“What?” I asked, as he zoomed his face towards mine and kissed either cheek. “Oh.” That’s how it’s done in Spain. My French friend, Perle, laughed, and showed me the French variation. I must admit that it bugged me a bit. That kind of forced intimacy with a stranger… Fergus explained that women and men kiss, women and women kiss, but only men shake hands. “And intersex folk?” I asked. Everyone laughed, and he said he’d ask. I guess I’m too wired to think about liminalities.
|Bergen in the snow|
But truthfully, who wants to kiss strangers? I don’t think it’s just my prudish American upbringing, or the fact that I was in Israel for six months before Europe and not allowed to really hang out with guys, let alone kiss them in greeting… It may just be my naturally reserved way of showing affection… But that’s not so, because I have no problem cuddling with my sisters and hugging my best friends, and I’ve become somewhat of a casual hugger while in Norway. As I sat there, pondering, I became much more aware of all of the touching going on. Of the guy next to me whose feet were propped up comfortably on my chair, of pats on the back to get my attention and the hug that my male friend gave me as he left. That hug was nice. Some guys just hug really well, and there’s a different quality to a good guy’s hug than a woman’s, something that says “I know we’re just friends but I will protect you if anything tries to attack, and I smell nice to boot.”
I’m down with that friendship hug. And with all the casual fist bumps and high fives and reassuring shoulder pats that come along with it. Because it says, “we don’t think too much about touching, we haven’t heightened physical contact into some sort of evil thing, we are natural and comfortable with our bodies and with other people’s” (wow, touching is doing a lot of talking here). There was something so nice about that room and its comfort with bodies moving amongst people I know. It’s the stranger’s kiss that freaks me out. God bless undemonstrative America.
I found a new trek in Bergen—Låndasfjell, the mountain in back of Fantoft, was hitherto unknown to me. Friday morning I slipped up it, shimmying along an icy path compacted into utter smoothness by a myriad of hikers. Finally I reached the peak with the sunrise, and looked out across the low grey and salmon and indigo clouds to where the sun sparkled on the fjords beyond reams of mountains. On either side of the pristinely white swath on which I stood pine trees thrust up into the sky, saluting the brilliant morning light. As I continued towards Ulriken, the path disappeared, and I was merely trumping through footprints in the snow, aiming towards the glowing spire atop Ulriken’s peak. Any sign of solitary runner or dog walker vanished. Great glassy malachite iced-in lakes sank in the snow on either side of me, and I was reminded of the pearly whorls on seashells. As I clambered through the glimmering, snow-silent winter, sun beating down on everything beneath me, I beamed to have forgotten my camera. I don’t know that I’ll ever find a morning as glorious as that again, and I was ecstatic to have it all to myself.
As I continued northward, I began to hit deeper snow. Sometimes I would skim along the crust, practically snowshoeing along, and then I’d suddenly fall in snow up to my knee and lurch forward against its cushioning. At one point, the footsteps vanished entirely, the light dusty layer of snow grazing the plain and, even as I took steps, filling them in with the wind. I pushed on towards Ulriken in unbroken peace, and found my path again. As I came down the path from Ulriken, I once more hit the well-trod trail. It was a sheet of ice. I began to ski down, sliding casually as though I were surfing. Then, I hit a bump. As I shimmied down on my tush, unable to stop or gain any traction, I was straight on trajectory for a woman walking her dog. She looked at my calmly, and stepped aside at the last moment as I barreled down. Ah, the calm of the Norwegian.