gong hei fatt choy!

January 26, 2009

ox

Of course just one new year a year won’t do. This year we celebrated by (surprise!) skiing. But a week ago members of my cobbled-together Oslo family all showed up at our home in Chinese shirts, frog buttons and bright red to help celebrate us early.

I loved the effort, and we had a fantastic night. Thanks for coming and gong hei fatt choy to all readers. I hope the Year of the Ox will bring you the strength to pull you to exactly where you want to go!

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address to a haggis

January 23, 2009

haggis

Just the word haggis can inspire mistrust at best and grimaces at worst, but few non-Scots will be able to tell you what it actually is. We were among the chosen few invited to Special K’s early Burns Night dinner, with the most velvety, rich and flavoursome haggis I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

For those wanting the low-down, here it is: liver, lungs & heart of a sheep, minced and mixed with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, salt, pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme, all stuffed into a properly cleaned sheep’s stomach. An English chef educates himself and us on haggis making here (don’t miss the tee-hee captions in the accompanying – and very enlightening – photo series).

Surely the highlight of any Burns Night dinner has to be the Address to a Haggis, written, amazingly, in 1786.  Special K did the actions as we all took turns reading in our best Scottish accents. (Mr. Snow’s was quite convincing for once, as opposed to the Indian-Jamaican cross that usually emerges whenever he does any accent.) I think my favourite bit is the stab at the French. Seems like the rivalry was well and alive already back then.

I leave you with Burns’ poem,  with the English translation below. Happy Burns Night!

‘Address To a Haggis’ by Robert Burns

Broad Scots Dialect

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;

And then, Ach! what a glorious sight,
Warm – reekin’, rich!
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive;
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;

Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit!” hums.
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad made her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,

Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! See him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle-shank a guid whip-lash,

His nieve a nit;
thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
Ach! how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads’ll sned
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware,
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

English Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
gut, stomach-lining, or intestine,
You’re well worth a grace
as long as my arm.

The overloaded serving tray there you fill,
Your buttocks shaped like a distant hilltop,
Your wooden skewer could be used to fix a mill
if need be,
While through your pores your juices drip
like liquid gold.

His knife see the serving-man clean,
And then cut you up with great skill,
Making a trench in your bright, gushing guts
To form a ditch,
And then, Oh! What a glorious sight!
Warm, steaming, and rich!

Then, spoonful after spoonful, they eagerly eat,
The devil will get the last bit, on they go,
Until all their well-stretched stomachs, by-and-by,
are bent like drums,
Then the head of the family, about to burst,
murmurs “Thank the Lord”.

Is there a pretentious soul who, over his French ragout,
Or Italian cuisine that would make a pig sick,
Or French stew that would make that same pig ill
with complete and utter disgust,
Looks down with a sneering, scornful attitude,
on such a meal? (as Haggis)

Poor devil! See him over his trash!
As feeble as a withered bullrush,
His skinny leg no thicker than a thin rope,
His fist the size of a nut,
Through a river or field to travel,
Completely unfit!

But look at the healthy, Haggis-fed person!
The trembling earth respects him as a man!
Put a knife in his fist,
He’ll make it work!
And legs, and arms, and heads will come off,
Like the tops of thistle.

You Powers who look after mankind,
And dish out his bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff
That splashes about in little wooden bowls!
But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!

månefisken

December 14, 2008

fish

Ever since we moved to Norway, there doesn’t seem as much point in organizing our annual Scandi Christmas party for friends, which involved patiently explaining to poor Dutch butchers with the aid of photos and diagrams exactly how the pork belly needs to be scored and prepared for our purposes, imbibing of much akvavit, smashing of Christmas baubles and tying of little green felt reindeer around the neighbour’s cat’s neck to get her into the mood (you all know who you are, I certainly remember what I am guilty of).

Norway seems intent on making up for the absence of this party with a vengeance. There has been a flurry of Christmas parties with every possible combination of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Company and food at all have been excellent, music varying from get-everyone-on-the-dancefloor disco to Norwegian country (the less said about the latter the better). The best location of all had to be Månefisken, a former weaving factory along Akerselva. I love the exposed brick walls of places like these (above).

But even though here I get the real deal, and many times over, I can’t help but miss our export version.

Little Jacket introduced me to the Flight of the Conchords tv series, a painfully funny comedy about a New Zealand duo who are trying to make it big in New York with(out) the help of the New Zealand Deputy Cultural Attaché. The twist is the ditties they break into, either spontaneously as they go about their daily lives or as part of promoting their band (making a video, etc).

But last night, I came home to find Mr. Snow giggling on the sofa. While the series concept isn’t the strongest, it turns out that Bret and Jermaine really shine in their deadpan musical comedy show, which was being shown. Above is their brilliant rap-folk crossover about the hiphopopotamus-rhymenoceros inner city showdown, and at least as good, their Shaggy-inspired She’s So Hot Boom!

all white in barking

November 26, 2008

barking

All White in Barking gave me a mini-documentary shot when we watched it on tv during our cabin weekend. I realized only later that it was commissioned as part of the BBC’s White Season, which asks the question (with its controversial trailer), ‘Is white working class Britain becoming invisible?’

