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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday hiatus, extended

Seeking forgiveness, readers, first and foremost.

Realize that for the past few weeks, things have been slack on this blog. There was taking time off to do the obligatory decorating, shopping, cooking and all the rest that accompanies this time of year. Much of that took up quite a bit of my time, and I hadn't realized how long I've been away from posting. Then, dagnabit! A head cold rears itself! Ick! Yet another setback!

So as yours truly battles with her sinuses, I'll be thinking strong thoughts that hopefully will translate into compelling words to be read right here. Foremost is trying to wrap my head around the fact that we're closing out the first decade of the 21st century. Still mind-blowing when you stop to consider where we we were, as a city, region, nation, world, just 10 short years ago. Reflecting on 1999-turning-to-2000, and then bringing it forward does give one reason to pause for some heavy-duty pondering.

But if you still have an eggnog buzz and you're not quite ready for that kind of deep dive, fear not! You can still entertain yourself with another Law & Order (can you believe it's been on the air 20 years?) or NCIS marathon on cable, college bowl games, DVD/Blu-Ray or whatever gets you through the lull times between poking through posts here. Promise to be back with as soon as I get finished chugging the meds and can think straight once again.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

TV alert

Been trying to get back in the saddle, amid a lot of other things going on. Here's the latest snippet from my panel appearance on Inside Story, the top-rated public affairs program in Philadelphia that runs on 6ABC locally.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Weather outside is frightful, but closing debate delightful!

Snow is piling up on the streets throughout the East Coast, especially in Washington, D.C. Maybe the sudden snowstorm has inspired legislators there to shake a tail feather when it comes to moving health care reform.

Really. It could almost be here. The U.S. Senate could be inching toward closing its debate and voting on health reform. The latest reports project a Christmas Eve vote, but it may come even sooner than that.


Far from perfect, far from heaven, but far from standing still, either. The Congressional Budget Office provided another assessment for the bill in the senate, and it's looking good for deficit reduction -- a biggie for anyone with children or thoughts of future bills. The Washington Post offers a great graphic analysis of the bills from the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that need to be reconciled, should both pass.

Of course, many of these provisions are not set to take effect for a few years yet, but progress is forward-looking and movement. Tweaking along the way is the American mandate, the nation whose enduring aspiration is to "form a more perfect union."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peace in our streets, in our time: the question remains

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 16, 8:41A, local time

Here I sit after my morning meditation, some 72 hours after returning from Oslo and a host of activities celebrating and promoting peace efforts around the world, returning to the city I love and finding it still embroiled in shameless behavior following incidents of seemingly ethnically-motivated violence among young people.

Now, racial intolerance and violence are no strangers in this "city of brotherly love and sisterly affection." But what happened among classmates of South Philadelphia High School has been particularly appalling, particularly the response of the adults involved, those on whom children learn to rely for their protection.

Quick review: South Philly High serves a diverse array of young people, and assaults are up nearly a third over last year's tallies. There has been a number of reported incidents, but what has spurred so much outrage is when African-American students apparently beat some two dozen Asian students, primarily Chinese immigrants, earlier this month. Some say it was reported retaliation from a black kid being attacked by Chinese-American kids a day or two before. What followed was a boycott among Chinese-American students who cited fears for their safety and they refused to return to school, missing at least a week's worth of classes.

Community advocates and parents have alleged for some time that Asian students there, several of whom are new to the country, have been easier marks for bullies in that limited language and cultural fears have stifled reporting.

Forget the utter and sad irony that but a generation ago, or even less, it would have been African-American students falling to the violence of white colleagues. The acts of the aggressive students are beyond shameful. Here sits for the first time a president of the United States who not only looks like them,  but often encourages them to strive for excellence, who has been recognized on a world stage for such vision, and this is the best they can demonstrate?  But stupidity among young people is expected, which is why there is supposed to be adult guidance to lead them. Not in this case, judging by the glacially-slow public response from officials.

Yes, it is important sometimes to try and handle things behind closed doors, to diffuse anger. But parents and activists have been complaining and warning of counterproductive, even dangerous, environments for these students, and when these concerns, at least by published reports, had gone largely unheeded. And we're not talking about some attention-seeking blowhards. We're talking about people like Helen Gym, who long has been involved in fighting for quality education for all children. This issue has been out there. It certainly didn't look like anyone in power was listening.

PR 101 says get in front of the story, showing both the immediate and wider community that this incident has the full attention of stakeholders and policymakers. Instead, both district and city officials lagged behind, not responding publicly until nearly a week after the vicious attacks. What's still left unsaid is how peace can and will be encouraged and mediated among these young people, how resentments and tensions will be diffused. For those who believe in equality and justice for all, it should not matter the language these students speak or the color of their skin -- of either the attackers or victims. Clearly, deeper problems exist and need addressing.

It can be assumed that as long as people within the immediate school community are satisfied, all is well. After all, the boycotting students did return to school this week. That would miss the point. It's not unfathomable that others could leap upon these incidents and use them to fuel their own misplaced sense of entitlement and hate, that incidents such as this could be repeated elsewhere, buoyed by the implicit feel that it's acceptable to pick on those of perceived lesser status. That could be at this school or elsewhere. And ignoring that fact, attempting to go back to life-before-the-media-glare on this one would be a mistake that's disappointing at best, potentially dangerous at worse.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A rainy return, a happy browngirl


Home! Home! Home!

Where English is spoken. Where toilets flush on the first run, and not the second or third try. Where I am among an assortment of people of colors, shapes, sizes, hues, and hairstyles.


Loved being away. Of course, being cramped on a plane for 7.5 hours can try anyone, even those of us who are vertically challenged but horizontally gifted.

The flight was mostly cool, that I was conscious for. After a while, it was like being in the hospital. You're sleep, and then somebody wakes you for a drink. You're sleep. Then somebody wakes you for food. And the cycle begins anew.

The turbulence was off the charts at one point, but at least the pilot got on the PA and let you know beforehand.  Mark of a true professional. Calm my nerves before we hit the crazy cloud cover.

The whole time I was away, it was stupid cold in Philadelphia. I return to a rainy, near balmy 52-degree day. Guess that could make me a rainmaker, huh?

The gifts survived the baggage hold. Nothing scratched or damaged -- praise God! Ready to get home, get fed, get showered, and get to bed!

In a few more days, I'll truly be able to process the past week. For now, I need to get my ears back into commission and out of customs.

Second leg toward home!


The flight over went fine. Got to see some well-lit cities as we were in the air. Guessing that it was a low-altitude flight or something. Maybe I just woke up at key points. I dozed a few times, but nothing super sustained. My ears have not yet recovered ,though.  I’m not worrying about it.

