Category Archives: Geography

Geography, German, and Memorialization

I’m revising a journal article based on my Master’s thesis, and I just had one of those moments when I made up an English word because I knew in the back of my mind that there was a German word for what I wanted to say but I couldn’t quite pull it to the front of my brain.

After I remembered the German word, the concept made WAY more sense.

See, I wanted to come up with a word to express “die Unverständlichkeit,” so the English word that came to mind was “unknowability.” This is apparently not really an English word (at least, not according to Microsoft Word’s dictionary.) So what does LEO recommend as a translation?

Incomprehensibility.

Oh. Well of course. Duh. That’s what I was going for.

Ironically enough, this situation took place in an amount of time shorter than it took to write this blog post, PLUS it happened while summarizing an article about the implication of words in the social construction of memorialization! Now back to work…

13 Questions for 2013 [Part 1]

1) If you weren’t doing whatever you’re doing with your life right now, what would you be doing?

I think if I weren’t in grad school working on my PhD in Geography, I’d be doing one of two things. If I were still on the academic path, I’d probably be studying math/physics/astronomy/some combination thereof. But, alas, science is hard. The other choice would have to be music-related, though I can’t exactly say doing what. It probably depends (in my alternate universe) if I made different decisions in high school (I’d probably be a professional trumpet player/band nerd) or in college (I’d probably be a professional singer/choral guy). Either way – I’d probably have about as much money (and that’s not much!)

Isn’t playing with alternate timelines fun? But, as they say on Lost, Whatever Happened, Happened.

2) What’s the oddest term of endearment you’ve ever used or that someone’s used for you?

To understand the answer to this, you have to realize that Karen and I are slightly crazy when alone… That said, I can’t even remember half of the crazy nicknames and terms of endearment we have for each other, but I think one of the top ones has to be Bread Head. I don’t remember the entire back story for this, but I know it involved the Bunny Bread slogan… “That’s what I said: Bunny Bread!”

3) Is the country you live in really the best fit for you?

Ha, this is a tough one! I’m inclined to say no, given that I find plenty of things wrong with the United States (and something new to dislike/frown upon seems to pop up every week). Sometimes I really wouldn’t mind living outside the US for an extended period of time, especially if that meant working (teaching) in Canada, the UK, Norway, Germany, Australia, etc. But for all its faults, I do think the US is where I am supposed to be for this period of my life. The whole graduate education in another country thing does not really suit my fancy, which is why I never seriously considered it when applying for PhD programs. That, and in conversations with Karen it has been made perfectly clear that she prefers to visit and not live in other countries. Oh well.

Those are all the questions I’ve come up with so far. Have some intriguing questions of your own? Leave me a comment, and I’ll get back to any questions deemed worthy in the next installment of this series!

It’s been a long time, now I’m…coming back home.

Name the song for which this blog is titled.

If you said The Beatles’ “Wait” (from theRubber Soul album) then you are correct!

I don’t even know why I used that for a title; of all the Beatles’ songs out there, “Wait” has never been one of my particular favorites. In fact, it sometimes grates on my nerves. Part of is the nasally singing from Lennon and McCartney. Maybe also the incessant tambourine.

But enough of that. I’m actually writing a blog post for the first time in ages. I guess that’s really why I used the lyrics in my title – it has indeed been a long time since I could make time for this blog. This semester has been hectic, to say the least. It took a good month to really transition back into the swing of taking class, working as a research assistant, etc. but I’m glad to report that “the old Matt” is back, as Micheline likes to say.

So what have I been up to? Well, a number of things. My course work is primarily outside of Geography this semester, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading in political economy and political science. I’ve been finding really good connections between that and my geography reading and dissertation ideas, so political economy/theory/stuff will play a big role in my research over the next couple of years. Yeah, hard, to believe – but I’m on track to finish my PhD in a mere 2.5 more years. I metaphorically pinch myself sometimes at that thought, and it’s been a frequent one over the last few weeks because I’ve been planning my PhD “Program of Study,” as all first-year students have to do.

Other than the coursework, the dissertation planning is coming along. I don’t have a complete project, but I’m working on research questions and thinking about the short- and middle-term plans for accomplishing the research. The most obvious part of the planning is fieldwork. Karen and I will go with the “research team” to Oslo, Norway, again next summer. The plan at this point is to go a little earlier in the year, probably mid-May after UT’s finals. We may also go to some other Norwegian cities where the oil and gas sector is more active (Stavanger and Kongsberg are potential options.) The most important part is to get the plans nailed down early enough to get cheaper flights and find housing NOT at the last minute (like last year, when my fellow research assistant and I nearly caused Micheline to have a stress-induced stroke. Sorry about that, again!)

