Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009: One memorable meal after another

I spent much of yesterday tending a clinging cold but I was determined to make something of the new day. I read through many of my journals, the slim ones I keep in my purse, the one in my bedstand, the one I brought on trips with me throughout the year. My own personal year in review. Of course, I'd been reading many other year in reviews, including a handful of those called "Eleven Memorable Dishes," or "Top Ten Memorable Dishes," and such. I noticed a good deal of my journal notes included recaps of some of my memorable meals throughout last year. They are a good measure of a good life. I'm sure the meal had just as much to do with my dining companions as the food itself. And just as much with my own joy at the occasion. And so, without further ado, I present the first of my list here.

Thursday evening dinner, Oslo University: In early May I visited Megan in Norway, where she was studying at Oslo University for a junior semester abroad in the Midwest HECUA program, that spring titled, "The Divided States of Europe." They studied the effects of globalization on Scandinavia, Norway in particular. She shared coursework, service learning, and field studies with eight or so other midwestern students but lived in International Housing and shared a flat with six others: Moritz and Louise from Germany, Linda from China, and Amilton, Ole and Kari from Norway. Kari, a punker and art school student, had loaned me her extra bed and blanket and Megan cleaned and rearranged her small room to accommodate the two of us. I shared the shared bathroom and kitchen with them all, both of which had small contruction paper signs penned with notes from Amilton, whom Megan called "the house mother." One said, "The towel on the left hook is for hands; the towel on the right hook is for dish drying." Amilton and three others were med students; Norway's excellent higher education system provided all schooling for free, provided you were accepted into the program. Above the commode, which was tightly fit in a separate closet in the bath area, was this sign, "Gentlemen, this is not the place to mark your territory."

The night before I had enjoyed a birthday picnic with the midwestern HECUA students; we celebrated Danielle's birthday by grilling fatty hot dogs and sharing homemade potato salad and Megan brought a dense chocolate cake with vanilla cream sauce. They played frisbee on the grounds, built a small fire for roasting marshmallows, and made mixed drinks from Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum. It was fun to hear the students describe their experiences abroad: they had by then traveled throughout Norway and Sweden, spent their spring break in Greece, and had a three-week field study of immigrant and labor populations in Poland. It was my first trip abroad and I was all ears.

But the next night I had an especially memorable meal. Each month Megan's flatmates shared a communal meal, alternating turns as host. It was Amilton's turn. That morning I had accompanied Megan and her classmates to an Oslo NGO specializing in Norway's international relations. From there we had a pack lunch with the other classmates and then, like other of my six days there, Megan left for another class in the afternoon and I had time alone to explore. That afternoon I hiked the highway back up to Sogn and Megan's apartment to read and drink tea on her small patio deck as Amilton quietly prepared his shared dish.

Megan and her flatmates returned home solely or in pairs and I'd watch from the patio as they stepped off the bus or rounded the curve on their bikes, all waving if they happened to look up to my third-floor perch. They had all been terrific and were each quite unique in how they interacted with me. Amilton called us in and had us sit around the table, squeezing us in at the corners and ends. Linda, the med student from China, contributed a crisp lettuce salad with cucumbers, fresh strawberries and papaya, with a squeeze of mayonnaise. Norwegian mayonnaise, which like the other dairy products in Oslo, was especially natural-tasting and good. Amilton brought out of the oven two large baking sheets and we ooed and awed over the dishes: ten salmon steaks baked with green and black olives, peppers, tomatoes, and capers. Served with rice made with chicken stock and tomato paste. One of the Americans from HECUA, the birthday girl Danielle, came up from the second floor with cans of beers to share. It was delicious and Amilton was very proud and we were all in good spirits. Ole, the quiet Norwegian microbiologist, wearing a t-shirt with some insider joke about his field of study (accompanied by a drawing of a laboratory), slipped out quickly to get a map of the natural area in Sognefjord, and told me of a magical hike I might take through the forest. Linda, the boisterous German med student, described watching the Clint Eastwood movie, "Gran Torino," in Norwegian, and how she couldn't understand anything being said at all until Eastwood said, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," and she sparkled with laughter and said, "Dose words I know!"

I didn't set too many expectations for this trip, only: be excited and up for anything; enjoy Megan; relax and enjoy myself. On my KLM flight over, after two long days of preparation, which also included setting Tim up to stay with two different families because Ken was traveling that week as well, I wrote "We're somewhere up by Greenland, above Newfoundland. It's almost midnight. I am so excited and so happy. Finally, I'm heading to Europe. I wish Ken and Tim were here but I'm feeling very happy to go it alone and have Megan--and Norway--to myself." When I got off the plane in Oslo that morning, it was terrific to see her out in front of everyone, waiting for me with a small sign of paper she had penned with block letters, "MOM." She held it shyly by her side and when she finally saw me she turned it over to the front for a quick reveal. We talked and talked and talked as we took the bus from the Gardermoen Airport to our hotel near SlottsParken. The whole trip was filled with our appreciation for each other and our thrill at seeing the country together.