Syttende Mai

The last of my Oslo posts, coming right up!
While Marlon went home a day early to work, I stayed on for Oslo’s big national holiday, Constitution Day, or as the Norwegians call it, Syttende Mai: the 17th of May. We had tickets to the annual parade that passes right in front the Royal Palace.
“Bring something dressy,” my sister advised. “People really dress up for the parade.” I was a bit dubious but did as I was told. Lo and behold, on the 17th of May, I walked to the bus stop outside my sister’s apartment and beheld the truth.
Aside from the snazzy suits and cocktail dresses, what impressed me the most was that Norwegians spend the entire day (from the morning’s parade to whatever parties they have going on) in their national costume, the bunad. It’s a beautiful garment with a long history behind it.

Bunad are entirely handmade, and are passed down from one generation to the next. Young Norwegians receive their bunad at the age of 14 years, for the rite of confirmation. It’s not uncommon for them to wear bunad that are over a hundred of years old! Otherwise, springing for a brand-new bunad can leave you some NOK 40,000 (PhP 323,000 lang naman!) poorer. Ouch!

I didn’t have 40,000 kroner in my bank account, nor a Norwegian granny to make a bunad for me, so I dressed up for the parade in a ruffled LBD, my lace-up boots and my BAM! comic-book inspired fascinator.

To get in the spirit of things, I pinned the colors of the Norwegian flag (red, white and blue) to my lapel. I couldn’t get how to pin the ribbons in the special way the locals do, though. These ribbons were everywhere that day!

Walking through the Slottsparken to get to the palace, we found ourselves milling with hundreds of dandied-up Osloites on their way to the parade.

The atmosphere was so festive, kind of like a family-friendly, freshly-scrubbed, alcohol-free Queen’s Day…

with lots of balloons and other treats for the kids.

It was great seeing everyone dressed up for the event, in costumes with varying degrees of elaborateness.

At the Palace, the locals graciously let Mom through to the front of the barricades so she could watch the parade.

I think it was because they saw how tiny she was! One guy even offered, jokingly, to carry her on his back. So there we were in front with all the kids.

Little people get the best view!


We watched for a few hours as what seemed like every school and organization in Norway marched by singing, waving the national flag and chanting “Hip hip hurrah!” or as they say “Hiep hiep hoera!”

Some students even got their Glee on. It was a bit odd, and funny, to see a bunch of aspiring Cheerios after all the elaborate national costumes!

Everyone from the oldest grannies to the littlest babies got in on the fun. It was all very orderly and wholesome! Freshness!

Everyone paraded in front of the palace…

while Norway’s royal family waved from the balcony. Love the hats!

Thanks to my sister for insisting that I stay for the parade (even if we were late!). Definitely a facet of Oslo that I enjoyed seeing. Hiep hiep hoera!
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A tale of two artists

Norway’s two most famous artists, painter/printmaker Edvard Munch and sculptor Gustav Vigeland, were not only contemporaries, but bitter rivals. Munch, whose famous painting The Scream may have given him a leg up over Vigeland in death, was quoted to have forbidden a single cent of the taxes he paid to the state to be used for the construction of Vigelands Park, filled with over 200 sculptures by his nemesis, in 1921.

It was a gloomy, rainy afternoon when Marlon, my sister and I visited the Munch Museum in Oslo.

The weather turned out to be perfectly suited to Munch’s works. His paintings, and the prints he made of them, are filled with anguish, despair, betrayal, and life’s darkest colors. In Munch’s world, lovers only leave and betray; jealousy turns men into hollow-eyed corpses. Pretty heavy stuff for a Sunday afternoon.

Yet amidst the darkness of his worldview, some bright spots stand out vividly.

“The Seducer”… but who is seducing whom?

We saw some of his most famous works, such as his Madonna

… and The Scream, which was accompanied by his journal entry about the evening that inspired the painting.

Munch was what we would today call a multimedia artist: he not only painted, but made prints, took photographs and films, and wrote about his work. “It was a Time during which Life had ripped open my Soul,” wrote Munch. “I felt a huge Scream—and I really did hear a huge Scream…”

Munch’s world is definitely not a pretty place. But the power he has to draw you into it, to mesmerize you with pain and paint, cannot but be admired.

Consolation and The Death of Marat, my favorites from this museum

In contrast, it was a bright, sunny day when we went to Vigelands Park, a park dedicated to Munch’s most bitter rival.

At first, Vigeland seems to be the antithesis of Munch. His figures play, leap, laugh and run, with joy coursing through bones, muscles and veins of bronze. Set against a brilliant blue sky, this boundless energy and happiness was a bit of a relief after Munch, to be honest.

