Number 7

I’ve written here and here about how to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have a new addition that tops the list!

Yesterday I was out walking with Per Christian and I saw something unmistakably Norwegian. Like good, dedicated researchers everywhere, I quickly grabbed my camera and sneaked off two photos paparazzi-style. ‘Cause that’s how unbelievable it was.

So here it is – #7 on our growing list of How to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

Roller-skis! Frequently seen in Norway for cross-country training during the warmer months, but they still crack me up every time I see them.

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Still going strong at Casa Svendsen

It’s been a while since I posted as we’ve been busy with stomach flues, visiting friends and general Life. Here’s a pictorial round-up of the past few weeks with the Svendsen family in Gran Canaria:

Per Christian spent a day at the beach:

And rode his new bike:

And started taking his first brave steps:

Mommy & Pappa took our guests to Mogan (is that Bruno’s speedo in the background?):

And Per Christian wore a hat:

We did some more unpacking:

And planted some flowers (thank you Are & Sandra!)

One missing photo is our hosting of a barbeque for 20 people last weekend. There are no photos because – incredibly! – it was raining most of the day. Somebody is laughing at the irony of us not having rain for the six months since we moved here, except for the one day we planned a barbeque!

Now we’re ready for another fabulous visitor from my Peace Corps days coming next week. Let the fun continue!

Over the river and through the woods…

…. except there were no rivers, and there were no woods. Ooops.

The Svendsen family packed themselves up for a 13km hike in the hills behind our house this past weekend. The scenery is dry, dry, dry – just as you would expect on this arid, volcanic island.

But then, in the midst of it all the dust, we stumbled upon a small Norwegian oasis of trees, shade and picnic benches. Actually created “in honor of the people of Norway” from the mayor of Mogan. Unbelievable…

And every once in a while, we turned a corner and – BAM! – there’s the water again. Getting out and about reminded us that we live on this incredible island, which is an honor we sometimes forget amid the daily grind.

The summer season is really beginning now, we can feel it in the morning air that’s lost its briskness and the shade that’s lost its cool. I expect we’ll be taking a lot more of these weekend hikes with our little chap:

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Wanted : Genius solutions for Casa Svendsen

Okay peeps, here’s the deal. The Svendsens have a house here in Gran Canaria that needs some tender loving care. Our greatly-anticipated bombardment of guests begins later this month and continues throughout the summer, so it’s time to get serious and finally unpack those boxes lingering in the basement. We need to transform Casa Svendsen from a temporary rental into a semi-permanent home.

However, anyone who knows the two Svendsen parents also knows that we’re not much of a DIY couple. We admit it completely – we’re really more of a “Can’t we hire someone to fix this for us?” kind of pair. You’d think that Pappa S (being from the hotel industry) would have all kinds of secret knowledge about how to fix/organize/decorate things, right? But no, that’s what he has employees for.

Duh.

And as for Mommy S? Well, let’s not even go there…

So we need help putting this place together and I’m totally at a loss. Therefore, I’m hereby relying on the much-lauded magic of social networking to fix our problems. Write in, comment, send photos, send finely-worded insults about our lack of decorating prowess – whatever floats your boat and is at least mildly constructive.

(Note: the “Where’s Waldo?” impersonation in the photographs below was generously made available by our local resident baby model.)

Ready… set…. go!

ISSUE 1: The Non-Existent Third Bedroom

We really, really wanted a house with three bedrooms so Per Christian would still have his own room when we have guests visiting. Our son is a loud, grumpy and restless sleeper – he was booted out of our room when he was three months old and thank goodness for that! In order to sustain any sensible amount of personal sleep, we need to keep this kid out of our room and in his own space.

However, we’re having no luck finding a suitable house for rent with three bedrooms in Arguineguin. We do, however, have a soon-to-be office space that could be used for a temporary nursery during guest visits. There’s no door and it’s entirely open into the upstairs hallway, so we need to do something to partially seal it off or prepare it somehow for part-time office space and part-time baby sleeping.

How do we turn this bland space into something suitable for double-duty office and baby space? How do we section it off so there is some semblance of a separate, quiet room for PC to get some sleep?

ISSUE 2: Protecting PC from the Stairs (or, more accurately, Protecting the Stairs from PC)

Our little meatloaf is now a very agile and mobile meatloaf, zooming around our non-carpeted floors with great gusto. And like all good parents, we’ve put up a baby gate on the first floor stairs down to the basement, and we also have a gate that will soon go up on the outside terrace.

However, the stairs from the second floor to the first absolutely confound me. They’re kind of “recessed” in a way, so that any traditional baby gate (the ones that screw into each side of the wall or railing) would only begin from the third or fourth step down.

