I’ve just returned from a week in Oslo, Norway, where I spoke at NDC 2010, immediately following a week in New Orleans, where I spoke at TechEd. I’m about nine hours jetlagged and glad to be home, though I had a lovely time. Many thanks in particular to all the NDC organizers who made it all happen; I felt very welcomed.
First off, here’s some video of the panel discussion that Mads, Neal, Jon and I had at NDC; basically we just opened up almost an hour for two hundred or so Norwegian developers to ask us whatever they wanted about the language design. (Apparently the streaming video site has had some bandwidth issues, so try to not all hit it at the same time.)
The rest of today’s post is some disjointed commentary on various aspects of New Orleans and Oslo; if you only care about technical stuff, you can stop reading now.
Things I learned about New Orleans:
- It is hot. And it’s not just the temperature; it’s the dew point. The humidity is what really gets you.
- Do not, I repeat do not get into a taxi in New Orleans without a map, an address and detailed turn-by-turn directions to get you where you’re going. We had cab drivers who did not know the way from the corner of Canal and Bourbon to major landmarks, famous clubs and large downtown hotels.
- I knew it would be good, but in fact the jazz and blues music in New Orleans is incredible, in both its quantity and quality. In particular, we had a happy accident; due to the inability of our cab driver to find a particular club we ended up going to House of Blues instead and we just decided we’d see whoever was playing. The headliner that night was Tommy Emmanuel, who I’d never heard of but who was introduced as “the greatest acoustic guitar player in the world”. That’s because he’s the greatest freakin’ acoustic guitar player in the world. I had no idea that some of those sounds could come out of a single six-string guitar played by a single ten-fingered guitarist. On the stage at the beginning of the show are four acoustic guitars: one is a pristine Gibson from the 1930s and the others all look like hell. In fact, they look like they have been repeatedly attacked by a lunatic wielding a wire brush. That’s because they’ve been repeatedly attacked by a genius wielding a wire brush.
- House of Blues will not tell you that they’re selling you standing-room-only tickets when there are no seats left. Nor will they open up the balcony seating. (I was initially irked at how much I paid for SRO but thirty seconds into Tommy’s set I no longer cared.)
- The drunken-frat-boys-yelling-all-night party is on Bourbon Street. The far more enjoyable impromptu-poetry-slam-and-amazing-jazz-jam party is on Frenchman Street, just to the east of the French Quarter. (Basin Street, Basin Street does not appear to at present be the street, the street where all the folks meet down in New Orleans, the land of dreams, and you’ll never know how much it means.)
- Beignets at Cafe Du Monde taste very much like fried dough with sugar on it.
- Alligators like marshmallows.
Things I learned about Oslo:
- Oslo does not have this high dew point problem. We saw people in parkas on some of the chillier rainy days.
- Spending the week of the longest days of the year walking around a city situated north of the 59th parallel is quite something. At one point Leah asked me what time I thought it was. Around nine? No, in fact it was almost midnight and no wonder I was so tired. It really does never get dark; it gets a bit dimmish for the hour or so between sunset and dawn.
- Middle-aged painters (of pictures, not houses) feel perfectly justified sitting down at your table at an outdoor cafe, interrupting your conversation with your new friend, and telling you all their opinions about beer, women, marriage, the new Oslo opera house, travel, hotels, painting, art, photography, music, architecture, oil, money, and international relations. It was delightful. As a Canadian I’d never dream of doing that but I enjoyed the conversation very much and would not have thought to start it myself.
- Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Every day I boggled at how much I was spending on things that would have cost half or a third as much in Seattle, which is already a reasonably expensive city by North American standards. A bottle of Pepsi: four dollars. A bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water at a mid-scale restaurant: eleven dollars. An ice cream cone: nine dollars. A small pizza and a salad for two: sixty dollars. Probably the best value we found was the restaurant at Hebern Marina: tasty food, fast service, mostly cold dishes with a lot of fish in them, not completely unreasonable prices. (Six Norwegian Kroner is about one US dollar, so a plate of smoked salmon and potato salad is about $25.)
- Our guide book said that service at restaurants in Oslo is “not rushed”. This is code for “you have to state specifically that you want to pay your bill now”. Before we realized this we had multiple situations where the wait staff would ask “do you want anything else, coffee, tea, dessert?” and we’d say no and then sit there with empty plates and glasses in front of us for a quarter of an hour before tracking down the wait staff and asking for our cheque. The correct answer to the coffee and tea and dessert question is “no thank you, could you please bring us our bill now?”
- The sheer amount of stone in Oslo is quite amazing. Almost everything at street level that I typically think of as being made out of concrete in Seattle is made out of solid blocks of granite in Oslo. Bizarrely enough, given how much high quality stone there must be in Norway, the facade stone for the opera house was imported from Italy. One would think that they’d want to keep all that oil money in the country.
Anyway, we had a delightful time in both places, but it’s good to be back.