But walk deeper into the park and happiness slowly begins to acquire a darker, deeper tinge. Mingling  with loving embraces and tender gazes…

are scenes of frustration, punishment…

… even desperation.

By filling the park with 212 statues, Vigeland is able to show a wide range of life’s nuances and subtleties, at every stage of life from birth to death.

With so many sculptures, every visitor is bound to find something that speaks to him or her intimately.

For me, what I noticed most were the sculptures of babies. Maybe it’s because of where I am right now in life: having a baby is on my mind a lot these days, and while I’m not 100% ready for it, I am looking forward to that next chapter. At first, it seems Vigeland does not provide encouragement to would-be parents.

Scary, right? I found the sculpture of the baby gagging his mother with her hair particularly disturbing. Overwhelmed and overrun, these parents echo the stories my mom friends have told me about the early days of motherhood, and I can’t help but feel apprehensive.

But then with one piece, Vigeland wiped that all away. This one piece, with all its tenderness and strength, told me to go for it anyway. That maybe, in the midst of all my questions and apprehensions, I would find something that would make it all worth it.

I can’t help but think that Munch speaks to my gaga-for-love days of yore, while Vigelands speaks to who I am now, and maybe who I am about to become. These rivals may have been at odds in their own lives, but somehow, set against the lives of those who behold their work, they have found a way to complement one other.

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An evening at the opera

When my sister and I were planning this Oslo trip last year, I was thrilled to learn that the dates of our visit coincided with the one-night-only concert of one of the greatest performers in opera today… the awesome Cecilia Bartoli. I had to see her. I’m the only one in my family who is into this stuff but I managed to drag them all with me.

It was a gloomy, rainy evening when we went to the Operaen, Norway’s multimillion-euro opera and ballet house. Rising out of the gray and the mist, the Operaen seemed like some mythical fortress of snow and ice. So Nordic!

But really, I was awestruck. This is easily the most stunning concert hall I have ever seen in my life.

Though I was happy to have a wide-angle lens to capture it all, the pictures don’t do it justice. It was really hard to choose photos for this post!

Built to the tune of € 500 million (PhP 30.7 BILLION, just to boggle your mind), this is nothing less than a modern-day temple to culture and the arts. Spending that kind of public money on a concert hall makes a powerful endorsement of music that musicians all over the world, particularly in a country like ours, would kill for. 
Everything from the curving walls of clean blond wood… 

… to practical considerations such as the coatroom and cocktail tables… 

… even the bathroom, spoke of everything Scandinavian design is famous for, and makes a statement about the value this society places on culture and art. If it isn’t obvious, I’m completely envious and could not want this for the Philippines bad enough.

Everything announces the importance of the experience you are just about to have: the experience of music. No usher could ever bring you as graciously or ecstatically to your seat, in anticipation of a wonderful evening, as this building can.

Which brings us to Cecilia.

I’ve always found early music to be a bit of a bore, to be honest. But not the way Cecilia Bartoli sings it. She brings such mastery, genius and spirit to early, lesser-known works, that you literally sit up on the edge of your seat and hold your breath listening to her.

She sang pieces from her Grammy-winning album, Sacrificium, which features works originally written for castrati, prepubescent boys castrated for the sole purpose of performing some of the most difficult pieces ever written for the human voice. 

And the costumes! Her knee-high leather boots, billowing pirate-type blouse, swirling cape, scarlet taffeta bustle, and giant red feathers added drama and flair to a bravura performance. Brava Cecilia!

I was so glad that my mom, who’s not the biggest fan of opera, really enjoyed it. 

Operaen is the only concert hall in the world where you can, and in fact are meant to, walk all over the building, and all the way up to the roof from the ground floor.

So after the concert, that’s just what we did. With the sunset sky in the background, it was absolutely perfect.

It’s a wonderful, welcoming space to walk, sit, play and see the city, bringing a new dimension to arts that are seen as dull and exclusive. Plus it’s photogenic with a million angles and planes to play with. Camwhores will pee all over themselves with delight. We almost did!

Marlon posed for his Fortune 500/Time Man of the Year cover.

My sights are set a bit lower. Hanggang level lang ng Lookbook and Chictopia, haha.

We took the coolest family photo ever: Marlon and I outside, and Mom and my sister inside.

