Friday, August 27, 2004

The bells! The bells!


Our doorbell just rang. Our landlord, whom we love, just fixed it the other day. It has not worked for most of the time we have lived here, (the battery was dead....who knew it had a battery?) and I can now say that it was vastly preferable when it did not work.

That doorbell is the loudest, most unpleasant, jump-out-of-your-skin-when-it-clangs piece of crap cacophonous thing that I have ever heard. It sounds like the five alarm fire alert bell that goes off in a fire station. It's LOUD and RAUCOUS and HORRIBLE. It reverberates offf the wood floors at a decible level that is, I think, illegal in most Austin night clubs.

Whenever people ring it, they don't just poke it once for a short "brap" of clangor. Nooooo, they LAY on it, two and three times (is that a Norwegian thing?) and it scares the ever loving SHIT out of me every time.

It rang twice already today.....neighborhood kids selling things. Things I don't want. The doorbell rings, I run downstairs to speak garbled infant Norwegian to some poor kid who wonders why the retarded lady at the door is bug-eyed, wild-haired and panting (I just jumped 8 feet when they hit the doorbell and then ran up or down the stairs to answer the damn door!). I tell them no, I don't want any sausages/fish/raffle tickets for soccer balls. They think I am a meanie. Then I have to go back to where I was when the doorbell rang and clean up the floor, as I pissed myself because it scared me so bad.

Most of our neighbors think we are the rude Americans. Probably because we never answered the door because we never heard the doorbell. (Norwegians don't knock. Ever. We have not had an unsolicited knock on the door in over a year. Today, two rings. Hence, I can safely say that Norwegians don't knock.) Now, our neighbors will just think we are crazy, as when they DO ring the bell they are gonna get a piss-soaked, crazy eyed gibbering woman wheezing out at them.

I think those batteries just might have to die again real soon......

Thursday, August 26, 2004


If permanent makeup will do that for me...I think I will pass. But thanks anyhow.

Time waster for you.

This is too much fun. You can waste hours on's easy but hard. I bet you can do it at work, too, just turn down the sound and don't cuss every time you crash, like I keep doing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

It was a chilly August afternoon....

....OK so I just wanted to post that title, really. Anyone from Texas knows that "chilly" and "August" are two words that NEVER are heard together with relation to Texas weather.

But here in Norway I am officially....chilly. Brrrr. Summer is over. It's been raining and the sky has those flat grey clouds that I associate with winter and cold.

In other news, we leave for Egypt next week, for that Nile Cruise. I suppose it will be warmer there than about 50 degrees. To say I am excited would be a severe understatement. Perhaps "disbelieving" "stunned" or "pole-axed" might be better words to describe my feelings towards this particular trip.

Egypt is that place that you read books about or see on a TV special about Tutankhamun, but to actually go there? Wow.....I feel the same as if someone said I was going to Mars next week.......

"Oh. Going to Mars are we? Oh. Ok, I guess I need to pack light for that, huh? Space suit? Ok. Oxygen? Yup. Solar wind protection? Gotcha."

Yeah, right. Like I can fathom that.

Packing for this will consist of linens and linens, sun glasses and sun screen. And a swim suit.

It's not even 60 degrees here. It will be 110 in Luxor. Is that wierd or what? I haven't felt even 90 degrees in over two years.


Sorry....I'm not crowing and I am not bragging, I am trying to compute. Honestly. I feel like I am talking about someone else. Not me. Some other lucky goddamn bastard!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

A walk back in time to the Victorian era

Clerestory windows at the head of the stairs, with me as the obligatory ghost, Midland Grand St. Pancras Hotel, London. July 2004

In July Rich and I spent some time in London. One of the things we did, which we had attempted to do a few times but never quite managed it, was a tour of the old Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station. It's a huge Victorian pile, being renovated by the Marriott corporation to be used again as a hotel. It has been empty for many years, and tours are offered only on weekends to small groups, where they show you through what is obviously a work in progress. Some stunning pieces of its past remain, though. The grand staircase has been cleaned and repaired, and the painting on its arched ceiling is nothing less than spectacular.

The hotel was built as the showpiece lodging of the Midland Railway company, who also built St. Pancras station, which is attached to it. It was the Four Seasons of its time. It opened to great fanfare and media coverage in 1873. (See the link above for a really good site telling the history and with added photos.) The hotel's pre-eminence did not last long, though, one of the main reasons being that it was built just before the time of en-suite bathrooms, so it had only 9 bathrooms for its 300+ rooms! Once people got used to the convenience of bathrooms attached to their rooms, the Midland Grand just seemed outdated. It was converted for use as offices ( called St. Pancras Chambers) in the 1930's, and was rendered derelict in the 1980's.

But the dereliction of it is what makes it so cool to see now. Faded grandeur, ghostly ruins, glimpsed visions of better days. Dark corners and arched gothic hallways extend in every direction, you can hear furtive scratchings and scuttlings of whatever creatures still exist in the vast old shell. Some rooms have plaster and wallpaper peeling off the walls, falling onto incredibly ornate marble fireplaces and hand carved window surrounds. The floors are reduced to rotted wood beams, glowing in the colors reflected from the stained glass windows that still remain above them. The place smells of plaster and mold and dust and an extra something deeper, I guess I can only call it time.

