Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Norway Post

Though I was in Flekkefjord, Norway for 10 days, I don't have much more than 10 pictures of my stay there. The late sunrise (after 8:30am) and early sunset (before 5:00pm) combined with the low arc of the sun that kept it behind the hills for an hour or so at the beginning and end of the day meant that there wasn't a lot of time to take photos, and the rainy sleety drizzly weather on several days did not create good opportunities for wandering around and playing photoblogger. Many days it was quite icy on the streets and sidewalks as well, even with the thick layer of grit and snow the town spreads around liberally. Finally, I spent a good part of most days in the nearby internet-enabled cafe, keeping up with my freelance commitments. Or almost keeping up - I have some catching up to do tomorrow and Saturday. Because Betty-Ann Rynning-Tønnesen, or Bea Couchman to those who met her as I did in Ashland Senior High where she was a French language teacher for many years, is still teaching (only now it's Norwegian), I had the time to work without feeling weird to be staying with a friend but spending most of the day apart from that friend. Bea teaches Norwegian to the doctors and pharmacists who come to Norway to work in the local hospital. She's got students who from Britain, Hungary, Germany, and Portugal (that I know of) and is fairly busy herself during the week, so we were both happy with the arrangement. We had the mornings and evenings and weekends together to visit, or to take walks if the weather cooperated. She lives in a small apartment on the canal that connects the inlet to the fjord (if that isn't redundant) to the first of a chain of lakes going deeper into the mountains. When the tide changes, sheets of ice come floating up past the house; most are smallish shards, but I watched an unbroken slab at least fifty feet long slide slowly by one day.

Ice on the water, ice on the streets, ice tumbling down the steep rocky walls lining many of the roadways. The local community basketball (or some sport anyway) court was turned into a skating rink, as it is every year, and Bea took her spike-tipped walking sticks with her on our walks. I had a few of those moments where you slip and catch yourself, providing a little breathless "whoops!" feeling, but my hiking/tennis shoes (the only pair of shoes I have now, so it's a good thing they're versatile) coped with the terrain, even on the steeper hills, as long as I stayed on the grit or the packed snow on the sides. It never got much below freezing, but not much above, either, and I was glad once again for my warm wool coat, even though it's been a bit of a pain to pack in the suitcase during the non-freezing parts of my travels.

The basic greeting in Norwegian is "hi hi" or "hei hei" and using that plus "takk" (thank you) and a quick peek at the display on the cash register made it easy to purchase things (easy, that is, as long as I didn't think about the exchange rate) but since nearly everyone I met spoke rudimentary to excellent English, I never had any problems communicating. Sometimes the words seemed familiar enough that I felt I almost understood a phrase, though that did land me in trouble once or twice. Bea was out at dinner with friends one evening (I'd been invited, but declined as I don't like bother strangers with my dietary restrictions) and I was watching a Norwegian show featuring a stand-up comedian and singer, and while I had no idea what he was saying 98% of the time, there was one song I liked, a jazzy number halfway through which I said to myself, "He's singing about 'first world problems' and modern technology." I'm pretty sure I was right about that, too. An earlier joke featured the word "buttplug" but I have no idea what the joke was ...

Work and weather only left us two days in which we could take a walk. On the second day, we went down by the harbor and then up to the top of a rocky hill (as if there are any other types of hills around there), then down to a marshy pond, which we circled before heading back into town. In the middle of town there's a small park; the first day we walked through the park under the leafless trees, past a young woman doing something aerial-yoga-like with a big swatch of fabric that she'd somehow tied around a high branch, and a dry fountain with a nice sculpture of three goats cavorting, and I wish that the picture I took of that had come out better. The next time we walked along another edge of the park, where I took a picture of a bust of Ole Christian Axelsen, a famously successful businessman in town around 1900.

You're never far from water in Flekkefjord. Early-morning kayakers woke me up one day, as they shouted across the canal to each other while paddling upstream. A motorboat went by a few days later, towing a smaller boat behind it; half an hour later, it went chugging back out to the inlet alone. Swans drifted by regularly, and a small flock of mallards nosed (beaked) hopefully along the edges of the porches on the string of waterfront flats where Bea lives, looking for handouts. I was just happy to look out at the changing colors of the water, and the reflections, and the moonlight glimmering on the ripples.

I am so happy that I had the chance to get back to Norway and visit Bea, and I truly hope that it's not the last time I go there. However, I'm going to do my best to plan the next trip in spring or early summer, so that there will be more opportunities for hiking, and maybe even a trip up to Bergen or places further north. There are cheesemakers up there who are looking for help, including a family who lives on a wooded island where they herd the goats through the trees to higher pastures. And there's a French woman in the very far north who has been making goat cheese for a while; I don't know if she's looking for help, but I'd love to visit some day.

À la prochaine, BeaBea!

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