Saturday, November 8, 2008


Believe it or not, I am coming home in 9 days!
I don't know how that came so quickly, but there it is.
I fly out of Paris on Monday November 17th!!!!!

I have a feeling it will be quite surreal. But I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces and having clean clothes! :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


For the first time in maybe my whole life, I felt proud to be an American today.
I sat in the kitchen in the French countryside with two ex-pats from Britain and listened to Obama's victory speech and it honestly brought tears to my eyes.
I've never felt this way before!
Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who voted.

I want to come home and bask in it!!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

flu, electrical problems, and lousy orientation

In France I have somehow morphed into a damsel in distress!

It all began with my couchsurfing request. Last minute, desperate, so appreciative when Thibault said it was alright for me to stay on his couch for 2 days. I arrived Thursday afternoon (late, because my plane was delayed) in Paris and took the metro to Montmartre where Thibault's flat was located. Also the location that most of Amelie was shot in and around, so for those of you not already familiar - extremely picturesque!! It was cold and rainy and I was feeling exhausted already when I arrived, but I explored the city with Thibault's other couchsurfer Gaelo for a little while and it was as beautiful as I imagined it would be, maybe more so. It looks like every amazingly perfect photo and movie you've ever seen shot in Paris.

Next day, Halloween. Gaelo had the only spare key, so we agreed to meet at 5 o'clock and go to the Louvre. I wandered around Montmartre, explored the beautiful cemetary, spent a long brunch at a cafe.. Word of advice - if you're not feeling 100%, don't eat a croque monsieur and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in the rain. By the time I got to the gorgeous old Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I kind of felt like I wanted to lie down and die. I perked up a little watching the british hipsters working there carving pumpkins and listening to the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack.

I halfheartedly went sightseeing for a bit longer, finally ending up at Notre Dame, where I wandered in an appreciative daze for a while. Then when I finally sat down, with the big beautiful organ music and the murmur of tourist babble in many foreign languages enveloping me, I realized that I was really not well, and probably needed to lie down as soon as possible. So I sat for 2 hours in the cathedral, kind of floating in and out of consciousness, and it wasn't a wholly unpleasant experience.
When it was finally 5 o'clock, I met Gaelo, canceled our Louvre appt, went back to Thibault's were he was preparing a dinner party for his friends and crept into my bed with all my clothes on and passed out for hours, waking up from time to time to puke. What a scary halloween indeed!!

The next day, Thibault was leaving early to catch a flight, so I had to leave early with all my bags. I was weak and dehydrated and as I lugged my heavy bags across the city to the luggage lockers at Gare Montparnasse, I vowed to never travel again (or at least not bring any luggage).

Amused myself around Paris til 5 o'clock when I went to catch my train. Got on safe and sound, but then - disaster! After 10 minutes the train stopped and there were all sorts of announcements in French, of which I understood only completely non-vital words. Sitting next to me was a really sweet little 19 year old veterinary student named Yun, who thankfully translated that we were having electrical problems and would be delayed indefinitely.
Eventually after many hours it was clear that I would be missing my connecting coach from Le Mans to the tiny town of La Fleche where I was then going to be picked up by my wwoof host Joyce. Yun was more concerned than me, seemingly, and insisted I use his cell phone to call her. But of course, I look in my bag only to realize I misplaced it. How handy!! So Yun called his friend and had him look up the website and get her number, and then of course he let me call her, and she was already back from trying to pick me up at the station by then, and was really flustered. I ended up taking the train to the small city of Angers and spending the night in the Citotel L'Universe next to the train station, where Joyce would pick me up in the morning. Excitement!