As for mid-term planning, I will apply for grants for more research funding starting next summer/fall to fund fieldwork in Berlin. I’m not sure how long fieldwork in Berlin would take (again, I don’t have a dissertation proposal complete yet), but I would like to spend the entire summer of 2014 over there, if not also part of that fall semester. Given how much time I know went into planning the Oslo fieldwork – at least two summers of fieldwork to plan, organize, establish contacts, etc. – I’m not ruling out any time period at this point. That is why I need to start securing funding so early.

Well, I’ve got to run. I hope you enjoyed my brief update, and as usual, I promise to try writing more often… but we all know how that goes.

A [minor] Tragedy

Hi everyone,

I’m sure you’ve all been anxiously awaiting another posting since my first (and only) post over here in Oslo. Well – a few things about that. First, the team I am a part of has been extremely effective/busy, working roughly 40 hour work weeks, and the project is going quite well for now. So, on the one hand, research is great, and it has kept me away from writing down my thoughts for you to peruse.

Second, I may not get around to editing and uploading photos until after I get back to the states next week. (Yes, oddly enough, time is flying and I’ll be back in Tennessee late next Thursday. Crazy!) However, I think that photos are the best way for me to tell the story of the fun parts of the trip, so that may never end up in a blog format, but only as a photo essay on Facebook. I guess I’ve come to terms with Zuckerberg stealing the rights to my photos…because I stopped paying for a Flickr pro account after lack of use.

Second point five (2.5) – here comes the minor tragedy that befell me. Right before heading off on Friday to explore other parts of Norway (mainly some of the western fjords and Bergen), I had one of those situations that could have gone terribly wrong, but narrowly did not. (Anyone ever have those?) Just before leaving on Friday morning, I packed my entire camera backpack for the trip – removing the non-essentials, packing some food and clothing for the weekend, etc. I sat down at the desk in my room for a couple of minutes, and then *wham.* My backpack fell to the floor from a two-foot high bed. At first, I didn’t really think anything bad about this: my laptop wasn’t inside, and it has fallen from a bed before without any incident. Then I started to think to myself, “What if this was the one time things went wrong?”

It turns out, they did (sort of). I looked at how the bag fell, and sure enough, it was right on the camera compartment. I opened that section of the bag to find the lens cap to my 18-105mm zoom lens (my “everyday” lens, if you will) smashed in… And this was the point I thought was going to be really, really bad. I was able to pry the lens cap off, and through the mess of broken glass I found to my relief that the only glass that broke was the protective UV filter that every good SLR photographer knows to put on his/her lenses. *Whew.* Listening to my dad/Scott Kelby/every other photographer and photography book out there paid off big time: I only have to replace a ~$20 filter instead of a ~$400-500 lens. However, I wasn’t able to clean out all of the broken glass from underneath a plastic ring on the front of the lens, so I decided to just shoot the rest of the trip using my other lenses and have this lens professionally cleaned when I get back to the states. So, long story short – I shot almost all of the three-day weekend trip across Norway with the 35mm fixed lens I got for Christmas last year. (Thanks, Anita and Karen!) It turned out to be both fun and challenging to work that much with a lens that does not zoom, so in the end everything worked well.

Third, the trip this weekend to see other parts of Norway was an amazing adventure, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. In brief, we took a train from Oslo to Myrdal, then hiked 21 km (basically a half marathon) down from Myrdal to Flåm all in one day. We spent the night at a youth hostel/camp ground in Flåm before waking up very sore and then taking a two-hour boat cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord to the tiny town of Gudvangen. At Gudvangen we had lunch from a camp stove (better than it sounds, believe me), and that afternoon we took a bus to Voss and then another to Bergen. Up until the bus ride, the weather was quite nice with lukewarm temperatures and overcast skies. At some point on the bus ride to Voss, the rains poured forth and basically didn’t let up until we left Bergen. So we got to experience Bergen as it truly is: a city aptly nicknamed “The City of Rain.”

That’s all I really have time for at the moment, so you will have to wait until I find more spare time to write. I have one blog post of “Observations about Norway” waiting in my Moleskine, so that should be a quick update I can hammer out soon. Stay tuned!

Oslo in a Day

Yesterday was quite a busy day! Or perhaps I should say busy afternoon. I set my alarm for 9 a.m. after getting to bed around 11 the night before – all in all, a pretty good way to fight off jet leg. (This is about as good as I’ve ever done with jet lag in Europe!)

