Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Days in Oslo

Wednesday I spent 22 hours in Bergen, cramming in three classes and a brisk several hour debriefing with Ruth (I was in London and she’s going to Nice for a week, so we needed to catch up very quickly). Wednesday night, I took the overnight train to Oslo for the second days of Passover. I arrived at the shlichot’s apartment exhausted and spent most of Thursday alternately trying to prepare lessons and dozing. Racheli and Inbar must have thought me a zombie, but we’re good enough friends by now that they laughed and declared the couch mine for the day.

Thursday night we ate at the Melchiors’ (chief rabbi of Norway). Man, can Norwegians talk about fish. Liat incautiously served a mixture of lox and egg salad for appetizers, which served as the catalyst. The two couples there described the entire catching, packing, and shipping process, and just when I thought we’d safely got our salmon off to Amsterdam, the discussion veered to how to eat it. Dumb Norwegians! Put it in a tube like toothpaste. Problem solved. 

We walked home with Sara, one of the Israeli-Norwegian Jews our age in Oslo. She’s one of the guards at the Jewish community center (actually the one who interrogated me and nearly made me cry the first time I came) and always has a more practical, or perhaps I should say, less forgiving perspective than mine. We got into a heated argument about mercy vs. pity vs. justice that I think scared Racheli in its intensity but Inbar found hilariously puzzling in its complexity of English terms. Anyhow, hers is an opinionated intelligence that I appreciate all the more for spending a year with smart people who won’t share their ideas. You know. All of Scandinavia.

Michael, the kid who’s going to be rabbi of Norway someday, was in town for pesach. Jewish Oslo is not that big, and we were placed next to each other at every meal. No doubt our hosts thought we’d find it interesting to talk to each other, since they had no clue how much he raised my hackles when we first met in Israel. But after two days of chag, familiarity bred, well, a lessening of antagonism. Still, I think he’s better equipped to be king of Norway than rabbi.

Raheli, Inbar and I henna'ing it up. Because, why not?
After chag we launched into fast-forward mode and zoomed to the grocery to prep for Mimouna. Inbar set to work pounding the dough for the moflettot, and all the Israelis clustered around a laptop, choosing Sephardi songs so we could ululate our way through our post-pesach nosh fest. Finally I went to sleep in the wee hours of the morn, my belly distended with all kinds of chametz yums.

Three hours later I woke to catch my train back to Bergen. Before we started, a Thai family of three moved around the train, looking at seats. I was sitting in a cluster of four facing each other, so I offered to switch and let them all sit together, adding that we’d probably have to switch back when the train filled up in the mountains. They were grateful, and when the mom asked where I was from, and I said America, she nodded and smiled as though that explained something.

As the conductor came by, and then other passengers looking for their seats, I realized I was trying to protect this family. I worried they would cringe before the conductor (what do I know of the Thai personality? Or whether there is one?) or that he and the Norwegian passengers would say “ugh, foreigners,” and I wanted to use my American-ness as a buttress. But it soon became clear that the family was very confident, very self-sufficient, and as I relaxed, I thought, “ah, they’re just like my family.” Then I woke up from my half-doze with a start as I realized that what I meant was, they have the confidence born of money. They travel, they move through the world with ease, because they know that their buck (penger? Thai currency?) will fix it all. Yikes. What heinous classism. I’ll worry about it when I wake up.

Oh, and the whole stretch from Ustaoset to Myrdal is winter wonderland. I forgot, seesawing between Bergen and Oslo as I do, that Norway is actually a cold country. Probably snow here means it’s raining in Bergen.

Hope you’re laughing, Te. This one's for you.

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