I’m not worrying about anything. Like when I got off the plane and had NO idea where my connecting gate is. The fun part about the U.S. Airways-Lufthsana relationship, I suppose. And of course, the first four people I ran into had no idea where the U.S. Airways info counter was. Finally found someone who directed me to my gate. So off to security I go.

You talk about through the mountains and around the bend! Whenever someone remarks on the slenderness of Europeans, I’m deadly sure it is due to constant walking. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s just that after traveling, even the lightest bags start weighing a ton. With the addition of a book and a couple of files, my carry-on case with my computer and other recording doo-dads suddenly became this gravity-obeying weight digging into my shoulder. I walked on, with a steady gait.

Now, while I was at the Oslo airport, I picked up a few duty-free things for folks back home, items that you could only get in Oslo or somewhere in Europe, or at least more readily. One of those items was a bottle of chocolate liquor, for me mum. Well, I never thought twice about that one. After all, I was in duty free, getting on a plane, and then a connector. No big.

Well, the Frankfurt security folks did not see it that way, even though I produced a receipt for my duty-free purchase. I was offered the choice of checking in my slight carry-on bag or “smashing it.”


Making my way outside and then back to a U.S. Airways counter, the young lady there helped me with my dilemma. She liked my locs, so that was always a good sign to a great start. She even gave me some extra paper to help stuff my bag. I’m praying that everything makes it without harm. I don’t want to think of cleaning up shards of glass, drying out my equipment, or worse, having gone through all that trouble for a gift for my mom to blow up in my face. Keeping the prayers lifted that all will turn out well. After all, they didn’t charge me for the second checked bag, and that was a blessing in and of itself. Don't necessarily have $55 just to toss out a window these days. Or any day, actually.

I’m getting hungry, because the little roll with cheese and apple juice of earlier has about worn off. We’re looking at a seven-hour leg. And I have to stay awake long enough to eat. Else, someone really will need a mop to clean me off the floor.

Eyes are getting heavy now, as I await the gate to open. Another hour plus until boarding time. Philadelphia is getting one step closer.

Geez. The iPod is about out of juice! Hopefully, I'll be sleep for most of the flight anyway.

En route to home!

OSLO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Dec. 13, 5:35A, local time.

Is it too much to ask for internet access to come standard with the purchase of a ticket? I mean, come on. You spend enough money to fly. You’re at the airport on average of 75 minutes between flights. Couldn’t you even allow for 35 minutes of access without further jacking up my wallet?

Grr. In a mood. But there have been so many great things that have happened on this trip that I’m not going to dwell on the $155 cab fare (yes, you read that correctly) to get to the airport because my flight is before the commuter trains run (surprise!). Or the paper cut I got while walking through security. I detest paper cuts. I could stew on such things, as they are highly annoying.

Nope. I grabbed my wits about me. Found a convenience store and bought some bandages. If these are the worst things that could happen to me on a trip that has been this enlightening, then I’m especially blessed and considerably favored! Witnessing history in and of itself is outstanding. Documenting a story that will inform countless readers beyond even your time is humbling. But meeting a cadre of people with gentle spirits, high ambition, and genuine fellowship, well, as the commercial says, that’s priceless.

It’s cool to be in the room with the president of the United States and all. I’ve done it before with Clinton, and spent some quiet time as then-Senator Obama signed copies of The Audacity of Hope prior to a book tour lecture at the Free Library of Philadelphia a couple of years back. But at the end of the day, they are just men, people like anyone else. It’s the sense of power, I suppose, that makes folks go ga-ga. After all these years of covering “celebrities,” elected officials and other supposed “higher ups,” it makes me scrutinize rather than romanticize. How human someone is in their interactions with others is more of a telling trait than just a sense of entitlement due to position. What is cool about Obama is that he is definitely someone with whom you could have a good conversation. That’s always a plus in a president, despite what some would have you believe. It’s not the only thing, but a sound foundation.

Flight is out at 6:25A. I’m so tired I could honestly drop over. Pulled an all-nighter so I’d be “prepped” for my journey back home. The hop to Germany is not so bad. Just two hours. Then there’s security and the passport controls. Then it’s the big leg, seven hours.

Not sure if the seat will be as cramped going as it was coming. But I figured if I’m punch-drunk sleepy, it’ll all zip by, in a flash. I’ll open my eyes and be touching down at Philadelphia International Airport. The good thing is that I’m slated to get back into town early enough where I can fall asleep in front of a football game! Right after I check in with family.

I don’t know. I may be so wired when I land that I’ll even unpack my bag once I hit the house. Yeah, right!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sights and sounds -- Oslo nights

OSLO, Dec. 12, 5:30P, local time

Spent some time back at Springbok, cooling out to mellow music with a Southern Africa vibe with a collective of jazz artists led by South African guitarist Banjo Mosele. He was joined by an additional guitarist, drummer, and saxophonist Jason Nemor Harden, of formerly of Iceland via Houston. A sister named Busi sprinkled some lovely vocals to the set. They literally stopped traffic in the House of Oslo mall, as onlookers dangled from over the banisters and popped heads out of nearby shops.
The clear night allowed me a great chance to take some snapshots and capture the  flavor of the Nobel town.
The Norwegian Parliament building. Known locally as Stortinget. Designed by a Swede, it opened in 1866.
One of the impressive features of this complex is the rich sense of history that permeates. From plaques to portraits, heritage is on display and available for anyone who is interested in learning.
If you're wondering why so many night shots, it's simple: Night comes fast and lasts long around these parts. The sun rises around 9-ish in the morning and sets a little after 3P. So it doesn't take too long for darkness to settle. But with the holiday lights and the considerable number of lit landscapes, the city has a lovely glow to it. At once you feel transported to another time, but then transfixed by the modern elements. Think nouveau town squares, with neon.

This  is a shot from downtown. (below)
There are plenty of shopping opportunities. Yes, I expected your standard multinational operations -- BlackBerry, The Body Shop, H&M, the requisite fast-food joints and all of that. I was taken aback by the number of 7-11's around town. Seriously. And you think it's convenient at home. Here, they have postal services, train tickets -- almost everything except check cashing and bill pay.

Check cashing always makes me think of robber-barons, and that's what the exchange rate is here. I had been warned, and justly so. The rate fluctuates more than opinion polls, and for the most part, the dollar has been on the losing side of the stick. But it's not just the dollar. It's just that EVERYTHING here is high! And small. Like buying milk. It's like you're buying the equivalent of a pint, rather than even a quart. And heaven forbid a gallon! But with small packages come a lot of efficiency. Especially where energy is concerned. I am so digging the coil-heated flooring! It was already on my wish list for my rehab project, but I'm doubly inspired. Nothing like toasty toes when getting out of the shower in the morning! And I packed all of these foot warmer packets that I ended up not really needing. Well, I take that back. I did use a few for late night jaunts.

