Last night, as I shoved “just one more” post-dinner Smash chocolate into my mouth, and could barely sit up to roll the dice for our Ludo game, I turned to my husband and said:
I feel like a Norwegian-Easter version of Jabba The Hut. From now on, just call me Jilla The Hytte.
In other words, påskeferien – the Easter holiday – is in full swing here at the “hytte” (cabin).
Apparently, Easter is the most popular time of year for the whole family to get out of town and gather at the cabin – even more so than at Christmas. One of the reasons for this is that the Easter holiday in Norway is not just a long weekend (like in North America). The perception that Norwegians get a lot of time off work is, in my experience, quite true. And Easter is a perfect example. Everyone is off from Wednesday (at noon) until the following Tuesday. And if you are able to take off Monday and Tuesday, the holiday suddenly becomes a 10-day skiing, eating, family-time extravaganza.
So, on Wednesday afternoon, there would have been a massive exodus out of Oslo. I can imagine the capital city right now as a ghost town, like a scene in an old American Western film, with tumbleweeds rolling down Karl Johans gate (the main street), vines growing up over the royal palace, and one lone man (King Harald – played by Clint Eastwood) strolling around with his 6-shooter, warding off wild dogs, and the occasional Swede.
But truthfully the city isn’t totally abandoned this weekend. As many Oslo-ites (Oslo-nians?) head out to the cabin, hundreds of “extreme metal fans” from all over Europe pour in to attend the “Inferno Metal Festival“. It’s held ever year over the Easter weekend. So while I’m slowly killing myself with chocolate-covered corn chips, others are gathered to thrash around to the likes of Blood Red Throne, Gorguts, and Lucifer’s Child. Either choice is intense.
But before the cabin exodus, there is packing to be done and in Norway you have to plan ahead with your holiday shopping. I appreciate that this country still believes stores actually closing sometimes. These days in, North America, it seems you can get any snack or drink imaginable at almost any time of day. Liquor stores stay open until 23h and grocery stores are often open 24/7 (because we’ll freak out if we run out of Cool Ranch Doritos or Diet Coke).
This week in Norway many stores will be closed for four days (only opening for a short time on Saturday) and the “Vinmonopolet” (liquor store) is closed from Wednesday at 15h (or as I still say, 3pm) until Tuesday. Almost a whole week solid. Going there on Wednesday afternoon around 13h is similar to those National Geographic videos when they drop raw bloody meat into shark infested waters – it’s every man for himself. And if you reach for the last box of Côte du Rhône, you may lose a limb. But we do what we have to.
Once at the cabin, wine cartons safely packed away, everyone slides gleefully into holiday mode. This week there are 10 of us here, from 3 generations, packed in like a cozy tin of “Makrel i Tomat” (another Norwegian favourite). There is good food and drink, and games, and skiing, and pets and children, and general mayhem and fun.
This is my first time back at the cabin since I started writing “Norway Times” and I have noticed some changes. Five minutes after arriving, my father-in-law assured me there would be no quizzes (this turned out to be untrue as the quiz booked appeared last night and I immediately answered a question about Canada incorrectly. Dummy.) I have also noticed everyone seems to scatter quickly when my phone/camera appears. “Bildene er bare for meg! “The photos are just for me!”, I try to assure everyone. I know they are fearing some terribly unflattering or incriminating picture showing up in one of these articles. This could work in my favour. The next time the quiz book appears, I will threaten to publish any and all photos. Some may call this blackmail. I call it “family communication”.
I have tried to write this article all week, but those of you with young children know what it’s like to try and do anything that requires some tiny level of concentration. The eldest brother is here with his kids. His daughter is 6 years old and I think it’s a bit of a novelty for her when I’m around – What’s with this old lady who can’t form full sentences and looks at me blankly when I speak?! Explaining that I speak English doesn’t really help. Although I don’t understand a lot of what she says, I appreciate that our reading and writing is somewhat on the same level. This is bonding.
This morning we had another breakthrough bonding moment when she asked me to help her to get her “chicken” (Lille Pipp) ready to go skiing. And, like most projects with wee kiddies, she lost interest after two minutes. The next thing you know I am carefully cutting skis out of paper for her fluffy chicken friend, while she hops around on one foot ,with one sock on, putting various weird objects on her head.