Then of course I only had like an hour to explore Angers in the morning before I got picked up. It's an extremely beautiful city with an old chateau and a big cathedral and little windy cobblestone streets. So lovely. I glanced at the map in the hotel, and happily wandered off, nibbling a croissant and sipping a cafe creme and snapping photos. I thought I was looping in a large circle, but somewhere along the way I stopped paying attention for a few blocks, and after 40 minutes of walking I was totally and utterly lost. I stayed lost even after checking the map at a bus stop, and finally had to ask directions. I asked this incredibly beautiful man who looked like a more rugged frenchier version of Colin Farrell, with a pony tail, rolling a cigarette on the hood of his car. His response was a very concerned "oh la la" (for real!) when I said I was looking for the train station. He showed me on a map and it was ridiculously far. So, he offered to take me there. Now, I know you're not supposed to get in cars with strange hot french men in unfamiliar cities, but it seemed wiser than getting myself more lost, and I was secretly hoping he'd kidnap me anyways! hah. No such luck. He didn't really speak much English, but I gathered that he was a dentist originally from La Rochelle, which was a much more beautiful city on the Atlantic Coast. Why don't dentists look like him in New York? Anyways, I sadly did not get kidnapped, he just drove me to my destination and I was rescued for like the 80 billionth time this trip. What a wimp I'm becoming!

So now I am living at La Bresnadiere, a beautiful tiny farm in Fougere, in the Loire Valley. Along with Virginia, the other wwoofer, I cut back like 8 bramble patches and cleared 5 wheelbarrows full of donkey poo from Poppy the donkey's big pasture. Virginia is leaving tomorrow, and it'll be hard to follow in her footsteps because she's reeeeally wonderful. Smart and sweet and helpful and Joyce has totally bonded with her. It's always a little awkward to be the unfavored new wwoofer. But, I think I'll like it here! Sooner or later, I have to figure out what happens next. Where do I go? What do I do? Damned if I know.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Couchsurfing in Oslo

I really love Bergen! What a beautiful city. I had such a great time staying at Helge's place. The first night I stayed there, I met him when he was done with school, and it was pouring rain and totally miserable out. So we went to his apartment and I unloaded all my sopping wet bags and he brewed some jasmine tea and we sat there in his cozy living room drinking tea and listening to his fabulous record collection. I couldn't have asked for a better evening after such a long and cold wet day of traveling!

He was busy most of the time I was there, but he gave me his spare cell phone and my own set of keys to his flat! So for two days I felt like an independent woman for the first time in a long time. It was a really nice feeling. I also found the big Fretex, Norwegian Salvation Army store, and had a good time feeling right at home shopping for second hand stuff. Found an old leather Nike shoulder bag for $5 that actually seemed like quite a practical purchase because my canvas tote bag was simply not drying after all that frickin rain I put it through. And also cheap embroidered leather hightop sneakers, just because I was feeling so boring with the same 3 outfits for 2 months straight!!

On Friday afternoon, I met up with the lovely Vilde (Anders' daughter) and we drank Chili Kakao (which is really rich cocoa with a ton of chili powder dumped in it) at Vågen (which is an adorable little cafe). Then my good fortune continued, and after wandering the pleasantly dry streets of Bergen for a little while, she invited me over to her place for dinner, with her brother and his friends. So now I've finally met the entire Braanaas family, and I must say, they're all extraordinarily lovely!

I took the train on Saturday from Bergen to Oslo, the same one I'd taken in August the opposite direction. We passed through the same mountains, but this time they were covered in like 3 feet of snow!! It was seriously a winter wonderland. We stopped at all these tiny little mountain villages, and passengers got off the train with their cross country skis, and I got jealous all over again and decided I wanted to be a rugged mountain woman (this from the warm comfort of my cushy train seat, of course).

So right now I'm in Oslo, staying with two really sweet gay boys I found on Medwin is Filippino and his boyfriend Mihai is from Romania. As soon as I arrived on Saturday night, they took me out to a dinner party at their friends house! Fortunately I was warned of this in advance, so I was able to obtain a good bottle of Argentinian wine from Helge to bring them! The friends were a Norwegian-Russian gay couple who'd just recently gotten married and were so happy and sweet and wonderful. We even ate leftover wedding cake for dessert! I should've taken photos but I honestly forgot to. (This is why I don't call myself a photographer)
It was such a fun giggle-filled evening. They were all so welcoming to this stranger who'd just plopped down among them.

