Norway Part XII

July 22nd.

The day was cool, even a bit chilly. Paul and I were sitting in the cabin with a fire blazing, reading I think, when Lillebeth knocked on the glass door. We stood up as she burst into the room.

“Something terrible has happened,” she said a bit flushed from having run the whole way over.

What terrible thing could happen in this spectacularly peaceful place?

“A gunman has opened fire on students in their summer camp on the island of Utøya. It’s madness! It’s happening right now!”

“You saw it on T.V.? But, why?”

“No one knows why. It’s insanity!” God knows how many he has killed and it’s not over yet. I must go back!”

The rest of the news came in snippets throughout the day… and days that followed.

Dressed as a policeman.

The victims, teenagers.

30…no, 44, no… 70…death toll rising.

Bombings in Oslo of government buildings right near where Marne (Lillebeth’s daughter-in-law) takes the bus everyday to work. People killed there, too. Thank God Marne’s here.

Bombing and shootings linked.

Right wing extremist.

Didn’t agree with Norway’s policy of letting refugees resettle in Norway.

And we all know that Norway is known for its generosity towards and tolerance of immigrants, its international proven stance as a peaceful country.

We walked along the paths between houses and cabin in a state of disbelief. We talked about it with our Norwegian family. Then we didn’t talk about it.
We–at one with everyone else in Norway–were in a state of shock.

Norway Part XI

Fish!  Norway’s fish is so tasty it must be talked about. On the Norwegian Coastal Voyage we had fresh salmon, gravlax, arctic char, cod backs, halibut, pollock, trout…but the flavors of these various fish are not like ordinary fish flavors with those names. Each fish was subtly prepared to bring out its unique but unmistakably FRESH essence.

In Kristiansand there is a fish market that is so alive and tempting and authentic someone should do a documentary on it…and I used to shop at Citarella in NYC, which has choice fresh seafood.

So one of us on the family property in Kristiansand would drive to the fish market in Kristiansand every day for fresh catch. One of my favorites is mackerel, which my mother told me at its best should be small and taut–in the shape of a half moon. You then take the fish, douse it in flour with salt and pepper and fry it in butter. Afterwards, you make a gravy with the fried bits left in the pan by adding sour cream and stirring it around. Perhaps add a little fresh parsley at the last minute. The salmon is to die for, but also exceptional is the shrimp caught and immediately boiled on the fishing boats to seal the freshness.

Shrimp parties in Norway are fun. You simply have a huge pile of shrimp on a platter, a bowl of homemade mayonnaise that has some whipped cream added, and good freshly made Norwegian bread. To accompany the meal there is beer, or wine, or orange soda called Solo. Such a meal often has a festive atmosphere because everyone is gabbing and peeling his shrimp and laying them on top of the slice of bread in a row like sardines in a can and sipping something delightful.

Also worthy of mention is the farmer’s market in Kristiansand. In the words of the Norwegian Coastal Favours Brochure:

Norwegian potatoes, vegetables, salads and herbs are said to have much more taste and aroma. Cooler growing conditions, more gradual development and lots of light calls forth the best in farm products.

We would bring home bags of the fresh vegetables from the farmers market to accompany the fish and felt each night when we dined we were eating “like kings and queens.” Something as simple as boiled potatoes with butter and a little parsley had us oohing and ahing. Also, of unbelievable flavor are the local summer strawberries. With a little heavy cream on top…Oh my God!

The amazing thing is neither Paul, nor I, gained any weight eating like this.  You would have to look pretty hard at Norwegians, whether in the towns along the west coast, the capital city Oslo, or Norway’s southern most tip, Kristiansand, to see a fat person.  If you will allow me to generalize, Norwegians as a group are healthy looking and fit. Certainly that has a lot to do with diet, but also exercise. LOTS OF EXERCISE…I think its part of the national identity. Have you ever heard of a Norwegian couch potato?

Norway Part X

So come meet the relatives. To include everybody, you will now see twelve photos taken at various gatherings and activities, which might be more photos than you want to see. BUT…I can’t leave anybody out.

First ,Wendy and her daughter, Katia.

Adorable 10 ½ month old Barbara, Katia’s daughter.

Joan.

Grace.

Kristina (Lillebeth’s daughter in black sneakers), her wife Marne (in sandals), with their daughter, Rav.

Falc, son of Kristina & Marne

Lillebeth steering the boat, her husband, Erling, their daugher-in-law, Gro, and Grace.