The spooky yet lush visual appeal of the old pile is not wasted, however. It is a very popular place for movie, video, and fashion shoots. Some of my favorite movies have been filmed, at least in part, there. (One of which is The Secret Garden. The spooky old house in which the main characters live, the interior was filmed in the Midland Grand.) Also a Spice Girls' video was filmed there, woohoo?

The Marriott corporation is renovating it for use as a hotel once again, but they will have some major work ahead of the hell will they install 200 bathrooms?

The light at the end of the very long hallway, Midland Grand St. Pancras Hotel, London. July 2004

There are many hallways like this. They go on and on and on. We weren't allowed down them, for safety reasons. There is a whole huge wing, longer than a football field in length, that is completely closed off awaiting its return to glory.

The Stairwell, Midland Grand St. Pancras Hotel, London

As a decorative painter, this place gave me the vapors. Every surface that could be painted, was painted. What wasn't painted was marble or some sort of ornate surface. I happen to love Gothic architecture, whether revival or the original, and it lends itself well to stenciling and rich heraldic colors. I was just in heaven looking at the styles and techniques that were used 130 years ago. It was Stencil Nirvana. It made me want to get my hands on my paints and brushes, grab those stencils and start decorating yet again.

The walls had been painted over in really horrible colors during the hotel's life as offices. Restorationists are now removing those sordid industrial layers of paint and revealing the original patterns and colors. 90% of them are stencilled patterns, hand painted, and a good amount of it remains, hidden under 3-4 layers of paint. It was hugely inspiring to me to see the different levels of paint, and in some cases there were 2-3 layers of patterned designs under the flat greys and greens. The first was high Victorian, then the second, done only a few years later in an "update" for the hotel, a William Morris craftsman style and the third was art nouveau! Layer upon layer of design, technique and history. The debate now is which to preserve and which would be lost forever.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Ahhh....the London Pub Experience. July, 2004

I call this "London Pub Still Life". To me it evokes the perfect afternoon, actually. A paper, a beer, a smoke and some chips (er, crisps) in a totally historic old pub. Ah, that's living.

Rich and I were in England in July. I was there for 10 days, he was there for the end part of my stay, for about 4 days. We managed to do quite a few self-exploratory pub crawls, and this photo comes from one of them. This time around we focussed our efforts on the South Bank of the Thames. There are some great pubs there.

It was taken at a pub called "The Anchor" on the South Bank, right next to The Golden Hinde and right across the river from St. Paul's. In fact, this pub is the place where Samuel Pepys retreated to watch the Great Fire of London in 1666! It's pretty cool, half timbered and meandering, and awash with all sorts of different people, tourists and business people on happy hours and parents with kids and a few hard core drinkers.

Rich and I found a table on an upper level of the pub, overlooking the downstairs. Looking directly down from our table, practically hanging over the railings, I saw this view...a guy, by himself, enjoying the quintessentially English pastime of a pint, a paper and a smoke, his packet of Walker's crisps to hand. It almost looked staged, the table was so perfect. Of course I had to photograph it. I especially like the headline on the paper he was reading: "Brits Will Always Be Binge Drinkers".
I love everything about this photo...the wildly patterned carpet, the dinged up table, the arrangement of his drinking paraphernalia just so for ease of access. I tried getting a picture of his hand as it came towards the ashtray to deposit the ashes from his cigarette, but the camera I was using (Rich's digital) was too damn slow and I missed the shot.

Don't you just want to go to a pub right about now? Isn't this just so evocative of every pub you have ever been to?

We hit a few more pubs after this. We were inspired, I guess.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

My Neighborhood Walk

A view from a walk in our neighborhood in Norway.

Moose Crossing

Rich under a moose crossing sign in our neighborhood. In Texas you get cows and armadillos, here ya get mooses and elk.

I like to do a walk that takes me from our house, through cattle fields and strawberry farms, past iron age burial mounds, up to a 12th century church (Tanum) and then down through 17th-19th century farms on the way back home. It's about 2-3 miles round trip. I always feel like it's a walk through history and an escape from time. And it's a kick butt walk too, I am worn out afterwards. Norway is a good place for walking, at least in summer.

The old church

Tanum Church. View from the front gate. You can't see the steeple, but it's there.

I've been inside a couple of times and it is just charming, a mixture of stylistic remnants of painting from the 13th century, a Baroque altar donated by a rich family in the 17th century, and some really fun decorative paint effects that are suppose to look like marble and wood grain, and almost achieve it. As a decorative painter myself, it's always fascinating for me to see what was done in the past and how it has survived. Many techniques used hundreds of years ago survive today.

It's quite famous as it was the subject of a painting in the 19th century by an artist named Harriet Backer. You can see that painting here. It is in the Norwegian National Gallery. You can also see that not much has changed since she painted that by clicking here for a modern photo of that same doorway.
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Church with a view

The view from the back edge of Tanum church property, behind the cemetery.
The 12th century stone church is on a high hill overlooking the Oslofjord. There has been some form of settlement and/or worship there for thousands of years.