On Sunday, Mihai accompanied me around the city for the day. We went to Vigeland Park to see some really strange (and in my opinion, ugly) sculptures. It was perfect weather, so we also went to the Royal Palace, but we couldn't go inside because the flag was raised, which meant the King was there. The King actually lives there, and you can wander around his front yard. Isn't that funny? I'm not used to living Kings, I guess. Hah! We attempted to go to the Munch Museum because one of the guidebooks lied and said it was free after October 1st, when in fact it was like $12, which we didn't feel like spending. So instead we went to the National Gallery, which is most definitely free, and has a whole room full of Munch paintings, including The Scream, which I am not actually a huge fan of anyways (gasp! sacrilege!). But there were a ton of other paintings from various Norwegian artists, and many of them were extraordinarily beautiful, and the museum itself was really nice.
We ended our touristy day by walking along the waterfront to the famous Opera House. I think it's my favorite thing I've seen in Oslo, and I was surprised by how much I loved it, because I'm not even really a fan of weird modern architecture. But oh my god, it's so cool!! It's this strange low white building with incredible textures, and the side of it goes right on down plunging into the sea, and you can walk all over the slanted side and the roof! They have a gorgeous lighting arrangement at night.

This evening, I am meeting up with my friend Jørgen, who I met through his internship with the Woodstock Film Festival back in 2003 when I was working there. I'll be crashing his couch for the next couple of days. So excited for our reunion! Less excited to carry my bag all over the city once again, but hey, maybe I am getting super strong in the process (or just destroying my back, either one..).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm so rugged

Well I had a slightly tiring but not so bad day today.

I left Ytre Lygra after lunch. Erik loaded me up with enough freshly baked bread to last me like 5 days, which is so so perfect. I baked it myself, with raisins and cinnamon and cardamom. It's quite delicious.

The last bus from Lygra leaves at 1:05pm. I left the house at like 12:45 and walked the 5 mins up to the bus stop and sat there waiting. By 1:25, still no bus. I started panicking. Decided I had most definitely waited at the wrong bus stop (there are many that seem to not be in use). I'd had a really lovely goodbye from Erik, and I didn't feel like going back and being like "Umm, I waited at the wrong bus stop and now you have to ruin the rest of your workday by driving me somewhere far away to another bus terminal".

So I sat there weighing my options for a while, and decided I was gonna be tough and independent and think outside the box or whatever. I put my massively heavy backpack on my back and pulled up my hood and started walking in the direction of civilization. I walked for like 3 kilometers without seeing any cars at all. All the houses were dark and empty looking. Everyone appeared to be at work. The rain was pouring down nonstop, combined with wind so it was going horizontal and completely soaking me. I was getting more and more cranky, but still trying to be brave. Couldn't accept defeat and go crawling back to Erik's.

Finally I came to this boathouse on the side of the road with a car parked outside. There was a dude putting on full waterproof gear from his trunk. I went up to him and apologetically told him I'd missed my bus and was looking for a way to get to Knarvik or any other nearby town. He was this sweet little old man with huge glasses who barely spoke a word of English, but I finally got across what I was trying to say, and he asked me to wait in the car with his wife while he bailed out his boat. His wife spoke literally no English, so we sat there smiling at each other in silence, and shared some of the organic snackpack that Annette packed for me with apricots and chocolate and coconut and raisins. When the old man got back to the car, he was on his cell phone. I don't know who he'd called, but he'd found out that there had been a 2 hour bus strike, which is how I missed my bus! It had never actually showed! But they were soon to be running again, according to his source. He offered to drive me all the way to the bus station in Knarvik!! I don't think he was heading there, because his wife had to make a phone call seemingly telling someone they'd be late because they were driving some crazy soaking wet tourist to Knarvik. Hah!

Anyways, it took like 30 minutes to get to Knarvik, and I was just so extraordinarily happy that I wasn't walking in the rain. I guess it could have turned out really terrible. But it didn't. When I got to Knarvik I thanked the guy like 4oo times and he seemed quite pleased that he'd been helpful. I only had to wait like 10 minutes for the next expressbuss to Bergen, and it only cost about $6!! So I saved money and had a nice human experience and maybe gave the old couple a little story to tell people later about a half drowned New Yorker they rescued from a bus strike. :)

