skis, etc about 3 weeks ago! The very next day my coworkers invited me to go skiing with them, but 10 minutes after starting they told me I'd better practice in the short loop in front of the university instead of joining them... I'm obviously no natural at it.

Yesterday I went skiing again, and despite feeling a little more confident with those long boards under my feet I'm still quite pathetic. And that's fine... I never expected to fly off in them anyway. But then the other skiers seem to have some expectations seeing the gori pathetically trying to climb a little lump of a hill without sliding backwards. I can't be too mad at them, I guess I could pass off as a Norwegian and hey, they are born on skis! I guess it also has to do with the migrant population here. There are lots of migrants here but they fall into 3 main categories: i) European (including other Scandinavians and mostly Eastern Europeans); ii) South Asians (great majority from Pakistan); iii) Africans (mostly Ethiopians and Ugandans). This means there are very few latin people, or caucasians that not familiar with snow.

So yesterday when I passed a black guy having trouble with his skis, there was another guy helping him out. I gave him an encouraging smile, but he looked back in a way that meant something like "for you this is easy". If only he knew...

Later when I took the bus home 2 latin girls were speaking Spanish... and as I don't get to listen (or talk) much of it here I was immediately drawn to the conversation. Soon one of them said: "You have to be careful with speaking of others in Spanish sometimes... some kids even learn it in school." Little did they know that the Norwegian looking girl next seat was eavesdropping ;o)

Oh well... 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Can we end this week, please?

Rome was really nice. I arrived on Wednesday evening and had a talk to give on Thursday morning. All went well and after work I met a long-time friend who now lives in Rome and we walked around, then had pizza and all this time there was non-stop catching up. Really great!

Today I woke up at 6:30am, got ready and by the time I left the hotel I knew I had little time to get to the train station to get the train to the airport (why did they take soooooo long to get me a receipt??). I rushed to the metro station and supposedly the train station was behind it. I asked for directions and a guy pointed right... I ran right and asked another guy who pointed left... I walked a few meters to the left and asked again and this time was given directions through a different street... Oh no... Ran in the direction the last guy indicated (at least he wasn't contradicted by anyone else) and saw the station in the distance... to bad, got there in time to see the train pulling out!

Ok, ok, there was another train in 20 min and there are also buses that go to the airport. Waited for the bus which supposedly was due to leave 10 min later and nothing... not wanting to risk the train I gave up and took the train which had a change in another station. Train was 5 min late in leaving, and by the time I arrived where I had to change trains I had missed the connection. I ran out to get a cab... found 5 cabs lined in the street, and no driver in sight! I asked someone and they just shrug... Italian efficiency I guess. Finally a guy comes by with his pal, drinking coffee and lighting up a cigarette. After a while he sees me and asks: "Taxi?" Of course!! The guy then asks if I prefer him finishing his cigarette or whether he can finish it while driving and, although I really don't like their smell, if that cigarette is getting me to the airport a few minutes faster I don't mind.

40 minutes and €40 later we arrive at the airport, I run to the check in, almost running over people on the way. There are 35 minutes left before take off. A huge family are the only people in the check in and I impatiently wait while they put each of the 99 suitcases on the scale (ok, more like 5). Finally it is my turn, I hand the guy my passport. He then asks if I have the reservation number (luckily I did... lesson learned from Wednesday), checks again and informs: "You are not on this flight." No freaking way! He calls someone to check and they I overhear the conversation that my flight was for March 3rd, not 4th. Oh no!!! I thought I had checked the date at least 5 times before purchasing the ticket! But I guess I cannot trust myself too much... I ask about buying a ticket, at the same time dreading the price but also wondering whether I should just go back to Oslo to sleep rather than trying to get to Paris, cook for a get-together tonight and then head back to Oslo on Sunday. The guy informs that the flight I wanted (in 20 minutes) is overbooked but that there are 4 seats left on the afternoon flight.

I run to the sales counter where there is a line... that does. not. move. Afraid that the tickets will run out I finally call A., wake him up, try to explain the situation in as few words as possible and ask him to log onto the airline website that I will explain the rest in the mean time. He finds the ticket, and goes on to booking, having to fill out the usually long forms to register on the website, etc. When he's almost at the purchasing point my turn comes in the line and I ask if there are tickets left. The girl says, "No, sorry." I yell into the phone: "Buy,buy,buy." Then she says "I need your passport." "So there are tickets?" "Yes, I had checked for the evening flight, which is booked, but the afternoon isn't." On the phone: "No need to buy, sorry, got it here." Then gave A. the list of grocery things that are needed for dinner. I get the ticket and slump on a chair in the waiting area.

And this is where I am... now it is 10am and I have a 3pm flight. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hectic life, Murphy's Law, travels, and Northern Lights

These last two days were hectic... lots of work accumulated for a week away from the office, deadlines for conference abstracts, teaching a subject I don't know much myself, and preparing for a presentation I'm giving at the end of the week in Rome. Whew...
Hehehe, something like this!

Not just that but considering how hard it is to make friends here and how little time I've been spending in the city I decided to host a dinner for 4 friends on Monday. Arrived back from Greece on Sunday at 11pm, woke up at 7 to go to work, ran around all day, and then Murphy's law came into action and I missed the train I needed to get to arrive in Oslo for grocery shopping. Thankfully the station where I was waiting for the next train has a little shop and therefore I was able to get the basics for a less fancy meal and head straight home. I arrived 15 minutes before the guests... It was a great evening though and it was nice to see that there are reasons to stay in Oslo more often.