One was to check out another "should-see" on your tourism list is the Norwegian Opera House. Its design is daring, with strong geometric slopes. In that it's at the pier, it has a  nautical feel to it as well. It's not only a great venue for music and ballet, but an architectural wonder.

I didn't get a chance to see as much of Norway as I wanted. Given the schedule I was keeping, I'm happy I got to see anything. I have plenty of room to fill the blanks on my return trip, whenever that is.

An American Browngirl in Oslo

OSLO, Dec. 12, 1:05P, local time

After the hustle and bustle of the past few days, it felt good just to get out and amble around town a little bit. What's more, the sun made an appearance! I'd like to say it's just for me, a farewell kiss of sorts from Oslo, but I'm not that self-centered. Well, not usually, anyway. I'm honest enough to own some only-child-bratty behavior here and again.

Clearly, I didn't get to see all that I wanted to while I was here. There is plenty  of public art I'd still like to see. I missed the fjords completely. Then again, given the weather, it has been suggested to me that such activities are better for 50-plus weather, anyway. So that sounds like a repeat trip. Invitations already have been extended. It's enough to inspire me to hustle together some coin and take folks up on their extended kindness. I'd imagine this place is beautiful in the summer, no matter how short those days may be.

Spent most of the afternoon on major chill mode. That included wandering the streets of Oslo, and returning to the Nobel Peace Center. You could attribute it to the weekend, or to the fact that the museum is free until Dec. 30, but the foot traffic was considerably heavier than when I first toured the museum and previewed the Obama: A Call to Action exhibition. Many of the visitors were taken by the over-sized images in the foyer, collected and edited by Eli Reed. While tempted to go back upstairs to gauge reaction to the meat of the exhibit, the energy in this area conveyed enough information for my needs. There was an intensity, almost a hunger, in how people approached the information panels. Some chatter, some banter, but mostly quiet reflection, study.

It is so interesting to see how the president is perceived by others. The whole prophet-never-accepted-in-his-own-town thought comes to mind. Absence and distance both can make the heart grow fonder. But you wonder whether there is more to the international love affair with Obama. It almost hearkens back to Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne discovers when you become a symbol, an idea, you amass true power. You are myth. You are legion.

Yet, Obama is a man. And painfully aware of that fact. Perhaps all those years of being a loner, of not quite fitting in, have prepared him for this moment in time.

The second coming? Of who? Of what? Of actually believing that change is not only possible, but attainable, and within our lifetimes? It is still mind-boggling the number of people I speak with, even this many months away from the campaign, that relate certain moments in their lives when they said, "I can do better. I can be better," all as a result of the 2008 campaign. Those sorts of feelings, that kind of conviction can be dismissed. It certainly was after the Million Man March, when death rates from black-on-black violence continued to escalate, when babies still came of age without knowing their fathers, when fear and shackles rose anew and chained minds and hearts of the men who gathered as well as those who watched, in hopes of making a change.

We live in such fear, as a nation, as a culture. We are afraid to believe, so afraid of the disappointment should our dreams, our hopes, not be realized. It stunts us, stifles what could be the best among us into accepting complacency and mediocrity as the accepted norm, the justifiable standard of living.

To live out loud. To be bold. To walk with confidence and to truly stand for deeply held convictions. Those are the feelings that Obama inspires, among so many, of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders. That's what resonated throughout this trip, throughout the interviews and conversations.

In a few hours, I'll return to Philadelphia, a city ravaged by violence at the earliest ages of life. I imagine I'll spend sizable hours pondering how peace can be achieved in this state of reality. It's about having the audacity to dare, to try and fail, but to keep running the race. Because you never know who might be transformed even by the slightest effort. Who can fear that?

The after party!

OSLO, Dec. 11, 11:45P, local time

You have to love how people re-use buildings. Like this place. Once a congregation came for service here. Now, it's a gathering place for all sorts of sin! Or at least the fun kind that comes from spinning too many jams, serving too much alcohol, and keeping plates of smoked salmon and goat cheese flowing! Others might call it heaven, with cause!

Since I had absolutely NO energy to dance since that breakfast/lunch/dinner I had back at 4:45P has long wore off, the salmon was a welcome sight. It came a little bit after I had been teased -- teased, I tell you! -- by little cups of potato chips (not so filling, even for a potato-phile like myself) and the creamy gorgonzola and crisp crackers because they were topped with candied walnuts! The one food product I've encountered that sets my mouth on permanent itch mode. Wah!

On my knees, I found the chef, Tor Jørgen Kramprud Arnesen, and pleaded with him to send out some more snacks that would not kill me. I must have been an amusing sight, because within minutes, he saved my life. That alone deserved a hug. He's part of a trio of upscale chefs that serve all sorts of celebrity clientele with high energy foods and personalities to match. Bobby Flay is going to have to step back. These dudes are destined for TV! Watch out for the Culinary Flying Circus!

Re-energized, I found the dance floor. Stories filed, stress eased, mission accomplished. It was time to party. This basement locale has everything except a red light. I'm only posting the clean photos. I still have a reputation to maintain, after all.  Besides, what happens in Oslo. . ..

The concert wrap-up

OSLO, Dec. 11, 11:25P, local time

President Obama made the right pick in inviting Esperanza Spalding to play at his concert. The girl is so gifted it's sick. And the fact that she, too, comes from mixed racial/ethnic heritage may also have some affinity for him.

Never jammed too much to Toby Keith before, but I did appreciate his music. Great 10-piece band, and touching lyrics. That has always been the thing with good country. If the lyrics are right, you will have a hit. And country artists tend to be more lyric driven, at least in comparison to modern R&B! And Will Smith made a funny, yet truthful crack: while President Obama may have had to walk tightropes concerning his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, Toby Keith has a finer one to walk, as a Southern country star who's a Democrat! The horror!

Still, his tribute song to Wayman Tisdale, "Cryin' for Me," was unexpectedly touching.

Amadou & Mariam brought the rhythms of the continent to the crowd, and Luis Fonsi kicked it up, Latin style. There was appreciative applause, but not as wildly felt as when Keith wrapped up his set. The way the crowd responded to him, I was going to start checking folks for lassos and chaps.

Now take the following comments to heart. Disregard any bias from the inner fangirl that's still bouncing off the walls when I say Donna Summer truly tore it up! Headlining acts always go last, and also suffer the showtime overrun. It was to be expected with nine preceding acts ahead of her. She cut down her playlist, omitting favorites such as "MacArthur Park," "Smile," and "No More Tears" and powered up "She Works Hard for the Money" with a "Bad Girls/Hot Stuff" medley. She wound it down with "Last Dance," starting soft and slow, upping the tempo, winding it back down, then hitting crescendo.