Now I am in Bergen and I am still cold and wet. I left my huge pack in a luggage locker in the train station and went to the Norwegian Salvation Army store (Frotek) looking for a cool sweater. Was too wet to comfortably try them on. Now I'm in the library drying off and obviously using the internet. In an hour I have to go meet the guy whose couch I am crashing on for the next couple of nights. He is a friend of Erik and Annette's who I haven't met before, but he sounds wonderful. All of their friends have been extraordinarily sweet, so I'm sure he will be as well. I bought some organic coffee to bring to him. I'm meeting him at some strange hippie cafe with lots of free strange books to read. Sounds like a perfect meeting spot!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time Racing By

I can't believe I'm already leaving Ytre Lygra tomorrow! Ack. I've gotten really comfortable here. In fact, it's going to be totally surreal being back in a city surrounded by unfamiliar faces. I'm heading to Bergen tomorrow for a couple of days. Erik and Annette were so sweet, they called their good friend who has a flat there and arranged for me to stay on his couch. AND we're baking fresh bread today, which they are insisting I take a loaf of to hold me over so I'm not just eating crap for the next week of traveling. I've been so spoiled, eating the most delicious meals every day, with only the freshest most organic ingredients, there's no way I can continue this while on my own in the city! I think I might go on a coffee and bread fast. I mentioned that to Erik and he shook his head in misery (serious body pollution, hah).

Well, shall I give a brief overview of the fun times I've had here? It was a rough start, because it was so different from the life I was leading before, but honestly I think I've been happier here than I've been for a really long time. Maybe years. Just to be living with two really positive and sincere and healthy happy people who have created their own beautiful life here... it's a nice influence, I think. I finally uploaded photos. Chantelle (the awesome Aussie wwoofer who left yesterday and I miss already) took many photos of me as well, which is sooooo nice, because I never have photos of myself since I'm always behind the camera.

Here is the lovely Dina.. all 550lbs of her. She is massive and has monsterous teeth, but she's sweet and gentle and just likes to be cuddled (Chantelle has nicknamed her Cuddlebunny).

And here is Chantelle on the swing in Johan's barn. We go there to feed Erik's sheep that are waiting for the slaughtery. Depressing maybe, but the swing is quite fun!
And now, speaking of which, I actually have to go feed those little sheepies. This has taken too long. Wish me luck in Bergen! I will be there for 2 days, then Oslo for 4 days, then a flight to Paris and on to the Loire Valley where I will be helping a woman named Joyce with her B&B farm. It looks really beautiful. Also extremely different from where I have been. Another period of adjusting! Maybe I will be used to it by now though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Well, of course I am now so far behind in my blogging that it's impossible to fill in all the missing pieces of my experience in Lygra so far.
By now, I have been here for half a month, so I am feeling quite comfortable. It's always once I seem to get used to being in a place that I have to start thinking about leaving it and moving on to the next. I have about another 10 days here, so I don't have to worry about leaving yet I guess, but still...
I finalized some plans for a farm in the Loire Valley in France next month. I hope to spend a few days in Paris as well. I keep thinking about what I will do when I get home eventually though, since that time is slowly approaching. In some ways it's nice that I don't really have a home or job right now to come back to, because it means I can start over pretty much anywhere I want. On the other hand though, I know I am going to want some stability and the chance to start my own life as soon as I am back home, and I still can't decide whether I want to do that in NYC again or not.

Anyways, that's a whole other topic that shouldn't even be breached in this post (although if you have advice, do feel free to email me).

This past week has been pretty fabulous. Like I said before, I am getting really accustomed to the lifestyle here. It's really simple, but I don't feel like I'm missing too much. Earlier, I felt like I was lacking a bit of contact with the outside world, but this past weekend we had a lot of visitors staying at the house, so it didn't feel isolated at all anymore. Plus I am beginning to enjoy the isolation. I didn't think that was going to happen, to be honest. But it has! The other day, digging potatoes, I found myself mesmerized by a particularly beautiful dung beetle, and thought about how in my previously overstimulated life I would not have been able to appreciate the purple and blue tones on it's little shiny back. When would I have time to notice a dung beetle? (Not to mention, where would I find one?)