And my sister took this photo of us kissing. Aww.
I feel so lucky to have been able to watch Cecilia Bartoli in such a gorgeous space. Truly the highlight of the whole trip. 
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Off to Oslo

If you had told me years ago that my mom, sister and I would be holidaying together in Scandinavia one day, I would have scratched my head and wondered how the heck that would ever happen. But life is funny—and awesome—that way. 
One of the biggest perks my sister got from her assignment in Oslo by her Norwegian telco employers was a free business class ticket for my mom. Getting my mom to overcome her fear of flying and finally agree to fly to Europe was a battle and a half, but the free ticket definitely sweetened the deal. 
The last time my mom visited both of us was when we were still living in Singapore and my sister in KL. My sister accompanied Mom on the flight to Singapore and spent the weekend there, establishing a new sort of family tradition we now call “the handover.” So on my mom’s last weekend in Oslo, Marlon and I  decided to fly up and do the handover there. 
Oslo in May felt to me like Amsterdam in March: cold and windy. Fortunately, our first day there was gorgeous. We went out to the harbor, and it felt like the city was doing its best to welcome us by mustering up some blue skies and sunshine. Still, the breeze was stiff and chilly and I had to get used to having different parts of my body be prickling with cold and sweating profusely at the same time.
The Oslo harbor has some of the most coveted residential real estate in the city, and it’s easy to see why. 
It felt like what Robertson Quay in Singapore aspires to, or maybe even a Serendra or Bonifacio High Street with the sea.

It’s so clean-lined and modern, it feels kind of like an architectural rendering or mockup of a future development. 
We waited at the ferry terminal while my sister went to pick up our Constitution Day parade tickets at the Radhuset, or City Hall.

Our plan for the day was to hop on a båt (ferry) to Bygdøy, one of the islands within Oslo’s harbor, to see the Viking Ship Museum and Folkemuseum. While waiting for the ferry, my sister taught us how to pronounce the special letters in the Norwegian alphabet. For example, “å” sounds like “wa”, so båt is pronounced “bwat.” Alexander Skarsgård is “Alexander Skarsgward.” Very Pinoy swardspeak! I like!
The ferry to Bygdøy took just around 10 minutes. From the dock, we walked another 10 minutes to the Vikingskiphuset, or Viking Ship Museum. In Dutch, it would read Vikings Chicken House—kip is chicken!

I went through a phase when I was completely obsessed with Greek mythology. One of the books I read was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which combined both Greek and Norse mythology in one volume. It was easy to get into Norse mythology from there. So I’ve always been fascinated with the Vikings. In my boy-crazy adolescent years I used to picture them as hot blond conquerors. Oh, how hormones can distort history.

So the Viking Museum pretty much blew my mind. It contains four (mostly recreated) Viking ships excavated from burial mounds in Norway. Vikings were buried with their ships and possessions for the journey into the afterworld, revealing the dramatic “burial at sea with flaming ship” to be a Hollywood trope.

This graceful ship was buried with a Viking queen, with all her worldly goods: everything from jewelry to weapons to cooking tools to clothes to four of these massive, intricately carved wooden carts. Parang SM lang: we’ve got it all for you!

The scale and power of these ships are truly impressive, revealing the might and skill of a supposedly primitive civilization. You sail, sometimes row, for hundreds of miles across the world’s coldest seas, subsist on dried scraps of meat (basically, tapa) without a roof over your head, exposed to the harshness of the elements. Then when you get there you have to do battle, conquer bloody everyone and sack bloody everything. That can’t have been easy.

After the Viking Ship Museum, we walked to the Norse Folkemuseum, a sprawling open-air conservation area that features recreated buildings from different regions and periods in Norway’s history. What is Nayong Pilipino?

I keed, I keed. This is the oldest open-air museum in the world, so we can safely assume Nayong Pilipino ang nanggaya. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through this museum, which had everything from houses to schoolhouses.

I love the clean lines and unadorned simplicity of their architecture. And I was delighted to learn that the Scandinavians were into roof gardens long before being green was chic.

Nothing looks touristy or kitschy. Buildings are recreated with careful attention to detail. 
Some, like the Stave Church from 1881, were bought, disassembled and rebuilt here piece by piece. 
We arrived just before closing time, so we were only able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the museum hosts in their traditional folk costume. 

One thing I liked that we rarely get to do was take a nice family portrait. Our last one was during our New Year’s trip to Bohol, and before that, at my wedding. Luckily Marlon was there to play photographer.

The four of us took the bus back to the harbor for dinner at Solsiden, one of Oslo’s best seafood restaurants, where we discussed… my sister’s future. Haha.

She’d warned me that eating out in Oslo is expensive, but I didn’t realize how expensive until we actually ate out. Marlon and I have dropped our fair share of cash on meals, but masakit talaga sa wallet ito. We had a similar meal at Restaurant Red here in Amsterdam, and the value for money there was significantly better. With the exception of two lunches, we had all the rest of our meals at my sister’s apartment after this one. At least this particular dinner was worth it. The seafood was indeed excellent.

Anyone who would have looked over at our table would have laughed to see four Filipinos working furiously to scrape every last speck of meat from those lobsters. Thank goodness we come from a seafood-eating culture na marunong maghimay at magsaidAng mahal kasi eh
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