On a sunny day earlier this week my colleague Christian Ruge took me to see the Norwegian WWII Resistance Museum at Akershus fort on Oslo’s waterfront. The museum imaginatively documents the country’s effort to resist the German invasion in April 1940 and subsequent five-year occupation: a barrage of German rifles point menacingly at the entrance, while an underground chamber contains artifacts used by the resistance.

The story of the young nation’s resistance is heartening beginning from when the army managed to sink the German cruiser Blücher as it entered Oslo fjord, allowing enough for the government to escape the capital for London where it ruled in exile. King Haakon traveled through the country’s remote interior evading German soldiers until he too escaped by sea for England.

Once the Nazi regime took control, the Norwegian population mounted a spirited campaign and sustained campaign of civil disobedience. Illegal newspapers circulated countering to German propaganda. Norwegians refused to speak German or sit beside a German on public transportation. They wore a paper clip worn on their lapel to represent their patriotism as they assumed the paper clip to be a Norwegian invention.

It was interesting to visit with Christian. His grandfather was interned in the far north of the country together with hundreds of other Norwegian teachers for refusing to adhere to introduce a national socialist curriculum. Christian’s great-uncle General Otto Ruge was Commander-in-chief at the time of the invasion and negotiated the surrender of the remains of the Norwegian army after the fall of southern Norway and withdrawal of allied forces. He was subsequently arrested and sent to Germany for the rest of the war. On the way out we passed by a statue of him with maps in hand and head turned toward the castle.

My best friend Simone Kerlin came to see me one weekend earlier this month. As Brazilian now living in DC she’d never seen so much snow. It wasn’t even the snow that astonished her, rather the fact that it never stopped falling during her four day-long visit!

One day while attempting to avoid the snow we visited the Nobel Peace Center, which opened in June 2005. The Nobel Peace Prize is one of five Nobel Prizes bequested by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel and the only one to be awarded by a Norwegian committee.

When the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its coordinator Jody Williams were awarded the peace prize in 1997, the irony was not lost on the selection committee as Nobel had made his fortune after inventing the explosive dynamite.

The museum contains a curious mixture of multimedia exhibitions. At the time of our visit, one floor was devoted to the most recent winner – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its director general Mohamed El Baradi. The theme??? “Make Nuclear Power, Not Weapons.”

My apartment looks north-west toward a horizon on which the famed Oslo Ski Jump sits at Holmenkollen. This weekend was the annual ski jump competition so I had to go check it out.

My friend Alex Wilde came along together with her gorgeous 14-month old baby Mali. Alex is also from Wellington, went to secondary school with my sister Evelyn, was best friends with the sister of one of my first boyfriends, has a mother who was mayor of the city in the 1980s, and so on. Kiwis are good at finding so many different connections! Alex has lived in Oslo for the past six years since marrying a Norwegian she met while they were both serving in their respective countries’ foreign service at the United Nations in New York (New Zealand diplomats tend to hang out with the other ‘N’s, like the Netherlands, etc). When my sister learned I was coming to Oslo she urged me to get in touch with Alex. It turns out our organizations share the same building, so I see her daily in the canteen…

Anyway, we caught the metro train up the mountain then walked the final hill together pushing Mali in her pram. Over 40,000 fans were seated around the ski jump and on the surrounding hillside, many decked out in their national colours with plenty of Norwegian flag-waving and silly plastic viking helmets. Somehow we managed to meet Kiwis and Aussies at every turn though, including an obnoxious young Australian male with their awful flag who took off his shirt to reveal the word “OI” as in oi! written on his back. More suited to a rugby match in Brisbane than the ski jump…

It was clear and sunny so we could see the jumpers preparing at the top by shuffling their way to the center of the run. Then they slid down the track at speeds of over 100 kph before jumping what to me seemed like an enormous and stomach-churning distance.

This was an international contest with plenty of Finnish, Austrian, and American participants, but the Norwegian competitors always received the loudest applause. And who won? I believe it was Adam Malysz (28) from Poland. At least he wasn’t Swedish.

The Winter Olympics wrapped up this weekend and I thought you might be curious how Norway did. They hauled home 19 medals, meaning they came sixth on the list of countries winning medals (Germany came first). It sounds pretty impressive until you consider that only two of the medals were gold. Definitely disappointing from a Norwegian perspective. What made it all the worse was neighbour Sweden’s numerous victories, winning seven golds!

…for more than one reason:

1) This week the OECD warned that Iceland’s economy continues to show signs of overheating.

2) Global warming is also causing the island’s glaciers to melt and creating other damage. In 2005, the Prime Minister announced that Iceland´s tallest mountain, Hvannadalshnjúkur, had shrunk by 9.4 metres due to global warming.

3) The real reason, however, is that Brian Liu (of “Yellow Fever” fame & NSYNC fanatic) is over there this weekend to DJ the annual food and ‘fun’ festival as a guest of renowned Icelandic chef Siggy Hall.

And, Brian claims from Reykjavík, “it’s warmer than Montana was last week!”

A danger lurks in Oslo, not from beneath, but above. A rise in the temperture is melting snow resulting … icicles hanging from all the rooftops. After spending the weekend stepping over and under sticks oddly placed across the pavement, I looked up and realized it was a Norwegian method to barricade the path from the icy threat above.