Friday- Monday were sheep gathering days here. Erik keeps his wild sheep in 3 different flocks, 1 on the home pastures, 1 on outer Lygra in the heathlands, and 1 on an adjacent island whose name I can't remember. We rounded the sheep up and then the farmers decided which ones were right for slaughter. I helped tie the rope around the necks of the chosen ones, and after they were put on the boat to transport them to Lygra, we had to lift them up onto the dock and into a trailer which then took them to Johan's barn. The new wwoofer Chantelle and I rode back a couple kilometers on the wheel guard of Johan's tractor, holding onto the roof. I feel like a real farm girl lately. It's becoming a bit more natural, finally.

During down time, I went fishing with one of Erik's visiting friends who works as a cook on big fishing boats and knows a ton about fishing. So much fun. I love fishing. I've caught things before, but there's always been some dude there who wants to do the killing and gutting, so after I reel it up my job is done. But Ingvar let me do the whole thing, so I murdered my first living thing. This past Sunday. It felt very strange, but I love eating fish, so why not know how to catch it and kill it myself?

I did draw the line at the sheep slaughtering, though. I get really squeamish around all that blood and flesh. It's too much. There were 2 sheep who died during the rounding up process.. one broke his leg trying to escape over a tall fence and had to be shot, and another one was already small and weak, and got trampled by his flock when they were in the holding pen. Isn't that one of the most tragic things you've heard in a long while? I remember seeing him looking especially tired earlier on, but to die just from lying down in the wrong spot? Ugh. It was really horrible.
So Ingvar and Erik had to take the carcasses home and skin them and hang them and all that. They did not need my help, so I stayed inside with Annette drinking tea thank god.

We ate especially delicious food this past weekend as well, because Ingvar is not only a fisherman but also a wonderful chef (double bonus!). Yesterday he made us sheep heart stuffed with apples and horseradish and braised in Danish ale and pig fat. Might not sound good, but it was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten! He also made pate from the sheep's liver. Also delicious. At the moment I can't remember what other incredible things he whipped up over the few days he was here, but let's just say we were all super spoiled, and threatened to go on a hunger strike if he left (which he did, and we didn't).

Today we focused on domestic concerns. Mainly having to do with apples. We siphoned the apple cider into bottles, made lots of apple juice, and apple jam, and apple & mint jelly!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I'm not feeling very bloggy lately. I might have to make up for it later. I've sat down to start a new post like 10 times, and each time I realize that the words are just not coming to me.

I feel like I'm on a different planet.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Well it's been 5 days of ups and downs. Every day I seem to have this battle in my mind of should I stay or leave early. But I think I've decided to stick it out. It's been a bit difficult adjusting to this new farm. It took me a little while to adjust to the initial pace of country life at Anders', but now I have a whole other lifestyle to suddenly get accustomed to. I'm finding it hard to describe, because it feels like I've given up a lot of creature comforts, but when I go to name them I can't really think of what particularly important things I am missing. The composting toilet took some getting used to. It's funny though, once you've only had things a certain way for 5 days, it's hard to remember how things were previously. Was I really in a posh house with heated bathroom floors and a big bathtub a week ago?!

They work really hard here, but they're immensely happy. This weekend they've been catering for some guests at the Heathland Center up the road, which is very beautifully designed. We all ate dinner in the main room up there last night. It was so incredibly beautiful. Erik prepared wild sheep and potatoes and japanese winter squash (all home grown, of course) and we drank this blueberry wine from 1986 that his grandmother had made! That is definitely a first for me. 22 year old blueberry wine. It smelled a little like grappa, but it was really tasty. We all got a bit giddy, from the delicious food and wine and the huge floor-to-ceiling views of the fjord out the window of the center.

They had invited their neighbors over for coffee and dessert, but the parents were sick, so just the kids came over. We hosted 14 year old Signe and her friend Oscar, and Signe's brother Ervin whose probably 8 or something. Coffee and apple cake and banana cake with chocolate sauce. Oh my good god, it was amazing! We played a long and rousing game of cards called Presidents and Slaves, which Erik kept reminding us was a metaphor for the capitalist system, but it was tons of fun and the kids had a great time and didn't leave until past midnight. Erik & Annette have a very cozy sitting room with a hammock and a big couch and this old barely working organ and other instruments. Tonight their friend is coming over to play some celtic music, I think. The nice thing about living on a tiny barely inhabited island is, you bring the fun to your house, I suppose!

