Tuesday was Labor Day, and Norwegians celebrated labor by stopping it. In the afternoon I headed out with the English graduate students to the grass near the big red Church with pølser, øl, and an ennganggrill tucked under our arms. A few fifty other people had the same idea. So we staked out our square of grass, carefully avoiding eye contact in regular Norwegian fashion, and they set up to grill their hot dogs. I looked mournfully down at the Frisbee I’d hopefully brought out—no way would these antisocial Bergenser be cajoled into a game with strangers.
As they ate their pølser and I snacked on the pineapple I’d brought, we talked, as Norwegians always do when an American is present, about how insular Norwegians are socially. It’s funny—nearly everyone I’ve met seems disapproving of it, yet no Norwegian ever attempts to mess with the status quo. On my return to Fantfoft, I passed some of my German friends grilling on the lawn—this time vegetarian! The zucchini and roasted red peppers they invited me to eat were much more filling than pineapple and beer, and we sat and chatted until the sunny day turned dusky cold.
My grandparents came in from Jerusalem on Wednesday, bringing big squashy hugs, pita and ptitim, and nearly the entire contents of the shuk with them. We strolled through the pastel Bergen evening, sitting on the benches along the city pond in the center, and then went to listen to Fulbrighter Sarah’s flute recital. We walked in late, and everyone applauded as we entered ahead of Sarah. Awkward. On our way back, we passed an old car show on the festplassen, and my grandparents waxed poetic about the good old days, telling ghost stories about old flames.
I felt exuberant to show my Bergen off to them. Their admiration, embarrassingly, seemed a kind of childish validation of the perfection of the place. Yes, I still need my grandparents’ approval. Bergen cooperated, and remained strangely sunny for the entire week. The city seemed to realize it had thrown us for a loop, and in a fit of pique burst out in sporadic snow showers and hail storms on Saturday, with intermittent sunny summery weather.
Thursday we spent on the magnificent Voss-Flåm-Myrdal fjord cruise, and I struck up a conversation in Norwegian with my seatmate on the train that surprised even myself in its fluidity. We played bananagrams all shabbat, and Kim’s suggestions that ‘squinty’ and ‘pule’ were not real words (the OED begs to differ) sent me into a flurry of angry speed that left him and my grandmother convinced they ought never to doubt my vocabulary again.
Perle, Rachel, Marine and I met for Sunday evening tea, and through discussing the French elections managed to segueway into the way we’ve all been brainwashed to believe capitalism the best of all possible systems. Marine kept urging that there must be something better, we just have to think of it, and I played around with economics in a way that surely wasn’t intelligible to French ears. Yet it was all a game to me. As an American, I’m much less able to conceive of capitalism as non-ideal than my French buddies. Which nicely highlights the importance of travel to broaden the mind.
Monday night I went to the rådhus, the city hall, to give a lecture to the Bergen branch of MIFF (Med Israel For Fred- With Israel For Peace). I talked about FRIEND, the Muslim-Jewish dialogue that I’d founded in college, and was careful, at the end, to throw in something about how it was only through the depth of our commitment to our own identities that we were able to understand others’ differences. In this way loyalty to one group actually enables understanding of a different one. Something rather foreign to the Norwegian mindset, which seems to have taken the Robbers Cave experiment too much to heart.
I enjoyed the rhythm of speaking. At first pausing every few moments so Erik could translate threw me off, but once I’d gotten into the sway, I realized how useful it was to be able to recollect my thoughts regularly in the middle of speaking, and used the pauses to enhance my humorous snippets. I also quickly simplified every single expression that I’d written in my notes, taking the straightest route to my ideas so as to ease my audience’s task of understanding what were rather complicated ideas to be delivered in a foreign language. Afterwards, they asked me questions that ranged from whether I believe Jews and Muslims have the same G-d, to my experiences living in Elqana five years ago.
Tomorrow I wake up early and take the train to meet my high schoolers at Berekvam, from which we’ll hike down to Flåm and have an overnight at the school’s cabin, Katteli. The only thing better than being a high school student in Norway, is being a high school teacher in Norway!P.S. Last night I poured tea over my keyboard while chatting with my Ima. Unfortunately, my macbook can no longer handle the letters c, v, b, or n, which proved problematic when trying to log on after I'd taken the battery out to check that it was dry. Shouldn't have used a password with the letter n! Anyhow, I can't access any of my pictures, and am going to be stuck on my school laptop for the remainder of my time in Norway. Apologies for both being pictureless, and for the occasional æs and øs that will sneak into my writing.