This makes no sense to me! Stylistically, I’ll agree that it’s a good look, but if we don’t figure out a gating solution soon I fear the baby police will be knocking on our door. How do we manage to install a gate from the very top of these stairs so that mommy doesn’t have a stroke every time Per Christian goes zooming down the hallway?

ISSUE 3: Making the Most of our Tiny Kitchen

The kitchen is a particularly painful predicament at Casa Svendsen. When we originally moved here, we thought its demure size wouldn’t matter that much since we’d be eating every meal outside on the terrace anyway (we were very smug back then). The reality, however, is that it does actually sometimes get chilly here (notice I did not say “cold” – I wouldn’t dare insult my Norwegian or Russian friends by labeling this as “cold”), so we need to take advantage of our inside kitchen space.

We have insanely limited cabinet space, and I’m even a bit embarrassed to show their pathetic-ness in these photos. I thought these swinging metal shelves would be a great solution, but I can’t seem to find a system that actually works. The dishes are in disarray, the pots and pans are a disaster, the overhead food storage is a mess… and my poor little spice collection – boo hoo!

How can we arrange this kitchen to resemble the pictures of organized tranquility I see all over Pinterest these days? We haven’t even unpacked the majority of our kitchen gear yet – I’m having a hard time understanding how it will ever fit in here!

(Note: we live on an island in the middle of the ocean, people. There’s no miracle mecca like The Container Store to answer our prayers. However, anyone with brilliant ideas and willing to ship them our way, be my guest!)

ISSUE 4: Turning the Place Green

My green thumb is actually more of a greenish-brown color, as if it was sliced open and then left to fester for too long. Nope, it ain’t green, my friends.

My sister and my father have skills in this area that you wouldn’t believe, but they’re selfish and didn’t pass along that part of their DNA to me. My entire relationship with green plants can be boiled down to one pathetic attempt at a few planters outside our balcony in Oslo. Those poor flowers died a sad, lingering death, and I fear that I was to blame.

We now have this large terrace and I have great plans for it. Great plans! I want one of those cozy outdoor areas that make people linger and drink lemonade, the kind of place that feels cool in the shade, even when it’s boiling hot outside. How do I get that? I mean, is this dirt even useable? Do I need, like, tools and stuff? I know this seems ridiculous, but I’m serious! Total and complete ignorance beyond a vision in my head. Where does one even begin?

So there you have it – four issues that need solving! Please post below your (semi-helpful, or at least fully-humorous) suggestions for either (1) what we can do personally or (2) who we can hire to fix this for us!

Ciao, farewell, and hasta luego from our resident “Where’s Waldo” star!

Number 6

Although I personally believe my Top Five to be fairly comprehensive, I think I’d be doing a disservice to y’all if I didn’t add just one more tip for spotting a Norwegian in Gran Canaria.

Without a doubt, the presence and enjoyment of brown cheese will 100% undeniably indicate that a Norwegian is in the room.

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Proceed with caution – coming in between a Nordman and his brown cheese can be dangerous!

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How to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria

After my last post, I received a lot of emails from people asking, “But Mommy Svendsen, how do you really know all those people passing you on the steps are Norwegians?”

(Okay – not really. Such popularity is only in my head. Nobody wrote and asked me anything. Moving on…)

Despite this self-imagined popularity, the question still remains – how exactly does one spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria? I mean, when people greet you, do you respond by saying, “hola” or “hello” or “heihei”? This is an important thing to know!

To answer this important-only-in-my-own-head riddle, I took it upon myself to spend a pleasant (i.e – “childless”) afternoon hour in downtown Arguineguin sipping cortados, people-watching and gathering my thoughts.

(Okay – not really. Arguineguin doesn’t have a downtown. Such grandness is only in my head. It’s more like of a small town’s main street. But I was childless for the hour, which is definitely something. Moving on…)

The result, outlined below, is now available free of charge for all my adoring fans and readers worldwide.

Top Five Ways to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

1. SandwichesThis might sound like an odd way of spotting a Norwegian, but not once you’ve lived and breathed in Norway for a few years. After living there, you’d never do anything as crass as actually eat a sandwiches with your hands. No way! Norwegians eat their sandwiches, burgers, etc. with a fork and knife. Very civil-like. Take a look around the Arguineguin cafes, spot the clean-fingered sandwich eaters, and you’ll instantly know you’re among friends.

2. Backpacks – Look closely and you’ll notice these aren’t just any normal backpacks. These are the ubiquitous “Bergans of Norway” hiking backpacks, famous throughout Norway where every person lives and breathes the Great Outdoors. Bergans is so much a part of everyday life that you don’t ask if someone has their backpack or jacket before leaving the house. You ask if they have their Bergans. If you see someone with a Helly Hansen backpack, proceed with caution – their origin is questionable. But a Bergans? The answer is obvious.