Anyway, after the flight arrive in Oslo on Friday, Micheline met Grace and I at the airport and helped us find the correct public transportation cards (a month pass that pretty much covers every mode of public transit for a month) before we got on a train to the city’s main train station, Oslo S. (S for Sentralstasjon). Then, Grace went with Kevin to find her apartment, while Micheline and I were unable to get in touch with anyone at my apartment. So we hung out at Micheline and Kevin’s apartment for a while, until I looked about ready to fall asleep, so we went for a walk. While on this walk around the neighborhood, I had the brilliant idea of just going to the apartment and ringing the bell (because calling the number I had been given wasn’t working) and that worked out pretty well. I got the keys to the apartment, but I didn’t have my luggage, so we went back to Micheline’s apartment to wait for dinner. At this point, I fell asleep on their couch while watching Mythbusters on the Norwegian equivalent of Discovery Channel.

After a wonderful dinner of homemade pizza (thanks, Kevin!) we decided to explore Oslo on Saturday, since it was the National Music Day. There were around 30 stages set up all over Oslo, and different bands, rap artists (Norwegian rap is comically bad, by the way), choirs, etc. were performing 15-30 minute shows all afternoon. Kevin had seen on the schedule that choirs were performing at a stage in Akershus Fortress, so the plan was to meet by the tiger statue at the Sentralstasjon at 1 p.m. before heading to Akershus. I went over to the station a couple hours early to find brunch, as I hadn’t bought any groceries yet. There are two malls around Oslo S, so I explored the one directly connected to the station and bought some (relatively) cheap breakfast items from a mini-grocery store. This is a very European thing to do: firstly, to have a mall attached to a train station so that all kinds of shopping can be done on the way to or from one’s train; and secondly, to have a small grocery store inside a mall.

After breakfast, I sat outside the station for a while in a few different spots. First, I was listening to the sound check of some screamo-band on a stage a block away from the station, but after they started playing their set, I migrated over to the tiger statue to listen to a trumpet player playing familiar radio songs with accompaniment from some sort of iPod-speaker set up. Micheline showed up a little before 1; she was apparently going to meet Grace earlier in the morning to buy a European cell phone (Grace’s turned out not to work), but Grace never showed. After Kevin met us at the tiger, we decided to head to Grace’s apartment, and indeed, she was still asleep. With her in tow, we headed for Akershus and finally got some nice views of downtown Oslo. I promise to post pictures to Facebook soon! After eating lunch (also bought hastily at a grocery store), we found the stage on which choirs were performing. The first group was singing American radio songs (including Lady Antebellum’s “I Need You Now” – hilarious!) and they were pretty good, but unfortunately it went downhill from there. The next group was smaller and made up of mostly middle-aged women with four men. The director said they had been singing together for 30-something years. They were ok, but sang entirely in Norwegian and Swedish. After that, an even older (average-age-wise) choir took the stage, so we took off toward downtown again.

At first, we decided to walk around Aker Brygge, one of the most expensive/hip/posh/whatever neighborhoods in Oslo, right by the fjord. But it was rather crowded, and Grace still needed a phone, so Micheline headed for an electronics store while the three of us (Grace, Kevin, and me) killed some time at the Nobel Peace Center’s bookstore (we’re waiting for a free admission day next weekend before we go to the actual museum). After we had seen most of the bookstore, we went to a stage in front of the piers and listened to a band (actually good) play their final number before two different rap duos (comically bad) performed a couple of songs. We couldn’t take any more, so we walked over to the pier where we planned to meet Micheline, and after she arrived (new cellphone in hand), we took a public transportation ferry to the peninsula of Bygdøy. Bygdøy  has several museums we plan to visit at some point, including the Viking Ship museum, and museums for the Fram and Kon-Tiki ships as well. (You’d think they like their maritime history here or something.) We toughed out some increasingly brisk wind while walking to find each of the museums, so Grace and I can find them again on our own if we so choose, and then took the ferry back to downtown

We ended the night with some grocery shopping for the weekend (most stores are close on Sundays, just like in Germany) and Micheline cooked dinner at her apartment before we made plans for today. Today’s schedule is (thankfully) lighter, as we are only meeting at 4:30 to discuss where to go with the research project, and then it’s Grace and my turn to make dinner. This could be very interesting so I’ll keep you posted. Aside from the meeting, all I know for now is that we will spend most of the week working at our office space at FAFO – the Institute for Labour and Social Research, which Micheline has established an affiliation over the last couple of years.

Well, this post turned out to be incredibly long, so I commend you for making it all the way through it. Next, I’m going to start working through photos from yesterday and uploading them to Facebook, but that might take a little while. Stay tuned.

NYC Day 1: Best AAG Ever?!

Hello from New York City!

It’s hard to believe it, but I think I’m in love with New York. Maybe because it’s such an awesome urban space, or because it’s such an iconic image of America, but regardless of the reason, I think New York is hard to beat. (And I’ve been wondering to myself all day: “Why did I wait almost 25 years to come here?”)