Norwegians who started off stiff, who couldn't find their hips or their bootys when the night started were dancing all over the place by the time she hit her last note. She looked great and sounded even better. Not as much shimmy as she had back in the Queen of Disco days. But for an almost 61-year-old hot mama, she was indeed smoking! And she demonstrated the kind of showmanship, rapport with the audience, that a class act displays -- even if deep down you're mad that your songs got cut.

And while all of this was great entertainment and celebration, the magic moment was the finale. Willow and Jaden Smith kicked off the opening lines of MJ's "Man in the Mirror." And they were joined by everyone who had performed that evening.

I felt the tears pushing forward.

Look at where we are. Look at who we are. Folks who came from not much, who have gone on to touch the heart of the world, transform its views of itself in the process. Jada Pinkett. Will Smith. Esperanza Spalding. Toby Keith. Wyclef Jean. Donna Summer.Michelle Obama. Barack Obama.

All of them, living what has long been hailed as the American Dream, of coming from little and achieving much. And to end a program dedicated to peace and fellowship among nations with MJ, well it was stirring on multiple levels. And yes, my mascara fell victim tonight, if only a little.

The show folks: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

OSLO, Dec. 11, 10:32P, local time

Can't say that I have ever been a raving Will and Jada fan. Sometimes their smiles are just a little too broad, a little too Hollywood for a couple who came from hard-scrabble cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, respectively. But tonight, I have to say they made me proud on a lot of levels. Consummate hosts and well-deserving to be on the world stage, they kept the show lively and props firmly on President Obama.

There had been some grumbling around town because the guest of honor skipped out on his own party. Some folks just called it rude. So whenever Will and Jada mentioned his name, there was a less-than-enthusiastic ovation . . . at first.

In the wisdom of the Nobel committee -- and I'm sure its public relations arm -- the live concert was interspersed with taped interviews Will and Jada conducted with the president, along with well wishes from fellow laureates, such as Archbishop Tutu, Al Gore, and Wangari Maathi. It all warmed up the crowd and soon, they were near their feet with applause. It was deft handling.


Will Smith: This is the first time I've been nervous to be in front of a camera in a long time.
President Obama: Just think back to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Smith: At your address yesterday, you spoke about "moral imagination." Could you speak further about that?
Obama: That speaks to my ability to stand in your shoes.  To see through your eyes. That kind of ability, to imagine ourselves in different situations, helps us connect with other people. Hopefully, it helps drive us to do better on a whole host of other things.
Smith: Yeah, but if one guy understands you, and you understand the other guy, there's still only enough water for one of y'all.
Obama: Hopefully, it will bring us together to see how we can build a new well, rather than fight over the one we've got. Not only do we have to consider the consequences of action, but also the consequences of inaction.

Another segment brought even greater applause after Obama responded to Jada's question about what First Lady Michelle Obama brings to his decision-making.

Obama: She's the most honest person I know.
Will Smith: I was also going to say she looks good, too.
Obama: Well, you could have.
Smith: Michelle is very, very fine.
Obama: I know. What could I do?
Jada: You did the right thing.
Obama: That's right.
Smith: Yeah, you analyzed the information. Then you made the right decision.
Obama: Yeah, I married her.
[Laughter.Then back to serious business when asked if he's relishing this moment.]
Obama: The truth of the matter is, this is one of those things, I suspect, that you will appreciate more in retrospect.The pace has been so hectic. I haven't had a chance to pull back and say, 'This is extraordinary.' But I don't think it's time to pat yourself on the back. If I'm able to execute, make things a little bit better internationally and domestically, then I'll be able to savor this a little bit more.

Whereas the audience started off stiffly, even snorting at times, when Obama's name was mentioned, these taped segments started a sea change. Suddenly, applause crept up at the sound of "Obama." Guess they got over the hurt.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)

The concert: an intermission-sized review

OSLO, Dec. 11, 9:28P, local time

The announcers have paged audience members to return to their seats about three times now. I'm  waiting for a giant hook to go out and scoop everybody up or for the doors to just shut down with massive metal gates shooting up, barring the heathens from re-entering! You have been warned!!!!

This is definitely a fashionable event, though some folks, as is always the case, just missed the mark. By that much.

Here are the quick takes on the show so far:


Lighting design is incredible, reflecting the passion and prose of each song with color flooding the lit N-O-B-E-L signage on stage. Makes for a dramatic backdrop. The production team truly is first rate. Awards shows at home could take note (are you listening BET?).

  • Alexander Rybak. The EuroVision winner (think European "Idol") opened with a bang, between his rapid-fire strums on violin to his dreamy pleas on vocals. But his background dancers nearly stole his thunder with their acrobatic movements that coupled traditional Russian hat dance-type steps with Flying Karamazov Brothers-looking choreography. Oomph! My knees ache just watching them pop up and down like that, all the way to the floor on one leg, and popping up again like a Jack-in-the-box.  And then swinging in the air and climbing those cloths, and flipping backward and forward? Yeah. The Belarus-Norwegian Rybak is definitely a hometown pleaser. And that Jada said he was "cute" was enough to raise Will's comic eyebrow, and wit.
  • Westlife. Pleasant enough pop. An offering from the UK, they are reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys, but with better range and writing. "You Raise Me Up" was a tender flourish, and "What About Now" had shades of Creed. Which is not a bad thing.
  • Lang Lang. First of all, cuter than cute Willow Smith comes out and welcomed him to Oslo in Mandarin, since the family spent four months in China recently. It's assumed filming something. Kudos to the Family Smith for introducing multilingual comfort in their home. Sassy Willow, with a long bob on one side, shaved down cut on the other, has her mother's presence. But Lang Lang quickly took over with "Rhapsody in Blue." Backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the Chinese classical superstar sent the crowd to the skies for sure.
  • Natasha Bedingfield. I'm embarrassed to say I wasn't up on her, though her single "Pocketful of Sunshine" sounded somewhat familiar. Strong vocals. But I wanted her to brush her hair. Badly.
  • Wyclef Jean. Definitely got "Wyclectic" in that piece. As he sang "Gunpowder," the lyrics hit especially hard: Because the war is not over until you can feel love, peace, and hear the silence. But I smell gunpowder (gunpowder). Philly's gunpowder. Brooklyn's gunpowder. . .. He admitted that he was awed dumb-tonged when he was in the Oslo City Hall with President Obama. He then offered a spoken word piece dedicated to peace, sprinkled with "what-ifs" and slain world figures. Kennedy. King. Malcolm X. Princess Diana. But he brought down the house trying to get the mostly stiff crowd to jam. Especially when he sought out the royals. Priceless moment that defies words. Just watch
More in a moment!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Made it to the concert -- with MINUTES to spare! Phew!