3. Trekking poles – I know a lot of older people come to Gran Canaria during the European winter in order to defrost and enjoy the numerous hiking trails. That’s impressive, and I can respect that. Good for you for being 80 years old and regularly hiking up the side of a mountain for exercise. Bravo! But listen, do you really need your mountain-essential trekking poles while walking around the cement sidewalks of Arguineguin??? There must be some serious pedestrian perils I’m missing in my ignorant youth, but the older Norwegians among us  – they know better.

4. Ecco sandals – This one’s a bit tricky. The presence of these god-awful sandals doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve met a Norwegian. You may be amid Germans, or even a Dutchman. BUT! If those sandals are worn in combination with a Bergans backpack OR are worn by someone eating a sandwich with a fork and knife – breathe easy, my friend. You’ve definitely found yourself a Norwegian. However, beware if these sandals are worn with socks, especially black socks. In that case, no matter what the assumed nationality, do not stop and chat. Keep walking because you do not want to know this person.

5. White wine before noon – Norwegians, especially sea-faring ones, usually have rules about these things, like “no alcohol before noon.” Such rules keep many a drink-lovin’ Norwegian (my husband included) from succumbing to the seductive lure of alcoholism. But just as they sometimes forget their own national etiquette rules when abroad (like not helping stroller mommies, or shamelessly walking topless in public), Norwegians on holiday also love themselves a bit of liquid before lunch.

There’s a hierarchy to the liquid though, so be careful that you’re not mistaking a Norwegian with someone else. For example, if there’s beer in their glass, keep walking – they could be from anywhere… if there’s something dark in their glass like Canaria’s famous honey rum, then you’re getting closer – maybe you’ve met a Danish or a Finnish friend…. but if there’s white wine in their glass and the clock has yet to strike twelve, you’re in luck. Pull up a chair, order yourself a drink, and feel confident that you’ve entered some welcoming Norwegian territory.

So go ahead – with this essential information, you can wave and say “heihei!” to all the Norwegians in town without fear of being misunderstood! Bravo!

(Okay – not really. Norwegians don’t talk to strangers. Such an extroverted display of cheeriness from a real, live Norwegian would only happen in my head. Moving on….)

The Steps of Loma Dos

A few months ago, I briefly posted on the good and not-so-good parts of our temporary housing situation in Gran Canaria. We still have two months to decide if we’ll keep this house in Arguineguin or move elsewhere, but I think we’re feeling pretty settled where we are. And now that our shipment from Norway has arrived, I think the chances of us actually wanting to move again are fading with each box that’s opened and unpacked.

But there is one thing about our neighborhood with which I will never, ever make peace:

Welcome to The Steps of Loma Dos.

Our neighborhood is literally named “Two Hills,” which means that the town centre is downhill no matter which way you go. We’re at the top of the hill, the town is below us. The only way to get there is to conquer The Steps.

I’m sure that any normal (i.e. “non-mother”) reader in the audience is thinking “big deal.” But to those of us that know better, you know exactly where I’m going with this…

Steps + baby + baby carriage = Deciding to stay home

Maybe I was spoiled in Oslo, but steps were rarely an issue there. If there were steps, there was also a ramp. Easy-peasy. The only time I regularly confronted a difficult set of steps was getting on and off the city trams. But even then, there was usually a polite, kind-hearted fellow passenger offering to help with the stroller. (A side-note to the punk-ass teenage boys in Grunnerlokka who failed to assist me even when asked… Shame on you! Your mother would be so embarrassed if she knew…)

But not so in our little Loma Dos. No matter where you’re located in the neighborhood, you’ve got stairs separating you from your freshly-brewed cortado in town. So Per Christian and I bump up and down the stairs on a nearly-daily basis. And with our little 10-month meatloaf packing on the kilos, it gives Mommy quite a workout.

Here’s the thing I don’t quite understand… I get passed on the stairs on a regular basis by Norwegians who don’t stop to help. I’ve never been passed by a Spanish person, male or female, without them stopping for assistance. I just don’t get it – the same fellow countrymen and women who always help a stroller-wielding Mommy at home somehow come here and develop social amnesia. It’s as if they forget all sense of being decent, respectable Norwegians as soon as they take off their shirts and stroll topless in the streets.

Shame on you! Your children and grandchildren would be so embarrassed if they knew… Come on peoples, put your clothes back on and help a Mommy in need every once in a while!

Geesh.

However, seeing as how the rest of Europe is covered in a blanket of cold snow, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too loudly. After all, once we’re actually down the steps, the view is pretty fantastic…

Casa Svendsen a la Loma Dos is quickly getting booked up for the spring and summer season! So make your reservations early – special discounts apply for polite, stroller-assisting folk.