Compared to many others, director Marc Isaacs has no qualms in provoking and actively creating situations for his subjects in the London borough of Barking, which is rapidly changing its ethnic makeup. Isaacs first asks a white couple what they think of their Nigerian next-door neighbour. After capturing all their preconceptions on video, he sets them up to have a meal together next door, and tapes that too, and the debriefing afterwards. Holocaust survivor Monty has a live-in carer and companion in Betty from Uganda.

It was interesting to watch residents be candid to the camera, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what point Isaacs wanted to make. Perhaps the point was just to make the film. If anything I felt Isaacs goaded the white residents a little too much, just to get a rise out of them, while no one else was challenged particularly.

This left me with a vaguely unsettled feeling, while a final, poignant take of the oddest-looking local pensioners made me feel sad for the miscommunication and incomprehension that can arise from fast-changing times.

slutt å maz!

November 14, 2008

Last night, Maz Jobrani, the Iranian American stand-up comedian, seemed almost as astonished to be playing in Oslo as we were to have him here. Easy humour with the occasional sharp edge, he did the Iranian jokes well as expected. But the added local flavour was good too, like Jobrani imagining eating rakfisk, and finding out that Maz means to nag in Norwegian.

And I know he has Iranian blood but still loved the fantastically-done Persian accent (and the two Iranian girls next to me laughing hysterically seemed to too!). All very good, including the Obama celebratory mood. With yesterday’s show, Jobrani kicked off a European tour, moving to Amsterdam tonight, and then to London and Stockholm.

The punchy local warm-up act Jonas Bergland was also excellent especially when delivering lines in gangsta Holmlia or poncy Nordstrand accents. Though I struggled a bit to catch the punchline in places,  I loved what I caught (and Mr. Snow translated!). Hurrah, does this mean I’ll be able to go to local stand-up again in the not-too-far future?

info on iceland

November 4, 2008

Due to my extremely limited time in Iceland, I have had to widen my sources of information in this entry to Special K and Little Jacket, both of whom have visited previously. I give you the latest in Myyear’s country series!

1. Every person in Iceland has at least one sweater of this design.

2. It is possible to bake bread by burying dough in a wooden cask in the ground close to a hot spring. It can be picked up the next day, ready to eat, and will have a slight sulphuric taste.

3. According to Icelandic tradition, an angler has to bite the caudal fin off the first salmon they ever catch.

4. In storms or high winds, the Icelandic Search and Rescue Association come around in trucks like these to pick up any sorry soul who still happens to be outside on foot.

5. Hot pots are natural or man-made pools of thermal water dotted around the country, and are a good spot to steam and catch up on the news with your neighbour.

And finally, a word of warning should you ever find yourself in Iceland. Don’t steal the puffins.

puffin

la clique

November 3, 2008

“I haven’t been to the circus for ages!” exclaimed the Bean Counter excitedly as, newly arm-banded, we clattered up the stairs to our circle seats at the Hippodrome. Bandstand music set the scene for La Clique, who after making their name at the Edinburgh Fringe and touring the world, played their inaugural weekend in their new London home.

The burlesque variety show more than lived up to expectations for an excellent night out. Each member of the La Clique family has their very own talent, from Cabaret Decadanse‘s raunchy puppetry:

to Ursula Martinez’s astonishing disappearing abilities,

and Mario the Queen-sound tracked juggler.

A poll among our motley crew showed two men in joint first place for best act. David O’Mer’s er, gymnastic ability impressed many (including Ms. D).

I leant more towards the contortionist Captain Frodo and his tennis racquets, and not just because he is Norwegian.

I laughed so much I cried. Definitely go see if you get the chance!

bits about bali

October 21, 2008

The last post from Indonesia, and No. 4 in myyearonline’s continuing country series.

1. Balinese are given gender-independent names based on their birth order: the first born child is called Wayan, the second Made, the third Nyoman and the fourth Ketut. Subsequent children are not a problem, simply start at the beginning again!

2. More men than women wear fresh flowers behind their ears as accessories.

3. Offerings are made daily to the gods, little woven leaf pockets of rice, flowers, incense sticks and even the odd Ritz biscuit. These are placed in entryways to homes and shops, at shrines and temples. Mr. Snow spent our entire trip almost stepping on them.

4. Balinese New Year, Nyepi, is a day for self-reflection and quiet. So no lights, tvs, or radios, no driving, no flights or beach going, even for tourists.

5. Despite the authorities’ best efforts, cockfighting is well and alive in Bali. If you ever pass a temple or dirt track with dozens of motorbikes parked, but not a soul in sight, take a look around. The action is not far off!

kecak at uluwatu

October 4, 2008

My favourite of the Balinese traditional dances is also the youngest. Kecak tells stories from the Ramayana. It is performed by up to 100 men in a chorus rhythmically chanting ‘cak’ to accompany the main players, Rama, Sita, Ravana and Hanuman. It is derived from a trance-inducing exorcism dance.

I discovered on my previous trip that the dance is also performed at sunset at Uluwatu, atop the cliffs, and close to the temple.

A spectacular location for what is, despite commercialization, a very atmospheric performance.

Not sure Hanuman’s fire antics were health and safety approved.

Go here and here for more stunning shots, and here to listen to how catchy kecak is. Not to be missed if you ever visit Bali. Even Mr. Snow enjoyed it thoroughly, against his expectations.