We finally got our act together – Lille Pipp included – to get out for a ski trip. I won’t go into details of the trip, as it was pretty much a repeat of all my cross-country ski outings (see “Norsk Skitur“). The difference was that this time my father-in-law didn’t come. He said he had “things to do” but I am guessing he mostly feared for his life (given present company) and had no interest in once again forming a human snowball with me, other family members, and random dogs. When we got home he had done the laundry and hung it all out to dry. I can’t imagine that was preferable for him than going skiing, but when your life is in the balance, I guess laundry looks pretty good.
The skiing in “Vestlandet” (the western part of the country, where we are now) is very hilly. My husband always assures me that the people going down the hill have right-of-way. This makes sense to me, since the they (I) also have much less control over speed or direction. When I am going up hill, I am very aware to make myself as tiny as possible at the side of the hill. However, when I am the one going down, I don’t seem to have the same experience. Every time I come shooting down a snowy slope, I round the bend (why are there always bends at the bottom of steep hills?) and I inevitably come across some kind of big gathering directly in my way.
Just once I’d like to come down the hill full speed and not happen upon: 1) A meeting of the entire Norwegian kennel club, or 2) A parade of tiny (easy to flatten) children or 3) A Norwegian summit meeting – which mostly involves old dudes pontificating about all manner of things, except, apparently, why they are standing directly in my trajectory.
(As I write this I am fully aware I have become of the “them”: the people that write at length about the do’s and don’ts of ski etiquette. Every year, these opinion pieces appear in the nation’s newspapers and are hotly discussed. I consider it a sign of my Nordic self-indoctrination.)
And of course the påske skitur is not without traditions. I love that the traditions in Norway aren’t just spoken about (like some old-timey cliche lore), they really happen. So for example, when it comes to påskeferien I had heard one very specific thing that happens: you ski, you eat oranges (from Spain), and you eat Kvikklunsj chocolate. Fairly specific, wouldn’t you say? And it’s exactly what happened. As I sweated my way to the top of a sunny ski hill, there was my mother-in-law, backback open – oranges peeled and Kvikklunsj on offer. I love it. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a Scandinavian guide book or an advertisement for a “Move To Norway Now!” informercial. (Buy two traditions, get the third for free!)
Anyone who skis langrenn or downhill (even though I now think there is no difference) knows that the best part of the skiing is the “after-ski” (or après-ski as we call it in Canada). This is when you get to sit back, relax, feel appropriately smug for having engaged in strenuous outdoor activity, and eat and drink.
Once home we sat at the fire outside, grilling “pølser” (hot dogs) and drinking beer. Pretty much my idea of Nordic heaven. Pølser is a big thing here. They come out at most important occasions -May 17th (Norway Constitution Day), summer solstice, birthdays, weddings (okay, not weddings). You usually have your choice of two wrappings – “lomper” (potato wraps) or “Lille Høvdring”pølse brød (“Little Chiefs” sausage buns – there are “Big Chiefs” too). I am not going to say too much about this other than it was fairly surprising to see in the store. This would be like us selling “Sami Sandwich Bread” in North America. Weird and likely fairly offensive.
Tonight we will have lamb for dinner – another Easter tradition – and one that I am quite used to from home. However, a new tradition developing at the cabin is my husband’s need to find the most creative possible way of cooking our meats. Apparently ovens are so 2014. At Christmas, we buried a goat in the ground (with hot rocks) and this Easter he bought a whole pig which was roasted outside, over the open fire, on a rotisserie. I have hence christened it “Paleo Påske”. These are by no means “Norwegian” traditions. (In fact, I am beginning to think my husband might have some Hawaiian ancestry.) I am not sure what the plan is for the lamb but my mother-in-law is in charge so no doubt it will be delicious and will be served in a way that Norwegians have been doing for generations.
A few days of holiday remain, the sun has come out, and skis are being waxed. Time to take my Smash-laden being outside so Jilla-The-Hut can roll down a few hills, and earn her post-ski pølser.
God påske and Happy Easter to you all.