Word-of-the-day

Learning a new language in your 30’s is kind of like walking through a minefield. You tip-toe your way around new words and try to navigate them into full sentences. Then you finally get up the nerve to speak them aloud in public, only to retreat back to the security of your own native language as soon as your fledgling skills are critiqued. I had one experience in Oslo where I shamefully mixed up the Norwegian words “titte” (to look around) and “tisse” (to pee) in a clothing store when asked by the assistant if she could help me with anything.

It’s a minefield, folks, I’m telling ‘ya….

And now I’m trying to mix Spanish into my English-Russian-Norwegian head of languages.

I have an email subscription to an online “Word-of-the-Day” service. It’s pretty self-explanatory – every day I get one new word in my Inbox with an example of it used in a sentence. I started this service a while ago to keep my head in the Russian language game. And when I found out we were moving to Gran Canaria, I signed up for another daily email with Spanish words.

It sounds simple enough, but sometimes I wonder who’s sitting behind the green curtain and churning out these emails for the language service. Some of the words and phrases I receive are so arbitrary, I think they must be written just to see if anyone’s actually paying attention. It’s almost like the writers are sitting on the sidelines, just waiting to roll on the floor with laughter when one of us gullible schmucks actually uses some of the words they send out.

A few Spanish examples:

  1. ir a tascas : to go bar-hopping, as in “Come bar-hopping with me tonight.
  2. emborracharse : to get drunk, as in “I got drunk last night after bar-hopping.
  3. azuzar los perros (a alguien) : to set the dogs (on someone), as in “Stay out of my orchard or I’ll set the dogs on you!

And I’m not even kidding – this is what appeared from my Spanish word-of-the-day service on consecutive days last week. So, I’m assuming that in Spain it’s best to stay out of people’s orchards after getting drunk while bar-hopping.

Good to know, thanks.

Compare that to what I’ve received on the Russian side (apologies to the non-Cyrillic readers out there):

  1. боль : pain, as in “No pain, no gain.
  2. хрустящий : crispy, as in “I like pickles when they are crispy.
  3. печень : liver, as in “Vodka can be harmful to the liver.”

Hmmmm….Now, anyone who’s been to Russia for any length of time knows that vodka goes quite naturally with crispy pickles, all of which can create pain and be harmful to your liver. So, I’m assuming the writers want me to understand that in Russia, consuming alcohol and pickles and letting your liver rot is all worth it in the end because, duh – no pain, no gain.

Also good to know. Thanks again.

The moral of this story is that language learning is a minefield folks, and that apparently I’m in need of a new word-of-the-day email service.

Exploring the island: Agaete

This weekend, quite by accident, Per and I discovered Gran Canaria’s answer to the Amalfi coast. If any readers were present at the 2010 Svendsen wedding, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to… a beautify, twisty road along the Italian coast, with cliffs to one side and a steep drop to the water on your other side.

On Saturday, we drove north into the mountains, and then took a sharp left to find the coastal road to Agaete we had heard a bit about.

We were not disappointed.

Per Christian surely won’t remember anything about the trip, except perhaps the fabulous new teething biscuits he’s fallen in love with…

There’s definitely a lot more to the island than sun-bathing at the tourist resorts! Hopefully we’ll have plenty of chances to get out and explore some of the lesser-known sights over the coming months.

I hope you all had a great weekend also!

I have a plan…

I’ve decided to use my son as fish bait to find new friends. This might not get me the Mommy of the Year award, but I’d be willing to bet actual money on my success.

I’ve never been a modest person in general, and certainly not about my son. He’s been grabbing attention ever since I popped him out, and he’s only improved with age (this is, of course, a totally unbiased mother’s opinion).

But I really never anticipated the overwhelming reaction Per Christian has received in Gran Canaria. Strangers stop to coo over him at every turn, and I’m not even exaggerating. Yesterday our waitress at lunch stole him out of my lap and walked him around the entire restaurant. (This is not a complaint. Per and I sipped wine in peace for at least three blissful minutes…) This morning, I literally had a woman chase me down the street to stop and give him a little spanish beso. She started telling me what sounded like a very interesting and lively story, but I didn’t hear the words “cortado” or “cerveza” in there anywhere, so I got a bit lost in translation.

And don’t get the mistaken impression that it’s only the women, either. The men are just as eager to stop us on the street and sing praises to this miniature meatloaf. But they don’t usually get rewarded with his cheeky little smile – even at such a young age, Per Christian is a committed ladies man.

So my brilliant new plan is to beef up the Spanish lessons, strap Per Christian into his Baby Bjorn and hit the streets. I’ll just walk around until someone stops to admire him, then I’ll amuse them with my witty language skills and lure them into my friendship web. Bam! Amigos galore!

Feel free to forward my Mommy of the Year nominations to your nearest social services office.

In other news, crawling is, like, so last week, y’all….

Hope everyone had a great weekend!