OSLO, Dec. 11, 7:45P, local time

When they said the Nobel Peace Prize Concert was the hottest ticket in town, there was no kidding around on that one. The masses descending on the Oslo Spektrum were impressive. And everyone was dressed. Made me happy on a last-minute whim I tossed in a black velvet dress. When in doubt for formal affairs, go black. When traveling, go velvet, or at least a heavy jersey knit; fewer wrinkles!

I truly was panicked I wasn't going to make the venue on time. After touring Parliament, I hustled to a close-by deli to save my life, because I had not eaten up until that point, which is a general no-no for this browngirl. Spotting a Deli de Luca, I sped there to snatch up a calzone, some chips, a fish cake (national staple), and a San Pelligrino orange soda. That tallied about $22. I did mention this joint is pricey, right?

Now this was the third Deli de Luca I had visited since being in town, so I kind of knew the drill. Until ol' boy asked to see ID after I swiped my card. Now, this was the first time I had been carded. So I show him my passport. Then he wants the passport number. The ONLY time this happened. Now because he was brown and I'm brown, I just wondered whether I was getting a reverse profile or he was trying to hustle my passport number on some black market.I was probably just being paranoid and prejudiced, but I didn't like the feel or his attitude. Maybe he didn't really think I was American or something. Anyway, hunger won so I acquiesced. Dude was probably just doing his job the right way, and everyone else was just lax. I'll leave it at that.

Caught the train. Returned to the apartment. Did the Daily News web chat. Changed clothes. Headed back out, feeling confident.

Until I got on the wrong train. D-oh! It was now 7:10P. Doors to the venue closed at 7:30P! Sheesh!

Made it with seven minutes to spare! Yay! Seats were seven rows from the stage, in the press area. I didn't even mind the monster camera lenses in front of me, or the Jurassic Park-looking video cameras that swooped by every so often getting just the right angle for the folks at home and people relying on the jumbo screens.

I was a little bummed that (a) my pearl necklace broke and (b) my camera battery died, and I could have recharged it while I was doing the web chat. I did manage to get a few shots off before Betsy went bye-bye.

The solo tourist

OSLO, Dec. 11, 3:05P, local time

Today was the first day I buzzed around town without a guide, no fellow American at my side. Managed to navigate into town via the train, off to the hotel headquarters to pick up my ticket for tonight's concert and even back to the Stortinget -- the Norwegian Parliament building. Joined a private tour of the place, and to my surprise, the guides were a major leader in Norway's Progress Party and a member of the Norwegian Parliament. So think like a U.N. policy director giving you a tour of Congress with a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Cool, right? 

Kristian Norheim, the international secretary of the Progress Party, was quite patient and pretty solid in his English, as many Norwegians are. He studied political science for seven years here, and took in a year in Athens as well. In his current capacity, he's been in place roughly six years. He described the Progress Party as our equivalent of "moderate Democrats. Or Regan Democrats. Not Palin Republicans. Like Obama." There are other interpretations of  its politics. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to wade through Norwegian political issues to the extent to provide more learned analysis.

Bard Hoksrud was the parliament member. He is a relative newbie, only in office since 2005, with four-year terms. Hoksrud mentioned that sometimes the grind is tough, since he's quite far from home and has a little one at home with his wife.

Both shared how the nation at one time had been territory of both Sweden and Denmark before going its own way as a sovereign nation, complete with its own royal family. Indeed, the Nordic history is rich -- and bloody. "We were, how you say, 'Vikings. Barbarians,' years ago," Hoksrud said.

The Norwegian Parliament -- Stortinget, translating to "big council" -- sets in the midst of Oslo. It is a building of considerable architectural style and parts of it date back to the 19th century. The interiors are regal and striking. There is also a great emphasis on public art, as it adorns the interiors as well -- from portraits of kings past to paeans to industry and progress. 

So midway through our tour, the bell rang, and members were called into session to vote. And unlike the
Pennsylvania State Senate, the call actually meant a vote! While there is electronic voting, legislators stand to express rejection of a bill, sit to approve it. Each legislator has his or her own seat, arranged by county and then seniority within the cluster. Afterward, some of the ladies from Baltimore wanted to try out Hoksrud's seat, to see whether they enjoyed the feel of "power." 

Must have been infectious, because one butt after another was drawn to that seat. Maybe it's the royal bearings of the seat. I have to admit that Rosalind Seth (l.) looked pretty regal and ready to rock the house!

And I thought the Pennsylvania Legislature had ornate trappings!

This also just in - story in the Philadelphia Daily News

Okay, so I was remiss in not putting up BOTH stories at the same time! The story is posted. Here is the Philadelphia Daily News story from Oslo. And here's the transcript to the live chat that just ended, in case you missed it!

Latest story from

This just in! Be sure to check out the "day-after" story on BAW!

Finding sea legs

OSLO, Dec. 11, 11:25A local time

Been up for about an hour, and am still struggling to move. Might have something to do with getting two hours of sleep the night before and about six hours last night. At least the two stories were filed. Look for one on and the other on or in the pages of the Philadelphia Daily News. I have to make sure I'm in a cafe or something by 5P local time to engage in the Daily News web chat about the Nobel Prize hoo-ha. Excited about that one! Hoping there will be some folks on the line. Scratch that. Some sane folks on the line. Should be fun regardless!

Okay. Gotta get moving. There are press credentials to pick up for tonight's concert. Donna Summer. Wyclef Jean. Toby Keith. Esperanza Spalding -- who played at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony yesterday. It's going to be a full line up.

The Obamas already are outta here, off to Denmark. I'll be following the climate change discussion shortly. But for the few hours left in Oslo, there is plenty to explore. And hark! There is a glimmer of sun out today! Be still my heart!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Demonstrations -- the freaks come out at night!

OSLO, Dec. 10, 7:15P local time

Now that the Obamas and their guests are safely tucked inside the annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet, out comes the real rabble-rousers for peace. Or so they say.

At least there wasn't an Obama-burning-in-effigy moment. So it wasn't quite tea bagger. Think more anti-WTO. About the same level of passion and grunge. The Ron-Paul-for-real-hope-and-change signs were classic!

There were "No Awards for Imperialist Wars" and "Bring Home the Troops" signs. A little drumming. But mostly, people shouted down nuclear war and proliferation. And they voiced, more loudly, a concern that continues to resonate: how do you award a peace prize to someone conducting a war?

The protesters were well on the other side of the park, and far away from the tight grip that is security for heads of states at functions such as this. No worries about the restless storming the troops. There may have some bits captured on NRK, state television.

But I'm sure as the Obamas and others ate, drank, danced and made merry, they heard little of those tramping down the street. Though later they may have smelled the remnants of the hand-held paper and wood torches.