Jan, Lillebeth’s son, and his wife, Gro.


Håkon, son of Jan and Gro, showing Paul the nautical map.

Seeking out the right spot for a family picnic: Gro, Evan (Gro’s son), Paul, Grace.

George, Wendy’s son in white shirt, talking to Grace, Lillebeth, and Joan.

Cousin Christian with his wife Sigurn swimming in front of the cabin in ice-cold water.


A lovely looking family, don’t you think?

Norway Part IX

Next morning we were up early. Before attempting any of the tasks that lay before us to get the cabin up and running, I wandered out to the side patio and breathed deeply of the fresh pine-scented cool summer air while looking out and down at the sun playing on the water. Even in the south, Norway has a special quality of light I have never seen anywhere else. A slow sensuous rhythm began to rock my spirit.

It took us the whole day to find the water hook up in the woods. I began to think of it as “witching for water.” Then it took another half day to get hot water. But slowly, we cleaned out the winter dirt from floors, walls, and windows and the cabin began to shine. Before too long, the visiting began. These beginnings were so memorable for me I penned these words at the time:

Here we are again in Norway…smiling broadly as we walk the short path to the outhouse, smiling as we lay out the white table and patio chairs while the sun does a mazurka across the dark shivering sea. Here again in Norway, once more drinking in this country’s natural beauty with our eyes, our noses, our ears and our tongues and skin. Last night Paul and I were invited to a ryppe (grouse) dinner at Lillebeth’s house along with Grace, Joan, Wendy, Katia and little Barbara (10 1/2 months old). Lillebeth began by showing us a memory quilt she had someone sew together of the embroidery work of Mormor and Mormor’s mother, and I believe other female family members. It is mainly white…very delicate in appearance…an exquisite piece of art work of the “work” of women in the family. It lies draped over the keys of her white grand piano for special occasions. Lillebeth provided a family feast for us of ryppe accompanied by lots of gravy, peas, chanterelle mushrooms, potatoes and Russian peas (little round almost black beads…quite delicious and unknown to me before). Her husband Erling poured red wine from a ceramic pitcher. Our dessert was, can you guess? Multaberre with sugar and heavy cream. and then, guess again…pommes d’amour – the rich, moist cake, full of black currants, the icing white with a hint of rum. This cake could be eaten with port. We sipped and ate, a combination of culinary tastes not to be missed in this life. The meal was Proustian for me – the ryppe brought me back to Mormor’s table, the pommes d’amour to teas with aunt Tatti. And then, Lillebeth brought a pink rose to my nose…one from Mormor’s originals…and suddenly I was back in Mormor’s garden with Mormor, so happy with her grandmotherly love, so happy in the pink loveliness of her garden among the delicate subtle aromas.

Norway Part VIII

I guess you could say that the family property in Kristiansand is a family compound because it’s about six acres and there are five houses, some more cabin than house, on the land. Once entirely owned by my grandfather and Mormor, it has been divided and passed down in generations from Mom, her brother and sister to Randi, my cousin Lillebeth and her children and their families, and my American Kennan cousins Grace, Christopher, and Wendy.

Paul drove the rental car that the American contingent shares to the Kennan house, once my grandfather and Mormor’s house, a place that holds so many joyful memories for all of us. We were invited to dinner and there to greet us were Wendy, her daughter Katia and Katia’s ten-and a half month-old daughter, Barbara, and my cousin Joan. They served us salmon baked in a tent of tin foil with a port sauce made by Katia. Delicious!

At pretty much ten on the dot, Grace stood up and said, “If you’re going to open up the cabin tonight, we’d better get over there while it is still light.”

We walked through the woods to Mom’s cabin. I immediately slipped around the side to look at the sea. My heart lifted at the sight.

SUCH NIGHTIME BEAUTY!

But, moments later we entered the land of FRUSTRATION quickly descending into TIREDNESS because the key was not to be found, even after a call to the States to speak to my sister, Randi. Another walk through the woods brought us to the house of my Lillebeth’s son, and there–having finally retrieved some key–we returned with hope.

These worked!

We entered my mother’s sacred space. Very little has been changed. But when we couldn’t get anything to work it being dark outside and inside, TIREDNESS became EXHAUSTION.

With dust and must in the stale cabin air, and with deck furniture barring the way round without light, we gave up and fell into bed.