It's starting to get really cold. I can see my breath inside the house after night falls. They have loads of extra slippers and wool sweaters, but it's still uncomfortable having a cold nose and fingertips most of the time.
We've been harvesting potatoes all week, and we're still not finished. That is not fun work after the first day, let me tell you. My first day here, some friends of Erik's came to help us with the harvesting, and one of them was a dude from New Jersey whose been working in Denmark for the past few years. Digging potatoes on an island in Norway with a Rutgers alum. It's a strange world sometimes, don't you think?

If my hosts weren't so freakishly nice, I have a feeling I would have made some plans to leave early. I think it's not a bad thing that I went from one extreme to the other (NYC office job to Norwegian rural farmlife) but a month is a long time to stay in one cold isolated place. One thing I have come to terms with here, though, is that I do not have a future as an organic farmer. I like civilization and comfort a bit too much. And that's okay. I am dreaming of starting life over in some metropolitan area and finally taking some real photography courses so I can have access to a darkroom. Or maybe I can build my own darkroom (if I'm dreaming, why not?)! I can live with the knowledge about sustainable living, and shop local and organic (which I already tried to whenever possible) and support the lifestyle in my own comfy way. Is that a copout? Maybe. But right now all I can think about is a warm bed and a movie marathon and tons of coffee with milk and sugar (I've been drinking it black - they're not a dairy farm yet), and a hot bath, and tumble-dried clothes, and people, lots and lots of people.....

Oh, and one last thing. This computer is so disturbingly slow and crappy that I am not able to upload any photos! :(
So I will explain to you - I am only a few meters away from the sea, but it doesn't feel anything like the sea. It's technically a fjord, because it's super deep, but it doesn't have the usual high cliffs surrounding it. It's mostly very still and silent, and really beautiful, but it feels more like living by a lake than by the sea. We have 70 chickens, 2 calves, tons of vegetables, 3 male pigs, and on Thursday we just got a big mama pig who weighs 250 kilos. I have no idea how that converts to pounds, but she is pretty much a huge rhinocerous. When she waddled out of the horse trailer she arrived in, Erik nearly fell to the floor laughing. She's like 4 feet tall and 5 feet long, and has 3 chins! But she's very sweet, and he's helping to keep this ancient breed of Norwegian pig alive (I think there are only like 8 left in Norway, and he has 4 of them now). I have a view of Dina from my bedroom window. How nice!
Well, I am missing all of you who know me so well. I seriously can't wait to come home and be loved. Can December be a very social month, please?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lygra Day One

Well. I believe that now I am truly living with organic farmers. I might turn into a hippie yet! I arrived on the ferry boat last night. In fact, Hilde dropped me off in her boat, and we were running late, so we parked at the end of the dock where the ferry had just pulled up, and I had to climb one of the huge tire bumpers to get onto the dock, and my hands were pitch black from tire grease, and then they were just about to fold up the ramp when I ran up waving frantically. Then I had to arrange with the ticketguy to make sure they stopped at Lygra (it's such a tiny island, the expressboat only stops there by request). It was a pretty large ferry, and it made me happy that I had my own personal door to door service (or kind of). Sorry if I am writing this sloppily, I am trying to be quick because dinner will be ready soon. Anyways, Erik picked me up at the dock and I came in to dinner still warm on the table. It was a tasty lentil stew. I'm not at Anders' place anymore where we go grocery shopping every week and he says "Buy whatever you like!" Here they are living almost totally sustainably, save for a few dairy products like milk and cheese and butter that they do not make themselves. I think we will be eating mostly vegetarian, after my month long carnivores diet at Åsen. But I'm sure it will be delicious! The fridge is down in the basement, through a hatch in the kitchen floor. The bathroom is a composting toilet - which is essentially like an outhouse, except inside. There is a heartshaped hole with a heartshaped lid and a barrel of sawdust to pour over.
Uh oh the dinner gong just gonged, I must stop.
More to come at some point soon! Wish me luck with this simper life I am about to start trying.