Oslo’s icicles became a major story this week when a pedestrian in an upscale neighborhood was taken to hospital after receiving an icy blow to the head. His injuries did not turn out to be life-threatening, but the city is now making an all-out effort to remove the icicles and with them the remaining snow that has clogged the streets for the past week.

And I thought DC was dangerous!

Some interesting statistics have been published in the past couple of weeks on two of my favourite things.

Oslo is now the most expensive city in the world according to an annual survey of over 130 cities by the Economist. After fourteen years, Tokyo has been knocked back to the second-most expensive in the world. Reykjavik in neighbouring Iceland is now third.

I must admit to not feeling the prices that badly. Fafo is sponsoring me in an apartment nearby meaning I can avoid public transport, which costs min. NOK 20 ($3) a pop. I’m cooking at home and not eating out plus lunch is free every day in the work canteen. Best of all, there’s a yummy coffee machine downstairs that’s also free, which brings me to the next stat…

According to the governmental statistics agency SSB, Norwegians drink more coffee per capita than any other country in the world. Last year nearly 41 tons of coffee was imported into the country, which has a population of 4.5 million people. On a per capita basis, Norwegians therefore consume an average of 8.8 kilos of coffee per person meaning every Norwegian over the age of 15 drinks around four cups of coffee a day.

And the best thing I learned this week??? There is not a single Starbucks in this country!

I don’t want to give the impression that my time here in Norway is being spent skiing and watching the Olympics. That’s definately part of it, but I’m here on sabbatical for a reason: to write up my own evaluation of the Landmine Monitor, a project I’ve worked on since its inception. Here’s some info on what I’m trying to do. Your feedback and thoughts would be most appreciated…

Subject: Landmine Monitor is a monitoring initiative established by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1998 to monitor implementation and compliance with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and the humanitarian response more generally to the global mine problem.

Thesis: To what degree has Landmine Monitor succeeded as a monitoring regime? (from the campaign’s perspective it has been incredibly effective, but proving this is another matter!) Does it really function as a type of verification system? (not in the strictest sense and this is the opportunity to speak about it in the broader academic/theoretical context)

Additional questions will be comparative:
1) How does it compare to formal regimes and verification agencies established to monitor chemical and nuclear weapons?
2) How does it compare with NGO monitoring involvement in treaties on the environment (biodiversity) and labour rights?
3) How can movements seeking to monitor other emerging treaties in areas such as disability rights and tobacco control effectively replicate Landmine Monitor or elements of it?

Like I said, your feedback is welcome. It’s been more than a decade since I completed university and I’m outta practice! The end product of this research will be a chapter in a book I am compiling together with my colleagues Steve and Jody, maybe a paper issued by Fafo, and, if I can get my act together to apply, I’d like to get in published in some academic journal. I’m trying to fill a hole in the knowledge of the academic and verification worlds as no-one really knows about this little initiative beyond those working on this issue…

After the cross-country skiing excursion and sledding down the mountain I felt sufficiently prepared to watch the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on television last night. In fact it’s hard to avoid the games, the national television channel NRK (the only one I get) seems to have 24/7 coverage.

The opening was pretty, well, Italian: some terrible techno music, extravagent pyrotechnics, a Ferrari doing doghnuts, acrobats in surreal outfits, dancers towing dairy cows, aging politicians, operatic feats by the big man himself Pavarotti… The athletes (New Zealand - hooray!, Norway - hooray, Seychelles – ???, Trinidad – ???) paraded into the stadium accompanied by a bizarre array of 70s/80s disco hits such as the Village People’s “YMCA” ?! There were no ad breaks so I couldn’t miss a beat. At least some really impressive women got to carry in the flag.

It all made Turin seem a lot more exciting than it really is. On vacation, it’s always been the one to bypass – gray, industrial, boring city… And the slogan for these games is: “Passion lives here”???

By the end of the first day (afterI had checked out the folk museum and massive ships at the Viking museum) Norway was leading the medal totals with two silver and two bronze. I have the feeling this event will be everywhere I go for the next two weeks.

I spent the weekend with an old campaign friend Kjell Knudsen at his family home thirty minutes outside Oslo. The house is down a long road framed by evergreen trees. It lies right beside a long lake that has completely frozen over. At least a foot of snow was lying on top of the ice and we spent Sunday cross-country skiing down the lake. It was my first experience at this type of skiing and I was glad to have such a competent teacher! We also took the family dog Hero along with us. The dog, a Dalmatian that looked pretty cool in the snow, has a leash that can be tied on to a harness around your waist so that he pulls you along. The set-up proved very useful when I got tired!

That afternoon it started snowing and hadn’t stopped by the time we were ready to leave Monday morning. After digging a path through snow two feet deep, Kjell manouvered the four-wheel drive down the access road. Everything was covered in snow. We came across a woman, a foreigner of course, whose car had become lodged in a snow bank. Kjell was late for his class at university, but nonetheless stopped to tow her out. I’ve seen a lot of strangers pitching in to push cars out of snow banks.

This week Kjell and his roommate Mette, another old campaign friend are going to show me how to toboggan down the Korketrekkeren (the Cork Screw), a 2 km bob sleigh run from the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics. I can’t wait…

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