Norway Part VII

I had wanted to see the Gustav Vigeland sculptures for so many years. Even though it wasn’t that convenient to be doing it with suitcases, I am so glad we did.

What a shocking contrast to the art of Munch seen only the day before! (These two Norwegian artists lived during the same period in history – 1860’s to 1940’s – and knew each other.) From paintings of pain, sorrow, passion, and stress of Munch to large sculptures of the joy of human life of Vigeland. Having done my research, I know that Gustav Vigeland’s actual treatment of women and children was not played out as wholesomely in his life as it is in his art. But what he created, once seen could never be forgotten. And it is JOYFUL, just about all of it.

Here are some of my favorites.

Our train left Oslo at 3:00 for the approximately six-hour ride southwest to Kristiansand.

After enjoying the scenery for quite some hours, we suddenly became thirsty and hungry. Paul went off to get himself a beer. While he was away, I guiltily unwrapped the tin foil and nibbled on some of the pommes d’amour.

Paul returned happily with his beverage, saw what I was eating and asked for some, I guess, to go along with his beer. Rich cake and beer. Yum!

Rather suddenly, the train pulled into a station. Couldn’t possibly be Kristiansand yet, could it? But, there was my cousin Grace standing on the platform. Paul quickly handed over the beer to a young couple. And, I must say they looked exceedingly grateful. (Any alcohol in Norway costs a fortune). It was only on our way in the car to the family property from the station that I realized I had left the rest of the wonderful, fabulous, amazing POMMES D’AMOUR on the train. As Europeans are not as picky as Americans, I am absolutely certain someone savored the feast. I like to think it was the young couple.

Norway Part VI

I knew ahead of time that I would have a strong reaction to Edvard Munch’s paintings just from reproductions I have seen in the past. Something so personal about the anguish of life that Munch created on canvases–what we humans experience, but don’t dare talk about is what drew me to this museum.

But on arrival at the Museum, I was immediately drawn to a contrasting side of Munch shown in “the Voice,” first created in 1893 for “Study for a Series: Love,” but in 1894 becoming one of his paintings for “The Frieze of Life.” I liked the caption on the poster written in English…to explain to myself life and its meaning. To me, the woman in “Voice” is living in the moment, being, thinking and unusually at one with herself. It made me think that to know anguish and pain, you also have to know joy and contentment.

I was riveted to the 1894 painting “Ashes” because of the power of the woman in body, even though she herself seems lost–not just the cowering man holding his head. One review I read suggests the painting “depicts the end of a love affair, with the man in despair and the woman indifferent…the death of love.” I don’t see that there was ever much love there…but passion, yes.

A study for the 1910-2 painting “Galloping Horse” also caught my attention. It is a reverse image to the painting, a powerful wild-eyed horse galloping down the street, people strewn to the side, jutting mountains in the background forming a V as if making way for the dominant horse to be the one FORCE seen.

We left the deeply impressionist/symbolic work of Munch, to enter the present reality of today…shopping for a Norwegian sweater. If you’ve never had one, I will let you in on a secret truth: they last a lifetime. (I still have one from when I was thirteen, one my cousin Lillebeth knitted for me when I was sixteen, and one I bought for myself when I was visiting Mom in Norway with my kids when they were children.)

While Paul went off to look for batteries and SanDisks for his camera, I sweater shopped. And after several hours at several stores, chose a beautiful dark gray and off-white one with a dusty pink scarf for Cora.

On the way back to Lillebeth’s house, we made it to the American Embassy just in time to pick up my passport! Actually, Paul ran ahead lickety-split, and pleaded with the guard to let me in. We were about two minutes late. The guard probably thought THOSE… AMERICANS!

We were a very tired duo when we finally made it back to Lillebeth’s house. She had gone onto Kristiansand to start her summer vacation. She left us her house, an elk steak to cook, and an extraordinary dessert in her fridge: pommes d’amour. One bite of the nutty, buttery, liqueury dessert and I was back in my aunt Tattie’s (my Norwegian grandfather’s sister’s house) for tea. Or was it afternoon coffee?

Next morning, we made our own coffee on Lillebeth’s unusual stove and once again ate some pommes d’amour. There is a God! We locked up the house according to instructions, and a little sadly, wheeled our suitcases to the bus on our way to see Vigeland Park before we caught our train to Kristiansand.