On Tuesday I woke up at 7am again, tram-train-bus later arrived at the office, final adjustments in the class I would teach and off I went to the classroom. It was the first class this semester and all was going smooth, until the projector failed right when I was about to show a video I found at TED:com that was nicely related to my topic. I ran off, found the IT guy, ran back while students were waiting... he came, fuzzed around and... it did not work. Well, let the students go home and asked them to watch it online.

Worked, submitted abstracts, meetings with MS students, meeting with boss, conference call and then I realized I had signed up to go to a visit to the Solar Observatory that day itself! Yikes! Run faster with stuff and head off to the bus at 4:30pm. The visit was definitely worth it, we even saw Northern Lights! It is very rare to see them this far South and we were told that 70% of the time the is cloudy (meaning you don't see anything) so we were very lucky. Got home at 11:30pm and still had to finish the presentation I needed to send off. At half past midnight I sent it and just as I was getting ready to log off a good friend with whom I had not talked for in  a while called me on skype. Finally went to bed at 1:30am.

This is what I saw (this was taken from a different point in the city... we didn't have the light pollution)

Today I woke up knowing I still had to pack, and hopefully finish a document before heading to the airport for my flight at 11:55am. Don't know why I thought I had time for laundry and a leisurely breakfast... Conclusion is that by the time I had to leave the house I was stuck with nothing in my bag and a steaming wet laundry load that was not ready (and a black shirt that decided to stain all other clothes). I could not just leave the laundry in the machine... it would rot by the time I get back on Sunday (plus my super neat roommate would have a fit). So I pulled the clothes out of the machine, burning fingers on the way (I did not check to which temperature of the water was set, supposing no one had used it after I washed my another load 2 days ago... it turned out to be 90oC (140oF)! Who washes clothes at that temperature anyway??? My roommate...). Finally rinsed the clothes in the sink, sort of set them to dry on the rack and literally ran to the train station. Barely made it into the train and was already worried if I'd make it to the flight, since by my calculations this train would arrive at the airport 50 minutes before the flight. While running up the escalators I was silently thanking trains for never being late here in Norway. Went to the electronic board to find my check in counter... and my flight was not there! Oh my... I almost panicked, thinking that they might have closed check in already. I ran to the self-check-in and the machine would not accept my credit card (and I also forgot to get the reservation number)... Ah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then I checked my cell for the time and realized that it was 10:20... which meant I was too early! I miscalculated the time I had to leave by 1 hour! And check in would only open 1 hour before the flight. So now I'm here, typing away while waiting for check in. Let's hope I can make it through the rest of the week!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Greece for work

We headed off to Greece, me promising my boss I'd work and A. wanting to have a blast on his week off. How did it work?

First few days were spent in Athens... sleeping A LOT (I didn't even know I had that much sleep accumulated... or was it just that A. is such a good sleeping pill) and doing some sightseeing. We also found a shesha/hookah/nargile street to A.'s delight: lot's of little restaurants/bars open to the street. End result: no work for me and lot's of relaxing for A.

Then we decided to try to rent a car... My US driver's license is expired (annoyingly it expires together with your visa) but A.'s is still valid and we decided to give it a go. In general you need an international driver's license to rent a car in Greece, but the rental place was nice enough to rent one to us and even recommend: if you get stopped on the road by police, just tell them you forgot your international driver's license at the hotel, ok? And off we went!

First stop was Korinthos, where we visited the old city fortress unimaginably perched on top of a hill:

 Hum... not great, but there is a the fortress on the top! I promise!

 It is an amazing place, with beautiful views. And having come from Norway where all is still white, I was super excited about all the wild flowers!

Me, the daisies and the view.

We spent the night in Nafplio, which is a very nice little town by the sea, with beautiful historic venetian houses. The next day we visited the Palamidi castle in Nafplio and the sun+blue water combo was amazing:

Off we went to Sparta, which is in the same location as ancient Sparta but is now a very nice small town. The next day we visited the ancient city of Micenaes. The most interesting thing of this trip was seeing so many places I had studied about in elementary/middle/high school up close! Off we went to visit the ruins of Mystras, which was once the capital of the Bizantine empire.

Ah... technology. A. posted on facebook that we were in Sparta and soon later a colleague of his called him and told us we had to visit his hometown and that his dad would take us around. Not bad to get local knowledge, so A. wanted to head there directly. I was still pushing to see some other stuff around since we were on a loop and I'm glad I won. We got to Monemvasia and were in awe... what an amazing place! A little walled city right by the ocean. It must be very touristy in the Summer, but since we are in the low season we got the place all to ourselves!

And here I finally got some actual work done!!
And still had a view!

After this amazing afternoon we woke up to pouring rain and therefore we spent the morning at a coffee shop. Not bad, not bad. From there we went to the town of Areopoli, slept there and the next day visited the said home town. It is a place with an amazing landscape, rugged mountains falling right into the sea. And to complement it, there have been family feuds for centuries and in response houses are built as watchtowers... makes it look bizarre!

See the towers? Probably not...

And then we drove to Kalamata (you know, the olives?!) and had a nice night out. Next day we had brunch at a restaurant by the waterfront and it felt amazing to be sitting in the sun, in a t-shirt and not being cold nor hot. We drove back to Athens and spent a last night there...

And boom! It was gone! The week flew by and now we are back in our schedules...