Saturday, December 3, 2011

The First Snow

Ruth and I made Thanksgiving dinner for a bunch of our European buddies at Fantoft. We made it a week late, since I didn’t have any time to spare last week, and as we’d guessed, none of our European friends actually knew when Thanksgiving was anyways. It was the first Thanksgiving many of them had ever had, and we made a nice spread, albeit turkeyless: stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, and apple pie. Of course someone asked, “what does this celebrate?” prompting confusion. Ruth answered, “The pilgrims survived their first winter in America” at the same time as I tossed off, “we killed the Indians.” Then we settled down for a long history lesson.

The thing is, sitting around that huge table with a kooky Frenchwoman, blunt Australian, reserved yet polymathic Mexican, rarely sober Russian, gorgeous German, quiet German, evasive Norwegian, perky Russian, and my American friend who keeps me grounded, it really felt like Thanksgiving. All together, they created a nutty, warm atmosphere that flooded through the homesickness I’d felt since seeing everyone’s fb statuses about heading home for Thanksgiving. 

Afterwards, people peeled off to finish studying for exams, and we were left with a core group discussing contemporary American politics. I felt guilty for not finishing my grading instead (I set myself the same deadline I give my kids—by the time they’ve turned in their next assignment, I have to have handed back the first), but realized this: Fulbright is paying me just as much to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and sit around with my European friends talking about American politics as it is to correct English essays. Wheee!

We started reading Of Mice and Men with my high schoolers. It’s not my favorite book, or rather, Steinbeck isn’t my favorite writer, but I dislike this one less than all his others. I noticed one of the brightest girls in the class seemed rather unenthusiastic, and cornered her after class.
“Did you like it?”
“Not so much.”
“Okay. What do you like to read?”
She gave an impish smile. “Harry Potter.”
“Yeah, well, me too, but Of Mice and Men has its points.”
“I’d rather read a classic.”
“This is a classic. It occupies a pretty important spot in American literature.”
“No, I mean…” She looked at me a moment, and then I got it.
“You mean, a British book?”
 Ooooh! That’s a challenge if ever I heard one. When Anita and I got back to the staffroom, I told her, “Listen, I’m going to do something very un-Norwegian, and I know Fulbright doesn’t want me to, but you have to let me.” The teacher who’d been about to leave the room came back in and waited at the door to hear, making me laugh.

Holiday cheer in the Torgalmenningen
“I’m going to come in for an extra day next week, and I want you to book me an empty classroom. I’m going to kidnap the most intelligent kids in the class for a session. The rest of those kids are using the book to learn English, but these guys can use it to learn how to do literary analysis. They may not like Of Mice and Men, but goddamnit, by the end they’re going to be able to explain why in literary terminology.” Anita laughed, and said something about Fulbright forbidding overworking (you know, I need plenty of free time to cook Thanksgiving for the descendants of European imperialists), but finally told me it was okay, and actually got enthusiastic about it. I hadn’t been sure how much the Norwegian instinct to level the playing field would make her uncomfortable with pulling out a group for advanced study. But, it’s all engines go, and now I'm rereading Of Mice and Men and foraging through JSTOR and my college AmLit notes, and writing down everything relative to the latest article I've read on education, as I try to figure out exactly how I’m going to plan this lesson. You'd think teaching would get easier with practice, but actually it just gets more complicated, as I'm aware of more and more factors. 

I’ve learned a new phrase in Norwegian: “Jeg gidd ikke.” I can’t find a perfect colloquial equivalent in English, the closest I get is “can’t be bothered,” but the Hebrew “lo bah li” seems to cover it better. I’m also most of the way through Pike med perle ørdebobb, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and my ability to read the language is growing in leaps and bounds. Just wish I could understand it spoken, but Norwegians talk too fast and with too many different dialects. 

View from my apt window
First snowfall in Bergen! Every morning for the past week I’ve woken up without turning on a light, and tiptoed to my window to peer out at the day, because sometimes, just sometimes, it’s a fresh sunny blue-skied one and then I rush to get dressed and out walking before the hail comes. Friday morning, I woke up late, and gave a satisfied stretch because it’s a day off, and went to peek through my curtains. Snow! Snowy heaps with spikes of hunter green on the grass in front of Fantoft, and white roofs on the little red wooden houses, and Løvstakken not just snow-capped, but snow-sloped, each tree along the mountain delicately etched out in the thinnest of frosted lines. And the sun was shining! I can’t begin to explain the feeling of wellbeing that subsumed me as I ate breakfast.

Shabbat starts early in Bergen now, so I had a lot to cram into my day. I started a load of laundry, began to cook for shabbat, and then, halfway through both, cut out joyously into the snow. I wanted a view of Bergen in the white. And so I headed up Fløyen, and paused at every turn of the switchback trail to gaze in awe at the landscape. The haze lifted over the fjord, and I could see sunlight flooding over the water as it stretched towards the Atlantic. The skeletal rawness of trees against snowy skies always sends me into agonies of pleasure. At the top, I looked around me quickly, stood a moment, and turned down again.

As I swept and cooked and folded laundry and generally readied my apartment for shabbat, I hummed to myself the joy of this season. Now, I’m not crazy. I know I’m supposed to be depressed now. Like all the other Fulbrighters, I got the pamphlet on SADD and almost daily I hear Norwegians kvetch about the rain. But something about this climate makes me happy, deeply, ridiculously soul-happy. I’ve heard that moods are dependent on weather, and it’s true, only mine seems backwards—I love this winter. I can’t get enough of the snow and the rain and the winter night. And when the sun peeks through, everything glitters, sleek with the latest hailstones. And said sun doesn’t burn, or beat down, or invade your clothes with sticky sweat, but provides only a clean, clear light. The whole land here is clean, constantly bathed in rain and washed fresh each day. Well. Enough panegyrics about the rain. I’m going to go out walking in it.

How can Norwegian kids not be your favorite?
Look how cute they are in their little snow outfits!

View of the fjord from the top of Fløyen


  1. it just gets more complicated, as I'm aware of more and more factors.
    How true! And let me tell you this: it doesn't get simpler!

  2. Oh, no, you're supposed to offer encouragement! Well, I guess that means it will never be boring.

  3. That part doesn't get better. Others do!