Norway Part V

We arrived in Oslo from Bergen using NSB–in a wonderful scenic route over the high mountains, then bus to Schein Skøyen. My cousin, Lillebeth, picked us up at 10:30 at night on July 11th and drove us to her house.

She fed us on crackers, cheese, and tea in her white and green kitchen and afterwards led us up the stairs to a large bedroom on the top floor. We were SO glad to see family! The next morning, very early, she drove us to the American Embassy to apply for an emergency passport. We were the first American people in the line, though the one for non-Americans applying for visas had already formed and was quite long.

We were going to take care of my passport in one day–if possible–and spend the rest of the day visiting the medieval Akershus Fortress, the Edvard Munch Museum, and shop for a Norwegian sweater for my daughter Cora–well, I was, not necessarily, Paul.

My Norwegian grandmother whom we all called Mormor (mother’s mother) was born at Akershus where her father taught handicrafts to the prisoners there. For a long time, I had wanted to see this prison enclave where she grew up. I have a fine pencil drawing my mother gave me of Akershus and I think I was able to find the exact courtyard in the drawing. When Mom gave it to me she simply said, “That’s where your Mormor was born.” I keep it in my study and now that I have visited this national and yet personal symbol, it holds more meaning for me.

Here is the courtyard.

This ancient fortress is still used by the Norwegian Government for important functions; one example of the grandeur of the historically maintained décor is this particular arrangement of flowers on a long banquet table. (Paul is adjusting his sunglasses at the table’s end.)

Norway Part IV

We docked at Trondheim at 6:30 a.m. for a three and a half hour stop. Paul and I waited for my niece’s son, who is studying at the University of Trondheim to appear; even at this early hour we were hoping for an insider’s view of the city, but there was a miscommunication of some sort, so we regretfully took off on our own.

Our guidebook book had told us about the storehouses of Bryggene that stand on piles and can be seen best from Nedre Bakklandet. As the book said, their site, shapes and colors were fascinating, perfect for a good photo.

My sister Randi had said, “You must see the Niardos Cathedral when you are in Trondheim.”

It wasn’t too hard to find because the city is clearly laid out and the Cathedral has a high crossing tower that can be can be seen from far away. Our guidebook said it is “the most representative Scandinavian architectural monument in the Gothic style.” The intricately sculptured west front has patriarchs, the apostles, prophets, kings, archbishops, saints, virtues (charity hope, faith), the Virgin Mary and other representations not mentioned.

As Paul and I were on foot and we had to get back to our ship in time–they tell you the ship simply sails without you if you’re not there–we never saw the Cathedral from the inside. (I still grimace at that missed opportunity…those beautiful stained glass windows!)

That night, our last night, we dined with our Austrian dinner companions, Bridget and Hilda, while the waiters and waitresses lit torches spewing sparks that seemed ALMOST DANGEROUS and marched around the tables creating a festive air.

It made me think of a story Mom had told me of when she was about ten years old. Here is the story:

My grandparents were taking the “Christmas Boat” from Kristiansand to Oslo in celebration of many years of marriage. (Not sure how many.) In the dining room, a tree was lit with real candles, just like they always did in Norway in the old days. Mom was giddy with the grown-up festive atmosphere, the good food, her parents’ jovial mood (my grandfather was either taciturn, or for special occasions, jovial), but her eyes were riveted to the fire of the candlewicks sensing DANGER.

All at once, she noticed the tree had caught fire. “Brann, brann, brann!” my ten year-old mother shouted out to the boozy holiday crowd. Finally, the grown-ups took notice and there was a rush to drown it out. My mother was proudly the Christmas child savior of the day.

I’ll leave you there on the coastal voyage. There was more…much more, including some nasties like Paul catching a terrible cold, but after a while these things probably begin to sound like a few too many slides no matter how artistic the photography and no matter how artful the raconteur.

However, I was gathering knowledge of my mother.

Norway Part III

But then, once again the scenery surprised us from the dark dramatic mountains we left behind us after the Trollfjorden to the dreamy low-lying Lofoten Islands we saw from a tour bus once we had docked in Svolvaer.

There were also the haunted lives of fishermen and farmers depicted in paintings on the ship to be taken in as we walked from one deck level to another.

And the happy painting, illustrating young love and summer in the mountains. This painting made me think of Mom, who had a true romantic streak running through her veins…”When you meet the man of your dreams…”

“Really, Mom, all my dreams will come true?”