Awaiting the Wave

OSLO, Dec. 10, 6:45P local time

Once the crowds in and around the Oslo City Hall dispersed, you would think there would be a moment to kick back. You would be wrong. There are still reactions to collect, stories to file, hopefully food to eat, and not necessarily in that order.

One of the customary things for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to do after his or her lecture is to give a goodwill wave to the assembled masses who have come to support his or her efforts.

Reading the local press, and even in interviewing the occasional Norwegian, you wouldn't think too many folks would want to participate in such an event this year, given the "snubs" they've suffered from President Obama.

"His getting the award was  just a farce, and it's a shame on Norway," said Martin Bugge of Oslo, who was among the thousands outside along with his girlfriend, Lill Eskildsem, who was clearly more of a fan.

Yeah, some folks still haven't gotten past the fact that he won the prize.

But if you assumed such feelings would dampen enthusiasm for seeing the man, well, you'd be wrong.

Even Bugge at first tried to say it was all his girlfriend, that's she was the reason they were out there. Then he finally broke down the truth: "I'm here, because . . . I'd like to see him."

Just when you thought American had cornered the love-huh? relationship with the president.

This was a night that drew a pointing, posing, chattering multi-ethnic, multi-lingual melting pot assembled outside The Grand Hotel, the resplendent 135-year old palatial dwelling for traveling dignitaries and chi-chi alike. For the hours Obama spent in Oslo, the Grand would play home. It wasn't just starstruck kids, out there,either, though there were plenty of the K-12 and college set around.

No, you had a respectable number of Baby Boomers as well as those above and below that scale on hand. And nearly everyone was armed with a camera phone or camcorder. Friends snapped pictures of each other outside the hotel. Festivity danced in the air like the barren twig branches of the young trees around. Any movement near a window or door opening drew "Oohs" and "Ahs," even if they came before the scheduled 7P Obama sighting.

As hundreds took to the streets for the annual candlelight vigil for peace (photo courtesy Phillip Louis), for more than an hour, a couple thousand people, for their own reasons, gathered outside and waited for the president to come out and play, when they weren't running over yours truly in attempts of getting the best spot. The clock hit 7P. Then 7:02P. And then Obama did come out to play. And he brought a playmate -- the First Lady, looking her normal stunning self. Of course, the reaction is what you'd expect. What? You didn't expect the crowd to whoop, whistle, cheer, and wave?

In a mere 90 seconds, he melted about every heart out there, even those crusty with cynicism. Of course, it helps to have a Weapon X on your arm, too.

(Photo of the Dynamic Duo courtesy of AP Photo/Scanpix)

The Nobel speech, redux

OSLO, Dec. 10, 3:20P local time

President Obama's words, rich in texture, imagery, and nuance, are still reverberating in my ears. The acoustics in the hall were pretty awful from up in the balcony, so I made use of the interpreter headsets they offered. Far clearer.

I was scrambling to record his speech as it unfolded. The White House press staff was only making live copies available to members of the White House Press Pool. Good thing I have connections!

Anyway, here is the text of the speech, in case you didn't get a chance to truly digest everything in the first sitting. I know I didn't. Obama's major orations tend to be like that. It's like a musical album; you need to tune in the first time for the overall feel, then for the syncopation, then the melody, then the lyrics, and then hear the entire composition again, in totality, for real analysis and assessment.

Big ups to Pete Souza, the incomparable chief official White House press photog. He's been working his behind off documenting this dude! This is a Souza photo; the picture, not the band instrument!

Straight from the hall

OSLO, Dec. 10, 3:15P local time

So the straight dope is that unless you (a) had a telephoto lens (b) a stepladder or stool or (c) are pretty tall, standing on the balcony for the entirety of President Obama's speech wasn't going to do much for you. Even with the audio-enhanced translator headsets. 'Cause if you're horizontally gifted and vertically challenged -- your friendly neighborhood browngirl included in said description -- there was not much you were going to see. Felt like a kid scrambling and scooting to dip and dive amid the photogs just to snap a few pictures.

Of course, there will be better looking shots on Flickr or the AP wires. But at least I have the satisfaction of knowing these are are memories I captured.

Toot, toot, awww, beep, beep!

Was too far away to catch up with Wyclef Jean after everything broke and the Obamas were whisked off to their next stop. But how great is it to catch up with the extraordinary Donna Summer?! 

She was one of the dignitaries on the floor during the Nobel Peace Prize lecture. She's also a headliner for the concert. The tradition of hosting a concert in honor of the peace prize laureate dates back to 1994. Usually, the guest of honor is in the house. That won't be the case this year, and some Norwegians have protested that it is in bad form. In the very least, "rude," of the president to skip out on his own party.

Of course, his loss is my gain!
Won't turn fangirl here (though Bad Girls remains a favorite). Suffice it to say that I still remember the primetime special she performed on ABC eons ago, and singing along at the top of my lungs. Her show tomorrow will be outstanding, I'm sure. Too bad the Obamas will miss it!

Technical hell averted!

OSLO CITY HALL, Dec. 10, 1:39P local time

So the wi-fi system crashed after I had to turn my computer off to conserve battery space. Folks are fairly vicious about these outlets! It's almost like watching reporters fight over the last doughnut in the newsroom.

Anyway, reconnected thanks to a local who gave me a password to another system.

President Obama has just been awarded the medal. Esperanza Spalding and her band are serenading him, First Lady Michelle Obama and a contingent of royals, White House staffers, and invited guests. By a quick count, it looks like about 1,500 or so seated, including Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Wyclef Jean.

Wyclef got a rise out of the crowd earlier as people set in stiff silence, awaiting the motorcade. As the Norwegian camera crews of NRK panned the room, he offered a friendly grin and wave, and the laughter bounced off the marble walls.

First story of the trip posted!

The latest story from yours truly on on the Oslo outing.

Principal Jennifer J. Beckwith was one of the African Americans abroad that joined the conversation at Springbok. Her defense of President Obama was fierce.

The buzz begins

OSLO, Dec. 10, 10:56A local time

Still waiting for a copy of the president's speech. The White House folks report it probably won't be in until 10 minutes or so AFTER the presentation. The word has been so conflicted from the start. Folks thought he was getting in last night, then press reports said he was coming in this morning. Norwegians are a bit irate upon hearing that President Obama was not meeting with the king and queen -- but most did not hear that the luncheon was cancelled, but he was still meeting with the royals. There's nothing like spin to set the nerves off.

It's a veritable United Nations in the press area. Most heads are down, in front of laptops or mobile devices. Thanking the Lord for the free wi-fi that's available.The White House Press Pool is hustled away to the right side of the room. Snacks and coffee are available. People are milling in and out, mostly seeking an electrical outlet. The soundcheck has finished. People are swapping notes and scrambling for the best spot.