Another interesting observation right off the bat – these are my opinions of New York, and it has even been a cold, rainy day. But, hey, it beats Seattle…

Anyway, I thought I would report on how amazing the AAG conference has been so far. On a trip like this in the past, I would probably not be posting every day so if that trend continues, this may also be my ONLY post about AAG. We’ll see how it goes.

First thing about the AAG conference today – if all conferences were this fun and intellectually stimulating, I would go to them as often as possible. However, I think today is probably a statistical outlier, because I’m not sure that this many cool things usually happen at once. Perhaps a little more elaboration?

  • Registration at 10 am was painless. Whew.
  • After registering, Karen and I meandered over to Rockefeller Plaza to kill some time. We saw the LEGO store (Mecca?), the ice skating rink, the outsides of Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios, and we strolled through parts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bookstore and Saks 5th Avenue.
  • When I went to sessions, Karen successfully had fun on her own looking at several places and shopping. She wasn’t kidnapped and didn’t get lost. Double Whew!
  • The first two conference sessions I attended, two discussions on the role of race in critical geography, were incredible. It was a near-perfect integration of a variety viewpoints from around the Geographic discipline and from outside fields like Ethnic Studies and American Studies. It had a good balance of young scholars’ perspectives and older, “big name,” professors. It had a nice balance of male, female, white, black, Asian, and Latino voices represented. Sure, that does mean that some voices were not included, but there were only 5-6 participants per session.
  • After these sessions came my presentation. The session was one of the last sessions of the day, which generally are not that well-attended, but I didn’t mind. There were about 25 people in the room, including my wife and the four other presenters, so that’s roughly an audience of 20. I’ve had bigger audiences at my first two professional conferences, but whatever. I decided to give this talk extemporaneously (Mrs. Freed and Dr. Collard at UTM would be proud) instead of read from my paper, and it went better than I expected. I finished in 12 minutes (out of 15 allotted).
  • After my session ended, the day really took a turn for the best. I set up a meeting with Dr. Ken Foote, professor at Univ. of Colorado and all around amazing scholar, by email before the conference. My advisor, Micheline, was one of his former students at Colorado, and she told him over the winter break about my thesis work. (My thesis is closely related to his research, as his book Shadowed Ground was the first thing I read to start my research.) He, Karen, and I got to talk for almost an hour. At the swanky VIP lounge of the New York Sheraton hotel. On the 44th floor. (!) The best part was that he was very friendly and down-to-earth. (And, oh, by the way, he also happens to be Past-President of the AAG. No big deal.)
  • After our meeting, the rain had basically dried up, so Karen and I strolled down Broadway to Times Square. I know that a Leftist scholar (generally opposed to capitalism) like me should probably have a different reaction to Times Square, but the place is completely mesmerizing, on a personal level, and fascinating, on a research-scholarly level. Too cool.

Even though I had to drop off my camera for repairs (more about that here), today may be hard to top for a long time…

Until next time my friends and loyal readers,

Shalom

Quick Post: NYC

[Note: For some reason, writing this on my iPad results in no apostrophes showing up online. My apologies in advance. First time Ive really tried this for a lengthy post.]

I keep having the idea to ask for suggestions on what to do on my first trip (ever!) to New York City next week. Karen and I will be flying there for the national AAG conference, and we will be there for about a week.

Weve already thought of several things to do while we are there, but Id love to hear more advice and suggestions from those of you New Yorkers (or at least NYC aficionados) out there. Although I will not have every hour of all seven days to do touristy things because Ill be at sessions, I do plan to get in as much as I can while there! Plus, Karen will have even more time, and shes looking for interesting things to do that arent too far from our hotel. (Were staying in the Upper West Side, a little more than half way up Central Park.)

Heres a list of the things we are planning to do together, time permitting:

Seeing Wicked at the Gershwin. Expensive, yet oh-so-schweet.
Touring midtown (conference hotels are a few blocks from Times Square/Rockefeller Plaza area)
Downtown/financial district area, also going to the Brooklyn Bridge
Harbor tour of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
Running in Central Park
Coney Island??

Karen is also thinking of going to the Museum of Modern Art by herself, and maybe the zoo. Shes also going to hit up some vegetarian restaurants, perhaps without me… 😉

——
Conversation from earlier tonight, which reveals how Karen and I think differently:
Me: I think Ill check the [UT] library to see if they have any New York travel guides.
Karen: Umm… Theres this thing…called the Internet.
Me: Well, yeah, theres that. But I like to have a book where I can be surprised by whats listed.

So, people of the Internets, what else do you suggest? I may not have time to do it all, but I can always start a list for next time.

Less than week before we fly away!