Caught up with my man, Michael Fletcher, who writes for the Washington Post. We met years ago, as members of a Knight Fellowship for specialized reporting on race and ethnicity at the University of Maryland. Fletch flew in yesterday, and won't be able to catch the concert because the president is flying out in the morning. That's the thing about being in the Pool. You get herded like cattle, without a lot of time to check out other things in and around the area. Not crying for Fletch, or any of the rest of the reporters. They'll do their job, and make it happen.

The same is true of Gloria Browne-Marshall. A law professor, author, and playwright by day, she's freelancing work for a few black papers in New York and WBAI-FM. Ran into her at the Nobel Peace Center on Tuesday, and have been running into her ever since. Good woman, working with her husband, Ernie, who is capturing video.

Other than us, can't say there is large representation of the black press here. The assumption is that most folks will rely on the wires. Still, it's not quite the same as getting down on the ground quotes from the folks.

Outdoors, the children's choirs and local talent continue to serenade those assembled under the gloomy skies by the river, in full view of the Nobel Prize Center. The Oslo City Hall sits just a few feet away from them both.

With its gray, 1950s interiors, walking through the corridors is not much different than any other city hall in and around the United States. That makes it no less regal. The walls are adorned with portraits of leaders past, and classical murals reminiscent of Cezanne. Gilded ceilings and goldleaf wallpaper compliment the marble archways and walls.

The assembled chairs should seat a few hundred people, and the big-screen TV will make viewing easier for those who don't want to dangle from the balcony for the festivities. Of course, coming this far, it would seem nutty NOT to be in the midst of the room next door.

A new soundcheck is underway. More photographers dangle along the balcony, everyone angling for the best shot. Showtime is but 90 minutes away.

In from the rain - arrival at Oslo City Hall

OSLO, Dec. 10, 10:35A, local time

The grand Oslo City Hall. The wait in the rain in the press line was not as bad as it could have been. We moved through fairly quickly, and I passed the time speaking with Brandon Lewis, a Long Beach native who has been living in Scandinavia -- first Sweden, then Norway -- for the past eight years.

He wasn't able to campaign at home, but he was among the first to send in a donation from Norway. He's geeked that he will shortly share a room with the president.

He was elected vice chair of Democrats Abroad Norway when President Obama was nominated, but he has been a supporter long before Iowa, when Obama's viability turned to reality for many. "I was a supporter of Obama even before black people were," he said, then laughed.

The Iraq War, the wrong war, in his view, disillusioned him. Lewis hated seeing how divided the country became, and even worse, that its ideals were being choked by fear. It made the decision to join his Norwegian girlfriend abroad that much easier. Switching from a finance and business background to IT didn't prove too challenging. He has found work with a Scandinavian oil company.

But what he found more inspiring was Obama. Never had he involved himself in politics, assuming that it was all dirty, all the time. "Obama showed that you can play fair and still win, and that was inspiring to me," said the 35-year-old.

When there were opportunities to go negative, he said Obama stayed in his lane. With America's standing abroad frayed on a number of levels, Obama has renewed faith worldwide. Despite ongoing controversy about whether the Nobel Prize has been awarded prematurely, Lewis is convinced it was the right move.

"The prize has been given to people before to reward their aspirations and where they are trying to go," he said. "This is no different. And I'm proud to represent him here."

Lewis has been so taken by the spirit and character of the man, the campaign, and the presidency that he has the iconic rising "O" symbol tattooed over his heart. "To remind me that we can have hope again," he said.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Decompressing in Oslo

OSLO – Dec. 9, 1:25A, local time

Just taking a moment to breathe. Still processing it all. It has been an incredible 48 hours. So in a look back, I'll start with the Nobel Peace Center, a pure delight. That they are going to open it free to the public from Friday until Dec. 30 is a lovely present to those who live in Oslo or would travel to see the exhibits.

Interactive doesn’t begin to really underscore how cool the features of this museum are. Touch screens. Music. Video. Photos. And scores of tidbits written in both Norwegian and English make it fairly accessible to people of all ages. Given that it is under five years old, the concept and output are outstanding.

From King to Obama
builds on themes of buses and communication. One being symbolic of social status denied, the other the weapon used to fight back, peaceably. Snippets of both King and Obama’s lives are juxtaposed throughout the exhibit. Especially cool is a reel of King that runs in black-and-white on a 21st century monitor housed in the casing of a vintage television. The museum is filled with cool touches just like that. Attendance numbers comparing this October to last showed nearly double the interest, museum officials said. Clearly the message espoused by both of these leaders resonates. And scores of school kids visit. There are some 12 to 14 school groups in and out daily, museum officials said.

Also impressive are the features for kids.  The exhibit designers keep the wee ones in mind, providing things for them to touch and see, too. I love the Dream Trees that line the stairwell. You can scribble your name and a dream for peace on a leaf, and then tie it to the tree, so that it dangles amid the other dreams for peace. too.

How often do we sit and meditate on what it means to be at peace? To attain peace? What is peace? Is it tangible? A state of mind or a state of being? Transitory or permanent space?

These are reflections I’m considering more as the debate continues as to whether President Obama “deserved” or “earned” this honor. The opinions on both sides are no less heated here than they are in the States. This is a broad, sweeping observation, fraught with plenty of exceptions. Still, I’ve noticed that by and large, African Americans who supported Obama but live abroad – at least here in Scandinavia – are more apt to offer pointed criticism of him and his policies as compared to African-American supporters of Obama who are stateside. That was one contrast that came into sharp focus during tonight’s discussion at SpringBok. (Left, my host, Phillip Louis, wrapped up conversation with members of Baltimore City Women for Obama with a photo session.) At this ultra-hip, way trendy South African-themed cafe (recommended: zucchini muffins with a side of cream cheese; yum!), I joined a group of African Americans who felt compelled to participate in Obama's election and have ongoing interest in the Nobel Prize celebration. One man, who currently lives in Norway, offered a perspective that was counter to the prevailing Obama-is-the-man-for-our-time-and-should-be-awarded-the-Nobel view around the table. No blood was shed, and everyone parted as friends, but it got me thinking.

Perhaps there is a sense of luxury afforded by distance to those who are here in Europe that can allow for less “solidarity,” with more emphasis on faults than celebration of being. It could be argued that they now have more dispassionate and objective insights. Others could counter that it’s simply contrarian and irresponsible, tearing down someone who has plenty of enemies doing just that daily. Besides, they'd point out, what's the alternative?

It’s open to both debate and interpretation and in weighing both sides, a fascinating discourse, no matter your view.

A Call to Action: An exhibit preview at the Nobel Peace Center

Liv Astrid Sverdrup (l.), project director at the Nobel Peace Center, gave me a backstage tour of the forthcoming Obama: A Call to Action exhibit. It opens officially on Friday and runs through August 2010.

She and her team had eight weeks to translate a concept from vision to reality, something that both gave insight on this year's Nobel Peace laureate and an answer to critics who charged it was a premature, if not inappropriate, selection.

Fusing the life,legacy, and works of Alfred Nobel and President Barack Obama, the exhibit shows intersections and elucidation on the three points of criteria from Nobel's will on which the committee focused in making its selection:

- Fraternity between nations
- Abolition or reduction of standing armies
- Holding and promotion of peace congresses

The show begins on the ground floor with oversized photos of President Obama, from the inauguration to life in the White House, including a favorite with little Sasha sneaking up on her dad in the Oval Office. With interactive features, such as picking up an old-fashioned phone from Nobel's "study" that rings a BlackBerry in Obama's "library," visitors can place themselves in the shoes of both men, as well as join the robust discussion of what it means to forge and secure peace in our time.

Global fusion

OSLO, 8:03P, local time

Did I EVER rock out last night! Woke up around 12:30P local time, far later than anticipated. Didn't come to until I heard a knocking at the door. It was my guide, Yanique, who was shocked I was still asleep. That up for nearly 24-hours thing didn't do so well with my body. She patiently waited for me as I hustled to shower, dress, and roll out the door to pick up my press credentials.

The first hotel was not the right hotel for the Nobel press credential, but at least now I know where the press office for the Nobel concert will be. Hustled in a cab to the correct Radisson. We could have walked, but I was concerned about the time, because we had a press gathering at Springbok Cafe starting at 4P, and it was already after 3P.

Got my credentials. As we headed to Springbok, the deafening roar of military copters drowned out most conversation, and anything else. The whir of blue sirens zipping by and the constant hovering of the copters alerted to the obvious: President Obama was nearing. People stood in their doorways and paused in the street as the two copters swooped and circled lower and lower before the palace grounds.

Obama is staying at the Grand Hotel (l.). The security has gone up pretty fast and the crowds of onlookers have thickened.

Made it to Springbok, a gathering my host, Phillip Louis, arranged. Great gathering of folks from Baltimore, Virginia, New York, Germany, Iceland, Nigeria, South Africa and Norway. Can't wait to sift through the notes to reflect on the dialogue. More coming later.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oslo -- arrival that never stopped moving

OSLO, Dec. 8, 10:21P, local time.

Well, I was NOT able to wrangle the window seat, so I was relegated to the aisle. By the time we took off, it was about my “normal” bedtime, nearly 1A. With just a two-hour flight, I was so just ready to shut my eyes for a few more hours than what that quick nod afforded. Landed in Oslo, and there was not much time to jump to the races.

The airport is quite modern in design, with hardwood, glass and chrome accents that are appealing. The biggest thing that strikes you when  you enter the baggage terminal is the big-behind “DUTY FREE” signage for the local shop. It almost looked akin to a small grocery store – or at least a decent-sized CVS. Your usual staples were abound – perfumes, candy, alcohol. Ever notice how the duty-free shops tend to offer those items that men usually would take to their significant other (married or otherwise) to smooth things over after a rough patch? Everything except flowers.

After taking care of myself in probably one of the cleanest and neatest public restrooms ever, I hauled my bag from the carousel and launched full blast into the day.

It's cold, but not as cold as at home. Raw would be a better descriptor. And gray. Almost like a flashback to Oregon. (Shudder) Love the train system here, with the clean seats that flip up so luggage and groceries can easily sit on the floor next to you. But they were NOT kidding about the cost of things here! Sheesh! I can’t say I can complain about much when it comes to food prices or travel in the States any time soon! Roundtrip on the airport shuttle: about $50. Quick calzone and drink: about $20. I haven’t blown this much money in one day outside of a mall in a long time. Holding the budget for the rest of the trip in tact will take a miracle.

Too late to fret over such things now. We are in full swing, after doing the post-flight-shower-and-change. The day's first official interview came at the Nobel Peace Prize museum. Two must-see exhibits are set for public viewing: From King to Obama and Obama: A call to action. The former tracks how the relationship of the two laureates and their supporters made this moment in time possible. The latter is still under construction and is set to debut Thursday. Will fill in the details about the preview I took in this afternoon after I catch up on some serious sleep.

Daddy O is set to touch down tomorrow, and watching the promo on the local news team proves it's gonna be bananas!

On a jet plane to Oslo

FRANKFURT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Dec. 8, 2009. 7:08A, local time.

Well, I can say it’s huge. Great shopping opportunities, though I am dismayed to see “New Moon” posters plastered on the windows of the bookstore/newsstand shop. I mean, really. You fly across the ocean to escape some of the mundane and less than appealing parts of our culture only to have it splattered in your face. At least it wasn’t more on the Tiger drama.

So the flight over wasn’t too bad. Never a fan of turbulence, it seems to find me whenever I fly these days. The forgiving part is that it was raining, so considering, the crew did an outstanding job. Looking further, it was a pretty sizable plane, and I had a window seat with a pretty decent neighbor, so I was good. A soldier, from Minnesota, southwestern area where it snows in the plains but no hills to ski or board. He was charming.

We both watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on our respective screens. Fresh-faced and anticipating a life in the service. Earnest. Spoke a few German phrases. Eager to get some rest. I’m sure he will have many more miles to go before that happens. I thanked him for his service, and said a silent prayer for him and his comrades. They all looked like kids, really. Younger than my cousins. I am probably almost old enough to be his mother.

As I sit charging my phone at this cubicle I’ve found, I realize the telecommunications companies have a true racket. Not a T-Mobile member, I don’t feel like ponying up the requisite Euros or dollars to gain access to my Facebook, email, or blog accounts for 60 minutes. Not when I’ll be in the air in about that time. There are plenty of other diversions I’ve lugged along on this trip, primarily on my iPod. Can’t beat music, books, and podcasts in that compact package. Kicking myself daily for not having bought one earlier, but this next-gen Nano is the truth!

It’s dark out. Rainy still. Locally, it’s a little after 7A. Will be boarding in about 15 minutes. The flight to Oslo doesn’t seem overwhelmingly crowded. Maybe I can swap out my aisle seat for a window for the two hours I’ll be on the plane.

Still trying to figure out how I will stay awake all day. Literally, we’re into Tuesday, and I haven’t closed my eyes on Monday yet, as it’s about my normal bedtime now. But after I’m off the plane, I’ll be on the go until well after sundown – especially since sundown is at 3P or so. Sheesh.

Now I know why they call Norway “Land of the Midnight Sun.” We’ll see how this sunbaby recharges with just 7 hours of sunlight to go on daily for the next week. Should be interesting to say the least!

Time to shut this down. Gotta try and wrangle that window seat in the moments I have before boarding.